Question: I am non-Muslim. I am wondering what would happen if Islam takes over. Do you have an answer to this question which bothers me all the time?

Jasser Auda

Salam, Marceola.

Thank you for your question, which I find interesting. I see that you are from the United States, so should I assume that you mean Islam is to take over the US? I really do not know what you mean by "Islam takes over" the US.

If you mean that there will be some sort of violent regime change carried out by Muslims, then please know that this is a typical feature of so many other societies, but impossible to happen in the US, which — thank God — has reached a certain level of democratic maturity and will not retract from it, God willing.

And if you mean that the American people will elect a Muslim person to the presidency, then this is also politically a highly unlikely scenario, on one hand. On the other hand, if ever happens, it does not imply any real change in the way the American political system functions.

And if you mean that the American people will convert to Islam on a massive scale, I would, also, say that this is a highly unlikely scenario, given the way Islam is generally misrepresented — thus, creating Islamophobia around the world.

However, having said that, please allow me to present here, from an Islamic point of view, what it means for Islam to take over a certain land, and therefore converts it into "a land of Islam".

I carried out a survey on the concept of the "land of Islam" (dar al-islam) in a large number of classic and contemporary sources of Islamic law known to us today, which includes various Sunni, Shiite, and Ibadi schools of law. The results of the survey reveal some interesting facts and popular misconceptions.

First of all, the two current popular criteria that define whether or not a country is Islamic or part of the land of Islam are not supported by any school of Islamic law.

1- The first criteria is "having a 50% +1 majority of Muslims", regardless of whether the constitution states that it is a "secular country", such as Turkey, whether the constitution does not define any specific religion for that country, such as Nigeria or Indonesia, whether the head of state is non-Muslim, such as Lebanon, or whether Islamic rituals and acts of worship are not generally practiced, such as a number of former Soviet Union States.

In fact, classic judicial sources clearly state that the issue of Muslims being a majority or a minority in a certain country is irrelevant to a land being a "land of Islam", and some other criteria are suggested instead. (Al-Qummi 459)

2- The other popular criteria, which was recently applied to a rural region of tribal Pakistan in an attempt to get it out of the "land of war zone", is the application of "hudud " (Islamic criminal law). However, I also did not find any explicit mention in any school of law that relates the "Islamic nature of a state" or the concept of the "land of Islam  "   specifically to Islamic criminal law.

The question now is: What are the classic criteria for a "land of Islam"?

The results of the survey could be summarized in the following five criteria:

1- A land where Islamic rules apply. (Ibn Al-Qayyim 728)
2- A land where a Muslim ruler has control over its affairs. (Al-Mawardi, "Al-Hawi" 267)
3- A land of security. (Al-Kasani 131)
4- A land where the practicing of public acts of worship is allowed. (Ibn Taymiyah, "Al-Nubuwat" 197)
5- A land of justice (Ibn Taymiyah, "Al-Nubuwat" 146)

The following is a brief analysis of each of these concepts and their implications.

The "Land of Islamic Rulings"

A popular definition of the land of Islam in classic sources is, "the land where Islamic rulings apply". (Ibn Al-Qayyim 728) The question is: What are these "Islamic rulings"?

I have detailed elsewhere that a statute could be labeled "Islamic" if it has two conditions:

1- The legal philosophy and purpose is to achieve the purpose and higher objectives of Islamic Law (maqasid al-shariah) such as justice, freedom of choice, orderliness, and the preservation of faith or religion, soul or life, lineage or family, mind or intellect, dignity or honor, and wealth or property.

2- Statutes shall not go against any fixed Islamic ruling. Defining what is a "fixed ruling in Islam" and what is a "variable ruling in Islam" is a complex question.

In other words, a law is "Islamic" if it is not "non-Islamic". I had an interesting conversation with a Muslim brother from London who insisted that every law in the UK is "non-Islamic".

