When Scholars and Leaders Fail
The Limitations of Scholars
When Rebellion is Permitted
The Arab spring raised many questions about the legitimacy of tackling unjust dictatorships and oppressive regimes.
Is it permissible for the public to rebel when their rulers are failing them?
There have been scholars throughout history who have legitimised and rubber stamped the wrong doings of rulers, and written books in their support.
In general, the majority of scholars recommend not defying rulers because this has historically led to violence and bloodshed. The ummah paid a heavy price and noble companions died. The sequence of events which ensue after conflicts weaken the ummah. So scholars have erred on the side of caution and at times sided with the devil they know, supporting the ruler to prevent bloodshed.
So great has the impetus from scholars been to stabilise power that Imam at-Tahawi among the early scholars made turned obedience to authority from a political issue into an aqeedah issue in his Book (Aqeedah at Tahawia). This is completely wrong. As is the practice of teaching only the hadith which comply with the ruler to keep the unity of the ummah.
Ironically and detrimentally, this effort to preserve the ummah at the cost of justice has conversely repressed the ummah in its long history.
We have learned the hard way, that the sunnah has been quoted out of context to legitimise rulers who abused their power and exploited and subjugated their people. The hadith that one must obey the ruler even if the leader is lashing your back and taking your money has been wrongly applied.
The Prophet said, “Rulers after me will come who do not follow my guidance and my tradition (sunnah). Some of their men will have the hearts of devils in a human body.” I said, “O Messenger of Allah, what should I do if I live to see that time?” The Prophet said, “You should listen and obey them even if the ruler strikes your back and takes your wealth, even still listen and obey.” (Muslim)
This is authentic hadith has been chopped out of context. It refers to a scenario where the ruler is doing the right thing, then you should obey even if it is painful. Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. Yet it has been incessantly bandied about.
Allowing this to happen, eventually sparked the Arab Spring.
Allah Almighty said:
You are the best ummah we introduced to mankind. You command what is good ad forbid what is evil (3:110)
The ummah that does not command what is good and forbid what is evil, is not the best ummah.
Our failure to forbid evil when the rulers became tyrants and oppressors have led to corruption and suffering and degradation among ourselves as well as on the world stage.
The ummah was given the responsibility of upholding justice and forbidding evil and the ummah and many rulers in our time have failed on both counts.
We desperately need to do something to correct this situation. Doing nothing is no longer an option and goes against the Qur’an and sunnah.
There are plenty of narrations which the scholars ignored which urge people to stand up for what is right and not allow oppression to swell.
Commanding what is good, requires the right etiquettes for it to be effective and not counterproductive.
Consequences of Allowing Evil
Hudhaifa bin Al Yaman narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
By the One in whose Hand is my soul! Either you command good and forbid evil, or Allah will soon send upon you a punishment from Him, then you will call on Him, but He will not respond to you. (Tirmidhi)
If you do not command good and forbid evil, Allah Almighty will bring evil people among you and He will not respond to the supplications of the righteous. This is the situation we are in today. Righteous people are making supplication but to no avail as we let the evil settle and breed for too long. Inaction has come back to bite us.
The Prophet (peace be on him) said if my ummah did not say to the oppressor ‘You are an oppressor, then kiss it goodbye’ (Ahmad and Al Hakim)
A person asked the Prophet (peace be on him):
‘What is the highest form of jihad?’
‘Speaking the truth in the presence of a tyrant ruler’ (Al Nasa’i)
No one teaches this, so we do not depose bad rulers. If the ruler is a thief, womaniser or unjust, ruthless, then it is our duty to speak out.
Otherwise, punishment descends on everyone- good or bad. Umm Salamah, the wife of the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
‘Messenger of Allah! Shall we be destroyed while there are people who are salih (righteous) among us?’
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) replied:
‘Yes, if there is much wickedness.’
(Malik – Al Muwatta)
We have plenty of awliaa’ and scholars now but not many are saying anything.
Scholars – Fear and Silence
The fear of the secret service has lead to silence from scholars who would skip any passages which highlighted the accountability of leaders; such pages were rapidly flipped over, and uncomfortable questions fell on deaf ears.
In Syria in the 80s, and during the 2011 massacre in Hama, thousands of innocent people were wiped out. The massacre was described as the one of ‘the single deadliest acts by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East’. Shayukh were terrified and did not want to say anything so the ummah has an accumulation of allowing oppression.
The ummah renews itself by protecting the public from oppression. If we do not do this, then we are not the best nation because we are just any other self-interested group, pandering to our own selfish whims and desires.
The best ummah looks out for justice.
Scholars who Stood Up for Truth And Justice
We have the resolute and brave examples of Imam Ahmad who was beaten up and imprisoned for 20 years and Abu Hanifa who was imprisoned and beaten till he passed away.
Instead we have had a divorce between the righteous scholars and rulers. Sadly, those who are near the ruler are corrupt apart from some exceptions. This is quite clear.
When you have power it is very deceiving and easy to abuse.
Umar Abdul Aziz (may Allah be pleased him) is classified as the fifth Calipha and among ulal amr, even though only ruled for 2 years 6 months, but was known for being just.
Even Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) said
“O people, you have some rights on me which you can always claim. One of your rights is that if anyone of you comes to me with a claim, he should leave satisfied. Another of your rights is that you can demand that I take nothing unjustly from the revenues of the State. You can also demand that I fortify your frontiers and do not put you in danger. It is also your right that if you go to battle I should look after your families as a father would do while you are away.
Islam does not allow dictatorship. We can’t support this. In the time of Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) mahr (the amount groom agree to their wives in marriage) had become so extortionately high that Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) tried to limit it to make it affordable, but an elderly woman, Khawla bint Thalaba objected publicly quoting an ayah from the Qur’an, he repealed his fatwah:
If you wish to replace one wife with another, and you have given one of them a fortune, take nothing back from it. Would you take it back fraudulently and sinfully? (4:20)
Yet in our time, leaders show disregard for those who question them. Trump insults people who ask questions he doesn’t like. He shuts them down. Unless you have the right people around you who advise you with a wise approach your actions are unchecked.
Our ummah went too far glorifying rulers and giving them the cloak of infallibility and sanctity. This mentality has to change and we need to educate ourselves how to do this.
If we have someone who is not qualified in a position of leadership, or have someone who is oppressive and disobeys Allah Almighty, then we have to do our best to change or replace the leader in a wise and peaceful way. Islam does not encourage violence. However, we cannot stay idol and offer blind obedience to any leader. We are only obliged to obey a leader as long as he obeys Allah Almighty. This is why it is important for leaders to have good advisers and a good shura committee around them to alert them when they are going wrong.
We have troubles and issues at all levels – international, community and family. Our mosques are so often paralysed by power struggles, battles for control, clashes of ego and ruthless attempts to dominate and squash other voices and opinions. This makes our mosques unable to offer their communities the services which would truly benefit and empower them.
People have to come together to change the reality even if those who are in control are elders and scholars. For it to be successful, short term and long-term planning is required. The reward of the one who is delivering justice is huge; it is the first category of shade under Allah Almighty’s throne, because this is such a difficult task to undertake.
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
Seven are (the persons) whom Allah will give protection with His Shade on the Day when there will be no shade except His Shade (i.e., on the Day of Resurrection), and they are: A just ruler; a youth who grew up with the worship of Allah; a person whose heart is attached to the mosque; two persons who love and meet each other and depart from each other for the sake of Allah; a man whom a beautiful and high ranking woman seduces (for illicit relation), but he (rejects this offer by saying): ‘I fear Allah’; a person who gives a charity and conceals it (to such an extent) that the left hand might not know what the right has given; and a person who remembers Allah in solitude and his eyes well up. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Who to Ask
When conflicts arise people are often reluctant to consult an imam as their impression (sadly often true) is that imam lacks in depth knowledge and understanding and will not be in a position to give a credible verdict. A local imam may well have no clue about the stock market etc. and the easy, lazy and ‘safe’ answer for him is to pronounce anything he doesn’t understand as haram.
It is far better to say one doesn’t understand than to give the wrong advice or verdict on a matter. For example financial matters are so complicated now, and in particular the new breed of digital money that the answer is not simple and straight forward. Cryptocurrency is a new beast and there are three views on whether it is permissible or not to deal in it. One needs to understand the nature of digital currency before they pronounce judgement.
Over simplifying halal and haram and making them black and white issues can be damaging, for example not buying comprehensive car insurance because it appears haram could lead to severe difficulties when there is an accident and the car is written off. It is not a case of putting up with hardship for the sake of salvaging the akhirah that some shuyukh suggest, for example when they pronounce all mortgages haram and then cause misery and destitution to families who end paying rent and getting on benefits in spiralling debt. This is not the proper application of Islam to our modern reality.
Recently an imam with a substantial following declared that any chicken slaughtered by a Shafi is haram, which by extension would mean that any chicken eaten in Indonesia which is Shafi would become impermissible. This is utter nonsense.
The right people with the right understanding of Islam provide shariah compliant solutions to modern problems and age-old problems. For instance, those who do not want to leave less money to their daughters than their sons after their death could distribute their assets equally to their sons and daughters in their own lifetime, which is halal. Whereas drawing up a will to distribute in this way after their death would be haram. It is simply a case of understanding the boundaries and then adjusting your actions to meet them according to your personal circumstances.
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