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Islamic Law
Maqasid Shariah
Case Study

The Quran has imparted to us a methodical approach by which issues are broken down and questions reconstructed before they are answered.

Our understanding of religion and religious practice should, in the first instance, be based on the study of divine revelations on the one hand, and the real dynamic world on the other. The Quran guides us to the marvels and secrets of the physical world while reflection on the real world leads us back to misunderstanding the Quran. We must appreciate how the two interact, contrast and complement each other. This is what we refer to as the “combined reading”: a reading of Revelation for an understanding of the physical world and its law and principles, and a reading of the physical world to appreciate and recognize the value of Revelation. The purpose of reading revelation is to apply the general “key principles” to specific situations and link the absolute to the relative, as far as our capabilities allow. The reader in all cases is man, God’s vicegerent on earth, guided by his strong faith in Revelation and his understanding of it on the one hand, and his appreciation of the laws and behavior of the physical world on the other.

Once the process of the “combined reading” is underway, we shall find that the most noble values that the two “readings” highlight are the following: monotheism (tawhid); purification (tazkiyah); and civilization (umran).

Tawhid : the belief in the absolute and pure Oneness of God Almighty as the Creator, Maker and Everlasting Lord.

Tazkiyah : relates to man as God’s vicegerent on earth, entrusted by and accountable to Him, charged with building and developing the world. He can only achieve this through self-purification.

‘Umran : taken to mean the cultivation and development of the world as the arena harnessed for discharging man’s mission and the crucible for his trials, accountability and development.

These values are, in fact, ends in themselves, reflecting God’s purpose behind the creation of the world, which was not pointless, and the creation of man, which was not in vain, and His admonition not to corrupt the earth. These three values, or objectives, come under the heading of “worship,” and it has been necessary to understand and highlight them from the outset as the criteria by which human behavior is judged.

We must consider the levels of purpose with reference to responsible adult apropos “expediency,” “priority” and “embellishment,” which should be linked to the three higher values: tawhid, tazkiyah and ‘umran. This will open wide the doors for jurists who are capable of including all new situations under these levels, as was done by Shaykh Ibn Ashur who listed freedom as one of the main purposes of Shari’ah. So did Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali who included equality and human rights among its purposes. There are other issues that need to be included among the needs and priorities of the Muslim community and these should be accommodated accordingly.

The tendency to equate between the Quran and the Sunnah has, at times, led to confusion in understanding the true relationship between the two sources. For, although they are not the same, contradiction or conflict between them cannot be possible. The Quran is the source that sets the rules, values, and standards which the Sunnah explains and elaborates further. The Quran, in fact, endorses and legitimizes the other available sources, including the Sunnah, and supersedes them. The Sunnah revolves around the Quran and is closely tied up with it, but never surpasses or overrules it. The confusion in defining the relationship between the Quran and the Sunnah has produced a number of absurd notions such as: the Quran and the Sunnah mutually annul or cancel the other; the Sunnah is the judge of the Quran; the Quran is far more dependent on the Sunnah than the other way around. These claims made the relationship between the Quran and the Sunnah one of precise logic, of either  definitive or speculative nature, which is contrary to the Quranic description of the relationship. Al-Nahl:44, 64, 89.


The Quran must be freed of many of the allegations surrounding it. Its language should be understood outside lexicon of pre-Islamic Arabic and according to its own grammar, just as its style and prose were their own standard. The Quran is simple and accessible to all serious students. The fact that it can have different interpretations is an aspect of its miraculous nature and a rich advantage. Humanity is in greater need of the Quran guidance than ever before; a book which encompasses all time and space and the nature of man. It deals with all issues and offers solutions and answers to all questions.


Methodological Principles for the study of the Quran.


1.       Unveiling the structural unity of the Quran by reading it in contrast to the physical universe and its movement. The Sunnah of the infallible Prophet is viewed as the practical example and an interpretation of the Quran’s values in the real world. The Sunnah should also be viewed as an integrated structure in its own right, closely linked to the Quran as an elaboration of its values for relative specific situations.

2.       Acknowledging the supremacy and precedence of the Quran as the judge over all else, including the sayings and actions of the Prophet. Once the Quran establishes a certain principle, such as tolerance and justice in dealing with non-Muslims, the ruling of the Quran takes precedence. The sayings and actions of the Prophet, in this case, should, if possible, be interpreted to conform with the principle established by the Quran and be subservient to it. One of the examples in this case is the interpretation of a hadith regarding not to return the greetings of a non-Muslim with a better greeting which does not seem to conform with the teachings of the Quran.

