There is a small but growing number of Muslims who hold the view that political participation outside an ‘Islamic system’ is forbidden (haram). Such conclusions depend on a variety of antecedent conclusions: that sovereignty belongs to God; that Shariah rules must be imposed upon people by the state; that taking part in the governments of non-Muslim majority governments is also haram; and the like.

This site aims to set out in detail why these antecedent conclusions, and therefore the whole extremist-separatist project, are wrong. Such positions are inimical to the real interests of Muslims living in the modern global order; but they are also a clear departure from centuries of well-established religious thought. And in case anyone should suggest that during all those centuries of profound scholarship, the great thinkers whom Muslim tradition has preserved for us were far astray, the Islamist separatist position is just as patently a departure from the practice and world-view of the Prophet of Islam himself, God’s prayers and peace be upon him.


Stickers such as these have appeared in various cities across the UK in the lead up to the 2015 General Elections.
Stickers such as these have appeared in various cities across the UK in the lead up to the 2015 General Elections.

Voting is Shirk 2


Without wanting to give such ‘political parties’ too much prominence, groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir have played a part in popularising these erroneous ideas. Of course, it is debatable whether they have actually come any closer to their own objective of establishing a Caliphate (in their understanding, an autocratic, expansionist state, seeking to impose a single interpretation of Shariah on the people). But the guiding ideology is dangerous unless soundly rebutted.

For the purposes of this site, Tahrir is taken as the archetype of these ideas since, compared with other groups such as ISIL, they have been more detailed in their exposition of them and have a much more detailed narrative within which their ideas are situated. While their presentation of extremist ideas is the one most frequently referred to, the arguments apply a fortiori to most other Islamist separatist movements also.

This site aims to show that Tahrir’s ideas are far from being definitive. Tahrir openly state, and would have Muslims believe, that their conclusions on a whole range of issues are definitive and represent the only tenable view in Islamic legal orthodoxy. Moreover, they would seek to impress upon non-Muslims that their ideas are the pure realisation of Islam and that they are somehow representative of what the Prophet himself (pbuh) would advocate.

We hope that opinions from the classical jurists presented here will serve to challenge and rebut their claims as well as reinvigorate debate by presenting new or unfamiliar evidences related to political ideas. Also that, with time, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike are able to see that far from having religious ideals, the current Islamist rejectionist organisations have at their heart only ideological and political concerns.

We identify a number of erroneous positions advanced by Tahrir and similar movements, and set out exemplars from the classical tradition that show the inadequacy of their interpretation of the Quran and the Sunna. In essence, our argument can be summarised as follows:

  • Modern rejectionist movements project modern political categories backwards into sources that make no mention of them.
  • Traditional Muslim understanding of Sharia (Divine Law) has always been pluralistic, due to the human incapacity to definitively discern God’s will.
  • Early Muslims and the tradition show that governance is for securing society’s needs and interests, not for imposing interpretations of Sharia.
  • Early Muslims and the tradition show that full engagement in civic life with non-Muslims is recommended, and sometimes obligatory.
  • ‘Dar al-Islam’/ ‘Dar al-Harb’ are not intrinsic to scripture. It is enough for a Muslim that they are able to profess their faith in a given state, to call that country their home.

Are ‘Islamic’ political parties ordained in the Quran?

In the later 20th century, some Muslim groupings have advocated that there is a need to establish ‘Islamic’ political parties and that to establish such parties is an Islamic legal obligation in the same way as praying and charity are legal obligations (wajib). Since it is seen as an obligation, those not participating in the activities of such political parties are seen as blameworthy and negligent of the Shariah rules.

Aside from the religious jurisprudential problems with this argument, there is also an intellectual problem. That is, the whole notion of political parties is relatively modern and this itself rules out the possibility that establishing such parties is a religious obligation: how can something that wasn’t in existence at the time of the Prophet (pbuh) be the definite subject of a Quranic verse? Still more far-fetched is the claim that establishing ‘Islamic’ political parties is an obligation of similar standing to the ritual worships such as prayer. If one considers that political parties emerge from the modern nation state and also considers the vehement opposition of groups such as Tahrir to the idea of a nation state in the first place, one begins to see the inherent contradiction in their thought processes.

From a jurisprudential and religious perspective, this view is held only by a few groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and controversial recent figures such as Mawdudi.[1] Before these types of political groupings came into existence there was no comparable demand to establish them, and there is not a single classical jurist who held it an obligation to establish an Islamic political grouping or party.[2]

It is no surprise that no such political party existed in the early period of Islam or at any time in Islamic history. There is not one example of a party established on the basis of the Quranic verse cited as a justification for political parties:

Let there arise from among you a group of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining al-maruf (good) and forbidding al-munkar (wrongdoing). And it is they who are the successful. [3: 104]

There were different interpretations of this verse among the classical jurists and Quran commentators. There were some who said that it was an individual duty on each and every Muslim to ‘promote good in society’ and work against wrong. Most, however, said that if only a portion of the population did this, then that is sufficient and not all individuals are obliged to. Thus the burden of duty is on the community as a whole rather than the individual. Imam al-Jassas,[3] Imam Qurtubi,[4] and Imam al-Tabari[5] are all of this latter view.

Imam al-Jassas, the famous Hanafi scholar, comments on the verse as follows:

God has obliged the enjoining of good and forbidding of evil, that it is a communal obligation (fard kifayah) and not a duty on every individual. If some people perform this then the sin falls from the rest…. others have taken the view that it is a duty upon every individual, individually.[6]

Imam Abu Jafar al-Tabari, one of the earliest commentators on the Quran, says:

[As to God’s words] ‘Let there arise from among you, O believers, an ummah’ [this means] at least a group of the ummah… [As to] ‘calling to the religion of Muhammad and struggling with all effort… and they will be successful’ [this means] they will have paradise.[7]

There is no third opinion mentioned in the classical sources in relation to this verse. No obligation to form an Islamic political party, or even the idea of an Islamic political party, has ever been mentioned. This is in spite of Tahrir’s erroneous claim that this was precisely Imam al-Tabari’s position – namely that there was a duty to establish political parties. It is clear from the quote above that this is not the case. Saying that there should be at least some people that are undertaking to ‘enjoin good and forbid wrong’ cannot be likened to forming a modern political party so easily.

To conclude this section, it is safe to say that the Islamist political parties such as Hizb ut-Tahrir are alone in their view that the verse relates to establishing political parties.

Having established this, we may note that the only real precedent in Islamic history for a political group is the Khawarij,[8] an extremist faction that existed in early Muslim history and which has many parallels with groups such as ISIL and Tahrir.[9] Like their latter-day relatives, the Khawarij adopted the slogan ‘no judgement except God’s judgement’ and declared all the rulers of their day as being outside the pale of Islam (kuffar). They also believed they had the duty to remove these rulers by force or through militant activities if necessary. This last aspect is likewise one of the defining characteristics of terrorist groups like ISIL and neo-Kharijite groups like Tahrir. Betraying their modernist origins once again is the point that Tahrir make about ‘governments’ being ‘kufr’. Not even the Khawarij made this point because, contrary to what the Islamists say of that time, there was no such thing as a ‘government system’ for them to deride.

