In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation. May Allah extol the mention of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in the highest company of Angels and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, his family, his Companions and all those who follow him exactly till the Day of Judgement.
Dear brothers and sisters, a brother from Lagos sent the following important question to me, and beg that the response should be published publicly for the benefit of all. The question is as follows:
Please dear Imam, what is our Islamic duty when one Muslim – individual or nation – mistreats, exploits, oppresses or tyrannises another?
Then I answered him as follows, seeking the assistant and guide from Allah Almighty:
Alhamdulillah, was-salatu was-salamu ala rasulillah.
Respected brother, in theory, the answer is pretty straightforward. In practice, it may often be tricky – especially if the oppression (Zulm) is not by an individual, but by a group or faction, or it is political tyranny of a government; a police state; or a tyrant dictator.
As for the theory, or principle, our Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
“انْصُرْ أَخَاكَ ظَالِمًا أَوْ مَظْلُومًا. قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ هَذَا نَنْصُرُهُ مَظْلُومًا فَكَيْفَ نَنْصُرُهُ ظَالِمًا قَالَ: تَأْخُذُ فَوْقَ يَدَيْهِ.”
“Help your brother, be he the oppressor or the oppressed! They said: O Messenger of Allah, we can help the oppressed. But how do we help an oppressor? He said: ‘By restraining his hand.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Dear servants of Allah, there are some important points to consider here:
1. It is a collective obligation; a fard kifayah, to stop an oppressor harming, exploiting or oppressing another. Which is to say, if one or more people do not stand up to stop the oppression or tyranny, the whole of the community or ummah is sinful, according to Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, in Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari. This, then, is the general rule of thumb concerning helping an oppressed person – regardless of the type of injustice or oppression; be it personal, marital, social, or political.
2. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) warned of a divine punishment if such a collective obligation is shirked or left unfulfilled. He said:
“People, if they see an oppressor and do not restrain him, then perhaps Allah will cover them all with punishment.” [Imam Ahmad reported it in his Musnad, and graded Sahih by Sheikh Ahmad Shakir]
3. There will be times where it simply isn’t possible to restrain the oppressor; but this should not be for a lack of wanting to stop oppression. One Prophetic Hadith states:
“Whoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; if he is unable to, then with his tongue; if he is unable, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]
So not having even the wish to help a victim of domestic violence; economic unfairness; or political tyranny, for instance, is a serious indictment on one’s level of faith and personal piety; and any claim to be upon the Sunnah is likely to be nothing more than a fantasy.
4. Although the Hadith that says: “Whoever is not concerned with the affairs of the Muslims is not of them” isn’t authentic, its meaning is religiously sound. The next Hadith bears this out:
“The likeness of the believers in their mutual love, mercy and compassion is like that of a single body; when one part of it is in pain, the rest of the body suffers in sleeplessness and fever.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Which is to say, the bonds of faith between believers should be a cause for us to feel the injustices or suffering other Muslims are feeling. To the degree it does not, this is a telling sign that one’s faith (Iman) is weak and that the heart has been desensitised to the cries of the ummah and the suffering of the sufferers. We ask that Allah place in our hearts concern and the desire to serve, ameen.