3.       Recalling that the Quran has revived the legacy of earlier prophets. It verifies, evaluates, and expurgates this legacy of all distortions, and then represents it in a purified form in order to standardize human references. This is how the Quran has embraced the whole legacy of previous prophets and taken supremacy over it.

4.       Reflecting on the purpose of the Quran in linking the reality of human life with that which is beyond human perception, or ghayb, and discrediting the notion of randomness or coincidence. This facilitates an understanding of the relationship between the seen and the unseen worlds, the knowable and the unknowable; between the absolute text of the Quran and the real human condition. It reveals part of the delicate distinction between man’s humanity and individuality. As an individual, man is a relative being, but his humanity makes him universal and an absolute one.

5.       Recalling the importance of the factors of time and space. The Quran emphasizes the sanctity of time by specifying the number of months as twelve and totally forbidding the intercalation of the calendar. It identifies certain lands as sacred and others as sacrosanct. Within this time-space frame one may come to understand the existence of man since the time of the creation of Adam and Eve until he reaches his ultimate destiny. This existence is the link between the universality of the Quran and that of mankind.

6.       Recognition of an intrinsic Quranic rationale whose rules are infused in its text, and that man is capable, with God’s help, of uncovering the rules of this rationale that will guide his mind and his activity. These rules are themselves capable of becoming laws that protect the objective mind against deviation and perversity. The Quranic rationale can provide a common base for human intellectual activity that would help man break away from the hegemony of his own thinking which is shaped by tradition and blind imitation of previous generations and the attendant tribal consequences.

7.       Adopting the Quranic concept of geography. The whole earth belongs to God and Islam is the religion of God. In reality, every country is either the land of Islam (dar al-Islam) as a matter of fact, or will be so in the future. All humanity is the community of Isalm (ummat al-Islam), either by adopting the faith or as a prospective follower of it.

8.       Recognizing the universality of the Quranic mission. Unlike previous scriptures which addresses specific, localized communities, the Quran began by addressing Muhamamd and his close family, then turned to Makkah and its surrounding towns, then to other communities, and finally to the whole of humankind. Thus, it became the only book capable of dealing with contemporary global situations. Any message to today’s world must be based on common rules and values, and must be methodical. It has to based on rules that govern objective thinking. Apart from the Quran, there is not a single scripture anywhere in the world today that can satisfy these requirements.

9.       Studying very closely the complicated aspects of the lives of people, as the context within which questions and issues arise. Unless life is understood properly in all its dimensions, it will be difficult to formulate a suitable fiqh theory capable of referring to the Quran and obtaining satisfactory and correct answers. During the time of the Prophet, questions would arise out of various situations and revelation would be received providing the answers. Today, the Revelation is complete and all we need to do is articulate our problems and requirements and then refer to the Quran for answers. We then refer to the Sunnah of the Prophet to understand the context of the Revelation and link the text with the actual situation or incident.

10.   Studying in detail the fundamental principles, especially those relating to the ultimate purposes of the Shariah, in order to incorporate them in the formulation of the principles of a modern fiqh of minorites. The study must be based on the ultimate purposes and linked to the governing higher values, noting the delicate distinction between the purposes of the Shariah and the intentions of responsible adults.

11.   Recognizing that the inherited fiqh is not an adequate reference for fatwa or the formulation of rules in such matters. It does, however, contain precedents of fatwa and legislation which can be applied and referred to for determining approaches and methodologies, as appropriate. Whatever is found to be applicable, useful and representative of the spirit of Islam may be taken, preserving continuity from the past to the present, without elevating the ruling to the level of Quranic text or taking it as an absolute ruling  for the issue in question. It is not a criticism of our predecessor that they did not have answers to issues they had not encountered or events and situations unheard of in their time.

12.   Testing our fatwas, rulings and opinions in real-life situations. Every ruling of fiqh has its own impact on reality, which can be positive, if the fatwa is correctly deduced, or otherwise resulting in certain setbacks somewhere along the way. The outcome in the latter case would be negative and the ruling must be reviewed and revised. Thus, the fatwa process becomes one of debate and discussion between the fiqh and the realities of life which are the ultimate testing ground that will prove how appropriate and practical the fiqh really is.


Al-Qaradawi (1981, p. 152), a contemporary member of the Muslim Brotherhood, states:

If one takes a verse from the Quran or any particular hadith, without going back to the other hadith or to the Prophet’s practice and without relating it to the maqasid, one is likely to misunderstand and misinterpret the Shariah… This is why al-Imam al Shatibi in his book The Treatise insisted that to understand the Shariah one has to comprehend and know its end goals (al maqasid). This only happens when one is knowledgeable about the verses of the Quran and the hadith; why, how and when they were revealed, the reason behind the revelation, which hadith are eternal and which were temporal…etc.


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