This lecture by Dr. Jasser Audah about Maqasid ash-Shariah, or Shariah Objectives, is very rich and eye opening.
You can find below some excerpts from the lecture. However, we highly recommend watching the lecture. It discusses important questions about Shariah, the Maqasid approach, and how it can renew our understanding of Islam and enable us to find solutions for contemporary challenges.
Shariah and the Muslim identity
Every Ummah, every community, has an identity. At the core of every identity there are ideas. The idea that is at the core of the Muslim identity is the Shariah.
It is not possible to live the Shariah in today’s world without understanding Maqasid Ash-Shariah, i.e. the objectives, the purposes, the ends and the principles of the Shariah.
So this is an address for those who are interested in living an authentic Islamic life, yet a contemporary life that deals with the contemporary issues.
Shariah is ethics. In the American sense, Shariah has to do with your ethics. Fiqh is not only your ethics in terms of the personal matters but also the ethics of the public matters.
Objectives of Shariah
Maqasid Ash-Shariah is not yet a discipline; but it is a methodology. It is a way of approaching Islam that is based on the objectives of Islam, on the why of Islam.
Everything in Islam has a purpose. The evidence of that is everything in the Quran. The Quranic logic itself is an objective-based logic. Everything in the Quran has a why that is associated with it.
That logic is something that we don’t really focus much on in our Islamic law or Islamic thought. We need to focus on the why more than on the letter.
Islam is a whole system
The Islamic system is not supposed to be partialized into particular and isolated rules without looking at the whole picture of the Shariah.
Shariah is all about justice, mercy, wisdom, and good. So we teach and learn in faculties of Shariah that justice, mercy, wisdom and good actually reign over every ijtihad (fiqhi reasoning).
Yet, to look at the bigger picture while ignoring the is very problematic.
Oftentimes we look at the details in a very minute way; or we look at the bigger picture without relating the details to the bigger picture.
Shariah and its Maqasid require a multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary approach. It is not possible to apply Shariah in today’s world from a legal perspective only. You have to approach it from a historical perspective and an economic perspective. You have to deal with the society and the beauty and arts.
And you have to deal with health and the environment. If you approach the Shariah only in a legalistic perspective, then you are not fair to the Shariah and its multi-dimensionality.
The Quran is not only a legal book; the Quran is a book for every discipline that humans develop and everything in life.
Openness and interaction
In the Islamic sense, we find the prophetic word tajdeed, or renewal. It means that our understanding of the Sharia, or what is called fiqh, is actually interacting with the reality and changing and renewing itself as we deal with the reality.
That renewal results in what is called fiqh alwaqi` or the understanding of the reality. That reality affects the way we understand Islam and the way we practice it.
Applying the Objectives of Shariah
The first step in applying the Maqasid of Shariah is to refer back to the Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
These are not two different sources. Rather, the Sunnah is just an illustration of the Quran.
You cannot possibly understand the Quran unless you understand the Sunnah as an illustration; not as an additional source.
The second step is to look into the Quran for the Quranic concepts that are pure Islamic concepts. We mix Islam with other concepts from other philosophies and other religion. This is very problematic.
Shura and Democracy
For example, the Quran has the concept of Shura. Humans developed the concept of democracy. Democracy is not in the Quran but Shura is.
What is the relationship between Shura and democracy?
Now we can apply Shura through democracy but in a way that does not contradicts the Shariah.
Multi-disciplinary training is necessary
Scholars who are only trained in the sciences of Shariah are limited in their ability to answer contemporary questions. That is because they answer questions about Halal and Haram related directly to the sources.
But they do not understand how government works and therefore they don’t understand how to answer policy questions. They don’t understand how medicine works and therefore they cannot really have real and correct ijtihad in bioethics.
Because they don’t understand how environmental sciences work they cannot really tell us about how to deal with the environment.
Therefore the Shariah objectives approach is a multidisciplinary approach by definition.
We cannot approach the Quran with one discipline only. If you are approaching it only with the eyes of the legal scholar you are not going to be able to answer contemporary questions.
So what we recommend our students to do is get enough training in different disciplines. When a doctor reads the Quran, he or she would need something different from an economist.
Similarly, what a lawyer would need is different from what the artist would look for.
All of these disciplines are important. And what they should look for is not fatwa necessarily. They should look for objectives, concepts, answers and contemporary solutions.