Jamal al-Din al-Asnawi describes the nature of the Khawarij perfectly:

Al-Khawarij: Those who permit the slaying of Muslims, and the taking of their wealth and families, based merely upon their interpretation and their apparent evidence (shubha). To us, they are transgressors (fussaq); though not to themselves.


[1] Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi mentioned the following in his book ‘Islamic concepts regarding religion and state’ under the chapter on: The obligation of enjoning the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar; “What is apparant from the partative in the ayah; ‘And let there arise out of you a group inviting to all that is khair (Islam).’ It does not mean that the Muslims are ordered to have a group that will undertake the obligation of da’wah to Islam, enjoining the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar, whilst it is not an obligation on the rest of the Muslims to undertake this task in origin. Rather its meaning is the obligation that the Ummah should not be at any time without -at least- one group that will guard the light coming from the lamp of truth and goodness, and struggle against the darkness of evil and dangers of falsehood. When no such group exists amongst the Muslims, then it is impossible for the Ummah to be saved from the curse and severe punishment of Allah (swt), let alone be the best Ummah brought forth for mankind.” This is the only reference provided with an actual quotation by HT for the formation of political parties or “groups” being necessary religiously. This is quoted by the senior HT member and ideologue Ahmed Mahmoud in his book Dawa ilal-Islam – ‘The Call to Islam’. An extract of the translation can be found at

[2] This should not be confused with the political differences that led to the creation of different political groupings and sects e.g. the early schism between groups later known as Shia and Sunni, which do not base themselves upon reading this verse nor describe themselves as a political party. Though in origin the term ‘Shia Ali’, did refer to those supporting Ali ibn Abu Talib, the son in-law of the Prophet’s candidacy for Caliphate.

[3] Imam Abu Bakr Ahmed bin Ali al-Razi al-Jassas al-Hanafi died in 980 CE, and is one of the foremost legal commentators of the Qur’an and belongs to the Hanafi madhab.

[4] Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Al-Qurtubi or Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Abu Bakr al-Ansari al-Qurtubi (1214 – 1273).

[5] Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838-923) is the first to compile a commentary of the Qur’an and is considered one of the most thorough in relating the opinions of the early Muslim jurists. As such his commentary has weight among Muslim scholars and masses alike.

[6] ‘Chapter on the duty to enjoin the good and forbid the evil’ ‘Ahkam al-Qur’an’, vol. 2,  p. 29, Dar al-Turath al-Arabi Beirut.

[7] Tafsir al-Tabari min Jami al-Bayan an-Tawil il-Qur’an, vol. 2, p. 300, 1994, Mu’assas al-Risala.

[8] Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad (T. J. Winter) says about them: “The other great dissident movement in early Islam was that of the Kharijites, literally, the seceders, so-called because they seceded from the army of the Caliph Ali when he agreed to settle his dispute with Muawiyah through arbitration. Calling out the Quranic slogan, “Judgement is only God’s”, they fought bitterly against Ali and his army which included many of the leading Companions, until, in the year 38, Imam Ali defeated them at the Battle of Nahrawan, where some ten thousand of them perished.”

He gives the following references in the footnote to the above point:

The Kharijites represent a tendency which has reappeared in some circles in recent years. Divided into many factions, their principles were never fully codified. They were textualist, puritanical and anti-intellectual, rejected the condition of Quraishite birth for their Imam, and declared everyone outside their grouping to be kafir. For some interesting accounts, see M. Kafafi, ‘The Rise of Kharijism’, Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Egypt, XIV (1952), 29-48; Ibn Hazm, al-Fisal fi’l-milal wa’l-nihal (Cairo, 1320), IV, 188-92; Brahim Zerouki, L’Imamat de Tahart: premier etat musulman du Maghreb (Paris, 1987).

Understanding the Four Madhabs at

[9] Imam Ahmad, Ibn Mājah, and al-Hākim recorded a hadīth from Ibn Abī Awfá, and Ahmad and al-Hākim also recorded it from Abū Umāmah that the Prophet said: “The Khawārij are the dogs of Hell.”

Is sovereignty given to Shariah or the rule of man?

The first Muslim scholar to formally write about an experience of European democracy was probably Rifa’ah Tahtawi (d. 1873), who in 1834, on his return from France, wrote of the virtues of French democracy. Tahtawi, an Imam, felt that Muslim societies could borrow experiences from the West if they did not directly contradict Islam. Another early figure was Khairuddin al-Tunisi (d. 1899) who stressed that political reform was necessary to rejuvenate the Arab world. Muhammad Abduh, the famous Egyptian scholar, argued that Islam is not a theocracy and that there is a clear distinction between the ‘religious’ and ‘worldly’. But some have argued that democracy constitutes a form of polytheism (shirk bi-Llah) by interfering with God’s authority to rule, as in their view the ultimate source of sovereignty (hakimiyyah), rests with God. As with the idea of political parties, the idea of ‘sovereignty’ ascribed to the Shariah is a new idea, and is not found in the works of the classical scholars.

Tahrir, and other more militant groups, use the slogan of ‘Sovereignty belongs to God’ as their ideological foundation. Tahrir believe that only they are able to understand Islam correctly in matters of governance and therefore only they can establish Dar al-Islam (the world, or ambit, of Islam) because the world as-it-is is seen as Dar al-Kufr or Dar al-Harb – a world of disbelief or war. However, what they really mean by ruling by God’s law is ruling by their interpretation of God’s law. Such ideas of the hakimiyya of God were developed by writers such as Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966), creating a view that democracy cannot be reconciled with Islam.

This idea, that men rule by claiming God’s rule, was warned against by the Prophet (pbuh) when he said:

If you… are asked to pronounce God’s ruling upon them, then do not pronounce God’s ruling upon them. But pronounce your [own] ruling (hukm-ik), for you do not know God’s ruling.[1]

In this hadith he forbade referring to everyday laws as ruling by God’s law. The fatawa (judgements) given by the scholars of Islam in response to this statement state that pronouncing human judgments as ruling by God’s law is either forbidden (haram) or detestable (makruh), and that any fatwa given by men is not God’s rule.

Imam al-Nawawi[2] comments that this ‘prohibition (of claiming to rule in God’s name) is one of precaution and it is discouraged [to do so].’ Imam al-Sarakhsi,[3] the great Hanafi jurist, explains the wisdom in the Prophet’s (pbuh) statement as intending to avoid sectarian political claims:

The benefit in this is that doubt in scholarly difference (shubhat ul-khilaf) is avoided by pronouncing upon them ‘our ruling’ and judgement according to ‘our opinion’. However, this is not avoided if we say we are pronouncing God’s ruling, as the mujtahid (jurist) could be correct, or incorrect. This is the benefit in using this wording.[4]

Al-Sarakhsi explains, if the decisions of men are accepted to be the decisions of men and not God’s rules it prevents one from thinking that one may be right and one wrong, and also the disputes that ensue from such a discussion. If the rules are seen as man’s rules then this lends to a more pluralistic outlook and difference of opinion or judgement is seen as normal and human. Disputes over differences are therefore regarded as less relevant and the potential polarization of society that can result is negated from the start. Therefore, rather than being the rule of God, ruling should be seen as the ‘rule of human beings’.

So: far from being an Islamic slogan, ‘ruling is for God alone’ is viewed by the scholars as, at best being potentially divisive and by some, such as Imam Muhammad bin al-Hasan al-Shaybani,[5] as forbidden (haram).[6] Again, the only precedent for this slogan in all Islamic history is from the Khawarij.

Scholars today have discouraged the formation of Islamist political parties precisely because of the sectarian conflict that they create. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah has stated it is instead preferable to form co-operative associations with mainstream political parties which share common values.[7]


[1] Al-Minhaj Shar’h Sahih Muslim bin al-Hajjaj, vol. 6, parts 11/12, p. 267. Dar al-Marifa, Beirut – Lebanon.

[2] Imam al-Nawawi (1255–1300) is one of the most famous scholars of the Shafii madhab. Legal ruling transmitted by him are often taken as the position of the madhab (school of thought) on the issue. He is author of the famous and most-often used commentary on Muslim’s hadith collection: Al-Minhaj Shar’h Sahih Muslim bin al-Hajjaj.

[3] Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Abi Sahl Abu Bakr al-Sarakhsi (from Sarakhs in Khorasan) was an Islamic scholar of the Hanafi school, who lived and worked in Transoxiana. His family background is unknown; he died around the year 1106 CE.

[4] Kitab ul-Mabsut, vol. 5, p. 1800, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut.

[5] Imam Muhammad Bin Hasan al-Shaybani died 850 was the foremost student of Imam Abu Hanifa, whom the Hanafi madhab is named after.

[6] Kitab ul-Mabsut, vol. 5, p. 1799, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut.

[7] Sana’aat ul-Fatawa wa Fiqh ul-Aqaalliyaat, Dar ul-Minhaj, 2007.

Are judgements only for God?

Tahrir and similar groups, like the Khawarij before them, take their slogan ‘no rule but God’s rule’ from the saying of Prophet Yusuf (pbuh) which is narrated in the Quran:

You worship besides Him only names which you have named (forged), you and your fathers – for which Allah has sent down no authority. The judgement/rule (hukm) is for none but Allah. He has commanded that you worship none but Him: that is the straight religion, but most men know not. [12: 40]

When Ibn Abbas – the famous companion, relative of the Prophet (pbuh), and gifted commentator on the Quran – was addressed by the Khawarij with the slogan ‘no rule but God’s rule’, he said:

Indeed, you are correct, there is no rule but God’s rule, and it was God that delegated ruling (hakkama) to people in marital discord, as it was God who delegated ruling to people in disputes. Know that if God had willed he would have ruled, and not left it to people… Therefore God has made the rule of men a protected sunnah.[1]

Imam Ali, the first man to accept Islam, the cousin of the Prophet (pbuh), and the fourth Caliph, explained the same point in eloquent words to the same group:

We did not delegate judgement (tahkim) to men, but delegated it to the Quran. Yet this Quran is only lines between two covers. It does not speak with a tongue but it requires an interpreter and so men speak on its behalf![2]

We can see that those most acquainted with the religion had no such problem of speaking about the rule of people or the rule of men. In fact they faced the opposite problem and were reluctant to use the phrase ‘God’s judgement’ at all.It would be a strange situation if the shallow use of verses by extremists was not critiqued, especially as there are clear examples of a rejection of such views by some of the most prominent companions of the Prophet (pbuh) from the early Islamic period.

We can see that in Islamic history the attitude towards rationality and man’s rule was different to the attitude presented by the extremists today. Imam Abd al-Karim Shahrastani[3] said ‘Those who believe in religious laws do also believe in the rational laws, but the reverse is not true.’[4] The assertion made is that those who follow divine religions, Muslims included, do not (and should not) reject what is rational or intelligent opinion out of hand. Imam al-Izz ibn Abdul Salam[5] elaborated in explaining how the rules of Islam are on the whole rational and seek human interests in this world. The rules of religious rituals, which are extremely few in number, are an exception to this and may defy rationalisation.[6]

Modern day scholars have echoed this and explained that the rational rules implemented in governance are to be followed and are not in conflict with the religion. For example, Sheikh Bin Bayyah[7] in his fatwa about using the courts in western countries[8] to resolve disputes, seek divorce and seek rights in general, explains the rational necessity of following these rules:

This is because when such a Muslim undertakes such a contract of marriage, he does so in a way that is in harmony with the laws (of that country) other than the Islamic rules… this necessitates that he accepts the consequences, a part of which are: this contract cannot be repudiated except by a judge… This is seen, from the perspective of the scholarly majority (jumhur), as being permitted in the Shariah. Namely delegating this to the Judge – be it by implication and not explicitly.

This is because of the fiqh principle which states ‘a well known custom is considered similar to a stipulated condition’ (maruf ‘urfan kal mashrut shartan).

Also, because executing laws, other than Islamic rules, is permitted [to] bring about interests (masalih) and deter harms (mafasid)… as is stated by more than one erudite scholar, including al-Izz ibn Abdul-Salam (of the Shafii school of law), Ibn Taymiyyah (of the Hanbali school), and Shatibi (of the Maliki school).[9]

The principle cited by Sheikh Bin Bayyah, namely ‘a well known custom is considered similar to a stipulated condition,’ is widely accepted among scholars. Ironically, it is also accepted by Tahrir. They have given a similar legal verdict[10] allowing the usage of secular courts to seek their rights – though in principle they reject them as ‘kufr’ along with democracy, human rights, and political participation. Tahrir have even used this point of view by attempting to claim their own political rights through the European Court in Strasbourg.[11]

Irrespective of theoretical disposition, it seems that nobody can argue with the rational necessity of accepting man’s law – not even the extremists. Moreover, we find that the classical Islamic view gives credence to this approach.


[1] As narrated by Imam al-Hakim in his Mustadrak ala Sahihayn vol. 2, p. 150 and cited by Ibn Qayyim and Ibn al-Jawzi and quoted from Sheikh Wahbah Zuhayli in his Athar al-Harb fil-Fiqh al-Islami, p. 763-764, Beirut – Dar el-Fikr, 3rd Edition, 1998.

[2] Cited by Sheikh Wahbah Zuhayli as above on p. 763.

[3] Tāj al-Dīn Abū al-Fath Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Karīm al-Shahrastānī (1086–1153) was an influential Persian historian of religions and heresiographer. His book, Kitab al-Milal wal-Nihal (lit. ‘The Book of Sects and Creeds’) was one of the pioneers in developing a scientific approach to the study of religion. Besides these, he was also a Shafii and Ashari scholar, philosopher and theologian.

[4] Muslim Sects and Divisions – The Section on Muslim Sects in Kitab al-Milal wa’l-Nihal Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Karim Shahrastani (d. 1153) translated by A. K. Kazi and J.G. Flynn Kegan Paul International published in 1984.

[5] Imam al-Izz ibn Abdul Salam (1181–1262) was a legal philosopher and imam in the Shafii madhab. He is often called the ‘Sultan of the Scholars’. He authored many works in jurisprudence, quran commentary, and fiqh but is probably best known for his masterwork on legal principles in Islam, Qawa’id al-ahkam fi masalih al-anam.

[6] al-Qawaid ul-Ahkam fi masalih ul-Anam, p. 13.

[7] Shaykh Abdallah bin Mahfudh ibn Bayyah (b. 1935) is a Mauritanian-born Maliki Islamic scholar and professor. He was born in Mauritania. Currently he teaches at King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia.

[8] For an extended discussion of this subject please see

[9] The Ruling of seeking a Divorce from a non-Muslim Judge, pp. 358-9 of Sana’aat ul-Fatawa wa Fiqh ul-Aqaliyaat, Dar ul-Minhaj, Saudi Arabia.

[10] – which refers to the source as Abdul Qadeem Zalloom the former leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir. This was distributed in a booklet as a question and answer from Hizb ut-Tahrir in the UK.



Governance isn’t about imposing interpretations of the Shariah; it’s about taking care of society’s needs and interests

Authorities can’t impose binding religious rulings on people

Authorities have power in temporal matters, not in fiqh or religious interpretations. Their role is not to define and impose interpretations of Shariah rules on people. Imam al-Qarafi explains that the authority of those in power is in temporal issues that need to be regulated to maintain social integrity. Their authority is not over religious interpretation and observance or on matters of fatawa (religious rulings and edicts). Most of these issues are subject to differing interpretations, so no authority can issue rulings which are binding on people. So they should only engage in making binding decisions in temporal matters for the sake of public interest and maintaining political order. These decisions are based upon what is in the publics interest (maslaha). Imam al-Qarafi[1] said:

Everything that is said by an official is no more than an opinion. If such a statement agrees with the view of the one who hears them, he may follow them; if not, he may ignore them and follow his own madhab (school of thought).[2]


Among their (the state or government’s) discretionary actions are their fatawa concerning the rulings on such things as religious observances and the like, eg, the licit or illicit status of some sexual arrangements; ritual purity of bodies of water; the ritual purity of bodies of objects; the obligation to wage jihad, etcetera. None of these pronouncements regarding these matters constitute binding decisions. On the contrary, anyone who does not believe these statements to be correct may issue a fatwa in opposition to that of this judge or Imam/leader. Likewise if they command us to perform an act which they believe to be good, or they forbid us to perform one which they believe to be evil, it remains the right of anyone who disagrees with them not to follow them… other than (where it is feared that) opposing the Imam will constitute an act of sedition…[3]


If the Imam says, “Do not hold Friday prayer without my permission,” this would not constitute a binding decree, even if the question of whether the Imam’s permission is required to hold the Friday prayer is a disputed one (mukhtalaf fih). Rather, it remains the right of the people to hold the prayer without the Imam’s permission, unless doing so constitutes an open display of defiance; an assault upon the lineaments of proper authority… Under these circumstances, it becomes impermissible to establish the prayer without the Imam’s permission – but it is for this reason [the open display of defiance] and not because this is a disputed question in which an authority has issued a binding decree (hukm).[4]

He also elaborates that:

…matters disputed in religious observances and the like [are precluded], because conflicts concerning the latter do not involve the interests of the world (masalih al-dunya); rather they arise in pursuit of the Hereafter. So the decisions of government officials (hukm al-hakim) have no place at all in resolving such matters.[5]

Ibn Taymia[6] goes further than al-Qarafi and says that not only are such rulings not binding but that it is forbidden to issue them. When he was asked about a situation where a ruler forbids a certain transaction on religious grounds and not on the basis of public interest, Ibn Taymia was adamant that such an action is absolutely not the right of government. He replied to the questioner:

He cannot prevent the people from this, nor from the likes of this, because it is from within the permissible ijtihad (ie, it is in an area over which independent legal reasoning may be exercised). Neither does he have any text from the Book, the Sunnah or the consensus [of scholars] to prevent this, especially when most of the scholars are of the view that the likes of this are actually permissible; and this is what has been acted upon by the Muslims in their lands in general. This is just like a judge, who is not allowed to negate the judgement of others in the likes of such issues, nor is it for the scholar or the mufti to compel the people to follow him in the likes of such an issue. This is why when al-Rashid sought from Malik that the people should all adopt his al-Muwatta’ in the likes of these issues, the latter prevented him from this and said:

“The Companions of Allah’s Messenger sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam spread out into different regions; so each community took the knowledge that reached them.”

…This is why scholars who wrote books about ordering the good and forbidding the evil – among the followers of al-Shafii and others – have stated: Indeed there is to be no forbidding with the hand in the likes of such issues of ijtihad, nor is it for anyone to compel the people to follow him in his view. However, he may speak about it with knowledge-based proofs. Whoever then sees the correctness of one of the two views, after it being clarified to him, may then follow it. But whoever follows the other opinion, then there is to be no forbidding him. And the likes of these issues are many…[7]

Ibn Taymia was himself the subject of persecution by the state because they wanted to impose their religious views on him and society. He responded:

The charges made against me do not relate to criminal acts and personal rights… that would justify judicial intervention! On the contrary, the present matter is an intellectual one of universal concern, like exegesis, hadith, fiqh, and the like. These matters include questions over which the community has agreed, as well as some over which they have disagreed. But where the community disagrees on the meaning of the verse, or a hadith, or the status of an assertion or request, the correctness of one view and the incorrectness of the other cannot be established by the ruling of a judge

Otherwise [for example] it would be possible to establish the meaning of God’s statement, “they shall wait three periods (thalathata quru’)… and the interpretation would be a ruling, binding on all people… there would be absolutely no probative value in the statement of a judge to the effect that one of these views was correct, the other incorrect.[8]

He explained his views on this issue a number of times and they can be found in his collection of religio-legal edicts (fatawa). He maintained that rulers could not specify the meanings of religious texts and impose those interpretations of Shariah so they are binding upon people.

The founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir, Taqiuddin al-Nabhani,[9] maintains that it is permissible for rulers to impose their interpretations of Shariah on people. However, his opinion is not, as one may expect, that it is obligatory (fard) to do so. He states:

…the basic rule/first principle regarding adoption [of an interpretation] is permissibility and it is not obligatory because the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, agreed that it is up to the Imam (leader) to adopt and it is not binding upon him to do so… adoption from the perspective of the Caliph is permitted and not obligatory upon him…[10]

Nabhani’s ‘intellectual’ (as opposed to religious) view on imposing religious rules on the population is that it is bad, and that the state should aspire to adopt as few rules as possible. Nabhani explains that the enforcement of religious rules and beliefs can often create societal problems. He states that this occurred in the past, citing sectarian conflicts when sects, such as the Mutazila, came to power and tried to enforce their doctrine or version of Islamic faith on the society as a whole and had an inquisition (mihna) among leading scholars.

So we find a situation where Tahrir maintain that a land can only be Islamic if the Shariah rules are imposed[11] but at the same time they also believe that it is not mandatory to adopt any of those same rules. Presumably, they are able to reconcile these two apparently contradictory aims. In any case, we can certainly conclude that it isn’t mandatory (fard) to implement religious rules on people, whether in the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence or in the (apparently contradictory) thought of Nabhani.

