Please note: The answers on Hawramani.com constitute friendly advice rather than fatwas. Where relevant, we translate the opinions and fatwas of respected scholars and present them in our answers.

Why did Imam Malik forbid living in non-Muslim countries?

Question in response to The Problem with the IslamQA.info Website:

I'm wondering why did Imam Malik Say we can't live in non Muslim country? SubbhanAllah I thought that imam Malik had balanced views. isn't it the fact that westerns are converting due to the fact that we Muslims live in the West and that there are masajids etc in the west. If they are isolated from us how can they get the message? (I follow Maliki madhab)

At the time of Imam Malik the Islamic world used to be viewed as one country. A Muslim could travel from Spain to Afghanistan without needing a passport because, just by being Muslim, he was considered a citizen of the whole of the Islamic lands. Due to the fact that at the time there were no lasting international treaties or constitutions in the non-Islamic lands, living in them was often very dangerous for Muslims. Even if the present ruler of a non-Islamic country like Byzantium had a friendly attitude toward Muslims, protected them and allowed them to practice their religion, the next ruler could choose to forbid the practice of Islam, in this way forcing the Muslims to either abandon Islam or lose everything they had by making them leave the country.

Another issue was that due to the lack of a stable international order, the borders of the Islamic lands were the scenes of constant battles. A Muslim who left the land of Islam to live somewhere else could have been forced by the non-Islamic country to wage war against the Islamic lands.

It is possible those circumstances made Imam Malik prefer a certain interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah (such as verses 4:97-99) that considers it a duty to migrate to the Land of Islam (Dār al-Islām, literally “Abode of Islam”). There is, however, no conclusive evidence in favor of that view. There is nothing in the Quran or the Sunnah that forces us to adopt it. There is an authentic narration in the collection of Ibn Ḥibbān in which a recent convert to Islam comes to the Prophet saying that some people are telling him he is doomed if he does not migrate to the land of Islam, while the land he currently lives in is populated by non-Muslims who promise him that he will be safe and free to practice Islam. The Prophet tells him to stay with his people, advising him to pray and to avoid evil deeds, and to live among his own people wherever he likes.1

Today, when it comes to this issue, those who have a tribalist way of thinking continue to take the Abode of Islam vs. Abode of Unbelief idea seriously, while the majority have moved on to recognizing that that concept is outdated and that it was a human invention to begin with (neither the Quran nor authentic narrations teach us to think in such black and white terms). The sensible position, which is the position of most scholars, is that if a country guarantees a Muslim’s right to freedom of religion and certain other human rights that most countries guarantee, then a Muslim can live there without issue. Some scholars have the opinion that every Muslim should ideally do their best to move to an “Islamic” country. This is a highly debatable issue; it is not at all obvious that it is morally and spiritually superior for an Irish convert to Islam to abandon their land and culture to live in a Muslim country where they have half the human rights, safety and economic security they would have back home. It also shows a distinct lack of respect for a person’s family, culture and heritage to think that a person should just throw all that away and have no sense of duty toward them to want to sustain and reform them with their newfound spirituality. But as I explained about Wahhabis in my essay, it is a distinct feature of their type of thinking that they have no respect for human relationships and cultures, in their view it is their ideology that is supposed to replace human nature and culture (hence their famous destruction of so much of Arabia’s architectural heritage in the name of Islam).

Footnotes

  1. Mentioned in this archived link.
And God knows best.

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