The Purposes of the Shari`ah

The main purpose of the Shari`ah is to realise and secure the general good or the interests (masaalih) of people bypromoting their welfare as individuals and as a collective body and keeping harm and injury away from them. This it seeks to do, in order of priority, by:

  1. guaranteeing their ‘vital needs’ (duruuriyaat)

  2. catering for their ‘requirements’ (haajiyaat)

  3. allowing for ‘betterment’, enhancement or improvements (tahsiiniyaat) in the quality of their life.

An example of a vital need is housing, to protect people from heat or cold and provide for sleep and rest.

An example of a requirement is windows in the house to allow for light and privacy.

An example of an improvement or enhancement is furniture or beds to make life easy and comfortable.

‘Requirements’ and ‘improvements’ can only be catered for if vital needs are met or satisfied. If a vital need is threatened then a lesser need can be dispensed with. For example, under normal circumstances a person must keep his or her private parts covered. Keeping your private parts covered is important for the enhancement of your life and conduct but it may not be absolutely vital for the preservation of health and life. If, therefore, a person has to have medical treatment which is a vital need and which requires his or her private parts to be examined, the vital need takes precedence. In such a situation, the Shari`ah allows a person to uncover his or her private parts to the view of a medical professional.

Vital needs

The vital needs which the Shari`ah is concerned to protect are those on which the life of man depend. If any of these needs are threatened, corruption, disorder and injustice will result in individual and collective life. These vital needs, in order of priority, are five:

  1. the Diin or the natural system of beliefs and way of life of Islam;

  2. the life or nafs of the individual human being and of the human species;

  3. the mind or the `aql of the individual;

  4. the honour and chastity or `ird of the individual;

  5. wealth or property.

The protection of each of these is necessary for the wealth of individuals and society.

By Diin is meant the totality of beliefs, practices and laws by which Islam regulates the relationship between man and his Creator and between man and man. Preservation of Diin implies keeping it free from deviation and error, inviting others to accept and live according to it, and defending it from hostile forces.

By the preservation of life is meant measures to preserve the human species in the best possible way and this includes laws relating to marriage and reproduction. It also includes providing the vital needs of food, drink, clothing, shelter and security. It also includes laws relating to the prohibition of suicide and abortion (except when the mother’s life is in danger) and the need for just retaliation against those who commit murder.

The safeguarding of the mind is the concern of such provisions of the Shari`ah which forbid the consumption of alcohol and all intoxicating substances.

Preserving honour and chastity is the goal of such Shari`ah laws which punish sexual relations outside marriage and false accusations against people who are chaste.

By the preservation of wealth is meant the laws in the Shari`ah which encourage people to work and earn a living lawfully and which prohibit exploitation and injustice.

Requirements or exigencies

These pertain to laws of the Shari`ah which provide ease in case of difficulty and which eliminate or reduce hardship from people’s lives. For example, a person is not required to fast in the month of Ramadaan if he is ill or on a journey. In business transactions, the Shari`ah has allowed a variety of contracts and trading practices. It allows any local custom in meeting needs so long as it is not otherwise prohibited. It allows divorce in case of need. Such allowances receive sanction in the verses of the Qur’an:

“God has not created any hardship over you in matters of religion.”

“God desires ease for you. He does not desire hardship for you.”

Moreover, the noble Prophet said:

“I was sent with the true and tolerant Religion.”

Improvements or Enhancements

These pertain to all the laws of the Shari`ah that relate to improving the quality of human life, conduct and morals and beautifying the conditions under which life is lived. These include laws pertaining to cleanliness of the body, clothes, and environment, the covering of the private parts or `awrah, the method of getting rid of impurities, the performance of extra acts of worship such as voluntary fasting and charity and so on.

The above categories relate to the general objectives or concerns of the Shari`ah. From these, we can see that the concerns of the Shari`ah are not only with aspects of personal religion or worship but deal with all aspects of life. Moreover, the Shari`ah is not just ‘law’ as many understand the term; it is concerned with morals and worship as well.