Ethics of Shari`ah and Our Responsibility*

Ethics and the Secular Laws

In the secular legal systems, the law and ethics are not necessarily interrelated. People sometimes fulfill laws but they are not necessarily ethical people. Sheldon Amos in his book The Science of Law says: “A man may be a bad husband, a bad father, a bad guardian without coming into conflict with rules of a single law.” Laws are best understood formally as a system of orders, commands, and rules enforced by some authority. Laws are fulfilled by outward compliance of the rules, even when someone hates those rules and the authority that has given those rules.

The Nature of Shari`ah

Shari`ah is the law of Allah. It is different from laws in the common sense of the word. Shari`ah is the law that is based on ethics. Its basic values are permanent and universal. Shari`ah deals with the outward and inward. The rules of Shari`ah cannot be fulfilled without sincerity, true intention, love, and respect of the law and the Law-Giver, Allah.

The Purpose of Shari`ah

The purpose of Shari`ah is to make good persons and a good society. Its whole objective is ethical and moral. Shari`ah establishes what is good and beautiful. If something is not moral (good and beautiful), it is not part of the Shari`ah. It is also impossible to fulfill the Shari`ah without becoming a good person. A society that establishes the Shari`ah must become a good and beautiful society. It is impossible to have a society compliant to Shari`ah and have injustice, ugliness, and evil in it. It is also impossible to have a good Muslim who is unjust, unfair, unfaithful, and immoral.

Ibn Al-Qayyim in his famous book of fiqh says, “The Shari`ah is founded and based on wisdom and the benefit of people in this life and in the eternal life. Shari`ah is altogether justice, mercy, benefits, and wisdom. Any rule that departs from justice to oppression, from mercy to its opposite, from benefit to harm, and from wisdom to futility, is not from the Shari`ah, even if it is included in Shari`ah by interpretation.”

Basic Values of Shari`ah:

Scholars say that the Shari`ah has basic values or objectives. They identify them as follows:

1. `Adl and qist—Justice and equity

2. Huquq—Rights and obligations

3. Shura—Consultation

4. Masalih—Public interest

5. Falah—Success (in this world and in the Hereafter)

The purpose of Shari`ah is to protect and promote:

1. Din—Religion

2. Nafs—Life

3. Nasl—Progeny or family

4. `Aql—Intellect

5. Mal—Property or wealth

When we practice the rules of Shari`ah, we must keep in mind the objectives of Shari`ah; yet very often, we follow the rules but we ignore and overlook the spirit and real purpose of those rules. The following are examples:

1. The Qur’an speaks about taharah (purification), ghusl (purificatory bathing) and wudu’ (ablution): We take these rules and apply them, but we do not take the objective of cleanliness very seriously.

2. We pray in jama`ah (congregation), but we have not learned the system of organization from our salah.

3. We give zakah, but we have not been able to establish a system of social justice.

4. We go for Hajj, but we have not been able to develop a unified Ummah, a community that transcends nationalistic divisions.

5. We recite the Qur’an many times, but we do not try to understand its meaning and message.

6. We talk of the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) but this is mostly related to appearances. We pay little attention to Prophet’s character of love, kindness, honesty, truthfulness, sincerity, fulfilling promises, and so on.

Our Responsibility

It is our responsibility to know the rules of Allah and put them into practice with sincerity. But before anything, we should ask ourselves if we are really practicing justice. Are we really fair to others, to our spouses, to our relatives, to our neighbors, employees, employers, to Muslims, to other human beings, to animals, to anything and everything? Are we really compassionate people? Are we really increasing in compassion or are we becoming angry, hateful, arrogant, or complacent about ourselves? We must improve ourselves in justice and compassion. If we do not have `adl (justice) and ihsan (compassion) or rahmah (mercy), then we are not practicing the Shari`ah. Similarly, if we think that we are following the law of Allah but the result is injustice and lack of compassion, then it means that we have not properly understood the law of Allah or we are not interpreting it right.

* Excerpted with some modifications from

** Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi is President of the Fiqh Council of North America.

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