Doubt: The conflict of Ibn al-Ashʿath and armed revolt

All praise is due to Allah and may the prayers of peace and blessings of Allah be upon the Messenger of Allah, his family, and his companions.

As to what follows:

I have certainly seen some of the writings that have cited the rebellion of ʿAbdur-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Ashʿath against al-Ḥajjāj and then against ʿAbdul-Mālik ibn Marwān as evidence which supposedly supports the permissibility of armed revolt against the Muslim leader if he was oppressive. But is this use of evidence correct or incorrect? And before addressing this, the following is a brief summary of the conflict of Ibn al-Ashʿath.

Ibn al-Ashʿath rebelled against al-Ḥajjāj, who was a Emir of ʿAbdul-Mālik ibn Marwān, along with the people of Baṣrah which included the reciters of the Qurʾān, Muslim Jurists (fuqahāʾ), older people as well as young people in the eighty-first or eighty-second year after the hijrah. They eventually removed him from power and then later removed ʿAbdul-Mālik. Then the majority of the people of Kūfah offered the vow of allegiance (bayʿah) to Ibn al-Ashʿath while another group from amongst them fought against him. The people of Shām were behind ʿAbdul-Mālik and so fighting ensued between these groups until al-Ḥajjāj was able to end the conflict which resulted in the killing of many people.[Al-Bidāyah wan-Nihāyah volume 2 page 307]

As for the answer to the question, then this can be addressed from a number of different angles.

1- The First Angle: The first of them is that from the affairs that are a matter of consensus between all of the scholars is that in times of differing, people should return to Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) and that every statement or position that opposes these things is to be rejected regardless of who said it or held it since Allah the Exalted says: “O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and those in authority from among you. And if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, then refer it back to Allah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allah and in the Last Day.” (1) And His statement: “And whatever you might differ about, should be returned to Allah for judgment.” (2)

The intent behind what was said regarding this issue is that the pious predecessors differed concerning the issue. So it is obligatory to return to the Book (i.e. the Qurʾān) and the Sunnah. And there can be little doubt that the Sunnah is very detailed in its opposition of revolt. From it is what has been narrated by al-Bukhārī and Muslim upon the authority of ʿAbdullāh ibn Masʿūd who said: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh): “Certainly, there will be after me some favoritism (3) and affairs that you will reject.” They said: O Messenger of Allah (pbuh), what would you instruct those from among us who encounter that? He said: “Fulfill the rights that are upon you and turn to Allah for your rights.”

And upon the authority of Ibn ʿAbbās who said that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“Whoever sees from his leader something which he dislikes, then let him remain patient. For indeed, no one forsakes the Muslim leader by a hand span and dies except that he has died the death of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance.”[Agreed upon]

Upon the authority of ʿUbādah ibn aṣ-Ṣāmit who said:

“We offered vow of allegiance (bayʿah) to the Messenger of Allah upon listening to and obeying when it is pleasing and when it is displeasing, in times of difficulty and in times of ease, even if preference is given to other than us. We likewise vowed not to dispute with the rulers and their authority unless obvious disbelief is seen such that you might have clear evidence against him from Allah. We also vowed to speak the truth wherever we may be and to strive hard for Allah without fear of the criticism of anyone.” [Agreed upon]

And upon the authority of Wāʾil ibn Ḥujr who said: Salamah ibn Yazīd al-Juʿfī asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh): O Prophet of Allah, what if leaders come to power and demand their rights from us but forbid us from our rights; in this case, what do you instruct us? So he [the Prophet (pbuh)] turned away from him, then he [i.e. Salamah ibn Yazīd al-Juʿfī] asked him [again]. Then the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“Listen and obey, for indeed they are accountable for what they are responsible for just as you are all responsible for what you are responsible for.” [transmitted by Muslim]

So these narrations contain a clarification that the Muslim leader if he demonstrates favoritism, withholds rights, and exhibits reprehensible behavior that is detested by the Muslims, it is obligatory upon the Muslim to remain patient and obedient so long as his obedience does not involve sinfulness just as it is obligatory upon the Muslim to fulfill his rights. It is unlawful for the Muslim to revolt against him and abandon him so long as he does not exhibit clear disbelief which cannot be misinterpreted, misunderstood, or misconstrued due to other factors or possibilities.

2- The Second Angle: The second angle from which to answer this question is that revolt was the position of some of the pious predecessors or an interpretation of specific circumstances, which is the most befitting description of it, so that it is not thought about them that they would oppose the authentic Sunnah. In any event, a consensus has been reached that opposes it as conveyed by an-Nawwawī and Ibn Mujāhid. And this is the position that Ahl as-Sunnah has embraced because of the authentic narrations that indicate this. [See Sharḥ an-Nawwawī ʿalā Muslim volume 12 page 229 and At-Tamhīd by Ibn ʿAbdul-Barr volume 23 page 279 as well as Minhāj as-Sunnah by Ibn Taymiyyah volume 4 pages 315]

3- The Third Angle: The third angle from which to answer this question is that it is not correct to use this type of revolt as evidence because those who rebelled along with Ibn al-Ashʿath were the people of Baṣrah and the majority of the people of Kūfah. There was a faction from Shām who aligned themselves with ʿAbdul-Mālik ibn Marwān and the remaining lands did not align themselves with Ibn al-Ashʿath for the sake of avoiding conflict or were aligned with ʿAbdul-Mālik ibn Marwān in order to conform with the principle of fighting the presumptuous Muslim rebels (bughāh)(4) alongside the Imām.

Ibn Saʿd extracted in his Ṭabaqāt (volume 7 page 142) and Abū Nuʿaym in Ḥilyah al-Awliyāʾ wa Ṭabaqāt al-Aṣfiyāʾ (volume 2 page 204) upon the authority of Qatādah who said: “Muṭarrif ibn ʿAbdullāh used to forbid it during times of turmoil and flee. And al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī used to forbid it but would not leave.”

So the people did not agree upon the issue of rebellion. Rather, from them were those who rebuked it and refrained from it. So for this reason, it is an action that was performed by a single independent group, so it is not correct to use it as evidence due to the fact that this position lacks the conditions of a consensus. So there is no basis to use it as evidence.

Then certainly from those who have rebelled are those who regretted their own revolt because the error of his ways became clear. If their behavior was truly consistent with the Sunnah, they would not have experienced any regret. Ibn Saʿd narrated in his Ṭabaqāt (volume 7 page 187) upon the authority of Ḥammād ibn Zayd who said: “Ayyūb as-Sakhtiyānī mentioned that the reciters of the Qurʾān who rebelled along with Ibn al-Ashʿath saying: ‘I do not know a single one of them to have died except that he wished for death. And I do not know a single one of them to have survived except that he praised Allah for protecting him and he regretted what he had done.’”

And Ibn ʿAwn said: “When the conflict (fitnah) erupted during the time of Ibn al-Ashʿath, Muslim was not tactful during the period of turmoil while al-Ḥasan distanced himself from it, so al-Ḥasan was raised [in station] while Muslim was lowered.”[Al-Muṣannaf by Ibn Abū Shaybah volume 6 page 187 and Siyar Aʿlām an-Nubalāʾ volume 4 page 513] And Ayyūb said upon the authority of Abū Qilābah: “Muslim ibn Yasār said to me: ‘Certainly, I praise Allah to you that I did not shoot a single arrow nor did I strike with a sword [at that time].’ I said to him: But what about those who saw you between the two armies and said: That is Muslim ibn Yasār who will not fight for anything except the truth in which case he will fight until he is killed? Then he [Abū Qilābah] began to weep and by Allah he continued to do so until I wished that the earth would open so that I could enter into it.’” [At-Tārīkh al-Kabīr by al-Bukhārī volume 2 page 302 and Siyar Aʿlām an-Nubalāʾ volume 4 page 513 as well as Tārīkh aṭ-Ṭabarī volume 3 page 644].

Ash-Shaʿbī said to al-Ḥajjāj when he visited him following the conflict–and he is from those who rebelled with Ibn al-Ashʿath: “Our leader, certainly the people have instructed me to apologize to you without knowing what Allah knows to be the truth. By Allah, in this position I will not say anything but the truth. Indeed, we rebelled against you, incited one another, and strove hard upon this path. But we did not relent, and so we were not with the powerful transgressors nor were we with the righteous and dutiful. And indeed Allah granted you victory and made you triumphant over us, so if you attack us, then it is because of our sins and whatever reached you from our own handiwork. And if you pardon us, then it is from your leniency; and after that, the evidence supports you and opposes us. Then al-Ḥajjāj said: By Allah, O Shaʿbī, you are more beloved to me than the one who comes to me with his sword dripping in blood who then says: I didn’t do anything or participate in any wrongdoing. Certainly, you were safe in the very beginning O Shaʿbī. He said: So I left, and then when I had walked a little he said: ‘Come here O Shaʿbī.’ He said: At that my heart began to tremble. Then I mentioned his statement: you are safe O Shaʿbī and then I became calm. Then he said: What did you think of the people after us O Shaʿbī? He said –and he honored me-: Then I said: May Allah rectify the Emir. Certainly, my eyes have become colored due to sleeplessness after you, I sought out to make what was easy difficult, honor and excellence lost it’s value, I was engulfed in fear as if it were darkness, and distress became something that was common. I then lost sense of what is good for my brothers, and I did not find for the Emir any successor. He said: You have been fair O Shaʿbī. Then he left. Then after that, he decided not to pursue him for this mistake.” Ibn Kathīr mentioned this in al-Bidāyah wan-Nihāyah volume 12 page 355 while describing the act of those who participated in the rebellion of Ibn al-Ashʿath.

And for this reason when this error and slip occurred, much evil spread as a result and many people died. It should be mentioned that the faction who revolted against al-Ḥajjāj were described as being from those who considered him to be a disbeliever. [Ibn Ḥajar mentioned this in Tahdhīb at-Tahdhīb volume 2 page 185] Another group consisting of Saʿīd ibn Jubayr, an-Nakhaʿī, Mujāhid, ʿĀṣim ibn Abū an-Najūd, as well as ash-Shaʿbī and others assigned disbelief to him. [See Al-Muṣannaf by Ibn Abū Shaybah volume 6 page 163]

4- The Fourth Angle: The fourth angle from which to answer this question is that certainly some of the companions like Anas ibn Mālik, Sahl ibn Saʿd, ʿAbdullāh ibn Abū Awfā, al-Miqdād ibn Maʿd Yakrib, ʿUmar ibn Abū Salamah, and ʿAbdullāh ibn Jaʿfar ibn Abū Ṭālib were alive during that time in Baṣrah, Kūfah, Shām, and other than these cities. Despite the fact that some of these individuals were harmed by al-Ḥajjāj, it has not been reported from any of them that they participated in the conflict. So did they all agree to oppose the Prophet (pbuh) by refusing to aid those who were oppressed and by confronting the oppressor? So consider this dear brother with insight and benefit from it by the permission of Allah; because the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) have the purest hearts of this nation, the most innocent intentions, they perform the best actions, are the most zealous regarding good, and the most knowledgeable regarding the Sunnah.

So it becomes clear from this that this rebellion was wrong and it opposes the texts of the Book [Qurʾān] and the Sunnah. Indeed, a group from amongst the pious predecessors objected to this and many of them forbade revolt while basing their position upon the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) for which some indication of them have been previously mentioned.

And in this context there is some very valuable speech from Abū al-ʿAbbās Ibn Taymiyyah in Minhāj as-Sunnah volume 4 page 315 which deserves to be mentioned. He said: “The best of the Muslims used to forbid revolt and fighting during times of conflict as ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿUmar, Saʿīd ibn al-Musayyib, ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn and other than them forbade revolting against Yazīd in the year of al-Ḥarrah (5) . Just as al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī and Mujāhid and other than them prohibited rebellion during the crisis of Ibn al-Ashʿath. For this reason, the affair of Ahl as-Sunnah became firmly established upon the abandonment of fighting during times of conflict due to the authentic narrations that have been accurately transmitted from the Prophet (pbuh), until this understanding was eventually mentioned in their books of creed. And the pious predecessors used to also instruct people to remain patient upon the oppression of the Imāms, to refuse to fight them, even if they used to fight many people of knowledge and religion during times of conflict.

And the issue of fighting the people of presumptuous rebellion (ahl al-baghī) and commanding the good and forbidding the evil often resembles fighting during times of conflict (fitnah) but this is not the place for a detailed discussion of this. And whoever contemplates the authentic prophetic narrations which have been accurately conveyed from the Prophet (pbuh) in this issue. And I consider –also- the consideration of the people of understanding knew that what is found in the prophetic texts is the best of the affairs and true knowledge is with Allah.”

1 Quran, Sūrah an-Nisāʾ 4:59.

2 Quran, Sūrah ash-Shūrā 42:10.

3 Translator’s note: The Arabic term atharah or favoritism as it has been translated here is derived from the Arabic verb āthara which means to show favoritism or preference when giving something. So what is meant here is that preferential treatment is demonstrated here to other than you such that others are favored in the distribution of the fayʾ over you. See An-Nihāyah fī Gharīb al-Ḥadīth wa al-Athar volume 1 page 22.

4 Translator’s note: The bughāh according to the Muslim jurists are the group of Muslims who are powerful and rebel against the true Imām and forsake obeying him due to a misconception.

5 Translator’s note: Al-Ḥarrah is a reference to an area of Medina where there are large numbers of black rocks. However the statement “during the time of Al-Ḥarrah” refers to a time of conflict when Yazīd ibn Muʿāwiyyah sent Muslim ibn ʿUqbah al-Murrī with a large battalion of soldiers from Syria to Medina to attack the people who did not recognize the legitimacy of his Caliphate. [See al-Bidāyah wa an-Nihāyah].