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


The Last Lecture

based upon an inspiring session by Shaykh Isam Rajab

وأوصيك بتقوى الله يا عمر، إن لله عملاً بالليل لا يقبله بالنهار، وعملاً بالنهار لا يقبله بالليل. واعلم أنه لا تقبل نافلة حتى تؤدى الفريضة وأنه إنما ثقلت موازين من ثقلت موازينه يوم القيامة بإتباعهم الحق. ويحق لميزان لا يوضع فيه إلا الحق أن يكون ثقيلاً. وإنما خفت موازين من خفت موازينه يوم القيامة باتباعهم الباطل في الدنيا. ويحق لميزان لا يوضع فيه إلا الباطل أن يكون خفيفاً. إن الله جل ذكره ذكر أهل الجنة بحسن أعمالهم، وتجاوز عن سيئاتهم، فإذا ذكرتهم فقل إني لأخاف ألا أكون من هؤلاء. وذكر أهل النار بسوء أعمالهم، فإذا ذكرتهم فقل إني لأرجو ألا أكون من هؤلاء. وذكر آية الرحمة مع آية العذاب ليكون العبد راغباً راهباً لا يتمنى على على الله غير الحق، ولا يلقي بيده إلى التهلكة. فإن حفظت وصيتي فلا يكونن غائب أحب إليك من الموت ولست بمعجزه.




Life is short and passing you by rapidly. In late 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given weeks to live. Shortly thereafter he delivered a final lecture at Carnegie Mellon University that became a phenomenon and inspired millions. As Muslims, our tradition teaches us that we must live likewise. We are all headed towards death, with only a few days left. The question is, how do spend those remaining days.


The great Caliph Abu Bakr on his deathbed gave some beautiful parting words of advice to Umar that should serve as a guide to each one of us, and point us to the proper way of living and prioritizing our lives.


I advise with the piety of Allah (taqwa) O Umar, and know that there are some deeds for Allah during the night that cannot be postponed to the day, and some deeds for Him in the daytime that cannot be postponed for the night. And know that superogatory deeds will not be accepted until the obligatory ones are fulfilled.


It is all about prioritizing our lives. Allah has fixed various actions into various timings with an order or succession. Some deeds are more virtuous than others. Some times are more valuable than others. And some deeds are more virtuous in specific times over others. Some deeds cannot be postponed and should be done immediately. And the obligatory deeds always take precedence over the others. Real knowledge is to recognize these priorities and virtues and carefully choose the steps we take in our lives to maximize results.


How many of us waste our time with insignificant or less significant things? How many Muslims are diligent in Taraweeh prayer in Ramadan while neglecting Isha? The great worshipper Fudayl ibn Iyad [died 187H] recalls his former days as a highway robber, when, as he sat down with his band of robbers after a robbery to distribute the spoils, his chief refused to eat, stating he was fasting. They were amazed and began laughing at that, to which the chief responded, “Look, you don’t know what will happen to you, so never sever the link between you and Allah. Always have at least one good deed.”


Those who follow the truth in dunya despite it being heavy on them will have their scales weighty on the Day of Judgement, while those who followed falsehood because it was easier and light upon them will have their scales very light on that Day.


The truth is hard and heavy while evil is easy and light in this dunya. Those who practice the deen find it difficult. But remain focused on the end. What are we filling our scales with? Will they be heavy or light on that Day?


Verily, Allah has mentioned the people of Paradise by virtue of their good deeds and has forgiven their sins, so when you remember them, say, “I fear not being among them.” And He mentioned the people of the Fire with their evil deeds, so when you remember them, say, “I hope not to be among them.” And he mentioned verses of mercy along with verses of punishment so that the servant may be both hopeful and fearful.


If you live by my advice, nothing shall be more pleasing to you than death, which you shall never escape.


This is the action plan for your remaining days. If you remain focused and prioritize, keeping your eyes on the prize, focusing on the obligations, then you will have no regrets. You will not only be ready for death but will welcome it. Professor Randy Pausch died last week but left his Last Lecture for the world. And this was Abu Bakr’s Last Lecture for the ummah.


Abu Zayd

Live from Houston, Ilm Summit 2008, Day 3

The Kingdom of Al-Andalus

The Nasrid king Abu Abdullah Muhammad XII (Boabdil in Spanish sources) surrendered over Granada, the last of the Islamic states, in the treaty of Jan 2, 1492 to Ferdinand and Isabella that allowed him to stay on as royalty. But it was only a few months before he realized he had no place there and was forced to leave. Stopping at a rocky place and looking back on the Alhambra and the surrounding lush gardens of Granada, he began to weep, prompting his mother to remark, “Cry and weep like women for a kingdom that you could not defend like men.” That spot became the focus of much legend and folklore, and became known as “the Moor’s Last Sigh.”


The systematic evacuation and elimination of Muslims from the Iberian peninsula began in 1492 but it wasn’t until 1614 that the last ships carrying the Moriscos (Muslims) left the peninsula. With that, a new, darker chapter in the relationship between Europe and the Muslim world started.


What happened? This is the story of the Muslims in Spain and the Iberian Peninsula. A story that is inspiring, and at the same time very painful. A story that begins in the era of the Companions. It began when the celebrated Berber general Tariq bin Ziyad landed on the shores of the peninsula in 711 with his Muslim army, on a mountain that would be named after him- Jabal Tariq, which would eventually become Gibraltar, the most famous rock in the world and a symbol of invincibility and might, inspiring the phrase “solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.”


The Muslims quickly conquered the peninsula and began an extended chapter in the history of the region. They witnessed the birth of a civilization of knowledge and learning, one that boasted the birth of such personalities as Ibn Hazm, Imam al-Qurtubi, Ibn Rushd and others. That story has tremendous parallels and lessons for us today in the West, as minorities, as people of faith devoted to knowledge and learning and reviving the Islamic intellectual tradition, and as Muslims facing an uncertain future in a post-911 global climate.


In a series of sessions, Shaykh Yasir Birjas plans to take us on that journey and back, inspiring us with lessons and visions for the future. More to come. . .


Abu Zayd


Live from Houston, Ilm Summit 2008, Day 2