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Difference between Islamic Laws and Liberal Laws

By: Ayatullah Professor Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi
The difference between Islamic laws and man-made laws —especially laws of the liberal societies that consider right for the people in lieu of the services they render in the society— can be examined through the following perspectives:
1. Liberal societies, do not consider any rights of individuals who, due to physical disabilities or social deprivations, cannot contribute to society. Islam, however, gives rights to them as well. In order to guarantee these rights, the desires of others need to be restrained and a portion of public wealth allocated for these individuals, which is not liked by other people. So, their dislike should be restrained.
2. In social life, rights are given to society, which prevail in case of conflict with rights of individuals. The question on which rights should prevail in case of conflict is based on individual-oriented and society-oriented tendencies existing in Western societies today. Of course, the dominant and ruling tendency in the Western world is individualism; however, socialistic tendencies, more or less, exist. In Western societies today, socialist and social democratic governments are gaining momentum compared to other forms of government.
In contrast to the individualistic tendency in liberal societies, Islam gives preference to the rights of society. Liberal governments are willing to burn or throw millions of tons of foodstuff into the sea in order to prevent the market price from breaking down and the capitalists from incurring loss. They are willing to let millions of people die of hunger only to protect their material interests. Yet, Islam can never permit such a thing. The desire of such elements should be restricted according to Islam. Economic freedom must not be ensured in any manner or any way, it should be limited. Just as the interests of the deprived stratum of society and the handicapped restrict the interests of society, similarly individual desires must be limited for the sake of ensuring the general interests of society.
3. In Islamic society, there are concerns which are basically related to the individual, but since it leaves an imprint on society, it is reckoned as part of social concerns. For example, if a person commits a sin in isolation at home while no one else is informed or a witness, obviously his sin is personal in nature, and the laws that restrict this kind of action are “moral laws” (without considering whether the use of the term “moral” in this context is correct or not).
That is, the jurisdiction of the state is related to society and not to the individual. But if the individual action is done in such a manner that it more or less affects others, at least encourages others to commit such a sin, it acquires a social dimension. If a person commits a sin in the street or in front of other members of the family, its hideousness will diminish and people will be encouraged and inclined to commit it, his action will no more be personal in nature. Do we have no right to interfere because it will only harm him? According to Islam showing of perversion is a social act. If a person commits a sin in front of others, it becomes a legal crime (in contrast to moral turpitude), and the state may interfere. The law that prevents such a sin is an administrative law backed by the state’s police force.
4. Damaging material interests of society is a crime. Morally damaging acts are also crimes. In every society, an attack on the integrity and honor of others, even if it is not a physical attack (libel, insult and mockery) is considered a crime and the state has the right to pursue the offender and penalize him. In such cases, the executive guarantee is law. In Islamic society, insult to religious sanctity is the most serious violation of the rights of Muslims. In Islamic society there is nothing more valuable than religious sanctity. Muslims are willing to sacrifice everything they have for its sake.
It is on this basis that the decree against apostasy [irtidad] and insult to religious sanctity can be justified and understood. This is why anyone who insults the Holy Prophet (s) and other religious sanctities is condemned to death by Islam. That is because he has committed the greatest of crimes. There is nothing more sacred than these sanctities for Muslim people and insult to these sanctities is the worst of crimes. This is also a fundamental difference between Islamic and liberal perspectives.
Offence against Islamic sanctities is not an offence against an individual for it to require a private complainant. Anyone who insults the Islamic sanctities in newspapers and speeches is condemned according to Islamic law. It is not a personal and individual issue but rather criminal and penal. No one can pardon this crime because it is a right that belongs to all Muslims, nay it is a right related to God.
These are issues which Muslim scholars, especially the students, should pay attention to and not imagine that the political and legal issues of Islam follow the limited and monolithic Western framework that only pays attention to the material, mundane and individual concerns in this world. According to Islam, the rights of society take precedence over individual rights.
In view of what has been discussed, we can assess the distinctive features of Islamic law and the reason behind its superiority over other laws.
We can understand why individual desires are more limited in Islamic society than in secular and liberal societies. It is because in those societies the only thing that limits individual desires are individual and material interests. But in Islamic society spiritual and otherworldly interests require particular limitations. This is something which the nature of the Islamic government anchored in religious belief demands, and we shall defend these beliefs with utmost clarity and courage.

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