Shāh Walī Allāh and his Concept of Beneficial Purpose (maslaha)


In The Name of God, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful

In the first chapter of his magnum opus, Hujjat Allāh al-Bālighah, Shāh Walī Allāh mentions a particular word, namely maslaha, which is translated as ‘beneficial purpose.’ While al-Shātibi and al-Ghazāli have their own use for this word, for want of personal clarity, I wanted to understand what it meant for Shāh Walī Allāh. I have exclusively relied on Marcia Hermansen’s introduction. What follows is a summary of her explanation.

Working within a metaphysical structure, Shāh Walī Allāh elaborates on “the internal dynamics within systems of experience” which consists of levels or systems that are initially composed of parts in conflict. This conflict requires resolving towards a higher purpose via restoring harmony and balance in the system. Once this is achieved, the “inherent perfection of the ideal form implicit in the person… is fulfilled.” The system or the entire form is then able to expand or move up to a higher order.

What the above theory means, in a sentence, is that there are conflicting forces and then there is the one great force that harmonises these conflicts and drives the entire universe to “the highest salutary purpose (maslaha kulliyya).”

This is what the religious legislation (sharia) aims to achieve. Though the term maslaha has been used in Islamic jurisprudence in the sense of “public interest,” for Shāh Walī Allāh, this term conveys a broader sense – the highest level being the fulfilment of the “one great universal purpose (maslaha kulliyya) of the cosmic order.”

And only God knows best.




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