The Principles of Shariah

Understanding Islam – Abul Al\’a Maududi


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 Shari\’ah so that our picture of Islam may become complete, and we may be able to appreciate the superiority of the Islamic way of life. 


Man has been endowed with countless powers and faculties and Providence has been very bountiful to him in this respect. He possesses intellect and wisdom, will and volition, faculties of sight, speech, taste, touch and hearing, powers of hand and feet, passions of love, fear, anger and so on. These faculties have been bestowed on him because they are indispensable to him. His very life and success depend on the proper use of these powers for the fulfillment of his needs and requirements. These God-given powers are meant for his service and unless they are used in full measure life cannot become worth living. 

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 has become 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 co-operate 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 too is 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 interests, 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 Shari\’ah—, which God has revealed to man, meets this very need. 

The Shari\’ah 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 your 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 Shari\’ah 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 from them and should never, intentionally, or unintentionally, be of any harm to God\’s creation. The Shari\’ah 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 co-operation 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 Shari\’ah.  

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.1

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 groupings 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 Shari\’ah. 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 Shari’ah 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. 

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(EDITORS NOTE: It would be instructive to refer here to an example. Look at the color problem. The world has not yet been able to adopt a rational and human approach towards colored people. Biology, for a time, was used to sanction color discrimination. In the United States for the last two centuries the courts upheld the differentiation. Thousands of human beings were coerced, gagged, and tortured for the \”crime\’ that their skin was black. Separate laws were administered to the whites and the blacks. They\’ could not even study under the same roof in the same school or college. It was only on May 1\”. 1954 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that color discrimination in universities was unjust and against the principle of equality of man. After committing heinous blunders for centuries man came to the view that such discriminations are unjust and should be abolished. But even now there are many who have not realized (he truth of this assertion and still stand for segregation, for instance, the Government of the Union of South Africa and the Western population of the African continent. Even in the United States a large number of \’civilized\’ people have not as yet accepted desegregation. This is how the human mind has dealt with this problem. The Shari\’ah, on the other hand, declared this discrimination unjust from the very first day. It showed the right path, the noble course and saved man from error and blunder. The Holy Qur\’an says: \”We have made all the children of Adam. i.e., all human beings, respectable and dignified.\” The Qur\’an again declares: \”0 ye people! Surely, we have created you of a male and a female and made you tribes and families so that ye may identify each other. Surely the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is one who is most pious, most mindful of his duly. \”Similarly, the Holy Prophet says: \”0 people, verily your Lord is one and your Father is one. All of you belong lo Adam, and Adam was made of clay. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab nor for a non-Arab over an Arab: nor for a white-colored\\over a black-colored nor for a black-skinned over a white-skinned, except in piety. Verily the noblest among you is he who is the most pious\” (vide Oration of the Prophet on the occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage). This is the clear truth, which the Shari\’ah told to man more than thirteen centuries ago, but unguided reason has succeeded only in touching the fringe of it after centuries of waste, losses, and blunders, after subjecting hundreds of thousands of people to indiscriminate segregation and after degrading men and corrupting human society. The Shari\’ah gives the simplest and the shortest approach to reality and its disregard leads to utter waste and failure. – Editor.)

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