And when I asked him to explain why, he stated: "Because the legislators are not Muslims!"

I asked: "What about the laws that criminalize theft, killing, monopoly, bribery, abuse, and so on, are not these "Islamic laws"?"

He replied: "No, because the people who proposed them are not Muslims."

I said: "But that is irrelevant, is it not?"

He replied: "No, because they did not have the right intention when they proposed them."

I asked: "What do you think their intention was?"

He said: "The purpose behind these laws is only the achievement of justice."

I exclaimed: "Isn't justice an "Islamic" intention?!"

He replied: "No, because they applied justice because it served the material well-being of the people, not because it is ordained by God!"

I said: "But the well-being of the people is exactly the purpose of God's order to establish justice, isn't it?!"

But in any case, given that the concept of law, in the canon (legal statutes) sense, was not known in the Muslim-majority countries until the late nineteenth century,  it is safe to assume that the "application of the Shariah in the legal system", or "Shariah-compliant laws", were definitely not part of the Land of Islam classic interpretation. These concepts have a "post-colonial" context, the analysis of which is beyond the scope of this answer.

Thus, the "Islamic rulings" were explained in several other senses, which the rest of this answer will attempt to explain.

The Land of a Muslim Ruler

To have a Muslim ruler in "control" over the affairs of a certain land is a criterion that some classic and contemporary scholars used for judging that a certain land is indeed a "land of Islam" (Al-Mawardi, "Al-Hawi" 267). Al-Mawardi, for example, explicitly mentions that "when Muslims reside in and control a certain land, it becomes a land of Islam." ("Al-Hawi" 267)

However, this criterion is subject to a number of conditions to be valid, prime of which is the ability of Muslims to practice their religious obligations, a public feeling of security, and the application of justice. A Muslim ruler who fails to observe or work towards these obligations jeopardizes the status of "land of Islam" of his jurisdiction.

Sheikh Rashid Reda summarizes related opinions as follows:

Indeed, many countries that are governed by Muslim leaders are countries where one is forced against practicing his/her religion and cannot reveal everything he/she believes in or fulfils his/her practical Islamic obligations, especially enjoying good, forbidding evil, and the ability to criticize rulings that go against the Law. This land, according to some scholars, is a "land of war". (Reda)

Thus, the existence of enough security and freedom to allow Muslims to practice religion is, juridically speaking, more essential than the religion of the ruler.

The "Land of Security"
In fact, a number of classical scholars stated that security is the purpose of the "land of Islam" versus "land of war" classification, to start with, and not "Islam" versus "non-Islam" per se.

For example, Imam Abu Hanifah states:

The purpose of calling a certain land a "land of Islam" or a "land of disbelief" is not Islam versus disbelief. Rather, it is security versus insecurity. (Al-Kasani 131)

In July 2008, I had an interesting conversation in Deoband, India, where I was teaching a course on the fundamentals of Islamic law to a group of students from Dar al-Ulum University and Anwar Shah University.

The question I posed to the students was: "What do you think India is: land of war or land of Islam?" At first, there was almost a consensus on the fact that India cannot be a land of Islam, since Islam does not rule it since the days of the Moguls. I said: "But it cannot be land of war either because there is no actual war going on in India."

Many students, however, thought that the "war on terror" in India is actually a war on Islam, and thus it converts India into a land of war. I corrected that view by saying that despite my great disagreement and disappointment with the so called "war on terror", I still think that Muslims in India do have the freedom, generally speaking, to practice their religion and they are generally "secure".

I was delighted when I learned that in April 2009, a group of Dar al-Ulum scholars issued a fatwa stating that India is not a land of war, but rather, is a land of security, which is the purpose behind the classification anyway, as Imam Abu Hanifah was quoted earlier.

