shariah شريعة


Senior Member
Belgium, Dutch
I do not know Arabic but I read somewhere that 'shariah' means: the path towards/ to the water. I wanted to know whether that is the literal meaning - I guess it is not - or how one can get to that interpretation. Please tell me what the root/ stem of the word is too. (Something went wrong with the title in the previous questions, so I am opening the new thread under the right title. Hopefully a moderator can cancel the other title-less thread)
  • Abu Rashid

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    It seems to be from the same root as the word for road/street, so probably does have a meaning of path. I have heard the etymology relating to water before, but I've never come across it in a dictionary.
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    شارع is from the same 3-letter root (sh r 3 ش ر ع) but it is normal for these to have multiple meanings. Please give us some more context if you want to insist on your 'road' theory for شريعة but usually this means 'law', and in English it is specific to 'Islamic Law', though this is the case for neither classical nor modern Arabic. Related are:
    تشريع tashrii3 legislation ,
    مشرّع musharri3 legislator,
    شرعيّ shar3iyy legal (EG used for forensics طبّ شرعيّ, NOT the opposite of 'illegal'),
    مشروع mashruu3 (the opposite of illegal),
    شرّع sharra3a 'to legislate', etc.
    There are other meanings for ش ر ع beside 'road' and 'law', including
    شَرَعَ shara3a (to begin doing something), شُرُوْع shuruu3 (beginning to do something)
    مشروع mashruu3 ( project ) [yes this is the same word as above].
    (and exclusively in Alexandria, مشروع also means 'minibus', just throwing it in there :D)
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    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    I believe the primary signification of the root (which is ش-ر-ع, sh-r-3) is to begin, start, or undertake (something).

    So شَرَعَ means 'to start or begin something.'

    However, looking in the medieval dictionary, Lisan Al-Arab, I noticed that it does appear to have had meanings related to water, and paths, and perhaps even a path leading to water.

    Another meaning of the verb is 'to make ( apparent or manifest' as we see from this passage from the Lisan Al-Arab (relevant parts in bold typeface):

    وفي التنزيل: شَرَعَ لكم من الدِّين ما وصَّى به نوحاً؛ قال ابن الأَعرابي: شَرَعَ أَي أَظهر.
    وقال في قوله: شَرَعوا لهم من الدِّين ما لم يأْذن به الله، قال: أَظهَرُوا لهم.
    وشَرَعَ فلان إِذا أَظْهَرَ الحَقَّ وقمَعَ الباطِلَ. قال الأَزهري: معنى شَرَعَ بَيَّنَ وأَوضَح

    Of this meaning of the verb Lane, in his Arabic-English Lexicon says, "he made apparent, manifest, or plain a road (based off of the dictionary Taj Al-Arus).

    In terms of sharii3a, we also find this in the Lisan:

    والشَّريعةُ والشِّراعُ والمَشْرَعةُ: المواضعُ التي يُنْحَدر إِلى الماء منها، قال الليث: وبها سمي ما شَرَعَ الله للعبادِ شَريعةً من الصوم والصلاةِ والحج والنكاح وغيره

    and al-shiraa3 and al-mashra3a: the places (perhaps paths) that lead down to the water. Al-Layth (a medieval philologist) said, from that what God has made apparent to his servants (mankind) in terms of fasting, praying, pilgrimage, marriage, etc. was termed sharii3a.

    So, figuratively al-sharii3a is the manifest path that leads to God or salvation.

    That would seem to settle it, but I thought I'd offer some more information on this connection to water and paths.

    The first sentences to appear under the root heading are:

    شَرَعَ الوارِدُ يَشْرَعُ شَرْعاً وشُروعاً: تناول الماءَ بفِيه.
    وشَرَعَتِ الدوابُّ في الماء تَشْرَعُ شَرْعاً وشُرُوعاً أَي دخلت.

