Question: What is the definition of an Islamic country?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
The Definition Of a Muslim Country
The definition of an Islamic country is an area of land ruled by a Muslim, even if he does not apply Islamic law and even if he is irreligious. For all intents and purposes, even a city taken over wrongfully by Muslim religious sectarian rebels (bughah) is a Muslim country. (Al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya, Mawardi; Rawdat al-Talibin, Nawawi; Fath al-Muin, Millibari)
Legal and Moral Significance
The significance of a country being a “Muslim country” is that abiding by the rule of law is a moral and religious issue as opposed to being merely practical. That is to say that if the Muslim ruler commands everyone to fast, for example, he cannot merely imprison those who disobey him like any other ruler, but they are also sinful in the eyes of Allah for not obeying.
Similarly, he can act as a judge and appoint judges. As long as the rulings of his courts are not 100% contradictory to the Qu’ran and Sunna (ma yanqudu bihi al-qada), then they are both temporally and religiously binding: there is no room to argue or debate. (Minhaj al-Talibin, Nawawi; Kitab al-ihkam fi tamyiz al-fatawa an al-ahkam wa tasarrufat al-qadi wal-imam, Qarafi)
To illustrate the significance of this, let us imagine Zayd claims that Khalid owes him $1,000. If he now goes to a mufti and the mufti concurs that Zayd is right, Khalid can simply go to another mufti and get another answer. The initial fatwa is not binding and could be contested. By contrast, if Zayd took the issue to a court in a Muslim country, and the case was judged in his favor, then as long as the court ruling was not completely in contradiction with the Qur’an and Sunna, the case would be over, and before Allah, Khalid would owe Zayd the money, regardless of any other possible juristic opinion. This means that Khalid would have to pay Zayd the money and could be subject to legal repercussions (jail etc.) if he did not pay and would be sinful if he did not comply. Again, this is irrespective of whether or not there is room for debate on the issue. As Qarafi says, ‘The ruling of the ruler regarding debatable issues removes any debate.’ (Al-Furuq, Qarafi)
Discussing the right to appeal (haqq al-taqadi) should be reserved for a more detailed expose of this topic.
Similarly, if a case of divorce were brought to a mufti, and he reached one conclusion, but then the couple went to another mufti and he presented another answer, both positions would be equally valid and neither would be binding. Now if the self-same case was brought to an Islamic court, whatever position the court ruled would be temporally and religiously binding: the divorce in Allah’s eyes would either count or it would not, there would be no room for discussion.
Understanding this helps us appreciate why certain scholars might forbid Muslims from living in non-Muslims lands and why it is essential for those who do live in non-Muslim lands to work on establishing scholarly and professional Sharia arbitration courts. Without them, disputes can sometimes spiral completely out of control.
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I pray this helps.
[Ustadh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.