The Need for Understanding and Tolerance
Reading the highly charged words exchanged between Muslims in the past two weeks over the issue of Tunisia, and now Egypt, I felt sad to see a number of people taking very extreme stances and forgetting the middle path of Islam that we have been guided to by Allāh.
Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that you may be witnesses against mankind, and that the Messenger may be a witness against you. [2:143]
There is no doubt that this is an issue that has presented many challenging questions, and that we should all be reminded that when clarity is not present that it is better for us to remain silent and protect ourselves from the evil of both harming others with our words, and worse, speaking about Allāh without knowledge. May Allāh protect us all from these evils and imbue our words with wisdom.
I myself spent a great deal of time both reflecting on the events as they unfolded, as well as reviewing the various stances of our noble scholars on matters of this nature. Initially, despite my excitement and du‘ā’ for the safety and success of the people of Tunis, I was nonetheless very concerned by the number of people who turned away from Allāh and instead to major sins like self-immolation to solve their problems.
Yet there is no doubt that there is an indescribable degree of desperation that has taken hold of so many people in these countries, a desperation that may very well have led to outright madness in many of our brothers and sisters. Hence, it is my sincere du‘ā’ that Allāh, the All-Merciful and All-Forgiving, will overlook their actions done in these dire moments and that He reward them with success against their oppressors and with His pleasure and Mercy – āmīn.
On the matter of suicide, let us briefly take the time to remember this important hadith from Sahih Muslim. When the Prophet (saas) made hijrah to Madīnah, Tufayl ibn 'Amr came as well, along with a man from his tribe. This man became ill when he first reached Madīnah and his illness became so severe that he took a knife and slit his wrist, and the blood spilled out until he died. Tufayl then saw him in a dream, in a good vision, except that his hands were wrapped up.
So he asked him, 'What has your Lord done with you?'
He replied, 'He has forgiven me because of my hijrah to His Prophet (saas).' The he asked, 'Why are your hands wrapped up?'.
He said, 'It was said to me: We shall not fix something you have corrupted yourself!'
So Tufayl relayed this to the Messenger of Allāh (saas), so he said: 'O Allāh! And forgive his hands (too)!'
From this hadith we understand that suicide does not expel a person from Islam, but rather it is a major sin that can lead to punishment in the Hereafter.
Al-Qaadi 'Iyadh said in Ikmaal al-Mu'lim:
“In this hadith is proof for Ahlus-Sunnah for what they say, that Allāh may forgive the sins of whomever He wants, and it explains the ahadith before it that might seem to give the false impression that someone who commits suicide faces the eternal threat of remaining (in the Fire) forever.”
Yet as the events continued to unfold, I witnessed the images of people being sprayed with water cannons while in sujud, the commitment of the overwhelming majority of the people to keep the protests free of the use of weapons and killing and the selfless acts of the brave and courageous Egyptian youth who set up neighborhood watches to protect their neighbors' homes and shops. It was then that I realized the goodness of this effort and that the people had continued to remain close to Allāh in these difficult days. This point was also mentioned by Shaykh Muḥammad Hassan in Egypt, who called the efforts of the people, particularly the youth, “a blessed and good act.”
I then decided to write this article to demonstrate the expansiveness of Islam on the issues relevant to these events because I noticed that the people had turned away from Islam and from the scholars. There is the idea that some people have mistakenly spread, that these events are against Islam – and whereas this may be in fact the opinion of some scholars, it is by far not the only opinion on this issue. To illustrate this point, in having this article reviewed before publication, I had three PhD's in Islamic Studies as well as a holder of a Master's degree comment to me on it and I received four completely different opinions subhan'Allāh. So let us not by hasty in declaring the issue to be black and white, and let us move past this question to tackle the real issues at hand of how to make an impact.
Scholars and the Knowledge of the Condition
The scholars of Egypt have been divided in their opinions on this matter as it is a very controversial one. There are some who have praised it, others who have been silent and those who have recommended that people not participate in it. Yet, the scholars of Egypt are best aware of the circumstances on their streets and the scholars outside of Egypt have refrained to speak much on the matter since this case is particular to every nation in its own way depending upon several factors.
