Legislation in Islam
Today, we intend to dwell in the Quran to see how God presented reasons for being the only candidate eligible to prescribe ideals, values, principles and laws for mankind. Happily, this is an area that has been extensively covered by the Quran and scholars of Tawheed. It will thus present little headache except the attempt to put it in the continuum of argument that we started last week.
We need to go back a little and bring forward from our previous article what we said were the pre-requisites of legislation. Among several others presented in the Quran, we only mentioned six: creation, knowledge, wisdom, justice, power, and reverence. As we saw, man on his own is still far away from understanding his own nature and that of the universe. We also saw how he woefully failed to be a just lawgiver due to his numerous shortcomings. This has pushed him to the brink of disaster today. He needs to be salvaged from his trappings. God is extending His rope of safety. Others before held unto it and were saved: “Ye were upon the brink of an abyss of fire, and He did save you from it..”(3:103)
This is not the first time man has headed towards self-destruction. What makes our case a bit different is that the modern western society that has hamstrung humanity under its armpit is not humble enough to look up to the heaven for guidance. It does not even recognize that a heaven exists. It is rather absorbed in the arrogance of its discoveries and achievements. Speaking about the destiny of man, Jacques Monad contemptuously said: “His destiny is no where spelled out, nor is his duty. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.”
The starting point is creation. God has repeatedly asserted that His position as the creator of the universe is the first thing that entitles Him to obedience (or worship in other words) by his creatures. He called mankind saying
“O mankind! Worship your Lord, Who hath created you and those before you..” (2:21). Some answered the call. Others refused. They accepted that God does exist but failed to recognize Him as the only lawgiver, the only Lord to worship. Then God asked: “Attribute they as partners to God those who created naught, but are themselves created.?” (7:191)
God has often questioned the logic of a man attempting to find guidance out of his own devices. In one instance he coined a parable saying,
“O mankind! A similitude is coined, so pay ye heed to it: Lo! those on whom ye call beside God will never create a fly though they combine together for the purpose. And if the fly took something from them, they could not rescue it from it. So weak are (both) the seeker and the sought!” (17:73)
The bottom line is that the creator is in the best position to command and guide what he created. The manufacturer of an automobile for example is in the best position to write its manual. This is made explicit in the following verse:
“Lo! your Lord is God who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, then mounted He the Throne. He covereth the night with the day, which is in haste to follow it and has made the sun and the moon and the stars subservient by His command. His verily is all creation and commandment. Blessed is God the Lord of the Worlds!” (7:54)
Whenever we look at the “kingdom above and the darkness below” as Monad would say, there is every evidence that man is no where close to creating anything but he is himself created. What else but arrogance would prevent him from abiding by the manual of his manufacturer?
Knowledge and Wisdom
In a number of places God has linked knowledge to creation. He said, “He created all things and is Aware of all things” (6:101). In another place he asked: “Should he not know what he created? And He is the Subtle, the Aware.” (67:14).
God has paired His Knowledge with other divine qualities in different places. But in the area of legislation He has on several occasions paired it with His Wisdom. It appeared when details of legislation on inheritance were spelled out (4:11), in the distribution of zakat (9:60), in marriage (4:24,26) and in the administration of the Sacred Mosque (9:28)
I have always marveled into the sequence in which God mentions His attributes in the Quran. One thing becomes clear. Whenever the discussion does not involve a contention, like in all the verses referred to above, Knowledge is placed before Wisdom. But in The Cattle, which engaged the polytheists in strong contentions regarding legislation on what is lawful and unlawful, Wisdom was placed before Knowledge. Let us just see an instance:
“And they (polytheists) say: Such cattle and crops are forbidden. No one is to eat of them save whom we will – in their make-believe – cattle whose backs are forbidden, cattle over which they mention not the name of God. (All that is) a lie against Him. He will repay them for that which they invent. And they say: That which is in the bellies of such cattle is reserved for our males and is forbidden to our wives; but if it be born dead, then they (all) may be partakers thereof. He will reward them for their attribution (of such ordinances unto Him). Lo, he is Wise, Aware.” (6:139-40)
We have earlier said that wisdom in legislation should ensure that there is no incongruity – or what in modern dialectics is called contradiction – between its various aspects. For example, anytime man writes constitution he will claim that it is above all laws. But give it a year or two. The same lawgivers will discover numerous contradictions. The whole nation will start clamoring for a revision. So evident is the futility of such an exercise that some countries like England has no constitution.
Such contradictions are not found in the Quran. Quranic laws are balanced. It is one point on which God has challenge mankind. He said:
“Will they not ponder on the Quran? If it had been from other than God they would have found therein much incongruity.” (4:82)
Another requirement of a lawgiver is the ability to do justice, the sole objective of law. Mankind is composed of people of different nations, races, genders and so on. To strike at a balance between them is a Herculean task for us mortals. How many times do we hear legislators and judges saying that their ‘hands are tied’ or they are complying with ‘orders from above’? Exalted is God above these shortcomings. He is above any ‘above’ and no rope can tie his hand.
God has certainly shown in the Quran that the whole of mankind is His. When He will make an important declaration to what will benefit humanity, he makes it universal. He will start with statements like “O mankind” and “O My servants.” When it is a law that is peculiar to Muslims, he will then narrow the call to “O ye who believe.” Throughout the Quran, no where have we heard Him saying “O Arabs” as He used to do in earlier Books that were meant for specific nations. The message of Islam is universal. Thus he said: “And We have not sent thee (O Muhammad) save as a bringer of good tidings and a warner unto all mankind; but most mankind know not.” (34:28). We are all His creation, the best of us in His sight is the best in conduct (49:13).
The Quran has held that justice does not always mean equality. Of course everybody is equal before the divine law and people must be given equal opportunities in life regardless to their sex, religion, race, etc. But where such differences translate into difference in ability, then responsibility and benefit must also differ. If equality in everything were the wish of God, He would have cloned mankind from the somatic cells of Adam. That will make us appear the same in outlooks, ability and so on. But in His wisdom, He chose to make us different in gender, intelligence, physical appearance, emotional stability and so on. Justice here would naturally require arriving at a balance between two things: ability and responsibility. Everybody should be accorded responsibility according to his ability (which will include merit and earning). In terms of benefits outside personal efforts, each is accorded according to his responsibility. In the words of the Quran, “No one should be charged beyond his capacity.” This fundamental principle of Islamic social justice is repeated in several places in the Quran whenever a law is given on matters that are unequally distributed between us.
Let me take a hard example that is a bone of contention today. In inheritance, God has allocated to women half the share of men. Libertarians feel that God here is not fair. Glory is to Him! They argue that it should be shared equally. In all fairness and respect to these sisters of ours, I must say that it demonstrates how shallow, selfish and unjust man could be as a lawgiver. The issue must be put in the proper context of Islamic provisions of social responsibility. Both men and women are allowed to earn. But man is obliged to greater financial commitments as a father, husband, possibly a son of aged parents and a brother to many. Our sisters on the other hand have no such obligations in the presence of a man either as a husband, a father and a brother. More important to balancing the equation is the fact that a woman draws inheritance from two or three strong sources: from her father and her husband, sometimes even from her brother. This makes wealth last longer in the hands of women in an Islamic society while it quickly vanishes from men due to huge recurrent social obligations.
Humanity has a lot to learn from Islamic law of inheritance. It is the epitome of social justice. It has effectively served as a decisive tool in spreading wealth through generations. It has made sons and daughters, parents and children feel the same sense of belonging to the deceased. Each has an equal share within the portion allocated to his/her gender and degree of proximity in kinship and marriage. We are living witnesses to how wealth disappears after the death of the owner because it has been redistributed in the society. No doubt God has the right to say at the end of the verse that He is “All Aware and All Wise.”
The attribute of perfection (kamalah) guarantees the independence of the lawgiver from shortcomings that will influence his judgement. The judgement of man is influenced by his degree of intelligence, knowledge – acquired or experienced – social and economic interests, etc. This infallibility leads to injustice and subjugation of one class over another. Sometimes man tries to absolve himself from this subjugation by exterminating his subjugators as we have seen in the French and Bolshevik revolutions. But immediately the liberator became another oppressor. Napoleon Bonaparte and Lenin were classical examples that proves the fallibility of revolutionaries.
But exalted is God above imperfection. He does not need a shelter to make him compromise justice by taking a bribe in form of a housing or furniture loan. He does not need to eat, drink or breathe. He does not have a wife or a child. He is not limited in intelligence since he is the founder of creation. Thus the Prophet was instructed to ask: “Shall I choose for a protecting friend other than God, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, Who feedeth and is never fed?” (6:14). So He can afford to do justice to all without the fear of losing anything.
The power to enforce the law is also essential as we mentioned earlier. It is both the power to punish and the power to forgive, for both could be difficult. It could be the power to treat people equally regardless of their class or positions. The violator may be an individual, a group, a nation or mankind as a whole.
This is something beyond the ability of man. In human laws, there are sacred cows – people who live above the law. In most cases these are those involved in the formulation of the laws, its implementers or its enforcers. They will break it and nothing happens. The ‘law’ will even give them immunity. Kai! Jahiliyya could be funny.
God does not need these because His Sovereignty can neither be threatened by anything above nor sabotaged from something below. That is why wherever He talks about His Sovereignty (Mulk), He will complete the verse or the segment of discussion with the emphasis that He is Able (Kadeer) to do all things. “Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Sovereignty, and He is Able to do all things.” (67:1)
The fact that He does not physically descend on individual violators does not mean that He is weak or unable. He forgives most of our iniquities and punishes only a few, after giving us many chances to repent. “If God took mankind to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a living creature on the surface of the earth..”(35:45)
A way of punishing us directly is to afflict us with misfortunes and disasters individually or collectively. “Whatever of misfortune striketh you, it is what your right hands have earned. And He forgiveth much.”(42:30). “And how many a community revolted against the ordinance of its Lord and His messengers, and We called it to a stern account and punished it with dire punishment..”(65:8)
A lawgiver without power is not sovereign but a toothless tiger. The law will not last. Where are the laws made by the great oppressors of the twentieth century? As soon as they left power, their laws followed them. While they were in power, they could not withstand the slightest opposition and brutally used excessive force to contain it.
Finally, apart from fear of punishment, a law would hold due to reverence. Last week we said that this could be due to indebtedness to past favors, or to the indispensability of the law giver to the present, or in anticipation of His reward in the future.
God has presented these conditions in various places in the Quran. Man is indebted to Him for creating him in the best of forms (95:4) and for endowing him with intelligence and senses of hearing and sight (27:78); for making the earth conducive for habitation (20:53). “So blessed is God, the Best of creators!” (23:14). For the present, He is responsible for our living and all we require of food, shelter and other provisions (16:80-81). He has subjugated the earth with its creatures, rivers, valleys, plains and mountains to our disposal (45:13). Finally, He has promised us another life in the Hereafter. He will then reward in abundance whosoever listened and obeyed in the here-and-now.
“This message is embodied in the words Abraham used to described his Lord to his people: “(God) Who created me, and He doth guide me. And who feedeth me and watereth me. And when I sicken, then He healeth me, and who causes me to die, then giveth me life (again), and who, I ardently hope, will forgive me my sin on the Day of Judgment.” (26:78-82)
Who, other than God, is man so indebted to? None! That is why ideologies come and go. But religion stays. The reclamation by religion of domains it earlier lost to secularism, as mentioned by Dr. Ibrahim, is a natural. Man has to return to nature. He is part of it. He has been created from the earth and when he dies he is recycled through it. So he has an organic relationship with nature. Are our crops not growing out of the flesh and bones of our ancestors?
One would be baffled to hear Muslims like Balarabe Musa, who are doyen of ‘progressive’ politics in Nigeria, openly declaring that “shariah is above the constitution.” To be honest I was myself shocked at the level of courage because according to the secular laws of this country, such statements are regarded treasonable. But upon deep reflection I suddenly realized that the ex-governor was speaking just as a normal Muslim.
Democracy claims to give people the right to form laws and governments of their choice, for themselves. Muslims were thus faced with a choice. Do they continue with secular laws or go ahead to adopt divine principles, values and laws of the Quran?
On one side, they looked at secular laws and found them arising from a source that is weak, shallow, many times foolish, unjust and require a lot of brutality and susceptible to gross abuse. They have tasted them for a century. They turned to the other side and examined divine principles and values of the Quran. They saw them coming from their Creator and Sustainer, Who has no need to oppress them and to whom they will certainly return. They did not hesitate to choose the divine, looked at the heaven above and prayed: God save us from secular laws.