By Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin
Translation by R. Abdul-Hamid
I don’t like to be too philosophical in what I say. The purpose of speech and the written word is for the message to be understood by those on the receiving end, not for it to be so convoluted so as to confuse them. Having said that, there are certain terms that need further clarification, not for the sake of mere philosophizing, but because elaboration is necessary to avoid conflict between Muslims.
Among the most important distinction to be made is one between ‘permission’ (izin) and ‘approval’ (redha). Approval does not always accompany permission. Similarly, permission does not always follow approval. At times we permit and approve of an act, and at other times, we do not permit and do not approve of an act both at the same time. To permit an act means to allow it to take place (cf al-Kafawi, al-Kulliyyat, 72, Beirut: Muassasah al-Risalah), while to approve often involves a degree of fondness for the act, called ‘Al-Mahabbah wa al-Ridha’ (ibid 76).
We, in the exercise of our jurisdiction, may either allow an act accompanied by our approval or without it. Our permission does not always translate into our approval. For example, when a Muslim political ruler gives his permission for other religions’ places of worship to be erected, it does not necessarily reflect on his approval of idolatry or the worship of that other than Allah.
Similarly, when a Muslim ruler gives his permission to the non-Muslims to do something that run contrary to the teaching of Islam, such as the consumption of alcohol and gambling within their own premise, it does not mean that the said ruler is making those acts ‘halal’. That permission is given in accordance with the rights that they, as non-Muslim citizens, possess, in terms of freedom to practise religion and a particular lifestyle.
Rulers are meant to manage the affairs of their subjects in a manner that is fair and just. Permission that is granted by rulers in their political capacity does not show a crooked creed (aqidah) or that they have made ‘halal’ what is forbidden (haram). Unless, of course, those rulers personally feel fond of those acts for whose practise they have given permission, or they themselves join in committing those acts. If that is the case, then a valuation of their aqidah is most certainly called for.
What is being argued is that not everything that happens with permission comes with approval. I give the example of a son who seeks his father’s permission to take the family car so that he can drive it around with friends. The father is reluctant for fear of the son’s inability to control himself in his friends’ presence.
But the son persists in wanting to drive the car and keeps at his demand until the father finally relents and in turn, hands the car key to the son. The son later brags to his friends, “My father allowed me to drive his car” while the father, upon being asked, will say, “It’s true I allowed him to drive the car but I did not approve of it. He kept asking and I didn’t have the willingness to continue the fight.”
The aforementioned situation illustrates how permission is given without approval. How many young women are afflicted with the same implication when they allow themselves to be married off by their fathers to men not of their own choosing.
There are also occasions where we cannot permit something that we approve of for several valid reasons. That is why in the Quran, the word ‘masyiah’ or ‘wishes’ is used at the same time the word ‘redha’ (approval) is mentioned. Man acquires faith (iman) when Allah permits it and wishes for it. Without Allah’s permission and wishes for something to happen, they will never happen.
Nevertheless, not everything permissible in the sight of Allah, is also approved by Him. Allah says in the Quran,
“Is he, then, to whom the evil of his conduct is made alluring, so that he looks upon it as good, (equal to one who is rightly guided)? For Allah leaves to stray whom He wills, and guides whom He wills. So let not thy soul go out in (vainly) sighing after them: for Allah knows well all that they do!” (Surah Fatir:8)
Allah leaves to stray whoever He wishes because they choose misguidance over guidance. Likewise, He guides those who choose guidance over misguidance. Such is the law of nature as ordained by the Creator, the ever Just. He does not wrong His servants.
When an act of disobedience is committed by the servants, that does not mean Allah approves of it even though it happens within His permission. Allah says,
“And remember! your Lord caused to be declared (publicly): “If ye are grateful, I will add more (favours) unto you; But if ye show ingratitude, truly My punishment is terrible indeed.” (Surah Ibrahim:7)
Glorified be Allah, pure and clean from any comparison with His own creations. However, in light of practicality in life, we need to draw the distinction between ‘permission’ and ‘approval’. In the covenant of Hudaibiyah, the Prophet (pbuh) agreed with the terms of the negotiation even when he did not approve of them. A hadith related the event as follows,
“Indeed, the people of Quraisy sought to seal a peace treaty with the Prophet (pbuh). Among their representatives was Suhail ibn Amr. The Prophet asked to open the negation with ‘BismiLlahirrahmanirrahim’ (which means ‘in the name of Allah, the most benevolent and most merciful). Suhail objected on the grounds of them not recognising such a phrase, asking instead for ‘Bismikallahumma’ (which means ‘in your name, O Allah)”
In the riwayat of Bukhari, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have concurred.
I explain this distinction (between ‘permission’ and ‘approval’) to avoid an environment of mutual accusation between different groups of Muslims, with regards to many current issues, the use of the name Allah being one of them. This issue has created a lot of tension within the Muslim community, such that it leads to the labelling of ‘kufr’ (disobedience). There are some who claim that those who allow the use of ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims have shown their approval of disobedience to Allah. And that approval is sufficient to make them also disobedient.
Such a deduction is not accurate. We may differ on points of the issue but let us not conclude the matter based on nothing but fact. Muslims who allow Christians to use the names Jesus and Mary in churches should not be mistaken to have approved the Christian act of worshipping them alongside Allah. Nor should they be deemed as having approved the misuse of the name of Jesus.
This is not an issue of approval; rather it is an issue of what rights the non-Muslims have and what rights we must recognize. That is where the discussion should lie. We may agree or disagree with the decision to allow the use of Allah by non-Muslims. I do not wish to discuss that here, but I cannot accept the trend of labelling each other ‘kafir’ among Muslims. We need to approach the matter with reasoned harmony and maturity, not with unreasoned labelling of each other.
Be careful, dear readers, for there are many in this world who seek to manipulate statements and misconstrue them according to their desire in order to vilify a certain group of people. Each of us will stand on the Day of Judgement before Allah, so be just!