A Perspective of Jurisprudence of Priorities (Fiqh Aulawiyyāt) in the Time of COVID-19

By: Dr. Akmal Khuzairy bin Abd Rahman

The dilemma is setting in. The recent MCO phase is expected to ease on certain businesses to operate to kick start the economy. Alas, some movements are allowed, and many are sighing relief. Nonetheless, tempers and grudges abound among some of the members of Muslim communities as most mosques and mass religious activities are still under prohibition.  They are complaining and criticizing the religious authorities in this decision insisting that in such a trying situation we should even be closer to Allah and not distancing ourselves from Him. 

They are correct in their objectives but erroneous in their approach. In this regard, the application and understanding of the jurisprudence of priorities (Fiqh Aulawiyyāt) comes into context. Neglecting the principles of this jurisprudence will result in an unfortunate wrong perception on the wisdoms that Allah SWT wants us to learn from this pandemic.

In the Islamic jurisprudence of priorities, actions have their hierarchies according to their levels of significance. Thus, there are obligatory actions that precede secondary ones. The arrangement of priorities is in accordance to the sum of the positive and negative effects of certain decisions or actions. Indeed, the authorities seem to be walking a thin line between ensuring continuity of customs and preservations of the well-being of the population. When applied in this context, the principles of the jurisprudence of priorities would sanction such decisions to save the community from the pandemic over other significant choices. To contain the pandemic is more important than the rest of priorities in terms of its urgency and the unforeseen devastating results that it is capable of inflicting on the country. The jurisprudence of priorities weigh in the factors of urgency, importance and effects in making decisions between choices. This is exactly what the government including the religious authorities have done. 

Shutting down mosques and banning other forms of mass religious activities are the result of applying this principle based on the evidence from the Holy Quran and the prophetic traditions. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:

“Do not throw (yourselves) with your (own) hands into destruction (by refraining). And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.” (Surah Albaqara: 195)

‘Ubādah ibn al-Sāmit reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, issued a decree, “Do not cause harm or return harm.” (Ibnu Mājah, Sahih)

The objectives of worshipping and drawing oneself closer to Allah SWT are still attainable. The source of deeds in Islam is not limited to doing certain actions but similarly by avoiding certain other actions. One would not be able to get the deeds of iʽtikāf in masjid but will certainly get the rewards for avoiding the possibility of infecting others with the disease. The Prophet PBUH mentioned as narrated by Abdullah bin Umar:

“The most loved one among you by Allah is the most beneficial to human and the most loved deed to Allah is the joy one causes to a Muslim or the relief he causes by removing his difficulty…”(Tirmizi, Hasan Sahih)

In the same vein, the objectives and deeds of what are regularly performed in congregation at the mosques are still possible to be carried out at homes. One still will not miss the rewards of congregational prayers if he performs them with his family. 

Therefore, based on the principles of the jurisprudence of priorities and the available alternative means to attain the same objectives and deeds of certain forms of  worshipping at homes as seen in the decision to shut down temporarily the mosques and the banning of mass religious activities should be understood by any Muslim with the correct conscience and understanding of the management of priorities in Islam. A notable scholar Ibnu ʽAtāullah Assakandarī in his book al-Hikam once wrote in this regard: “A sign of following one’s whims is to be active with optional good deeds while being lazy with required obligations”. 

Dr. Akmal Khuzairy bin Abd Rahman is an associate professor at Department of  Arabic Language and Literature Department, KIRKHS and Director, Centre for Islamisation, IIUM

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