The Objectives of the Shariah

Syed Adam Alhabshi explains the Maqasid As-Shariah and its application to everyday life


A businessman once mentioned to me that he thinks Islamic Finance is just a guilt-free finance for Muslims. “We need to raise capital but we cannot get involved with interest so Islamic Finance is the guilt-free alternative to our source of funds”. I could not disagree with that point of view but that seems to be limiting the perspective of Islamic Finance within the realm of material wealth only.

But Islamic Finance is not just about a source of finance. All of the theories and principles (such as in a sukuk, deposits, product development, risk management, legal documentation, etc) are too complex to be limited to wealth per se. Islamic Finance can be said to be a developed discipline which exists because it fulfils the Objectives of the Shariah (“Maqasid As-Shariah”).

Quite simply, Maqasid means objectives and Shariah means Islamic law. For the purpose of this article, the primary focus is on the Objectives of the Shariah which will be referred to as “Maqasid”.

As a start, allow me to share what was written by an Islamic scholar and jurist named Ibn Qayyim on the general principles of Shariah:

“The Shariah is based on wisdom and achieving people’s welfare in this life and the afterlife. Shariah is all about justice, mercy, wisdom and good. Thus, any ruling that replaces justice with injustice, mercy with its opposite, common good with mischief, or wisdom with nonsense, is a ruling that does not belong to Shariah, even if it is claimed to be so according to some interpretation.”

The Maqasid serves as an important science that allows us (not only scholars and Muslims but humanity in general as justice, mercy, wisdom and good serves the whole universe) to know the purpose and goal of the Shariah. It is based on ease, does not involve hardship and most importantly, it includes guidance to the best way of life.

As a science of the Shariah, the Maqasid was only formulated as a systematic methodology at a much later stage after the demise of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a supplement to the principles of jurisprudence in Islamic Law by the various schools of Islamic thought. Hence there was no mention of such science in the early stages of the development of Islamic legal system during the time of the Prophet or the companions of the Prophet.

This does not mean that the Maqasid was derived independently of the Qur’an (the Holy Book for the Muslims) and Sunnah (Prophetic traditions). On the contrary, the list of objectives of the Islamic law or the Maqasid as propounded by Ibn Qayyim was derived completely from the two main sources of Islamic law, namely the Qur’an and Sunnah.


What are these so-called objectives of Islamic law?

The first objective is to provide benefits to mankind and hence the law has been designed to protect these benefits. The second objective is to provide mercy or compassion and hence the law is there to eliminate prejudice and alleviate hardship. Thirdly, the objective of any law for that matter is to attain justice for all and hence justice has to be a principal objective of Islamic law as well.

The question is what are those benefits that the Shariah must protect as a manifestation of mercy and justice? To this end, Muslim jurists have considered those things that man must have in order to lead a good life. These things, considered as the basic needs, have been identified under five main headings, namely (i) faith or religion, (ii) life or physical self/body, (iii) intellect or knowledge, (iv) offspring or lineage, and (v) wealth or property which the Shariah aims to protect as part of its Maqasid. This is so because Islam seeks to provide the opportunity for good living, both at individual as well as societal levels, by protecting and promoting these five essentials.

The five basic needs enumerated above are inter-related and co-exist in a symbiotic fashion. It must be noted that the list above is not exhaustive. Some jurists have included honour as the sixth essential need whilst others, such as Ibn Qayyim, have moulded Maqasid in a different structure with only three key features i.e. to educate individuals, to implement justice and to protect society.

In modern context, we can include Intellectual Property under intellect, Islamic Finance and Competition Law under wealth or property.

In financial literature, we would stumble upon the idea of what constitutes needs and wants and be in a constant struggle to convince ourselves to prioritise our needs over our wants. In view of such a struggle in the application of the Shariah, Muslim jurists began to classify the entire range of essentials of the Maqasid into a three-levelled hierarchy or descending categories of importance to allow a more uniformed application. The three levels are (1) necessities (dharuriyyat); (2) convenience (hajiyyat); and (3) refinements (kamaliyyat or tahsiniyyat).


Necessities (Dharuriyyat)

Necessities constitute all activities and things that are regarded as absolute requirements to the survival and spiritual well-being of individuals at the barest minimum for an acceptable level of living.

Necessities include the ability to perform the five pillars of Islam (i.e. to have proper Islamic faith, performing the five obligatory prayers in a day, fasting during the month of Ramadhan, Zakah or annual tithe payment and performing the Pilgrimage or Hajj once in a lifetime) and protection of life, ensuring sufficient availability of food, clothing and shelter, education, the right to earn a living, etc. It can be concluded that at this level, one has enough to live but not necessarily to be in some comfort. The Malay proverb aptly defines this as “Kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang” ("To live from hand to mouth").


Conveniences (Hajiyyat)

Conveniences are benefits that remove the severity and hardship that are not vital to preserve the five foundations, but rather, are needed to remove difficulties or impediments in life. Examples include the use and enjoyment of things that man can do without, but with difficulty, such as having a change of clean clothes every day, the use of a car, having a carpet over cement floor, etc.


Refinements (Kamaliyyat or tahsiniyyat)

Refinements are desires or wants which seek to perfect the customs and conduct of people of all levels. They are items which change the convenience form to comfort such as having branded and expensive clothes and perfume, the use of a driver and spare cars, numerous golf club memberships, comfortable houses with maids etc.

The Shariah does not restrict people from accumulating and spending wealth. In fact, in the Quran, Muslims are encouraged to flaunt their blessings (see the final verse of surah Adh-Dhuha - The Morning Hours, Chapter 93) but not to be wasteful (see verse 27 of surah Al-Isra’ – The Night Journey, Chapter 17) and excessive (see verse 31 of surah Al-A’raf- The Heights, Chapter 7) because God hates those who are wasteful and dislikes those who are excessive.

On that note, it is safe to say that the Shariah honours traffic laws because it protects the safety of society. It emphasises care for your parents such as not to say “hmph” or “uff” to your parents (see verse 23 of surah Al-Isra’ – The Night Journey, Chapter 17). Care is given to issues of fidelity, raising children, embracing good morals and ethics and social justice issues even if it involves speaking out against your own self.

Slandering is not permitted under the Shariah and its punishment is severe as it involves the honour of another human being. In a nutshell, it can be concluded that the entire Shariah is to preserve either one or more of the Maqasid.

Maqasid, in its application, boils down to our decision making process. We make decisions every day. The moment we wake up, we are given the free will to make a decision. Do we want to go to work today? What kind of tax incentive structure would give the best tax rebate to your company if you want to raise capital? Should you look into debt financing or equity financing? What would you like to have for dinner?

These decisions come with consequences. If you do not go to work and you have no excuse or leave, you would be subject to a disciplinary hearing. If your company is not suitable for raising funds on the capital market, it would be a recipe for disaster for the future of your company. If you are allergic to certain food, having it for dinner might just spoil your night.

But if these decisions and consequences are guided with the right objectives, your chances of success would be very bright.

The point that I am driving at is this: Maqasid Shariah should be able to give you the parameters on how you should make that decision. Muslim jurists did not formulate the Maqasid only for them to apply in making Islamic rulings. It was meant as a philosophy of life that everyone can apply, Muslims or non-Muslims, as the ultimate goal is to eliminate injustice, to share mercy, do away with evil and to have an understanding in the application of knowledge i.e. to have wisdom.

Wouldn’t this give you a better understanding as to why you should consider Islamic Finance apart from it being merely a guilt-free transaction?


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Translation of the Quranic verses mentioned above:

1. Surah Adh-Dhuha- The Morning Hours, Chapter 93, verse 9 reads: But as for the favor of your Lord, report [it].

2. Surah Al-Isra’ – The Night Journey, Chapter 17, verse 27 reads: O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.

3. Surah Al-A’raf- The Heights, Chapter 7 verse 31 reads: Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.

4. Surah Al-Isra’ – The Night Journey, Chapter 17, verse 23 reads: And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], "uff," and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.




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