Translated by Mateen A. Khan
Translators comment: Maqāsid al-Sharī‘ah refers to the set of objectives and goals which the Sharī‘ah strives to establish. For example, the preservation of faith, life, lineage, intellect and property are essential objectives of the Sharī‘ah as propagated by Imam al-Ghazālī. These objectives establish benefits (al-masālih) and remove harms (al-mafāsid) for the individual and community. However, we find that some misconstrue their place and derive rulings from the objectives while going against the primary textual evidences i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah. For clarification, we turn towards a translated chapter from “Usūl al-Iftā’”  by Mufti Taqi Usmani (may Allah bless and preserve him) entitled “Maqāsid al-Sharī‘ah.”
A great number of scholars have written books illuminating the benefits (al-masālih) of the rulings of the Sharī‘ah and its objectives (al-maqāsid). Their purpose was not to derive the rulings solely from these benefits and objectives without consideration of the primary textual evidences of the Sharī‘ah. Rather, their purpose was to illuminate the benefits from the rulings derived from the primary texts, such that it becomes clear that the Sharī‘ah did not ordain a ruling except that behind it was a benefit for servants in this world and the next. Nor was their purpose to only consider these objectives in determining permissible actions and those matters lacking textual evidence. Rather, the Sharī‘ah and its primary texts determine what is beneficial, not the intellect alone nor personal desires. That is because these objectives – such as preservation of self, property and honor – are not in themselves always the goal, but rather, the correct understanding is what Imam Shātibī (may Allah have mercy on him) said,
“In general, the benefits (al-manāfi’) and harms should be the secondary consideration not the primary consideration. What is meant by ‘secondary’ is that they are benefits or harms in some conditions while not in others, or in relation to some individuals while not others, or at some times while not at other times.”
The Law of Allah determines whether a matter is a benefit or a harm. Thus, an apparent benefit, which goes against one of the primary texts, is not truly a benefit. Rather, it is only a result of personal desire, whose obedience the Sharī‘ah was sent to eliminate.
In our times, some people have arose who cling to the words “maqāsid al-sharī‘ah” intending to place it before the primary Islamic texts under the pretense that “the goal of the rulings derived from these sources is the establishment of some benefits and the fulfillment of some objectives. When these benefits and objectives are apparently lost by acting upon the outward meaning of the texts, then we are commanded to follow these benefits and objectives not to follow the outward meaning.” Indeed, this type of rationalization will only lead to the destruction of the entire Sharī‘ah and the removal of religious obligations based on assumed and imagined objectives and benefits.
The truth is that everything Allah subhānahu wa ta‘āla has stipulated in our religion is based upon benefits and objectives. No one doubts this. For Allah subhānahu wa ta‘āla does not stipulate an order in which there is futility or harm for His Creation. However, masālih (benefits) and maqāsid (objectives) are very imprecise words. Whoever looks into matters of life with only his intellect will claim that a thing is from the benefits and objectives. While another will claim it is neither a benefit nor an objective in life. The intellect which does not base itself on divine revelation cannot reach such a standard that can be universally relied upon to determine these benefits and objectives.
Further, every objective of the Shari‘ah has exceptions. It has limits and controls. For example, preservation of life is one of the most important objectives of the Shari‘ah. However, a killer will not be able to hold to this objective and benefit from it to save his own life from capital punishment. Likewise, this is the case with all of the objectives. So the key questions are: who decides these objectives and who sets the limits in which these objectives are employed? If we entrust this decision to the intellect alone, then the Sharī‘ah will fall into disarray. At times, the Sharī‘ah gives fitting commands in matters in which the intellect alone cannot deduce the correct answer. For if human intellect were sufficient for this decision, there would not have been a need for sending the messengers nor for revealing the divine books. So the clear truth is that the only path to deciding these objectives and its limits is to return to the primary textual evidences from the Noble Qur’an and Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and his family and give them peace). Thus, we cannot place some non-explicit objectives before explicit, established primary textual evidences regardless if the source is the Book of Allah or His Messenger (Allah bless him and his family and give them peace). We will not take the objectives and benefits as a foundation for legislation nor will we remove the primary texts as the foundation for legislation. The correct stance is that the benefits and objectives are derived from the primary texts. So whatever Allah and His Messenger have made a benefit is a [benefit, not] what we claim is a benefit according to our individual notions. The scholars of the objectives of the Shari‘ah – such as al-Shātibī, al-Ghazālī, and Shāh Walī Allah al-Dihlawī (may Allah have mercy on them) – all agreed that rulings are derived from causes (‘ilal) and not wisdoms (al-hikam). For wisdoms and benefits that oppose the primary texts of the Shari‘ah are what the Noble Qur’an refers to as “desires” (al-ahwā’). Imam Shātibī (may Allah have mercy on him), who was a pioneer in expounding the topic of objectives of the Shari‘ah, said,
“The Shari‘ah came to stop responsible people from following the callings of their desires until they become the servants of Allah. When this is established, then it cannot join with the premise that the application of the Shari‘ah be based on the self’s desires and seeking its immediate gratification, however that might be. For our Lord said, ‘If the truth had followed their desires, the heavens, the earth and all those therein would have been ruined’ ” (Al-Mu’minūn, 71).
Shah Walī Allah al-Dihlawī (May Allah have mercy on him) wrote,
“Yes, just as the Sunnah has established that rulings of the Sharī‘ah are based upon benefits and wisdoms [i] (and the Consensus (al-ijmā’) is in agreement upon it), it has also established that the divine decision to make something obligatory or forbidden is a strong reason in and of itself (irrespective of these benefits) for rewarding the obedient and punishing the disobedient… and it has also established that it is forbidden to delay obedience of the Sharī‘ah until these benefits are known if the narrations are correct in regards to it” (Hujjat Allah al-Bālighah).
 Usmānī, Muhammad Taqī. Usūl al-Iftā’. Maktaba Ma‘āriful Qur’ān. Karachi 2011. Pages 245-248.
[i] Translator’s comment: Meaning that every ruling of the Sharī’ah indeed has benefits and underlying wisdom even though we may be unable to comprehend them at times.
Note: This article was edited for style.