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Maslaha (Arabic مصلحة, 'public interest') is a concept in traditional Islamic Law. It is invoked to prohibit or permit something on the basis of whether or not it serves the public's benefit or welfare. The concept is related to that of Istislah. While the meaning of maslaha is 'public interest', the meaning of istislah is 'to seek the best public interest'.
Maslaha was used in one sense by the Andalusian lawyer al-Shatibi (d. 1388), who focused on the motives behind the Islamic Law. Regarding questions related to God, 'ibadat, humans should look to the Qur'an or the Sunnah for answers, but regarding the relationship between humans, mu'amalat, humans should look for the best public solution. Since societies change, al- Shatibi thought that the mu'amalat part of the Islamic Law also needed to change.
Maslaha has also been used by several Muslim reformers in recent centuries. Al-Wahhab (d.1792) used maslaha in a few cases. The concept is more known to Islamic modernists. Among them, Muhammad Abduh is especially recognized for using the concept of maslaha as the basis for reconciling modern cultural values with the traditional moral code of Islamic law ("Shari'a") in the late 19th century. Ironically, members of the Islamic fundamentalist group Muslim Brotherhood have also invoked maslaha with regard to their doctrine of public welfare.
References: The Oxford dictionary of Islam (2003); Knut S. Vikoer, Between God and State (Spartacus 2003)