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AL Maqasid al-Shariah : A Beginner’s Guide PDF Print E-mail

Jasser Auda

Children often come up with deep philosophical questions, and one cannot tell whether they mean these questions or not! However, the beauty of a child’s question is that it is often not bound by pre-set ‘facts’ or ‘this is the way things are’ logic. I often start courses on Maqasid al-Shariahwith the story of a little girl who asked her father: ‘Dad, why do you stop the car at the traffic light?’ Her father replied, with an educative tone: ‘Because the light is red, and red means stop.’ The girl asked: ‘But why?’ The Dad replied also with a tone of education: ‘So the policeman does not give us a ticket.’ The girl went on: ‘But why would the policeman give us a ticket?’ The Dad answered: ‘Well. Because crossing a red light is dangerous.’ The girl continued: ‘Why?’ Now the Dad thought of saying: ‘This is the way things are,’ but then decided to be a bit philosophical with his little beloved daughter. Thus, he answered: ‘Because we cannot hurt people. Would you like to be hurt yourself?’ The girl said: ‘No!’ The dad said: ‘And people also do not want to be hurt. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Love for people what you love for yourself.” But instead of stopping there, the girl asked: ‘Why do you love for people what you love for yourself?’ After a bit of thinking, the father said: ‘Because all people are equal, and if you would like to ask why, I would say that God is The Just, and out of His Justice, He made us all equal, with equal rights, and that is the way He made the world!’

The question of ‘why’ is equivalent to the question of ‘what is the maqasid?’ And the ‘levels of why,’ as philosophers have put it, are the ‘levels of maqasid,’ as Islamic jurists have put it. These levels of why and the exploration of maqasid will take us from the details of simple actions, and clear ‘signs’, such as stopping at a red traffic light, from the level of actions and signs to the level of laws and regulations ,such as traffic laws, from the level of laws and regulations to the level of mutual benefits and ‘utility’, such as people’s consideration of others’ safety in exchange of their own safety, and finally, from the level of benefits and utility to the level of the overall principles and basic beliefs, such as justice, compassion, and the attributes of God.

Therefore, Maqasid al-Shariahis the branch of Islamic knowledge that answers all the challenging questions of ‘why’ on various levels, such as the following questions:

• Why is giving charity (zakah) one of Islam’s principle ‘pillars’?

• Why is it an Islamic obligation to be good to your neighbors?

• Why do Muslims greet people with salam (peace)?

• Why do Muslims have to pray several times every day?

• Why is fasting during the month of Ramadan one of Islam’s principle ‘pillars’?

• Why do Muslims mention the name of God all the time?

• Why is drinking any amount of alcohol a major sin in Islam?

• Why is smoking weed, for example, as prohibited as drinking alcohol in Islam?

• Why is the death penalty a (maximum) punishment in the Islamic law for rape or genocide?

Maqasid al-Shariah explain the ‘wisdoms behind rulings,’ such as ‘enhancing social cohesion,’ which is one of the wisdoms behind charity, being good to one’s neighbors, and greeting people with peace.

Wisdoms behind rulings also include ‘developing consciousness of God,’ which is one of the rationales behind regular prayers, fasting, and supplications.

Maqasid are also good ends that the laws aim to achieve by blocking, or opening, certain means. Thus, the maqasid of ‘preserving the minds and souls of people’ explain the total and strict Islamic ban on alcohol and intoxicants, and the maqasid of ‘protecting people’s property and honor’ explain the Qur’an’s mentioning of a ‘death penalty’ as a (possible) punishment for rape or genocide (interpretations of verses 2:178 and 5:33, according to a number of schools of Islamic law).

Maqasid are also the group of divine intents and moral concepts upon which the Islamic law is based, such as justice, human dignity, free will, magnanimity, chastity, facilitation, and social cooperation. Thus, they represent the link between the Islamic law and today’s notions of human rights, development, and civility, and could answer some other type of questions, such as:

• What is the best methodology for re-reading and re-interpreting the Islamic scripture in light of today’s realities?

• What is the Islamic concept of ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’?

• What is the link between today’s notions of human rights and Islamic law?

• How can Islamic law contribute to ‘development,’ morality, and ‘civility’?

Let us, next, study the terminology and theory of maqasid more formally.

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