Book Review: A Treasury of Sacred Maxims

Title: A Treasury of Sacred Maxims – A Commentary of Islamic Legal Principles
Publisher: Kube Publishing (2016)
Author: Dr. Shahrul Hussain

Dr. Shahrul Hussain is a Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education. He studied Islamic studies and Arabic at Darul Uloom Al-Islamiyah Al-Arabiyah College located in Bury, UK. After his studies in the UK, he traveled to Egypt to pursue further study at Al-Azhar University, where he graduated in 2001. In 2010, he completed his PhD at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland on the subject of Islamic Law in Muslim minority contexts.

This book is the second of four books of the ‘Treasury Series in Islamic Thought and Civilization’ published (or forthcoming) by Kube Publishing. Kube Publishing graciously provided a copy of this book for the purposes of this review. More information on their publications can be found on their website.

A Treasury of Sacred Maxims is a commentary on 40 Islamic legal principals which have been established by jurists of the past, in Arabic this genre is referred to as al-qawa’id al-fiqhiyyah. The following is a few excerpts from the introduction which shed more light on this area of Islamic studies:

These maxims are important and of tremendous benefit in jurisprudence. The rank and eminence of a jurist are directly proportional to his mastery of them. Knowledge of them highlights the splendour of fiqh and clarifies and reveals the methodology of fatwa. (al-Qarafi)

Juristic maxims (al-qawa’id al-fiqhiyyah) enjoy a special and privileged place in Islamic jurisprudence. It is a discipline which subtly combines a fusion of theoretical-cum-philosophical thought translated into juristic dictums encompassing a multitude of jurisprudential rulings. This means that juristic maxims can be best understood as theoretical abstractions in the form of short epithetic statements that are expressive of major legal concepts affecting a vast part of law. Juristic maxims are in essence statements of principals extrapolated from a predominant governing theme with regards to a particular issue from the Qur’an, Sunnah and consensus. Many jurists have advanced various definitions of al-qawa’id al-fiqhiyyahv. Their definition is influenced by two main approaches: first, the notion that juristic maxims apply to most but not all of the relevant cases……The second, which is the definition held by the majority of scholars, suggests that juristic maxims are comprehensive rules.

Later in the introduction, the author writes:

Both groups of scholars have strong proofs of substantiate their arguments whether it is a comprehensive coverage or majority coverage of jurisprudential issues. It is not my intention to provide an advanced critique of the merits of their claims. Instead my aim is to introduce the reader to the scholastic scope and thereby the application of juristic maxims. The main point is to give the reader a flavour of the significance and importance of juristic maxims and the role juristic maxims played in Islamic legal thought.

The reason why al-Qarafi said that the rank and eminence of a jurist is directly proportional to his mastery of juristic maxims is because of the beneficial characteristic and far reaching scope of this discipline. Qawa’id fiqhiyyah regulates numerous widely dispersed issues and organizes them in a single unit which enables the jurists to perceive the common feature that unite diverse particulars. Ibn Rajab says, ‘for a jurist qawa’id fiqhiyyah organises scattered issues in a single unit, limits anomalies and brings together widely separated issues.’ Mastering juristic maxims also reduces the need to memorize large amounts of legal rulings while at the same time enables jurists to be precise in their judgement.

One of the salient features of this book is that the author connects law and morality when commenting on the maxims. This allows a reader to apply a legal maxims within their daily moral and ethical conduct. The author writes in regards to the structure of the book:

Each maxim has three elements which will be discussed:

1. The intellectual coinage of the juristic maxim
2. its legal justification (hujjiyah), and
3. its moral philosophy.

In all, I have selected forty maxims for this book. Each maxim will be explained, followed by examples of how it is applied in Islamic law. The hujjiyah of the maxim will be discussed and concluded by discussing the moral message of the maxim gives.

