Maqasid al Shari'ah

Maqasid al-Shari'ah, often translated as the "objectives" or "goals" of Islamic law, indeed emphasises the attainment of public good and well-being for the benefit of humanity. This concept goes beyond traditional social responsibility.

Maqasid al-Shari’ah may be stated simply as the higher objectives of the rules of the Shari’ah, the observance of which, facilitate the normal functioning of society by enhancing the public good (maslaha). This implies avoiding actions likely to harm to individuals and society. The niyyah (intent), objective and purpose is simply to achieve goals that embody social and economic justice as well as enhancing the welfare of the community and environment. Thus, maqasid was seen as requirements for the survival and spiritual well-being of individuals, to the extent that their neglect or omission would precipitate the destruction and collapse of the normal functioning of society.

Maqasid al-Shari’ah may also be interpreted as achieving social good as a consequence in addition to well-being and, hence, it goes beyond traditional (voluntary) social responsibility.

Shari’ah provides the guidance to individuals that regulates their way of life for the benefit of mankind; it forbids all that is harmful or likely to cause harm to human beings, society and the environment, and permits all that is useful and beneficial to human beings, society and the environment. In the broadest terms the Shari’ah addresses all aspects of human activity and provide the rules with the greatest concern for public good. The Shari’ah embodies rules that are derived from a combination of sources including The Qur’an, the Hadith (sayings and conduct of Prophet Muhammad and fatwas (the rulings of Islamic scholars).

The Shari’ah rules also addresses concerns in worldly matters and the set of rules known as muamalat governing commercial transactions between parties involved. These rules are not imposed for their own sake but for the purpose of guiding human beings with capacity for goodness establishing the Shari’ah objectives through their mutual dealings and to maintain and even enhance a moral functioning of society.

In Islamic finance, which encompasses banking and insurance, the respect for Shari’ah is concerned with determining the right way or ways for financial dealings where right is interpreted in a moral sense and distinguished from wrong or sinful. Citizens can abide by national laws, yet behave in an immoral way, including in financial dealings where laws are unable to curb speculative behaviour or exploitation of the gullible.” Professor Rodney Wilson, founder Islamic Finance Programme, Durham University UK; Legal, Regulatory and Governance Issues in Islamic Finance, 2012.

Maqasid and Shari’ah

Maqasid al-Shari’ah is a composition of two words: ‘maqasid, plural of ‘maqsad’’ and ‘al-Shari`ah’ or simply Shari’ah. Maqasid is an Arabic word that literally means intent, objective and purpose with a desire to create harmony with others; this relates to welfare, interest, or benefit. The vital part of the Maqasid’s objective is preserving public good (maslaha), whereby it looks at the public benefit and welfare of society as a whole in relation to the consequences of the intentions and actions of individuals in their mutual dealings. Thus, Maqasid can also be considered as the wisdom and knowledge behind governing rules.

Objectives, the Maqasid

The objectives of Shari’ah are not specifically mentioned in the original sources of the Shari’ah, The Qur’an and Sunnah (the sayings and conduct of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)). These were developed over the years by Islamic scholars who sought primarily to protect members of the community by establishing the essential moral values, and validate all measures necessary for their preservation and the advancement of a moral society.

Al-Haramayn al-Juwayni (d. 1085CE), was probably the first Islamic scholar to classify the Maqasid of the Shari’ah into the three main categories of the daruriyyah (the necessities), the hajiyyah (the complementary) and the tahsiniyyah (the embellishments), which has ever since been generally accepted. Al-Juwayni’s ideas were then further developed by his pupil, Ghazzali, who wrote categorically that the  Shari’ah pursued five basic objectives – life, intellect, faith, lineage and property” (Al-Maqasid Al-Shari’ah: The Objectives of Islamic Law by Mohammed Hashim Kamil).