Historically scholars discouraged and forbade rulers from adopting and imposing religious rulings

Not only is it not obligatory, but we can see examples in the past when the scholars have tried to stop the imposition of Shariah rules, like in the case about Imam Malik mentioned by Ibn Taymia above. This case is also mentioned in the three narrations below. Each emphasises a particular aspect of the situation.

It was related that Abu Jafar al-Mansur said to Malik: “I want to unify the knowledge. I shall write to the leaders of the armies and to the rulers so that they make it law, and whoever contravenes it shall be put to death.” Malik replied “O’ Amir ul-mumineen (Commander of the Believers)! There is another way! Truly the Prophet (pbuh) was present in this community, he used to send out troops or set forth in person, and he did not conquer many lands but that Allah took back his soul. Then Abu Bakr (radiAllahu’anh) arose, and he also did not conquer many lands. Then Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) arose after the two of them and many lands were conquered at his hands. As a consequence he faced the great necessity of sending out the Sahabah (ra) of the Prophet (pbuh) as teachers and people did not cease to take from them, notable ulema from notable ulema, until our time. If you now go and compel [force] them from what they know to what they do not know, they shall deem it kufr! Rather, confirm the people of each land with regard to whatever knowledge is there and take this knowledge to yourself!”[12]

In another narration al-Mansur said to Malik:

“I have resolved to give the order, that your writings be copied and spread to every Muslim region on the face of the Earth, so that they may be put into practice exclusively and prevent other rulings being practiced. They will leave aside innovations and keep only this knowledge, for I consider that the source of knowledge is the narrated tradition of Madinah and the knowledge of its Ulema.” Malik replied; “O’ Amir ul-Mumineen! Do not do so! For people have already heard different positions, heard hadiths and related narrations. Every group have taken whatever came to them and put it into practice, conforming to it though others differed. To take them away from what they have been professing will cause a disaster! Therefore, leave people with whatever school they follow and whatever the people of each country choose for themselves”. Al-Mansur said; “I swear by my life! I would have commanded it if you would have let me!”[13]

Another narration states that ‘one of the khulafa (Caliphs)’ said to the noble Imam of the Holy Sanctuary:

“Work with me! For I have resolved to make the Muwatta law, in the same way Uthman (ra) made the Qur’an law for them.” Malik replied, “There is no way for you to do this! For the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) scattered east and west after his time and narrated from him; consequently the people of every region possess knowledge.”[14]

Halal and haram is not the same as legal and illegal

The outcome of the Islamist’s desire to implement the Shariah on people, is the equation of the halal and haram (religiously permitted and prohibited actions) with what is legal and illegal in temporal terms. In practice this means that the state would seek to punish people who had committed a ‘sin’ by doing something actually considered to be religiously prohibited (haram). Of course, this really means that the action is haram and blameworthy in the state’s view. As it did in the past, this would inevitably lead to tyranny over those who differed with the state in their religious views, for the reasons explained earlier by al-Sarakhsi and others.

Ibn Taymia explained that if the rulers permitted something, this did not equate with the action being halal. That is, the idea of an action’s legal permissibility (that is, in terms of temporal sanction) is different from the idea of the same action being halal. Similarly, the idea of an action’s legal prohibition (temporally) is different from the idea of the same action being haram. He makes it very clear that defining legal permissibility and prohibition must take into account the benefit and harm (maslaha and mafsada) that results from any such permission or prohibition. In this lengthy quotation from Ibn Taymia, it is clear that the religious prohibition of a matter by no means equates with it being forbidden by the state. Likewise it should also be clear that something lawful under the state (ie, there is no state censure or sanction) is not necessarily halal in religious terms.

We find that Umar ibn al-Khattab employed someone in public office who had an element of depravity, due to the preponderance of the maslaha (interest) of his labour. However, he managed, by his strength and justice, to make the man cease his corruption.

[Another] case in hand would be for someone to embrace the faith of Islam on condition that he prays only two prayers, as is related regarding a man in the time of the Prophet (pbuh).

So too would it be for someone who, having embraced Islam, drinks wine or undertakes other forbidden actions, which if prohibited to him may make him apostatise from Islam.

So there is a differentiating factor [to consider] for a ruler or scholar, between prohibiting [or not prohibiting] a thing to some people, when doing so entails a greater mafsada than the act of making it halal.

This will also vary from one situation to another: it may entail making the prohibition public so that it may be known and persuades people to abandon it; or become fearful of performing it; or in the hope people will abstain; or expressing indignation (inkar) towards the act; all of these (and other responses) will vary from situation to situation.

This is why we find the various different approaches taken by the Prophet (pbuh), whether it was him enjoining the maruf or forbidding the munkar (evil), waging jihad, exonerating the act, imposing a penalty, or being exacting or merciful.[15]

It is clear from this and from what has been cited previously that Ibn Taymia’s view is that permission and prohibition in the temporal sphere cannot be justified solely on the basis of the ruler’s understanding of the religious aspect (halal vs. haram) of the issue in question. Any permission or prohibition in the temporal sphere can only be legitimised through considering the public benefit and harm of the legal decision.

What may we conclude from all this? At the very least we can say that the issue is far from definitive (qati), against what Tahrir and others would have people believe. Both religious and practical consideration should be given to the public interest in creating legal permissions and prohibitions, rather than simply equating the two.

Imam al-Qarafi gave the demerits of equating halal/haram with legal/illegal from a slightly different perspective. He said that punishing people for what may be wrong has no use because in many cases the ‘blameworthy action’ had no worldly consequences and that the determining factor in punishment should be the worldly consequences of the action and not the religious dimension.[16] He also says that the disputation of religious matters is unconnected to temporal life and is related solely to the hereafter:

Conflicts concerning scriptural sources… and the like, arise strictly out of the pursuit of the affairs of the hereafter, not out of pursuit of any benefit that is to accrue to any of the disputing parties here and now. No; disputes concerning these matters are in the areas of religious observances. For the goal of each disputant is to establish, according to the Shariah, what is binding upon every legally responsible person (mukallaf) until the Day of Judgement, not simply to establish what is (binding) upon him only (here and now).[17]

Looking after the interests of people and society

…the interests of the Shariah (masalih al-Shariah) are the preservation of religions (in the plural), lives, intellects, lineage and property.

– Imam Qurtubi

To elaborate this further we can go the writings of Imam al-Izz bin Abdul Salam, the famous Shafii legal philosopher. He explains that adopting the people’s interests necessitates securing these interests and preventing what is contrary to them, even though that may involve stopping people from doing things that are religiously permitted, such as engaging in armed insurrection using a mistaken religious justification. Another example is the authorities preventing or permitting people drinking alcohol irrespective of the people holding a valid opinion either way.[18] The ruler may forbid people from drinking alcohol or he may permit it, with the point always being to look after the interests of the community in the best possible way irrespective of religious grounds for or against his view.

