The need for Maqasid al-Shariah

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The need for Maqasid al-Shariah

The world today is facing unprecedented challenges, and Islam has largely been an untapped well of ideas and approaches that can potentially address them. Although Islam is the religion of roughly one quarter of the world’s population, contemporary Muslim contributions have fallen well behind Islam’s historic legacy. Moreover, core Islamic values that include unity of humanity and creation, seeking knowledge, and establishing justice, welfare and peace, have found limited expression in modern academic disciplines and their application.

In their traditional definition, maqasid al-shariah are the purposes, objectives, principles, goals, ends and intents of Islamic jurisprudence. The maqasid approach insists on the centrality of the underlying principles of Islam, and distinguishes between those aspects of the faith that are immutable as opposed to those that are open to interpretation in accordance with time, space, context, intents and cultures. In doing so it leverages both the substance and methods of the sources of Islamic studies to offer humanity viable solutions to current problems. Justice, mercy, wisdom and human welfare are the defining criteria of this approach.

Although maqasid studies have been gaining traction over the past two decades with a number of initiatives spread around the world, to date there has been no serious effort to build a research centre that is dedicated to addressing contemporary challenges via the maqasid approach. Moreover, there are no specialised graduate programs in maqasid, which has limited the potentially significant contribution that this approach to Islamic studies can make in a multitude of human endeavours. In policy, for example, there has been no appreciable effort to critique and re-think conventional methodologies, theories, frameworks and in turn public services from the maqasid lens. In large part, this has not been possible as the areas of application of Islamic thought continue to be dominated by a juridical lens and thereby neglect Islam’s equally critical contributions to the arts, sciences, humanities and social sciences and when such applications have been attempted they have not been approached with the same academic rigour as the study of law. Overall, critique of traditional Islamic thought remains timid.

As we understand the complex spiritual, social, economic, political and environmental challenges we face with greater sophistication, Muslim youth, activists, academics and professionals are looking to Islamic education and scholarship to enhance their capacities to respond. Yet, Islamic education and scholarship cannot respond effectively without incorporating maqasid. In many conflicts around the world, Muslims are the victims, aggressors or passive observers. Those expressing a desire or intent to change reality through peaceful Islamic approaches face major hurdles, which notably include a lack of available strategies, methodologies and tools. As a result, a small but dangerous minority of Muslim youth irrationally resort to extremism and violent means while others simply abandon the Islamic enterprise altogether. A major way to overcome these hurdles is to establish an institute for research, education and mentoring in maqasid al- shariah.

Prof Dr Jasser Auda

Maqasid Institute, UK

Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies
International Peace College South Africa

Note: Professor Auda wrote a number of books in English and Arabic and engaged in numerous debates on Islamic thoughts and ethics, maqasid al-Shariah, Islam and Politics, and modern issues in the Muslim world such as women rights, minority rights, and pluralism. His important works on maqasid include Maqasid Al-Shariah as Philosophy of Islamic Law: A Systems Approach (2008) and Maqasid Al-Shariah A Beginner's Guide (2008), which has been translated into the Thai language (หลักเจตนารมณ์แห่งกฎหมายอิสลาม: คู่มือศึกษาเบื้องต้น) in 2014. He can be reached at