Broadly the three levels constitute a need for the fulfilment of which has been made an individual as well as social imperative; all these refer to goods and services that can make a real difference in human well-being and the normal functioning of society in satisfying the basic necessities and providing adding comfort and refinements over and above necessities.  The three levels of need are summaries below:

  • the darura or daruriyyah (necessities)
  • the hajiyyah (comforts, as being complementary or secondary to necessities)
  •  the tahsiniyyah (refinements or embellishments as desirable over comforts and necessities). These cannot include ‘luxuries’ that could be viewed as those goods and services which are wanted for their extravagant wastefulness and extreme lavishness and do not make a real difference in an individual’s well-being and the well-being of society.
Development of Maqasid al Shari’ah

It was not until Islamic scholars like Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d. 1111CE), and later al-Shatibi (d. 1388CE), that significant developments were made in the formulation of the Maqasid.  To them a mere conformity to rules that went against the purpose and vision of the Shari’ah was therefore generally unacceptable. According to Imam al-Ghazali (1058 – 111 CE) “the objective of the shariah is to promote the well-being of all mankind, which is safeguarding their faith (deen), their self (nafs), their intellect (a’qal), their posterity (nasl) and their wealth (mal). Whatever ensures the safeguard of these five principles serves public interest and is therefore desirable”.  Without the protection of life, lineage and property, and the guidance of faith and intellect could lead to more and more ways of deceiving and exploiting people. The work of al-Shatibi, however, made a more profound contribution to the concept of Maqasid by focusing on the principle of maslaha, or ‘public good’, as an approach to overcoming the rigidity imposed by literal readings and applying qiyas (analogy). As opposed to the literal reading of  the text of The Qur’an in isolation, the maqasid approach required a comprehensive reading of the text as an integrated whole in order to identify the higher objectives of the Shari’ah and then interpreting particular verses on a given matter  according to the identified maqasid.

A number of other prominent early Islamic scholars later contributed to the development and expansion of the concept and discipline of the Maqasid al-Shari’ah. Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi (d. 1285CE) of the comparative Maliki school of jurisprudence was the first to add a sixth to the existing list of the five essential maqasid, namely, the protection of al-’ird (honour).  Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328 CE) was probably the first Islamic scholar to depart from the notion of confining the maqasid to a specific number (such as the five enumerated by al-Ghazzali). and added to the existing list of the maqasid such matters as fulfilment of contracts, preservation of the ties of kinship, honouring the rights of one’s neighbour, sincerity, trustworthiness, and moral purity, all of which expanded the maqasid in terms of promoting benefit and preventing harm.  Contemporary scholars like Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1926 CE) and others  further extended the list of the maqasid to include social welfare and support (altakaful – a concept of insurance protection), freedom, human dignity and human fraternity, among the higher objectives and Maqasid of the Shari’ah. (Al-Maqasid Al-Shari’ah: The Objectives of Islamic Law by Mohammed Hasim Kamil). 

Educating the individual (tahdhib al-fard) was added as another important objective of the Shari’ah seeking to make every individual a trustworthy agent and carrier of the moral values of the Shari’ah, and it is through educating the individual that the Shari’ah seeks to realise most of its social and economic objectives. While the five objectives enumerated by al-Ghazali aimed at ensuring human well-being by honouring human rights and fulfilling all human needs may be considered as primary, the very nature of the other objectives may appear less important but the realisation of the primary objectives is likely to be difficult in the long-term without the inclusion of these other objectives.

Contemporary scholar, Mohammed Hashim Kamali, writing on Maqasid al-Shari’ah, says that The Qur’an and Sunnah are expressive of the goal, justification and benefit of their ahkam (laws). In addition to the above, which require or sanction the undertaking of some positive action, one may also refer to the ahkam (laws) of the Shari’ah as those which prohibit or discourage certain actions that are or may be harmful and that may result in prejudice, corruption and injustice. In all cases, whatever the aim or rationale of the individual ahkam. However, the overall objective is the realisation of some maslaha (public good/public benefit/public interest).  The provisions derived from the Qur’an and The Sunnah seeks simply to establish justice, eliminate prejudice, and alleviate hardship. The provisions also seek to promote cooperation and mutual support within the family and the society at large.  The purpose of all this is the attainment of refinement and excellence in all areas of human behaviour and conduct.

