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I hold that a sound understanding of the shariah should include at least the following three major positive outcomes, and if an understanding doesn’t, there’s something wrong with it. As Ibn Al-Qayyim put it, “every issue that goes from justice to oppression, from mercy to its opposite, from benefits to loss, from wisdom to imprudence, then it is not the shariah even if it is made to appear so through interpretation (of revelation).”
1. It should result in (increased) godliness: “God increases the guidance of those who follow right guidance, and grants them their taqwa [of Him].” (47:17) This verse tells us that by following right guidance we are increased in guidance and God consciousness. So from this and other verses, I generally conclude that any understanding (or view) of the shariah that neglects rabbaniyyah, diminishes consciousness of God or impedes its growth, and fails to prove inspirational in a way that develops a person holistically, does not reflect what God wants.
2. It brings about optimum outcomes which include noble virtues and prosperity: “When the righteous are asked, ‘What has your Lord sent down?’ they say, ‘All that is good.’ There is a reward in this present world for those who do good…” (16:30) So any understanding of the faith that doesn’t lead to ‘all that is good’ – i.e. optimum outcomes – ‘in this present world’ including civility, intelligence (a sound, sustained and productive use of the intellect), and moral conduct, as well as social, political, and economic welfare, is not a sound understanding. As Ibn al-Qayyim put it above, “it is not the shariah even if it is made to appear so through interpretation (of revelation).”
3. It brings about happiness and contentment: Through producing optimum outcomes that are relative to the context, the shariah creates positive opportunities to thank God since it is the primary purpose for which we are on earth, with Iblis’s ultimate objective to ensure “most of them are ungrateful.” (7:17) So any understanding that brings about sorrow, anxiety, hatefulness, despair, confusion, suffering etc., where these negative outcomes are directly induced by actions necessitated by a particular understanding, cannot be a sound understanding of the shariah. They do not reflect the ‘light’ and ‘peace’ God speaks of when he says, “God guides to the ways of peace those who follow what pleases Him, bringing them from darkness out into light, by His will, and guiding them to a straight path.” (5:16) Furthermore, God says, “The truth has come, and falsehood has passed away: falsehood is bound to pass away. We send down the Quran as healing and mercy to those who believe,” (17:81-82) where ‘truth’ understood properly heals these maladies and God’s mercy fills believers with contentment and dignity.
Now I understand that various questions might arise, such as: how do we determine whether an understanding increases godliness, and brings about optimum outcomes and contentment? How do we then explain those people who practice the faith but are not content? I would briefly put it that these poor souls have not understood the entire edifice of the shariah and how it works in a holistic way, which results in internal conflicts where their understanding of the shariah doesn’t work in the real world, or where they haven’t appropriately understood what they’re doing and how to effectuate optimum outcomes. I’m sure some might put it simplistically that such people are merely overcome by worldly desires, but given the question applies to those who practice their faith sincerely, I’m not convinced such a retort applies here.
However, putting aside these short responses, I believe these questions are best answered by actually teaching the shariah and showing what I mean in practice (rather than musing with hypothetical scenarios) – the functionalist approach I speak of – so that we can fully see how it all works.