Since the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 23rd September 1932 it has been the government’s express policy that the country is governed by Islamic Law (Shari’a). This was confirmed by the Basic Law of Rule, Royal Order No. A/90 of 27th Sha’ban 1412 Hejra corresponding to 1st March 1992 Gregorian, which is, effectively, the country’s constitution.
Although Islamic Law continues to evolve, its fundamental principles were developed between the 7th and 10th centuries of the Gregorian calendar. There is no codification of these rules, nor is there a system of judicial precedent. To ascertain the rules of Islamic Law which govern a given issue one must refer to texts written by jurists whose writings are regarded as authoritative by those who interpret and apply Islamic Law in a given jurisdiction.
There are several schools of Islamic Law, whose opinions can differ regarding specific issues of law. As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, traditionally the dominant school of Islamic Law has been the Hanbali school. This was confirmed by a Royal edict of 1928, which laid down that judges had to apply the principles set out in specified Islamic Law texts of the Hanbali school. However, this position was diluted somewhat by the enactment of the Basic Law of Rule in 1992, because this states that the Saudi Arabian courts must issue rulings in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunna, the basic sources of Islamic Law, without specifying a particular school of law whose rules are binding. In practice the Saudi Arabian courts still tend to apply Hanbali law, although they have some discretion in this respect.
Under Islamic Law, and, therefore, Saudi Arabian law, a government may issue regulations, provided that these do not conflict with established principles of Islamic Law. There is a considerable body of regulations in force in Saudi Arabia, particularly in areas of administrative and business law. In theory, Islamic Law is meant to be all-embracing, and, therefore, all legislation is intended to supplement Islamic Law. In practice, there are numerous areas of law where Islamic Law offers few or no guidelines, and where government-made legislation is, therefore, the only law.
On the other hand, where a given subject matter is covered in some detail in the authoritative Islamic Law texts, the Saudi Arabian government tends not to legislate in those areas. For example, there is no Saudi Arabian legislation setting out general principles of contract law.
*This Saudi Arabian Law Overview is not intended to be legal advice, and cannot be relied on as a substitute for legal advice. We make no representation that the contents of this Saudi Arabian Law Overview are or will remain accurate or current.
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