Posted by: admin | February 22, 2008

MS09.2 – Protection of Life

The second of the darooriyaat (essentials) is al-Nafs (Life) and is the topic of discussion in this post. We will look at the protection and preservation (hifdh) of this daroori, our approach taking the same form as our presentation of Hifdh al-Deen in the previous post.

Definition of al-Nafs
Nafs is an Arabic term meaning ‘soul‘, ‘life‘ and ‘person‘. It comes from a root verb (na-fu-sa) meaning to be ‘precious‘, ‘valuable‘ and ‘priceless‘. These meanings taken together help us to appreciate how the concept of life is understood in Islam and why its protection is so important. Our life is obviously one of, if not the most, valuable things that all of us as human beings share and is therefore considered to be daroori (essential).

From the Perspective of That Which Maintains al-Nafs
Those things which help preserve al-Nafs are encouraged, promoted and obligated. Some examples of these are as follows:

1) Provision of that which Guarantees Life
There are certain things that are deemed essential for human life to be maintained with dignity. These are divided into two categories, Internal Necessities and External Necessities.

Internal necessities include the need for food, water and medicine, i.e. those things without which we would die. External necessities include clothing and housing, i.e. those things which allow us to live with dignity. These internal and external necessities are the most basic elements without which, from an Islamic perspective, it is not possible to live as one should be able to.

From this, we can understand two points. Firstly from an individual perspective each and every one of us needs food, drink, medicine, clothes and roof over our heads. As these things are considered necessary, in times of extreme need there are dispensations (rukhas) available in the Shari’ah to enable us to maintain that which is daroori. For example, if starving and faced with death, one is permitted to eat or drink that which is haram. This is also the reasoning used by many scholars in permitting a Muslim in a non-Muslim country to take an interest based mortgage if there are no other options available.

Both of these examples and more will be looked at in greater detail in MS12, where we look at the resolution of potential conflicts between the darooriyaat, e.g. How to reconcile between the desire to protect religion (pork being haram) and the desire to protect life (if one is starving).

Secondly from a broader perspective, the responsibility for providing individuals with the means to be able to meet these basic needs falls on those in authority and is in fact one of the primary roles of government. One of the consequences of this is that for a government to demand obedience to its laws, it must first ensure that it is providing its citizens with their most essential needs. The Prophet Muhammad (s) said regarding one who is unable to support themselves: “The head of state is the guardian of him, who has nobody to support him.” In this hadith, we see the foundations of the concept of a welfare state, something we in see in practice today but take for granted its Islamic origins.

Two small examples from the life of the second Caliph, Umar (ra) help illustrate the role of government in this regard. Firstly when he became leader of the Muslims, he is famously reported to have said words to the effect: “…I fear the immense responsibility that has been placed on my shoulders, for if even a single goat dies from hunger in the lands I rule, I will be asked about it on the Day of Judgement.” This is the true concept of leadership in Islam and is summed up in a nice Arabic saying: “al-Hukmu takleef laisa shareef” meaning that leadership is a responsibility not an honour.

Secondly, during a period of famine, the Caliph Umar (ra) decided to temporarily suspend the hadd punishment for theft (cutting of the hand) as people’s most basic needs weren’t being met. This method of punishment is the topic of much debate today though is not properly understood by many. We will spend some time discussing in in MS09.5 where we will be looking at Hifdh al-Maal (The Protection of Wealth).

2) Maintaining the Honour of the Human Being
Allah says in the Qur’an “And indeed, We have honoured the Children of Adam” [Qur’an 17:70]. Every human being, by the very fact they are human enjoys an honourable position without exception. Whether male or female, black or white and regardless of religion we are all children of Adam and therefore equal in our humanity.

This honour is promised and established by God, therefore no one has the right to deny anyone else their basic human rights /needs or to dishonour / disrespect them. Honour is quite a broad concept and can be somewhat relative but by our very nature we all know that there are certain intangibles which we hold dear to, such as our reputations and the reputations and dignity of our family members, specifically that of our mothers, wives, sisters etc. No sane person can tolerate lies and rumours being spread about them or their family, as this directly attacks their “honour”. This is one of the reasons that false testimony in a court of law is punished so severely. In addition to undermining the justice system it wrongly ascribes blame to innocent people together with the associated negative social stigmas, for example accusing someone of adultery.

