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(This article is extracted, with some editing, from Moderation in Islam in the Context of Singapore Muslim Community, Pergas, 2004. The footnote is omitted for technical convenience. For proper citation, please refer to the original book.)
Among the reasons that may cause a person to fall into extremism is the issue of dealing with a government which is fasiq (morally corrupt), oppressive or does not judge by the laws of Islam.
One of the actions that goes beyond the limits of moderation is to term such a government as kufr (disbelief), especially if that government takes a tough stand against those who call for the implementation of Islamic laws.
There are several types of government and authorities which are pertinent to this discussion;
a) a government led by a Muslim, which is primarily based on Islam, but deviates in certain aspects; like not practising shura (consultation), or the leader himself is involved in major vices like adultery. An example of this is government of fasiq caliph in the past.
b) a government led by a Muslim which governs based on a non-Islamic system of government, such as a secular system and he himself is involved in vice.
c) a government led by a good Muslim but under a non-Islamic adherent system.
d) a government led by a non-Muslim.
For (c), a government led by a good Muslim, but under a non-Islamic system, the subject has been discussed under the topic of working for a non-Islamic authority in the abovementioned book.
Hence, we will discuss the other three types mentioned above.
It must also be understood that in Islam, there is the term hikmah (wisdom).
It is a pertinent term as truth must be established based on hikmah.
As such, in approaching the current discourse, it is important to acknowledge that the desire to establish a just government is a virtue, whilst to appreciate the reality of our current times while contemplating the establishment of a just government is hikmah.
Rule of a Muslim Who Does Not Govern by the Laws of Allah & is a Fasiq
Before we discuss the actual issue, the following basic foundation needs to be understood:
1. Islam stresses greatly on the unity of its ummah and forbids disunity.
Allah Almighty says, “And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches for you), and be not divided among yourselves.” (The Holy Quran, 3:103)
Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said, “You should be in a group and avoid disunity.” (Related by Al-Turmuzi)
2. Islam stresses greatly on the unity of its ummah under one leadership.
Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said, “When three people travel, they should appoint one of them as a leader.” (Related by Abu Daud)
As an indication of how important this is in Islam, the Companions’ urgency in appointing a leader to replace Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) upon his death led to them prioritising it before attending to his last rites.
Ibn Taymiyah said, “It is said that sixty years under an oppressive leader is better than a night and a day with no leader.”
3. Islam makes it obligatory to be obedient to the leader.
Allah Almighty says, “Obey Allah and His Messenger and the Uli Al-Amr (those charged with authority) among you.” (The Holy Quran, 4:59)
The above three points are fundamental principles (usul) in this issue.
Neglecting them means shirking an obligation, and is a sin which justifies Allah’s condemnation.
However, the unity and obedience required should not be for the purposes of vice, or against Allah Almighty.
Allah Almighty says, “Help you one another in righteousness and piety, but help you not one another in sin and rancour.” (The Holy Quran, 5:2)
Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said, “There is no obedience to anyone in committing vice to Allah.
Verily, obedience is only in ma`ruf (the good).” (Related Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Dealing With Fasiq Muslim Leaders & Government
Islam is a religion of dakwah (propagation). It demands its ummah to enjoin good and forbid evil (al-amr bi al-ma`aruf wa al-nahy `an al-munkar).
In fact, Islam makes the duty of islah (correction or reform) towards leaders and the government as one of the more preferred form of jihad.
Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said, “The most preferred jihad is (to present) the truth to leaders who have deviated.” (Related by Al-Turmuzi & Ibn Majah)
In addition,, there is much evidence (dalil) that Islam does not encourage its ummah to withdraw obedience from a fasiq (morally corrupt) leader.
Islam only demands that its ummah avoid the vice perpetrated by the leaders, strive to change it with wisdom, mau`izah hasanah (good advice) and gracious debate if they are able to, or at the very least disobey these acts of vice in their heart.
Ultimately, Islam commands its ummah to have patience in effecting change.
Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said, “Anyone who sees something that he hates in his leader, should be patient. Indeed, anyone who leaves the jemaah, he dies the death of a jahiliyah.” (Related by Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Most `ulama’ of the Ahl Al-Sunnah Wa Al-Jamaah consider the act of withdrawing from the authority of fasiq (morally corrupt) Muslim leaders as forbidden (haram), what more to take up arms against them.
Imam Al-Nawawi said:
“As for rebelling against them and fighting them, this is forbidden according to the consensus of the Muslims [`ulama’], even if they were impious, oppressors.”
“…. it is not allowed to rebel against the caliphs simply due to oppression or impiety, as long as they do not change any of the foundations of Islam.”
“The fuqaha’ (jurists) all agree that the Imam (leader) who has taken over power must be obeyed as long as he establishes the congregational prayers and the jihad. [This is so] unless he commits a clear kufr [infidelity] in which it is obligatory to do so. Indeed, [in that case] it is obligatory to struggle against him by those who have the ability to do so.”
Al-`Aini said, “It is not mubah (permissible) to remove him (a ruler) from his rule of that (fasiq and wickedness).”
