The Objectives of the Revealed Law (Maqāṣid Ash-Sharīʿah): A Brief Introduction 


In the Name of Allah, The All Merciful, The Most Merciful

In the Arabic language, the word maqāṣid comes from the word maqṣid or maqṣūd. The maqṣid is the place that it is intended while the maqṣūd is the objective that is intended. In the terminology of Uṣūl Al-Fiqh, the maqāṣid are the objectives and wisdoms that the Lawgiver has laid down for every ruling of the Revealed Law, realising advantages for His servants in the life of this world and the Hereafter by bringing about that which benefits them and warding off that which harms them.

The foundational purpose behind the legislations of Islām is consideration for the benefits of Allah's servants in terms of their Dīn as well as the life of this world in that which facilitates their task as vicegerents and enables them to inhabit and develop the earth.

Whenever Allah's servants seek benefit there is the risk of them moving away from the truth, due to those benefits mixing with harms, or going beyond moderation and balance and falling into neglect or excess, or the risk of following vain desires by giving precedence to worldly matters over matters of the Hereafter, or bringing something forward that should be delayed and delaying something that should be brought forward, or these benefits are subjected to opinions and vain desires...The Wise Lawgiver has laid down the foundations for procuring benefits and their limits by way of clarifying the general and comprehensive objectives of legislation, then ordering what branches out from these objectives in a precise manner such that no scope is left for vain desires to intervene or interfere and thus become the arbiter therein. Indeed, everything that brings about an objective of the Revealed Law is a sought-after benefit, and everything that contravenes the objective of the Lawgiver is a harm that must be averted and the means to it must be blocked.

The Lawgiver's general objective behind legislating rulings: Indeed whoever examines the rulings of the Revealed Law and follows their development will find that legal responsibility (at-taklīf) is entirely about averting harm and bringing about benefit, and thus the rulings of the Revealed Law have only been established out of consideration for the benefits of Allah's servants and realising the utmost goodness for them in the life of this world and the Hereafter, or both of them together.

The reasoning behind The Lawgiver's rulings and legislations is shown in the Noble Qurʾān and the Prophetic Sunnah; benefits for the servant in this world and in the Hereafter. This is what affirms His intention towards realising the welfare of His servants and their success in both worlds. The Lawgiver's consideration for the benefits of His servants is not restricted to the scope of customs, transactions and punitive measures. Rather, they also include acts of worship that are considered to be the prime objective of worship...because Allah the Exalted has no need of His creation. Their obedience does not benefit Him and their disobedience does not harm Him. Rather, the objective of their worship is to return the benefit therein to them. Allah the Exalted has said, concluding the āya on wuḍūʾ (ablution): "Allah does not want to make things difficult for you, but He does want to purify you and to perfect His blessings upon you so that hopefully you will be thankful." [Al-Māʾidah 5:6] Thus, Allah, Mighty and Majestic, has explained the objective behind legislating wuḍūʾ, which is purification from dirt, uncleanliness and sins. Likewise, He the Exalted explained the objective behind legislating the prayer in His statement: "The prayer precludes indecency and wronging." [Al-ʿAnkabūt 29:45] The one who performs the prayer properly will be protected from committing blameworthy statements and actions. He the Exalted explained the objective behind legislating zakāt in His statement: "Take zakāt from their wealth to purify and cleanse them." [At-Tawba 9:103] Thus, He has clarified that the objective behind legislating zakāt is to purify the wealthy from all forms of uncleanliness, material and spiritual.

The āyāt that show that the objectives of the Lawgiver are consideration for the benefit of His servants, in their transactions, customs and punitive measures, include His, The Exalted's, statement: "Among His Signs is that He created spouses for you of your own kind so that you might find tranquility in them. And He has placed affection and compassion between you." [Ar-Rūm 30:21] Thus, the objective behind legislating marriage is tranquility, affection and compassion between the two spouses. The objective behind prohibiting intoxicants is in His, The Exalted's, statement: "You who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, stone altars and divining arrows are filth from the handiwork of Shayṭān. Avoid them completely so that hopefully you will be successful." [Al-Māʾidah 5:90] These things are filth. The objective behind legislating retaliation (al-qaṣāṣ) is in His, The Exalted's, statement: "There is life for you in retaliation, O people of intelligence, so that hopefully you will have consciousness of Allah." [Al-Baqara 2:179] i.e. preventing criminals from transgressing against life.

From these āyāt it is clear that the Lawgiver's general objective behind legislating rulings is consideration for the benefit of His servants in both worlds, and it is the general objective behind all of legal responsibility and all states.

The scholars have divided these benefits into three degrees:

> indispensible benefits (maṣāliḥ ḍarūriyyah),

> necessary benefits (maṣāliḥ ḥājiyyah), and,

> refining benefits (maṣāliḥ taḥsīniyyah),

and each of these degrees has that which perfects it (mukammilāt).

The objective behind maintaining these benefits is represented in preserving the five comprehensives (al-kulliyāt al-khams):

> Ad-Dīn (the religion),

> An-Nafs (life),

> Al-ʿAql (intellect),

> An-Nasl (lineage), and, 

> Al-Māl (wealth and property).

Therefore, preserving the foundations of these comprehensives is considered part of the indispensible benefits, while preserving other than them is considered part of the necessary or refining benefits.

Preserving the foundation of the Dīn requires faith in the pillars of the creed and establishing its acts of worship, such as the prayer, zakāt, fasting and the Ḥajj. The demand for these to be carried out is from the indispensible benefits, because the foundation of the Dīn cannot be established without them. As for demanding that which perfects this foundation, such as dispensations that makes things easier for those who are legally responsible, these are from the necessary benefits. As for demanding that which perfects supererogatory acts, etiquettes and virtues, this is from the refining benefits.

[Translated by Shaykh Mahdi Lock from Uṣūl al-Fiqh: As-Sanah Ath-Thāniyah min Salak Al-Bakālawriya, Shaʿbah At-Taʿlīm Al-Aṣīl, Maslak Al-ʿUlūm Ash-Sharʿīyyah, by Ustadh ʿAli Filālī and colleagues at the Qarawiyyin High School, Fes, Morocco, p.11-12]