Considering Consequences
  • Tue, 06/25/2013
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Someone asked me to explain the extent to which, in Islamic teachings, a legally accountable person is expected to take consequences into account, whether the person is a legal scholar, a political leader, a parent, the head of a company, or what have you.

I set about to gather all the relevant textual evidence I could identify in the Qur’an and Sunnah, along with information about the general axioms of Islamic Law. This is what I found:

1. In the story of Joseph (peace be upon him), he advises austerity measures to prepare for drought. This is a clear application of taking action in consideration of their future consequences. This shows that Islam recognises acknowledges that consequences are to be identified and taken into consideration. Future outcomes are not part of the absolute Unseen known only to Allah. They can be anticipated, at least to a degree. It is prohibited for anyone to claim certain knowledge about the future, since that rests only with Allah, However, we do have expectations based on past experience and our knowledge of the world. That is possible for anyone, not just the Prophets.

2. There are many verses of the Qur’an that call our attention to general patterns in Creation that we can take into account in our decision-making and our plans. Allah says:
“(Such was Our) way in the case of those whom We sent before you, and you will not find any alteration in Our way.” [Sūrah al-Isrā’: 77]

“The evil plot does not encompass except its own people. Can they expect anything but the way the former peoples [were dealt with]? But you will never find any change in Allah’s way, and you will never find any alteration in Allah’s way.” [Sūrah Fātir: 43]

“[This is] the established way of Allah with those who passed on before; and you will not find in Allah’s way of any change.” [Sūrah al-Ahzāb: 62]

“They will not believe in it, even though there has already occurred a precedent the people who have gone before.” [Sūrah al-Hijr: 13]

“And nothing prevents people from believing when the guidance comes to them, and from asking forgiveness of their Lord, except that what happened to the ancients should overtake them, or that the chastisement should come face to face with them.” [Sūrah al-Kahf: 55]

“There is no harm in the Prophet doing that which Allah has ordained for him; such has been the course of Allah with respect to those who have gone before; - and the commandment of Allah is certain destiny.” [Sūrah al-Ahzāb: 38]

“Such has been the way of Allah that has indeed run before, and you shall not find a change in Allah's way.” [Sūrah al-Fath: 23]

“But their professing the Faith when they (actually) saw Our Punishment was not going to profit them. (Such has been) Allah’s Way of dealing with His Servants (from the most ancient times). And even thus did the Rejecters of Allah perish (utterly)!” [Sūrah Ghāfir: 85]

“So take a lesson, O you who have eyes (to observe)!” [Sūrah al-Hashr: 2]
Expectations are based upon an understanding of cause and effect, and the norms and patterns in the way events unfold. It also comes from an understanding of one’s present circumstances.

The sacred texts guide us to the realization that Allah has placed such patterns in His Creation. Some of these pertain to the physical world, which we call scientific laws, while some of them pertain to the social organization and behaviour of human beings. Of course, the patterns governing human society are more subtle and difficult to discern.

The rise and fall of nations and civilizations occurs in accordance with these patterns. They are patterns which we can study and learn from, and they can help us to strengthen our societies so they can pass the test of time. If we fail to take heed of the lessons history provides for us, then our societies are destined to suffer decline and ultimate ruin. Ibn Khaldūn discussed this in detail in his celebrated Muqaddimah.

3. Allah often says in the Qur’an: “Perhaps you will fear Allah.” This guides us to the knowledge that the reason Allah has prescribed various commands and prohibitions for us is so we can develop God-consciousness. This is most clear to us in the command to fast the month of Ramadan.

4. Allah says: “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah , lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge.” [Sūrah al-An`ām: 108]

This verse was revealed after some of the pagans in Mecca threatened Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) saying: “If you do not stop insulting our gods, we will insult your God.”

Insulting idols and fetishes is not the essence of the Islamic message. The essence of Islam’s message is to call to the worship of Allah alone and declare the falsehood of worshipping anything or anyone else. Though trivialising idols and fetishes may contribute to exposing the falsehood of polytheism, doing so also has harmful consequences that it is more important to avoid.

We see a similar consideration at play where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “It is a major sin for a man to revile his parents.”

His Companions replied: “Does a man ever revile his parents? How can that be”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Yes, a man insults someone else’s father, and that person in turn insults his.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim ]

5. We also have form the Prophet’s Sunnah his decision to leave the Ka`bah on its present foundations, even though the Ka`bah was not exactly as Abraham and Ishmael (peace be upon them both) had built it. The Ka`bah was originally larger, and included within it an area designated today by small curved wall. Prophet Muhammad refrained from rebuilding it, because he was concerned about how it would affect the hearts of those who had only recently entered into Islam.

Al-Bukhārī records this ḥadīth in his Sahīh under the heading: “To Refrain from Certain Good Options Out of Concern for People’s Limited Understanding and the Fear of Severe Consequences.”

Al-Bukhārī refers to the good things that are avoided as “options”. He does so to indicate that the matters governed by this principle are ones in which there is a choice.

6.Another case is where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)refused to kill the conspirators who were living in Madinah and working in collusion with the Muslims’ external enemies to undermine the security of the state. When asked about why he did not stop them from their treason, he gave his reason as: “It is so people will not say that Muhammad kills his Companions.” This is proof that political concerns and the welfare of the state are legitimate considerations. He refrained from acting in a certain way to prevent evil statements being made against Islam and its practices.

7. We also have the case where a desert dweller came to the mosque and urinated against its inner wall. The Prophet prevented his Companions from scolding the man or even interrupting him while he was urinating. The prophet was considering the negative effects such conduct would have with the desert dweller who clearly did not understand the magnitude of what he was doing. When the man finished, the Prophet gently explained to him why his behavior was wrong.

He strengthened the man’s love for Islam and won his heart as a result. This is a valuable lesson for those who want to call people to Islam. It is wrong to be overly harsh when correcting people who sin and make mistakes. Doing so only leads to negative reactions and turns people away.

8. There are many prophetic hadith which warn against going to excesses in our worship. This is due to the danger of the person growing weary or listless in observing religious duties. For example, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said to one of his Companions: “O `Abd Allah b. Amr, you fast every day and stay up in prayer every night. If you keep that up, your eye will be besieged and your spirit will be taxed. There is no fast for the one who fasts every day. Offering three dads of fasting every month is like fasting perpetually.”

`Abd Allah b. `Amr said: “But I can do more than that.”

The Prophet said: “Then observe the fast of David. He used to fast one day and refrain from fasting on the next.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim]

Similarly, the Prophet said: “Do good works that you are capable of doing, because Allah does not grow weary, but you will do so. The most beloved of works to Allah are the ones you observe with constancy, even if they are small.” [Sunan Abī Dāwūd (1368) and Sunan al-Nasā’ī (762)