Among the 40 maxims, the book presents the Five Core Maxims which are well known and are based on Qur’anic verses and well-known established sayings of the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him):

1. Acts are judged by their goals and purposes
2. Harm is to be removed
3. Customary usage is a determining factor
4. Certainty is not overruled by doubt
5. Hardship begets ease

For the purposes of this review, we will select the fifth core maxim as a sample of the commentary. The following commentary on this maxim is quoted in its entirety:

Hardship begets ease

This is the fifth core maxim and its conceptual basis is extrapolated from the notion of rukhsah or dispensation in Islamic law. Rukhsah is a legal concession which the Shariah makes available in special cases. This maxim highlights Islam’s concern for providing relief from hardship and its commitment to replace it with an easier rule. This is because Allah’s laws are governed by His principle, of ‘not burdening a soul more than it can bear’ (al-Baqarah 2:286) This maxim draws its authority from many Qur’anic verses and hadith. For instance, Allah declares in clear terms in the Qur’an: ‘Allah wants ease for you and not hardship’. (al-Baqarah 2:185) In another verse Allah tells us, ‘He (Allah) has placed no hardship upon you in your religion’. (al-Hajj 22:78) After such clear instructions from Allah it should not be surprising that the character of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) reflects this. It is related in Sahih al-Bukhari on the authority of A’ishah, ‘whenever the Messenger of Allah was given a choice between two things, he would choose the easier one, provided it was not a sin’. In another tradition the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) instructed his followers, ‘…and make things easy and do not make them difficult.’ (Bukhari)

Muslim jurists have identified seven reasons which occasion dispensation (rukhsah):

-Widespread affliction causing hardship to the majority (known as ‘umum al-balwa);
-Deficiency (naqs).

It is important that the term ‘hardship’ is qualified and understood, because it is not the intent of the Lawgiver to remove all types of ‘hardship’. Waking up for the Fajr (dawn) prayer is hard and difficult, doing hajj is hard and difficult yet the Lawgiver did not provide any dispensation to not perform them. This is because the concept of worshipping Allah cannot be possible without the existence of sacrifice, and sacrifice cannot be possible without the existence of some type of hardship. The hardship the Lawgiver wants to remove is exorbitant and unnecessary hardship which will cause harm to life, limb or property. For example, if there is no means to heat water on a cold day and a person needs to take a bath then performing tayammum is permissible instead of bathing. This is because it is most likely that taking a bath on a cold day with cold water will seriously harm a person if not kill him.

The application of this maxim spreads through many chapters of jurisprudence and Muslim law. Its significance is apparent due to its relevance in daily life. This maxim shares similarities with another core maxim ‘harm is removed’. Although both have similarities and shared (and perhaps overlapping) examples and subsidiary maxims yet they are different. The notion of ‘hardship’ and ‘harm’ are similar to certain extent yet distinct. For example, a pregnant woman who finds it difficult to fast may seek dispensation to not fast using this maxim, while if she fears harm upon the unborn child then a dispensation is sought using the maxim ‘harm is removed.’

[Reviewer’s note: the following is the moral and ethical relevance of this maxim]

The maxim wants to deliver a message of how a person should and ought to behave towards other people in terms of his dealings and transactions. If it is the intent of the Creator to cause and facilitate ease then it behoves that His creation emulates this behaviour. This maxim wants to inculcate a moral message of being gentle and kind, offering compassion and helping people in difficulty. It is for this reason that Allah commands the believers to offer an extension to repay debt if the debtor is in hardship; ‘and if the debtor is in straitened circumstances, let him have respite until a time of ease.’ (al-Baqarah 2:280) Harshness affects the heart and makes it hard while dealing with people with ease and compassion causes the heart to be soft, and to have a good heart is the true goal of Islam. Allah Most High declares: ‘He who purifies (the soul) will prosper.’ (al-Shams 91:9)

In summary, the book is very concise and covers a significant segment of Islamic legal theory. This book uncovers the brilliance of the Islamic legal framework, and traces its sources back from the Qur’an and the Hadith. Books on legal theory might be quickly assumed to be terse and difficult to read, but this book is quite the opposite. The book is full of multiple examples under each maxim, which concisely and clearly demonstrates the applicability of the maxim. These examples make the maxim easy to understand, it is then reinforced with brief commentary, and then follows up with the moral and ethical application of the maxim, which reinforces the concept of the maxim. As one reads through the book, they develop a respect and admiration for this field of Islamic Law and its jurists.

May Allah increase those that preserve the sacred law, both in their own lives and their societies and may Allah give us the ability to uphold the great tradition of ethics, morality, law, justice, peace, safety and security as exemplified by the Mercy to the Creation, the Best and Most Noble in Character and Conduct, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. Ameen.

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