Maqasid at a Glance

The term maqasid refers to the purposes, objectives, principles, intents, goals and ends of Islamic law. For many Islamic thinkers the maqasid are used interchangeably with public interests. The maqasid can be thought of as the divine intents and moral concepts upon which Islamic law is based, such as human dignity, free will, magnanimity, chastity, facilitation, equity, justice, mercy, social cooperation and so forth. They represent the link between Islamic law and today’s notions of human rights, development and civility. Among many other issues, the maqasid address questions related to the following:

What is the best methodology for re-reading and re-interpreting the Islamic scripture in light of today’s realities and state of knowledge?

What is the Islamic concept of freedom and justice?

What is the link between today’s notions of human rights and Islamic law?

How can these renewed understandings contribute to development, morality and civility?

The traditional classification of maqasid is represented by three levels of necessity. These include what is essential, what is needed and what enhances. The essential maqasid were defined as those dimensions of the shariah that served to preserve life, faith, intellect, progeny, dignity and wealth. Human welfare is jeopardized when any of these essentials are violated.

Today, the maqasid have been evolved along a number of important lines and research continues into the contribution that different understandings can make to our collective welfare. Modern scholarship has identified general maqasid or those observed throughout the entire body of Islamic law, specific maqasid or those observed throughout a sub-field of Islamic law and partial maqasid or those believed to underlie specific rulings. Today’s conceptions take greater account of larger social units and include such objectives as reform, women’s rights and human rights and dignity.

In their new light, the study and application of maqasid can help us respond to global issues and concerns, evolving from the wisdom behind the rulings to practical plans for reform and renewal. In other words, the maqasid are allowing us to honour Islamic objectives in our efforts to build diverse, constructive and robust communities.

*Extracted with minor edits from Maqasid al-Shariah: A Beginners Guide by Jasser Auda, IIIT: Washington.