al-Maqāsid al-Sharī‘ah

Theory of the Higher Objectives and Intents of Islamic Law


by Shaykh Yasir Birjas


How many Muslims there are in the world that are Muslim in a nominal sense only, and are not fully convinced about many matters of Shari‘ah, such as Salah, Hijab, Fasting, etc.? The subject of Maqasid is an attempt to present the wisdom and underlying intents of the Islamic law. The basic premise: What is easier, practicing something that you logically understand or something you have no idea of its intents and purposes? While we don’t have a right to question Allah, we can reflect and ponder over His laws and attempt to decipher their wisdoms.


This is the need of the times today. A brilliant scholar from the 8th century felt this need and compiled a ground-breaking work on the subject for the first time in our history with a text that remains the standard in the field to this day. He was none other than Imam Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi [died 790H] from a place none other than al-Andalus.


The Sharī‘ah, or sum corpus of Islamic legislation, has a number of distinct characteristics (referred to as Khasā’is al-Sharī‘ah):


1.       Inclusiveness  (‘Umūm al-Sharī‘ah): The Sharī‘ah applies to all legally competent human beings, as the Prophet was sent to mankind in general, as a “Mercy to the Worlds.”


2.       Consistency and Flexibility (Thabāt al-Sharī‘ah wa marūnah): In general, the devotional acts (Huqūq Allah) are consistent and unchanging while those related to human transactions (Huqūq al-‘Ibād) may be subject to circumstances; therefore it’s more pressing to know the maqāsid related to the transaction wing of the Sharī‘ah than to the devotional side


3.       Universality of Sharī‘ah to all public welfare (Shumūl al- Sharī‘ah)

a.        The legislation covers worldly as well as spiritual matters, public and private welfare, personal and community affairs

b.       Islam is not purely capitalist nor purely socialist, but a balanced combination of the two

c.        For instance, one objective of the Sharī‘ah is the circulation of wealth as broadly as possible (based upon verse 7 of surah al-Hashr) and underlies many commands, including those related to inheritance. Most people today leave their wealth to one or a few individuals, sometimes to one child or two, or even a pet, leading to a modern version of feudalism. Islam, on the other hand, fixes the distribution among a broad range of relatives, while leaving flexibility for only one portion of it to bequeath it to whom you will.


4.       Religious Incentives: Islam provides religious incentives to all human conduct, even in mundane worldly acts, business transactions and their likes. For instance, conservation and environmentalism is a modern value that arose as a realization of the harm we are causing the environment, while in Islam, there were numerous safeguards already in place that would be considered such measures, but they were linked to religious incentives. Examples include the instructions for being frugal with water at ablution time, even if one were by a river. Also, the ihram requirements, with its simple dress, prohibition of cutting vegetation and hunting, is also about maintaining the ecosystem of the barren valley of Makkah .


5.       Preservation of Sharī‘ah: We believe that the two primary sources of Sharī‘ah are permanently preserved.


There are inherent dangers in this subject, which requires careful balance. Imam Al-Shatibi stated that sticking to fiqh without knowing the objectives leads to shallowness and dryness, while those who know the objectives without being grounded in Sharī‘ah have the danger of deviating from the established norms.


Abu Zayd

Live from Houston, Ilm Summit 2008, day 4


One thought on “al-Maqāsid al-Sharī‘ah

  1. Jazak Allahu Khair Ya ubayd.

    I wanted you to know that your writing is not going on deaf ears. May Allah bless you…amin.

    Continue writing as I couldn’t attend I’lm Summit. However, I have been coming here daily to get an update. It must b a tly amazing experience.


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