June 28, 2023 | By Fatima Ahmed

Through this article, I will examine one of five legal maxims which dictate Islamic law. Then, I will examine the relationship between this selected maxim and Indigenous cultures. Specifically, I will tie in how Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit can take the power of law according to the selected Islamic legal maxim.

Within Islamic jurisprudence, there are five[i] schools of thought: Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi’i, Maliki and Jaafari. Each of these schools of thought arrive upon legal rulings through their own set of criteria. However, Muslim scholars have agreed upon the five legal maxims which govern all Islamic law and which are agreed upon within all five schools of thought. These five maxims, called al-qawāʿid al-kulliyyāt al-khams in Arabic, are listed as follows:

  • “Matters shall be judged by their objectives” (Arabic: al-umūr bi-maqāsidihā). This maxim tells us actions are judged by the intentions which guided the action in question.
  • “Certainty shall not be removed by doubt” (Arabic: al-yaqīn la yazūl bi-‘l-shakk). This maxim tells us the default ruling on all things is permissibility, unless proven otherwise. This principle is an equivalent of the “innocent until proven guilty” concept found within Canadian common law.
  • “Hardship shall bring alleviation” (Arabic: al-mashaqqa tajlib al-taysīr). This maxim says if a law imposes undue difficulty, then it need not be fulfilled or implemented.
  • “Harm shall be removed” (Arabic: al-ḍarar yuzāl). This maxim nullifies rulings which bring harm, even if the ruling in itself is sound. Therefore, the consequence of the ruling is what renders the ruling void.
  • “Cultural usage shall have the weight of law” (Arabic: al-ʿāda muḥakkama or “al-ʿāda muḥkama”). This maxim implies custom has the same authority as principles derived from sacred Islamic scripture.

The last maxim is what I wish to focus on, since it asserts the belief that customary practice can serve as a basis for religious judgment. This maxim is derived from the following verse of the Quran, the sacred scripture which Muslims believe in:

خُذِ ٱلْعَفْوَ وَأْمُرْ بِٱلْعُرْفِ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ ٱلْجَـٰهِلِينَ ١٩٩

Translation: “Accept [from people] what comes naturally [for them]. Command what is customarily [good]. And turn away from the ignorant [without responding in kind].” (Qur’an, 7:199).

This translation of this Quranic verse is taken from Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah’s article titled Islam and the Cultural Imperative. The author uses this article to make the argument that God guided Prophet Muhammad, and thus all Muslim adherents, to consider a host community’s customs and usages when arriving upon rulings or religious legislation. The author quotes a classical Muslim jurist, Ibn ʿAṭiyya, who “… asserted that the verse not only upheld the sanctity of indigenous culture but granted sweeping validity to everything the human heart regards as sound and beneficial, as long as it is not clearly repudiated in the revealed law.”[ii]

Therefore, the above Quranic verse is cited to affirm the principle that people’s customs and traditions can be used as justification when arriving upon religious legal rulings. In fact, another jurist named al-Tusūlï asserted: “Allowing the people to follow their customs, usages, and general aspirations in life is obligatory. To hand down rulings in opposition to this is gross deviation and tyranny.”[iii]

Through the above commentary, I hope to have proven how one of the five foundational Islamic maxims tell us it is mandatory to learn from and integrate local customary practices and beliefs into religious rulings. One such set of customary practices and beliefs is Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (“IQ”).

IQ is the name of a knowledge system which promotes and encapsulates the Inuit societal values and principles. While I worked in Nunavik, and not Nunavut, and although there are significant geographical variations in dialect and knowledges, there is a commonality in what these values are called, how their application can be demonstrated, and how they are taught to young people and to outsiders. I will use sources from Nunavik and Nunavut.

A seminal book on IQ introduces us to the topic in the following words,

Inuit Qaujimajatugangit (IQ), [is] often referred to as Inuit traditional knowledge. The problem with the word “traditional” is that it implies something from the past, of limited value to living in a modern world. Nothing could be further from the truth. IQ is about a set of values and practices, the relevance and importance of these, and ways of being and looking at things that are timeless.[iv]

The authors of this book go on to state:

Inuit Qaujimajatugangit is a worldview shared, with differences in detail, by Inuit across the circumpolar world. It links the past and future by teaching important lessons about how to live a good life. IQ helps define Inuit by offering a set of laws, beliefs and values that serve as guides and expectations. IQ spells out processes for introducing, applying and supporting these laws and beliefs across generations. Key among these processes is inunnguiniq, the making of a human being.[v]

The authors also give us insight into the philosophies which inform the 8 IQ principles. The authors tell us:

IQ is more than a philosophy. It is an ethical framework and detailed plan for having a good life. It is a way of thinking, connecting all aspects of life in a coherent way. Western European culture and science, by contrast, tends to divide aspects of life into pieces that can be dissected, isolated and studied.[vi]