    Shara3a the newly arrived traveler: He partook of water with his mouth (i.e. he drank water).
    Shara3at the beasts into the water, i.e. they entered the water.

    We also find:

    والشِّرْعةُ والشَّريعةُ في كلام العرب: مَشْرَعةُ الماء وهي مَوْرِدُ الشاربةِ التي يَشْرَعُها الناس فيشربون منها ويَسْتَقُونَ

    Shar3a and sharii3a according to the speech of the Arabs: mashra3at al-maa2 which is a watering place from which people can drink or draw water.

    This is further down:

    وشَرَعَ إِبله وشَرَّعها: أَوْرَدَها شريعةَ الماء فشربت.

    Shara3a iblahu wa sharra3uha: he lead them to the sharii3at al-maa2 (the watering place) so [they could] drink.

    In Lane's Lexicon I found this:

    شَرْع (shar3): A manifest, a plain, an open, track, road or way; and then metaphorically the divine way of religion.

    I also found this in Lane:

    شَرَعَ المال (shara3a 'l-maala)
    He brought the cattle to the watering place.

    أَشْرَعَ ناقَتَه (ashra3a naaqatahu)
    He made his she-camel to enter into the watering place.

    One definition of the participle شارع (shaari3) is "entering into water [to drink].

    So it definitely does appear that the root had (or has) meanings related to both paths and water, or a path that leads to water. However, those meanings of the words from the root do not seem to be used in modern times.
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    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I guess I recognise some things:

    0. The very beginning might then be like (looking for a way) to get started, to begin, i.e., to leave...
    1. A law is like a road, probably a straight road ('ortho-dox', 'right', 'rect-), to be followed - like a method ('odos', road), a manner (a way: both suggesting a road and a manner).
    2. The idea of making straight and revealing might be implied in the very same idea.
    3. The road must then be plain, manifest.
    4. The road often leads to the water, or to salvation metaphorically speaking.

    Just one last question: the present meaning then is law, I guess.

    My interest is etymological, semantic (how meanings of words develop), and is also based on an interest in the origin & meaning of religion starting from words.
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    Just one last question: the present meaning then is law, I guess.

    My interest is etymological, semantic (how meanings of words develop), and is also based on an interest in the origin & meaning of religion starting from words.
    شريعة today refers to law, though شارع is still a very common word for street. I would consider all derivatives from a 3-letter root if I were to investigate Arabic.


    Senior Member
    Arabic - levantine
    شرع in it's most basic meaning is quite abstract: "to access - or initiate an entry- to a body or entity ( s.a of water - or -of knowledge)"
    with different derivatives playing on the themes of that meaning

    examples ( by no means exclusive in meaning) :

    the Law , (access knowledge)/ . الشريعة الشرع
    path, street, (access a source - including a body of water) الشارع
    sail (n) ( to access the wind) الشراع
    A project - ( to initiate ) مشروع

    Primary reference: مقاييس اللغة
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    New Member
    That is great information. Thanks a lot (thanks a million)!
    Just came across your interesting discussion; I know it has been quite some time ago but will humbly leave my comment to connect the dots in all of the above mentioned worthy replies:) Shariah linguistically is a path that leads to water; so a path can be something follwed by people like rules and regulations and law; and water is life; Shariah is a path to life; or a law that is primarily aimed at preserving life. So if you look at any aspect of the Shariah it is to protect, preserve, and promote life:) thanks and God bless


    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Nice additions, and very plausible, I suppose. Now, I suppose the link between 'path' and 'law' is right (or straight): the right road is generally a straight road from A to B, not via C (de-tour); and a law shows (aims to ...) what is right (and that could also be 'straight' in some cases nowadays). In Dutch 'recht' refers to straight, and to the law, strictly speaking to the right, i.e., the study and ... of what is right in a moral sense. Access might perhaps imply some kind of"straightness" too. You don't grab or go for something by going around things: we go straight to it...

    This reminds me of a round/ wrong thread I started a long time ago too.