What You Need to Know About Maqasid Al-Shariah

by Ustazah Zahratur Rofiqah Binte Mochamad Sandisi 2020-11-17 • 16 min read
Ustazah Zahratur Rofiqah graduated with a BA in Islamic Jurisprudence and its Foundation, University of Jordan. She is now pursuing masters in the same field and is an educator in Islamic studies. She loves tea and poems.
2020-11-17 • 16 min read

What is Maqasid al-Shariah?

Maqasid al-Shariah is a branch of Islamic knowledge that deep-dives into the reasons and higher intent of Islamic law. It studies the application of Islamic law to achieve its intended outcome and to remain faithful to the spirit of the law. Through the maqasid approach, Islamic law can be applied in a more holistic and multidimensional form. 

1) What is Maqasid al-Shariah?

The term ‘maqasid’ in Arabic is plural to the word ‘maqsid’ which refers to a purpose, objective, principle, intent or end. Maqasid al-Shariah or Maqasid of Islamic law are the general objectives of Islamic legislation which consist of the deeper meanings and inner aspects of wisdom considered by the Lawgiver (Allah) in areas and circumstances of legislation.[1] They include the general characteristics of the Shariah.

The Shariah’s general rules and specific proofs indicate that the all-purpose principle of Islamic legislation is to preserve the social order of communities and ensure their well-being. Explicit textual proofs confirm that the overall objective of the Shariah is to remove corruption in all kinds of human activity.[2]

The righteousness intended and praised by the Lawgiver is not confined to just beliefs, and ritual worship acts. Instead, it also includes people’s worldly conditions and social affairs, as Islam addresses both individual and community experiences as well. Islam then addressed purifying the human psyche and uplifting the human soul.

2) When was the Maqasid al-Shariah formalised as a body of knowledge in the Islamic sciences?

Maqasid Shariah, in its true essence and entity, is part of the Shariah. It exists with Shariah itself and thus, has no beginning and is not subject to any changes or evolution. In other words, Maqasid Shariah is the divine purpose and objectives that Allah has put in his Shariah: laws and rulings.

On the other hand, the science on Maqasid Shariah, as a branch of knowledge that consists of its terminologies and various topics, emerged at a certain period of time and evolved gradually through different eras.

In the early period of scholarship, scholars did not use the term “Maqasid Shariah” to articulate the objectives and purposes behind a ruling or anything related to Shariah. Instead, they used the term “Al-hukum As-shar’i” generally which translates to “Shariah ruling”. This term was used a lot to define or to explain the purposes behind Islamic rulings.

Scholars of the first century of hijrah did not write on maqasid of Shariah rulings as individual or independent topics. However, they were also not neglected. Instead, they were mentioned in commentaries especially in the exegesis (tafsir) of the verses of the Quran such as in explaining the maqasid and wisdom behind the rulings found in those verses. They were also mentioned in the commentaries of hadith of Rasulullah s.a.w. and in the explanations of fiqh books on transactions and traditions.

The oldest books recorded that explained Maqasid Shariah are by the jurist Al-Hakim At-Tirmizi who died in 320H. Al-Hakim had used the terms “Maqasid”, “Asrar” (the secrets) and “Al-’ilal” (the reasons) as main topics of his books such as “The Maqasid of Prayers”.

The oldest book recorded that has the usage of the term “Maqasid Shariah” in Usul Fiqh is the book of Imam al-Juwaini named “Al-Burhaan fi Usul al-Fiqh” (The evidence of Usul Fiqh) followed by Imam al-Ghazali, al-Razi and al-Amidi.

 Then came al-Shathibi and Imam  Izz ad-Din bin as-Salaam who contributed greatly to the evolution of the main topics and discussion of Maqasid Shariah.

It is also said that al-Shatibi was the first who wrote on Maqasid Shariah independently as the main topic in his book, al-muwafaqat, and he also dissected Maqasid Shariah into sub-topics and provided a thorough explanation on its formulas and issues that eventually evolved into today’s main point of study and research in this area.

3) What are the classifications of Maqasid al-Shariah?

Maqasid Shariah is classified in various ways, according to a number of dimensions. Jasser Auda outlines some of the various dimensions as the following:

1- Levels of necessity, which is the traditional classification.

