There is a misunderstanding among some people that it is not necessary for a Muslim living in a land which has a non-Muslim government, to obey the laws of the land, because these are “man-made” and not Divine and because the country is not an Islamic Khilafa. That belief is totally false. The first thing to note is what Allahﷻ said in His Book. He said:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَوْفُوا۟ بِٱلْعُقُودِ
Ma’aida 5:1 O you who believe! Fulfill (your) obligations (oaths, promises).
Any Ayah that begins with a direct address is a Hukm (command) from Allahﷻ. Allahﷻ is commanding us, those who believe in Him, to honor our covenants and fulfill our promises and contracts, no matter who we contracted with. When we live in any country, no matter for what duration, we enter into an oath or obligation that we will be entitled to enjoy all that the country offers, its freedoms, privileges, benefits, and opportunities, in return for which we will obey the laws of the land and never do anything detrimental to the welfare of that land or its people. This covenant applies no matter what your visa status is. For this we are accountable to Allahﷻ.
`Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (R) narrated that Rasoolullahﷺ said: “There are four (characteristics), whoever has them is a hypocrite, and whoever has one of the four has one characteristic of hypocrisy unless he gives it up: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; when he makes a pledge he betrays it; and when he disputes he resorts to foul language.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
It is a religious obligation for a Muslim to keep his promises, behave truthfully, and respect other people’s rights. Allahﷻ said:
وَأَوْفُوا بِعَهْدِ اللَّهِ إِذَا عَاهَدتُّمْ وَلَا تَنقُضُوا الْأَيْمَانَ بَعْدَ تَوْكِيدِهَا وَقَدْ جَعَلْتُمُ اللَّهَ عَلَيْكُمْ كَفِيلًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَفْعَلُونَ
Nahl 16: 91 Fulfill the covenant of Allah when you have taken it, and do not break oaths after their confirmation while you have made Allah a witness over you. Verily, Allah knows what you do.
It is forbidden (Haraam) for a Muslim to betray anyone to whom he has given a pledge or promise, no matter how small or big we may think it is. For example, someone tells us something in confidence and we listen to that person and promise to keep his secret. Then we go to someone else and say, “I am saying this only to you” and we tell him what the other person told us in confidence. May Allahﷻ save us from ourselves, some people are like CNN on two legs. We don’t consider our action to be anything serious but believe me, this is an enormous sin which can result in severe punishment and humiliation in the Hereafter. Trust is the basis of Izzah (prestige, honor). Trust is the result when we honor contracts and stand by our word. Ibn Umar (R) reported that Rasoolullahﷺ said:
إِذَا جَمَعَ اللَّهُ الأَوَّلِينَ وَالآخِرِينَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يُرْفَعُ لِكُلِّ غَادِرٍ لِوَاءٌ فَقِيلَ هَذِهِ غَدْرَةُ فُلاَنِ بْنِ فُلاَنٍ
When Allah gathers the earlier and later generations on the Day of Resurrection, He will raise a banner for every treacherous person and it will be announced that this is the treachery of this person, the son of this person. (Bukhari: Muttafaqun Alayhi)
The general rule is that a Muslim should obey those in authority as long as they do not command us to commit sins.
Ibn Umar (R) reported that Rasoolullahﷺ said, “Listening to and obeying the leader is an obligation as long as he does not command disobedience to Allah. If he commands disobedience, then there is no listening to him or obedience. (Bukhari)
We must obey the law of the land in which we live as a matter of being true to our religion which prohibits us from violating our contract of residence or citizenship. A Muslim is not permitted to do anything which can cause harm to others in any way, whether they are Muslim or not. If any law is against the Shari’ah of Islam, then a Muslim is not permitted to obey that law but must protest against it and try to have it changed or have himself exempted, failing which he must make Hijrah to another land where he can live in accordance with the laws of Islam. This is as per the famous hadith of Hasan ibn Ali bin Abi Talib (R), who narrated from his grandfather, Rasoolullahﷺ who said, “There is no obedience of the creation wherein there is disobedience to the Creator.” (Musnad Ahmad).
