We all know at least one dodgy character with a penchant for driving around without his seat belt on, or talking on his phone whilst driving, and then flippantly advising you to “allow it bro” (translation: leave it out mate).
We know it’s against the law of the land, but can acting against the law of the land in seemingly non-Islamically- related matters actually constitute a haram act?
Do Muslims have to obey the laws of the land, even in a non-Muslim country?
And it’s important to know – because otherwise it would be okay to lie on tax returns, claim illegal welfare benefits, and try to scam the government in any of the various enterprising ways that people do so these days. It would be okay to not pay council tax, to steal government property, or to a run a red light whilst driving.
But of course it’s not okay to do all of that.
What Islamic Sources Say
Allah says in the Qur’an: “O you who believe! obey Allah, and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority over you” (4:60).
The Prophet (PBUH) said: “One who obeys his authority, obeys me. One who disobeys his authority, disobeys me” (Muslim).
Note how in all of these ahadith and verses the “authority” or “ameer” or “ruler” is not specified as being Muslim or non-Muslim. It is a general statement.
The Prophet (PBUH) said: “It is obligatory for you to listen to the ruler and obey him in adversity and prosperity, in pleasure and displeasure, and even when another person is given (rather undue) preference over you” (Muslim).
The Prophet (PBUH) even said: “And the worst of your rulers are those whom you hate and who hate you, who curse you and whom you curse. (Those present) said: Shouldn’t we overthrow them at this? He said: No, as long as they establish prayer among you. No, as long as they establish prayer among you. Mind you! One who has a governor appointed over him and he finds that the governor indulges in an act of disobedience to God, he should condemn the governor’s act, in disobedience to God, but should not withdraw himself from his obedience” (Muslim).
So the Prophet (PBUH) even went as far as to say that if the ruler is not a good person and doesn’t act on Islamic teachings, as long as he doesn’t stop people from praying and worshipping freely, he should be obeyed, though you must criticise him!
Furthermore, scholars understand there to be an implicit covenant between us and whatever state we are living in peacefully as citizens.
Allah says in the Qur’an: “And fulfil every engagement (ahd), for every engagement will be enquired into on the day of reckoning” (17:34).
So when UK law tells us to do something it is incumbent upon us to obey that law in order to fulfil this covenant.
So next time that dodgy guy you know pipes up with this spurious argument, you know what to tell them!
But What if Secular and Shariah Law Conflict?
But now an interesting question arises. What does one do if a conflict between the two sources of law arise? We all know of the famous hadith: “There is no obedience of the creation wherein there is disobedience to the Creator” (Ahmad).
We also know of the Qur’anic verse: “Shall I seek other than God as a source of law, when He has revealed to you this book (the Quran) fully detailed?” (6:114)
Well firstly, this is a very simplistic way of approaching a complex problem, and it has to be said that the vast majority of laws do not conflict with the Shariah. The Shariah is not an all-encompassing body of state law after all. It doesn’t have laws about council tax, road safety, and carbon emissions. It has general guidance that we can use, but nothing specific on these issues. So of course we will have to come up with “man-made” laws. There is nothing inherently unislamic about obeying these “man-made” laws.
Secondly, we must remember what kind of disobedience we’re talking about here:
“The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent an expedition and appointed over the Mujahids a man from the Ansar. (While making the appointment), he ordered that his work should be listened to and obeyed. They made him angry in a matter. He said: Collect for me dry wood. They collected it for him. Then he said: Kindle a fire. They kindled (the fire). Then he said: Didn’t the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) order you to listen to me and obey (my orders)? They said: Yes. He said: Enter the fire. The narrator says: (At this), they began to look at one another and said: We fled from the fire to (find refuge with) the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) (and now you order us to enter it). They stood quiet until his anger cooled down and the fire went out. When they returned, they related the incident to the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him). He said: If they had entered it, they would not have come out. Obedience (to the commander) is obligatory only in what is good” (Muslim).
Here the disobedience was allowed because the commander was asking the followers to do something totally impermissible – committing suicide. So it is interesting to note the kind of level one must go to before civil disobedience would be seen as acceptable.
So to all the wise guys out there, not wearing your seat belt or talking on the phone whilst driving doth not constitute civil disobedience.
One Further Interesting Issue to Consider
One further issue comes to mind, and I’m not settled on my views on this yet myself so it would be interesting to hear your input on this:
- Smuggling in a failed state: In this situation there is almost a state of anarchy and there is no clear authority in the land. There may be some putative legislation in place that says one should not smuggle, but if there is no real authority behind it and no one actually accepts the government, should one respect the laws in that situation?
Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter.