Obeying rulers and scholars in Ma'ruf to set things right
Question 1: What is meant by obeying those in authority in the Ayah (Qur’anic verse)? Does the term refer to scholars or rulers, who may be unjust?
Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) says: “O you who believe! Obey Allâh and obey the Messenger (Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم), and those of you (Muslims) who are in authority. (And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allâh and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), if you believe in Allâh and in the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination.” [Al-Nisa: 59] Those in authority refer to Muslim scholars and rulers. Their orders should be followed if they agree with Shari’ah and should be disregarded if they disagree with Shari’ah.
Thus, scholars and rulers should be obeyed in Ma’ruf because this serves to set things right, spread security, help in carrying out the orders, give the oppressed their due rights, and deter the oppressors. On the other hand, disobeying rulers brings about corruption and injustice. Hence, those in authority - whether they are rulers or scholars - should be obeyed in Ma’ruf. The matter should go as follows: scholars shall explain the rulings of Allah, rulers shall enforce these rulings, and the people shall listen to their scholars and follow the orders of their rulers. If orders involving disobedience to Allah are given, whether from rulers or scholars, these orders shall not be followed. For example, if a ruler orders you to drink Khamr (intoxicant) or consume Riba (usury), do not obey him. Likewise, if a scholar orders you to disobey Allah, do not obey that order. Pious scholars do not give such orders. In short, obedience is obligatory only in Ma’ruf. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “No human being is to be obeyed in defiance to Allah.”
However, it is not permissible to topple the rulers even if they commit wrongdoings. Rather, Muslims are obligated to listen to orders and obey them as long as they are Ma’ruf and give advice regarding their wrongdoings. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “It is obligatory for a Muslim to listen and obey (those in authority), in cases of desirable and hateful matters and whether he likes it or not, except that he is ordered to do a sinful act. If he is ordered to do a sinful act, a Muslim should neither listen nor obey.”
He (peace be upon him) also said: “Whoever finds the ruler appointed over them indulged in an act involving disobedience to Allah, they should condemn this act, but should not withdraw themselves from his obedience, for whoever separates from the Muslim main body will die as those who died in the times of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic time of ignorance).”
He (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever comes to you while you are united and wants to disunite you and sow dissension amongst you, kill him whoever he is.”
The intended meaning is that those in authority, including rulers and scholars, should be obeyed in Ma’ruf. By this way, things will be set right, people will live in peace and security, the oppressed will take their rights, the oppressors will be deterred, and justice will prevail. It is not permissible to separate from the Muslim main body and topple those in authority, unless they commit acts of clear disbelief proven as such by evidence and as long as the consequent toppling act will benefit Muslims, end oppression, and establish a righteous country. If people are not able to topple the rulers, they are not permitted to do so even if they see clear disbelief, because this will bring corruption, trials, and unjust killing to the nation. In brief, if a ruler commits acts of clear disbelief, proven as such by evidence, and the people have the ability to topple him and replace him with a pious ruler who enforces the Commands of Allah and supports the truth, they are permitted to do so.
Question 2: Does inability count as a good excuse to discharge them the responsibility?
The Shaykh: Yes. It is enough for them to speak the truth, enjoin Ma’ruf (that which is judged as good, beneficial, or fitting by Islamic law and Muslims of sound intellect), and forbid Munkar (that which is unacceptable or disapproved of by Islamic law and Muslims of sound intellect). Ma’ruf includes things that are Mustahab (desirable), Wajib (obligatory), and Mubah (permissible), such as ordering people to respect the traffic regulations and stop when the light is red. All these things are of benefit to Muslims.
Question 3: What is the ruling on enacting man-made laws? Is it permissible to act according to them? Is a ruler who enacts such laws considered Kafir (disbeliever)?
The Shaykh: This is permissible if these laws are in accordance with the Shari’ah (Islamic law), such as enacting laws for road safety. It is permissible to enact laws that benefit Muslims and do not contradict the Shari’ah to facilitate the Muslims’ affairs. However, it is not permissible to enact laws that contradict the Shari’ah, such as enacting a law that overrules the Had (ordained punishment for violating Allah’s Law) for an adulterer, a thief, or a Khamr (intoxicant) drinker. Such a law will be Batil (null and void) and the ruler will be Kafir for regarding as lawful what contradicts the Nas (Islamic text from the Qur’an or the Sunnah) and Ijma’ (consensus of scholars). The same ruling of deeming as Kafir applies to whoever regards as lawful what Allah has forbidden.
Question 4: How should we deal with this ruler?
The Shaykh: You should obey him in Ma’ruf (that which is judged as good, beneficial, or fitting by Islamic law and Muslims of sound intellect) and not in matters involving disobedience until Allah replaces him.