To obey all laws that are meant for public safety, security, human rights, environmental protection, and general benefit of society is Fardh in Islam. Driving through a red light, not wearing seat belts, driving without a license, parking in zones and places where you are not entitled to park; let me leave you to add to this list; are all not only illegal acts but are major sins of betraying our contract with the nation and punishable by Allahﷻ as a violation of Huqooq-ul-Ibaad. About these Rasoolullahﷺ said that Allahﷻ will not forgive violations against people until those people forgive them first. We live in a country which is based on trust. The very fact that we left our countries to settle here is either a sign of our mental illness or that life here is indeed better than it was back home. Let’s face that fact first and thank Allahﷻ that He permitted us to make this Hijra. Now let us turn that into real Hijra from this moment onwards by living our lives here to demonstrate the goodness of Islam to the world. Remember that there may be no cop or camera to catch us but there is Allahﷻ. To remember this and to act upon it, is our meter, our indicator of the health of our Iman and the strength of our Taqwa. Think about this; not only does Allahﷻ prohibit us from breaking laws that are made for the benefit of people, but He also prohibits us from doing things which may be legal, but which are harmful to people and the world. That is the reason why interest-based transactions, selling lottery, cigarettes and tobacco products, alcohol, marijuana and other intoxicants, pornography, and all things which are legal here are prohibited and Haraam in Islam.
Some people argue that we live in Da’ar-ul-Harb and so we don’t have to follow man-made rules of this place. This is because they don’t understand the basis of the Shari’ah. In the Shari’ah itself there are two kinds of Laws: Divine and Juristic. Divine Laws are those decreed by Allahﷻ in the Qur’an or those decreed by Rasoolullahﷺ as a result of Wahi Ghayr Matloo which he received from Allahﷻ. For example, Allahﷻ prohibited pork in the Qur’an and Rasoolullahﷺ prohibited the flesh of donkeys and all carnivorous animals and birds. Both are Divine Laws and to break them is Haraam. Juristic laws refer to laws made by the collective wisdom of our great scholars and by the individual understanding of one or a few of the great scholars. The key word is ‘scholar’, as in the traditional understanding of both knowledge and its practice. Not simply how much the scholar knows but how much the scholar practices Islam. Among these Juristic rulings would be laws relating to organ donation, Islamic finance, and so on which were not there at the time of Rasoolullahﷺ. The inviolable caveat, the boundary condition in all such rulings of Ijtihad by Ijma’a and Khiyaas is that it must not violate any ruling of the Qur’an or Rasoolullahﷺ. For example, no collection of scholars can make interest-based dealings Halaal until the end of time, because Allahﷻ made them Haraam. Therefore, in a way, all Juristic laws in the Shari’ah are also man-made. But they are law in Islam. The issue is not about whether a law is Divine or not. It is about what it is and if it must be obeyed by Muslims. The short answer is, “If it is for the good of people, it must be obeyed as long as it doesn’t violate any Islamic law.” There are no exceptions. All beneficial laws must be obeyed because that is the way in which we fulfill our covenant with the country we live in.
There are three kinds of situations that a Muslim may be living in: Da’ar ul Harb, Da’ar ul Aman and Da’ar ul Islam. They are defined as follows.
Da’ar ul Harb: (Place of War): A place ruled by non-Muslims where Muslims live in a state of captivity in some form. In this place Muslims are not permitted to practice their religion and face persecution and danger (imprisonment, death, fines) if they try to do so. In Da’ar ul Harb, Muslims have three options: either to migrate to a place which is a Da’ar ul Islam or a Da’ar ul Aman, where they can practice Islam. Or use all legal means to seek to end the oppression. Or try to practice Islam as much as they can and bear the hardship seeking Allahﷻ’s help. There is no question of taking loans to buy or build houses or do Haraam business in Da’ar ul Harb and buying the enmity of Allahﷻ instead of His help. Those who migrate to the West, the question is, “If you think that is Da’ar ul Harb, then why do you go there? We are supposed to escape from Da’ar ul Harb, not go there.”