Some of the scholars of Maqasid ascribed such importance to this that they classified it as a separate daroori, the term for which is al-‘Ird (Honour). Regardless of the classification however, Hidfh al-‘Ird (Protection of Honour) is considered to be a maqsad of the Shari’ah and upholding it is of great importance.

From the Perspective of That Which Threatens al-Nafs
Those things which threaten al-Nafs are discouraged, prevented and prohibited. Some examples of how is achieved are as follows:

1) Legislation of Qisaas (Retribution) for Murder
One of the most obvious things that threatens the presence of life is the crime of murder. This is therefore haram (prohibited) in Islam and is considered to be one of the major sins.

Note that murder and other such heinous acts are considered sins as well as crimes in the general sense as they have both a wordly and other-wordly punishment associated with them. The Islamic understanding of right and wrong extends into the hereafter and the Muslim knows that what they do in this life, as well as having consequences in the short term, has consequences extending into the long and infintite term.

Along with the prohibition of murder, come’s the associated punishment. As any civilised society understands crime cannot go unpunished. And as we discussed in MS04, the presence of a penal system is a deterrent, the last line of defence in a society for preventing the spread of harmful behaviour and actions. The punishment for murder in Islamic Law is called Qisaas which means ‘punishment‘ or ‘retaliation‘ but also carries the meaning of ‘the settling of accounts‘ or ‘retribution‘.

Although generally understood by people to mean execution, the concept of qisaas is much broader and differs from the hudood. Both are punishments prescribed for crimes committed, however there is a subtle difference. Whereas the specific nature of the hudood punishments is to exact the punishment as decreed by Allah and His Messenger (s) without deviation, the concept of Qisaas is broader and leaves the ultimate decision with the family of the victim and they can decide either on execution, compensation or forgiveness.

This concept is outlined in the Qur’an: “O you who believe! The Law of Equality (Qisaas) is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty.” [Qur’an 2:178]

In the following verse, Allah tells us: “In the Law of Equality (Qisaas) there is (saving of) Life to you, O you men of understanding; that ye may restrain yourselves” [Qur’an 2:179] which is understood to mean that the presence of a deterrent serves to deter people from committing the crime of murder which in itself preserves life and by executing one who has murdered, society as a whole can feel safe.

Of course the topic of Qisaas and capital punishment in Islam is more complex than we can do it justice here, for further reading, some good information can be found here, here and here.

2) Prohibition of Talaf (Self -Harm and Injury)
The human body is considered a trust given to man by God, it is on loan to us and is not therefore something we can damage or harm as we are accountable for how we use each and every one of God’s blessings. The result of this is that one is not permitted to harm themselves in any way. This includes either taking substances which harm the body such as drugs as well as a prohibition on self-harm of all types up to and including suicide.

Another kind of talaf which very sadly takes place in some poor countries today is the sale of one’s bodily organs, which is expressly forbidden. The related topic of organ donation is an issue of some debate amongst the scholars, we will look at this issue in MS12 when we will look at the resolution of potential conflicts between the darooriyaat as at the same time as “harming” onseself, one can be saving someone else’s life.

3) Prevention and Treatment of Diseases and Illnesses
Diseases and illnesses directly affect human well-being and in some cases the presence of life itself. Therefore they are considered threats to life and so it is of great importance for an Islamic society to work in the field of the curing and preventing of diseases.

The Prophet Muhammad (s) said: “For every illness there is a cure. When the cure of the illness is found then he is cured with the order of Allah and it was with this spirit that doctors and scientists in Islamic History advanced the science of Medicine at an astounding pace. In what is referred to as the golden age of Islamic History, the level of medical care available in the Muslim world was centuries ahead of what was being offered in Europe and elsewhere.

