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Maqasid: the abandoned ship analogy

Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (450-505 A.H. / 1058-1111 A.D.) presents a case in his book Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence called “al-Mustasfa Min ‘lm al-Usul.”

He says: Three hundred people were in a boat sailing on the sea. They realized that their safety was at risk, and the lives of the majority could only be saved by throwing 10 people overboard. Would it be morally right to kill 10 people in order to save 290?

According to Imam al-Ghazali, and on the basis of Shari'ah and the Objectives and Purposes of the Devine Law, it is morally wrong to kill some people in order to save others. Why?

Imam Al-Ghazali gave three reasons against the justification of killing in this case of the abandoned ship:

1. Universality: the benefit of people, in this case the majority, is not a universal benefit; it is only the interest of small community who are going to use others as means to their end.

2. Necessity: the benefit of those people on the boat is not necessary to a degree to break another necessity and kill humans.

3. Certainty: we are not certain that killing those people is going to save the rest. What if they killed them and after that they faced another problem at sea, should they kill another 10 people to save the rest? This is morally unjustifiable and becomes out of control.

In Islam the life of every single human is unique and precious; it is one of the five necessities and must be preserved and protected. Allah commanded Muslims in the Qur'an that killing is prohibited, and to kill one soul is as if you killed the entire human race and to save one soul is as if you saved the entire human race.


Islam does not agree with the communist maxim as presented by Karl Marx that the end justifies the mean. It is like a student carrying out an armed robbery of a bank to fund his education of the Qur'an and Sunnah. The end is highly commendable, however the means by which he desires to fund himself if prohibited!

 

 

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