Sunni scholars’ approach to dealing with the Sultans

Abu Asim Abdullah bin Humaid Al-Ghamdi

All praise is due to Allah and may Allah bless Muhammad and his followers. Herein are some Sunni Scholars’ sayings demonstrating their approach and method in rebuking rulers. Compared to the pious predecessors, the void between the neo-Kharajites and Sunni Scholars’ approach becomes quite evident. We may notice how the pious predecessors advised each other to take after the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his companions after him, which includes swearing obedience and fidelity to the governor no matter how unjust he may be.

Al Lalka’i narrated on the authority of Ali ibn Harb Musli’s that he heard Shu’ayb ibn Harb say, “I said to Abi Abduallah bin Sufian bin Sa’eed, ‘Please teach me a prophetic wisdom that God Almighty would benefit me with, so that if I stood in front of the Almighty God and He asked me about it, or where I took it from, I would reply with: “O Lord, from Sufian Thawri.” I would then survive and you would be forgiven.’ He said, ‘O Shu’ayb this an assertion and what assertion can better than this? Write: “In the name of Allah the Merciful. The Quran is the uncreated word of God. It originates from Him and returns to Him…”‘ and he explained many matters of the creed until he reached the point where he told him, ‘O Shu’ayb, what you have written will not benefit you until you hold that prayer is to be performed behind every righteous or sinful person and that jihad is everlasting till the Day of Resurrection; and that patience is necessary under the ruler’s authority whether he is just or unjust.’ Shu’ayb asked Sufyan: ‘O Abu Abdullah, is that all of the prayers?’ He replied, ‘No, but the Friday prayer and the prayer of the two Eids. Pray these behind whomever you meet. But as for all of the daily prayers, you have a choice in that matter. Do not pray except behind one in whom you can place your trust and whom you know to be from the rightly guided community. O Shu’ayb bin Harb, when you stand in front of Allah and He asks you about this Hadith, then say: “O my Lord, Sufyan bin Sa’eed Al Thawri taught me this.”‘” (Abu Amr Abdel-Rahman ibn ‘Amr Awzai’ belief. “Explaining the Sunnis’ origins of belief : 1/151)

On stressing the need to obey the ruler, whether righteous or oppressive, Ibn Abi Zamanen said, may God have mercy on him, “There is a valid saying that suggests that the sultan is the shadow of Allah on earth, and if it’s not evident to him whether the sultan is just or licentious, then he’s contradicting the Sunna, and Allah the Almighty said: ‘Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.’ Many scholars interpreted this verse to mean different things, particularly the words ‘in authority among you.’ Hassan said: ‘They are the scholars’. Ibn Abbas said: ‘They are the leaders of the small armies,’ for the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, used to promote a leader for each military company he sent, and ordered them to follow his orders and not disobey him. And Zayd ibn Aslam said: ‘They are the governors, didn’t you notice the verse? Allah commands that you return trusts to their owners, and when you judge between people you judge with justice.’ So he turned to the governors and ordered them thus, then turned to us and said: ‘Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those who are in authority.’ And he went out, saying, ‘If you believe in Allah and the Last Day.'” (Origins of the Sunna 249)

He also said, indicating the necessity of obedience to the governors, that even if they failed in fulfilling their duty, the Prophet said that obeying governors is an obligation, even if they fail to fulfill their duty, for as long as they implement righteousness then they will be charged for what they’ve done and their subjects will be charged in terms of their obedience to them.

The scholar Ibn Muflih said in his interesting book, “Islamic etiquette: pointing out the proper way to denounce the sultan,” in the part about difference between denouncing the sultan and a immoral imam, that to denounce the sultan is to preach, intimidate, or warn him of the formidable consequence he might face in this world and the Hereafter.

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal said: “The scholars of Baghdad gathered in the era of Al Watheq Abu ‘Abdullah and said to him: ‘It’s been diffused and aggravated (referring to the debate about the Quran), and we do not accept his authority nor his power.’ He debated with them and said, ‘You might as well deny it in your hearts but never disobey for it might lead Muslims to disperse, and do not shed your blood and Muslims’ blood with you. Sit back and be patient, till righteousness prevails or licentious fails.'”

Marwadhi said: “I heard Abu Abdullah order a cease to the bloodshed and severely condemned disobedience; and he said on the authority of Ismail bin Said, ‘I find that the Prophet, peace be upon him, ordered obedience for as long as the ruler prayed. Hence, if they don’t pray then disobeying them is allowed without any doubt.'” Al Qadi said: “The difference between both is in the apparent and underlying meaning, as for the apparent then Allah the Almighty God ordered us to fight the licentious. Thus, in our case it was ordered to denounce the sultans who resorted to the previously mentioned methods.

Abdullah bin Mubarak said, the group is Allah’s rope so hold on to it. If it weren’t for the sultan’s authority, after Allah, we would have faced a lot of dilemmas, we would have been weakened, so it is Allah’s mercy upon us. Amr ibn al-Aas said to his son, “My son, listen to what I advise you: a just leader is better than pouring rain and a lion is better than an oppressed Imam, and an unjust Imam is better than infinite strife.”