That the main objective of the Shari’ah is to establish a strong community with a stable social system and promote the orderly functioning of its affairs by achieving its welfare and preventing intent and actions are that morally reprehensible is so obvious that not the slightest doubt about it should arise in the mind of any thinking person.

Maslaha (public good or benefit)

Maslaha or maslahah is a concept that belongs to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). It is invoked by some Islamic scholars to prohibit or allow something on the basis of whether or not it serves the public or common good or public benefit of welfare.  Achieving Maslahah is one of the higher Shari’ah objectives.

Public good (maslaha), equivalent to public benefit or public interest, takes priority over personal interests. For example, the Shari’ah is against exploitation hence it prohibits a monopoly that gives exclusive control to individuals and businesses over the production or sale of certain commodities or services in order to give precedence of the greater public good over the personal interests of a few. Maslaha thus implies the utmost righteousness and high standards of morality, and is the result of an action which produces a benefit or leads to universal goodness. Al-Shatibi characterised maslaha as being the only primary objective of Shari’ah broad enough to encompass all measures that are beneficial to the people.  The benefits of (maslaha) in their broadest sense encompasses all  benefits pertaining to the welfare of the individual and the community, material, moral and spiritual, as well as the interests of the future generations. Acknowledging that the individual is by nature self-seeking the maslaha approach further reaffirms the Shari`ah rules to maintain order and justice in society, while balancing the individual’s rights with those of society. Maslaha reinforces the principle that each individual is a responsible member of society and the purity of intentions and just actions of the individual are integral to the normal functioning of society, including those relating to commercial transactions and financial dealings.

Key conditions that must be met to validate Maslala

  1. It must be genuine, not lacking in merit, false or misleading
  2. It must be general, that it secures public good for all
  3. It must not be in conflict with the clear Nass (the Arabic term for a known, or clear, legal ruling).
Further explanation of the three levels of need in maslaha

There is no specific reference in the textual sources on the classification of maslaha into the three levels of darura, hajiyyah and tahsiniyyah but through istiqra (the procedure of induction and thorough scrutiny of a matter), this classification and conclusion has generally been accepted by Islamic legal scholars. All such goods and services which go beyond the three levels of need have been considered as self–indulgence and are strongly disapproved.

Some Islamic scholars have taken the position that each need of maslaha should serve the need of the other. For example, the complementary interest of trade to generate wealth for individuals and society should serve the preservation of life. The lack or neglect of one interest from a certain level can affect the next level also. That is why some scholars have preferred to consider the varying levels of need involving maslaha as overlapping circles rather than a strict vertical hierarchy separating each level of need according to importance.

The Darura, Daruriyyah (necessities)

The word darura is derived from the ‘darar’ that signifies ‘harm’ or ‘damage’. According to Ibn Manzur (d. 1311/1312), author of the most comprehensive dictionary of Arabic called Lisan ul Arab, darar denoted the dire state of hardship. In a loose legal context, darura designates goods and services absolutely necessary for preserving life. However, darura may also describe a situation which justifies non-compliance of a Shari’ah prohibition on the ground of avoiding imminent harm but the use of darura can only be justified as a temporary application in certain and specific cases under the most compelling circumstances. On prohibited things that may be permitted in cases of necessity The Qur’an says, ” … But if one is forced by necessity without wilful disobedience nor transgressing due limits, then there is no sin on him.” [2:173]

The Hajiyyah (comforts, complementary values)

Hajiyyah are the comforts which are in contrast to darura (necessities). While Hajiyyah can be confused with necessity in the general sense, it refers a need that is less than absolute necessity. The comforts are therefore not considered essential matters for human life. “It consists of what is needed by the community for the achievement of its interest and the proper functioning of its affairs. If it is neglected, the social order will not actually collapse but will not function well. Likewise, it is not on the level of what is indispensable (daruri) (Ibn Ashur, 2006, p. 123).