Ibn Taimiyah said:
“He [the Prophet] has ordered them to obey and forbade them from removing the people from their positions and he has ordered them to stand for the truth.”
“This clarifies that the leaders, who are the rulers and those in charge of affairs, are to be disliked and rebuked whenever they bring an act of disobedience to them. However, one does not remove his hand from obedience to them. Instead, one obeys them for the sake of Allah. [It also shows] that some of them are good and some of them are evil. ”
“It has been decreed by the `ulama’ of Ahl Al-Sunnah that going to war in a situation full of fitnah (tribulations) should be avoided, based on authentic hadiths from Rasulullah s.a.w. They treat this as a matter of `aqidah, and commanded patience in facing deviation by the leaders and in refusing to wage war on them, although many of the experts in knowledge and religion have waged war against them before this. ”
“The opinion of the Ahl Al-Sunnah settled on the view that fighting must be avoided during civil wars due to the authentic hadith confirmed from the Prophet (p.b.u.h). They [the Ahl Al-Sunnah] then began to mention their creeds. They ordered patience in the face of the injustice of the rulers and [they ordered] avoiding fighting against them. [This was their conclusion] although a number of people of knowledge and had fought in civil wars.”
Ibn Abi Al-`Iz said:
“It is obligatory to obey the authorities although they have deviated, because disobedience will cause much more damage than that caused by their deviation. To be patient with their deviation will eliminate sin and multiply rewards. ”
Although some `ulama ‘say that leaders who commit kufr acts may be opposed if there is clear evidence, they obviously do not encourage any form of armed resistance, as it often causes bloodshed and extensive damage.
Al-Kirmani said, “… a ruler is not removed due to impiety as in removing him there will be civil war, spilling of blood and disunity. The evil and harm of removing him is greater than what occurs if he remains. ”
Ibn Battal said:
“The jurists all agree that it is obligatory for one to obey and make jihad with the ruler who has taken control over him. Obeying him is better than rebelling against him. [This option] prevents the spilling of blood and repels catastrophe… There is no exception to that unless the ruler falls into blatant kufr [infidelity].”
On the viewpoint of the Salaf allowing war against oppressive leaders, Ibn Hajar said:
“They used to believe in using the sword; that is, they believed in armed rebellion against unjust rulers. That was an old opinion among the early scholars. However, the issue settled upon abandoning that as it was seen that such an act leads to something even greater [in harm]. The events of Al-Harrah and Ibn Al-Ashath and others are indeed lessons for whoever reflects.”
“…..It is not allowed to fight against the rulers with the sword, as long as they are establishing prayers.”
The above opinion of the `ulama’ is also based on the prohibition for the Muslim ummah to wage war against each other.
Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said:
“To revile a Muslim is fasiq and to wage war against him is kufr.” (Related by Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
“When two Muslims meet with their swords, the one who kills and the one killed will both be in Hell.” (Related by Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
“Do not return to kufr after my time, (by) smiting each other’s necks.” (Related by Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
The `ulama’ adopted this stand after witnessing various outcomes of armed resistance and opposition against the authorities, like in the Battle of Siffin between Ali r.a and Mu`awiyah, Hussein’s challenge against the Umayyad government, the Battle of Al-Harrah, and Abdullah b. Al-Zubair’s revolt.
Such is the stand of the past `ulama’ about opposing an Islamic authority.
This does not mean they were passively accepting disobedience to God, because they still enjoined and carried out al-amr bi al-ma`ruf (enjoing good) and al-nahy `an al-munkar (forbidding evil), and counselled against wrongdoing.
Their commitment to do so, even in the face of the authorities, is recorded in many incidents in history, as in the case of Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal.
Undeniably, there are a few `ulama’ who consider it as mubah (permissible) to be involved in armed opposition, and even obligatory in certain situations.
However, the opinions of the majority of the `ulama’ is stronger and nearer to the truth.
The above discussion pertains to the attitude towards an Islamic authority. What should then be the attitude towards a non-Islamic authority like in Singapore?
Dealing With a Non-Islamic Government
Originally, Islam did not permit Muslims to appoint non-Muslims as their leaders.
Allah Almighty says:
“Let not the believers take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers; if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah: except by way of precaution, that you may guard yourselves from them. But Allah cautions you (to remember) Himself: for the final goal is to Allah.” (The Holy Quran, 3:28)
This may be understood in the context that Islam is an eternal way of life encompassing governance and politics.
Islam demands its ummah to implement Islamic laws in the affairs of the state and in politics; distinguishing it from secularism.
Based on this, logically the one able to do so will have to be a pious Muslim because it is impossible for a non-Muslim to implement the Islamic laws as required.
Although Muslim accepts this as part of the command of Allah, as it is based on the revelations in the Holy Quran, from the practical point of view, it is only achievable in an environment where the inhabitants of the country are Muslims or the majority are Muslims.
In a situation where Muslims are a minority in a country, it is almost certain that the command in this verse cannot be realised.
The minority cannot achieve the majority vote required to appoint a Muslim leader for the purpose of implementing Islamic laws, and it is nearly impossible to appoint a non-Muslim who can do so either.
Hence, minority Muslim community should always respect any legimate party appointed via a democratic process and commit to it.
This is more so if Muslims understand that there is a difference between a government which does not establish Islamic law, and a government which is oppressive, dictatorial and corrupt.
In reality, many governments led by non-Muslims under a secular system are clean and fair, based on universal values, possess integrity, and respect the people’s rights and freedom.
Surely this type of government cannot be placed in the same category as those who are oppressive, dictatorial, corrupt and hostile to Islam.
The government which is elected via democracy by the people of the country should be respected and its authority accepted, in deference to the people’s choice.
All interactions between the Muslims as the citizens and the officially appointed government are based on the principles of democracy and guided by law.
The Muslims obey the official government on matters that are good from the point of view of Islam and the principles of universal values.
Definitely, the relationship between the people and the government is susceptible to differences of opinion.
The Muslim community should not remain quiet in facing these differences and matters that clash with the teachings of Islam and affect Muslims.
Instead, Muslims may present their disagreement and aspirations through the right channels, in line with democracy, the law, and good etiquette, without having to employ force and violence.
Originally, armed resistance was an act that was not allowed based on the same principle of prohibiting armed resistance against a fasiq Muslim government; the purpose is to safeguard life and avoid harm consistent with maqasid al-shar`iah (general objectives and spirit of the shariah).
Allah Almighty instructed the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) to achieve or perfect the common good, hinder or reduce harm, and to avoid a bigger harm by accepting a lighter one.
Engaging in al-amr bi al-ma`aruf (enjoining good) and al-nahy `an al-munkar (forbidding evil) with the government must be done if its benefit derived from it is bigger than the harm it inflicts.
If the harm outweighs the benefits, then it is not condoned by the religion.
This stand is consistent with the attitude of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) who refused to kill Abdullah b. Ubai b. Salul, a leader of the munafiqin (hypocrites), as it would have caused a bigger detriment, by inviting antagonism from Abdullah’s tribe, and inciting fear in people that Muhammad s.a.w. killed his friend.
History is peppered with various tragedies caused by armed resistance.
Ibn Taymiyah said:
“Perhaps, no group is known to have revolted against a ruler except that in the rebellion more evil was the result than the evil they sought to remove.”
“What the Prophet (p.b.uh) ordered concerning being patient with the injustice of rulers and not fighting against them or rebelling against them is the best for the affairs of the humans in both this life and the Hereafter. Whoever goes against that command, either intentionally or mistakenly, will not achieve by his act any good. Indeed, he will achieve evil.”
As for the efforts of Muslims to correct a ruler, whether based on the principles of Islam or that of universal justice, it should be done in accordance with one’s own capacity.
Allah Almighty says:
“On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear.” (The Holy Quran, 2:286)
“So fear Allah as much as you can” (The Holy Quran, 64:16)
Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said, “A Muslim is not to despise himself. The Companions asked ‘How does he despise himself?’ Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said ‘He exposes himself to a disaster that he has no capacity to face.”(Related by Al-Turmuzi)
Our principles are derived from the accounts of the government of Muslim Najasyi (Negus) who ruled over Ethiopia without implementing Islamic laws, prophet Yusuf (Joseph) a.s. who served under the Egyptian king, the stay of the Companions in Ethiopia under a non-Muslim ruler, and the participation of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) in Hilf Al-Fudhul which was an agreement between Meccan trives in pre-Islamic Arabia to establish justice for the oppressed.As mentioned previously, this does not necessarily mean that our attitude is passive.
To us, jihad carries a meaning broader than the taking up of arms, as has been discussed earlier in this section.
We only go to war with those who have declared war on us.
Allah Almighty says, “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you.” (The Holy Quran, 2:190)
We will not keep quiet when it comes to rulers like Milosevic.
Such rulers should not only be resisted by the Muslim community, but by the world community as well. In fact, no group of people will let themselves be treated as such without them rising up in opposition.
Conclusion on Method of Correcting the Government or Authorities
- It is obligatory to obey a Muslim leader in matters that do not contradict the shari`ah, even though he may be a fasiq (morally corrupt).
- It is obligatory to obey a non-Muslim leader officially appointed via a democratic and legal process in matters that do not contradict the religion and the principles of universal justice.
- It is obligatory to strive to correct and counsel both Muslim and non-Muslim leaders if they are in error or have transgressed (against God), and it is permissible to disagree with their policies.
- The efforts to correct the errors and transgressions, as well as in voicing disagreements, should be done with wisdom and etiquette, in line with the laws and the principles of democracy.
- Armed resistance against Muslim and non-Muslim authorities is prohibited because of the devastating consequences that it will cause.
- Conflicts with leaders should not be resolved in a manner that will cause more damage than what already exists.
- Being patient in effecting change is demanded, and one who does so will gain rewards.
Such is moderation in facing the shortcomings of rulers.
This is stated thus, on the principle that we respect democracy as an available alternative for Muslims to live in a situation where an Islamic system cannot be implemented. Refer discussions on this subject in the above-mentioned book at sections relating to secularism and democracy.
Slobodan Milosevic, was the President of Yugoslavia who was involved in mass killing of Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina.