Obeying the Law of the Land in the West
Answer : Muslims are generally obliged to abide by the laws of the land and the country they live in, whether it is a Islamic state (al-khilafa), Muslim countries, or non-Muslim countries such as those in the west, as long as they are not ordered to practice something that is against Shariah. If they are forced by the law to commit a sin, then in such a case, it will not just be unnecessary to abide by the law, rather impermissible.
Some Muslims are under the impression that it is permissible to violate the laws of countries that are not an Islamic state (al-Khilafa), which is totally incorrect. Muslims must adhere to the laws of any country they live in, whether in the west or the east, as long as the law is not in contradiction with one’s religion.
Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “It is necessary upon a Muslim to listen to and obey the ruler, as long as one is not ordered to carry out a sin. If he is commanded to commit a sin, then there is no adherence and obedience.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 2796 & Sunan Tirmidhi)
The above Hadith is general, in that it does not distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim lands, although the understanding of the scholars is that it generally applies to Muslim lands.
Furthermore, many scholars have divided non-Muslim lands (dar al-Harb/kufr) into two categories, Dar al-Khawf & Dar al-Aman. The former (dar al-khawf) refers to a land where Muslims are under a constant threat and fear with regards to their religion, life and wealth, whilst the latter (dar al-Aman) refers to a land where Muslims are relatively secure and safe. In Dar al-Aman (such as many non-Muslim countries in the west), many of the injunctions and rulings are very similar to Muslim lands (dar al-Islam), thus the command of following the laws of the land would also apply in these non-Muslim lands. (See: Radd al-Muhtar)
Those who are of the view that it is not necessary to obey the laws of the land unless it is ruled by a proper Islamic governance system, usually say that these laws are non-Islamic and man made, and one is only obliged to abide by the laws of Allah!
In reality, this is a very immature understanding of Islam, for even an Islamic Khilafa government would implement laws that are the creation of their own minds and Ijtihad. If an Islamic government sees the need to implement a certain law, then it has the full jurisdiction to do so, even if it is not found in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
All the scholars unanimously agree that, if an Islamic government decides to implement a law for the benefit of the country and its citizens, then there is nothing wrong in doing so, as long as it does not contradict Shariah, and this law will be binding upon every citizen of that country, even if it was not made obligatory by Shariah initially. Therefore, the laws which an Islamic Khilafa government will set down will also be “man made”, and binding upon all the citizens.
Then the case here is not between “Allah’s laws” and “man made laws” rather one must understand and deal with the issue more rationally and deeply.
When one lives in a particular country, one agrees verbally, in writing or effectively to adhere to the rules and regulations of that country. This, according to Shariah, is considered to be a covenant, agreement and trust. One is obliged to fulfil the trust regardless of whether it is contracted with a friend, enemy, Muslim, non-Muslim or a government. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) always stood by their word and did not breach any trust or agreement, as it is clear from the books of Sunnah and history. Thus, to break a promise or breach a trust of even a non-Muslim is absolutely unlawful and considered a sign of being a hypocrite (munafiq).
Allah Most High states:
“And fulfil (every) engagement (ahd), for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the day of reckoning).” (Surah al-Isra, v. 34)
Similarly, Allah Most High states:
Allah does command you to render back your trusts to those to whom they are due, and when you judge between people that you judge with justice.” (Surah al-Nisa, v. 58)
And regarding the one who breaks an agreement and is guilty of treachery, Allah Almighty says:
“Allah loves not the treacherous.” (Surah al-Anfal, v. 58)
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “The signs of a hypocrite are three: When he speaks he leis, when he makes a promise he breaks it, and when he is given a trust he breaches it.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 33)
Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Amr (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Four traits, if found in an individual, then he will be a complete hypocrite (munafiq), and if an individual possesses one of these four, he will have one portion of nifaq: When he is given a trust he breaches it, when he speaks he leis, when he makes an agreement (ahd) he is guilty of treachery and disloyalty (gadar), and when he disputes he is fouled mouth.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 34)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) clearly gave guidance as how to one’s behaviour should be towards a person with whom one has an agreement or a covenant.
