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Urf العرف is an Arabic Islamic term referring to the custom, or 'knowledge', of a given society, leading to change in the fiqh فقه (Islamic jurisprudence).

`Urf is a source of Shariah rulings where there aren't explicit primary texts of the Qur'an and Sunnah specifying the ruling. `Urf can also specify something generally established in the primary texts.

In some countries such as Egyptmarker, marriage, the Urfi way, means to get married without official papers issued by the state (Zawag Urfi:زواج عرفي). This type of marriage is valid and recognized. (See: common law marriage)


The term urf, meaning "to know", refers to the customs and practices of a given society. Although this was not formally included in Islamic law, the Sharia recognizes customs that prevailed at the time of Muhammad but were not abrogated by the Qur'an or the tradition (called "Divine silence"). Practices later innovated are also justified, since Islamic tradition says what the people, in general, consider good is also considered as such by God. According to some sources, urf holds as much authority as ijma (consensus), and more than qiyas (analogical deduction). Urf is the Islamic equivalent of "common law".

Urf was first recognized by Abū Yūsuf (d. 182/798), an early leader of the Ḥanafī school. But it was considered part of the sunnah, and not as formal source. Later al-Sarak̲h̲sī (d. 483/1090), opposed it, holding that custom cannot prevail over a written text.

In the application of urf, custom that is accepted into law should be commonly prevalent in the region, not merely in an isolated locality. If it is in absolute opposition to Islamic texts, custom is disregarded. However, if it is in opposition to qiyas (analogical deduction), custom is given preference. Jurists also tend to, with caution, give precedence to custom over doctoral opinions of highly esteemed scholars.


  1. "Urf", Encyclopaedia of Islam
  2. Hasan (2004), p. 169-71

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