The Arabic word fiqh means knowledge, understanding, and comprehension. It refers to the legal rulings of the Muslim scholars, based on their knowledge of the shari'a.
The Word Jurisprudence(fiqh)in the Qur'an and the Traditions
The word 'FIQH' and its derivation 'TAFAQQUH' have been extensively used in the Qur'an and Hadith, and in almost all cases it denotes depth study and profound understanding. The Qur'an says: "If a group of people from every tribe stayed behind to study (and ponder on) the religion, (they would be able) to warn and admonish their people when they return to them so that they are cautious." (9:122)
And the Prophet is reported to have said: "Whoever commits forty Hadith for the sake of my Ummah shall be resurrected by Allah as a learned FAQIH."
It is not known whether the term FAQIH was applied to the learned companions of the Prophet. However, we certainly know that the generation which followed the companions, known as Tabe'in, used this appellation for a number of scholars among them. There were for example, seven great jurists among them who are known as 'FUQAHA SAB'A' i.e. the seven fuqaha. The year 94 A.H. was known as 'SANATUL FUQAHA' (the year of the Fuqaha) because in that year, together with our fourth Imam, Ali b. Hussain (A.S.), great jurists like Saeed b. Musayyab, Urwah b. Zubair, Saeed b. Jubayr and others died. Thereafter, great Islamic scholars, particularly the jurists were commonly classified as Fuqaha.
Holy Imams (peace be upon them) have used the term Faqih quite often. Some of their companions were recommended to study religion thoroughly and become Faqih, and when they attained that degree of knowledge, they were called FUQAHA. We know of quite a few students of our Imams who were known as Shi'a Fuqaha by their contemporaries.
The term FAQIH as elucidated by Islamic Scholars
In the Qur'an and Hadith, Fiqh denotes profound understanding and knowledge of Islamic fundamentals and laws, and is not confined to any particular branch of religious sciences. But with the passage of time, the word becomes synonymous with the knowledge of Islamic laws and jurisprudence.
The Ulema have divided Islamic teachings into three groups:Principles of Faith:
These are the fundamentals which are related to one's faith, like the belief of God, the resurrection and the Day of Judgment, the Prophethood, the divine revelation, the Angels, the Imamat.Moral behaviour and ethics:
These are aimed at improving human behaviour) and cultivating spiritual aspects of our existence. They deal with TAQWA, Justice, Generosity, Bravery, Patience, Submission to the Will of Allah, and so on.Practical laws
These deal with the rules and regulations laid down for certain acts, and also provide guidelines for the way these acts be performed.
The Fuqaha of Islam have restricted the use of the word FIQH to the third category, perhaps because it has been a matter of popular concern, and that the believer sought such guidance more often. This is why men of proficiency in this branch of Islamic knowledge only came to be known as 'FUQAHA'.