The Prophet and his purified progeny (pbut) presented the best examples of openness towards others,…
Muslims, Community Engagement, and Abiding by State Laws: Part 2
Editor’s Note: This article is Part Two of a two-part series which discusses the diaspora of the Shia Muslim community and their engagement and ethical and legal responsibilities. Click here to read Part 1.
Believers have both a moral and legal responsibility to be upright citizens of their nation and role models in their local communities by exhibiting the virtues taught by the Prophet and his family (pbut). As instructed by our infallible teachers, the code of conduct is meant to be a manual that not only governs our responsibilities to our Creator, but also a roadmap for building a successful and value-based community, especially when it comes to Islamic law. In part one of this series, we concluded with a narration from Imam Ali (p) in which he beautifully states, “Live amongst people in such a way, that if you die, they weep over you, and when you’re alive, they crave your company.”1 In this article, we will outline the necessary legislation which governs the conduct of believers in terms of how we can contribute to society in a meaningful and impactful way.
Law of Binding Contracts and Covenants
Muslims must legally abide by what God Almighty has imposed on them with respect to always fulfilling obligatory acts and refraining from prohibited ones with all people, irrespective of their race, religion. or background. Among these obligations of high importance, particularly in our society, is to abide by the contracts and covenants that a person accepts and signs, since God forbids us to violate them. Almighty God says, “O you who have faith! Keep your agreements,”2 and in another verse, “Piety is not to turn your faces to the east or the west; rather, piety is [personified by] those who have faith in Allah and the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets, and who give their wealth, for the love of Him, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler and the beggar, and for [the freeing of] the slaves, and maintain the prayer and give the zakat, and those who fulfill their covenants, when they pledge themselves, and those who are patient in stress and distress, and in the heat of battle. They are the ones who are true [to their covenant], and it is they who are the God wary.”3 Furthermore, God praises believing Muslims for keeping their covenants, “Those who fulfill Allah’s covenant and do not break the pledge solemnly made.”4
Contrary to the belief and practice of many, it is forbidden to use other people’s property and money without their permission, which includes the manipulation of electric meters and other servicing machines or the unlawful usage of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and other public assistance benefits. In addition, our supreme religious authorities (including Sayyid al-Sistani),5 have offered us guidelines on how to navigate living in non-Muslim countries. Unanimously, they have stated the following:
· It is a violation of the religious texts and basic principles of Islam, which include prohibitions on lying, deception, fraud, and wrongfully seizing wealth.
· It is a violation of the principle that states a Muslim cannot breach contracts and covenants that they accepted and agreed to abide by, which includes signing the terms of a visitor’s visa (i.e., to another country), the conditions of permanent residency, and the signature, covenant, and charter that they swear to upon receiving the naturalization certificate for citizenship.
· It is a violation of the Muslim’s role, responsibility, and function in repaying entrustments. How can a Muslim be loyal to God Almighty and faithful to his Messenger and to the Ahl al-Bayt (pbut) if they commit prohibited acts which bring about disgrace? Should they not be an ornament to the Ahl al-Bayt (pbut) instead?
Imam al-Sadiq (p) is reported to have advised his companions: “I advise you all to be pious towards God the Exalted and [to observe] devotedness in your faith, and to strive in the way of God, and to be truthful in your speech, and pay back entrustments, and to prolong your prostration [sujud], and [observe] good neighborliness. These [teachings] are what Mohammad (pbuh&hp) brought, pay back the entrustment to the one who entrusted [it to you], be it a righteous person or an immoral person, for the Prophet (pbuh&hp) used to order [his companions] to give [the depositor] back even the thread and the needle. Keep relationships with your relatives and attend their funerals, and console their sick ones, and fulfil their rights, for when one of you is devout in his faith and truthful in in his speech, and pays back the entrustments, and is of good mannerisms towards people, it would be said [by others], ‘This is a Jafari,’ and this delights me, and brings me joy. It would [also] be said ‘This type of mannerism is taught by Jafar.’ Otherwise [if the Jafari does not adopt these manners], it would bring me agony and disgrace, and it would be said ‘This type of [negative] mannerism is taught by Jafar.’ By Allah, my father peace be upon him has narrated to me, that a person from the followers of Ali peace be upon him would be among his clan as the most remarkable, the best in paying back entrustments, and the most fulfilling of their rights, and the most truthful of them in his speech. It is to him they used to keep their bequests and their deposits. When the clan is asked about him, they would say ‘Who can be like so and so? He is the best of us in paying back the entrustment and the most truthful of us in his speech.’”6
Other Relevant Rulings
Manuals of Islamic rulings and websites of supreme religious authorities (may God protect them) are available in many languages and are full of instructions and warnings to address this issue in various aspects. This has left no excuse for not knowing the rules, especially in today’s world of digital communication and social media. However, we have found it appropriate in this article to mention some of the prominent practical rulings that are of daily importance and present here, while preserving their original meaning:
· It is not permissible to engage in any act that harms the reputation of Islam and Muslims, even if that act is permissible per se.