This reminds us of an important principle in fiqh, that there are some rulings which are universal for time, place and condition; and there are other rulings which will vary to some extent based upon certain factors or circumstances. Ibn al-Qayyim, in his book 'Ilaam al-Muwaqiyeen, has written that the one who gives fatwa must first have specific practical knowledge of the issue that he is speaking about, and secondly have the religious knowledge of the fiqh of that matter before he issues a ruling.
Many times, people have asked specific questions on this website, at times even demanded answers from the people of knowledge in the West regarding certain matters in the East. Yet, this guiding principle has caused many to rightly remain silent and leave certain matters to the people who know them best, those who are living them and seeing the reality with their own eyes and can thus judge them the best.
Understanding Khurooj Against the Ruler
The concept of khurooj against the leader has been understood by various scholars in different ways, but generally it refers to taking up arms against the ruler in order to forcibly remove him from power. Speaking out against the leader has also been considered by some to also be a form of prohibited khurooj. As Muslims, we must understand that this is a very detailed and elaborate matter and beyond the scope of this simple article to explore in its fullness. I only wish to provide a foundation for those who are unfamiliar with it here. With that in mind, let us now briefly consider the evidences for this important principle.
Allāh has said in the Qurʾān what means,
“O you who believe! Obey Allāh and obey the Messenger, and those who are in authority over you. If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allāh and His Messenger, if you believe in Allāh and in the Last Day.” [4:59]
And the Prophet (saas) also stated,
“The best of your leaders are those whom you love and who love you, who pray for you and you pray for them. The worst of your leaders are those whom you hate and who hate you, and you send curses on them and they send curses on you.” He was asked, ““O Messenger of Allāh (saas) should we not fight them by the sword?” He said, “Not as long as they are establishing prayer amongst you. And if you see from those in authority over you something that you hate then hate his action and do not remove your hand from obedience” (Muslim)
Imām an-Nawawi said in his commentary on Sahih Muslim:
And as for rebelling against the rulers and fighting them, then it is prohibited by unanimous agreement (ijmā') of the Muslims, even if they are sinful oppressors. And the ahadith are many with the meaning that I have mentioned. And Ahlus-Sunnah are united that the ruler is not to be removed on account of his sinfulness … And the scholars have said, that the reason for prohibiting his removal (by these means) and the forbidding of revolting against him is due to what accompanies such acts from that of tribulations, shedding of blood, and corruption. Hence, the harm from his removal is greater than from him remaining in place.
From imām an-Nawawi's explanation we derive an important point that has been used by some scholars, and that is the prohibition of fighting the imām stems from the great chaos that accompanies it and most often outweighs the evil of the ruler himself. Those scholars today who have been opposed to the protests racing across the Muslim world have not been opposed to them because they love the tyrants in those countries or because they are pleased with their oppressive and dictatorial policies. No. They are opposed to them because they are afraid of the harm that may come from them when things get out of control. Unfortunately, most of the revolutions in our history have not had positive results and this is something we must keep in mind.
Controversy as Regards the Extent of Obeying the Ruler
The fact that Muslims must listen to and obey their rulers is not a matter of disagreement in Islam, but to what extent they do so, and when do they abandon this obedience is an area of varying opinion among the scholars. The obedience to the ruler is always contingent upon the command of the ruler not being in defiance to Allāh and His Messenger (saas) as has been established by a number of ahadith:
“The Muslim is required to hear and obey in that which he likes and dislikes, unless he was commanded to sin. When he is commanded with sin, then there is no hearing or obeying.” (Bukhāri and Muslim)
“… Obedience is only in righteousness.” (Bukhāri and Muslim)
Yet, do the Muslims continue to obey when the ruler judges by other than Islam? This specific matter is something relatively new in our time (ruling by other than Shari'ah) and was not experienced by the earliest generations. It is authentically narrated from the Prophet (saas) that he said,
“Even if a slave was appointed over you, and he rules you with Allāh's Book, then listen to him and obey him.” (Muslim)
This same stream of thought is found in the noble words of Abu Bakr when he said upon assuming the khilafah,
O people! I have been put in charge over you, but I am not the best of you. If I act well, then help me, and if I act badly, then put me right. Truthfulness is a trust and lying is treachery … Obey me as long as I obey Allāh and His Messenger. If I disobey Allāh and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience. (Sirat Ibn Hisham)
Do these above ahadith specifically give Muslims the permission to revolt? Upon this, the scholars have differed. Some argue that non-compliance with the leader's command is not equal to rebelling against him, and others say that when they violate their agreement with their people – the agreement to rule them by the Book of Allāh – that the people owe them no allegiance and can act to replace them.
Acting to Replace a Tyrannical Ruler
Allāh states in the Qurʾān what means,
“And cooperate with one another in righteousness and obedience to Allāh, and do not cooperate with one another in sin and transgression, and obey Allāh.” [5:2]
In the very important hadith of Umm Salamah (ra), the Messenger of Allāh (saas) said:
“You shall have leaders over you, some of their actions you will accept and other things you will reject; whoever rejects with his tongue will be safe from sin, and whoever hates with his heart he will at least have escaped blame, but whoever follows and accepts (he shall be guilty)!” It was said, “Should we not fight them?” The Messenger of Allāh (saas) said, “No, as long as they pray.” (Abu Dawud)
This hadith of Umm Salamah has other ahadith which support its meaning. For example, the Prophet (saas) also said,
“Whoever from amongst you sees an evil should change it by his hand, if he is unable to do so then he should change it by his tongue (by speaking against it), and if he is unable to do so then he should reject it in his heart – and this is the weakest of īmān.” (Muslim)
He (saas) also said,
“The best Jihad is the word of Justice in front of the oppressive Sultan.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, ibn Majah)
And the Prophet (saas) also said,
“If the people witness an oppressor and they do not take him by his hands (to prevent him) then they are close to Allāh covering them all with punishment.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, ibn Majah)
These very important ahadith on this issue provide some options in the Islamic approach towards rulers who transgress. The greater action, which is among the highest forms of Jihad, is to reject with the tongue by speaking out against their crimes and thus be safe from sin. Yet, there are conditions in which speaking out or acting may bring greater harm to both the person and the society and in these cases one must be patient and refrain from speech as it is the lesser of the two evils. In this case, he hates in his heart, and he will still have escaped blame.
The case for being patient and hating in the heart was evidenced by one of the statements of the great tabi'ee al-Hasan al-Basri. A group of Muslims came to him seeking a ruling for rebelling against al-Hajjaj. So they said: “O Abaa Sa'eed! What do you say about fighting this oppressor who has unlawfully spilt the blood, and unlawfully taken wealth, and did this, and did that?” So al-Hasan said:
“I say not to fight him. If this is a punishment from Allāh, then you will not be able to remove it with your swords. If this is a trial from Allāh, then be patient until Allāh's Judgment comes, and He is the Best of Judges.” (Tabaqat ibn Sa'd)
Here al-Hasan recognized the relative impotence of the people before the strength and ruthlessness of al-Hajjaj and thus he recommended patience. Notice that he did not tell them that this act was forbidden, only that he advised them against it for practical reasons. Had the people been greater in number or greater in strength, then the situation may well have been different.
Furthermore, Ibn Hajar records in his commentary to Sahih Bukhāri:
Imām Nawawi said: “…one should not object to the actions of the rulers unless they carry out clear and open transgression, and that which is contrary to the general principles of Islam.”
Ibn Teen narrates from al-Dawudi: 'The scholars have stated that if one is able to remove a transgressing ruler, without causing any Fitnah and oppression, then he should be removed, otherwise it is necessary to be patient.”
The real question that remains then, a question that can only be assessed by each population in its own land, “will our efforts to remove this tyrant create a greater fitnah and oppression than that which he has exacted upon us?”
Thus, if a leader or ruler becomes corrupt he should first be advised, in private if possible, or in public if his evil deeds were done in public. [This unfortunately is an act which is limited to a select group of people in our time and is not a practical point for the majority of the Ummah.] If he does not turn away from his evil deeds, he should be overthrown or removed from position if this can be done without creating further upheaval in the society. However, in the process of removing him from position, he should not be physically fought, such as waging war with weapons. And Allāh knows best.
The Position of Some Contemporary Scholars Who Uphold the Legality of Protests
Shaykh Salman al-'Awdah in Saudi Arabia has previously expressed that he sees no harm in gathering for protests so long as they remain for the most part peaceful and civil. He states that the foundation of matters such as this (peaceful protests) is that it is permissible and doesn't require any specific evidence to support it. It suffices us that there is no evidence that forbids this type of action unless it is accompanied by obvious harm or sin.
In this valuable statement, we understand that some scholars see protests as a worldly act and not a religious one. Among the principles of Islam is that all religious actions are by default forbidden and can only be done when one has a clear evidence from the Qurʾān or Sunnah. On the other hand, worldly actions are by default permissible and can only be forbidden by clear evidence against them from Qurʾān or Sunnah. Some other scholars disagree and see protests as a religious action wherein Muslims aim to command good and forbid evil and thus say that an evidence is required (despite the fact that the gathering is simply a means and not a religious act itself). Again, a matter of controversy.
This same position voiced by Sh. Salman has also been taken by Shaykh AbdulRahman Abd al-Khaliq who used a similar reasoning, and added that the concept of Muslims going out in large numbers to demonstrate their strength is well established in Islam by such things as the Jumu'ah prayer, the two 'Īd prayers and so forth.
Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has also supported these protests and supported the removal of Mubarak from his office as can be read elsewhere on this website. And from within Egypt, Shaykh Muḥammad Hassan as already alluded to has voiced support for the act of the youth and said in a televised statement, “I am not blaming you for what you have done.” And he also emphasized the peaceful nature of this protest that calls for the rights of the people and for goodness in praising it.
From these various ahadith and statements of our scholars across the width of Islamic history, we can find evidence to support the protests in the Muslim nations today. They have gathered together to reject with their tongues the evils in their respective governments after having been patient for many years and restraining themselves. They have furthermore kept their efforts relatively peaceful and free from much harm and they have avoided the greater harm, and potential sin, of raising weapons against their leaders. As an Egyptian myself who knows what many of these people have experienced of fear, oppressive policies, illegal detainments, police brutality and so forth; I believe that their efforts thus far have been the lesser evil – and Allāh knows best.
It is also important for us to remember that these protests are far from reaching any real gains. Yes, the people have thrown aside the shackles of fear, but what awaits them tomorrow and the next day? For those who equated Mubarak with Pharaoh, then the appointment of Omar Sulaiman as the next leader is equivalent to Pharaoh taking Haman as his confidant. Sulaiman, in his role as head of the murky Egyptian Intelligence, has been the supervisor of numerous evils not limited to the torture of the citizenry (including the scholars), the illegal rendition programs, and of course a key player in walling off the people of Gaza. To have him take over the helm in Egypt is a nightmare that I ask Allāh to protect all the Muslims from.
Will there be those among the scholars and thinkers that disagree with the actions of the Tunisians, Egyptians and those who follow this path? There is no doubt that such disagreement has already occurred, as it is very controversial and always has been. But as Muslims we must live in the real world and recognize that there will be differences of opinion on such controversial issues. The reality at hand is that these protests have already begun and we need to do more for our brothers and sisters in these lands than argue the legitimacy of their efforts. They have begun and they have a valid Islamic case for their actions, alḥamdulillāh.
My humble recommendation to readers is that they spend their efforts wisely in helping these noble causes by turning to Allāh. Gathering to show support in our own cities is wonderful and gives us a sense of unity, alḥamdulillāh, but what is needed now more than anything is calling upon Allāh to accept these efforts and overlook whatever wrong may be in them. To show our sincerity in our love to them by waking up in the night to cry out to Allāh to aid them and make their feet firm, and to bring about good from their efforts and rid them of the tyrants. āmīn!