Accusing the rulers of disbelief
All praise is due to Allah and may the prayers of peace and blessings of Allah be upon His trustworthy Messenger and all of his companions and those who follow their way upon goodness until the Day of Judgment.
As to what follows:
From the doubts that the people of extremism assert when they accuse the rulers of disbelief without exception is their statement that the leaders have ruled according to other than what Allah has revealed which constitutes disbelief according to the statement of Allah the Exalted: “And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.”(1)
The refutation of this doubt is from a number of perspectives:
1. The First Perspective: Your explanation of this to this effect opposes the explanation of the pious predecessors. We do not oppose you in the obligation of ruling according to what Allah has revealed and ruling with the Qurʾān and Sunnah. However, we do oppose you in your generalized ruling of disbelief and applying it to everyone who rules with other than what Allah has revealed without explanation and in your opposition to the pious predecessors’ explanation of this verse. For you is a clarification of their statements regarding the previously mentioned verse. The learned man of this nation, and interpreter of the Qurʾān Ibn ʿAbbās in his explanation of the statement of Allah: “And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.”(2) : “Whoever rejects what Allah has revealed has committed disbelief. And whoever recognizes it but does not rule according to it is an oppressive transgressor.”(3) And he said: “Not the disbelief that they are pursuing.”(4) Ṭāwūs said: “I said to Ibn ʿAbbās whoever does not rule by what Allah has revealed; is he a disbeliever? He said: ‘He committed disbelief. But he is not like the one who disbelieved in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Last Day.’”(5) And the statement of Ibn ʿAbbās in his explanation of the previous verse was also held by others from the pious predecessors like his student Ṭāwūs who said: “Not the disbelief that exits a person from the religion.”(6) ʿAṭāʾ said: “Disbelief that is less than disbelief, and oppression which is less than oppression, and transgression which is less than transgression.”(7)
2. The second perspective involves the statements of scholars including ḥadīth specialists, explainers of the Qurʾān, and Muslim jurists in their explanation of the verse according to what has previously been mentioned by Ibn ʿAbbās and others which are too many to enumerate; like the statement of Imām Aḥmad that was said when he was asked about the type of disbelief mentioned in the previous verse. To this he said: “It is a type of disbelief that does not expel someone from the religion.”(8) And Imām Abū ʿUbayd al-Qāsim ibn Sallām said: “As for the textual criterion that bears witness against him from the Qurʾān, then it is the statement of Allah the Mighty and Majestic: ‘And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.’(9) Ibn ʿAbbās said: ‘It is not the disbelief that expels someone from the religion.’ And ʿAṭāʾ ibn Abū Rabāḥ said: ‘the lesser disbelief.’ So it becomes clear to us that since it does not expel someone from the religion of Islam; that the religion will remain as it was even if it was contaminated by sins. So there is no meaning to this except the behavior of disbelief and their ways because from the ways of the disbelievers is ruling according to other than what Allah has revealed. Haven’t you heard the statement of Allah: ‘Is it the judgment of the time of Pre-Islamic ignorance that they desire?’(10) The explainers of the Qurʾān have interpreted this verse saying that whoever judges by other than what Allah reveals while upon the religion of Islam has acted like the people of Pre-Islamic Arabia; which means that the people of Pre-Islamic ignorance used to judge in a similar fashion.”(11) And here are some other narrations from the Imāms of Qurʾānic explanation in support of what we are saying regarding the disbelief which is mentioned concerning the one who abandons ruling by what Allah has revealed. Abū Ḥayyān said concerning the verse: “’And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.’(12) What is most apparent from this is generality so it applies to this Muslim nation and other than them from those who preceded them even if this evidently occurs within the context of addressing the Jews or it generally applies to the Jews and other than them. Ibn Masʿūd, Ibrāhīm, ʿAṭāʾ, and others have said that it is disbelief that is less than disbelief, and oppression which is less than oppression, and transgression which is less than transgression; meaning that the disbelief of the Muslim is different from the disbelief of the unbeliever just as in the case of his oppression and transgression. This does not expel him from the religion. This was mentioned by Ibn ʿAbbās.”(13) Al-Wāḥdī said: “A group said: certainly these three verses were revealed concerning disbelievers. Whoever changed the judgment of Allah were from the Jews and none of them were from the Muslims since the Muslims even when they commit major sins are not considered disbelievers.”(14) And Al-Khāzin said something similar while attributing the statement to Ibn ʿAbbās, Qatādah, and aḍ-Ḍuḥāk.(15) Ibn ʿAṭiyyah said: “A large number of scholars from the people of knowledge have said that this verse includes everyone who rules by other than Allah, but when applied to the leaders of this nation refers to the disbelief that is considered a sin and does not remove them from a state of faith.”(16) Ibn Jazzī said: “A group of people have said: it is general concerning everyone who does not rule by what Allah has revealed from the Jews or the Muslims or other than them except that the disbelief mentioned in reference to Muslims is the disbelief that is considered a sin and does not expel them from Imān.”(17) And Ibn as-Saʿdī said: “So ruling according to other than what Allah has revealed is from the actions of the disbelievers and could result in the type of disbelief that expels people from the religion. But this occurs when an individual believes that it is permissible and lawful to do so. It can also be a major sin and from the actions of disbelief that merit severe punishment for whoever does it… ‘And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.’ Ibn ʿAbbās said: ‘Disbelief that is less than disbelief, and oppression which is less than oppression, and transgression which is less than transgression. It becomes major oppression whenever it is deemed lawful and it still a grave sin for the one who does it without considering it lawful.’”(18)
Ibn al-ʿArabī al-Mālikī said:
“This situation differs if he rules according to what is with him as though it was from Allah; this individual has attempted to change it which constitutes disbelief. And if he rules according to it due to his own desires or out of sinfulness, then this is a sin which can be forgiven since the basic principle among Ahl as-Sunnah is that the sinful may be forgiven.”(19)
And Al-Ḥāfiẓ ibn Ḥajr al-ʿAsqalānī said:
“Indeed, the verses, even if they were originally meant for the people of the book, however their generality includes other than the people of the book. But once the principles of Islamic law were laid down that established that the one who commits a sin is not considered a disbeliever or an oppressor, because oppression can be interpreted as shirk. The third description remained.”(20)
“This verse, even though it was revealed concerning the Jews which is indicated by the content, certainly the scholars have used it in a general sense that includes those who are not disbelievers; stating ‘lesser disbelief’.”(21)
3. The third perspective: Some of the pious predecessors restrict this verse to the reason for which it was revealed and thus made it apply exclusively to the Jews. Al-Qurṭubī conveyed this opinion from al-Barāʾ, Ḥudhayfah, ʿIkrimah, aḍ-Ḍuḥāk, Qatādah, Abū Ṣaliḥ, Abū Majlaz, ʿUbaydullah ibn ʿAbdullah ibn ʿUtbah ibn Masʿūd, and most of the people of Qurʾānic exegesis.(22) This means that the verse does not include the people of Islam which means that it is from the things which are general but what is intended by it is specific and according to this understanding then they do not consider the one from the Muslims who rules according to other than what Allah has revealed to be a disbeliever who has left the religion except in the case where he rejects the ruling of Allah. And this issue is straightforward and clear for anyone who reflects upon the issue. And what is meant here is a refutation of the Khārijites who assign disbelief based upon what is apparent from this verse without referring to the understanding of the people of knowledge and the statements of the pious predecessors. Otherwise, this necessitates that they accuse the pious predecessors of disbelief because disbelief due to abandoning ruling according to Islamic legislation under any circumstances is an issue where the earliest Khārijites and later Khārijites do not differ concerning the one who does it. So look at how their feet have slipped in this issue to the extent that it forces them to accuse the pious predecessors of disbelief. And even though we view the position that this verse is limited to the people of the book to be a flawed argument(23) , however the intention was to refer to what has been presented and Allah knows best.
4. The fourth perspective: that what has been transmitted by the people of knowledge involves some detail in discussing the issue of ruling according to other than what Allah has revealed and the one who does this is not considered a disbeliever merely because he left it. Rather, he is in a lesser state and for you is some of the many statements from the people of knowledge who clarify this issue in detail. We have limited these statements to fifteen in addition to what has already preceded.
• The first: What was ʿAlī ibn Abū Ṭalḥah reported from Ibn ʿAbbās regarding the speech of Allah the Exalted: “And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.”(24) That he says: “Whoever rejects what Allah has revealed has committed disbelief. And whoever recognizes it but does not rule according to it is an oppressive transgressor.”(25)
• The second: Al-Qurṭubī (26) reported from Ibn Masʿūd and Al-Ḥasan that the verse is general enough to include everyone who does not rule according to what Allah has revealed, meaning that he believes it to be lawful.
