The Sustainable Development Goals from a Shariah Perspective – III

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. 

We have covered SDG1 (no poverty) and SDG2 (zero hunger) in the first part and SDG3 (good health and well-being) and SDG4 (quality education) in the second part of this series.  In this part, we focus on SDG5 (gender equality) and SDG6 (clean water and sanitation).

Img SDG5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Islam gives utmost importance to family as nucleus social institution that plays a major role in shaping the future of mankind. It also sees a balanced role for men and women in ensuring the economic and social well-being of the family.

The Quran declares that all human beings are created in pair.

“And everything have We created in pairs that you may reflect”.(51:49)

“And among His signs is that He has created for you mates from among yourselves and sown love and compassion in your hearts so that you may find peace of mind in her. In these, there are signs for those who reflect” (30:21).

The Qur’an has clearly prescribed rights for women, and has required men to treat them gently and fairly.

O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them in order to take [back] part of what you gave them unless they commit a clear immorality. And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good. (4:19)

In a sermon that he delivered during his farewell pilgrimage, the Prophet (pbuh) exhorted men to fear God in their treatment of women because they (men) have accepted them (women) as a “trust from God”. (Muslim, Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah, Musnad) On another occasion, he warned men against usurping the rights of women by taking advantage of their weakness.

“I forbid usurpation of the right of two weak persons – the orphan and the woman.” (Sahih Muslim)

In line with the Islamic vision of a balanced society, the provision of financial services to rural women in gender-segregated societies has always been considered commendable. However, there have also been accusations of meddling with social codes and a call to financial service providers to shift their focus from “women empowerment” to “family empowerment”. Indeed, the “women only” approach to development and poverty alleviation is alien to Islamic religion and culture. The Quran promotes the concept of “family empowerment” by exhorting men and women to play their respective roles in seeking economic and social well-being of all members of the family.

“And covet not that whereby Allah has made some of you excel others. Men shall have a share of that which they have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned. And ask Allah of his bounty. Surely Allah has the perfect knowledge of all things” (4:32)

While the world has apparently made rapid progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. The numbers are just alarming. Unfortunately, at the current time, 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 15-49 have reported experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period and 49 countries currently have no laws protecting women from domestic violence.

In line with the Islamic vision of a balanced society, providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will make the world a much better place.

SDG6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Water is a basic need of life. Provision of water is a collective obligation of the society. Traditionally, Muslim societies have used the waqf mechanism to ensure provision of water. When the early Muslims migrated to Madina with the Prophet (pbuh), they found the water there difficult to drink as they were accustomed to drinking the relatively sweeter Zamzam water in Makkah. So they went to the Prophet and told him about their difficulty, and informed him of a well in the city by the name of Rumah whose water tasted a lot like Zamzam. The problem, however, was that the owner of the well was a Jew who charged a high price for water. The Prophet (phuh) then exhorted to Muslims to come forward to buy the well of Ruma and endow it for the community. When Othman ibn ‘Affan came to learn of the Prophet’s exhortation, he went to the owner and offered to purchase the well. The owner declined. Othman however, persuaded him to sell half of the rights of using the well. Both agreed to an arrangement under which each one of them would have the rights of use on alternate days. Othman used his right to benefit both Muslims and non-Muslims providing them with free water. This had the consequence of the jew losing all his customers and forcing him to sell the other half to Othman as well. The price was a whopping twenty thousand dirhams.

The above example is a clear pointer to something more profound. This practice had the effect of enhancing the awqaf as well as removal of a bad practice from the society, i.e. of profiteering from basic necessities of people, such as, water. The provision water was not discriminatory too, between Muslims and non-Muslims.

As pointed out earlier, 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.

Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. At the current time, more than 2 billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater resources and by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. In line with the above example showing how the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions resolved the water crisis, the institution of waqf can play a significant role in present times in its resolution.

To be continued

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