It is unfortunate that today we can only look nostalgically at the achievements of those who came before us and as an Ummah, we seem to have lost the drive that motivated our predecessors, though as the Arab proverb says: “Laisa al-Fata man yaqool, kana abee wa lakin al-Fata man yaqool, ha ana dha” which roughly translates to “He is not a man who says, that was my father, rather the man is one who says this is me.”

In addition to providing medicines and ways to cure diseases, prevention is always the better course of action and so equal importance is placed on research into the causes of illnesses and diseases. This is therefore also be considered one of the ways that the maqsad of Hifdh al-Nafs can be achieved.

al-Nafs, or Life is something we all share in common and what preserves this life is the same for all of us, regardless of race or religion. Protection of this Nafs is one of the objectives of the Shar’iah and this is achieved by providing individuals with the basic necessities that allow one to live with safety, security and dignity. From the other perspective, that which threatens life is prohibited and fought, the crime of murder is severely punished, self-harm is prohibited and great importance is placed on finding the means to maintain human health and help the sick.

The next post will Insha Allah look at the next in our list of darooriyaat, al-‘Aql (Intellect) and how it is protected and preserved by the Shari’ah.


  1. very interesting.

  2. Thanks for your comment, hope you keep reading.

  3. […] of Lineage as the protection of the lives of people in this line is covered by the maqsad Hifdh al-Nafs, i.e. Protection of […]

  4. AA – a few points here:

    “Internal necessities include the need for food, water and medicine, i.e. those things without which we would die. External necessities include clothing and housing, i.e. those things which allow us to live with dignity.”
    I’m curious to know where these necessities come from – i.e. were these ‘basic necessaties’ of life defined in the Islamic texts somewhere or is this a summation of philosophy over the ages? How comes medicine is a basic necessity – surely people don’t NEED medicine to survive as a whole…

    ““The head of state is the guardian of him, who has nobody to support him.” In this hadith, we see the foundations of the concept of a welfare state, something we in see in practice today but take for granted its Islamic origins.”
    Is the UK concept of the welfare state actually based on Islamic origins, or is it something that was conceived and implemented independantly. It’s a bold claim to make to say that it was based on Islamic origins.

    “One of the most obvious things that threatens the presence of life is the crime of murder. This is therefore haram (prohibited) in Islam and is considered to be one of the major sins.”
    ‘therefore’ here implies that there is a causal link between murder being the threat to a doroori and it’s being haram – surely it’s haram because of other textual evidence… Not sure if I’m being clear there…

    “the concept of Qisaas is broader and leaves the ultimate decision with the family of the victim and they can decide either on execution, compensation or forgiveness.”
    interestingly is ‘compensation’ limited to financial compensation, or can one ask for ’10 years hard labour’ etc as compensation?

  5. Without food and water a person will die. Surely that is obvious and doesn’t a specific textual piece of evidence to back it up? The same goes for medicine, if a person is sick, they need medicine, otherwise they may die. Therefore these things are deemed to be essential for human existence as they preserve life.

    About the Welfare State, I wasn’t saying that the UK welfare state is based on an Islamic concept, rather in the Islamic Sources we have the origins for what is seen to be a modern 20th century development. And I would say that no civilisation evolves independently, rather thay all take from those who went before. And in the case of Europe we know how much knowledge transfer there was from Andalus…

    On the point of murder being prohibited. This goes back to what we were saying when we were discussing how scholars derived the maqasid; that it is a secondary endeavour. Murder is haram first and foremost because we have textual evidence saying so. The fact that it is a threat to the daroori of al-Nafs is our secondary conclusion, our maqasid based understanding, i.e. none of the laws of the Shari’ah are random.

    Not sure about the range of compensation options available, I can try and find out though.

  6. Dear brother,

    Salam. I am thankful for this informative sharing you worked on. From your writing, I am informed that you wrote based on what you had learned. If you do not mind, I would like to know whether or not you used any kind of references such as published books along your study. If you did used, would you please give me the information about the material? I am currently studying about maqasid al-Shariah, hence I would personally want to refer to the material.

    Thank you. Jazakallah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: