A common misconception in contemporary society is that Islamic laws are at odds with the laws of the land. Indeed, the very notion that Islam advocates compliance with a country’s laws is enough to invoke a most audible harrumph among critics of the faith. The truth of the matter is that Islam, particularly in accordance with the School of Ahl al-Bayt (Holy Progeny of the Prophet), commands obedience of its adherents to the laws and order of their home country. Failure to do so, conversely, can even be construed as crossing into that which is sinful. It was the Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself, who said: “Love of your country, is a duty of your faith.” (Kitab A’yan al-Shia, Vol. 1 p.301)
Although there are as many facets to this discussion as there are individual laws, a simple explanation of this concept can be seen from the response of the religious authority to a question on Islamic practical law as discussed in A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West, by His Eminence, Ayatullah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani.
Here, a questioner asks:
Is it necessary for [a] person who has [obtained] a visa to enter a non-Muslim country, to abide by the laws of that country in all fields, [such as] traffic laws, laws regarding work and employment, [and so forth]?
The response from His Eminence:
If he has given an undertaking—even if indirectly [as is implied in the immigration documents]— to abide by the laws of that country, it is necessary for him to fulfill his commitment in issues that are not contrary to the sacred laws [of Islam].
The religious authority clarifies that even in the case of one who merely visits any country, he or she is required to abide by the criteria set forth by the host-state upon stipulation of entry. The only exception, however, that is placed upon the believer is not to compromise on matters of “sacred laws.” These sacred laws are core principles of the Islamic faith, namely belief in the Oneness of God, that God is Just, in Prophethood (of all Prophets) and the Prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh), guardianship with divine authority (Wilayah), and belief in the Day of Resurrection and Judgment.
Upon close examination, however, this can hardly be considered as making an exception by the religious authority. Essentially, the religious directive is to adhere to the laws of the land, but not to lose sight of the principle tenets of one’s faith. No western nation imposes an official religion or subjugates its populous in matters of worship or, more specifically, on whom to worship and which saints to revere. For that matter, no western nation disallows the belief in a Just God, or the concept of an afterlife.
Subjugation of ideology and despotic thinking in the modern era can only be seen practiced by those who would falsely refer to themselves as an “Islamic State.”
Hence, the (religious) directive of the religious authority is not at odds with any system of governance, in the west, or otherwise. This is especially the case when it advises the faithful to hold to the principles of their faith as they assimilate into societies they adopt as their own.
There is no double standard. Contrary to the beliefs of those who would seek to discredit Islam, there is no acceptable circumstance for abrogating that which is right. Muslims are not secretly commanded to lie or deceive non-Muslims. Lying is a sin in Islam, period. This can be exemplified in the form of another question to the religious authority.
Here, the questioner asks:
Is it permissible for a Muslim to give false information to government departments in Europe to gain some financial or abstract benefits, through proper channels?
The religious authority’s response is clear:
It is not permissible because it is lying.
The answer put forth above is stated in the clearest of terms. The questioner’s proposition was rejected outright for one reason and one reason alone, it would be a lie. This did not change because of a European environment, nor would it have mattered if it were anywhere else. Islam commands the same level of religious dutifulness toward others regardless of their belief system or even lack thereof.
It is also here that some may raise the concept of dissimulation (taqiyya) and perhaps assume that the position in the example above is merely an example of dissimulation in practice. This is not so. Dissimulation according to Islam applies in the most life-threatening of circumstances. If a person faces imminent mortal danger, a question of life and death, and not disclosing a belief can save their life, then they are commanded to do so. This is the essence of dissimulation. It was necessary during an era where Muslims were slain for simply believing in a particular religious ideology. Providence called for caution. As time has passed and religious liberties as well as tolerance have flourished, such concepts no longer find religious precedence in the modern era and are unwarranted.
It is the religious duty of Muslims to become productive and helpful members of society, to be mindful of the rights of their neighbors, and to do good in general. To achieve these noble objectives, adherents of the Islamic faith are advised by the religious authority to be good citizens and obey the rule of law. As can be seen today, millions of Muslims across the world are living in harmony with their non-Muslim neighbors while enjoying religious freedoms, thus exemplifying practically that it is entirely possible to be religiously responsible and abide by the laws of one’s home country.