The Major Objectives of Shari'ah: Are they based on reason or revelation?
In our modern world and with the ever changing circumstances which people face on daily bases, discussing the major objectives or intents of the Islamic Shari'ah is essential in order to set broader guidelines and draw major frameworks within which the legal rulings in different perspectives are deducted.
Let's start with the objectives of the Shari'ah which can be deducted through revelation, the luminary scholar, al- Shatibi, in his famous book "Al- Muwafaqat" discussed the three means with which the major intents (maqasid) of Shari'ah can be deducted.
1) Explicit texts from the Quran or the Sunnah which identify the basis or reason ('illah) of Islamic legal rulings.
2) Inductive reading of the legal rulings whose bases ('ilal) have been determined by means of recognized approaches (masalik al- 'illah) yet without an explicit text from the Quran or the Sunnah or inductive reading of the various pieces of textual evidence in support of legal rulings which have a common purpose (ghaya) and basis (ba'ith).
3) The companions' understanding of the rulings found in the Quran and the Sunnah.
Although these three deductive methods are purely based on implicit or explicit textual evidence, there is a fourth method of determining the major objectives of the Islamic Shariah which is highly needed in our contemporary world and this method is reason and innate understanding (fitra).
The renowned scholar Ibn Sina in his book "Al- Najat" discussed the issue of innate understanding (fitrah) and illustrated it by imagining someone who has been brought into existence all at once as a rational being in this world without hearing anyone's opinion. He embraced his own formulated view points and lived in a certain community which might have exercised some sort of influence on his thinking. He, however, has perceived concrete realities and derived knowledge from specific cases. If something is presented to his mind about which he is doubtful; if doubt is possible for him, his innate understanding will not attest to it. If, on the other hand, doubt is not possible, then his innate understanding must affirm it out of necessity. This does not mean that everything that is affirmed by human being's innate understanding is true. Rather, what is true is the inborn capacity (fitrah al- Quwwah) known as mind or reason. As for the innate tendency to ponder and consider (fitrah al- dhihn), it is subject to error. Such error manifests itself in connection with realities which are not accessible to the physical senses but rather are conceptualizations of concrete realities.
Using the inborn capacity or reason to deduct legal rulings or to determine the major objectives of the Islamic Shari'ah was explicitly stated by Imam al- Shafi'i who adopted the opinion which favors independent legal reasoning or ijtihad. He added that whoever does a thorough investigation of the approach taken by the Prophet's companions will find that not a single one of them adopted some fixed rule upon which he based his legal decisions. They would rather proceed directly to an exchange of opinions without reference to fixed rules even if they were available. Then, if it was determined that their independent interpretation or ijtihad, accounted for the situation at hand, if it proved impossible to restrict their interpretation to what is stated explicitly in Islamic texts and if it was confirmed by the fact that the scholars among the companions did not support an appeal to fixed rules, then such a situation was considered to constitute a justification for resorting to (istidlal) or the search for evidence and meaning in the absence of an agreed-upon text from the Quran or the Sunnah.
The luminary scholar, Sheikh Al- 'Izz ibn 'Abd al- Salam discussed the issue of resorting to innate understanding and reasoning in determining human benefits by saying that most sources of earthly benefit and harm are discernible through human reasoning and the affirmation of this truth is recognized by most divinely revealed laws. As there is no sensible person –even before the revelation of divine law- would fail to realize that the attainment of pure benefit and the prevention of pure harm is a praiseworthy and desirable act. Same goes for favoring that which is of greater benefit over that which is of lesser benefit and on preventing that which is of greater harm on that which is of lesser harm.
The sacredness of human life, chastity, material wealth and honor is an agreed-upon subject among the wise and the prudent as well as among the various divinely revealed laws. These universal values are ingrained in human nature and reinforced through divinely revealed laws.
Sheikh al- 'Izz ibn 'Abd al- Salam continued saying that other worldly sources of benefit and harm can only be determined through the law of Islam. Therefore, if any of them is concealed from our knowledge, we may seek such knowledge through the evidence provided by the law, namely the Quran, the Sunnah, the consensus of the Muslim community, recognized qiyas or analogy and sound istidlal. When it comes to earthly benefits and sources of harm and its causes, they are recognized on the basis of human needs, experiences, customs, beliefs and sound, commonly acknowledged suppositions. Whoever wishes to know the reasons for benefit or harm may consult his own reason if no mention of them is made in the divine law, then he may base his judgment on this.