5. In attempting to rectify any instance of oppression or injustice, one must be sure to observe the well-established rule of enjoining good and forbidding evil, that is: la yu’addi ila munkar akbara minhu – ‘It should not give rise to a worse evil.’ If righting a wrong is likely to result in a greater evil, or to the loss of a greater good, then one leaves off doing so until a positive outcome can be assured, or it is more likely to be the result. Here, the wrong path followed by Boko Haram terrorists to change the evils taken place in our societies is a great lesson to all of us. Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said:
“Forbidding munkar (“wrong”, “evil”, “sin”) has four levels: Firstly, it will be eliminated to be replaced by good. Secondly, it will be reduced, but not fully eradicated. Thirdly, it will be [removed but] replaced by an equivalent evil. Fourthly, it will be [removed but] replaced by a worse evil. The first two levels are [areas where forbidding evil is] legislated; the third is an area for personal reasoning (ijtihad); the fourth, however, is prohibitted.” [See I’lamul Muwaqqi’in an Rabbil Alamin]
6. As for preventing acts of political oppression, then of course this is far harder and could also be life threatening. But whilst keeping the above previous points in mind, there are these words of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to internalise:
“There will soon be leaders whom you’ll approve of and also object to. Whoever recognises [abhors their evil] is absolved. Whoever objects to it is saved. But whoever is pleased with it or approves of it [is sinful].” [Muslim]
In other words, as Imam al-Nawawi noted:
“Whoever is unable to remove the evil isn’t considered sinful merely by keeping silent. Rather, the sin is in approving of it, or in not [even] denouncing it in one’s heart.” [Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi]
7. In Islam, entering upon leaders or visiting them is always fraught with great danger, both in spiritual and worldly terms. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
“Listen! You may well have heard that after me there will be some leaders, whoever enters upon them and agrees with their lies and their tricks, and supports them in their oppression, then he is not of me, nor I of him; and he shall not drink with me from the Fountain. And whoever does not enter upon them, nor help them in their oppression, nor agrees to their lies and tricks, he is of me, and I of him, and he will drink with me at the Fountain.” [Imams Ibn Hibban and al-Tirmidhi reported the Hadith, al-Tirmidhi said: ‘The Hadith is Hasan Sahih’]
I’m advising those Islamic scholars that do enter upon the leader must do so only to wisely and gently right a wrong; or give religious instruction and exhortation; or to lessen an existing evil: this is what is sought after from such Islamic scholars. We ask that Allah grant our scholars afiyah – safety and well-being, ameen.
8. In fact, to enter upon a leader or a head of state or president or governor, and flatter him or heap upon him exaggerated platitudes, isn’t really the conduct of a godly Muslim; let alone an Islamic scholar. Ibn Umar relates that he was once told:
“We enter upon our Sultans and say to them things contrary to what we say when we leave their presence.” Ibn Umar remarked: “In the time of Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him), we used to consider this to be hypocrisy.” [Al-Bukhari reported it. But the words: ‘In the time of Allah’s Messenger is recorded in Musnad of al-Tayalisi not Al-Bukhari]
Such platitudes only serve to obscure the true state of affairs to the leader, in terms of his responsibilities and duties to Allah, and to subjects or citizens. It also reinforces his delusion that he is truly fit for purpose! As for speaking to him wisely, gently and by acknowledging the good he has done, this is praiseworthy. As for the dangers of the state seeking to domesticate Muslim scholars, I’ve written about it in my previous sermons.
9. In the attempt to restrain the tyranny of those in power, Islamic scholars shoulder a huge responsibility. As guardians of the sacred law and the Prophetic legacy, they are expected to be courageous or independent enough to clarify the truth from falsehood – without desires or ego getting in the way; and to gently, yet firmly speak truth to power – if the occasion arises. Fear that they may likely lose their life in the process; or be tortured or imprisoned; or bring harm upon their family or loved ones, may excuse them from this duty. But what they cannot be is a sheepish mouthpiece for shabby tyrants. So while speaking about how the venerable and respected scholar and exemplar from Islam’s early past, Imam al-Awza‘i, spoke in front of the tyrant of the time, Imam al-Dhahabi explains that al-Awza‘i:
“يَصْدَعُهُ بِمُرِّ الحَقِّ كَمَا تَرَى، لاَ كَخَلْقٍ مِنْ عُلَمَاءِ السُّوءِ الَّذِيْنَ يُحَسِّنُوْنَ لِلأُمَرَاءِ مَا يَقْتَحِمُوْنَ بِهِ مِنَ الظُّلمِ وَالعَسْفِ، وَيَقلِبُوْنَ لَهُمُ البَاطِلَ حَقّاً ، قَاتَلَهُمُ اللهُ ، أَوْ يَسكُتُوْنَ مَعَ القُدْرَةِ عَلَى بَيَانِ الحَق.”
“… proclaimed the bitter truth, as you have seen. Unlike those corrupt Islamic scholars who justify for the leaders the persecution and tyranny they plunge into, and turn falsehood into truth for them – may Allah fight them; or who keep silent, despite having the ability to proclaim the truth.” [Siyar ‘A’lam al-Nubala of Imam al-Dhahabi]
I ask Allah for afiyah, courage and tawfiq.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
The perfect knowledge belongs to Allah the Almighty. Our last prayer is all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. And May the peace and blessing be upon our beloved Prophet, his Family, his Companions and his Brothers till the Day of Resurrection.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.