· Whoever obtains an entry visa to a non-Muslim country or obtains permanent residence, must abide by all the laws of that country, such as adhering to traffic and safety laws.
· It is not permissible for a Muslim who resides in a non-Muslim country to resort to illegal means such as providing government officials with false information to obtain benefits, because it is a form of lying and is not justifiable.
· It is not permissible to engage in any fraudulent activities to seize the possessions of non-Muslims, because this amounts to treachery and breach of the explicit and implicit security terms of the visa or permanent residence status and is not permissible under any circumstances.
· It is not permissible for a Muslim to betray anyone who entrusts them with money or work, irrespective of whether they are a Muslim or not, because Muslims must fully honor and preserve trusts. Hence, for example, a person hired as a sales clerk or cashier must not take anything from the owner without their consent.
· It is not permissible to steal or damage the public or private possessions of non-Muslims.
· It is not permissible for a Muslim to post advertisements or any other material on external walls or buildings owned by others without their consent.
· It is not permissible to take money dispensed mistakenly while withdrawing cash from ATM machines.
· A Muslim employee may not take anything from the workplace without the employer’s permission.
· It is not permissible to [illegally] manipulate electric, water, gas, or parking meters to pay a lower bill, or not to pay at all.
· It is not permissible to cheat on school exams by any means, whether through collusion with other students, by using a hidden cheat sheet, or any means that is against school policy.
· It is not permissible for a Muslim to claim something by way of deceit or falsifying their previous history before entering the country of settlement. An example is falsifying their driving history to get cheaper insurance rates—this is a form of deception and lying.
· It is permissible for a Muslim to contract with various insurance companies to ensure their life or wealth are safe from the risk of fire, drowning, theft, or something similar. This type of contract is binding, and they can only cancel it if both parties agree to do so. In addition, a Muslim is neither permitted to provide false information to obtain money that they are not eligible for, nor are they permitted to stage a house fire or a car accident to receive a financial compensation from the insurance company. This is a willful destruction of a person’s possessions and it is generally unlawful. It is also a form of lying to the insurance company, and therefore the money received is unlawful.
· It is permissible for Muslims to belong to parties (e.g., political) in non-Muslim countries, if their higher interests require this, or to form organizations, associations, and groups within the framework of the laws in effect. They may also enter nomination and candidacy for governmental offices and parliamentary councils. Determining higher interest is in the hands of trusted experts.
In conclusion, it is evident that the religion of Islam promotes an ethical code of life irrespective of where that Muslim lives. Living in this country, we have some freedoms which we may not have found elsewhere, and thus, in fulfilling our responsibility to God and abiding by the instruction of the Prophet and his family, we have a responsibility to be the most ethical citizens possible and excel for our communities, families, and future generations. We must engage with the current societal structure and work toward a unified vision, cooperation, and positive outcomes.
A final point is that Muslims have been present in many Western societies for multiple generations. Therefore, it is advisable for us to change our perspective from that of immigrants and expatriates to citizens and to refer to ourselves as citizens as well. With our presence in our homelands comes the responsibility to live by a standard taught to us by the Messenger (pbuh&hp) and his family, because God states, “We have sent you for no other reason but to be a mercy for mankind.”7 Hence, we must strive to act responsibly and observe positive and friendly communication with our non-Muslim neighbors and fellow citizens. At the same time, we should introduce them to the genuine moral and humane values of our peaceful religion and work hard to reform its negative image, which has resulted in a false understanding of Islam and Muslims.
1. Nahj al-balagha, saying 6.
2. The Quran 5:1. Unless otherwise noted, all Quranic quotes in this article are from the Ali Quli Qarai translation.
3. The Quran 2:177.
4. The Quran 13: 20.
5. Sayyid al-Sistani, A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West, section on “Dealing with laws in non-Muslim countries,” p. 171.
6. Shaykh al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 636.
7. The Holy Quran 21:107, Muhammad Sarwar translation.
1. روي عن الإمام أمير المؤمنين (ع): “خَالِطُوا النَّاسَ مُخَالَطَةً إِنْ مِتُّمْ مَعَهَا بَكَوْا عَلَيْكُمْ، وَإِنْ عِشْتُمْ حَنُّوا إِلَيْكُمْ.”
2. قال الله تعالى: ((يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَوْفُوا بِالْعُقُودِ((
3. قال الله تعالى: ((لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَـٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا ۖ وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ ۗ أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ))
4. قال الله تعالى: ((الَّذِينَ يُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِ اللَّـهِ وَلَا يَنقُضُونَ الْمِيثَاقَ))
5. فقه المغتربين للسيد السيستاني- التعامل مع القوانين النافذة في دول المهجر.
6. روي عن الإمام الصادق (ع): ” فوالله لحدثني أبي (عليه السلام) أن الرجل كان يكون في القبيلة من شيعه علي (عليه السلام) فيكون زينها آداهم للأمانة وأقضاهم للحقوق وأصدقهم للحديث، إليه وصاياهم وودائعهم، تسأل العشيرة عنه فتقول: من مثل فلان إنه لأدّانا للأمانة وأصدقنا للحديث”
7. قال الله تعالى: ((وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ))
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