2- Scope of the ruling aiming to achieve purposes.

3- Scope of people included in purposes.

4- Level of universality of the purposes

According to Ibn ‘Asyur, the main and fundamental purpose of the Shariah or Islamic ruling is to achieve, attain and fulfil goodness for human beings. Imam al-Ghazali mentioned in his book ‘al-mustasfa’ that the purpose of a ruling was to safeguard humanity’s faith, life, intellect, lineage and wealth. Therefore, everything that safeguards these five fundamental objectives is considered to be a maslahah (goodness)[3] and everything that causes the abandonment of these five is considered to be a mafsadah (destructive)[4]. Conversely, getting rid of the mafsadah would also be a form of maslahah.

These mentioned fundamental objectives are the overarching objectives that cover all the other sub-objectives, address them, incorporate them and therefore seek to endorse and achieve them.

These various objectives can also be categorised with respect to the varying degrees of necessities. The level of necessity can be traditionally divided into three. Categorised in the descending order of importance:

  1. the daruriyyat (essential)
  2. the hajiyyat (complimentary)
  3. the tahsiniyyat (embellishment).

The essential masalih (ad-daruriyaat) are the five fundamental objectives: faith, life, intellect, lineage and wealth. These are seen as absolute requirements to an individuals' survival and spiritual well-being, to the extent that their destruction or collapse would precipitate chaos and the demise of the standard of order in society.[5]

The Shariah seeks to protect and promote these essential values and all necessary preservation measures. Theft, adultery, and the drinking of alcohol are prohibited as they did not conform to the fundamental objectives. On the other hand, the Shariah also encourages work and trading activities to enable the individual to earn a living.

The essential masalih, in other words, constitutes the all-pervasive central theme of the Shari’ah, and all its laws are in one way or another related to the protection of these benefits.[6] This includes encouraging the pursuit of knowledge and education to ensure people's intellectual development and the advancement of arts, sciences, and civilization.

The second category, known as (al-hajiyyat) or complementary needs, is defined as benefits that seek to remove severity and hardship in cases where such severity and difficulty do not pose a fatal threat to the normal order's very survival.[7] “Needs” are purposes that are less essential for human life. Examples of needs are marriage, trade, and means of transportations. Islam encourages and regulates these needs.

As a whole, human life is not in danger if some individuals choose not to marry or travel. However, if the lack of fulfilling any of these “needs” becomes widespread, they move up from the level of “needs” to the level of “essentials” (ad-daruriyaat). The Islamic law's fundamental rule states: 'A need that is widespread should be treated as a necessity.’[8]

The third category, known as the (at-tahsiniyyat) or luxuries or embellishment, seek to attain refinement and perfection in the people's customs and conduct. The Shariah thus encourages cleanliness of the body and attire for worship and recommends, for example, the wearing of perfume when attending the Friday congregational prayer, the wearing of nice clothing, and having beautiful homes. These are the things that Islam encourages and considers to be further signs and proofs for Allah's endless mercy and generosity in one's life.

4) How do we apply Maqasid al-Shariah in today’s context?

Ibn ‘Ashur explained the knowledge of Maqasid Shariah is important for mujtahids (religious jurists) to not only understand or interpret the texts of Shariah but also to derive solutions to contemporary problems faced by Muslims. The concept of Maqasid Shariah provides a clear framework and guidance to the process of solving the issues whilst conforming to the human interest and complying with the will of God.

The spread of a deadly pandemic known as Covid-19 has indeed caused several polemics over economic, social, political and religious issues, in particular. In many places, there was a temporary cease of congregational prayers and mass gatherings amid the coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic.

Recent fatwas by MUIS highlights the role of Maqasid Shariah in providing religious guidance for emergency situations like the above mentioned.[9] To read Muis fatwa on the said issue, readers can access this link.

Conclusion

The scholars have consistently summarised the objectives of Shariah into a comprehensive sentence, which is: "Fulfilment of goodness and righteousness and warding off or getting rid of corruption and destruction."[10]

They may have restricted the terms to "bringing goodness or taking care of goodness," and this is not from scholars merely extrapolating and introspecting the detailed rulings of Shariah and its effects in preserving the goodness and interests of Allah's creations.

