The Sustainable Development Goals from a Shariah Perspective

The Sustainable Development Goals framework reflects the consensus among the global community of policy makers on major challenges confronting humanity. It sets the direction in which all resources will be channelized over the next decade-and-half with clear targets to be achieved by the year 2030. Adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the framework includes seventeen (17) SDGs that provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. These are: 1) no poverty, 2) zero hunger, 3) good health and well-being, 4) quality education, 5) gender equality, 6) clean water and sanitation, 7) affordable and clean energy, 8) decent work and economic growth, 9) industry, innovation, and infrastructure, 10) reducing inequality, 11) sustainable cities and communities, 12) responsible consumption and production, 13) climate action, 14) life below water, 15) life on land, 16) peace, justice, and strong institutions, 17) partnerships for the goals. The goals are broad-based and interdependent.

Since the religion of Islam sets the agenda for development in predominantly Muslim societies, it is interesting to examine to what extent the SDGs conform to the Islamic vision of development. In order to explain the Islamic vision of development, Islamic scholars have come up with a broad framework rooted in what are called, the Goals or the Maqasid of the Shariah (MaS). The MaS (as originally presented by the 12th-Centurey Islamic scholar Al-Ghazzali) are broadly discussed in five (05) categories: protection and enrichment of faith (deen), self (nafs), intellect (aql), progeny (nasl) and property (maal).

In recent times there have been some attempts to map the SDGs against the MaS. However, such attempts have often resulted in one-to-many as well as many-to-one mappings and the resultant clutter that adds little value in terms of comprehending the underlying relationships. In what follows, we seek to explore the relationship by going to the basics. We seek to delineate the relevant Shariah norms and prescriptions from the primary sources, i.e. the Qur’an and the Hadith for each one of the SDGs one by one.

SDG1 SDG1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

A saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) forcefully drives home the central message of Islam regarding poverty: “Poverty is almost like rejection of faith (kufr)[2]”, On another occasion the Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said “There is no asceticism in Islam”. Islam views poverty to be a curse to be eradicated through productive efforts unlike some world religions and philosophies that celebrate asceticism. Poverty is in conflict with “enrichment of self (nafs)”, which is one of the primary objectives (maqasid) of Shariah. Islamic jurists have unanimously held the view that it is the collective obligation (fard kifayah) of the society to take care of the basic needs of the poor. In fact, according to al-Shatibi, the noted Islamic scholar, this is the raison d’etre of society itself.[3]

Charity occupies a central position in the Islamic scheme of poverty alleviation. The broad terms for charity in Islam is sadaqah. When compulsorily mandated on an eligible Muslim, sadaqah is called zakat. When sadaqah results in flow of benefits that are expected to be stable and permanent (such as, through endowment of a physical property), it is called sadaqah jariyah or waqf.

Zakat is the third among five pillars of Islam and payment of zakat is an obligation on the wealth of every Muslim based on clear-cut criteria. Rules of Shariah are fairly clear and elaborate in defining the nature of who are liable to pay zakat, at what rate zakat must be paid and who can benefit from zakat. The categories of potential beneficiaries relevant from the standpoint of poverty alleviation are the poor (fuqara), the destitute (masakeen) and the indebted (gharimeen). There is total flexibility with respect to beneficiaries of voluntary sadaqah and waqf.

While Islam strongly encourages charity from the giver’s point of view, it seeks to minimize dependence on charity from the beneficiary’s point of view and restricts the benefits to flow to the poorest of poor and the destitute, who are not in a position to generate any income and wealth.

It is estimated that over 700 million people, or 10 percent of the world population, still live in extreme poverty and struggle to fulfil the most basic needs like health, education, and access to water and sanitation. Research undertaken by the Islamic Research and Training Institute, a member of the Islamic Development Bank Group reveals that poverty is more acute and widespread in member countries of OIC and IsDB that are predominantly Muslim societies. The importance of the Islamic tools of redistribution of income and wealth, such as, zakat, sadaqa and waqf can be hardly overemphasized.

sdg2 SDG2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

There are innumerable references in the primary sources of Shariah that provide the basis for a strategy to fight hunger and ensure food security.

On the significance of agriculture

Muslims are exhorted to go for the agriculture profession. In a well-known hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Planting a tree is a continuous charity.” (Sahih Muslim)

“There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.” (Sahih Bukhari)

On partnerships in agriculture

The Prophet (pbuh) said to the Jews of Khaybar on the day of the conquest of Khaybar, “I confirm you in it as long as Allah, the Mighty, the Majestic, establishes you in it, provided that the fruits are divided between us and you.”

On the role of charity in fighting hunger

“(The righteous are those) who feed the poor, the orphan and the captive for the love of God, saying: ‘We feed you for the sake of God Alone; we seek from you neither reward nor thanks.” –  Quran, 76:8-9

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Give food to the hungry, visit the sick and set free the captives.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, volume 7, Hadith 552)

“He does not have faith in me who spends the night satiated while he knows that the neighbor to his side is hungry.”(al-Mu’jam al-Kabir)

On avoiding food waste

Wasting food is a sin and breaches the very concept of fasting during the month of Ramadan. Apart from the many health benefits, fasting educates Muslims to experience and understand hunger, deprivation and grief of the needy.

The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said: “The food of one person is sufficient for two, the food of two people suffices for four people and the food of four people suffices for eight.” The Hadith explains that there is enough food in the world but if the level of greed in people vanishes, the poor and hungry can be fed without any crisis.

On frugality in food consumption

 “No man fills a container worse than his stomach.”

“A few morsels that keep his back upright are sufficient for him. If he has to, then he should keep one-third for food, one-third for drink and one-third for his breathing” (Imam Ahmad and At-Tirmidhi)

The problem of hunger is acute with about 815 million people of the world who routinely go hungry every day. An additional 2 billion people are expected to be undernourished by 2050. There is a global consensus on the need to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food. If done right, agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people-centered rural development and protecting the environment. Shariah prescribes humanity to confront the problem of hunger through a multi-pronged strategy that includes exhortation to Muslims to go for the noble profession of farming and agriculture; formation of partnerships and investments in agriculture, acts of charity and mutual help to feed the hungry; and finally, frugality in food consumption and the avoidance of food waste.

(To be continued)



[2]Cited by al-Suyuti (d.911/1505) in his al-Jami‘al-Saghir from Anas ibn Malik on the authority of Abu Nu‘aym’s al-Hilyah under the word Kada, p.89.

[3] M U Chapra (2008), The Islamic Vision of Development, Islamic Research and Training Institute, Islamic Development Bank


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