American Muslim jurists disagree over how Muslims residing in the West, and particularly those in the U.S., should view their countries' security agencies. In recent years, rulings in this matter have been posted on the website of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America, which offers online responses from member jurists to questions from the public on Islamic law. Under the category "Matters Pertaining to Muslim Minorities [in Western Countries]" were answers to questions regarding the legitimacy of cooperating with U.S. security forces in the war on terror – both on U.S. soil and abroad – as well as the legitimacy of enlisting in the ranks of these forces.
In their responses, the jurists draw a distinction between the various law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Particularly noteworthy are their reservations about the FBI. For example, in response to a question regarding whether it is permissible to aid the FBI in preventing terrorist attacks, Sheikh Walid Ibn Khaled Bassyouni writes: "If you know that a certain person is planning a terrorist attack, it is incumbent upon you to call the police immediately, in order to thwart these evil deeds." Another jurist states that there is a prohibition against working for the FBI.
The following are excerpts and overviews of these positions:
Ambivalence Vis-à-vis Muslims Helping in the War on Terror
Dr. Muwwafaq Al-Ghalayini
The abovementioned responses reflect American Muslim jurists' ambivalence toward the question of cooperation with U.S. security forces in their war on terror overseas, i.e. in Afghanistan and Iraq. One posting on the site asked whether it is permissible to teach Arabic to employees of the various branches of the U.S. Department of Defense. Dr. Muwwafaq Al-Ghalayini sought positive aspects: "Fundamentally, teaching the Arabic language is permissible. Islamic law does not require that we determine the underlying intentions of each person in his actions. Studying the Arabic language may expose [the student] to the Koran and the Sunna, [leading him] to convert to Islam."
In contrast, the permanent members of the website's "fatwa committee" avoided giving a clear-cut answer to a question posed by a Muslim living in the U.S. regarding cooperating with the U.S. war effort. He asked: "Is a Muslim who owns a moving company permitted to transport supplies from the distributor's warehouse to the port, knowing that the supplies are to be sent to soldiers operating in Islamic countries as part of NATO forces?" The committee members responded: "The basis is the Koranic verses: 'Help one another in goodness and piety, and do not help one another in sin and aggression (Koran 5:2)'... If somebody commits a crime and conspires against [Muslims], you must not abet him anywhere on earth, whether he is a civilian or belongs to the military, and regardless of his national or religious affiliation. In the days of the Prophet, the Muslims who emigrated to Ethiopia helped the Ethiopian king and fought by his side against his [non-Muslim] enemies. On the basis of this principle and its implementation in the days of the Prophet, one may glean the answer."
The respondents conspicuously avoided issuing a clear ruling, and offered the questioner no more than general guidelines to help him decide what action to take.
Pros and Cons of Enlisting in U.S. Forces and Working for the Police
Another questioner posted on the website to ask whether it is permissible for him, as a Muslim, to enlist in the U.S. Navy, in light of the possibility that he might be sent to serve in a Muslim country, and whether his enlisting the Navy might be considered "loyalty to the infidels and leaving the fold [of Islam]." In response, Hatem Al-Hajj, an Egyptian cleric residing in Minnesota, referred him to a detailed 23-page document drawn up by Al-Hajj for the fifth annual convention of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America, which was held in Bahrain in November 2007. The document discussed the legitimacy of Muslims serving in the police forces of non-Muslim countries, particularly in the U.S.
In the document's introduction, Al-Hajj explained why he wrote it: "One-third of all Muslims today live as minorities in non-Islamic countries, and most of the remaining two-thirds live in the shadow of non-Islamic regimes, even if they live in Islamic lands. The two groups are subject to man-made laws, which Islamic law [shari'a] does not recognize, either fully or in part. These laws are created as follows: the legislative [stage], carried out by members of parliament; the judiciary stage, carried out by judges; and the stage of implementation and enforcement, which is the work of the police. The police carry out their duties ... Here, Muslims should ask whether they are permitted to work as policemen in those [non-Islamic] regimes, [whether in Islamic countries] or in non-Islamic countries."
Al-Hajj enumerates explanations that suggest that Muslims should be encouraged to work for the police, saying that a scarcity of Muslims on the police force would lead "the residents of that country to think that Muslim citizens' loyalty to the country was flawed," as well as a situation in which "the police lack knowledge about Islam and the Muslims." Moreover, he said, a lack of Muslims on the police force would lead to Muslim "ignorance with regard to [police] work, and to collective ignorance as to the police force's missions and how to conduct oneself vis-à-vis the police. [Thus], individuals or institutions [in that country's Muslim community] might [inadvertently] break the country's laws." Moreover, he said, Muslims could benefit from having coreligionists in the police, for example by obtaining guards for mosques and so on.
Al-Hajj also presented the harmful aspects of Muslims on the police force in a Western country – the foremost of which could be Muslim policemen being obligated to "impose laws that are not the laws of Allah," in addition to the weakening of Muslims' faith, thus leading to sin, saying, "[The policeman] is likely to renounce many of his religious beliefs and fall prey to many sins, such as the ban on gender mixing," and more.
Al-Hajj then devotes four pages to the principle of rejecting jurisdiction that is not according to the laws of Allah – that is, man made laws that do not follow Islamic law (al-hukm bi-ghair ma anzal Allah). To this end, he reviews statements by Islamic jurists on the matter, including Abu Muhammad Ali Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Kathir, Ahmad Shaker, Muhammad bin Ibrahim Aal Al-Sheikh, and Muhammad Amin Al-Shanqiti – all scholars generally affiliated with the stricter Sunni schools.
Al-Hajj qualifies the position that serving in the police force means subjugation to a system of man made laws, stating that if a Muslim policeman recognizes the supremacy of Islam, he is sinning but is not an apostate. Therefore, he says, the fundamental question is whether such service means subjugation to man-made laws, which is tantamount to a sin, or whether it is permitted as the lesser evil.
The following are Al-Hajj's arguments for prohibiting Muslims from police work:
1. Ostensibly, serving on the police force is forbidden, because police work is based on laws that are not the laws of Allah – that is to say, they are heretical: "The abovementioned evidence concerns the prohibition against jurisprudence which is not according to the religion of Allah, and concerns the heresy of anyone who engages in it, whether as judge or as litigant. A member of the police force who implements the laws of these [infidel, non-Muslim] rulers is necessarily enforcing a law which is not the law of Allah." Al-Hajj counters this, saying that these laws are divided into two categories: laws compatible with the goals of the shari'a, such as traffic or drug laws, and laws which contradict the shari'a, but which the policeman has no choice but to enforce. He said that not all policemen deal with enforcing the second kind of laws – on the contrary, a large number of policemen deal with enforcing laws that serve the public interest, in a way that is compatible with the spirit of Islam, like traffic cops, narcotics agents, etc.
2. Serving on the police force also constitutes "aid to perpetrators of crimes and aggression. [Muslim] policemen [in Western countries] might participate in incriminating a Muslim who has been done an injustice." Al-Hajj notes that "the Muslim communities in the West often talk about cases filed arbitrarily against their members or their institutions," and adds that "most of those who seek [to join the police force] want the salary and the rank, and do not stand up for the truth or help the oppressed."
3. Police work involves espionage, but "shari'a forbids espionage as long as there is no [reasonable] suspicion... There should be no spying against anyone who has not been proven to be wicked. But [the authorities] spy on Muslims in those diasporas [in the West] because of the suspicion and the doubts that they have about those diasporas, and they bug the[ir] mosques, homes, cars, and phones."
4. "The Sunna contains explicit bans on working as a policeman for an oppressive and corrupt regime." However, Al-Hajj qualifies this by saying that many Western countries do not have such a regime.
5. A policeman is obliged to undergo violations of modesty, such as "licentious mixing between the sexes, seclusion with someone of the opposite sex, and the like."
Al-Hajj then discussed arguments for why Muslims should be allowed to engage in police work. He wrote that such permission is based on the principle of doing the least evil – that is, finding the golden mean between the ideal and reality, in accordance with which each Muslim deals with the reality in which he finds himself in a positive way and strives to change it to the Muslims' benefit.
