Islamic Studies

Framing The Maqasid ash Shar’iah Debate: A Call To Prepare For The Liberal Onslaught

Cultivating A Historical Consciousness Of The Matter

Maqasid ash-Shar’iah, has been a subject of debate for sometime among scholars, the debate is not birthed of late, (in the contemporary post colonial modern world ) but was born in the very heart Islamic scholarly tradition. The discourse lost intensity with the onslaught of the colonial imperative wherein it became dormant given the fall of al-Andalus (see: Nyazee, Imran; Theories of Ijtihad). The discourse was aided and attuned and revived with Shaikh al-Islam Tahir Ibn Ashur al-Maliki al Zaytuni at-Tunisi (r), Shaikh al Islam Muhammad Abdu al Azhari (r), Shaikh Rashid Rida al Azhari (r), Shaikh Abdullah Daraz al -Azhari (r), Shaikh al-Islam Muhammad Khidr Hussain al-Maliki al Azhari (r) and others (contemporary scholars).

In my modest reading the shape of the contemporary scholarly debate around Maqasid from what appears orbits primarily around the notion of the independence of Maqasid ash Shar’iah as a science. The crux of the debate is summed in the question: Are Maqasid studies independent of Usul al Fiqh studies or submerged under Usul al Fiqh studies? Overall, this aspect of the Maqasid debate has been a closed conversation, the privy of specialists and adepts although its effects have transcended this circle carrying over into the the debate about what constitutes a sound, mature and well-round Islamic education. By implication the debate has impacted the very nature of being a students of knowledge and scholar and Muslim intellectual in the contemporary world. The result, the debate regarding of the independence of Maqsid studies as a scientific endeavor has incorporated an additional question of interest such as the role and purpose of Maqasid ash Shar’iah in relation to other sciences: “revelational” and “intellectual.” This this last question being an extension of the concerns originally treated in the Islamization of knowledge discourse, and the project of Islam Hadhari (a brain child of the Malaysian mileux).

Reading Current Realities

It is no surprise to the cautious reader of cultural trends and ideas that there is an emerging liberal tendency emerging in the West within Islamic discourse. Some of its origins are rooted in the East and some have naturally emerged in the West. The liberal current that is demanding recognition by way of popular literate Islamic discourse is born out of the interaction of the literate cultured class with Western modern and postmodern thought (Ihtikaak al-muthaqifeen wa’l mufakireen ma’ al fikr al-Gharbi).

This current is essentially devoid of roots in Islamic scholarly tradition and Islamic primary sources it is rather heavily grounded in Western intellectual modes. What it is attempting is to ground Islamic discourse in contemporary realities and create a practical movement for change. In practice it has adopted the call to ijtihad and maqasid as a means to achieve “social change and justice” and break from the intellectual and political stagnation plaguing the Ummah. In intent this current has taken on a discourse of liberation and revival but in essence it does not take its cue from Islamic sources although it employs Islamic notions and terms.

Co-opting Islamic Revivalist Discourse

The liberal intellectual movement has blurred the da’wah to Islamic revival given that it employs and utilizes many of the categories that characterize the da’wah of Islamic revival and movement. What remains problematic is the neglect of a sound, based Islamic education in tradition and Islamic primary sources on the part of many an Islamic worker. In addition, many a scholar, and student of knowledge is untrained to deal with this phenomena. As this current grows it will overlap with the new emerging Academic Orientalist discourse. We can be clear that both are in agreement that problematizing various aspects of Islamic scholarly discourse is crucial to the identity of these two currents which at times read as one school of thought with various manifestations given the similar epistemological principles and premises governing each current.

The conflict between Islamic revivalist discourse, traditionalism and the school of hadith has sufficed as a legitimation of the qualms and contentions put forward by the liberal current which are summed up in the notion that Islamic discourses are incapable of meeting the needs of the age, bounded by sectarian infighting and suffocating, restrictive and stifling but most of all unconcerned life and justice.

Putting Things In Order

The liberal current serves as a cultural indicator that measures the effectiveness of Islamic discourses to speak to various realities. This current will force the hand of those engaged in da’wah at varying levels to move into a defensive posture thereby eliminating the possibility of guiding Islamic discourse independently. The increase of doubts about Islam and its scholarly tradition, institutions and models will increase as it is the nature of the Liberal current to problematize issues. This movement to problematize issues will occupy intellectual energy given its nature to doubt the obvious or mention the odd or distort the clear and on occassion the critique it offers will be in its place.

It is imperative to increase literacy and the standard of learning and thought so that the average Muslim can engage the coming liberal challenge this will entail that the institutions in the West involved in da’wah engage each other at a higher level so that they can provide the necessary grounding for the average Muslim to steer through this new strand of ignorance. If we continue to ignore the need to dialogue each other with high standards we will fuel the increasing dismay and divisions in the ranks and open the path for a hyper liberal tendency that will step in to serve the need of the Ummah, for guidance, relevance and practical action. We do not have to collapse differences but we must have enough savvy to know what is worthy of an intellectual exchange and what is petty squabbling.

Allahu Al’am Wa Bihi at Tawfiq


About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.

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