Hardly will one find a legal judgment which depart from this rule with the exception of those having to do with forms of worship which have no rationally discernible basis and which are adhered to in unquestioning submission. When it comes to earthly benefit and harm, sometimes determining benefit and harm is easy in cases of pure goodness and unmitigated evil but difficulty arises when it is not known what is the greater of two goods or which is the greater of two evils, or when we don't know whether a given benefit is of greater weight than a corresponding source of harm. Some sources of benefit and harm can only be recognized through sound understanding and virtuous character which enables the person to discern the fine gradations of what is beneficial and what is harmful from the most negligible to the most significant. People in general differ in their capacity for such discernment. Therefore, people of sound discernment should be advised and consulted to determine sources of harm and benefit.
Ibn Taymiyyah discussed the issue of innate understanding and inborn capacity to recognize and believe in truth and by the same token reject evil. This innate reasoning (fitrah) helps the individual to incline towards goodness and to be repulsive against evil in an instinctive aversion. Ibn al- Qayyim took the concept of inborn capacity to discern goodness from evil to a higher level and tied it closely to Shari'ah. He stated that Islamic law was structured and founded upon wise purposes and the best interests of God's servants both in this world and the next. The law is pure justice, pure mercy, pure benefit, pure wisdom. Hence, anything which embodies injustice rather than justice, cruelty rather than mercy, harm rather than benefit or folly rather than wisdom does not originate from the Law, even if it happens to have been interpolated therein by means of interpretation.
God has sent His messengers and revealed His holy scriptures for people to be upholders of equity and justice upon which the heaven and the earth were founded. God has not restricted truth's paths, evidences and signs to a single type while invalidating other paths which are more powerful, cogent and plain. God has made clear by means of the paths He has laid down that His intention is for truth and justice to be established and for people to uphold equity. Therefore any path through which truth is brought to light and justice is recognized, is a path in accordance with which rulings should be made. These paths are in essence means and are not ends in themselves and are used to reach the ultimate destination (maqsid) of establishing justice and bringing benefits.
Sheikh al- Raysuni discussed the importance of using the human intellect and the natural disposition which is used in textual interpretation, the assessment of changing and conflicting interests. He said that growth in purity likewise involves the purification of one's mind by developing it, guiding it and putting it to use. This is what the law does when it sets our minds in motion and releases them from their bonds, freeing them from delusions and superstitions which impede sound thinking. The role of the Islamic law is to feed the mind with values and precepts then gives them free rein to work and purify themselves. This is an additional aspect of preservation of the faculty of human reason. The law's preservation of human reason is not only limited to outward measures such as prohibiting intoxicants and imposing penalties for partaking of them. After all, how many people's minds were lost without having touched a drop of liquor? Number one reason for the loss of mind is through ignorance, lethargy, blind imitation and idleness. Therefore, putting the mind to use and empower it to delve into intellectual realms is not only an aid toward the assessment and preservation of human interest but it actually preserves one of the most vital human interests since the mind's proper use ensures its preservation and the mind's preservation is one of the agreed-upon essentials.
Sheikh al- Khadimi developed this concept even further by stating that the Islamic legal system with its rulings, its texts, its teachings, its contexts, its purposes (maqasid), its effective causes, its bases was not made manifest in the universe and was not used to construct civilizations but for the purpose of its being comprehended by human reason and for its suitability for both theory and practice. In order to discern the use of these laws in both theory and practice, an engagement in constructive rational process is essential. For this intellectual process to bear fruit, it must be carried in an orderly manner which involves coordination among the processes of understanding and induction, adjustment and measurement, comparison and contrast, weighing and refining, derivation and incorporation, the identification of roots and branches. The concrete effects of such processes are observable in the overall cultural edifice as embodied in the establishment of legal, social and value systems. This led to the emergence of a remarkable earthly milieu with its intricate overlapping cultures, thriving agriculture, communications revolution and its orderly yet varied web of interactions.
The application of this legal system in the stage of life with its intricate problems and multitudinous facets is evidence of the intervention of reason in this system's formulation and implementation. Reason played a significant role in understanding, deducting, collecting, organizing, and coordinating the various sources of evidence, as well as coordinating between such evidence and the circumstances to which it applies and the people whom it addresses.