Citation for Maṣlaḥah

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Brown, Jonathan A. C. . "Maṣlaḥah." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Oct 17, 2021. <>.


Brown, Jonathan A. C. . "Maṣlaḥah." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Oct 17, 2021).


Maṣlaḥah, literally “welfare, public interest,” is viewed as a fundamental goal of the sharīʿah and, by some schools of Islamic law, as an independent source of law. Because it involves the potential for friction between the dictates of the Qurʿān and the sunnah on the one hand, and what is perceived at various times as public interest on the other, discourse on maṣlaḥah has long been characterized by tensions between reason and the authority of revelation. Maṣlaḥah has generally been divided into two types: maṣlaḥah and al-maṣlaḥah al-mursalah. The first is simply the notion of public good as a principal goal of God's law. This function of the sharīʿah has often been voiced in the famous ḥadīth—later a legal principle—“no harm nor harming” (lā ḍarar wa lā ḍirār) and linked to the “aims of the sharīʿah” (maqāṣid al-sharīʿah). Al-maṣlaḥah al-mursalah has been understood as “what reason accepts as sound in the absence of any specific legal indication from the sharīʿah testifying against it.” According to necessity and particular circumstances, al-maṣlaḥah al-mursalah consists of prohibiting or permitting a thing on the basis of whether or not it promotes the general welfare. This is more controversial than the abstract concept of maṣlaḥah because it proffers public interest, as determined by the individual scholar, as an independent source of law. In general, al-maṣlaḥah al-mursalah is allowed only in the absence of any specific, contradictory evidence from the Qurʿān or sunnah and can have no bearing on issues of belief or ritual. However, scholarly disagreement over whether or not an injunction from the Qurʿān or sunnah is general or specific, or the extent to which even a general principle should outweigh specific exceptions, means that al-maṣlaḥah al-mursalah is hotly debated.

In the early Islamic period maṣlaḥah was implicit or alluded to in the works of scholars like Mālik ibn Anas (d. 197) and ʿAbd Allāh Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (d. 756). It was tied to the notion of istiḥsān (juridical preference) in the Ḥanafī and Mālikī schools of law. Prominent Ḥanbalī scholars like Ibn Qudāmah (d. 1223) also discussed the importance of maṣlaḥah. The only school that does not recognize al-maṣlaḥah al-mursalah as a source of law is the Shāfiʿī school, which sees maṣlaḥah as built into the revealed texts of the Qurʿān and sunnah.

Al-maṣlaḥah al-mursalah finds it first serious discussion in the legal-theory work of al-Ghazālī (d. 1111). Among its most vigorous classical proponents were: Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī (d. 1285), who understood maṣlaḥah as an essential component in the derivation of Islamic law that manifested itself in such concepts as preventing a descent on “slippery slopes” towards social harm (sadd al-dharāʿiʿ, lit. a blocking of the means) and allowing for necessary exceptions to law (rukhas); the Mālikī Abū Isḥāq al-Shāṭibī (d. 1388), who saw maṣlaḥah as one of the universal principles of Islamic law to which specific rules had to be tailored; and the Ḥanbalī Najm al-Dīn al-Ṭūfī (d. 1316), who saw maṣlaḥah as a fully independent source of independent criterion in law, with effective veto power over revealed text.

Maṣlaḥah has attracted renewed attention in the modern period, when reformist Muslim scholars like Muḥammad ʿAbduh (d. 1905) and Rashīd Riḍā (d. 1935) have considered it their authority for breaking with textual strictures in order to renovate Islamic law significantly. Other modern scholars, such as the influential Muḥammad Zāhid al-Kawtharī (d. 1951) and Muḥammad Saʿīd al-Būṭī have condemned any attempt to establish maṣlaḥah as an independent source of law in any other situation than that of the complete absence of revealed evidence.


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