The obligation of sticking to the united body of Muslims and not attacking the rulers
In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, Most Merciful
Shaykh-ul-Islām Ibn Taymiyya said in Minhāj-us-Sunna:
The well known position of Ahl-us-Sunna is that it is impermissible to rebel against the rulers and fight them with the sword, even if they be oppressors, as is proven by the many authentic ahādīth narrated from the Prophet (pbuh). This is because the corruption which results from fighting and the tribulation is greater than the corruption which comes as a result of their oppression without fighting or tribulation, and so the greater of the two evils is not repelled by the least of them. It has almost never been known of a group which has rebelled against a person in authority except that their rebellion contained corruption which was greater than the corruption which it removed.
He also said in As-Siyāsa ash-Sharī‘a:
It is obligatory to know that having someone in authority over the people is from the obligations of the religion. In fact, there can be no accomplishment without it, since the children of Adam cannot achieve that which benefits them except by coming together to solve the problems of some of them, and there must be a leader when they come together.
…to the point where he said, may Allah sanctify his soul:
…because Allah the Exalted has made ordering the good and forbidding the evil obligatory and this cannot be achieved except with strength and authority. Similarly, everything which has been made obligatory from the matters of jihad, establishing justice, the performing of the Hajj, as well as Jumu‘a and ‘Eid prayers, helping the oppressed, and carrying out the prescribed punishments; none of these things can be completed without strength and authority. For this reason it has been said that: “The ruler is the shade of Allah on the earth.” Past experiences highlight this. For that reason, the pious predecessors like Fudayl bin ‘Iyād and Ahmad bin Hanbal, may Allah have mercy on them both, and others used to say: “If we had a prayer that we knew would be answered, we would have used it to pray for the ruler.”
Then he said, may Allah sanctify his soul:
Therefore, the obligation is to take rulership as part of the religion and as an act of piety, by which we get close to Allah, since getting close to Him due to this is by obeying Him and obeying His Messenger which is from the best acts of piety. The thing which really corrupts the state of most of the people is seeking to be in charge, or seeking money from it.
From that in which there is no doubt is that carrying out the needs of the people in their religion and their worldly life rests upon the presence of the one who gives orders and prohibitions and who organizes the affairs of the umma, as Shaykh-ul-Islām said in his book, Al-Hasba:
All of the children of Adam cannot achieve what benefits them, not in matters of the worldly life nor the next life, except by coming together and helping each other. So, the co-operation and helping each other is based upon gaining that which benefits them, and helping each other to repel that which harms them. For this reason, it is said that a person is a city dweller by nature. If they come together then it must be that they have things which they do in order to gain a certain benefit, and things that they keep away from because of the harm they contain. So, all of the children of Adam must have some kind of obedience. Whoever is not from the people of the heavenly scriptures, or from the people of religion, then they obey their kings in that which brings them benefits in their worldly life; sometimes they are correct, and sometimes they are wrong. From the perfection of this religion is that it regulates the relationship between the ruler and those who are ruled, because from the nature of regulating this relationship is that it regulates the lives of the people.
From that which catches the eye is that the regulation of this relationship in the Sharia came with a wonderful legislative style, guiding both sides to fulfill the function which they have been assigned and the obligations which they have been made responsible for, using a strong form of expression.
So, if you look at the texts which exist regarding the ruler and the rights which are obligatory upon him and have been assigned to him, you would think that the Sharia came leaning towards the side of the citizens. Yet, if you were to look at the texts which exist regarding the citizens and the rights of the one in authority over them, in terms of obedience and support, you would think that the Legislator (Allah) is leaning towards the side of the ruler. The true position only becomes clear from an overview of the texts which exist regarding this. In fact, a single āyah from the Book of Allah may well intend to address both the ruler and the subjects, with both being guided towards the right which is obligatory upon them.
Ibn Kathīr said in his explanation of the statement of Allah the Exalted:
[And they are] those who, if We give them authority in the land, establish the prayer.