He may even permit some lesser harms to prevent greater harms or abandon some lesser interests in order to realize greater interests as the Messenger (pbuh) did and as was manifested in the revelation throughout the time of prophethood.[19]

In the same text Imam al-Izz bin Abdul Salam goes on to explain that you may forbid things which are halal yet not forbid things which are haram, as it is not in the interests of the people to do so. Therefore, taking part in the political process is not enforcing, or based upon enforcing, the Shariah but rather it is looking after society’s interests. On this basis, government is free to base its prohibitions upon interests rather than the position of madhahib (schools of thought) or religious rulings and is free to forbid things which are halal or not make things illegal (even those which are haram) based upon interests. This is in agreement with what has been cited from Ibn Taymia previously.

Furthermore, he says laws are passed based upon public interest and common values not specific to the Islamic faith because the public interests (masalih) are known rationally and customarily and are also known to people without revelation. The Imam explains this in his work stating:

The masalih (interests) and mafasid (harms) of this world and their means are known by necessity, experience, custom and careful conjecture (zann). If any of that is ambiguous, its meaning should be sought from it proper proofs. Anyone seeking to know how to distinguish between the masalih and the mafasid and which outweighs the other, must submit it to the test of reason on the assumption that the Shariah has not mentioned it. Let him build his judgements on it; he will discover that almost none of them violates the rules of the Shariah except the prescriptions and proscriptions that God has imposed on His Servants as merely devotional matters without revealing to them the relevant aspects of the maslaha or mafsada.[20]

Hence it is upon the basis of common values and interests that political participation can take place, across different religions and cultures.


[1] Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī or in full Shihāb al-Dīn Abū al-’Abbās Aḥmad ibn Idrīs (al-Sanhaji al-Bihinsi al-Misri) al-Qarāfī (1228 – 1285), was a Maliki jurist of Berber (Sanhaja) origin who lived in Ayyubid and Mamluk, Egypt. He was born in the Bahnasa district of Upper Egypt reportedly sometime around 1228. He was a Maliki Mujtahid Imam.

[2] Anwar ul-Buruq fi anwa al-Furuq, 4:48.

[3] Ihkam fi al-Tamyiz al-Fatawa an al-Ahkam wa Tassarrufat al-Qadi wal-Imam, Maktabat Matbuat Islamiya published in 1967, Allepo 182-82.

[4] Anwar ul-Buruq fi Anwa al-Furuq, 4:49.

[5] Ihkam fi al-Tamyiz, 23-24.

[6] Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn Taymia (1263–1328), was a Sunni scholar born in Harran, located in what is now Turkey, close to the Syrian border. He lived during the troubled times of the Mongol invasions. As a member of the school founded by Ibn Hanbal, he sought the return of Islam to its sources, the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

[7] Majmou al-Fatawa, 30: 79-80.

[8] Majmou al-Fatawa, 3:238-9.

[9] Taqiuddin al-Nabhani (1909–1977) was a teacher, judge and lecturer in Islamic sciences. He established the group Hizb ut-Tahrir in 1953. He was the grandson of the famous hadith scholar Yusuf al-Nabhani.

[10] Muqadima al-Dustur (Introduction to the Constitution or the Reasons That Make it Obligatory) Hizb ut-Tahrir, 1963.

[11] See the discussion in the later Chapter, ‘Is the land dar al-kufr even if we can manifest and practice Islam?’

[12] Narrated from Utba ibn Hamid al-Qari al-Dimashqi by Ibn Abi Hatim al-Razi in his introduction to Jarh wa al-Tadil, p. 29.

[13] Narrated from al-Waqidi by Ibn Sad in the supplemental volume of his Tabaqaat p. 440. Also from Zubayr bin Bakr by Ibn Abd al-Bar in his Intiqa p. 81.

[14] Narrated by Abu Nuaym in his Hilya ul-Awliyah ed. 6/331.

[15] Majmou al-Fatawa, 35: 31-32.

[16] al-Furuq part 4, supranote 224 at 181.

[17] Ihkam fi al-Tamyiz, p. 75.

[18] for a discussion about the different views see Ahkam ul-Quran, vol. 1, p. 322 of Imam al-Jassas.

[19] al-Qawaid ul-Ahkam fi Masalih ul-Anam, p. 120.

[20] al-Qawaid ul-Ahkam fi Masalih ul-Anam, p. 13.

The social contract – scholars’ views on covenants and imposing interpretations of Shariah

Conditions must be fair and equitable to all… The Jews of the Banu Auf are one ummah (community) with the believers (Muslims)…

The document of Medina (Meethaq ul-Madinah)

The document of Medina (Meethaq ul-Madinah) was a social contract in Medina during the time it was governed by the Prophet (pbuh). The Meethaq contains many examples which undermine the assertions made by Tahrir and other Islamists about the nature and conditions of ruling. The Islamists are keen to deny[1] the permissibility of a ruling which does not impose interpretations of Shariah. Moreover, they state that this is a definitive matter. This is in spite of the Meethaq and the commentary of scholars, such as Ibn Taymia, being contrary to their opinion.

The position arrived at in classical fiqh is that it is’ possible to make political agreements where the authority doesn’t enforce even the most basic aspects of the Islamic rules and laws (such as prayer) upon people. This results in the acceptance of individuals practising Islam while only manifesting some of its religious observances. This is clear in the Prophet’s (pbuh) example of making agreements for the Meethaq.

The following is a translation from Imam Shawkani’s[2] Nayl ul-Awtar and commentary upon Muntaqa al-Akhbar, of Majid ul-Din Ibn Taymia the senior[3] (also of the Hanbali school), explaining the above two points and citing Imam al-Khattabi’s[4] agreements and disagreements with his view:[5]

It is reported on the authority of Asim al-Laythi that a man amongst them said that he went to the Prophet (pbuh) (may Allah bless and grant him peace) and agreed that he would embrace Islam on the condition that he would pray two prayers, and he (pbuh) accepted this from him. (Narrated by Ahmed)

It was mentioned in another narration that he would not pray but a single prayer, and that the Prophet (pbuh) accepted that from him.

Wahb is reported to have said: I asked Jabir regarding what transpired at Thaqeef when they gave the bayah (pledge) and he said: they placed the condition (shart) on the Prophet (pbuh) that there would be no sadaqa (mandatory alms) upon them, and no jihad. I heard the Messenger (pbuh) himself say: They will give the sadaqa and they will fight jihad! (Narrated by Abu Dawud, Hadith number 3210)

Anas reported: Verily the Messenger (pbuh) said to a man, “Embrace Islam” and he responded, “I find myself somewhat averse/forcing myself (ajidunee kaarihaan)”. He (pbuh) said, “Embrace Islam, even so (in kunta kaarihaan)” (Narrated by Ahmed, Hadith number 3211).

In these hadiths – thanks to the Prophet’s clear accession to the conditions (pbuh) – there is evidence of the permissibility of taking the bayah (pledge of allegiance) and the acceptance of Islam from a non-Muslim even if he stipulates invalid (batil) conditions, or an element of aversion. Abu Dawud was silent (i.e. he viewed it as authentic because he stated that anything he remained silent about in his Sunan is at least acceptable [Hasan]) and al-Mundhiri said, regarding the hadith that we have mentioned, that Wahb is Wahb ibn Munbih and its isnad (chain of narration) is authentic (Arabic. la bas bih – lit. no problem with it).

Abu Dawud has also narrated the hadith of al-Hasan al-Basri from Uthman bin Abi’ al-Aas that, “When (the tribe of) Thaqeef presented themselves to the Messenger, Allah bless him and grant him peace, he met them in the Mosque, so as to soften their hearts. They placed conditions on him that they should not be summoned, nor should their wealth be subject to the tenth, and that they would not lower their heads by bowing. So the Messenger, peace be upon him and his family, said: “It is granted, that you will not be summoned, and your tenth will not be taken, but there is no good in a religion without bowing (ruku’)”. Al-Mundhiri said: It was said (“qeela” – used in this way because such a view is not accepted by al-Mundhiri) that al-Hasan al-Basri did not ‘hear’ from Uthman bin Abi’ al-Aas; what is meant by not being summoned is being requested to come for jihad and going out for it (an expedition).

And his saying ‘tenth’, is referring to the ‘tenth’ of the property that is taken as sadaqa (mandatory alms).

And his saying ‘not bowing’… the basic meaning of ‘bowing’ is a man standing in the position of ruku’, and what was intended by that was that they would not pray (make the mandatory ‘salat’).

Al-Khattabi said: ‘it is possible to opine (there is shubha) that he was magnanimous to them regarding jihad and sadaqa because these two obligations (wajibatayn) were not immediately obligatory, as alms are due only after the passing of a year, and jihad is only obligatory if you are surrounded (by an enemy force); as for the salat, this is set-determined (ratibah) and therefore it is not permitted to place a condition to abandon it.’

In contradiction to this view is the hadith of Nasr bin Asim mentioned in this Chapter. For it expressly mentions that the Prophet (pbuh), may Allah bless him and grant him peace, accepted from a man that he would pray only two prayers or one prayer, depending on the different narrations. The problem remains though in the saying (of the Messenger) in the hadith: “there is no good in a religion without bowing”. The apparent meaning (zahir) indicates there is no goodness in someone embracing Islam on the condition that he doesn’t pray. [However] it is possible to say: the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and grant him peace) negation of goodness does not indicate the impermissibility (adam ul-jawaz) of someone accepting Islam on condition that they don’t pray. The fact he, Allah bless him and grant him peace, did not accept this condition from Thaqeef, does not necessarily mean an absolute prohibition.

For this reason scholars have seen that it is acceptable within Islam to form social contracts, build society upon this premise, and unify people; as it states in the document (which was negotiated by the Prophet himself (pbuh)!) Muslim and non-Muslim tribes formed one people with shared interests and conducted their affairs through mutual consultation.

A recent example of this was when the conservative religious scholars and leaders of the Deobandi ulema argued that the Muslims and Hindus of India formed a single nation, unified together, and did not require a separate ‘Islamic State‘ in Pakistan. Mawlana Hussain Ahmed Madani, in his address at the 5th Conference of Jamiat Ulema at Kokanada in January 1924 said:

Hindu-Muslim unity is a pre-requisite for freedom in India. It is the religious and political duty of the Muslims that they should work for the freedom of India and continue this struggle until the government (at the time British Colonial Government) accedes to their demand.[6]

He also explained the following about his vision of how Muslims could see such a development of society and politics in India, asserting in a response to a question from Mohammed Siddiq Sahab that:

The system of India will be democratic. A president will be elected for a specific period. He may be a Muslim or a non-Muslim. But he will not have kingly power.[7]

The Mawlana’s view was that as long as the rights of the Muslims were secure – political, economic, social, or religious – the Muslims could reside in harmony with the Hindus as a single nation sharing a single patriotic tie, of nationhood. He authored the famous piece Islam aur Qaumiyat Mutahaddidah (translated as ‘Composite Nationalism and Islam’). In this text he explained that the Muslims in a manner similar to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) could form a single nation and community as people in harmony, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

This was the precedent set in Medina where the Muslims, polytheists, and Jews were mentioned as a single ummah (community/people). They were all signatories to the document of Medina, giving them all autonomy to solve their own problems, live by their own rules and laws, resolve disputes together, live together, and have a common peace.

The document of Medina (the Meethaq again) states:

Conditions must be fair and equitable to all… The Jews of the Banu Auf are one Ummah (community) with the believers (Muslims)… the Jews must bear their (military) expenses and the Muslims theirs. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation… The wronged must be helped… The contracting partners are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib (Madinah). If they are called to make peace and maintain it they must do so… the Jews of al-Aus, their freedmen and themselves have the same standing with the people of this document in pure loyalty from the people of this document.[8]


[1] A denial by Tahrir, and its current leader Ata Abu Rishta, can be found on websites of a member of Tahrir at the following URL:

It is in the form of an answer to a question from a member. The answer attempts to quote verses of general meaning and avoid the very specific evidences. But it then goes on to specify that the particular narrations are specific to the Prophet. Ironically Tahrir recognizes the principle which would utilize the narrations specifically and not the general texts, based upon the hermeneutic principle, “Hamal al-khass ala’a al-am”/”We apply the specific over the general” – see Shakhsiya Islamiya volumes 2 and 3 where this is applied and discussed extensively by an-Nabhani the founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

[2] Imam Muhammad al-Shawkani (1759–1834) was a prolific author and scholar, regarded as a great Hadith master and specialist in usul and fiqh.

[3] Abu al-Barkat Majid ad-deen ibn Taymiyyah al-Hanbali (d. 1255) was a reputable teacher of the hanbali school of Fiqh and the grandfather of the more well known, but controversial Taqi al-Din cited earlier sharing the same view that is being advocated here.

[4] Imam Abu Sulaiman al-Busti al-Khattabi al-Shafii who died 388 hijri (988 CE) was considered a major Imam of the Shafii school and respected across different schools.

[5] ‘The Validity of Islam with a Fasid (irregular) Condition’, vol. 4, p. 210, Dar al-Kutub al-’ilmiyah Beirut; Nayl ul-Awtar min Ahadith Sayid al-Akhbar Sharh Muntaqa al-Akhbar by Imam Muhammad bin Ali al-Shawkani on the collection of hadith collated by Majid al-Din Ibn Taymia (the grandfather and judge, Hadith number: 3209).

[6] Dr Abu Salman Shahjahanpur (1987) Shaikh al-Islam-Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani-ek Siyasi Mutallah p. 103 Majlis Yadgal-Shaikh-ul-Islam, Pakistan.

[7] Farhat Tabassum, ‘Deoband Ulema’s Movement for the Freedom of India’, p. 143, Manak publications.

[8] A. Guillaume The Life of Muhammad – A translation of Sirat Rasul Allah, pp. 231–233, Oxford Press.

Taking part in governance within non-Muslim majority countries

It is well known that Tahrir and others say that taking part in governance within non-Muslim majority countries is haram.

This is in complete contrast to scholars from the four canonical schools of legal thought. Zamakhshari (Hanafi), Ibn Taymia (Hanbali), Qurtubi (Maliki), and Mawardi (Shafii) have all discussed this and stated its permissibility.