Al-Shatibi has defined comforts as “… things that are needed to make things easier and to remove constraints that usually lead to difficulties and hardships that are encountered when something desired is lost. If they are not attended to, humans, in general, will face difficulties and hardships. However, as of its expectant, normal evil does not reach the level of the general masalih (plural of maslaha).” The comforts should thus be viewed as values that are complementary to necessities and viewed as benefits or conveniences that relieve hardships and difficulties but their absence do not pose a threat to the survival of the normal functioning of society. A complimentary value of comfort may be elevated to the rank of necessity when it concerns the public at large.

The Tahsiniyyah (refinements or embellishments)

Tahsiniyyah relate to refinements or embellishments as desirable values that are beyond those of necessities (darura) and comforts (hajiyyah). However tahsiniyyah should not be confused with luxuries which can give the impression of lavishness. Tahsiniyyah can also refer to values that are desirable for the attainment of nobility in character and refinement and excellence in all areas of human behaviour for attainment of perfection in their conduct. The absence of refinements or embellishments, like the absence of comforts, will not threaten life and pose a threat to the normal functioning of society.

Relationship betweenNecessities (darura), Comforts (hajiyyah) and Refinements (tahsiniyyah)

A deduction of the Shari’ah values relating to the levels of maslaha can be viewed as below:

  • Darura is the basic necessity for life while the other two (comforts and refinements) are in the nature of complementing darura, without being essential or absolutely necessary for life.
  • Darura can result in the demand for the other two, that is, hajiyyah and tahsiniyyah.
  • Demand for hajiyyah and tahsiniyyah does not create demand for darura.
  • Demand for hajiyyah can be set aside for the demand for darura.
  • Similarly the demand for tahsiniyyah can be set aside for the demand for hajiyyah.
  • Hajiyyah and tahsiniyyah can be pursued for the sake of darura, that is, to complement them and not for their own sake for a lavish life.
Financial crises, poverty and depletion of resources

Two major arguments are advocated for the cause of the global financial crises, continuing poverty and the depletion of world resources. One argument focused on the moral failures in the uncontrolled behaviour and conduct of individuals and those individual who manage organisations pursuing short-term gains at the expense of others and the wider society. The other focused on cognitive failure, in which government and their agencies overestimated the consequences driven by financial innovations and self-regulation of markets.  Both undoubtedly have their roots in the lack of virtue and morals in the behaviour and conduct of individuals with self-seeking interest without a genuine concern for public good and the environment. The reason is that it is individuals or groups of individuals who essentially direct and manage worldly matters.

Self-Realisation of Maqasid al-Shari’ah

It is not possible to establish the Maqasid al-Shari’ah without the genuine desire of human beings taking individual responsibility for paying close attention to the consequences of their intent behind all their dealings. It is important to understand the relationship between the purpose of such dealings that must ensure justice and how these can contribute either to the well-being or to the collapse of he normal functioning of society and depletion of the world resources. The establishment of the Maqasid al-Shari’ah must be the overriding principle guiding various stakeholders and the personal responsibility of all individuals concerned requiring self-discipline and personal sacrifice as well as guarding against excesses and exploitation.  

The realisation of the Maqasid al-Shari’ah is also a matter of faith. Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406 CE) argued that it may not be possible to realise justice without the faith in the need for upholding moral values in the behaviour and conduct by all members of society. The moral benefits can instill mutual trust and cordial relations among the people, and motivate them to fulfil their obligations in mutual dealings and to care for each other. However, living up to these values requires sacrifice of self-interest on the part of all individuals. In Islamic faith, as with most other faith-based systems, faith is essential to accomplish a sense of justice and morality by giving self-interest a long-term perspective – stretching it beyond this world, which is finite.