Ibn Jawzi said that the method of promoting virtue and preventing vice with the sultans is through admonition. Yet it is never allowed to preach to him with the use of demeaning designations such as ‘you are the unjust who has no fear of Allah’, for it might stir the public’s emotions and eventually lead to fitna. However, the majority of scholars said that those who want to ban vice using this method would do himself more harm than the actual vice he wanted to obliterate in the first place. Imam Ahmed, may Allah be pleased with him, said that one should not roughly confront the Sultan, his sword is drawn. As for what happened to the precedent of confronting their princes, the sultans back then had great regard for scholars and listened to them. (Ahmad from the Hadith of ‘Atiya al-Sa’adi: If Sultan rages, the devil provokes him. 1/222)

Khallaal said: “Abu Bakr Marwadhi, said that he heard Abu ‘Abdullah order the cease of bloodshed , and severely condemned disobedience.” Year: 1/131

Muhammad ibn Abi Haroun, Mohamed Ben Jaafar, told them that Abu al-Harith said: “I asked Abu Abdullah about a matter that took place in Baghdad, and some people were about to revolt.” I said: “O Abu Abdullah, what have you got to say about revolting with these people?” He condemned it and said: “Transcendent is Allah… Blood, blood, I do not want it, nor did I command it! Patience over all this bloodshed is better than fitna, which violated people’s wealth and family… Haven’t you heard about what happened to people before!?” I said: “People today, are they not also living in fitna, O Abu Abdullah?” He said: “Even still, it is an exclusive fitna, if a sword is drawn, fitna falls; be patient now, and your religion is protected.” And he condemned disobeying imams, and said, “We do not want blood nor command to spill it!”

He also said: Abdullah Bin Ahmad told us: my father told me: Muawiya ibn Hisham, told us: Sufyan, from Mansur, from Mujahid, from Ibrahim: that they hated bloodshed, refering to fitna. Also Ali Issa told me, said: I heard Hanbal say in Al Watheq era: “The scholars of Baghdad gathered and came to Abu Abdullah, Abu Bakr ibn al-Obeid, and Ibrahim Bin Al Al Matbakhi, and Fadel bin Asim and came to Abu Abdullah, and I asked permission for them, they said: ‘O Abu ‘Abd Allah, it’s been diffused and aggravated, referring to the debate about the Quran’s creation.’ Abu Abdullah then said to them: ‘What do you want?’ They said: “We do not accept his authority nor his power he who believes that,’ and he had a one hour debate with them and said to them: ‘You might as well deny it in your hearts but never disobey for it might lead Muslims to disperse; do not shed your blood or Muslims’ blood with you, but sit back and be patient till a righteous one prevails or a licentious one fails.’ They then were dismissed. My father said to Abo Abdullah: ‘We ask Allah safety for us and the nation of Muhammad, and I for one wouldn’t want anyone to do that.’ Then my father said, ‘O Abo Abdullah is this rightful to you?’ He said, ‘No that contradicts our predecessors who ordered us to be patient,’ then he said, ‘the prophet peace be upon him said, ‘if he hits you be patient.’ Abdullah bin Masud said: ‘He also mentioned something else I couldn’t remember.'”

The predecessors were displeased with anyone who contradicted this righteous approach. Khallaal said in the Book “Al Sunna”: Harb ibn Ismail al-Kirmani told me that Abbas Anbari told us that Ibn Dawood said: al-Hasan used to remain silent whenever Othman was mentioned, and Hassan Bin Saleh didn’t attend Friday prayers for seven years, Abu Bakr Marwadhi then told us that Abu Abdullah mentioned Hassan Bin Saleh, and said: He saw the sword and didn’t accept his approach, and we loved Sufian more than him, and people were often infatuated with his piety, and nothing of the strife touched him. Another man said, ‘may Allah have mercy on him, he died veiled by Allah before being plagued by bloodshed.’

Al Khallal also said that Abu Bakr Marwadhi told that he heard Abu ‘Abdullah order a stop to the bloodshed and severely condemned disobedience and condemned Sahl ibn Salama’s matter, and said: “Anas was between me and Hamdun bin Shabib, and was writing for me, and when he revolted with Sahel I shunned him, so I went with and Ibn Muslim, and I said: ‘What made you revolt?, as if he regretted it or reverted.'”

Moreover, the predecessors used to praise those who refused to participate in fitna. Khallal said, may God have mercy on him: Abu Bakr Marwadhi told us that he heard Abu Abdullah mention Abdullah bin Mugafal, and he said: “I have never participated in a fitna.” He also mentioned another man, he said: “May Allah’s have mercy on him, he died prior to the fitna.”

These examples were given to clearly indicate some violations committed by some modern scholars. Where is the call for Islam? There is good reason to believe that some have even gone so far as to condemn religious voices and ask that it not add any religious characteristic since such a voice would lose the support of the west. This shows us clearly the reality behind these falsified mottos.

In any case, it is not allowed to revolt against any leader whether just or unjust, unless he leaves the prayer. So to dethrone him two options must be obtained: either the ability to dethrone him without corruption or a suitable successor must be present. Scholars clarified that this matter is to be solved by scholars and not by mobs, and praise is to Allah.