He, Ibn Kathīr, said:
Ibn Sawra al-Kindi said: “I heard ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul-Azīz give a speech in which he said: ‘Indeed it is not only for those in authority, rather it is addressed to the one in authority and the one whom he has authority over. Should I not tell you what [right] you have over the one in authority from this [āyah] and what [right] the one in authority has over you from it? You have [a right] over the one in authority from this [āyah], that he calls you to account for the rights of Allah over you, and that he takes (wealth [i.e. Zakāt]) from some of you for others, and that he guides you to that which is best, as much as he is able. And he has from this [āyah] over you the right of obedience, without being excessive, nor aversive, nor that what is hidden is different from what is apparent.”
The rights of the leader over his subjects are many, the first of which is obedience, for authority cannot be truly effective without obedience, as ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb said:
There is no Islam except with a united body, and there is no united body except with rulership, and there is no rulership without obedience.
Allah ordered the obedience of those in authority. The testimonies to this from the Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Messenger are many. From them is His statement in the Quran:
O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.
And the statement of the Prophet (pbuh):
Whoever obeys me has obeyed Allah, and whoever disobeys me has disobeyed Allah. And whoever obeys my ruler has obeyed me, and whoever disobeys my ruler has disobeyed me.
In the hadīth of ‘Ubāda bin as-Sāmit:
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) took our pledge of allegiance that we would hear and obey, in ease and difficulty, when invigorated and when constrained, and that we would be patient upon it, and that we would not dispute with people of authority, and that we would speak the truth wherever it may be found, not fearing for the sake of Allah the blame of a critic.
Attached to this is that from the rights of those in authority upon their subjects are respect and honour, as the Prophet (pbuh) said:
From the reverence of Allah is honouring the elderly Muslim, the one who has memorized the Quran, not going to extremes and not falling short, and honouring the one in authority who is just.
No people went to the ruler of Allah on His earth to disgrace him, except that Allah disgraced them before they died.
Tāwūs bin Kaysān said:
From the Sunna is to honour four people: the scholar, the elderly, the ruler, and the father.
Some people may think that the issue of holding them in esteem depends upon the persons themselves only. However, we should know that holding the ruler in high esteem is a means from the means of establishing security and tranquility amongst the people. If the people dare to treat the ruler without respect and honour, they will have the courage to do actions against him, from that which spreads mutual ill-feeling and leads to the spread of tribulations.
Also, from the rights of the one in authority is that he be advised sincerely. Sincerely advising, helping, and assisting the one in authority in good and is something obligatory. In fact, all of this is something obligatory towards every Muslim and those in authority are the most deserving of the people in this. We find in the hadīth of Tamīm ad-Dāri t, that the Prophet (pbuh) said:
“The religion is sincere advice. The religion is sincere advice. The religion is sincere advice.” They said: “To whom, O Messenger of Allah?” He said: “To Allah, His Book, His Messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk.”
Many people think that sincere advice means trying to achieve good with the tongue only. In fact, counsel and sincere advice is a general word, which suggests sincerity of the heart in desiring good for the person who is being advised and desiring good to come from him. This encompasses both religious and worldly affairs, meaning that you wish for good for the person who is being advised in his religion and his worldly affairs and you wish for good to come from him. For that reason Ibn as-Salāh said:
“Sincere advice” is an inclusive word which encompasses the one who is advising, carrying out all of the opportunities for good for the person being advised, both in what he desires for him and what he does for him. Therefore, this encompasses assisting him, obeying him, and supporting him.
As for giving sincere advice to the leaders of the Muslims, it means to assist them upon the truth and to order them with it, and to advise them and remind them with kindness and softness, and letting them know what they have forgotten and what they did not know about from the rights of the Muslims, and leaving rebellion against them and obeying them, and encouraging the hearts of the people to their obedience.
Al-Hāfidh ibn Rajab said:
Giving sincere advice to the leaders of the Muslims means to help them upon the truth and obey them in it, and to remind them of it, and to inform them with softness and kindness, to jump to their aid, and to make du‘ā for them to be successful, and to encourage others to do likewise.
From sincere advice to them is: Praying behind them, performing jihad with them, handing over zakāh to them, leaving rebelling against them with the sword if some injustice or evil relations appears from them, and not to praise them with false praise, and to pray for them to be righteous.
As for “sincere advice” in its most specific meaning, which is speaking with them in a good way and explaining the truth to them, then from the rights of the ruler is to explain to him the truth in an manner appropriate to his position and honour. Therefore, if the leader is in need of advising, he should be advised, as is found in the hadīth which al-Bukhāri narrated in At-Tārīkh al-Kabīr:
Whoever has some advice to give to the ruler, let him not speak to him in public. Rather he should take him by the hand and speak to him in private. If he accepts it, then he accepts it and, if not, then he has done his duty and that which he is allowed.
However, the ruler may be a tyrant or an oppressor. In this case the person advising will be rewarded for his giving the advice and speaking the truth, even if it leads to his death, since the Prophet (pbuh) was asked: “Which form of jihad is the best?” He refrained from answering the question twice, before saying:
The best form of jihad is to speak a word of truth in the presence of a tyrannical ruler.
Bearing in mind the huge negative consequences and great corruption which occurs as a result of rebelling against the leaders, the texts of the Legislator and the speech of the people of knowledge have come to emphasise this reality with that which leaves no room for confusion or misinterpretation.
Shaykh-ul-Islām Ibn Taymiyya said in Minhāj-us-Sunna:
For this reason, the well known position of Ahl-us-Sunna is that they do not hold it permissible to rebel against the rulers and fight them with the sword, even if oppression exists in them, as is proven by the many authentic ahādīth narrated from the Prophet (pbuh), since the corruption which results from fighting and the tribulation is greater than the corruption which comes as a result of their oppression without any fighting or tribulation, and so the greater of the two evils is not repelled by the least of them, and I think that has almost never been known of a group which has rebelled against a person in authority except that their rebellion contained corruption which was greater than the corruption which it removed.
Ibn Hajar reported scholarly consensus on the matter of the impermissibility of rebelling against the oppressive ruler. He said:
Ibn Battāl said: “In the hadīth is a clear proof for leaving rebellion against the ruler, even if he is a tyrant. The scholars of fiqh have consensus (ijmā’) that it is obligatory to obey the prevailing ruler and to perform jihad with him, and that obeying him is better than rebelling against him because of what that contains in preventing bloodshed and calming the population.
Imam an-Nawawi reported scholarly consensus on this matter as well, saying:
As for rebelling against them and fighting them, this is forbidden by consensus of the Muslims, even if they are evil doers and oppressors, and the ahādīth have clearly demonstrated this and Ahl-us-Sunna have scholarly consensus that the ruler is not to be removed because of evil doing…
The great scholar, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, said in Al-Jāmi‘a when he explained the hadīth of Tamīm ad-Dāri, “The religion is sincere advice,”:
And as for the sincere advice of the leaders of the Muslims, it is by loving that they be pious, wise, and just and by loving the umma to come together around them and hating that the umma should break up around them, and taking their obedience as part of the obedience of Allah and by hating those who rebel against them, and loving that they be strengthened upon the obedience of Allah…
…to the point where he said:
And to help them upon the truth and obey them in it, and to remind them of it, and to inform them with softness and kindness, to jump to their aid, and to make du‘ā for them to be successful and to encourage others to do likewise.
Imam Abu Bakr al-Ājurri said:
It is not befitting for the one who sees the hard efforts of a khāriji who has rebelled against a leader, whether just or tyrannical, and has gone out against him, and gathered a group, drawn his sword and declared permissible fighting the Muslims; it is not befitting for this person to be fooled by his recitation of the Quran, nor by the length of his standing in prayer, nor by his regular fasting, nor by the beauty of his words about the religion, if his methodology is that of the Khawārij.
Imam ash-Shawkāni said:
Rather, it is befitting for the one who sees that the leader has erred in some issues, that he advises him and he should not show his displeasure in front of others. Rather, as it is mentioned in the hadīth, he should take him by his hand, take him in private and give his best effort to advise him – and he should not disgrace Allah’s ruler! We have mentioned at the beginning of the book of military expeditions that it is not permissible to rebel against the leaders, even if they reach in oppression whatever they reach, as long as they establish the prayer and clear and open disbelief is not seen from them. The ahādīth which contain this meaning are mutawātira . Rather, it is obligatory upon the one who is being ruled over to obey the leader in that which is obedience to Allah and to disobey him in that which is disobedience to Allah, since there is no obedience to creation in disobedience to the Creator.
Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abdul-Wahhāb said in his treatise, Al-Usūl as-Sitta:
The Third Principle: From the perfection of being united is hearing and obeying the one who has been granted authority over us, even if he is an Abyssinian slave. The Prophet (pbuh) clarified this in a public and well known manner, in every form of clarification, whether theoretically or by example. Then this principle became unknown by most people who claim to have knowledge, so what about acting upon it?
Imam Abu J‘afar at-Tahāwi said in explaining Al-Aqīda at-Tahāwiyya:
And we do not hold the opinion of the validity of rebelling against the leaders and those in authority, even if they are tyrannical, and we do not make du‘ā against them, and we do not remove our hands from their obedience, and we hold the opinion that their obedience is from obedience to Allah as long as they do not order something sinful. And we make du‘ā for them to be given piety and good health.
Imam al-Barbahāri said:
Know that the tyranny of a ruler does not take away anything of the obligations which Allah has made obligatory upon the tongue of His Messenger (pbuh); his tyranny is upon himself and your duty and obedience to him is complete – God willing. This means praying in congregation, (participating in) the Friday prayers, and performing jihad with them. Accompany them in every type of obedience. If you see a person making du‘ā against the ruler then know he is a person of desires. And if you hear a person making du‘ā for the ruler to be pious, then know that he is a person of the Sunna, God willing. Al-Fudayl bin ‘Iyād said: “If I had an [accepted] prayer, I would have made it for the ruler to be pious”, and he ordered us to make du‘ā for them to be pious and he did not order us to make du‘ā against them, even if they were tyrannical and oppressive, since their tyranny and oppression is upon themselves and the Muslims, and their piety and correctness is for them and the Muslims.
Shaykh ‘Abdur-Rahmān as-Sa‘adi said when explaining the hadīth of giving sincere advice:
As for giving sincere advice to the leaders of the Muslims, they are those in authority, from the overall ruler, to the governor, to the judge, to everyone who has authority, whether small or large. Since the obligations and duties of these people are greater, it has been made obligatory to give them sincere advice according to their positions and ranks, believing in their right to govern, as well as accepting their authority and the obligation of obeying them in that which is good.
Also, not rebelling against them and encouraging the citizens to obey them and stick to what they have commanded – when it does not go against the command of Allah and His Messenger – and to make the best effort a person can to give them sincere advice. And clarify to them those things which they are unaware of from the things which they require in their responsibility, everyone according to their situation, and to make du‘ā for their righteousness and success, since their righteousness means righteousness for their subjects, and to avoid speaking ill of them, criticising them and spreading their faults, since all of this is evil and a great corruption. From sincere advice towards them is being careful and warning against that. As for the one who sees something from them which is not permissible, he should inform them in secret, not openly, with softness and a manner of speaking which is suited to the situation and achieves the intended goal. This is required towards everyone and especially those in authority, since informing them in this manner has a great deal of good and this is a sign of truthfulness and sincerity.
May Allah have mercy on Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal who refused to rebel against (The Abbassid Caliph) Al-M‘amūn, despite him being the one who forced upon the people the innovation of saying that the Quran is created. He said to the one who came seeking a verdict about this:
Glory be to Allah! The [sanctity of] blood! The [sanctity of] blood! I do not hold this opinion and I do not order it. Having patience with what we are in is better than tribulation which causes blood to be spilt…
The questioner asked him: “The people today are in tribulation, O Abu ‘Abdullah!” Imam Ahmad responded:
Even if that is so, it is a tribulation which is specific to certain people. However, if swords come down the tribulation becomes for everyone, and peoples’ means are cut off. Being patient upon this and your religion being left for you is better for you.
1 The Quran, Sura al-Hajj :41.
2 The Quran, Sura an-Nisā’ :59.
3 Fath-ul-Bāri (13/7).
4 Sharh an-Nawawi (12/229).
5 Translator’s note: i.e., narrated by so many different people, in so many different chains of narration, that it is impossible for them to contain a lie or a weakness.