We are living in a time in which a large percentage of muslims (perhaps a majority) are unaware of the actual existence of an Islamic law that goes beyond the established worship of Islam (the five pillars). When such muslims are presented with even the idea that Islamic law that goes beyond the established worships, they display an unwillingness to accept such an idea, in various forms. Many go as far as thinking of Islamic law beyond the five pillars as strange, and even un-Islamic. To them, it is as though Islamic law beyond the five pillars is a new religion. This is what The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) prophesized when he (ﷺ) said:
“Islam started as a strange religion, and it will one day (in the future) return to be a strange religion, as when it first started…”
One of the most prevalent or popular forms of rejection of Islamic law (which deals with all aspects of human life) is to label it something other than Islam, or “their version of Islam.” Some call it wahhabism, while others call it fundamentalism, or salafism or extremism (as opposed to a “moderate” or “liberal” version of Islam). Interestingly enough, most of these labels are made in the West, and especially the Western media. They are not terms found in Islamic terminology, although many muslims have translated such terms into Arabic, or adopted by the secular Arab media as part of the Arabic language.
The “Wahhabism” label is especially interesting, in that muslims themselves readily adopted it from the British colonialists, and frequently use it to label other muslims who have a more comprehensive understanding and application of Islam and Islamic law. By the way, it is important to mention that there are no muslims who actually call or label themselves wahhabis. However, there are muslims who call themselves other names before they actually use the term “muslim” to identify themselves with Islam. For example, some call themselves Hanafi muslims, and others call themselves Shi’a without even referring to the word Islam or muslim. More recently, in the United Arab Emirates, people are using the term Imarati muslim (muslim from the Emirates). Given this current state of the muslims, one cannot help but think about one particular tradition, in which the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:
I swear by the One Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, my nation will split into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two in Hell.” It was said: “O Messenger of Allah, who are they?” He said: “The main body.”
The removal of knowledge of Islam and Islamic law from the minds of most muslims can be traced back to the destruction of the last khilafa (caliphate), known as the Ottoman empire. This was the beginning of the systematic westernization of the muslim world, through conquest and colonization, of both land and minds. The very entity (the khilafa) commissioned to preserve Islam and Islamic law for muslims (one of the intents and objectives of Islamic law) was destroyed. Hence, the level of ignorance about Islam on the part of most muslims.
Given the ignorance and confusion that exists among muslims regarding Islam and Islamic law (as a result of the historical events of the last 150 or so years), it is of the utmost importance to address the question of whether a muslim is required to believe in and comply with Islamic law.
Islamic Law Beyond the Five Pillars
Before we move on, we should establish that Islamic law is much more than the basic five pillars of Islam. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:
“Islam has been built on five [pillars]: testifying that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the salah (prayer), paying the zakat (obligatory charity), making the hajj (pilgrimage) to the House, and fasting in Ramadhan.”
However, this tradition by no means denies or abrogates all of the commands, prohibitions and recommendations that go beyond the commands of the five pillars. The Quran and Sunnah (the Prophetic tradition) are full of commands, prohibitions, and recommendations related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, war, commerce, governance, etc. The Quran and the Sunnah go as far as commanding what we should believe, and even disbelieve.
If I were to mention all of the commands, prohibition and recommendations (beyond the commands of the five pillars), this brief article would turn into many volumes.
Frankly, anyone who disagrees with the fact that the Quran and Sunnah go beyond the five pillars is in a state of deep ignorance or is not of sound mind, both of which would require divine intervention. It would be a wasted effort to try to persuade such a person.
Belief in the Quran & Sunnah
What is meant by belief in the Quran and the Sunnah? To answer this question we must use the Arabic word Imaan (which is loosely translated into English as belief or faith).
The Islamic meaning of the word Imaan is a deep and perhaps unwavering belief in one’s heart and mind that the object of belief is real and true (although unseen), to the degree that it could not possibly be false or unreal, and which leads a person to act upon it. In fact, some Islamic scholars have said: that “Imaan is (indeed) speech and action.” In other words, what we say and do is reflective of our belief system.
Before we can agree that every muslim must believe in and comply with Islamic law, we must first agree or understand that every muslim is required to believe in the Quran and the Sunnah.
One of the six pillars of Imaan (faith) is to believe in the divinely revealed scriptures, one of which is the Quran. One cannot be a muslim without believing in the Quran. I believe every muslim, even the most ignorant, will agree to this.
