Shariah (Shari'at) an arabic word meaning literally a place for drinking water, way towards a water tank or well, the path to be followed, habitual behaviour etc. The plural form of the word shari' at is sarai'. In Islam, shari'at means Islamic rules, regulations and systems set by Allah for His creations and communicated to them through His prophets. Al quran says: I made you the Prophet in accordance with special provisions of the shari'at and therefore, you follow it (45t 18). A word synonymous to shari'at is fiqah.
Shari'at constructs the Islamic normative structure according to which the deeds of men and women are judged as to whether they are good or bad. Shari'at regulates mainly the mundane and external relationship between men and Allah but it cannot always determine the internal feelings of men and women as well as their intentions. For these, m'a'rifat is essential and marifat can not be thought of without shari'at, which is the first step for a pious person in his efforts to become a sufi.
The main principles of shari'at are based on wisdom and will of Allah. The shari'at laws have evolved through development of reasoning over a long period of time. Allah allowed men to investigate into the inner significance of these laws which makes the shari'at laws logical and acceptable. Shari'at has a close relationship with faith. So shari'at is not just laws, it is rather a complete code of life that properly regulates religious, political, economic and social life.
Shari'at rules and regulations are grouped under three categories: (a) duties relating to prayers; (b) Muamalat or rules of mutual transactions and customs and behaviour; and (c) Adl and 'Ukubat i.e., rules relating to adjudication and punishment. All these, however, are treated as equally important in Islam. The rules and regulations are discussed in details in the fiqh literature.
The four sources of shari'at are (a) the Quran, (b) Hadith, (c) Ijma (consensus of the expert a'lims i.e., Islamic scholars), and (d) Kias (decisions based of precedence). Knowledge about shari'at can be acquired from mainly the Quran and Hadith. Ijma and Ki'as can be used, if required. In course of time, the (shari'at) instructions contained in these four sources have been compiled in books, known as the fiqh books that build the essential bases of knowledge about shari'at.
Shari'at is taught in public and private madrasahs. Schools and colleges also have provisions for giving shari'at lessons. Religious education is compulsory up to secondary level. Most Muslims of Bangladesh follows shari'at. [ATM Muslehuddin]