Makkah itself — according to Imam Al-Bayhaqi for example — became a "land of Islam" after its "conquest", only because of its newly found sense of security. He writes:

Makkah became a "land of Islam" and "land of security" after its conquest, because no one there was forced against his/her religion. Any other land is likewise if it acquires the same kind of security. (Al-Bayhaqi)

It is clear from the classic definitions that security itself is means to the end of freedom to practice the Islamic "public acts of worship". Several scholars mentioned that Muslims who have enough security and freedom to practice their acts of worship actually live in a "land of Islam", even if they were a minority. Al-Qummi Al-Naisaburi explains:

Muslims, even a minority, are prevailing over non-Muslims, even if they were a majority, if they are not prevented from practicing the public Islamic acts of worship. (Al-Qummi 459)

The next section elaborates on the Islamic public acts of worship, which appear to form a more basic criterion for judging a land to be a "land of Islam".

The "Land of Freedom to Practice Islam"

The majority of scholars and schools of Islamic law find this criterion to be the "true sign" for a land to be a "land of Islam". Many of them refer to prophetic traditions that are interpreted to mean just that, such as related prophetic sayings about the importance of certain identifying acts, such as group prayers in the mosque, the call for prayer (adhan), pilgrimage, the celebration of Eid, and so on. Al-Mawardi writes:

The public acts of worship of Islam such as group prayers in mosques and call for prayers are the criteria by which the Prophet (peace be upon him) differentiated between the land of Islam and the land of disbelief. ("Al-Ahkam" 257)

Al-Razi writes:

If the Islamic acts of worship are evident in streets and public places, this certainly entails that Islam is dominant. ("Al-Mahsul" 43)

Ibn Taymiyah writes:

The public acts of worship of Islam are the true signs that a certain land is a Land of Islam. (Ibn Taymiyah 197)

The "public acts of worship" are defined to include a variety of Islamic rituals, which include one or more of the following, according to all different schools of law:
1- The five prayers. (Al-Mawardi, "Al-Ahkam" 275)
2- Fasting in Ramadan. (Ibn Al-Arabi 530)
3- Giving zakah (obligatory charity). (Al-Razi, "Mafatih" 108)
4- Pilgrimage. (Al-Kalabadhi 130)
5- Ablution. (Al-Kalabadhi 130)
6- Eid prayers. (Al-Mawardi, "Al-Ahkam" vol. 2, 48)
7- Reading the Quran. (Ibn Al-Arabi 368)
8- Sacrificing animals to feed the poor. (Ibn Taymiyah, "Kutub" vol. 23, 146)
9- Building mosques, and especially minarets. (Ibn Taymiyah, "Kutub" vol. 2z)
10- Greeting people with "peace be upon you". (Al-Kasani 113)
11- Charitable endowments (awqaf). (Al-Yunini 58)

But if we — objectively — assess various countries around the world based on Muslims' freedom to practice the above specific Islamic acts of worship, and create some sort of "index" for them, we will quickly realize that many European countries — including the UK — would score perhaps much higher than many Muslim-majority countries in that index.

The "Land of Justice"

This criterion, the achievement of justice, is so central in the Islamic concept of "land of Islam" to the extent that the "land of justice" term interchangeably with the "land of Islam" term in numerous sources. (Ibn Taymiyah, "Kutub" 146)

Justice is the basis of all of the above criteria, according to Islamic jurists, and hence, more fundamental in the Islamic principles and purposes. Thus, an "Islamic leadership" that is not based on justice and is based on "ethnic solidarity" does not constitute a valid condition for the "land of Islam". Rashid Reda, for example, writes:

The land of justice, which is the land of Islam, is a land that has a true leader who establishes justice. This is contrary to the "land of injustice and aggression", in which governorship is based on some Muslims' ethnic solidarity, regardless of the establishment of the Islamic rulings. (Reda)

Al-Mawardi also stresses the importance of "competence" and a "good character" of the leader in the "land of justice". He writes:

People who are qualified to make decisions in the land of justice should choose a leader who possesses a good character and competency. ("Al-Ahkam" 22)

