The ultimate purpose and objective the human and the jinn kind have been created for is ‘Uboodiyya and in order to facilitate and help us achieve this purpose Allah has sent Prophets and Messengers who came down to their people with different Shari’ahs.
Literally, Shari’ah means the clear, well-trodden path to water. The linguistic meaning of Shari’ah reverberates in its technical usage: just as water is vital to human life so the clarity and uprightness of Shari’ah is the means of life for souls and minds. Shari’ah is defined by our scholars as:
al-Ahkaam allatee sanna’a Allahu Ta’ala li ‘ibaadihi ‘ala lisaani raslulim minar rusul
The laws or rulings which Allah has legislated for his servants through the agency of Messengers.
The entire Shari’ah according to the famous scholar Izz-ibn-Abdissalam is based on two principles:
1. Jalbal masalih – to accrue benefits
2. Dar’ul mafasid – to avoid or ward off harms
We believe that all rulings that the Prophet brought are rulings that are for the benefit of humanity but while those benefits sometimes are manifest and clear, there are other aspects of Shari’ah the benefits of which we believe, even if we haven’t realize yet because we know the source of it, which is Allah and He wants to benefit His creation. Ibn Abbas (RA) said:
Iza sam’ita yad’ouka fainnama yad’ouka ilaa khairi
If you hear Allah calling you to something then know that He is calling you to something good.
This becomes even more apparent from the verses of the Quran in which Allah says:
Yureedullahu bikumul yusra wa la yureedu bikumul ‘usr
Allah wants ease for you and He does not want to burden you
Yureedullahu liyukhaffifa ‘ankum wa khuliqal insaanu da’eefa
Allah wants to lighten your burdens, for man was created weak
The aspects of Shari’ah the benefit of which the rational mind can arrive at an understanding of in this world are known as ma’qoolul ma’na, i.e. clear in the outward or rational in the meaning. Examples of these would be when you acquire a debt you have to fulfill it or when a person destroys someone else’s property then he or she has to rectify what he had destroyed. There is another element to the rulings of the Shari’ah for which we cannot arrive at its benefit with our intellect, e.g. the Shari’ah necessitates that we pray four rak’as for Zuhr, four rak’as for Asr, three rak’as for Maghrib and four rak’as for Isha. Why those numbers? This we do not know but we know that there is a reason why Allah chose those numbers. For instance when we look at the prayer, Allah tells us:
Aqimis salata lidolookish shamsi ilaa ghasaqil layl
Establish prayer from the declining of the sun to the darkness of the night
While we do not know exactly why Allah has placed the prayer time the way He has but we do see the wisdom in that the prayers of the day are spread apart. This is obviously because the human being is preoccupied with his work. So from Fajr to Zuhr you don’t have any prayer. The evening prayers in contrast are closer together. And then you have a long gap between the Isha and Fajr prayers when we human beings rest and sleep. There is all of this wisdom that can be seen in the prayer timings.
Ibn Rushd who was a great legal jurist mentioned two reasons that these rulings are given to us: the first of these is tazkiyatun-nafs, i.e. purification of the soul. The other benefit according to Ibn Rushd is istislaam, which means submission to Allah. And we see that this state of Istislaam was the state of the Prophets so we see that Nuh (AS) when he called on his son to join him on the boat, his son said: I’ll climb a mountain and that would save me and he eventually drowned. Later, when the ark reached a safe place Nuh (AS) said to Allah:
Wa naada Nuhur rabbahu faqaala rabbi innabni min ahli wa inna wa’dakal haqqu wa anta ahkamul haakimeen
And Nuh (AS) called on to his Lord saying: “My Lord, My Son is of my family. Surely Your promise is true, and You are the Best of those who judge.” In response Nuh was told: “Surely, he is not of your family; verily he is of unrighteous conduct. So do not ask of Me for that concerning which you have no knowledge. I admonish you never to act like the ignorant ones.”
In other words Nuh (AS) was being told that the wisdom of your son being among those who drowned, you don’t know about it so don’t ask about things that you don’t know. Then Nuh (AS) thinking that he had done something wrong said he doesn’t want to be from the ignorant ones. So this is the state of the Prophets. There are things that they understand and there are other things which they submit and surrender their will to Allah completely.
In looking at the wisdom of the legislation, there are two things that we need to understand:
1. We do not believe that Allah needs His creation for any benefit or there is nothing that we can do that can harm Allah in any way.
Lauw Anna Awwalakum wa Aakhirakum wa Insakum wa Jinnakum kaana ‘Ala Athqa Qalbi Rajulinw Wahidinm Minkum maa Zaada zaalika fi Mulki Shaeeyan
If the first of you the last of you the men of you the jinn of you were as righteous as the most righteous heart amongst you that would not add to Allah’s dominion in anyway
2. We should believe that Allah is absolutely wise in what He does
The maslaha and benefit that we are talking about can all of it be summarized or reduced to what legal jurists have called al-Kulleeyatul Khams (The Five Universals). These are the constants when it comes to the purpose of the Islamic Law at the mundane level.
1. Preservation of Religion (ad-Deen)
The human beings are religious creatures by nature and they tend to act out rituals. This is something that the anthropologists recognize as well. Yet are those rituals set by human beings themselves or are they derived by revelation. This is the difference between Muslims and the rest of the societies. And I’m saying Muslims in the ideal sense because many Muslims around the world have fallen into rituals that are not from Allah. And Allah gave them no authority to do that. Now some of them are going to go under what is known as the ‘urf or custom in Islam but there are others that are rooted in ignorant traditions of societies. So Islam is not against the custom of people, Islam honors people and doesn’t say everybody has to become Arab. These are qualities and characteristics of culture that Islam leaves within the realm of mubah, within the realm of custom, within the realm of norm. But when a custom goes against Islam, it is incumbent upon the people that when they accept Islam to relinquish and abandon those cultures.
When human beings accept a religion they recognize that there is truth outside their experience and when we submit to Allah and the Messenger we are submitting to the fact that Allah knows best what is good for us and He communicated that to us through the Messengers. So to understand the Shari’ah is to understand that this is for the benefit of the human being. And the first and primary benefit is the preservation of the true deen which is tawheed. The deen is tawheed; the Shari’ah will differ.
What tawheed does is that it frees us from the yolk of creation. And a free man in Islam is not what people in this culture think. People in this culture associate liberty with freedom. Now the problem with this argument is that if a person is doing what their nafs wants, they are not free, they are slaves. So no matter how much freedom they give to people, if they are out chasing their personal passions, if their passions take them to destruction, if their addictions take them to destruction, they are not free, they are slaves, they’re just slaves to the wrong thing.
And this is why ‘Amr ibn Rab’ee, his great statement when he came to the court of the Kisra, the great Persian. He was asked what is that you’re calling to and he replied:
Ji’na linukhrijal ‘ibad min ‘ibadatil ‘ibad ilaa ‘ibadati rabbil ‘ibad. Wa min jawril adyaan ilaa ‘adlil Islam. Wa min dhiqid duniya ilaa sa’atid duniya wal-aakhirah
We come to take people away from worshipping creation to worshipping the Creator of the creation; from the injustice of their religion to the justice of Islam; from the narrowness of this world to the vastness of this world and the hereafter
Another aspect relevant to the preservation of deen is that of religious tolerance and unlike other religions Islam gives people the right to worship the religion of their choice.
2. Preservation of Life (an-Nafs)
The Shari’ah was instituted to protect life.
Min ajli zaalika katabna ‘ala bani Israel annahu man qatala nafsan aw fasadin fil ardi fakannama qatalannasa jameea’a. Wa man ahyaaha fa ka’an naasa jameea’a.
Whoever takes the life unjustly it is as if they have murdered the entire humanity and whoever spares or saves a single life it is as if they have saved the entire humanity.
And this is precisely why we have retribution for the person who murders another person as Allah says:
Wa lakum fil qisaasi hayah
You have in retribution life
And this punishment essentially serves as a deterrent. In addition any kind of hukum or legislation that will violate the rights of nafs, that will destroy life unjustly and unfairly and disproportionately or that violates the rights of a person for his or her physical safety is not allowed under Shari’ah; therefore torture is prohibited, excessive punishment for a crime disproportionate to the crime is prohibited, and so on and so forth. And therefore abortion when done unnecessarily in Islamic law is prohibited.
3. Preservation of Intellect (al-‘Aql)
Islam prohibits and removes any legislation that allows or demands us to do things that will hurt the ability of a person to reason properly. Therefore any means that will disengage the person from using his or her reason becomes either haram or at least makruh depending on the harm it brings about. This is why it is prohibited to take in intoxicants. In addition, it is also important for us to fight these problems on the demand side instead of simply on the supply side. So we try to put faith in people’s hearts so they don’t need any drugs, we try to put contentment in their soul so they don’t need any alcohol. Then you can have liquor store on each corner but there is no business. No one would need to alter their state of being. Because they are with Allah in their hearts
Allazeena aamanu wa tatmainnu quloobuhum bizikrillah
Those who believe and their hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah
But when we talk about preserving the intellect, we have to move beyond drugs and alcohol. We have to look at the educational system and make meaningful reforms to it because as Muslims we are obligated by our religion to educate ourselves and seek knowledge as the Messenger of Allah is narrated to have said:
Talabul ilmi fareedatun ‘ala kulli muslimin
That seeking of knowledge is mandatory on all Muslims
4. Preservation of Progeny (an-Nasl)
There is no legislation allowed in Islam that could potentially destroy the preservation, the continuation of this aspect of human life. In fact Islam promotes actions and deeds which encourage facilitation of this aspect. So for instance this is why fostering children is highly recommended in Islam. What’s prohibited in Islam is tabannee since Islam does not allow for stealing the child’s identity. So a person is not allowed to claim to be the biological father or mother of someone whereas they are not or for them to keep hidden from them their biological origin. Secondly, the reason this becomes so important is that practically speaking when one does that, there is a possibility of having brothers and sisters getting married to one another.
Like what happened in the 1950s with the African Americans, the idea of attaching an X to the name. That was a statement. So they were saying that X is the mathematical symbol of the unknown and what we are doing is rejecting our slave name, e.g. Washington. An African American man whose last name is Washington didn’t come over on the Mayflower. Why does he have an Anglo-Saxan name? Well it’s because they were given the names of their masters. So we may not know of our actual identity but at least we know we are not Washington. And this is why in fornication the rules are so strong because through fornication breaks this down. The Prophet is narrated to have said:
When fornication becomes prevalent in a society, then prepare yourselves for the wrath of Allah.
And the wrath as some scholars say is in those children because they are filled with rage. We’re now reaching 50% or past in terms of the number of children who are born out of wedlock. And look at all the crimes, look at all the violence. There’s rage. So Islam came to preserve this right and it does so through the prohibition of fornication and through the guidelines of Shari’ah in proper marriage. And this is why Islam recognizes any marriage outside Islam. Two people who become Muslim do not have to renew a marital contract in Islam as long as that is considered marriage in the custom of a people. But two people living together with no responsibilities, Islam rejects that. And what’s unfortunate is how marriages are portrayed in the media. Marriages are dull and boring, what’s shown as exciting is illicit relationships. This is what we are seeing and this is what we’re conditioned to believe. It’s interesting that now even conservatives do not condemn adult premarital sex because everybody is doing it.
Another thing that violates this universal is homosexuality, i.e. marriage between the same sexes. What if everybody through their inclinations or by the power of suggestion become involved in homosexuality? How are you going to procreate and have continuity of existence? You can’t and you’re setting up the entire society for destruction.
5. Protection of Wealth (al-Maal)
Islam protects the wealth of people by prohibiting interest, hoarding, monopoly, speculation, insider trading and even valueless currency. Islam rejects the Marxist notion of “all property being theft” and being owned by the community; instead Islam links private ownership with social responsibility. Also, when we talk about wealth we do not talk about reckless capitalist greed because our principles for preserving wealth also lead us to distribute wealth:
Wa fi Amwaalihim Haqqum Ma’lum. Lissaaili wal Mahrum
That in their wealth is a well defined right. For those who are forced to ask and those deprived.
So we see that the Shari’ah in its approach to finding solutions and establishing norms for society both at the individual and at the collective level intends to protect and promote these five universals.