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IslamiCity > Articles > Objectives of Sharia
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Islamic Shariah is Allah's guidance to humanity. It distinguishes itself and its value system from other systems by a set of unique characteristics.

Objectives of Sharia
10/5/2012 - Religious - Article Ref: OI1210-5286
Number of comments:
By: Wael Hamza
OnIslam* -

Reading through the sources of Shari`ah, i.e., the Glorious Qur'an and the tradition of Allah's Messenger , one would find that Shari`ah promotes a set of values through all of its teachings, rulings, laws, and guidance. Erudite scholars found a reason and wisdom behind what it teaches and there is a set of major objectives it aims to achieve. Muslim scholars such as Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali and Ash-Shatibi paid special attention to the values and objectives of Shari`ah.

Those objectives are explicitly mentioned in some Shari`ah rulings. They are also implicitly understood through deep examination of the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet

Scholars expended great effort to come up with a set of major objectives Islamic Shari`ah aims to achieve. Though written and articulated differently, almost all of them arrive at a very similar set of objectives. Sheikh Mohamed Abu Zahra stated that Shari`ah came as a mercy to humanity. This mercy demonstrates itself in achieving three major goals: nurturing the righteous individual, establishing justice, and realization of benefits. (Sheikh Mohamed Abu Zahrah, Usul Al-Fiqh)

Three Major Goals of Islamic Shari`ah

Nurturing the righteous individual

Looking at this heavenly law, one would realize that the first goal it aim to achieve is to develop and nurture the righteous human being to be a source of good for himself or herself and for the community, and to reduce and eliminate any bad that may occur from him or her that may harm himself or herself or people in the community. This takes place through the rituals and moral systems that aim mainly at developing the righteous human being.

This human being knows the Creator, is conscious of Him, obedient to Him, and observant of His orders. These human beings are beneficial to others, such as their families and their societies. This human being is a manifestation of the mercy of Islam to humanity.

Establishing justice

Secondly, Shari`ah came to establish justice between people within the community of believers, and with other communities and groups. {Indeed, Allah commands justice ...} (An-Nahl 16:90) as He said in the Qur'an and commands people to {stand firmly for justice.} (An-Nisaa' 4:135)

Justice in Islam is a noble goal and is comprehensive. Islam promotes justice in court, justice in dealing with each other, justice to family members, and justice with oneself. Shari`ah considers people to be equal, no one has superiority over another because of race, wealth, or family. Shari`ah even obligates Muslims to be just with their enemies during war. Shari`ah establishes justice between men and women and makes women peers to men in terms of rights and responsibilities. {And women shall have rights similar to the rights upon them, according to what is equitable; ...} (Al-Baqarah 2:228) as Allah mentioned.

Realization of benefit (Maslahah)

Thirdly, Shari`ah came to achieve benefits. Shari`ah never states anything except to achieve a real benefit (maslahah). Muslim scholars observed that all the teachings of Shari`ah aim at preserving and protecting five major benefits, namely, religion, life, intellect, progeny, and property (or wealth). Those five benefits (or necessities as some call them) are essential to the honorable human life. As Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali said,

On top of the necessities that Shari`ah came to preserve and protect is religion.

Bringing about benefits and removing harm is essential to people. However, what we mean by the benefit is what the Shari`ah aims at. Shari`ah aims at five objectives for people; that is to protect their religion, life, intellect, progeny and property. Anything that protects these is a benefit and anything that emaciates them is a harm and overcoming it is a benefit. "Kitab al-Mustasfa" by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali

Protection of Religion

On top of the necessities that Shari`ah came to preserve and protect is religion. Religion is what differentiates human being from the other creations of Allah . It is part of the honor that Allah gives to humanity. Therefore, it has to be protected. First, Shari`ah protects religion by establishing the ruling that {There is no compulsion in religion.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 256)

Shari`ah makes it forbidden to afflict people in their faith or to force them to embrace another religion even if this other religion is Islam. Allah said in the Qur'an that this action, known as fitnah, is worse and more severe than killing (Al-Baqarah 2:217). A general look at the rituals of Islam reveals that a major goal behind them is to strengthen people's faith and the relationship between people and their Creator. Shari`ah, for example, legislates fighting (known as Jihad) to protect against many types of transgression, foremost of which is transgression over people's religion.

