By: Ayatullah Professor Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi
After stating the station of the state and its responsibilities, it is appropriate to mention briefly the difference between the Islamic state and other states. In general, the Islamic state is different from secular states in the realm of laws. The realm of laws is broader in the Islamic state than in other political systems for they also ensure spiritual interests. They also differ with one another in the manner of implementing laws. In playing their roles and discharging their duties, all states are in need of financial resources which are partly procured through taxes collected from the people.
With the permission of wali al-faqih, the Islamic state may also approve and implement a law authorizing collection of taxes from people. The difference between the Islamic state and other states in the implementation of laws that ask for a certain amount of money from the people is that in implementing these laws Islam has taken into account the philosophy behind the creation of man.
In other words, Islam maintains that the actions of man must be done out of his own freewill to contribute to his spiritual growth and advancement. In tax collection the state may possibly resort to the use of force and collect taxes from the people. Of course, in order to minimize the pressure of imposed taxation upon people and avoid their protest, diverse approaches have been adopted in advanced countries of the world through which the people’s sensitivities and complaints are mitigated. One of these approaches is that taxes are to be levied for public needs and primary goods which the people buy on a daily basis. In addition to the original cost of an item which must be given to the seller, a certain amount of tax must also be paid to add to the government’s budget.
Naturally, by paying taxes in the manner mentioned above, no one gets any profit or gain, but even here Islam wants the people to grow spiritually. For this reason, in some cases Islam has not compelled the people to pay taxes and does not dispatch any collector to collect khums which is one of the Islamic taxes. Even in case of zakat which is obligatory upon the Islamic state to collect, the liberty of people in paying it must be observed. As such, when collectors of zakat refer to people, they neither assess the assets liable for zakat nor determine the amount of zakat.
Rather, the person concerned voluntarily mentions the extent of his yields and the zakat for them is calculated and received. Here pressure, compulsion or investigation is not used to know the truth—whether he is telling the truth or not—except in cases where violations (zakat evasions) are so evident and obvious that the Islamic state would incur heavy losses, or where certain individuals formally declare their defiance in paying zakat. In such cases the Islamic state has to pursue its collection of taxes by all means.
Thus, one of the distinctions of the Islamic political system in comparison to other systems is that even in the manner of implementing laws it has taken Islamic values into account. It is appropriate for advocates of freedom, personal choice and human values, to note that in Islam the utmost rational freedom has been considered for individuals and they are expected to discharge their duties freely to attain nobility, growth, and advancement.
If ever in some cases Islam acts decisively, and in the words of the gentlemen, it acts violently, it is meant to protect the freedom and spiritual perfection of the rest of humanity and keep the way of God open. As a result, society might better be able to tread the path of truth and perfection. In any case, individual liberty is not absolute in Islam. Once this liberty arbitrarily affects material and spiritual interests of society, they shall be restricted. Individuals may receive lashes; a bodily limb of a person may be amputated; or while observing special conditions in very rare situations, a heinous criminal may be executed. These punishments and severe measures must be regarded as a warning to violators of law.
Naturally, once Islam orders the hand of a thief to be amputated, others will see the result of committing theft and the number of robberies will decrease and fewer opportunities for such a disgraceful act will remain. But if lighter punishments for them are stipulated, like imprisonment or monetary fine, the number of thieves will increase. There are even cases where prisoners who are not thieves learn how to steal on account of their interaction and mingling with thieves!
We are not afraid of telling the truth and we declare that in Islam there is severe measure and punishment, and in the words of our opponents, “violence”. There is also harshness vis-à-vis criminals and evildoers as well as the faithless and enemies of Islam. As God says,
محمدٌ رسولُ اللهِ و الذينَ معهُ اشدّاءُ عَلَی الکفّارِ رحماءُ بينهم…
“Muhammad, the Apostle of Allah, and those who are with him are hard against the faithless, and merciful among themselves…”
In some cases, Islam also regards the humiliation of a criminal as necessary for the people to learn a lesson:
…وَلْيَشْهَدْ عَذَابَهُمَا طَائِفَةٌ مِّنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
“…And let their punishment be witnessed by a group of the faithful.”
We can see that in some cases Islam and the Qur’an explicitly regard violent actions and even humiliation of a criminal as necessary, and we cannot omit these verses from the Qur’an. Now, if some people consider such actions as repugnant to human dignity, we would like to say that in some cases, acting against the dignity of evildoers and even humiliating them is necessary for the protection of collective interests. In reality, these kinds of severe punishments are not actually violent, rather an arrangement and creation of opportunity for people’s enjoyment of rational social liberty.