Al-Hajj also raises the possibility that Muslims can be allowed to engage in police work despite the violations of shari'a that it entails, based on the principle of preventing worse outcomes for Islam and the Muslims. Beyond that, he presents two proofs permitting taking on positions for infidel governments from the Islamic tradition. The first of these is the story of Joseph, who worked for Pharaoh, and the second is the tradition about the Muslims who emigrated to Ethiopia in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and fought in the army of the Ethiopian monarch against his enemies, even though he was not Muslim - an example also mentioned by the permanent members of the website's fatwa committee, as mentioned above.
Al-Hajj's conclusions were:
1. It is forbidden to work for the FBI or for U.S. security services because these harm Muslims; furthermore, working for these bodies involves spying on Muslims.
2. It is permitted to work for bodies acting for the general good, such as agencies charged with fighting drugs, alcohol, guns, and the like, and it is also permitted to work for bodies that preserve public order.
3. With regard to city and state police, Al-Hajj explains that there is some fear that a Muslim who works for these bodies could be forced to arrest a Muslim because of false complaints, and thus each situation must be examined individually and carefully by jurisprudents.
In sum, it can be understood from this document that Muslims are prohibited from joining the military – if it is forbidden to spy on Muslims for criminal and security reasons, it is all the moreso forbidden to enlist or aid active warfare against them.
English-Language Fatwas Concerning Aiding or Joining the Military
Dr. Salah Al-Sawy
Conflicting views regarding cooperation with the U.S. security forces, and the joining of these forces, can also be found in rulings issued on the Assembly's English-language website, in response to readers' questions. Following are excerpts from some of the rulings, in the original English:
Dr. Salah Al-Sawy, who was asked whether it is permissible to work as a teacher at a Canadian military college, answered: "There is nothing wrong with working as a civilian teacher in a military college in Canada, especially since Canada is not one of the many countries currently at war with the Ummah, as long as you always remember that you are a man with a cause, that you do not forget your role in telling people about the Prophet".
Dr. Ma'in Khalid Al-Qudah
Another jurisprudent, Dr. Ma'in Khalid Al-Qudah, said it is permissible for a Muslim to serve in the U.S. military, providing he does not fight his coreligionists: "The only thing you must consider in this regard is to make sure not to be involved in fighting, harming, or even bothering Muslims at all. [Other than this], defending your country would be a noble job of which you could be proud."
The Assembly's permanent fatwa committee was more cautious in responding to the following question: "Is it… permissible to join the U.S. Navy if you choose to be stationed in a non-Muslim country, like Japan or China?" In this case, the committee did not issue a ruling, but advised the enquirer to call "and speak directly to one of our scholars, because the answer requires more detail and information."
The committee did elaborate on the issue of enlisting in the U.S. military, in a fatwa issued to a Muslim American citizen who inquired whether he could join the army, in a non-combat capacity, even though it "supports aggression against Muslims in many countries around the world".
The ruling given in response is ambivalent. On one hand, the committee states that a Muslim must not participate in "unjust battle," or to give assistance to an army waging such battles, thereby implying that joining the U.S. military at present is forbidden. On the other hand, the ruling states that it is permissible to assist all oppressed groups, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. As an example, he mentions that the Muslim ummah came out against Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait. This seems to imply that the fatwa committee does not rule out service in the U.S. armed forces altogether. The following are excerpts from the Fatwa:
"The basic rule is that a Muslim should not engage in unjust battles, whether under the umbrella of Muslims or under the umbrella of others. Neither is he allowed to refrain from helping any oppressed person who is seeking his help when he is capable of helping him, whether he be from the Muslims or others. On that basis, if one group of his Ummah rebelled against the others, he is not to be with the rebels, not even to add to their show of strength, even if they are Muslims! Indeed, you saw how the Ummah stood in opposition to Saddam Hussain when he invaded his neighbor, Kuwait. And there is nothing wrong with helping an oppressed person, even if he is not one of the Muslims...
"This is the rule, so, on that basis, if a group of people entered into an unjust war, then no Muslim should help [it] in [its] injustice, whether [it be a group of] Muslims or anyone else, whether this aid is direct, through combat, or indirect, by offering services, logistical or otherwise. And if a group of people is oppressed in front of him, he is to hurry to help them with all kinds of aid if he finds a reason for that, in terms of alliance, proximity of location or otherwise, whether they are from the Muslims or anyone else, for in justice were the heavens and the earth established! Through the aforementioned rules shall the answer to the question about this new occurrence be known."