Protection of Life

Saving the life of one person is as if the life of all humanity is saved.

It should be well established that life is sacred because it is a gift that Allah gives humans. One of the miracles of this universe is the creation of the human being, {And among His Signs is this, that He created you from dust, and then - behold you are human beings scattered!} (Ar-Rum 30:20) says Allah in one of many verses that describe the sacredness of life. 

The Shari`ah makes the life of a single human being so valuable and Allah in the Qur'an said that killing one person is equivalent to killing the whole of humanity and saving the life of one person is as if the life of all humanity is saved (Al-Ma'idah 5:32). Shari`ah forbids killing and dictates the most severe punishment for it in this life and in the hereafter. It also prohibits injuring people, harming them physically or even symbolically. It allows and encourages people to live honorably, gives them the right to move, think, and speak freely and responsibly.

Protection of Intellect

Intellect is also a gift. It is what differentiates humans from animals. Protecting the intellect from any disease is a genuine objective of Islamic Shari`ah. Shari`ah makes sure intellect is a source of benefit to the society. It promotes education for all and makes it a right for everyone. Shari`ah also states that if the intellect gets corrupted, it becomes harmful to the individual and to the society and Shari`ah fights strongly against such corruption. One of the main reasons behind the impermissibility of intoxicants is that they have a strong influence on corrupting the intellect.

Protection of Progeny

In order to maintain life and pass the torch to generations to come, Shari`ah aims to protect progeny. Every child has the right to grow amongst a family. This family is obligated to take care of the children and develop them. Marriage is very valuable in Islam and it has a big share in Islamic Shari`ah teachings and rulings. Sexual relations other than in marriage are impermissible and same-sex marriage is strictly forbidden.

Marriage is protected by law from the abuse of either of the spouses, or the abuse of people outside the family. Accusing someone, especially women, of having unlawful sexual relations deserves a strong punishment since spreading such rumors demolishes marriages and is dishonorable. Men and women in society are obligated to protect their chastity, lower their gaze, and deal with one another professionally and in a brotherly fashion. All these teachings are to make sure healthy families are established and children grow up in healthy families. 

Divorce, although allowed, is discouraged by demanding spouses to endure patience. Divorce is a final resort to fix an unsuccessful family. Resolving marriage conflicts as stated in the Qur'an, is another example of how Shari`ah pays extra attention to the family.

An orphan is very valuable, and taking care of an orphan has a reward no less than the company of the Prophet in Paradise. One cannot consider his children as a burden, and cannot kill them out of fear of poverty or dishonor (as people used to do). 

Mothers are given a special care especially when they are pregnant or nursing for they are the ones who nurture the next generation. Shari`ah's teachings, when followed, guarantees the righteous upbringing of new generations and the real protection of progeny.

Protection of Wealth 

People have the right to own and protect their property. Shari`ah aims to protect people's wealth and property. Theft is strictly prohibited and punished by the law. Shari`ah also regulates transactions between people, and states clearly that it has to be built on complete freedom and willingness. Shari`ah also encourages us to increase our wealth and it ensures that wealth does not reach the hands of those who waste it. The poor have rights in the wealth of the rich through charity. Usury is forbidden as it is a cause of wasting wealth and putting it in the hands of a few rich people.

The Three Categories in Preserving Maslahah (Benefit)

The Shari`ah's teachings and rulings regarding those five objectives are categorized into three levels:

  1. necessities,
  2. needs,
  3. and refinements. 

A necessity is any ruling that is essential to protecting one of the objectives or, in other words, without it the objective will completely perish. For example, forbidding killing is in the category of necessities since, with killing, life is completely lost. 

The second category, the category of needs, contains any ruling without which the objective will be achieved but with a lot of difficulty and burden. For example, the prohibition of monopolies is in this category - although monopolies will not demolish the wealth completely, they place difficulty upon people preserving their wealth. 

The final category is the category of refinements. Refinement achieves the highest quality of the five objectives. For example, for the protection of progeny, Shari`ah commands that men and women should lower their gaze while looking at the opposite sex. Looking at one another in a sexual or lustful way may not demolish progeny completely, nor will it put it in danger, but it will create temptation which may lead to problems.

This categorization is extremely important in order to arrive at the correct ruling especially when different benefits compete with each other. What is necessary always overrules the other two categories and so on. Praying in congregation is important to the preservation of religion. However, it is not essential. If praying in congregation put's one's life at risk (such as having to pass through an unsafe neighborhood), he can pray at home since the latter is necessary for the preservation of life.

What Is Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence)?

Linguistically, fiqh is an Arabic word that means understanding; deep understanding. The word faqih means a person of knowledge and understanding.

In the Qur'an

In the Qur'an, the word fiqh is used to signify deep understanding of matters especially those matters which are related to religion. It is mostly used to mean the understanding of the words of someone else and, for religious matters, the words of Allah and His messenger. The Prophet said,

"Whomever Allah wants good for, He will grant him fiqh (deep understanding) of the religion." (Bukhari and others)

Terminology of scholars

For fiqh, there is again a difference in terminology, similar to that mentioned about the Shari`ah. The early scholars of Islam would use fiqh to mean the knowledge and the understanding of the guidance, the rulings, and the way of life Allah prescribed for us. In other words, fiqh is our understanding and knowledge of Allah's Shari`ah. Imam Abu Hanifa, for example, had a book about `Aqidah (belief) and called it "Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar," (The Great Fiqh) .The scholars who came later confined the usage of the word fiqh to the knowledge and understanding of the guidance, the rulings and the way of life regarding the actions only, excluding the areas of belief and moral character. This terminology is represented by the famous definition that fiqh is "the knowledge of the Shari`ah rulings which are related to actions from its detailed sources." (Mohamed Abu Zahrah, Usul Al-Fiqh)

Whoever makes ijtihad and arrived at a wrong ruling will be rewarded.

To explain those definitions further, the Shari`ah is Allah's guidance in His Book (the Qur'an) and the tradition of His Messenger (the Sunnah), wahile fiqh is our knowledge of these rulings after exerting all effort to extract them. Scholars arrive at those rulings of fiqh through a process called ijtihad, a scientific process to reach the Shari`ah rulings from its sources. It literally means exerting all possible effort. Scholars may make mistakes, and for that they are rewarded for their effort and are excused only if they exert all possible effort. When scholars arrive at the right ruling, their reward is doubled. The Messenger said, "Whoever makes ijtihad and arrived at a wrong ruling will be rewarded. Whoever makes ijtihad and arrived at the correct ruling will be rewarded twice." (Bukhari and others)

Fiqh: An honorable piece of knowledge

Fiqh is a very honorable piece of knowledge. It is the knowledge and the understanding of Shari`ah, the guidance sent by Allah to mankind. This knowledge is essential for our success in this life and the hereafter. Those who develop this knowledge are as honorable as the knowledge itself, and we are indebted to them for making the effort to learn and teach Allah's guidance to His creation. It is a serious job and one of the most rewarding. Ibn Al-Qayyim describes the people of fiqh in an honorable, yet frightening, way. He described them to be, "the signatories on behalf of the Lord of the worlds." (Ibn Al-Qayyem, A'lam Al-Mowaq'in )

Hadn't it been for the multiple reward Allah gives for those who take on this responsibility and the excuse - and the reward - they get if they make a mistake, no one would dare to shoulder such a responsibility or play such a role. Ibn Al-Qayyim talked about the scholars of fiqh in the introduction of his book mentioned above by saying, "... and if signing on behalf of kings is something that cannot be undermined and is a very honorable role, how about signing on behalf of the Lord of the heavens and the earth?" He continued to say, "The one who assumes such a position should prepare for it, and should know the value of the responsibility he shoulders; he should declare the truth for Allah will guide him and support him... and he should know that he will be held accountable before Allah ."

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