According to the Nunavik ICE website, the 8 IQ principles are as follows:

  1. Inuuqatigiitsiarniq – Respecting others, relationships and caring for people.
  2. Tunnganarniq – Fostering good spirits by being open, welcoming and inclusive.
  3. Pijitsirniq – Serving and providing for family and/or community.
  4. Pilimmaksarniq / Pijariuqsarniq – Development of skills through observation, mentoring, practice and effort.
  5. Aajiiqatigiinniq – Decision making through discussion and consensus.
  6. Avatittinnik Kamatsiarniq – Respect and care for the land, animals and the environment.
  7. Piliriqatigiinniq / Ikajuqtigiinniq – Working together for a common cause.
  8. Qanuqtuurniq – Being innovative and resourceful.[vii]

In speaking about the maxims behind IQ, the authors introduce us to the word for law in Inuktut and what these maxims are,

The word “law” is a problem in discussing maligarjuat (literally meaning big things that must be followed), While they are as important as laws in Western European cultures, they are ethical commitments or principles. The four maligarjuat are: 1. Working for the common good and not being motivated by personal interest or gain; 2. Living in respectful relationships with every person and thing that one encounters; 3. Maintaining harmony and balance; and 4. planning and preparing for the future.[viii]

Both the 5 maxims of Islamic law and the 4 maligarjuat have at their foundation a worldview which attempts to promote respectful, harmonious coexistence which maintains the sacred dignity of all of creation. Thus, we can see some commonalities between the four maligarjuat which dictate IQ and the five maxims called al-qawāʿid al-kulliyyāt al-khams discussed earlier.

However, the above statement needs to be qualified on two fronts: first, for the IQ principles, and second, for the Islamic legal maxim under discussion.

The qualifier for the Islamic legal maxim is as follows: Muslim scholars do not practice blind acceptance of cultural norms, as this would be in opposition to the reflective and intellectual practice which is supposed to lie at the heart of Islamic jurisprudence. Rather, cultural creation requires adherents to view cultural norms through a lens of critical analysis, for example to see what goal a cultural norm is intending to achieve, and then to engage in cultural creation which synthesizes the host community’s cultural practices with existing principles on Islamic jurisprudence. Thus, as Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah writes, “The work before us is a matter of true ijtihād, moral commitment, and dynamic creativity.” Here, ijtihad is defined as the practice of legal reasoning and comes from the same root word as the word jihad, which means to strive spiritually. Thus, the practice of developing a dynamic cultural identity is considered a spiritual exercise.

As for the qualifier for IQ principles, I would like to acknowledge three complications in advancing IQ principles during contemporary times: first, the oral Inuit tradition of passing knowledge between generations has been harmed by the colonization processes. Second, like other Indigenous knowledge, IQ principles are contextual and dynamic. Limiting IQ principles to a static, written mode of expression significantly alters how IQ principles are understood. Lastly, Inuit knowledge, like other Indigenous knowledges, have an epistemology which is varied from Western ways of knowing.[ix]

Moving forward, I suggest the fusion of Indigenous cultures with Islamic jurisprudence principles like al-qawāʿid al-kulliyyāt al-khams (five foundational maxims of Islamic law) and maqāṣid al-sharīʿa (goals or objectives of sharia). This article attempts to delineate one such synthesis between Inuit traditional knowledge and one Islamic legal maxim.

[i] There is difference of opinion on how many schools of thought exist within Islamic jurisprudence. There are four surviving Sunni madhabs or schools of though. Jaafari is a Shia madhab, and there are three sub-schools within this one madhab. For the sake of inclusivity, I have stated that there are five, and not four, schools of thought and have included Shia madhab among the five schools of thought recognized within Islamic jurisprudence.

[ii] Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, Islam and the Cultural Imperative, online: The Oasis Initiative https://www.theoasisinitiative.org/islam-the-cultural-imperative

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Karetak, Joe, Frank Tester & Shirley Tagalik, eds. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: What Inuit have always known to be true, (Black Point, NS: Fernwood Publishing, 2017) at 19.

[v] Ibid at 20.

[vi] Ibid at 22.

[vii] Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, “Professional Development – Critical Skills”, (28 December 2022), online: Nunavik ICE <https://nunavik-ice.com/en/c/career-and-community-development/the-critical-skills/>.

[viii] Karetak, Joe, Frank Tester & Shirley Tagalik, supra note 1 at 22.

[ix] Priscilla Ferrazzia et al, “Describing Aajiiqatigiingniq as an Inuit Consensus Methodology in Health Research” (March 2020) at 2.


This publication is provided as an information service and may include items reported from other sources. We do not warrant its accuracy. This information is not meant as legal opinion or advice. Contact Procido LLP (www.procido.com) if you require legal advice on the topic discussed in this article.

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