Question 50: What is the meaning of at-Taaghut and its derivations?
The Answer by Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen رحمه الله:
at-Taaghut is derived from at-Tughyaan and at- Tughyaan means to go beyond the bounds, as occurs in the Saying of Allaah, The Most High:
“When the water of the flood (taghaa) We carried you in the Ark.”
[Qur’aan, sooarat al-Haaqah (69): 11],
meaning that when the water of the flood rose beyond the normal bounds (taghaa), “We carried you in the Ark.”
The best explanation of the term is what Ibnul Qayyim, rahimahullah, mentioned, that at-Taaghut is
“Anyone, regarding whom the servant goes beyond the due bounds, whether it is someone worshipped, obeyed, or followed.”
So, the idols that are worshipped besides Allaah are Taaghoots; and the evil scholars who call to misguidance and to innovations and to making lawful that which Allaah has forbidden, or forbidding that which Allaah has made lawful, or those who present to the people in authority that it is acceptable to abandon the Sharee’ah of Islaam in favour of legislative systems introduced from outside that are contrary to the legislative system of Islaam, then they are Taaghoots also, since they have gone beyond their bounds. This is because the limit of the scholar is that he should be one who adheres to that which the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) came with, since the scholars are truly the inheritors of the Prophets. They inherit from them in knowledge, action, manners, the call to Allaah, and teaching, presenting this inheritance in their nations. If they go beyond this limit and begin to present it as acceptable to the rulers that they can abandon the Sharee’ah of Islaam in favour of such systems [introduced from the outside], then they are Taaghuts, since they have gone beyond that which was binding upon them, that they should adhere to the Sharee’ah.
As for his (ibnul Qayyim رحمه الله) saying [regarding the definition of Taaghut]: “or one obeyed,” then what he meant by that is those rulers who are obeyed due to that being required by Sharee’ah or because it is necessitated by way of this case they are to be obeyed due to that being required by Sharee’ah and necessitated Pre-decree (al-Qadar). So the rulers are to be obeyed as required by the Sharee’ah if they command that which is not contrary to the Command of Allaah and His Messenger. This is because the duty upon the people is to hear and obey when the ruler commands that which is not contrary to the Command of Allaah and His Messenger. In this situation and with this condition, their obedience to those in authority is obedience to Allaah (عز و جل). For this reason, we should bear in mind that when we carry out what the state authority has ordered from matters in which it must be obeyed, we are, in this respect, worshipping Allaah, The Most High, and drawing closer to Him through this obedience. So, bearing this in mind, our execution of the ruled matter will be something that draws us closer to Allaah, The Mighty and Majestic. It is something that we should be conscious of; because Allaah, The Most High, Says:
“O you who believe, obey Allaah, and obey his Messenger, and those of you in authority.”[Qur’aan, soorat an-Nisaa’ (4): 59].
As for the obedience to those in authority because it is necessitated by way of Pre-decree (Qadaran), then if the rulers are strong in their authority then people will obey them because of the authoritative strength they possess, even if they are not motivated to do so by Eemaan. Since the matter of obedience to the ruler could be motivated by Eemaan, and in this case it is beneficial obedience to the rulers as well as the people. And it may come about because of the ruler’s authority and strength such that the people fear him and are intimidated by him due to the severe punishment he inflicts upon those who oppose him. For this reason we say that with regard to this matter the peoples situation regarding their rulers varies as follows:
(i) Sometimes the motivation of Eemaan is strong, and the ruler’s authority is strong. This constitutes the most complete and highest situation.
(ii) Other times the motivation of Eemaan is weak, and the ruler’s authority is weak; and this is lowest state and the one most dangerous for the society–rulers and the ruled. Since in this state anarchy in thoughts, manners, and actions will take place.
(iii) Sometimes the motivation of Eemaan is strong, and the ruler’s authority is weak. This represents a middle state whereupon if the ruler’s authority is strong then its manifestation will be better for the nation. But if the ruler’s authority in this case is absent, then do not ask about its state of corruption and evil actions! Because the motivation of Eemaan is weak.
(iv) If the situation is such that the motivation of Eemaan is weak (strong), and the ruler’s authority is strong (weak), then the apparent situation will be weaker than the former state (iii). However, in terms of people’s relation with their Rabb (Allaah) it will be more beneficial to them than in the former case where the ruler’s authority is lacking.
So these are four states: Strong Eemaan and strong ruler, weak Eemaan and weak ruler, strong Eemaan and weak ruler, and strong ruler and weak Eemaan.
Therefore, the important thing is that we say that when we carry out the commands of the ruler, we should believe that through this act we draw closer to Allaah, The Most Magnificent, Most High. And the reason why Ibnul Qayyim said that “at-Taaghut is anyone, regarding whom the servant goes beyond the due bounds, whether it is someone worshipped, obeyed, or followed,” is because the ruler who is obeyed may command that which is contrary to the Command of Allaah and His Messenger. In this case there is neither hearing nor obeying, and it is not permissible for us to obey him in that which is disobedience to Allah (عز و جل). Since Allaah, The Most High, has deemed that their obedience be dependent upon the obedience of Allaah and His Messenger, as it is understood from the context of the aayah:
“O you who believe, obey Allaah, and obey his Messenger, and those of you in authority. “[Qur’aan, soorat an-Nisaa’ (4): 59].
He did not say (what signifies): “and obey those in authority.” So this indicates that obeying them is not something independent. Rather it is related to the obedience of Allaah and His Messenger. And it has been affirmed in the transmission from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) that “Verily, obedience (to somebody) is required when he enjoins what is Ma’roof,” 
meaning all that which is established by Sharee’ah. But as regard to that which is denied by the Sharee’ah, then it is forbidden to obey any created being even the father or the mother. If they command that which is disobedience to Allaah, then it is unlawful for you to obey them, since the obedience of Allaah takes precedence over any kind of obedience. So, if a man obeys his ruler in that which is disobedience to Allaah, then he has gone beyond his bounds.
 See Saheeh al-Bukhaaree, vol.5, no.629.
Translated by Dr Saleh as Saleh rahimahullaah
Source : Understanding Worship – Fiqh ul-‘Ibadah – Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen – Page 133