In a famous prophetic tradition (hadith), the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was asked by the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) to explain what is imaan (faith/belief), to which he answered: “It is that you believe in Allah and His angels and his books and His Messengers and in the Last Day, and in fate (qadar), both in its good and in its evil aspects.” Obviously, a muslim must believe in Allah’s books, one of which is the Quran.
In another tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) explains that there is no belief for the one who is not inclined toward believing what he came with, which is the Quran and the Sunnah. In this tradition the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) says the following:
“None of you believes until his desire or inclination is in accordance with what I have brought or subservient to what I came with.”
In yet another tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:
“Verily, there will be fitan (trials).” The person asked: “What is the way out of them, Messenger of Allah?” He said: “The Book of Allah; in it is news of those who came before you; news of what is to come after you; the ruling on that which is between you; it is the decisive criterion, and is not jest. Whoever leaves it among the arrogant ones will be made small by Allah; whoever seeks guidance from other than it will be sent astray by Allah. It is the mighty rope of Allah, the Wise Reminder, and the Straight Path. With it, inclinations do not deviate nor tongues become confused. Scholars are never satiated with it; it never becomes tiresome with repetition; its wonders never diminish. … Whoever speaks by it is truthful; whoever applies it is rewarded; whoever judges by it is just; and whoever calls to it is guided to a straight path. [the chain of narration of this tradition is not strong because of two unknown narrators.]
The requirement of believing in the Quran is also found in the Quran, as follows:
آمَنَ الرَّسُولُ بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْهِ مِن رَّبِّهِ وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ ۚ كُلٌّ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَمَلَائِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّن رُّسُلِهِ ۚ وَقَالُوا سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا ۖ غُفْرَانَكَ رَبَّنَا وَإِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيرُ
The Messenger (Muhammad ﷺ ) believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and (so do) the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. They say, “We make no distinction between one another of His Messengers” – and they say, “We hear, and we obey. (We seek) Your Forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the return (of all).” (Al-Baqara 2:285)
The above Quranic verse is also proof of the requirement of believing in the Sunnah, in that the verse shows the belief system of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and those who believe, which includes the belief in all the prophets, last of which is the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) .
The following verse is an even more direct command to believe in the Quran and the Sunnah.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا آمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ مِن قَبْلُ ۚ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِاللَّهِ وَمَلَائِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا
O you who believe! Believe in Allah, and His Messenger (Muhammad ﷺ), and the Book (the Quran) which He has sent down to His Messenger, and the Scripture which He sent down to those before (him), and whosoever disbelieves in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Last Day, then indeed he has strayed far away. (An-nisa 4:136)
Compliance with Islamic Law
I believe we have established the requirement for every muslim to believe in the Quran and the Sunnah in the last few paragraphs. But, the Question is: are we required to comply with what we believe with our hearts and minds? The answer should be quite simple. If we are required to believe in the Quran and the Sunnah, which are to a large extent commands, prohibitions and recommendations from Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), we are also by default required to comply with such commands and recommendations, which is what Islamic law is essentially composed of.
Once again, let’s look at what the Quran and Sunnah (which a muslim is required to believe in) have to say about the requirement of complying with Islamic law. The most obvious command is the following verse in the Quran:
ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَىٰ شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
“Then we put you on a shari’a (a body of laws) in your affairs, so follow it and do not follow the desires of those who have no knowledge.” (Al-Jāthiyah 45:18)
In this verse, the Prophet is commanded to follow the Sharia. In fact, the Arabic word Sharia is used in the verse. However, there will be some who say that this is a command to the Prophet(ﷺ) himself, and not to anyone else. Anyone who says that is probably not aware that the Prophet (ﷺ) himself contradicted this understanding, when he said:
“And verily Allah has commanded the believers to do that which He has commanded the Messengers.” (Muslim)
Furthermore, the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“What I have forbidden for you, avoid. What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can. For verily, it was only the excessive questioning and their disagreeing with their Prophets that destroyed [the nations] who were before you.”
Further proof from the Quran that the muslim is required to comply with Islamic law is in the following verse, which is self-explanatory.
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلَا مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَمْرًا أَن يَكُونَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ ۗ وَمَن يَعْصِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا مُّبِينًا
It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed in a plain error. (Al-Ahzaab 33:36)
There should be no question from the last few traditions and verses from the Quran that it is obligatory for the muslim to be sharia-compliant in all his or her affairs, whether these affairs are personal, family-related, organizational, or related to governance.