Islamic Law’s Concern for Spiritual and material interests
By: Ayatullah Professor Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi
Continuing the discussion, the question now is: What is freedom according to the Islamic perspective and what is its scope and limit? The existence of law in society is meant for the attainment of objectives in social life. Without social life, the material and spiritual interests of individuals cannot be ensured. One of the blessings of social life is that man can benefit from God-given material blessings such as scientific, technological and technical know-how, as well as gnosis and spiritual aphorisms under the supervision of spiritual masters and teachers. Acquisition of this knowledge and gnosis is possible only in social life. As such, law should guarantee human progress along material and spiritual lines, for merely establishing social order is not enough. For example, if two persons, without harming any one else or disturbing social order, agree to kill each other, are they doing a good thing?
If you can remember, sometime ago, in an American city, a group of people burned to death, and it was reported that these people were members of a religious sect who regard suicide during their rites as the way to perfection! Of course, there is room for question and doubt about this issue. There is a possibility that as this group was regarded antagonistic to the government, it was the American authorities who exterminated them all. Assuming that this group really committed suicide according to their religious conviction, was the act proper?
Can it be said that since it brought no harm to others and they agreed to commit suicide together there is nothing wrong with what they did? Should the government tolerate such a practice? Should law allow it? If the only criterion is the maintenance of order and security, then this order and security can be established through mass suicide!? And law has no other function.
According to the liberal perspective, the only function of the state is the establishment of order and law is only meant to prevent chaos and nothing else. The outcome of this mindset is what can be witnessed in Western countries such as moral, sexual, social, and other corruptions. This predicament is the result of their belief that the state has no right to interfere in the rights and lives of individuals. It has to establish order only.
The state maintains that only a policeman should carry arms inside high school campuses so that students do not kill their fellow students or their teachers. The establishment of order and security only demands that. Is this the only function of law? Or, does law perform other functions such as fostering an atmosphere that leads to the advancement and exaltation of man? Should it also prevent moral corruption?
We conclude that law should also take into account spiritual interests. All that harms spiritual interests such as honor, divine guidance, viceregency of Allah, and humanity, and material interests such as the wellbeing and security of people, should be forbidden. Is society not formed for the advancement of humane goals? Is it meant only for the attainment of mere animalistic objectives?! The law should guarantee both the material and spiritual interests.
As such, drug addiction or injecting anything poisonous is forbidden because it makes man sick, annihilates him and harms his material interests. Now, if a person becomes addicted to this stuff without showing animalistic acts and is apparently healthy but loses his senses and understanding, should he be permitted to do so? And if there be another evil practice leading to a loss of faith and spiritual sanity, should it not be forbidden? Does it not destroy the humanity of man? If certain people create an atmosphere in society that keeps the people away from religion, should they be free?
æóÕóÏøñ Úóä ÓóÈöíáö Çááøåö æóßõÝúÑñ Èöåö æóÇáúãóÓúÌöÏö ÇáúÍóÑóÇãö
“But to keep [people] from Allah’s way, and to be unfaithful to Him, and [to keep people from] the Holy Mosque.”
That which obstructs the path of spiritual evolution, advancement and acquaintance with the truth of religion and negatively portrays religion in the sight of the youth is forbidden because it is harmful for humanity at large. How comes that whatever is harmful for his physical aspect is forbidden but whatever is detrimental for his soul is allowed?! The (Western) world says, “Yes” but Islam says, “No”. We believe that law must consider spiritual interests as more noble and important than material interests. (We should bear in mind that what we are talking about is related to an academic discussion and may not necessarily have actual manifestations. Thus, it should not be misconstrued that in my opinion, the economy should be neglected.)
Preeminence of spiritual and religious interests over material interests
If we were put in a situation where we would have to choose between two options: economic progress with religion at stake: and advancement in religion with our economy being affected to some extent—which option would we choose? We believe that the advancement of Islam also guarantees economic progress in a long-term program provided it is implemented perfectly.
Nonetheless, it is possible that it negatively affects the economic interests and puts individuals in a difficult situation for a short-term. Now, if the situation be such, with regard to the raised arguments, which one should be given preeminence over the other—religious interests or worldly interests? For us religious interests are preeminent, as stated in this verse:
ÝóÇöäú ÚóÑóÖó ÈóáÇÁñ ÝóÞóÏøöãú ãÇáóßó Ïõæäó äóÝúÓößó¡ ÝóÇöäú ÊóÌóÇæóÒó ÇáÈóáÇÁõ ÝóÞóÏøöãú ãÇáóßó æó äóÝúÓóßó Ïõæäó Ïöíäößó
If your life is in danger, sacrifice your property for your life. If you have to choose, between remaining alive in unbelief and being slain in faith, sacrifice your life and property for religion.
At this point, if man is killed, there is nothing wrong.
Þõáú åóáú ÊóÑóÈøóÕõæúäó ÈöäÇ ÇáÇø ÇöÍúÏóì ÇáúÍõÓúäóíóíúäö
“Say, ‘Do you await anything to befall us except one of the two excellences?’”
What is wrong with a person being slain in the path of religion? He will go directly to heaven. But if he supposedly lives without religion for another hundred years, what does he get besides a daily increase in suffering? Thus, for Muslims, religious and spiritual interests are better than material interests. Therefore, Islamic law has to give priority to spiritual interests. Our discussion is based upon reasoning and we do not impose our reasoning upon anyone. One may accept it if he wants to or reject it. None of these arguments are based on anything but logic.
Difference between conditions and scope of freedom in Islam and liberalism
In our opinion, therefore, freedom is restricted, as all reasonable people in the world say. The difference is that for them the limit of freedom is infringement upon the freedom of others while for us it is infringement of any social interest. The people are free to talk, eat, work, engage in trade, make a living, discuss, travel, sign a contract, do whatever they want, to such an extent that it does not jeopardize the material and spiritual interests of society. Whenever freedom is harmful to the material interests or the spiritual interests of society, it is forbidden. In both cases, freedom is prohibited. This is our reason and logic. If there are those whose logic is better than ours, we are ready to listen and benefit from it.
As far as we know, no philosopher has so far been able to give a logical dimension to the scope of freedom. If there are allegorical expressions in our Constitution, common laws, words of distinguished ‘ulama’ or even the sayings of the eminent Imam (q), they should be referred to the authorities so that they can interpret them. We also support the rule of law. Our adherence to laws in the Islamic country is stronger than that of others. Our distinction is that we regard laws as binding because the wali al-faqih has approved them. As the Imam said, “To obey the [injunctions of the] Islamic state is wajib.” Meanwhile, some say that these laws are binding because the people have approved them. Now, which logic is stronger? Which one is convincing and has the upper hand?
When they say to a person that since the people have approved a certain law, it is incumbent upon him to act upon it, he may possibly say that he has not voted for the representative (who was among those approving the law), or that he is not pleased with the law! But when the Imam said, “When the Islamic state gives an order, or if the Islamic Consultative Assembly ratifies something, one should obey it as a religious obligation,” you have to see which basis will work better. Do we have a more “modern” law, or do they? Freedom among all nations and all rational people is limited, but according to Islam, all people are free as long as they do not harm the material and spiritual interests of society.