Fatwas Passed By Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymia
The Permissibility Of Assuming Public Office In' An Unjust State, If The Occupant Would Alleviate Some Of The Injustice Or Curb Evil And Corruption
Sheikh Allslam Ibn Taymia, May Allah grant him forgiveness, was asked about a man, who assumed public offices and undertook responsibility for certain fiefs whose inhabitants were required to pay the State imposed taxes levied as per the practice of all governments. That man chose to lift all the injustice off people's shoulders, seeking to do so with all his effort, knowing that if he resigned his office the injustice would remain as it was, if it did not become worse. The man could alleviate the tax burdens of his subjects, dropping half the taxes but collecting the other half because that half should be collected as repayment for public expenses. Was that man to remain in his office, his intentions and efforts for lifting as much injustice as possible having been known, or should he resign his office and leave the fief for someone else to run, while he knew that his resignation would lift no injustice but could leave the injustice to proliferate? Would he be sinning if he remained in office? If not, would it be right to ask him to remain? Which would be better for him: to stay in office and try to alleviate the injustice as much as he could, or resign his office and let the injustice stay and increase? If the subjects in his fief chose to have him remain in office due to the benefit they gained from his stay through his lifting of injustice, should he stay?
The Sheikh answered:
"Praise be to Allah. Yes, he should stay in office if he is a good man who tries to lift as much injustice as he can, if his being in office is better than having another in his place, and if his control of his fief is better than its control by someone else. He may stay in office, and will not be committing a sin if he does so. His remaining in office is even better than leaving it unless he occupies himself with something better.
"This [stay in office] may even be a duty that such a man has to discharge if there is nobody else who can undertake it, for the establishment of justice and elimination of injustice as much as possible is a collective duty, and should be undertaken by any individual who finds in himself the ability to do so while others cannot undertake it, but he who does so should not be asked in this case to lift an injustice that he cannot cope with.
Such a man should not be asked to lift any taxes that the rulers levy on their subjects in his fief if he cannot lift such taxes. Besides, if the rulers and their representatives demand funds that cannot be paid unless some of these taxes are collected, so that if this man does not pay them what they want they will give his position and fief to someone else who will continue, or increase, the injustice, then the collection of some of these taxes on behalf of the rulers would be better than having all the taxes collected. For if this man tries to be as just as he can, then he is better than others, even if he gives evil persons some of what they demand to make it possible for him to avoid their evil. This man will be rewarded for collecting tax from Muslims if he has to collect it but does not do the injustice himself, and he will not be punished for collecting it if he is collecting it under the aforesaid conditions. He will not be punished in this life or in the Hereafter if he does his best to insure that justice is served as much as possible.
Such a man is like a guardian of orphans, a trustee of waqf (religious trust), a partner in commerce or any such individual who acts on behalf of others by virtue of his guardianship or by proxy: he is like them in their payment of some of the money of their principals of clients to an unjust ruler if this is the only way to serve the interests of their clients. This man will be doing right, not wrong, and what he gives the rulers includes what is given to taxcollectors in real-estate tax and sales tax, as anyone who makes a transaction for himself or on behalf of others in these countries has to pay these taxes, and if he does not collect the tax, while he cannot see to the affairs of his subjects without it, the interests of his subjects, and his subjects themselves, will be harmed.
As for those who opine that such a situation should not be allowed to exist in order not to accept a little injustice, if they are followed by people, the injustice and corruption will certainly increase, for they are like travelers stopped by bandits: if they do not pacify the bandits with some of their money, the bandits will kill them and take all their money. if anyone says to these travelers, "It is illegal to give the bandits any of your money", he means to keep that little money he is advising them not to pay, but if they follow his advice they will lose that little money and all their money as well. Nobody in his right mind would give such an advice, let alone that a religion ordain it, for Allah the Almighty sent down His Messengers to establish, attain public interests and eliminate and curb evils as much as possible.
If such a man who tries to collect as little tax as possible, and spares the people much more evil by so doing, and can do nothing else, leaves his offices, he will be succeeded by someone else who will collect all the tax and spare the people nothing. Such a man will be rewarded for what he does, and will not be punished (for that) in this world or in the Hereafter.
Such as man is like orphan's guardians and waqfs' trustees who can do their duty only by payment of unjust tax imposed by the government, for if any of them abandons his job he will be replaced by someone who will aggravate the injustice. Therefore, their stay in office is permissible, and they will be committing no sin by paying such taxes. Their remaining in office may even be a duty they have to discharge.
