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By Ustaz Muhammad Haniff Hassan
On a daily basis, we face various issues in life that require us to make decisions and choices. For a Muslim, decisions and choices must be made not only in accordance to his wants. It has to be in accordance to the principles of his faith – Islam.
The question is, how can this be achieved? What are the levels of analysis needed before a choice or decision is eventually made?
The objective of this article is to provide a brief, basic and balanced shari`ah-based guideline that is needed by Muslims in order to analyse an issue before making a decision on it. The guidance is provided in the form of questions that need to be asked before a final conclusion and decision can be made.
Each process and question mentioned in this article has a basis in the intellectual tradition of Muslim scholars and is explained in great detail in their respective works. The brief illustration of these questions and processes here is for the purpose of making it easily understood by general Muslims.
However, readers who wish to acquire further elaboration can consult scholarly works in the area of Usul Al-Fiqh – a discipline in Islamic studies that provide principles for making ijtihad in Islamic law which is essentially an act of analysing an issue and deciding the Islamic ruling on it. This would require guidance from asatizahs who are trained and specialised in the field of shari`ah studies. Alternatively, he can use the processes suggested in this article and, then, consult a trained ustaz on whether his conclusion or tentative decision complies with the requirements of Islam.
It must be highlighted here that the processes presented in this article are the author’s personal ijtihad on the issue for the purpose of public education. It is not a divine revelation that must be followed uncompromisingly. Surely, there are other ideas, from other thinkers, that may be different from what is presented in this article and they may be equally correct or better. It is up to readers to choose from amongst these ideas to solve the problems that they face, as long as the choice is made based on a proper study of them, not based on an individual’s whims and fancy.
The first question that needs to be asked is: What is the principal shari`ah ruling on the issue? The answer to this question must be one of the five rulings known in shari`ah i.e. wajib (obligatory), mustahab (recommended), mubah (permissible), makruh (disliked) and haram (prohibited).
This is a basic question that needs to be asked in order to understand an issue from an Islamic perspective, but should not be the only question asked in a shar`iah-based decision making process. Often, Muslims would stop at the answer to this question and does do not proceed further in analysing an issue. This attitude could lead to errors because making decisions solely based on the answer to this question only neglects the comprehensive approach to problem solving demanded by the shari`ah itself and upheld by Muslim scholars when making an ijtihad or issuing a fatwa.
A comprehensive approach demanded by the shari`ah and exemplified in the works of Muslim scholars requires asking further questions i.e. do I have the capacity or capability to fulfill the principal ruling, or does the principal ruling suits my personal context?, which forms the basis for the second analytical questions.
To answer the questions, a Muslim needs to analyse whether he meets all the criteria (shart) and can fulfill all the pillars (rukn) of an act that need to be executed. He also needs to analyse if there are factors recognised by the shari`ah that would exempt him from a principal ruling. Take obligatory fasting in Ramadan as an example. A Muslim may have all the criteria that would in principle obligate him to fast and he has all the capability needed to fulfill the rukn of fasting. However, not fasting may not be sinful to him because he is a traveler and the shari`ah recognises travel as a factor that would exempt a Muslim from obligatory fasting.
The Third analytical question is: What is the consequence for executing the principal ruling? i.e. harms (mafasid, sin.: maslahah) and benefits (masalih, sin.: maslahah), pros and cons.
This question requires the right understanding of the concept of maslahah and mafsadah in Islam. The reason for this analytical question is the shari`ah may have fixed a ruling on an issue. However, in certain situations, complying to such a ruling may have resulted in greater mafsadah or would go against greater maslahah, both are in contradiction with the higher objectives of the shari`ah.
In such situations, the shari`ah would permit an alternative course of action or an exemption to the principal ruling. It is an established principle of Islamic law that an obligation can be forfeited if it is potentially able to cause a greater mafsadah. For example, one is not allowed to continue obligatory fasting if it would endanger his life due to a his sickness. On the contrary, it is permissible to commit a prohibited act if it entails a greater maslahah or the avoidance of a greater mafsadah. For example, a person who is lost in a jungle is permitted to eat a wild boar to avoid death out of starvation, having exhausted other possibly legal means available within the jungle.
The Fourth analytical question to ask is: What is the degree of priority of this act from the shari’ah’s perspective?
This question is premised on a fact that a Muslim is burdened with multiple duties and obligations at the same time. In certain situations, some of these duties and obligations may conflict with one and another and a decision must be made to prioritise the most important one to be fulfilled and neglect the others.
If this priority analysis is not factored in or considered in a decision making process, a Muslim may decide on something that may not be in line with the priorities given by the shari`ah on the issue and such decisions may lead to God’s displeasure depending on the severity of the case.
The final question to be asked is: Are there other options that are equally accepted or recognised by the shari`ah, or more preferred because it leads to a greater maslahah or will avoid more mafsadah.
This question is premised on the fact that there are many ways to achieve an objective recognised by the shari`ah. Some of these ways are better or more preferred than t others due to its advantages vis-à-vis the context. Thus, a Muslim should not be rigid in making decision by sticking to one option, approach or solution only, even if it is allowed by the shari`ah.
To create a better understanding of the abovementioned processes and steps , the chart below with a sample problem for analysis can be referred.
A wasatiyah approach to decision-making based on shari`ah does not stop at identifying the principal ruling on an issue. It seeks to also consider other factors such as the contextual reality of an issue, consequences (ma’al) of an option and the pressing priorities of the day.
One should not rely only on textual references in determining a shari`ah ruling for an issue. It has long been established and practised by Muslim scholars, when making ijtihad that factors such as maqasid of shari`ah (higher objective of shari`ah), balance of maslahah and mafsadah and prioritisation vis-à-vis the context i.e. person subject to the ruling and environment surrounding him, are given serious considerations too.
Ahmad wishes to marry Fatimah. However, Fatimah’s parents are strongly against marrying their daughter to him. When the case was brought up the Registrar of Muslim Marriage Office, the Kadi decided that Fatimah’s parents do not have valid or strong reason to refuse the marriage and to be the wali for her. Fatimah is allowed to proceed with the marriage with a wali hakim, if she wishes to.
How should Ahmad and Fatimah analyse this issue in order to decide the best course of action as suggested in the article? (See diagram here)
**This article is translated, with some adjustment, from a Malay version titled “Agar keputusan berpandu syariah”, written by the same author and published by Berita Harian, on 12 April 2012.
See for examples Sami Ibrahim Al-Suwailem (2002), “Decision-making under uncertainty: An Islamic perspective”, Islamic Banking and Finance: New Perspective on Profit Sharing and Risk, edited by Munawar Iqbal and David T. Llewellyn, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing; Bela Khan (2016), “Decision Making the Islamic Way”, Islamic Online University, 29 Mar, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SmGh0owHn0 (15 February 2017); Rodrigue Fontaine (2008), “Islamic Moral Responsibility in Decision Making”, IIUM Journal of Economics and Management, 16:2, available at http://journals.iium.edu.my/enmjournal/index.php/enmj/article/view/149/118 (15 February 2017); Rodrigue Fontaine and Khaliq Ahmad (2015), “Strategic Decision Making”, Strategic Management from An Islamic Perspective: Text and Cases, edited by Rodrigue Fontaine and Khaliq Ahmad, Singapore: John Wiley and Sons; Rodrigue Fontaine (2008), “Problem solving: An Islamic management approach”, Cross cultural Management: An International Journal, 15:3.