The Shariah & Raisons D’être
Taken from Answer to Modernism (Al-Intibahat al-Mufeedah) by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi:
“The sixth error is again related to the injunctions of the Shariah. Some people invent certain raisons d’être for these injunctions on the basis of their personal opinion, and insist on making the validity of the injunctions depend solely on the presence or absence of these very raisons d’être. In consequence of this, they start misinterpreting, distorting and even annulling the injunctions laid down by the Holy Qur’an and Hadith. Thus, we have heard some people who somehow convinced themselves that the raison d’être of the ritual ablutions (wudhu) was no more than cleanliness and, finding themselves clean enough, did not think it necessary to perform the ablutions at all before offering prayers. There have been others who imagined that the raison d’être of the ritual prayers was moral perfection, and taking the attainment of this merit to be the desired end, gave up the daily prayers altogether. The same kinds of encroachments have been made in the case of other forms of worship like fasting, zakat and Hajj. In the same way, the prohibitions of the Shariah too, like interest and pictures of living beings etc., have been subjected to similar distortions. In short, such people have abrogated the Shariah totally……….
…A corollary of the same error is that some people in defending Islam against detractors, try to justify the secondary injunctions of the Shariah by advancing similar rationalisations and raisons d’être. Now, there is a great danger in adopting such a procedure. The raisons d’être thus suggested are purely conjectural. If any of them is found to be questionable, the related injunction itself thereby becomes dubious and defective. Thus, it amounts to providing the detractors of Islam with a permanent opportunity for disputing and negating the Islamic injunctions.
The truth of the matter is that these injunctions are laws, and no one does ever seek secret motives in legal rules and regulations, nor does one have the right to change, or alter or abrogate laws on the ground of the imagined secret motives. It is the Legislator Himself who alone possesses these powers….
….Besides that, if a man were to deal with the law promulgated by the worldly rulers in the same way, and start inventing secret aims and objectives for every law, and having attained those objects through an easier method, refuse to obey the law of the land, everyone can see for himself what would happen to such a man at the hands of the government.
….Let no one misinterpret this discussion, and conclude that, according to us, the injunctions of the Shariah are totally devoid of all raisons d’être and subtleties of this kind, or that the sages of Islam have no knowledge of such subtleties. Raisons d’être and subtleties are, no doubt, present, and certain degree of illumination with regard to them has been gained in the past, and can be gained even now. All the same, the carrying out of injunctions of the Shariah does not at all depend on the gaining of such knowledge. Even if one does not possess any knowledge of the raisons d’être, it is absolutely necessary to obey the injunctions of the Shariah. It is just like the case of the legal statutes of the state- if a man waits for the aims and objectives to be explained to him before he obeys any law, then he would be committing a great crime.
Even so, if the Ulema sometimes explain such subtleties that is merely something extra. Moreover, the degree of knowledge that has been gained in this respect is no more than approximate and conjectural. In fact, no knowledge has at all been gained with regard to the raisons d’être of certain injunctions. And it is no wonder that things should be like this. We see in our daily lives that the servant in a household does not know why certain things have been arranged in a certain manner, although the master too is a creature of God like the servant. When one creature cannot know the secrets of another creature in spite of both differing their respective degrees of knowledge within a very limited range, then what wonder if the creature should have no knowledge at all of the secrets of the Creator, or if such knowledge should not be exact, when the difference between the knowledge of the Creator and that of the creature is immeasurable?…..
….Nor should this discussion lead one to think that the injunctions for which we cannot find a rational justification are contrary to reason. Not at all. Being contrary to reason is one thing, and ones inability to understand through reason is another (see Chapter 1: Principle 1). “