This also applies to the soldier appointed to run a certain fief, who collects less tax from the people but cannot deliver all the tax he collects to the government because he is asked to provide weapons, horses and other things that he can acquire only by taking some of the tax. A wellarmed soldier serves Muslims well in war. If someone tells him that he has no right to take any of the money and has to leave the fief, and he leaves it to be run by someone else who increases the injustice and does nothing to serve Muslims, this someone will have spoken out of ignorance of the facts of religion. Even the presence of Turkish and Arabian soldiers, who are better than soldiers of others and are closer to justice with people, with the injustice alleviated as much as possible, is better for Muslims than having the fiefs run by others who are less useful and more unjust.
Any of these officials and agents who does his best to be just and charitable will be rewarded for what good they do, and will not be punished for not doing the good that is beyond their means, and they will not be called to account for what they collect or spend if there is noting else they can do, as not collecting the tax and not spending the money as they do will lead to greater evils.
Sheikh Allslam Ibn Taymia says in the chapter on the conflict of good and bad things:
Since it is proved that good things lead to benefits, leaving them undone is. considered as an evil, and evils are harmful. An undesirable thing may also involve some benefits conflict happens between two good things that cannot be combined together, and so the better one should be taken; between two bad things that cannot be averted, so the lesser of them has to be accepted; or between a good thing and a bad thing which have to be taken together or left together, and so should be taken or left according to which is bigger: the benefit involved in the good thing or the evil inhering the bad thing.
The first type of conflict is such as the one between the duty and the recommended act, such as giving precedence to the repayment of debts over voluntary sadaqat [donations]; or between a farida that has to be performed by every Muslim and a farida that can be performed by any Muslim on behalf of all Muslims.
The second type of conflict is like the conflict between giving priority to spending money on one's wife and family over spending money on a jihad that has not become an individual obligation and also the financial support of one's parents should have precedence over jihad, as ordained by the sound hadith:
(The Prophet was asked, "Which act is better?" He said, "Praying at the due times of prayer, then treating one's parents well, then jihad for Allah's cause") Jihad, once it is an individual obligation, comes before hajj if the latter is also an individual obligation and the same precedence is observed when the two are just recommended acts, according to the Quran and Sunna. Reciting the Quran is given precedence over dhikr [remembrance of Allah] if the two of them require equal involvement of the heart and the tongue, while prayer is given precedence over the two of them if it demands involvement of the heart like them, otherwise precedence should be given to dhikr over the recital of the Quran that does not involve the heart. However, this is a very expansive field of fiqh.
The third type of conflict is like that between a woman's travel alone without a mahram [here: either her husband, or a man of her kin whom she may not marry and therefore would be safe from sin with him such as a brother, a father, an uncle, etc] and her stay in Dar alHarb, as was done by UmmKulthum, on whom Allah sent down the Verse of the Test: ( O you who believe! When there come to you believing women refugees, examine [and test] them) [Surat AlMumtahana: 10].
Also in the fiqh of jihad, while killing noncombatant women and children and their like is harem, they may be killed if need arises for a type of combat that includes them, such as using mangonels or night raids, as is narrated in the Sunna with regard to striking a siege around Taif and launching stones on it with the mangonel, and also with regard to raiding infidels, who are residing in the Muslim country, by night. This judgment is also aimed at averting the occurrence of fitna (temptation against one's creed) by killing those who, otherwise, should not be killed intentionally.
And such is the issue of tatarrus mentioned by Jaqihs (jurists). Jihad is a fight against the dissent sown by unbelief. which is fought even if this involves accepting lesser evils. Therefore, faqihs agree that when the evil against Muslims can only be averted by means leading to killing those human shields. then they may be killed in some opinions.
Another type of conflict is that which occurs when a Muslim has to eat the flesh of a dead animal in case of extreme hunger, where eating will be a good act that can be done only through this evil act. An opposite case is whether to take an obnoxious medicine, as its harm will be more than the cure it causes, and because other medicines can replace it and also because cure is uncertain. The same applies to drinking wine as a medicine.
An evil may be tolerated in two cases: if it will lead to avoiding a worse evil that cannot be averted otherwise, and if it will bring about an interest that can neither be abandoned nor be brought about otherwise. An interest or a benefit may be abandoned in two cases: if it involves the loss of a better interest, or if it entails an evil that is much larger. This is what relates to religious balances.
As for exemption from a duty as a result of a harm in earthly life, or allowing an illegal thing for the sake of a benefit in earthly life, such as exemption from fasting for the sake of travel, and allowing some taboos in hajj on account of illness, exemption from certain fundamentals in prayer for illness, this is another field that falls under the leniency of religion and the elimination of hardships over which laws of various creeds may differ, contrary to the previous field which cannot be a matter of dispute among creeds, at least on generalities, for they may differ on its details. This is even determined by reason, as the adage has it, "A wise man is not that who can tell good from evil, but it is that who can tell the better of two good things and the lesser of two evils.