Instead, the understanding of the objectives of the Shariah and its source is derived from the explicit texts explaining the nature of goodness and corruption, for example, the words of the Almighty addressing his prophets and messengers in Surah al-Muminun, 

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلرُّسُلُ كُلُوا۟ مِنَ ٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتِ وَٱعْمَلُوا۟ صَـٰلِحًا ۖ إِنِّى بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ عَلِيمٌۭ

“O messengers! Eat from what is good and lawful, and act righteously. Indeed, I fully know what you do.” 

(Surah Al-Mu’minun, 23:51)

And in Surah Saba,

وَلَقَدْ ءَاتَيْنَا دَاوُۥدَ مِنَّا فَضْلًۭا ۖ يَـٰجِبَالُ أَوِّبِى مَعَهُۥ وَٱلطَّيْرَ ۖ وَأَلَنَّا لَهُ ٱلْحَدِيدَ. أَنِ ٱعْمَلْ سَـٰبِغَـٰتٍۢ وَقَدِّرْ فِى ٱلسَّرْدِ ۖ وَٱعْمَلُوا۟ صَـٰلِحًا ۖ إِنِّى بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌۭ

“Indeed, We granted David a (great) privilege from Us, (commanding:) “O mountains! Echo his hymns! And the birds as well.” We made iron mouldable for him, instructing: “Make full-length armour, (perfectly) balancing the links. And work righteousness (O family of David!). Indeed, I am All-Seeing of what you do.”

(Surah Saba, 34:10-11)

In this verse, Allah commanded Prophet Daud to do righteous deeds and closely associated it with industrial work based on moulding iron and making it easier to use. Here, we can see how a smith’s work that contributes goodness to others can also be considered as a good deed.

In numerous other verses in the Quran or Rasulullah’s s.a.w. narrations, we can find that Islam calls to goodness and prevents corruptions by praising the righteous because of their noble acts, condemning corruptions, warning corruptors with great punishments in both worlds and so many more.

Ibn ‘Ashur said, “These explicit texts prove that the objective of Shariah is to fulfil and achieve goodness and remove corruption, and that is closely associated with human’s actions. Therefore, we are assured that the rulings of Shariah strive to achieve goodness and remove corruptions, and we regard this as the grand overall principle of Shariah.”

With this, I end this article with a verse from Surah al-Hajj,

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱرْكَعُوا۟ وَٱسْجُدُوا۟ وَٱعْبُدُوا۟ رَبَّكُمْ وَٱفْعَلُوا۟ ٱلْخَيْرَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

“O believers! Bow down, prostrate yourselves, worship your Lord, and do (what is) good so that you may be successful,”

(Surah Al-Hajj, 22:77)

and from Surah al-Baqarah, 

وَأَنفِقُوا۟ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَلَا تُلْقُوا۟ بِأَيْدِيكُمْ إِلَى ٱلتَّهْلُكَةِ ۛ وَأَحْسِنُوٓا۟ ۛ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُحْسِنِينَ

“Spend in the cause of Allah and do not let your own hands throw you into destruction by withholding. And do good, for Allah certainly loves the good-doers.”

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:195)


[1] Ibn ‘Ashur. Maqasid Shariah. Daarul Hadith

[2] Ibn ‘Ashur, Treatise in Maqasid al-Shariah

[3]Maslahah means utmost righteousness and goodness and an attribute of the act whereby righteousness and goodness take place in public or in private.

[4] Mafsadah is the opposite of maslahah, an attribute of the act whereby corruption or harm happens to the public or to individuals.

[5] Dr.Mohammad Hashim Kamali. Maqasid (Higher Objectives) of Shari’a.

[6] Dr.Mohammad Hashim Kamali. Maqasid (Higher Objectives) of Shari’a.

[7] Dr.Mohammad Hashim Kamali. Maqasid (Higher Objectives) of Shari’a.

[8] Jasser Auda. Maqasid Shariah

[9] Hudzaifah Achmad Qotadah. Covid-19: Tinjauan Maqasid Al-Shariahh Terhadap Penangguhan Pelaksanaan Ibadah Shalat Di Tempat Ibadah (Hifdz al-Nafs Lebih Utama Dari Hifdz al-Din?).

[10] Ahmad Raysuni. Introduction to Maqasid Shariah.

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