The Sustainable Development Goals from a Shariah Perspective – VII

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.

We have covered SDG1 (no poverty) and SDG2 (zero hunger) in part 1;
SDG3 (good health and well-being) and SDG4 (quality education) in the part 2;
SDG5 (gender equality) and SDG6 (clean water and sanitation) in part 3;
SDG8 (decent work and economic growth) in part 4;
SDG10 (reduced income inequalities) in part 5;and
SDG12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG13 (climate action), SDG14 (life below water) and SDG15 (life on earth) in part 6.

In this seventh and concluding part, we focus on SDG16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and SDG17 (partnerships for the goals).

sdg16 Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies

Peaceful, just and inclusive societies are necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). People everywhere need to be free of fear from all forms of violence and feel safe as they go about their lives whatever their ethnicity, or faith. In order to advance the SDGs we need effective and inclusive public institutions that can deliver quality education and healthcare, fair economic policies and inclusive environmental protection.

Today, 20 million people are refugees, over 41 million people are internally displaced and at least 4 million people are stateless. Therefore, it is important that governments, civil society and communities work together to implement lasting solutions to reduce violence, deliver justice, combat corruption and ensure inclusive participation at all times.

Freedom to express views, in private and in public, must be guaranteed. People must be able to contribute to decisions that affect their lives. Laws and policies must be applied without any form of discrimination. Disputes need to be resolved through functioning political and justice systems. National and local institutions must be accountable and need to be in place to deliver basic services to families and communities equitably and without the need for bribes.

The notions of peace, justice, fairness and strong institutions are inherent to the Islamic vision. The Quran asserts:

Those who have faith and do not impair it by injustice, for them there is peace, and they are the really guided ones (6:82).

The absence of justice cannot but lead ultimately to misery and destruction (al-Quran, 20:11).

The Quran equates the unwarranted killing of even a single individual (irrespective of whether he/she is a Muslim or a non-Muslim) with the killing of the whole of mankind, and the saving of a single life with the saving of the whole of mankind (5:32)

Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728/1328) emphasized that “justice towards everything and everyone is an imperative for everyone, and injustice is prohibited to everything and everyone. Injustice is absolutely not permissible irrespective of whether it is to a Muslim or a non-Muslim or even to an unjust person.[1]

Strong Institutions (Good Governance):

Adalah (justice and fairness) is the fundamental principle of good governance. The importance of adalah in governance has been revealed in verse 4:58 of the Quran. Adalah is very crucial in a society riddled with potential conflicts of interests. Islam encourages those who are entrusted amanah to deal with people within justice or adalah. Any kind of discrimination based on considerations other than required competencies stands in the way of adalah or fairness. It is said that nepotism stands in the way of good governance. At the same time, it is very common to witness Islamic societies/organizations being riddled with nepotism and conflict of interests. Nepotism essentially implies the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, and breeds corruption.

As the Quran states:

Truly the best of men for you to employ is the best man who is strong and trustworthy (28:26)

Further, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: He whoever hires a person and knows that there is still one who is more qualified than him, has betrayed Allah and His Prophet and the Muslims. Islam rules out any form of discrimination based on race, color, sex, nationality. In another hadith the prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: The only basis for preference between an Arab and a non-Arab, a white and black, and a male and female is piety. (Ibn Ishaq)

sdg17 Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. These inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, are needed at the global, regional, national and local level.

The idea of cooperation and partnerships is fundamental to Islamic societies. Mutual cooperation and solidarity is a norm central to Islamic ethics. The second verse of Surah Al Maida in the holy Quran says: “Assist one another in the doing of good and righteousness. Assist not one another in sin and transgression, but keep your duty to Allah” (5:2)

A hadith by the Prophet (peace be upon him) reinforces this principle of cooperation and mutual assistance. “Believers are to other believers like parts of a structure that tighten and reinforce each other.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Here is a word of caution, though while we seek to map the SDGs against the objectives of the Shariah.

Under the secular and materialist worldview, the primary measure of development is a rise in income and wealth, even while religious scholars as well as moral philosophers and a number of modern academics have questioned the same. They have emphasized the spiritual and non-material as well as the material contents of well-being. In the framework of Shariah, the most important factor that incentivizes human action in the desired direction is “seeking the pleasure of the Almighty. Empirically speaking, there is very little evidence yet on what role religion does or can potentially play towards achievement of the SDGs.

[1]  Ibn Taymiyyah, Minhaj al-Sunnah, 1986, Vol..5, p. 127.


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