Ibn Taymiyah holds the opinion that the "achievement of justice" in a state as most fundamental and deserving of God's support, even for a "nation of disbelievers". He writes:

In this life, people's situations uphold when justice prevails in their society even if they fall into various kinds of sins. However, people's situations do not uphold when injustice and lack of rights prevail in their society. That is why the saying goes: God upholds a state established on justice, even if it were a nation of disbelievers, and would not uphold a state established on injustice, even if it were a nation of Muslims. The other saying goes: This world lives with justice and disbelief, and does not live with injustice and Islam. The Prophet had said: "No sin has a faster Divine punishment than the sin of injustice …". Thus, people of injustice fail in this life, even if they were to be forgiven in the hereafter. This is because justice is the universal law of things. ("Kutub" 408)


Popular Islamic juridical investigation tends to think in terms of "opposing tendencies" that appear "contradictory" rather than "complementary". Thus, ideas are always expressed in terms of dichotomies such as, obligatory/unlawful (wajib/ḥaram), abrogating/abrogated (nasikh/mansukh), truthful/fraudulent (saḥiḥ/fasid), exact/ illusionary (munḍabiṭ/mawhum), and so on. This way of thinking limited the ability of Islamic law to take into consideration cases in the "gray area" between these extreme positions and stances.

However, if we imagine a human view that is confined to false binary choices, such as, black/white or good/bad, we will end up losing an infinite number of grey levels in a picture, let alone missing on its colors.

Thus, the "land of Islam" versus the "land of war/disbelief", "good ruler" versus "evil ruler", "security" versus "insecurity", "freedom in practicing Islam" versus "no freedom in practicing Islam", and "justice" versus "injustice", are all false dichotomies.

All of the above black-and-white classifications of the world are almost never true, and a more realistic and "logical" classification looks at not only the gray levels in between the black and white extremes, but various colors as well. In other words, the achievement of all the above criteria especially the three most fundamental, namely, security, freedom of practicing religion, and justice is relative, whether in Muslim-majority or Muslim-minority societies.

Thus, and regardless of popular opinions, the country that is juridical worth of being a "land of Islam", "land of security", or "land of justice" is the country that achieves a relatively high score on the criteria that are detailed above.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.


Work cited:

Al-Kalabadhi, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Ibrahim. Bahr al-Fawaid. Vol. 1. Beirut, 1999.

Al-Kasani, Alauddin Abu Baker ibn Masud. Bada'i` al-Sana'i` fi Tartib al-Shara'i`. Vol. 7. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, 1982.

Al-Mawardi, Ali Ibn Muhammad. Al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyah, vol.1.

___. Al-Hawi al-Kabeer fi Fiqh Madhab al-Imam al-Shafi`i, Vol. 14. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub, 1999.

Al-Qummi Al-Naisaburi, Nizamuddin. Tafsir Ghara'ib al-Quran. Vol. 3, Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1996.

Al-Razi, Fakhr Al-Din. Al-Mahsul, Vol. 4. Riyadh, 1400.

___. Mafatih al-Ghayb. Vol. 32. Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1981.

Al-Yunini, Qutb Al-Din. Dhail Mir'at al-Zaman, Vol. 2. Beirut, without date.

Ibn Al-Arabi, Muhammad. Ahkam al-Quran, Vol. 1. Beirut, without date.

Ibn Al-Qayyim, Shamsuddin. Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah, Vol. 2. Beirut, 1997,

Ibn Taymiyah, Ahmad. Al-Nubuwat, Vol. 1. Cairo, 1386 A. H.

___. Kutub wa Rasa'il wa Fatawa, Vol. 28. Cairo: Maktabat Ibn Taymiyah, without date.

Reda, Rashid. "Mujmal Al-Ahwal Al-Siyasiyah", Al-`Urwah al-Wuthqa, Feb., 1898.


Source: — Ask about Islam — Jasser Auda.