General Legal Principles

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General Legal Principles (Arabic: القواعد الفقهية; Al-qawa'id al-fiqhiyyah) are principles that are used by Islamic legal scholars, often defining the default legal position given to whatever entity the particular principle deals with.


Qawa'id is the plural of qa'idah (Arabic: القاعدة), meaning a base. Al-qawa'id al-fiqhiyyah are legal principles that operate on specific legal categories. Because the concepts being used are particular, the result of applying one of al-qawa'id al-fiqhiyyah will also be particular. This is the main difference between al-qawa'id al-fiqhiyyah and usul al-fiqh. Linguistically, both terms mean basically the same thing. However, the principles of usul al-fiqh are universal, whereas the principles of al-qawa'id al-fiqhiyyah are particular. Al-qawa'id al-fiqhiyyah, therefore, can only be used in certain areas of law, and not in others. The principle of purity, for example, would obviously only be able to be used in issues related to ritual purity. The principles of usul al-fiqh, however, are universal in scope, and can see application in any area of law.

On a deeper level, some scholars have argued that the principles of usul al-fiqh are used for deduction. The principle that a command in religious sources indicates upon an obligation unless proven otherwise is a way of deducing rules from the sources. Al-qawa'id al-fiqhiyyah, on the other hand, operate in the opposite direction: they consist of the application of general principles to the entities that the principle covers.

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