The Sustainable Development Goals from a Shariah Perspective – II

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 Quran and the Hadith for each one of the SDGs one by one.

In this part we cover SDG3 and SDG4.

SDG3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

In the Islamic framework, there is a plethora of references in the primary sources the Quran and the Hadith that seek to ensure good health and hygiene.

On cleanliness as a component of faith

Cleanliness and purification are not an option in Islam. Caring for one’s hygiene is not just encouraged but rendered into rituals that constitute part of the faith itself. A Muslim is required to be clean when performing daily prayers, which includes properly cleansing oneself after using the toilet and practicing ablution.

Allah does not intend to inconvenience you, but He intends to purify you and perfect His favor to you, so that you may give thanks. (Quran 5: 6)

Truly Allah loves those who ask for forgiveness and strive to keep themselves clean. (Quran, 2:222)

Indeed, cleanliness is considered a part and parcel of faith in Islam. A well-known hadith asserts: Purity is half of faith.

On seeking medical care

The Prophet (pbuh) exhorted Muslims to seek medical treatment: Make use of medical treatment, for Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease, namely old age. (Abu Dawud)

Indeed, a healthy strong believer is better in the sight of Allah than a weak one as the former is more qualified to fulfil the objectives of Islam and serve humanity. The Prophet (pbuh) said: A strong believer is better and dearer to Allah than a weak one, and both are good.

As discussed earlier, the Prophet (pbuh) strongly discouraged over-eating that is cause of many health problems. While there is no direct reference in primary sources to smoking, most Islamic scholars are inclined to view and proclaim smoking as either prohibited or strongly discouraged in Islam due to the documented ill-effects of smoking on health.

On a related note, Islam also encourages use of certain products, e.g. honey for the positive health benefits they contain. As the holy Quran asserts:

And your Lord inspired to the bee, Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct. Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you] There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought. (Quran, 16:68-69)

On personal hygiene

Several sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) show his great concern for oral hygiene in recommending the frequent use of the miswak (a twig used for tooth brushing). He said: The miswak cleanses and purifies the mouth and pleases the Lord. (An-Nasa’i and Ibn Khuzaimah). In another hadith, he said: Were it not that I might overburden my followers, I would have commanded them to use the miswak before every prayer. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) Several hadith also emphasize different aspects of personal hygiene, such as, clipping of nails, taking good care of hair.

On keeping the surroundings clean

Islam not only places great emphasis on personal cleanliness, but also on the need to ensure cleanliness of the surroundings. The Prophet (pbuh) warned, Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: relieving yourselves in shaded places (that people utilize), in a walkway or in a watering place. (Ranked sound, hasan, by Al-Albani). According to another saying of the Prophet (pbuh), Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah). (Authenticated by Al-Albani)

There is a consensus among policy makers that ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development. The teachings of Islam are clearly aligned with the concerns captured by SDG 3. Muslim societies need to respond positively to policy moves that seek to enhance healthcare, and provision of hygiene and good sanitation. A case in point is the religious edict by the Indonesian Islamic scholars that zakat funds may be used in projects to improve sanitation for children (UNICEF). A counter example is the edict in Indonesia and several other countries against measles and rubella vaccination. Central to the controversy is the use of pig-derived gelatin as a stabilizing agent in certain vaccines. Needless to say, a halal vaccine could solve the problem once and for all, using cow-derived gelatin instead. (1) While such a vaccine would require years of testing and commitment of resources, there is hardly any merit in brushing off the religious concerns. Indeed, the consumption of pork is absolutely prohibited not only in Islam, but in other world religions.

And the pig, because it has a cloven hoof that is completely split, but will not regurgitate its cud; it is unclean for you. You shall not eat of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you. Leviticus (11:78)

And the pig, because it has a split hoof, but does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You shall neither eat of their flesh nor touch their carcass. Deuteronomy (14:8)

The Quran leaves no room of consumption of pork in any measure or for any desirable purpose.

Forbidden to you (for food) are dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah. (Quran, 2:173)

SDG4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

On the importance of acquiring knowledge

The importance of education in Islam may be comprehended by the fact the first word to be revealed to the Prophet pbuh by Allah is READ. “Read! In the name of your Lord who created (all that exists) Quran (96:1)

The Messenger of Allah, (pbuh) said, Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim. (Sunan Ibn Majah)

The Prophet (pbuh) said: One who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to Paradise made easy by God. (Riyadh us-Saleheen)

An often quoted saying of the Prophet (pbuh) asserts: Seek knowledge even unto China. Though this hadith is considered weak, some seek to take lessons from it, simply as words of wisdom. The narrative simply underscores the importance of seeking knowledge even if it requires connecting to China, apparently a far-off place posing as a challenge to the seeker of knowledge.

On the significance of dissemination of knowledge

The Prophet (pbuh) reported to have said: Acquire knowledge and impart it to the people. (Al-Tirmidhi)

According to policy makers, a major contributing factor to lack of quality education is lack of adequately trained teachers. The above hadith very clearly addresses the issue.

A father gives his child nothing better than a good education. (Al-Tirmidhi)

When a man dies, his acts come to an end, but three, recurring charity, or knowledge (by which people benefit), or a pious son, who prays for him (the deceased). (Sahih Muslim)

The above two hadith point to the interesting comparison between imparting knowledge or providing good education and a continuous charity (sadaqah jariyya or waqf) that will continue to provide benefits to the provider till eternity. On the other hand, the education sector has also been among the main beneficiaries of awqaf or Islamic endowments that are rooted in Islamic philanthropy. The various Islamic religious schools and universities that we witness today across various Muslim societies have originally been set up as awqaf or Islamic endowments. In the face of corporatized and profit-seeking education systems in many countries, the revival of the institution of awqaf can go a long way in rationalizing the costs of education and proliferation of quality education providers at all levels.

To be continued





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