Vigilante group formed to enforce Islamic laws

Q663 :I have recently received a letter from my hometown where the community is multi-religious but the majority are unbelievers. The letter says that Muslims have formed a vigilante group, constraining all Muslims to attend the five daily prayers and refrain from drinking alcohol. If a person is caught drinking alcohol three times, he will be taken to the mosque where the prescribed Islamic punishment will be inflicted on him. If he continues to drink alcohol, despite the punishment, then the members of the Muslim community will boycott him, refraining from attending any functions at his home. His family will be discarded from the Muslim community. Could you please explain whether the prayers of a person who offers them in such circumstances, fearing social or community punishment, will be valid. Moreover, are such actions by the Muslim community acceptable from the Islamic point of view?

A663 : Noble indeed are the motives which have caused this particular community to form such a vigilante group to ensure that its members fulfill their duties which are distinctive of Muslims generally. Their action, however, raises a number of questions such as the one you have raised. The first question I would like to ask is whether the vigilante group will limit its activities to violation of Islamic rules on prayer and alcohol drinking? If so, the question is what distinguishes these rules? Why is it so important for a Muslim not to violate the prohibition on alcohol drinking when the observation of other Islamic prohibitions are not so important? If a group will try to implement all Islamic laws then they have to give an answer to the question: What are they going to do about someone who commits murder? Will they organize their own court and do their own investigations? If the suspect is proved guilty, will they enforce capital punishment? Suppose that the law of your country does not allow capital punishment, will they still execute the murderer? What if he has been tried by the government court and given a sentence which is less than the capital punishment, or even set free, because the court determined that the evidence against him is not sufficient? Some people of the Muslim community may come forward and give further evidence which may not be admissible in court, but is convincing enough to the vigilante group that the man is the murderer. In this case, the alternatives are limited to either executing the man and, by so doing, raising a huge problem with the civil authorities, or claiming that they cannot exercise authority over such matters and will leave them to the civil authority. Neither alternative is satisfactory in view of the aims the group has set for itself. The second alternative will bring us back to the first question of the group observing the fulfillment of certain Islamic rules to the exclusion of others. This is not acceptable from the Islamic point of view because any authority which can implement Islamic law should implement it as a whole. The other alternative may lead to big problems. Indeed, the group may be rounded up by the civil authority and tried for murder. It need not go as far as that for problems to arise. Suppose that they take someone to flog in the mosque for drinking alcohol and the man goes out to lodge a complaint against the leaders of the community or the imam of the mosque. The civil authority will feel that they must intervene and when they know the extent of the problem, they may feel it to be very serious as it signifies a duality of authority. No government approves such a situation. If the authorities happen to take an unfavorable attitude toward the Muslim community, the action of the vigilante group will give them justification to translate such an attitude to something much worse. In this way, the whole of the community may suffer for the actions of a few people. Moreover, what about other Islamic duties such as the payment of zakah? Will they administer the collection and distribution of zakah? If they will not concern themselves with zakah, then they are neglecting a duty which ranks among the five pillars upon which the structure of Islam is built. If they say that they will collect zakah and distribute it, what will they do about those who refuse payment? In the case of zakah, cooperation is essential between the administrative authority and those who are liable to pay it. Otherwise, there can be a wide range of problems beginning with defiance on the part of some and extending to trying to get the government to intervene. Again, this may land the Muslim community as a whole in a multitude of problems. Other Islamic duties which must be observed will require various punishments for those who do not fulfill them. If the vigilante group enforces such punishments, then they are assuming an authority which they cannot claim. If they do not, then they leave violation of Islamic laws unpunished. The dilemma is terrible. Then, what about those additional punishments which the vigilante group seems to want to inflict? The example you have mentioned of someone continuing to drink after the first punishment. The group wants to enforce a total boycott of this man and his family. Why should his family be punished for his conduct? Maybe his wife and children are totally opposed to his drinking. Why should they be discarded from the Muslim community? Indeed, they are in need of help. There is no doubt that a Muslim community is required to enforce Allah's laws when they are able to do so. This means that the Muslim community should have power in its area. In other words, it has to wield central authority. Otherwise, it cannot act on its own. Allah describes the community of believers as one which will enforce Allah's laws when they are established in the land. This is taken to mean that they have real authority, not as pressure or vigilante group, but as a government. In a situation like that of your community, I feel that it is the wrong approach to form such a vigilante group to see that individual members are observing Islamic laws. If your community is large enough, you may be able to negotiate with the central government the exercise of certain powers within the community. This will require that you have your own leaders who are recognized by the government for the exercise of certain powers within the community. This will require that you have your own leaders who are recognized by the government of the land and indeed receive its backing when it comes to the enforcement of Islamic law. Short of that, the method you have described is bound to produce more harm than good. As for the validity of the prayers offered in such circumstances, the answer is that we do not know. From the theoretical point of view, a person who offers prayers under any circumstances has discharged his duty. We do not know his intention or his inner feelings. He may be going through the movements of prayer without putting his mind into it. In such case, his prayers are not valid. It is Allah alone who knows his intentions. He judges people as He knows best.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )