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The Shariah

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    Posted: 16 May 2005 at 12:00pm

The Principles of Shariah by Maulana Maududi-Towards Understanding Qur'an

Our discussion of the fundamentals of Islam will remain incomplete if we do not cast a glance over the law of Islam, study its basic principles, and try to visualize the type of man and society which Islam wants to produce. In this last chapter we propose to undertake a study of the principles of the Shariah so that our picture of Islam may become complete and we may be able to appreciate the superiority of the Islamic way of life

The Shariah: Its Nature and Purport
God has also provided man with all those means and resources to make his natural faculties function and to achieve the fulfillment of his needs. The human body has been so made that it becomes man's greatest instrument in his struggle for the fulfillment of his life's goal. Then there is the world in which man lives. His environment and surroundings contain resources of every description: resources which he uses as a means for the achievement of his ends. Nature and all that belongs to it have been harnessed for him and he can make every conceivable use of them. And there are other men of his own kind, so that they may cooperate with each other in the construction of a better and prosperous life.

These powers and resources have been conferred so that they may be used for the good of others. They have been created for your good and are not meant to harm and destroy you. The proper use of these powers is that which makes them beneficial to you; and even if there be some harm, it must not exceed the unavoidable minimum. That alone is the proper utilization of these powers. Every other use which results in waste or destruction is wrong, unreasonable and unjustified. For instance, if you do something that causes you harm or injury, that would be a mistake, pure and simple. If your actions harm others and make you a nuisance to them, that would be sheer folly and an utter misuse of God-given powers. If you waste resources, spoil them for nothing or destroy them, that is too a gross mistake. Such activities are flagrantly unreasonable, for it is human reason which suggests that destruction and injury must be avoided and the path of gain and profit be pursued. And if any harm be countenanced, it must be only in such cases where it is unavoidable and where it is bound to yield a greater benefit. Any deviation from this is self-evidently wrong.

Keeping this basic consideration in view, when we look at human beings, we find that there are two kinds of people: first, those who knowingly misuse their powers and resources and through this misuse waste the resources, injure their own vital interest, and cause harm to other people; and second, those who are sincere and earnest but err because of ignorance. Those who intentionally misuse their powers are wicked and evil and deserve to feel the full weight of the law. Those who err because of ignorance, need proper knowledge and guidance so that they see the Right Path and make the best use of their powers and resources. And the code of behavior -- the Shariah -- which God has revealed to man meets this very need.

The Shariah stipulates the law of God and provides guidance for the regulation of life in the best interests of man. Its objective is to show the best way to man and provide him with the ways and means to fulfill his needs in the most successful and most beneficial way. The law of God is out and out for you benefit. There is nothing in it which tends to waste your powers, or to suppress your natural needs and desires, or to kill your moral urges and emotions. It does not plead for asceticism. It does not say: abandon the world, give up all ease and comfort of life, leave your homes and wander about on plains and mountains and in jungles without bread or cloth, putting yourself to inconvenience and self-annihilation. This viewpoint has no relevance to the law of Islam, a law that has been formulated by God Who has created this world for the benefit of mankind.

The Shariah has been revealed by that very God Who has harnessed everything for man. He would hardly want to ruin His creation. He has not given man any power that is useless or unnecessary, nor has He created anything in the heavens and the earth which may not be of service to man. It is His explicit Will that the universe -- this grand workshop with its multifarious activities -- should go on functioning smoothly and graciously so that man -- the prize of creation -- should make the best and most productive use of all his powers and resources, of everything that has been harnessed for him on earth and in the high heavens. He should use them in such a way that he and his fellow human beings may reap handsome prizes for them and should never, intentionally or unintentionally, be of any harm to God's creation. The Shariah is meant to guide the steps of man in this respect. It forbids all that is harmful to man, and allows or ordains all that is useful and beneficial to him.

The fundamental principle of the Law is that man has the right, and in some cases the bounden duty, to fulfill all his genuine needs and desires and make every conceivable effort to promote his interests and achieve success and happiness -- but (and it is an important 'but') he should do all this in such a way that not only are the interests of other people not jeopardized and no harm is caused to their strivings towards the fulfillment of their rights and duties, but there should be all possible social cohesion, mutual assistance and cooperation. among human beings in the achievement of their objectives. In respect of those things in which good and evil, gain and loss are inextricably mixed up, the tenet of this law is to choose a little harm for the sake of greater benefit and sacrifice a little benefit, so avoiding a greater harm. This is the basic approach of the Shariah.

Man's knowledge is limited. Every man in every age does not, by himself, know what is good and what is evil, what is beneficial and what is harmful to him. The sources of human knowledge are too limited to provide him with the unalloyed truth. That is why God has spared man the risks of trial and error and revealed to him the Law which is the right and complete code of life for the entire human race.

The merits and the truths of this code are becoming more and more clear to man with the passage of time and of knowledge. Even today some people do not appreciate all the merits of this code, but further progress of knowledge will throw new light on them and bring their superiority into even clearer perspective. The world is willy-nilly drifting towards the Divine Code -- many of those people who refused to accept it are now, after centuries of groping and trials and errors, being obliged to adopt some of the provisions of this law. Those who denied the truth of the revelation and pinned their faith on unguided human reason, after committing blunders and courting bitter experience, are adopting in one way or another the injunctions of Shariah. But after what loss! And even then not in their entirety! On the other hand, there are people who repose faith in God's Prophets, accept their word and adopt the Shariah with full knowledge and understanding. They may not be aware of all the merits of a certain instruction, but on the whole they accept a code which is the outcome of true knowledge and which saves them from the evils and blunders of ignorance and of trial and error. Such people are on the right path and are bound to succeed.

The Shariah: Rights and Obligations
The scheme of life which Islam envisages consists of a set of rights and obligations, and every human being, everyone who accepts this religion, is enjoined to live up to them. Broadly speaking, the law of Islam imposes four kinds of rights and obligations on every man:

the rights of God which every man is obliged to fulfill;
his own rights upon his own self;
the rights of other people over him; and
the rights of those powers and resources which God has placed in his service and has empowered him to use for his benefit.
These rights and obligations constitute the cornerstone of Islam and it is the bounden duty of every true Muslim to understand them and obey them carefully. The Shariah discusses clearly each and every kind of right and deals with it in detail. It also throws light on the ways and means through which the obligations can be discharged -- so that all of them may be simultaneously implemented and none of them violated or trampled underfoot.
Now we shall briefly discuss these rights and obligations so that an idea of the Islamic way of life and its fundamental values may be formed.

The Rights of God
First of all we must study the ground on which Islam bases the relationship of man to his Creator. The primary and foremost right of God is that man should have faith in Him alone. He should acknowledge His authority and associate none with Him. This is epitomized in the Kalimah: La ilaha illallah (there is no god but Allah).

The second right of God on us is that man should accept wholeheartedly and follow His guidance (Hidaayah) -- the code he has revealed for man -- and should seek His pleasure with both mind and soul. We fulfill the dictates of this right by placing belief in God's Prophet and by accepting his guidance and leadership.

The third right of God on us is that we should obey Him honestly and unreservedly. We fulfill the needs of this right by following God's Law as contained in the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

The fourth right of God on us is to worship Him. This is rendered by offering prayers and other Ibadah as described earlier.

These rights and obligations precede all other rights and as such they are discharged even at the cost of some sacrifice of other rights and duties. For instance, in offering prayers and keeping fasts man has to sacrifice many of his personal rights. He has to get up early in the morning for his prayers and in so doing sacrifices his sleep and rest. During the day he often puts off important work and gives up his recreation to worship his Creator. In the month of Ramadan (the month of fasts) he experiences hunger and inconvenience solely to please his Lord. By paying zakah he loses his wealth and demonstrates that the love of God is above everything else. In the pilgrimage he sacrifices wealth and takes on a difficult journey. And in Jihad he sacrifices money, material and all that he has -- even his own life.

Similarly, in the discharge of these obligations one has to sacrifice some of the ordinary rights of others and thus injure one's own interests at large. A servant has to leave his work to worship his Lord. A businessman has to stop his business to undertake the Pilgrimage to Mecca In Jihad a man takes away life and gives it away solely in the cause of Allah. In the same way, in rendering God's rights one has to sacrifice many of those things which man has in his control, like animals, wealth, etc. But God has so formulated the Shariah that harmony and equilibrium are established in the different fields of life and the sacrifice of others' rights is reduced to the barest minimum.

This is achieved by the limits prescribed by God. He has allowed us every facility in the fulfillment of the obligation of Salah. If you cannot get water for ablution, or you are sick, you can perform tayammum (dry ablution). If you are on a journey, you can cut short the Salah. If you are ill and cannot stand in the prayer, you can offer it while sitting or lying. The recitation of the prayer is so manageable that they can be shortened or lengthened as one may wish; at times of rest and ease we may recite a long chapter of the Qur'an, at busy times we may recite a few verses only. The instruction is that in the congregational prayers and in those prayers which occur during business hours, the recitation should be short. God is pleased with the optional devotions (Nawafil), but He disapproves our denying ourselves sleep and rest and the sacrifice of the rights of our children and of the household. Islam wants us to strike a balance between the various activities of life.

It is similar with fasts. In the whole year there is only one month of obligatory fasting. If you are traveling or ill you can omit it and observe it at some other convenient time of the year. Women are exempted from fasting when they are pregnant and during their menstrual or suckling periods. The fast should end at the appointed time and any delay is disapproved of. Permission is given to eat and drink from sunset to dawn. Optional fasts are highly valued and God is pleased at them, but He does not like you to keep fasts continuously and make yourself too weak to do your ordinary business satisfactorily.

Similarly, look at the case of zakah; the minimum rate has been fixed by God and man has been left free to give as much more as he likes in the cause of Allah. If one gives zakah, one fulfills one's duty, but if one spends more in charity, one seeks more and more of God's pleasure. But He does not like us to sacrifice all our belongings in charity or to deny ourselves and our relatives those rights and comforts which they should enjoy. He does not want us to impoverish ourselves. We are commanded to be moderate in charity.

Then look at the pilgrimage. It is obligatory only for those who can afford the journey and who are physically fit to bear its hardships. Then, it is obligatory to perform it only once in one's life, in any convenient year. If there is a war or any other situation which threatens life, it can be postponed. Moreover, parental permission has been made an essential condition, so that aged parents may not suffer in one's absence. All these things clearly show what importance God has Himself given to the rights of others vis--vis His own rights.

The greatest sacrifice for God is made in Jihad, for in it a man sacrifices not only his own life and property in His cause but destroys those of others also. But, as already stated, one of the Islamic principles is that we should suffer a lesser loss to save ourselves from a greater loss. How can the loss of some lives -- even if the number runs into thousands -- be compared to the calamity that may befall mankind as a result of the victory of evil over good and of aggressive atheism over the religion of God. That would be a far greater loss and calamity, for as a result of it not only would the religion of God be under dire threat, the world would also become the abode of evil and perversion, and life would be disrupted both from within and without.

In order to escape this greater evil God has, therefore, commanded us to sacrifice our lives and property for His pleasure. But at the same time He has forbidden unnecessary bloodshed, injuring the aged, women, children, the sick and the wounded. His order is to fight only against those who rise to fight. He enjoins us not to cause unnecessary destruction even in the enemy's lands, and to deal fairly and honorably with the defeated. We are instructed to observe the agreements made with the enemy and to stop fighting when they do so or when they stop their aggressive and anti-Islamic activities.

Thus Islam allows only for the minimum essential sacrifice of life, property and other people's rights in the discharging of God's rights. It is eager to establish a balance between the different demands of man and adjust different rights and obligations so that life is enriched with the choicest of merits and achievements.

The Rights of One's Own Self
Next come man's personal rights, that is, the rights of one's own self.

The fact is that man is more cruel and unjust to himself than to any other being. On the face of it this may seem astonishing: how can a man be unjust to himself, particularly when we find that he loves himself most? How can he be his own enemy? It seems unintelligible. But deeper reflection shows that it contains a large grain of truth.

The greatest weakness of man is that when he feels an overpowering desire, instead of resisting it, he succumbs to it, and in its gratification knowingly causes great harm to himself. There is the man who drinks: he cannot stop his craving for it and does it at the cost of money, health, reputation and everything that he has. Another person is so fond of eating that in his excesses he damages his health and endangers his life. Another person becomes a slave to his sexual appetites and ruins himself in over indulgence. Still another becomes enamored of spiritual elevations: he suppresses his genuine desires, refuses to satisfy the physical needs, controls his appetite, does away with clothes, leaves his home and retires into mountains and jungles. He believes that the world is not meant for him and abhors it in all its forms and manifestations.

These are a few of the instances of man's tendency to go to extremes. One comes across such instances of maladjustment and disequilibrium in one's everyday life and there is no need to multiply them here.

Islam stands for human welfare and its avowed objective is to establish balance in life. That is why the Shariah clearly declares that your own self also has certain rights upon you. A fundamental principle of it is: "there are rights upon you of your own person."

The Shariah forbids the use of all those things which are injurious to man's physical, mental or moral existence. It forbids the consumption of blood, intoxicating drugs, flesh of the pig, beasts of prey, poisonous and unclean animals and carcasses; for all these have undesirable effects on the physical, moral, intellectual and spiritual life of man. While forbidding these things, Islam enjoins man to use all clean, healthy and useful things and asks him not to deprive his body of clean food, for man's body, too, has a right on him. The law of Islam forbids nudity and orders man to wear decent and dignified dress. It exhorts him to work for a living and strongly disapproves of him remaining idle and jobless. The spirit of the Shariah is that man should use for his comfort and welfare the powers God has bestowed on him and the resources that He has spread on the earth and in the heavens.

Islam does not believe in the suppression of sexual desire; it enjoins man to control and regulate it and seek its fulfillment in marriage. It forbids him to resort to self-persecution and total self-denial and permits him, indeed, bids him, to enjoy the rightful comforts and pleasures of life and remain pious and steadfast in the midst of life and its problems.

To seek spiritual elevation, moral purity, nearness to God and salvation in the life to come, it is not necessary to abandon this world. Instead, the trial of man lies in this world and he should remain in its midst and follow the way of Allah in it. The road to success lies in following the Divine Law in the midst of life's complexities, not outside it.

Islam forbids suicide and impresses on man that life belongs to God. It is a trust which God has bestowed for a certain period of time so that you may make the best use of it -- it is not meant to be harmed or destroyed in a frivolous way.

This is how Islam instills in the mind of man that his own person, his own self, possesses certain rights and it is his obligation to discharge them as best he can, in the ways that have been suggested by the Shariah. This is how he can be true to his own self.

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