What should we make of the fact that all four Sunni schools apparently ‘missed’ the ‘definitive (qati) fact’ that it is ‘haram to participate in the political systems in non-Muslim majority countries? This is the implication of Tahrir’s claim that it is’ haram. They even go so far as to say that it is kufr. Well, if it is a matter of kufr and iman, then surely Tahrir have different conclusions about aqeedah (basic theology) from those of the four Sunni schools?

The Islamists give a commentary on a verse from Surah Yusuf in the Quran to make their point that participating in government is haram, and conclude that ‘judgement is for God alone’. As has been demonstrated, the same was misconstrued by the Khawawrij, but also by the likes of Qutb, Tahrir and other Islamists.

Once again, we see that the Islamists are at variance with some impressive forebears. Scholars from within the tradition cited the example of the Prophet Joseph (pbuh) from the very same chapter to disprove the claim, long before the Islamists themselves made it.

The story tells how the Prophet Joseph (pbuh) himself requested a position under a Pharaoh of a different religion to himself. The verse is:

He said: Make me responsible for the store houses in the Earth, verily I am trustworthy and knowledgable. [12: 55]

What did the previous scholars say about this verse? Imam Qurtubi comments:

Some of the people of knowledge said: In this verse there is what permits someone of nobler stature working for a flagrant sinner, or taking a position in a non-Muslim authority on condition that he is not merely satisfying the random desires and wishes of the fajir (flagrant transgressor), but rather he is performing what he is tasked to do according to his general discretion. Some said this was a special dispensation for Joseph, and is not permitted today. The first is what is correct if conditioned by what we have mentioned. God knows best.

(Qurtubi continues:) Mawardi said: If the master/ruler is a tyrant people have differed on the permissibility of taking a ruling position and are of two views: one group permitted it if he can act in accordance with the truth in what he has been entrusted with because Joseph was a ruler for Pharaoh. And consideration is for the person’s actions and not for the actions of others. The second group did not permit it… explaining that the Pharaoh was just and righteous unlike Moses’s Pharaoh… What is correct is that it is permitted absolutely (Mawardi)[1]

In this excerpt, Qurtubi mentions the opinion of Imam Mawardi in addition to his own view. Mawardi covered the subject of this verse in his extensive treatise on government, al-Ahkam al-Sultaniya wal-Wilayat al-Diniya. As Qurtubi reminds us, Mawardi emphatically states the absolute permissibility of participating in this type of government.[2] The irony of this is that Tahrir liberally quote Mawardi as supporting their view.

Imam Qurtubi explained that the chapter documenting the story of Joseph explains for us the fundamental aims of the Shariah and that the teachings of Islam are universal and not restricted to what is contained within the revelation. It is for him an indisputable axiom of Islam:

This is a principle (evidence) for the statement that the interests of the Shariah (masalih al-Shariah) are the preservation of religions (in the plural), lives, intellects, lineage and property. So everything that achieves something from these matters is an interest (maslaha); and everything that damages an interest being realized is a mafsada (corruption) and the opposite of a maslaha. And there is no dispute (khilaf) that the aim of the Shariah is to guide people to their worldly interests.[3]

Zamakhshari comments on the verse as follows:

If it is said: how can it be permitted to become a ruler under the authority of a non-Muslim, following him, being under his authority, and obedient to him? I reply: it has indeed been narrated from Mujahid that he became Muslim, but Qatada states (conversely) it is an evidence that it is permitted for someone to take a position of governance in a tyrannical authority. Indeed many of the salaf (early generation of pious Muslims) took up positions of judiciary from many transgressors! Indeed when a prophet or a scholar knows that there is no way to rule by the decrees of God, or to stop oppression, except by being established in authority through a non-Muslim king or a fasiq (a flagrant sinner) then he is to stand alongside and be prominent with him. Some have said (qeela – ie, though it is weak) that the King took counsel from him and did not disagree with him in anything.[4]

Ibn Taymia was asked a question regarding a worse situation, where someone in authority was a tyrant and an oppressor and usurped people’s wealth. Should someone who has some ability to influence the situation and make it less bad, leave office, or stay in power? His response was:

Such a man is like a guardian of orphans, a trustee of waqf (religious trust), a partner in commerce or any such individual who acts on behalf of others by virtue of his guardianship or by proxy: he is like them in their payment of some of the money of their principals of clients to an unjust ruler if this is the only way to serve the interests of their clients. This man will be doing right, not wrong, and what he gives the rulers includes what is given to tax collectors in real-estate tax and sales tax, as anyone who makes a transaction for himself or on behalf of others in these countries has to pay these taxes, and if he does not collect the tax, while he cannot see to the affairs of his subjects without it, the interests of his subjects, and his subjects themselves, will be harmed.

As for those who opine that such a situation should not be allowed to exist in order not to accept a little injustice, if they are followed by people, the injustice and corruption will certainly increase, for they are like travelers stopped by bandits: if they do not pacify the bandits with some of their money, the bandits will kill them and take all their money. If anyone says to these travelers, “It is illegal to give the bandits any of your money”, he means to keep that little money he is advising them not to pay, but if they follow his advice they will lose that little money and all their money as well. Nobody in his right mind would give such an advice, let alone that a religion ordain it, for Allah the Almighty sent down His Messengers to establish, attain public interests and eliminate and curb evils as much as possible.

If such a man who tries to collect as little tax as possible, and spares the people much more evil by so doing, and can do nothing else, leaves his offices, he will be succeeded by someone else who will collect all the tax and spare the people nothing. Such a man will be rewarded for what he does, and will not be punished (for that) in this world or in the Hereafter.

Such a man is like an orphan’s guardians and a waqf’s trustees who can do their duty only by payment of unjust tax imposed by the government, for if any of them abandons his job he will be replaced by someone who will aggravate the injustice. Therefore, their stay in office is permissible, and they will be committing no sin by paying such taxes. Their remaining in office may even be a duty (wajib) they have to discharge.[5]

He said in another text:

Civilisation is rooted in justice, and the consequences of oppression are devastating. Therefore, it is said that Allah aids the just state even if it is non-Muslim, yet withholds His help from the oppressive state even if it is Muslim.[6]


[1] Al-Jami al-Ahkam ul-Qur’an, part 9, vol. 5, p. 151, Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Ansari al-Qurtubi Dar el-Fikr, Beirut Lebanon.

[2] For Mawardi’s own explanation of the issue see al-Ahkam al-Sultaniya wal-Wilayat al-Diniya, p. 145, Dar ul-Kitab al-Arabi Beirut, 1990, by Imam Abu’l Hasan bin Muhammad bin Habib al-Basri al-Baghdadi al-Mawardi.

[3] Al-Jami al-Ahkam ul-Qur’an, part 9, vol. 5, p. 143, Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Ansari al-Qurtubi Dar el-Fikr, Beirut Lebanon.

[4] al-Kash-shaf, of Imam Muhammad bin Umar al-Zamakhshari, p. 482.

[5] ‘The Permissibility Of Assuming Public Office In An Unjust State, If The Occupant Would Alleviate Some Of The Injustice Or Curb Evil And Corruption’ from the Majmou al-Fatawa.

[6] Letters From Prison, p. 7, Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymia.