Fiqh linguistically means understanding as in His (swt) saying:
“We do not comprehend (la nafqahu) much of what you say.” [TMQ 11:91] i.e. we do not understand. Many scholars including al-Amidi and Shawkani have defined fiqh as, ‘the knowledge of the practical Shar’ai matters that are derived from their elaborated evidences (al-adillah al-tafsiliyy ah)’. [Amidi, Ihkam, I, 6; Shawkani, Irshad, P. 3.]
Knowledge of the Shari'a rules began the day when they started began to be revealed from Allah (swt). This took place mostly after the migration (hijra) of the Prophet (saw) from Makkah to Madina. The Messenger of Allah (saw) stayed in Makkah for thirteen years, then he resided in Madina for about ten years, the Quran was revealed since the beginning of revelation in Makkah and continued throughout the Prophet’s stay in Madina. Many of the verses of ahkam used were revealed in Madina, in this period when the verses from the Qur'an were revealed the Messenger (saw) used to talk about the ahkam relating to whatever they included in terms of events and relating to the solution for whatever problems that arose.
The portion that was revealed in Makkah approximates to about two thirds of the Qur'an and they are designated as the Makkan verses (makki). In their totality they barely deal with few ahkam, rather they are confined to explaining the fundamentals of the deen and calling people to them, such as the belief in Allah and His Messenger, the Day of Judgement, the command to perform Salah, characterisation with moral attributes such as honesty, truthfulness, and forbidding evil actions such as fornication, murder, burying girls alive, deficiency in the measure and scales etc. The second portion that was revealed in Madina is close to a third of the Qur'an and they are designated as the Madinan verses (madani). These are verses of mu'amalat (transactions) such as selling, renting and usury. They also include the hudud, such as the hadd of zina (fornication) and stealing. From the jinayat (capital punishments) such as killing the one who killed someone intentionally or punishment of highway robbers. And from the bayyinat (testimonial evidences) such as the testimony of zina and the rest of the testimonies. The remaining rules concerning the worships ('ibadat) such as fasting, zakah, hajj and jihad were revealed were also revealed during this period.
From this it becomes clear that even though rules of prayer were revealed in Makkah they do not form a body of rules but knowledge of a type of rule. As for what was revealed in Madina, they consisted of all the ahkam. That is why knowledge of such rules is considered fiqh. Therefore, it is more accurate for us to say that fiqh began in Madina. And since fiqh constitutes practical rules, they have been revealed to treat incidents that have taken place. The verses of ahkam, more often than not were in connection to events that took place. So the disputants would refer judgment to the Messenger of Allah (saw) and he would judge between them according to the rules Allah (swt) has revealed to him, or on the occasion of problems requiring solutions, so an ayah or ayaats stating the hukm would be revealed. In this manner the Qur'an was revealed gradually (munajjaman). The legislative aspect used to be quite evident in the revelation of the Qur'an. The ayaats did not treat assumptions that may or may not happen. Rather, they treated issues that actually took place and real problems that people face. The Qur'an continued to be revealed until the year in which the Messenger of Allah (saw) passed away. So, Allah perfected and completed the deen and He revealed to him the last ayah which is His (SWT) saying in Sura al-Baqara:
“O you who believe! Be afraid of Allah and give up what remains (due to you) from riba (usury).” [TMQ 2:278]
With that, the ahkam were completed in their capacity as ahkam. The Qur'an and the actions, sayings and consent of the Messenger (saw) contain the rulings for all the types of actions that ensue from human beings; from the worships ('ibadat) like prayer (salah) and zakat, from the morals such as honesty and trust, from the societal transactions (mu'amalat) such as murder and theft, from the testimonial evidences (bayyinat) such as the rules of testimonies and the rules of written documents, and from the political affairs relating to the domestic policy such as the rules of the khalifah and the rules of the judiciary, or relating to the foreign policy such as the rules of combatants and treaties. Through this Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) existed due to the presence of the Shari'a rules, because the fiqh is the knowledge of a body of Shari'a rules.
Knowing the Shari’ah rules with which a Muslim is obliged with in his life is an individual duty upon every Muslim because he is commanded to undertake all his actions according to the Shari’ah rules. This is so as the address of accountability (takleef) with which the Legislator (Ash-Shar’i) addressed mankind, and addressed believers, is a decisive address giving to option to anyone whether it was about the creed (iman) or human actions. Allah’s (swt) statement: “Believe in Allah and His Messenger” is like His (swt) statement: “Allah permitted trade and forbade riba” [TMQ 2:275], in that they are both addresses of accountability. They are both decisive addresses in relation to their address, not in relation to the subjects we were addressed with, due to the evidence from the Quran:
“It is not for any believer, male or female, to have any option in any matter upon which Allah and His Messenger have judged.” [TMQ 33:36].
Also due to the evidence of the accountability of every action as the Supreme said: “Whoever performs a particle’s weight of good will see it, and whoever performs a particle’s weight of evil will see it.” [TMQ 99:8-9] and the Supreme said:
“The Day that every soul will be confronted with all the good it has done and all the evil it has done, it will wish that there was a great distance between it and (its evil). But Allah cautions you about Himself.” [TMQ 3:30] and He (swt) said:
“And each soul will be recompensed for all its actions.” [TMQ 16:111].
Accountability (takleef) came in a decisive manner so a Muslim is accountable in a decisive manner to restrict himself to the Shar’a rules when he undertakes any action. As for the subject of accountability i.e. the thing which Allah made him accountable for by command to do (talab), to leave or making it optional, this can be obligatory, recommended or allowed, or it can be prohibited or disliked. As for the essence of accountability (nafs at-takleef), it is decisive without any choice in it; so there is only one situation, namely the obligation of restricting oneself to it. Hence it becomes obligatory upon every Muslim to know the Shari’ah rules with which he is bound in earthly life. As for knowing what is in excess of the Shari’ah rules with which he is bound in this life, this is a collective obligation (Fard ul Kifaya) not an individual duty (Fard ul Ayn) i.e. if some fulfil this, then it falls away from the rest. This is strengthened by what was narrated by Anas bin Malik who said: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim.” Even though what is meant here is every knowledge with which a Muslim is bound in his life, jurisprudence (fiqh) is part of it in respect of the rules with which a Muslim is bound in his life such as ritual worships (ibadat), social transactions (mu’amalat) etc. Hence studying fiqh is among the compulsory matters for Muslims; rather it is of the rules that Allah obliged upon them, whether it is an individual or collective duty. We have noble ahadith encouraging the studying of fiqh and the Messenger (SAW) encouraged the study of fiqh. Al-Bukhari narrated through Mu’awiyya bin Abu Sufyan: The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “The one for whom Allah wills good (khayr), He grants him fiqh in the deen.” Said bin al-Musayyab narrated from Abu Hurayra who said: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “The one for whom Allah wills good, He grants him fiqh in the deen” [Ibn Majah].
Hazzam bin Hakeem narrated from his uncle from the Messenger of Allah (SAW) who said: “You are in a time of many jurisprudents (fuqaha), few speakers, many who give and few who ask; so action in this time is better than knowledge. There will soon come a time of few jurisprudents, many speakers, many who beg and few who give; so knowledge in this time is better than action.” These ahadith are explicit in the virtue of fiqh and encouraging its study. It was narrated that Umar bin al-Khattab said: ‘The death of one thousand worshippers who pray at nigh and worship in the day is less serious than the death of one intelligent knower (baseer) of the halal and haram of Allah.’
Some have misinterpreted a verse of the Quran to justify an understanding that studying the fiqh is only a collective duty (Fard ul Kifaya) and not an individual duty (Fard ul Ayn), they quote the verse:
“And the believers should not all go out to fight. Of every troop of them, a party only should go forth ,that they (who are left behind) may gain sound knowledge in the Deen and that they warn their folk when they return to them, so that they may beware.” [TMQ At-Tawba:122]
They interpreted this Ayah to mean that some people of each group should set off to acquire knowledge and to return to their people to teach them. Through this, they made learning of the Deen a collective duty (Fard ul Kifaya), thus conflicting with the Hukm Shar’ai and the meaning of the Ayah. With regards with their contradiction to the meaning of this Ayah - the verse is about jihad, which means that Muslims should not all go out to jihad. When a group sets out for jihad another group should remain to learn the Ahkam at the hands of the Messenger (saw), so once the mujahideen returned back, those who stayed behind would teach them what they had missed of the rules of Allah in a w ay that would produce an effect on them. This is also indicated by the example of the Sahabah (ra), who were so careful to learn the Ahkam of the Deen, and to be in the company of the Messenger (saw). Some of them would set out on an expedition for jihad, and some would stay behind to learn the Ahkam of the Deen. When the mujahideen returned, those who remained would teach them the Ahkam they had missed. Therefore, it is clear from the established evidences and the correct meaning of the verse that the claim of those who said that the study of fiqh is not an individual duty is false.
The Sahabah (ra) were Arabs and the Arabic language was their (saleeqa), and they were scholars with a precise and comprehensive understanding of the Arabic tongue. They used to accompany the Messenger of Allah (saw) with the Qur’an being revealed while they were with the Messenger. The Messenger would clarify the rule of Allah in the incident before their eyes and hearing, so they were also scholars of the Shari’ah with a comprehensive understanding of it. When an incident (waqi’ah) occurred before them requiring a clarification (bayan) of the rule of Allah, they would clarify its Shari’ah rule (hukm shar’i) through elucidating their opinion that they deduced from the text of the understanding of the text (ma’qul an-nass). Often they would limit themselves to giving the rule without clarifying its evidence, thus the companions’ judgement was transmitted in the form of their opinions. This is what led some to understand that the Sahabah would give their (own) opinions in judgements. The reality is that the Sahabah would give the Shari’ah rule which they deduced from their understanding of the Shari’ah texts, but they did not (shafi’u) it with evidence or clarify the legislative reason (‘‘illah) for the rule or the evidence for the legislative reason.
This led to the speculation (eeham) that this opinion is from the Sahabah and that it is allowed for a person to give his opinion in a matter (qadhiya) as long as his mind is full of Islam and knowledgeable in Arabic.
When the periods came in which corruption (fasad) happened upon the Arabic tongue, principles of Arabic came to be taught in order to preserve the tongue. And when falsehood (tassarraba) in the narrators, and there were ahadith narrated from the Messenger which he (SAW) never said, the hadith became a specific expertise (fann) taught with its principles (usul). Therefore, deducing rules came to require knowledge of the Arabic language and Shari’ah texts such that the Shari’ah rule came to be accompanied by evidence and even the way of deduction (istidlal). Fiqh developed a new existence (takawwan) in research resulting in a specific type of arrangement in (tabweeb). With the different styles of (tabweeb) and arrangement, it became necessary to clarify the Shari’ah rule together with clarifying the rule as well as clarifying the way of deduction where the rule is one with different opinions. Islamic libraries (maktaba) were filled with hundred of thousands of fiqh writings.
However, when the kuffar succeeded in invading Muslims after the 18th century CE, they began misleading them about the Islamic sciences and made them detest fiqh books like the sophists who made people detest honey when they told them it was the excrement of flies. Islamic fiqh was placed in a bad light until Muslims turned their back on it. When Muslims turn their backs on fiqh, they turn their backs on knowing the Islamic rules thereby falling into ignorance about Allah’s deen; and this is what actually happened. It is unfortunate today that some amongst the Muslims are unaware of the Shariah rules relating to many areas of their lives especially amongst the societal issues such as the relationship between men and women, the rules of contracts and rules relating to politics. Hence it is a must to encourage Muslims to come forward to study fiqh.