• The third: Aṭ-Ṭabarī has reported what was previously mentioned from as-Sudī and an-Nakhaʿī.(27)
• The fourth: Al-Khāzin reported from Mujāhid ibn Jabr that the explanation of disbelief, oppression, and transgression mentioned in the verse is: “whoever has rejected ruling by what Allah has revealed has rejected the Book of Allah (i.e. the Qurʾān) and is thus considered a disbeliever.” (28)
• The fifth: Al-Khāzin reported from ʿIkrimah that he said: “And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed due to his rejection of it has certainly disbelieved. However, the one who acknowledges it yet doesn’t act accordingly; then this individual is an oppressive transgressor.”(29)
• The sixth: Imām Ibn Jarīr aṭ-Ṭabarī said: “The most correct of these statements, in my opinion, is the statement of the one who says: ‘this verse was revealed concerning the disbelievers from the people of the book because of what comes before and after these verses. So the verses were revealed concerning them and they were the ones intended by them since the context of those verses is providing information about them so it is more fitting that this verse applies to them. So if someone were to say: Indeed, Allah –Exalted is He- has used this verse generally so that it includes everyone who does not rule according to what Allah has revealed; so how can you make it specific. It can be said: Truly Allah the Exalted has made this verse general regarding a people who rejected the rulings issued in the Book of Allah (i.e. the Qurʾān). So He has informed us about them that they have disbelieved due to their abandonment of the ruling in the manner that they abandoned it. And the same can be said of anyone who abandons ruling according to what Allah has revealed due to rejection is a disbeliever as Ibn ʿAbbās has said.’”(30)
• The seventh: Abū ʿAbbās Al-Qurṭubī the author of Al-Mufhim fī Sharḥ Muslim who is not the famous explainer of the Qurʾān: “the statement of Allah: ‘And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.’ Whoever cites this verse as evidence based only upon its apparent meaning is assigning disbelief due to sinfulness; and they are Khārijites and there is no proof to be found for them in this. This is because these verses were revealed concerning the Jews who distorted the speech of Allah the Exalted as mentioned in the narration and they are disbelievers. So whoever shares the same reason for which the verse was revealed may share the same ruling. For further clarification, if a Muslim knows with certainty the ruling of Allah on a particular issue but then does not rule by it; if he did so out of rejection then he was a disbeliever without any differing in the issue. But if his rejection isn’t not due to rejection then he is sinful and has committed a major sin because he accepts the original ruling and recognizes the obligation of his to apply it but he is sinful in his abandonment of applying that ruling and acting accordingly. Likewise, the same can be said for every ruling that is known from Islamic legislation by necessity like prayer, and other than it from the well-known principles and this is the practice of Ahl As-Sunnah… what is meant by this research is that what is intended by these verses is the people of disbelief and stubbornness and even though it is a verse for which the wording is general, the Muslims are not included in it because it involves leaving off applying the ruling while still believing in its legitimacy. So it is a sin that is less severe than associating others with Allah. And Allah says: ‘Indeed Allah doesn’t forgive that someone would associate partners with Him, but He forgives whatever is less than that for whomever He wills.’(31) And failure to apply a ruling from the rulings of Allah is not associating partners with Allah according to the agreement of the scholars. So it is lawful for them to be forgiven and failure to apply a ruling is not in itself disbelief.”(32)
• The eighth: Abū as-Saʿūd said in his explanation of this verse:
“whoever doesn’t rule according to it out of contempt, degradation, or outright rejection: ‘then it is they who are disbelievers.’ because of their degradation of it.”(33)
• The ninth: Al-Jaṣāṣ said:
“And the statement: ‘And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.’ This statement cannot escape intending the meaning of the disbelief of polytheism and rejection or the denial of blessings that doesn’t involve rejection; so if the intention is a rejection of the ruling of Allah or ruling according to other than it while announcing that it is the ruling of Allah; this individual is a disbeliever just as the children of Israel did when they did this. And if the intention was the denial of blessings, then the denial of blessings can occur through the abandonment of being thankful without rejection and as such the one who does this does not leave the religion. And what is most apparent, is the first meaning because it seems to apply the term disbelief to whoever does not rule according to what Allah has revealed.”(34)
• The tenth: Ibn al-Jawzī said:
“In conclusion, certainly the one who does not rule by what Allah has revealed due to his rejection of it with knowledge that Allah has revealed it, as the Jews did, is a disbeliever. And whoever does not rule according to what Allah has revealed due to the influence of his desires without rejection; this individual is an oppressive transgressor. ʿAlī ibn Abū Ṭalḥah narrated from Ibn ʿAbbas that he said: whoever rejects what Allah has revealed has certainly disbelieved. And whoever recognizes it but does not rule according to it is an oppressive transgressor.”(35)
• The eleventh: Imām Ibn Kathīr said:
“‘And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.’ This is because they deliberately reject the ruling of Allah intentionally doing so out of stubbornness. Here He says: ‘then it is they who are disbelievers.’ Because they have not acted justly towards the oppressed and aided him against his oppressor concerning the affair in which Allah has commanded with justice and fair settlement for all parties. So they opposed this, acted oppressively, and transgressed the limits.”(36)
• The twelfth: Al-Qāsimī said:
“The disbelief of the one who rules according to other than what Allah has revealed is limited to the condition that he displays contempt for it and rejection. This is the opinion that was accepted and transmitted from both ʿIkrimah and Ibn ʿAbbās.”(37)
• The thirteenth: The esteemed Shaykh Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm said:
“Whoever judges by it (38) (i.e. other than what Allah has revealed) or rules according to it believing that this is correct or lawful, then this individual has committed the type of disbelief that expels a person from the religion. However, if he did this without believing that such an action was either correct or lawful, then this individual is a disbeliever in the sense that he committed an action of disbelief (i.e. kufr ʿamalī) that does not expel a person from the religion.”(39)
• The fourteenth: Muḥammad al-Amīn ash-Shinqīṭī said:
“And you should know that the correct position in this issue is that disbelief, oppression, and transgression; all of these terms are used in Islamic legislation to refer to sinfulness at times as well as the type of disbelief that expels people from the religion at other times. ‘And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is they who are disbelievers.’ Represents opposition to the messengers, nullification of the rulings of Allah. So the oppression, transgression, and disbelief related to it can all expel a person from the religion. However, whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed while believing that in doing so he has done something unlawful has committed an ugly act. So his disbelief, oppression, and transgression do not expel him from the religion.”(40)
• The fifteenth: Ibn Abu al-ʿIzz al-Ḥanafī said:
“Here, it is important to note that ruling according to other than what Allah has revealed can be the type of disbelief that expels people from the religion and it could also constitute a major or minor sin just as it could be a figurative type of disbelief or minor disbelief. This all depends upon the conditions of the rulers. If he believes that ruling by other than what Allah has revealed is not obligatory upon him, or that he has the option to leave it, or if he shows contempt for it while knowing with certainty that it is the ruling of Allah, this represents major disbelief. And if he believes that it is obligatory for him to rule according to what Allah has revealed and recognizes it in a contemporary context yet moves away from it, while acknowledging that he is deserving of punishment; this person is sinful and his sin is referred to as figurative disbelief or minor disbelief.”(41)
What has preceded is sufficient. And if not, then the statements of the people of knowledge in this regard are numerous. But what has been mentioned is appropriate and satisfactory for the seeker of truth and guidance.
5. The fifth perspective: The accusation of disbelief (takfīr) comes after verifying that the person in question understood the gravity of his actions (i.e. establishing the argument against him) and after eliminating any possible misconceptions. So the conditions for assigning disbelief (takfīr) must be fulfilled just as the factors which prevent such a ruling from being applied must be ruled out so not everyone who commits an act of disbelief is considered a disbeliever because of his act.
Ibn Taymiyyah said:
“The accusation of disbelief (takfīr) is from the things which are warned against. Then if a statement constitutes belying something said by the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), it may have occurred due to a person’s still being new to the practice of the religion or due to his being raised in relative isolation. This type of individual should not be declared a disbeliever because of his rejection of whatever he may have rejected until it can be verified that he understood the gravity of his actions (i.e. the argument is established against him). It could have been that the individual did not know about the relevant texts or he knew about them but thought that they were not authentic or opposed them for another plausible reason for misinterpretation even if he was wrong.
I used to constantly mention the narration from al-Bukhārī and Muslim regarding the man who said: ‘If I die, then burn my corpse and grind my remains into powder and cast it into the wind. By Allah, if Allah were able to seize me, He would certainly punish me in a way that He has not punished any other soul from His creation. So they did what he requested to his remains and Allah said to him: What drove you to do what you did? He said: I did it out of fear. So Allah forgave him.’ So this man doubted the ability of Allah and that He could return him if he were dust or ash. In fact, he believed that he would not return which constitutes disbelief and this is a position which is agreed upon by all of the Muslims. However, this individual was ignorant and did not know this. He was a believer who feared Allah and His recompense, and was forgiven because of this. And the individual who misinterprets something from the people who were qualified to perform interpretive jurisprudence (ijtihād) who likewise are passionate about following the Messenger (pbuh) are more deserving of forgiveness.”(42)
He also said:
“And it is inappropriate for someone to accuse another Muslim of disbelief (takfīr) -if he erred or was mistaken- until his understanding can be determined (i.e. the argument is established against him) and the proof s