Therefore, it has settled in people's minds that at the time of drought, rain becomes a blessing, for although it makes the harvest of tyrants bigger its absence is harmful to all people. People also prefer having an unjust ruler to having no ruler at all. A wise man once said,: "Sixty years under a tyrant ruler are better than one night with no ruler."
Moreover, a ruler is held responsible for the aggressions he commits and the rights he neglects if he is in complete control of matters. However, I say that if a ruler or an official cannot discharge his duties and keep away from all the illegal things, but tries to avoid making mistakes while others make them intentionally, then he may, or should be given the office, because if the public office involves certain duties that have to be done, such as jihad against enemies, dividing the Fay enforcing hudud (major punishments) and ensuring security, then it has to be filled. It is only to be filled by someone who does not deserve it, and the official in question can not prevent that, then his action will fall under the classification of (what is inevitable for discharging a duty becomes a duty) and so its harm would be accepted if it is less than the benefit of that duty. Moreover, if public office is not a duty and is assumed by an unjust person, and someone else assumes it to lessen the injustice and lift its larger part by accepting its lesser part, then his action will be good according to this intention, and the evil will be committing in the course of his action to avert a larger evil will be a good deed.
This is a field where the intention is the determinant factor. If a tyrant asks a man to pay a certain amount of money and a mediator intervened to avert the injustice, taking only part of the money from the man and giving it the tyrant to ensure that his injustice is averted, and seeking to spare the man payment altogether, then this mediator will be doing a good deed. However, if he interferes to aid the tyrant, he will be committing an evil deed.
But the intention and act are foul in most of these cases. The intention is foul because it is aimed at power and wealth, and the act is foul because it is intentionally aimed at doing the unlawful and leaving out the obligations, not because of conflict or for the sake of the best interest.
Besides, while public office may be permissible, desirable or imperative, there could be other things that are more imperative or desirable to the man appointed to it, so he gives precedence to the better of the two good things, sometimes out of obligation and sometimes out of preference.
This classification includes the Prophet Joseph's assumption of responsibility for the store houses of the land for the King of Egypt, even his asking for this position, while the King and his people were unbelievers: (And to you there came Joseph in times gone by, with Clear Signs, but you did not cease to doubt of the [mission] for which he had come) [Surat Ghafir: 34]. Allah says about Joseph, (O my two companions of the prison! [l ask you]: are many lords differing among themselves better, or Allah the One, Supreme and Irresistible? Whatever you worship apart from Him is nothing but names which you have named, you and your fathers) [Surat Yusuf: 3940]. Unbelievers as they were, they had to have a system and a tradition for collecting money and spending it on the King's court, soldiers and subjects, and such a system and a tradition did not agree with the practices and justice of prophets. So, Joseph was unable to do all that he wanted by way of establishing the [approved] practices of Allah, for these people would not go along with him. However, did what he could to establish justice and good, and he gained, through his power, for the believers among his family members what he could not have achieved otherwise. All of this falls under Allah's saying (So fear Allah as much as you can) [Surat Taghabun: 16].
If two duties coincide but only one can be done and the more important is chosen, then the other is no longer a duty, and he who leaves it for the more important duty will not be shirking a duty.
Similarly, if two prohibited things combine so that the lesser of them has to be committed in order to avert the larger one, doing the lesser one will not be prohibited in fact. However, the action is called in the first case a shirking of duty and in the second case a committing of a prohibited action. It is said in this connection, "The duty was left for an excuse and the evil was done for the sake of preponderant interest, or for the sake of necessity. or for averting a worse evil".
This field of conflict is very expansive, especially where the inherited practices of Sunna and Caliphate are rare and hence these conflicts become more. The more the rarity of them, the more the aspects of conflict and the causes for dissent in the Nation. When interests and evils are confused, ambiguity occurs, with some people seeing the interests and choose a certain thing that involves great evils, others seeing the evils and choose another thing: that leaves out many interests, and still others who ponder the two things.
A wise scholar should consider these matters carefully, for he may have, as I have already said, to be flexible in passing decisions on certain affairs instead of firmly allowing or banning something, such as when he is about to order a duty that involves a greater evil, in which case he must not order the duty in order to avert the evil. For instance, one might turn over a guilty man to a tyrant ruler who sentences him to a punishment that exceeds his crime, or order a ban on doing some evil things that involve a good thing that exceeds the goodness done by stopping these evils, in which case one should not order the ban so that it may not involve leaving what Allah and His Messenger have ordered, which could be greater in benefit than leaving these evils.