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What if the majority population of a state enacts shari‘ah laws, can those laws be applied to non-Muslims?

There are two aspects to Islamic shari‘ah, Religious and Secular. To act on the Religious shari‘ah (like prayer, fasting, pilgrimage) one has to believe in Islam and these laws cannot be applied to non-Muslims. To act on the secular shari‘ah (like economic laws, crimes and punishments) one does not have to believe in Islam and these can be adopted by non-Muslims. For example, an atheist country can be convinced that usury is harmful to their economy and make it illegal; they can thus act on a part of the shari‘ah without believing or even knowing about Islam.

Because of misunderstandings, people are often unduly apprehensive of what is meant by the establishment of Islamic shari‘ah. However, Muslims establishing shari‘ah is no different than how any other law is adopted by a country.

For example, alcohol and gambling are prohibited in Islam (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:220), and if the shari‘ah is brought into effect, then they could be forbidden for all of society. However, this law would not be forced onto any country. Rather, it would be enacted through democracy, just as prohibition was accepted in 1920 in the United States when a majority of the representatives of the people were convinced of it, and just as gambling is already illegal in most states. Hadrat Khalifatul- Masih IVrta said:

As far as the wine is concerned, you can remind them that, “Even without religion you have imposed restrictions in this very country on the whole society despite the fact that almost the entire society believed in drinking. So why are you worried? If a restriction is imposed on public drinking by Ahmadis, if they come to power, you gave this right to your own people in the past, why can’t you give this right in future to Ahmadis, while they would only come to power when they are in majority, and they would also have some justifications.” There won’t be just one general rules imposed, but for every decision, there would have to be some backing, either from the teachings of the Quran or from the social values. So nobody has any fear from us. America went dry once in history during the puritan age, and England went dry, and they didn’t mind, despite the fact that majority wanted to drink, yet a very small minority imposed their own will in the name of public welfare. So the question of public welfare when opposed to the liberties becomes a very complex question and you can’t deny the existence of such a value as public welfare.

(Question Answer Session, Aug 2, 1985).

What we presently see in United States law is the same as that which Islamic law teaches. For example, if the majority of the people of the State of California are of the opinion that capital punishment should be implemented, then that law is also imposed on the minority of the people in California who are opposed to it. The responsibility of government is to represent the majority and protect the minority. Universally in every democracy, laws are to be enacted that represent the ideals of the majority, but they are applied equally to both the majority and minority. The establishment of Islamic shari‘ah by the majority populations of various States in the United States would be no different.

The laws of the shari‘ah that would be enacted would not be the religious laws of the shari‘ah; they would be the secular and moral laws of the shari‘ah that are of universal application. Moral laws exist without any religious affiliation. Here in the west we already have laws regulating morality, and they have been enforced even if a minority disagrees. For example, adultery was illegal in most states in the United States and a punishable felony or misdemeanor; though these laws are no longer enforced, many of them still exist in the books. Also, according to our society’s definition of modesty, indecent exposure is illegal; even if a nudist considers such laws oppressive, or if women from certain cultures of Africa or South America consider it sexist, these laws are still enforced. The laws of shari‘ah that will be enacted in the future will be similar to these laws in that they will govern morality and they will apply to all citizens regardless of religion.

To get a clearer picture of how the shari‘ah will be established in society, it is necessary to understand how the social laws of shari‘ah have secular application. Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IV rta said:

Now there again is a very clear dividing line. Islam has injunctions of two types, one [is] entirely religious, which appl(ies) only to those who believe in Islam and not at all to non-believers, and they are not imposed upon them. And there are also aspects of Islamic teachings which are generally to be applied to [the] whole, every human situation… Religion does not come into [the] picture there. Moral teachings in the name of states or in the name of a society, whatever name you give, remain moral teachings, and they are established facts of human experience. Wherever you go, some moral restrictions are made to save society from the individual and individual from the society, religion doesn’t come into [the] picture. So those rules of Islam which belong to this region will only be applicable when a Muslim state comes into being. And when they are applied, they would be applied equally to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

(Question Answer Session, Aug 2, 1985).

Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IV rta said:

There are certain injunctions pertaining to the law and order of a country. Such injunctions relate to human relationship regardless of the religion. Such injunctions of wider application would be extended to the non-Muslims as well.

 (Question Answer Session, May 17, 1985)

Hudur rta wrote:

The substance of this study is that Islam propounds a completely neutral central government in which the matters of statecraft are common and equally applicable to all subjects of the state and religious differences are allowed to play no part therein.

(Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, p. 242).

Whatever Criminal Laws that the majority population of a Muslim state enacts apply to all citizens, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. This is the same as how Criminal Laws enacted by any secular state apply to the entire population.

In cases of criminal law, there would not be any difference in how the laws are applied to people of different religions. Hadrat Khalifatul- Masih IV rta was asked, “If you decide to have different legislation; legislation for the Hindus, the Christians and so on, I think it would be very disturbing in the society.” Hudur rta answered:

Exactly, that is what I am saying. I am not proposing that every political government should have a paraphernalia of legislation applicable to different religions. It’s not possible. It’s not practical.

(Shari‘ah Relationship Between Religion and Politics in Islam, p. 30)

However, there is an exception if one’s own shari‘ah is harsher than the Islamic shari‘ah. From the example of the Holy Prophet sas, we find that he gave people of the Jewish states in his country the option to accept punishment from Islamic law rather than the Jewish Laws enacted in their state. Hudur rta said:

So that shows that an option can still be given to them, if their own teaching is harder and harsher in treatment, it’s not necessarily to be imposed upon them. They should be given a choice to opt for a better teaching, a more lenient and more flexible teaching like Islam.

(Question Answer Session, May 17, 1985).

The establishment of shari‘ah often brings a mental image of a foreign code of law being imposed on the West. The real picture is that western people would be persuaded, through reasoning, of the superiority of Islamic ideals, and these ideals would be adopted by the free will of a convinced population. Ahmadi Muslims seek to establish the ideals of Islamic shari‘ah in the west for the same reason that Democrats and Republicans seek to establish Conservative and Liberal ideals: because we are convinced that our ideals are best for the country. Also, we seek to establish these ideals in the same way that Democrats and Republicans seek to establish their ideals; through persuasion. The culmination of the establishment of Islamic shari‘ah would be when the majority of people are convinced that Islamic values are the true ideals for humanity.

Updated on January 4, 2019

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