Rebellion Against Rulers
The scholar Ibn Nujaym said “it is not permitted for there to be more than one state leader (Imam) in a time period. There may be many judges, even in one state, but the leader is one.”12 Al-Bahjouri said “It is an obligation to obey the leader, even if he is not fair or trustworthy or even if he committed sins or mistakes.”13 Abu Hanifa’s school says that the head of the state, the Imam, cannot be expelled for being a corrupt person (fasiq).14 Hudhaifa bin al-Yaman narrated a hadith in which he said, “The Prophet (saws) said, ‘there will be after me leaders who do not follow my guidance and do not follow my sunna, and there will be among them men whose hearts are like those of satan in the body of a human being.’ And I asked the Prophet (saws), ‘What I should do at that time if I reach it?’ He said, ‘listen and obey the ruler, even if he lashed your back and took your money, listen and obey.’”15
In another narration, Auf bin Malik t said, “O Prophet of Allah, do you recommend that we fight them?” He said, “No, don’t fight them as long as they do not prevent you from your prayers. And if you see from them something that you dislike, dislike their acts, do not dislike them. And do not take your hand out from obedience to them.”16 Bukhari and Muslim narrated from Abdullah ibn al-Abbas, “if someone dislikes his ruler, he must be patient, because if he comes against the ruler in a rebellious or destructive manner by only a handspan and dies, he dies in a state of pre-Islamic ignorance (jahiliyyah) and sin.”
These source texts are clear evidence that whoever lives under a particular government must obey the ruler and live peacefully. They are prohibited from taking up arms against him. Uprising or violence by any group against the ruler is completely rejected in Islam, and was prohibited by the Prophet (saws) and will be a cause of death on the way of ignorance (jahiliyya). Thus Islam considers rebellion against the ruler a great iniquity. These hadith affirm that one must be patient with one’s ruler, even if he commits oppression. These hadith refer to the leader of a nation, not the leader of a small group. Therefore groups that take up violent struggle against their regimes are prohibited in Islam and are by default illegal and blameworthy.
In fact the true path to correction of the mistakes of a ruler is according to the hadith “a most excellent Jihad is when one speaks a word of truth in the presence of a tyrannical ruler.”17 Note here the hadith does not mention fighting the ruler, but rather praises the one who corrects the ruler by speech. Armed and violent opposition to a state regime can never be recognized as Jihad in the way of Allah, despite the claims of many groups. Unfortunately we see today countless individuals and groups who label their rulers and their governments apostates or unbelievers, thereby giving themselves the excuse to declare “jihad” against them, asserting that this is because they do not rule by what was revealed to the Prophet (saws). Even worse, they go further by terrorizing and killing government officers, members of the armed forces and public servants, simply because they are easy targets. These groups use a “militant Islamic” ideology to justify such felonious action, declaring the ruler, the government, and its officers to be criminals standing in the way of “true Islam”, who must be eliminated. Thus, those who are innocent of any crime, but who are earning a living and raising their families, such as officers and officials of ministries and departments, county and city officials and police, become targets of these extremist ideologues. Such groups do not hesitate to kill them in surprise attacks, terrorizing the entire nation by blasting here and there and harming the innocent.
If the ruler commits wrong, it is not permitted to label him an apostate, nor to indoctrinate people to use militancy to oppose him. In the time of the Prophet (saws) after the conquest of Makkah, a Companion named Hatib ibn Abi Balta, assisted some of the enemy by supporting them extensively and passing them secret information. It may be that no one today supports a tyrannical ruler as Hatib supported the unbelievers at that time. When questioned as to his motives, Hatib replied, “O Allah’s Prophet! Don’t hasten to give your judgment about me. I was a man closely connected with the Quraish, but I did not belong to this tribe, while the other emigrants with you, had their relatives in Mecca who would protect their dependents and property. So, I wanted to compensate for my lacking blood relation to them by doing them a favor so that they might protect my dependents. I did this neither because of disbelief nor apostasy nor out of preferring disbelief (kufr) to Islam.” Allah’s Prophet (saws), said, “Hatib has told you the truth.”18
We see here that the Prophet (saws), though fully aware of Hatib’s actions, never considered him to be outside the fold of Islam, nor did he inflict any punishment on him. Regarding Hatib and his support of the unbelievers Allah revealed the following verse: “O you who believe! Do not take My enemy and your enemy for friends: would you offer them love while they deny what has come to you of the truth, driving out the Messenger and yourselves because you believe in Allah, your Lord?” [60:1] Though the verse reprimands Hatib, showing him in the wrong, nonetheless Allah I did not take him out of the state of faith yet continued to address him with the honorable title “O you who believe”, despite his assisting the enemies of Islam.
This constitutes proof that even if someone assists a regime that does not support Islam, one cannot harm that person as the Prophet (saws) did not inflict any punishment on Hatib. One wonders then how today so many groups freely label those working for the government as renegades and apostates, and issue fierce edicts to kill them? Their work with the government might be for their livelihood, or for building a bridge of trust for the Islamist community to ensure a better future relationship or a better understanding of Islam. Such actions are baseless in Islam and are founded on an extremist ideology, far removed from the middle path which always constitutes this blessed religion of Allah.