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THE THEORY OF OBEDIENCE BASED ON ISLAMIC AND WESTERN VIEW

By Nik Nur Fatehah N Md Ridzuan and


Mohamad Fadzil Bin Mohd Puat

Introduction
Human being, in Hobbes view, cannot live without government. It is a great need for human
being for a government to exist in order to govern their affairs. Thus the need for governance
requires obedience from the people to achieve the state of peace and security at large. Thus,
this article intended to distinguish the Islamic and western theory of obedience to the authority
and in the views of Islamic theory of obedience, analyses applicability of Western theory of
obedience in regulating the Muslims affairs.

Islamic Theory on the Obedience to the State


The importance of the obedience to the State has been stressed by Islam since Prophet
Muhammad saws era. It is because the obedience towards the State is one of the elements of
the conception of state in Islam. This doctrine preached that Muslims must obey the rulers
charged with authority. Obedience of laws is critical for the establishment of social order.1 It is
critical in order to prevent the society for becoming anarchy if the people are often to challenge
authority and disobey the laws which are enacted by the state.
So, there are many Islamic principles which have been derived from main Islamic
sources which are Al-Quran and Hadis and also several Islamic jurists to elucidate the theory of
obedience towards state in Islam. First of all, we must look at several Quranic verses because
Al-Quran is the most supreme among Islamic sources. There is a Quranic verse which
command Muslims to obey Allah swt, His Messenger, and also the leader among Muslims itself.
The verse is

O ye who believe! Obey Allah. And obey the Messenger and those charged with the authority
among you.2 This verse is important to all Muslims because Islam has us to give our full
obedience not only to Allah swt and Prophet Muhammad saw but the leader depends on the

situation. In this context, the leader is the leader of the state such as the King, Sultan, President
or Prime Minister.
This verse was revealed when the Prophet appointed a commander to an army detachment, 3
signaling to Muslim soldiers that obeying the appointed commander was essential for
maintaining discipline of the armed forces. Based on another Hadith, the Prophet has reinforced
obedience to the rulers on the occasion of the Last Pilgrimage saying:
"
"If a slave is appointed over you and he conducts your affairs according to the Book of Allah,
you should listen to him and obey (his orders)."4
So, it is important to say that although the leader which governs the inferior are among
the minority instead of the majority, the people of the state should give respect and obedience
towards the leader if he lead the state with justice and equality. This is the teaching of Islam
towards all Muslims about the importance of obedience towards the State.

Western Theory on the Obedience to the State


Some of the Western scholars have many laid down their thoughts on how should the citizens to
show obedience towards the State. Firstly, we look at Jean Jacques Rousseau which he
grounds obedience on the original social contract, whereby each and every person agrees with
every other to forgo his natural freedom by constituting a State which is to act for all, and in
which the citizen recovers his freedom because he is himself a part of that general will to which
he renders a reasonable service.5
There are several justifications on how is an obligation can be made towards state. Firstly, there
are obligations towards state by consent which is laid down by Rawls. 6 There are several ways
to express this consent towards the state such as by way of voting, accepting the benefits by
the government or by remaining in the state. Secondly, they ask us to consider the bad
consequences for a society in which people disobeyed the law.7 To Hobbes, a classical source
for this argument, perpetual war of every man against his neighbour8 would be the likely result.
Another is about the free-rider one. It can be explained as wrong for those who have
benefitted from the state not to respond with the obedience of the law. This justification has
been drawn by Plato. It is becoming fairness for the citizens to follow the obedience from the
state has owed to its citizens.

Western Theory of Obedience in Regulating Muslim Affairs


Hobbes thinks that human cannot live in peace and security without a government. His most
basic argument is threefold. (i) He thinks we will compete, violently compete, to secure the basic
necessities of life and perhaps to make other material gains. (ii) He argues that we will
challenge others and fight out of fear ("diffidence"), so as to ensure our personal safety. (iii) And
he believes that we will seek reputation ("glory"), both for its own sake and for its protective
effects (for example, so that others will be afraid to challenge us).9 Underlying this most basic
argument is an important consideration about insecurity that might occur in between a
government and citizens. So, his main concern is that how human being can live in peace and
avoid danger and fear of civil conflict?10 Hobbes answer to this question is people should give
their obedience to the government, including the unaccountable government. People ought to
avoid the state of nature. Or we might endanger our happiness and security and have to
encounter a civil conflict.
Hobbes theory is proven the truth reality of human being. We cannot live unruly. People need
governance to achieve peace and order and this requires obedience. The doctrine of obedience
is meant to minimize the insecurity that might endanger us. This is in lined with the doctrine of
obedience in Islam. The Quran commands Muslims: O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey
the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you." 11 This verse was revealed when
the Prophet appointed a commander to an army detachment, signaling to Muslim soldiers that
obeying the appointed commander was essential for maintaining discipline of the armed
forces.12 This also applies to the importance of governance of community at large; s structured
and smooth running state cannot exist without government.
For people to obey the government in the time of prosperity is easy. But in the time of crisis,
where the state of nature takes place, the world would be in utter chaos. In Islam, social and
economic grievances cannot be the basis to disobey the ruler. And this includes demands for
equal treatment.13 The situation of the state might be disadvantages to the people; however
Muslims must continue to oblige the ruler. Even in time where Muslim disapproves of something
done by the ruler, patience is recommended over rebellion.
Hobbes has the same opinion on this matter; the state of nature is something we ought to avoid.
The best one can hope for is peaceful life under an authoritarian-sounding sovereign. The
worst, on Hobbes's account, is what he calls the "natural condition of mankind," a state of