Da’ar ul Aman: Place of Peace: A place ruled by non-Muslims, but where you are not a captive and live freely having gone there voluntarily. You are not constrained in any way from practicing your Deen and can do so openly and without any danger. Quite clearly if there is nothing to prevent us from following the Shari’ah, we must live in obedience to those laws. There are no exceptions to obeying the laws of the Shari’ah while living in Da’ar ul Aman. All laws apply. In Da’ar ul Aman, the Muslim is also obliged to obey the laws of the land as long as those are not in conflict with the Shari’ah. Laws that are for the general good of the population (paying taxes, all traffic laws, civic laws, environmental protection etc.) must be obeyed totally.
Da’ar ul Islam; Place of Islam: This is the land of the Muslims where the rulers are Muslim and the Shari’ah is in force. This is a country where the only law is the Law of Allahﷻ and the ruler is the Khalifa. In such a place all the laws of the Shari’ah will apply and be enforced.
Should I ask you where such a place exists today? At ‘best’, if I can even use the word ‘best’, today we have Muslim countries which apply the Shari’ah sectionally. In some Muslim countries they apply the criminal law and punishments but in the same breath, they permit gambling, sale of alcohol and tobacco, and interest-based banking. In some Muslim countries they have differential laws for payment and benefits for migrant workers and citizens. Migrant workers have no rights, are underpaid, ill-treated, and have no recourse to the law to redress any injustice done to them.
At the same time, we stand on the Minbar and tell stories about the Golden Age of Islam, the Khilafa Rashida during which Sayyidina Ali bin Abi Talib (R) during his Khilafa, brought a case against a Jewish pawnbroker before the court. Qadhi Shuraykh, one of the most famous of the judges in Islam, refused to accept the witness of his son, Hasan bin Ali (R) and his freed slave and ruled against the Ameer ul Mu’mineen. Sayyidina Ali bin Abi Talib (R) walked away completely satisfied with the judgment. The Jewish man was astounded.
He asked Sayyidina Ali bin Abi Talib (R) why he was not unhappy though he had lost the case. Sayyidina Ali bin Abi Talib (R) told him that he was happy because the judge upheld the law of Islam. The Jewish man was so impressed that he accepted Islam and became his closest companion until his death in one of the battles of the time. We quote this and other such stories as examples of Islam’s justice.
Nice story. But tell me if this can happen in any Muslim country today. On the other hand, when George W. Bush Jr. was President, his daughter was given a citation for possession of alcohol as a minor (she was 19 at the time). Neither her father nor anyone else stopped that. Most recently the police chief of Tampa lost her job because she flashed her badge at the policeman who stopped her for a driving offence.
It is the hallmark of Islam that the law is supreme. That is why it is so important to ingrain this in our children. We live in countries where we benefit in multiple ways that we couldn’t hope to do in our own homelands. Here we are under the spotlight 24×7. This is an enormous opportunity to showcase Islam by our behavior. Let us use it consciously. When we park in handicap slots, or fire lanes, when we drive without seatbelts, or recklessly over speed, when we park illegally in other people’s spaces, we are not only breaking the law of the land, but we are committing a sin against our neighbors which will make us liable for punishment from Allahﷻ, even if we never get caught in this life. It is really that simple and that serious.
My brothers and sisters, the world listens with its eyes. They don’t care what we say until they see what we do. Our actions speak so loudly that they drown out the sound of our voice. When we park badly or drive badly or speak badly or deal with someone badly, it is not that transaction which is important but the message that we are giving to the world about who we are. Our actions are our signature. When we respect the law, we are saying, “I am trustworthy. I care for myself and my neighbors. I am someone you can rely on.” The opposite is equally true. We are saying, ‘Don’t trust me.’
In my consulting practice I screen people for senior leadership positions. I have done that for many companies including General Electric. I have written a book called ‘Hiring Winners’. My principle is: Hire Attitude, Train Skills. Behavior indicates attitude. You don’t have to say anything. Your actions tell me all that I need to know. That is why I would not hire someone who parked in a handicap slot or the fire lane, or drives recklessly or swears, no matter what his other qualifications are. If I can’t trust you, the rest doesn’t matter.