The Meaning of ‘Ruling’
Since the subject matter of these verses concerns ‘Ruling by what Allaah has revealed’, it is impossible that the word is meant to mean anything other than the sole exclusive right of Allaah ta ‘ala to legislate both in essence and meaning.
He alone has the sole prerogative of command, and this is precisely what Allaah has revealed. From this basis, other types of ruling emanate from the Nass (text) which we are supposed to elaborate upon as to how we are to rule by what Allaah has revealed. These various types are meant with the word Ruling here, and these can be placed into the following categories:
* al-Futiyyah. The first type of ruling is to give Fatwah, which means expressing an opinion which you believe to be true without it being legally binding upon others. This can be an expression of an opinion in any aspect, including religious, scientific, rational, aesthetic, and morality. All of these come within the meaning of ruling, and are construed to be within the context of what Allaah ta ‘ala has revealed.
* al-Qa’dthaa’ (Judicial ruling). This involves pronouncing a point of view to settle a dispute in a binding way. It is different from a Fatwah which is not (necessarily) legally binding. This is where it can be enforced by a State. In modern times this is seen as one of the three major powers of the state, and in Arabic a judge is called Haakim, and what he pronounces is known as a Hukm (ruling). Therefore it is not permissible to enact judicial ruling except by what Allaah has revealed and whoever does not do so is one of the Thaalimun, Faasiqun and Kaafiroon.
* Managing the affairs of the public. The third type of ruling meant by the ayat is managing the affairs of the public by administrative and executive powers. The one who does this is known in Arabic as the Wali / Wali- ul amr / Haakim / Sultaan. In modern times it is also common to call the governments in the Arab world Hukoomah which refers to the executive authority of state. In the United States, the Hukoomah is the President who is the chief executive. It is not permissible to manage the affairs of the public in both the executive and administrative arms of the state except by what Allaah ta ‘ala has revealed. If it is done by other than what Allaah ta ‘ala has revealed then they are Dhaalimoon, Faasiqoon and Kaafiroon.
* Adoption in Ruling. This refers to the practical implementation of the divine laws. It is not formulating primary legislation but procedurally enacting the divine laws, whether that is in the format of a constitution, bye-laws or executive decree(s). The essence of adoption in ruling is ijtihad applied in governance. One can therefore discern that there is a sharp distinction between this and modern parliamentary / legislative systems that assign sovereignty to man – either the entire body politic, but more commonly through their ‘elected representatives’ – who formulate not only administrative laws, but also primary legislation. The management of the modern political society or state through the adoption of rulings, enacting constitutions, bye-laws or the like, which are made legally binding, has to be done according to what Allaah ta ‘ala has revealed. Moreover, ruling does not merely involve the provision of formulating legislation. Exercising political judgement in a given situation or scenario arguably forms a key element of ruling. Underpinning such judgement are core fundamental values, and indeed, a distinctive reference point. In Islaam, this reference point is only the divine sources, namely, the Qur’aan and the Sunnah.
* Nevertheless, in either of the aspects mentioned above ruling cannot be conducted upon personal whims or desires of a political leadership, nor for that matter, can it be based upon what is considered the will of the majority or the majority’s opinion. It has to be according to what Allaah ta ‘ala has revealed, lest the leadership falls within the categories of Thaalimun, Faasiqqqn and Kaafiroon as specified in the verses of al-Maa’idah.
The word Ruling in the ‘ayahs cannot be restricted to mean only judicial rulings as some contend. It is ruling with the full range of meanings in the Arabic language and has been shown and proven by the Qur’aan as it is the main authority in this issue. The word ruling and the meaning which we have discussed are encompassed within it. Other meanings are also mentioned in the Qur’aan, but they are not relevant to this present study. To give a brief example, Allaah ta ‘ala’s ruling on the day of judgement. Obviously this is confined to the ‘Aakhirah and our focus of the word is concerned with the Dunyah, but this is also a meaning of the word ruling.