violence, insecurity and constant threat. Thus, Hobbes thinks little happiness can be expected
of our lives together.14 Like Hobbes, Austin regarded anarchy as the worst social evil. This can
be seen from his statement; disobedience to an established government, let it be never so bad,
is an evil: For the mischiefs inflicted by a bad government are less than the mischiefs of
anarchy.15 Obedience to the government is vital to maintain the security of the state. The effect
of disobedience that people have to pay is much extreme than one can imagine; that is the end
of peace.
But the notion of the doctrine of obedience in Islam does not demands rigid obedience without
exception. The Quran allows Muslims to unite against oppression on earth and great corruption
(fasadun kabeerun).16 It is of great crimes committed against people. Thus Muslim, in such an
event, is allows to fight against the oppressive ruler even when it involved bloodshed. However,
according to al-Ghazali, the removal of a bad ruler, will lead to chaos and anarchy. If the event is
likely to cause social disorder, al-Ghazali prefers that Muslims bear the ruler injustices rather
than rebel against him.17 When chaotic situation has taken over, Islam has the rules in
governing war that Muslims should abide with. This includes the prohibition of killing women and
children.
However, Hobbes views when the state of nature take place, is totally against the principle in
Islam. He said, To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent [that
follows]: that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no
place [in the state of nature]."18 One has all the power to judge his own act, either to kill or not to
kill and nothing can be unjust with the decision he chooses. This can lead to utter violence and
the consequences are unimaginable.

Conclusion
Basically, the ground of western theory of obligation can be summed up under five heads;
Indolence, Deference, Sympathy, Fear, Reason. 19 Indolence is the state of the disposition of a
man to let someone else do for him what it would give him trouble to do for himself. A person,
normally, does not want to govern all their affairs by their own, individually. For example, they
depend on bank to keep their money safe. This simple example is enough to prove that people
need governance on some of their affairs. Secondly, people demands deference. Whether the
emotion be it love, or reverence, or esteem, or admiration, a persuasion of superior goodness or
of superior wisdom, there is a feeling on the part of the person attracted which makes him ready

to sacrifice his own impulses. The force of the feeling of deference in securing compliance or
adhesion varies in different nations and in different states of society. Through sympathy, it
shows the associative tendency of mankind, the disposition to join in doing what one sees
others doing, or in feeling as others feel. Of fear and reason, this can clearly be seen from
Hobbes views. Fear is no doubt the promptest and most effective means of restraining the
turbulent or criminal elements in society. Reason teaches the value of order, reminding us that
without order there can be little progress, and preaches patience, holding out a prospect that
evils will be amended by the general tendency for truth to prevail.
The five grounds explained the need of governance, that human being cannot live in peace and
security without it. Government, in return, demands obedience from human being for it jobs in
keeping the peace and security for all. This is a natural law, the human being natural needs to
be govern. The establishment of Islam as religion, its main purpose is to govern the human
being, as without such governance, as Hobbes said, will lead to the worst situation; a civil war.
Thus, in general, the western theory of obedience is in line with Islamic doctrine of obedience.
Obedience, though towards unaccountable government, Islam demands Muslim to be patience
and abide with the ruler. Obedience to such rulers, the purpose is to avoid the worst condition of
humanity. Though Islam still allows the fight against the oppressive government, scholars are in
the views that, if such fight will create greater harm and damage to the society, it is better to be
patience and obliged the ruler. In this point, Islam and Western share the same view.

1 Liaquat Ali Khan, Advocacy Under Islam and Common Law, 45 San Diego L. Rev. 547,
2008, page 581
2 QURAN, sura al-Nisa 4:59.
3 6 SAHIH AL-BUKHARI, supra note 49, Book of Commentary 60:108,
4 3 SAHIH MUSLIM, 20:4528.
5 James Bryce, Studies in History and Jurisprudence, page 464
6 M.D.A Freeman, Lloyds Introduction to Jurisprudence, 7th Edition, Sweet & Maxwell
Ltd., London, 2001, page 360
7 Ibid
8 In Leviathan, 20 (pp 144-145 of Tuck edition, 1996)
9 Garrath Williams, Thomas Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy, Lancaster
University, p.9.
10 Ibid.
11 Quran, surah al-Nisa 4:59.
12 Liaquat Ali Khan, Advocacy Under Islam and Common Law, 45 San Diego L. Rev.
547 2008.
13 Ibid.
14 Garrath Williams, Thomas Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy, Lancaster
University, p.9.
15 Kenneth Warner, Law, Power and Authority: Perspectives in the Jurisprudence of
John Austin, 6 Law Context A Socio-Legal J. 45 1988, p. 45.
16 Quran, surah al-Anfal 8:73.
17 Liaquat Ali Khan, Advocacy Under Islam and Common Law, 45 San Diego L. Rev.
547 2008, p.584.
18 Garrath Williams, Thomas Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy, Lancaster
University, p.11.
19 Obedience, 2 James Bryce Studies in History and Jurisprudence 463, p.6.