Allah’s laws vs human laws – Tarawih reflection 28

Allah’s laws vs human laws - Tarawih reflection 28

‘Surely We have sent down the Torah, in which there was guidance and light by which the prophets, who submitted themselves to Allah, used to judge for the Jews, and (so did) the Men of Allah and the Men of knowledge, because they were ordained to protect the Book of Allah, and they stood guard over it. So, (O Jews of today,) do not fear people. Fear Me, and do not take a paltry price for My verses. Those who do not judge according to what Allah has sent down are the disbelievers.’ [5:44]

Ayahs 44, 45 and 47 of Surat al-Maidah all end with a similar sentence.

‘Those who do not judge according to what Allah has sent down are the disbelievers.’ [5:44]
‘Those who do not judge according to what Allah has sent down are the unjust.’ [5:45]
‘Those who do not judge according to what Allah has sent down are the sinners.’ [5:47]

These ayahs are often misunderstood by many people. For instance, some people object to Muslims living in the West and voting in elections, because that involves following a set of laws that do not conform to Allah’s rulings.

The ayahs were revealed for the Jewish community

It’s important to understand the context in which these ayahs were revealed. Most scholars agree that they were sent down when someone in the Jewish community in Madinah had committed zina, and they came to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ for his judgement.

Abdullah bin Salam, a former rabbi who had converted to Islam, told the Prophet ﷺ to ask the accused to read a certain verse from the Torah. When they read it out, they covered part of the verse with a finger. Abdullah bin Salam made them read out the rest, which gave the punishment of stoning for zina.

This is the context for someone attempting to circumvent and deny Allah’s laws, which is mentioned in the ayahs. In addition, Ibn Ashur has commented that the ayah isn’t referring to trying to hide the punishment for adultery as an act of kufr in itself, but is reflecting the accumulation of everything they have done.

Extrapolating general rulings from specific situations

We can’t make sweeping statements based on quotations from the Quran that are out of context. Using these ayahs to say all Muslims living in the West are kuffar is unacceptable and ignorant. We can use specific ayahs to apply general rulings to other contexts – there have to be conditions.

If you intentionally choose civil law over the law of Allah in a situation where you have a choice, this would be the kufr: putting a man-made law above Allah’s rulings. Even then, some scholars have said that even though this would be a sin, we can’t consider it kufr as such. Only the Khawarij consider sins as acts of kufr; this is not the Sunni position.

It depends if you have a choice

The ayah refers to someone passing judgement in a given situation. There is a difference between someone who has a choice and prefers not to use the Islamic ruling, compared to someone who has no option to use Islamic law.

It is not an act of kufr simply to live under a non-Islamic system of laws. As general citizens, we are not in a position of judgement; we are the ruled, not the ruling. It is not up to us to make the kinds of judgement that this ayah is referring to.

No sane Muslim would prefer civil law to the Quran, even if they are living in the West. We can’t charge other people with kufr and make accusations about them just because they engage with the legal and electoral system of a non-Muslim country. Al-Qurtubi said in his interpretation:

“And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is those who are the disbelievers, unjust, and sinful” – all these were revealed regarding the disbelievers. This has been confirmed in Sahih Muslim from the hadith of Bara’ ibn ‘Azib, as mentioned earlier and this is the majority opinion. According to this principle, as for the Muslims, they are not considered disbelievers even if they commit a major sin.

It was said: there is an implication here, meaning that whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, rejecting the Quran and denying the statement of the Prophet, then they are disbelievers. This was stated by Ibn Abbas and Mujahid.

Ibn Mas’ud and Al-Hasan Al-Basri said:

It applies universally to anyone who does not judge by what Allah has revealed, to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, meaning they believe in it but disregard it. As for those who do so while believing it is prohibited, they are among the sinful Muslims, and their matter is left to Allah. He may punish them if He wills, and He may forgive them if He wills.

Whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, denying it, is a disbeliever. And whoever does not judge by the truth while believing in it, and judges by its opposite, is unjust. And whoever judges in ignorance of the truth and judges by its opposite, is sinful.

We ask Allah to give us a deep understanding of His book and the Sunnah of His Messenger ﷺ.

Based on the reflections of Shaykh Haytham Tamim

Transcribed by Hana Khan

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.