Safwan ibn Sulaym narrates from a number of Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah be pleased with them all) on the authority of their fathers who were relatives of each other, that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Beware, if anyone oppresses (or wrongs) the one with whom one has a agreement (mu’ahid), or diminishes his right, or forces him to work beyond his capacity, or takes from him anything without his consent, I shall plead for him on the Day of Judgment.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, no. 3047)
The above Hadith is quite clear, in that a Muslim is obliged to fulfil the covenant or agreement of even a non-Muslim. If such an agreement (ahd) takes place, then one will be considered to have safeguarded his life, wealth and property. It will be unlawful (haram), as mentioned quite clearly in the Hadith, to take any wealth of the one with whom there is an agreement without his consent. This categorically rules out the notion of some who consider taking of government wealth even by unlawful means to be permissible.
The practice of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) also clearly illustrates the importance of fulfilling a covenant, and the unlawfulness of treachery.
During the battle of Khaybar which took place between the Muslims and Jews, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) besieged the fort of Khaybar wherein the Jews were residing. A poor Shepard who was working for his Jewish master had already heard about the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and upon seeing the Muslim army, thought that it was a good opportunity to inquire about Islam. He came out of the fort with the goats and sheep he was looking after and asked the whereabouts of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). Upon being directed towards the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), he inquired about the basic teachings of Islam, and then said: “What will my status be if I accept Islam?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied: “I will embrace you, you will become my brother and enjoy the same rights as other Muslims.” He said: “I am very poor and in a bad state. I am totally black and have bad odour coming from my body and cloths. How will you embrace me if I am in such a condition?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied: “I shall embrace you, for all of Allah’s servants are equal in His sight.” He said: “If I embrace Islam, what will my fate be?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “I bear witness that if you accept Islam, Allah will change the darkness of your body to light, and the bad odour to good fragrance.” These words of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had their effect on his heart, thus he embraced Islam.
After entering into the fold of Islam, he asked the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) what he was obliged to do? The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said that they were at the moment in the midst of war, thus the obligation at this moment and time was to participate in Jihad. However, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said to him: “The first and foremost thing you need to do is return these animals to its Jewish owner and then engage in Jihad.”
As mentioned earlier, these animals belonged to a Jew who was in the opposing army, but the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) ordered him to go back and return them. The reason being, that he had taken these goats and sheep on a trust, and it is necessary by Shariah to return the belongings taken on trust back to its owner.
Thereafter, he participated in the holy battle (jihad) and was amongst the martyrs. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) recognised his body, thus addressed his Companions that I see with my own eyes that he has been given a bath in the sacred water of paradise, and Allah has changed his darkness to shining white and his bad foul smell to refreshing fragrance.
The above is an amazing example of fulfilling a trust of even an enemy. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was in the midst of war with the Jews of Khaybar, yet he ordered the herdsman to go back and return the animals.
It is true that, a Muslim army is allowed to seize the wealth and belongings of the opposing army during the state of war, but because the Shepard had taken these animals under a contract before the war, he was ordered to fulfil the contract, thus return them to its rightful owner sound and safe.
Those who claim that one may rob and loot the wealth of the western governments in any way possible, should ponder over the abovementioned incident with due diligence. If the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) orders the belongings of a Jew (who is in the opposing army) to be returned to him, then how can one substantiate the permissibility of taking the wealth of the government unlawfully!
In conclusion, it is necessary by Shariah to abide by the laws of the country one lives in, regardless of the nature of the law, as long as it does not contradict Shariah. However, if the law demands something that is against Islam & Shariah, then it will be necessary to abstain from adhering to it, for the famous Hadith states:
“There is no obedience of the creation wherein there is disobedience to the Creator.” (Musnad Ahmad).
And Allah Knows Best