What the Shariah Wants to Preserve
Early scholars classified five major elements that Islamic law aims to preserve:
1- Human life
They further divided the higher objectives into a scale of benefits: essential (daruriyyah), necessary (hajiyyah), and complementary (takmiliyyah).
A few centuries later, Abu Ishaq Ash-Shatibi, who grew up in Granada, Spain, wrote Al-Muwafaqat. It is now the pioneer of objective-based jurisprudence which continues to be widely studied today. His refined methodology helps people understand and appreciate the Divine Wisdom within the Islamic teachings, rather than contenting themselves with a superficial focus on the rules without reflection.
It’s also important to note that comprehending the higher objectives (Maqasid) is a prerequisite to resolving contemporary issues in Islamic thought that consistently arise.
The Five Objectives of the Shariah
The teachings of Islam came to benefit (maslahah) people on an individual and communal level, and to avert harm (mafsadah) from them. Upon a complete analysis of all Islamic injunctions, it becomes clear that the teachings aim to preserve five things: human life, intellect, property, family, and religion.
For example, the prohibition of murder, alcohol consumption, theft, adultery, and fleeing from the battlefield without an excuse, all aim to achieve preserving those five things, in that order.
Three Categories of the Shariah Objectives
The higher objectives are furthermore divided into a descending scale of benefits: essential (daruriyyah), necessary (hajiyyah), and complementary (takmiliyyah).
An essential ruling would be like the prohibition of murder, without which life would be completely lost, and this would endanger society as a whole.
A necessary rule would be something like the prohibition of a monopoly in an economy since it preserves the wealth of people. It would cause harm but it wouldn’t destroy the entire economy.
A complementary ruling helps to achieve the highest quality in the five objectives mentioned above. For example, the principle of averting the gaze and wearing modest clothing protects the family system from falling apart. Immodest clothing and not lowering the gaze may not automatically result in adultery and fornication, but it helps curb it.
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When there is a conflict between rules in two of these categories, the essential has the highest precedence, then the necessary. For example, praying in a congregation helps to preserve the religion, but it is not essential. If praying in a group puts someone’s life in danger, they must pray individually since the preservation of life is essential, while group prayer is of a lower classification.
1- Ahmad Al-Raysuni, Imam Al-Shatibi’s Theory of the Higher Objectives and Intents of Islamic Law (Herndon: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2011)
2- Dar Al-Ifta’Pages: 1 2