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9.2.15

Waging war against Muslim state for political reasons prohibited in Islam

In books of Hadith, there are a large number of traditions which foretell the setting in of corruption in the Muslim rulers of later times, yet Muslims were strictly forbidden to wage war on them in the name of political reform. The Muslims were rather enjoined to keep their distance from them, to take to the hills (that is, to stay away from political activities) and to devote themselves to tending their sheep and goats. That is to say that they had to abandon the path of political confrontation in favour of continuing their activities in non-political fields, such as education, Da’wah, the service of the Qur’an and Hadith, etc.
In the first phase of Islam, it was Abdullah ibn Zubayr who violated this prohibition. He engaged in an armed confrontation with the Umayyad ruler, Yazid ibn Muawaiya, in the name of reform in politics. It resulted in the loss of precious Muslim lives and resources. At that time, Abdullah ibn Umar, son of the second Caliph and companion of the Prophet, was in Makkah, yet he did not take part in the fighting. Some companions of Abdullah ibn Zubayr met him and asked him to join in the battle. The conversation that took place on this occasion has been recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari under three references.
One account has been thus recorded: Nafe narrates that during the (Fitna) revolt by Ibn Zubayr, two persons came and said to Ibn Umar that people were being killed, while he, the son of Umar (the second caliph) as well as a senior companion of the Prophet, refused to take part in the campaign. They asked him what prevented him from doing so. He replied: “I refrain from joining in this battle because of God’s express command never to shed the blood of one’s brother: it is unlawful.” Both replied: “Has not God enjoined us to fight till persecution (Fitna) ceases?” Abdullah ibn Umar then retorted: “We fought till Fitna ceased. Religion became only for God, and now you want to fight so that Fitna may return, and religion will no longer be for God.” (Fathul Bari, Kitab at-Tafsir, vol. 8, p.32, Kitab al-Fitan Vol. 13, p. 49).
From this account we learn that war against persecution as commanded by God was limited in its scope and of a particular nature. It had to be directed against those leaders who had established a system of religious persecution; who were not ready to grant to believers in monotheism the liberty to practise their faith. The companions of the Prophet waged war against such oppression, first of all in Arabia, and then in major parts of Asia and Africa, and succeeded in bringing it to an end. Thenceforth, believers in Islam had full freedom to practise their religion and to invite others to answer its call.
From this account we learn that war against persecution as commanded by God was limited in its scope and of a particular nature. It had to be directed against those leaders who had established a system of religious persecution; who were not ready to grant to believers in monotheism the liberty to practise their faith. The companions of the Prophet waged war against such oppression, first of all in Arabia, and then in major parts of Asia and Africa, and succeeded in bringing it to an end. Thenceforth, believers in Islam had full freedom to practise their religion and to invite others to answer its call.
After the successful conclusion of this movement against religious coercion, the believers began living in an atmosphere of religious freedom. But during the reign of the Umayyads, when the rot of corruption had begun to set in, certain Muslims, referring to this verse of the Qur’an, engaged themselves in armed conflict with the rulers. To all intents and purposes, the battle was for a good cause: they wanted to oust these corrupt caliphs and replace them with men who were virtuous and just. But, in reality, their actions proved counter-productive.
The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, foresaw that the effort at political reform would, in effect, culminate in nothing but destruction. It would only replace a lesser evil with a greater evil. That is why he had issued a stern, prior warning, expressly commanding his people to confine their activities to non-political fields and to opt for a policy of avoidance as regards corruption in political institutions.
In books of Hadith a number of traditions have been recorded on this subject under the heading of Fitna. It was thanks to these traditions that, after the development of the Islamic sciences (in terms of which commentaries on the traditions were written), religious scholars arrived at a consensus that it was totally unlawful to revolt against an established Muslim government, regardless of how justified such action might appear to be.  
The famous traditionist, Imam al-Nawawi, has commented on the tradition regarding fitna as recorded in Sahih Muslim:
These traditions clearly convey that we should not enter into any confrontation with political rulers. Even if we find in them any major deviation from Islam, our responsibility will be limited purely to the giving of advice in private. According to the consensus of Muslim scholars, so far as revolt and armed confrontation are concerned, even if the rulers in question are corrupt and tyrannical these actions are unlawful (Haram). (Sahih Muslim, with the commentary of an-Nawawi, Kitab al-Imarah, vol. 12, p.229).

From this commentary, we learn that the waging of war against Fitna in no way meant the replacing of non-Muslim governments with Muslim regimes. Its actual purpose was to put an end to the use of intellectual and ideological coercion, so that God’s servants might be at liberty to perform their devotions to God and communicate God’s message in an atmosphere of freedom. Waging war against Muslim rulers will certainly result in a revival of the coercive system, for the rulers will not hesitate to resort to oppression in order to keep their political power intact. The upshot will be that the old Fitna will re-emerge in a new garb. That is why the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, strictly forbade such action and Islamic scholars arrived at a consensus that according to the Islamic Shari’ah, insurrection against an established Muslim government was unlawful. Even in unavoidable situations, Muslims are required to strive peacefully and to refrain entirely from launching violent movements aimed at unseating those in positions of authority.
This is undoubtedly an important Islamic injunction. It has great wisdom behind it. To put it briefly, the kings of ancient times made every effort to politicize religion. And when they found the adherents of any given religion placing obstacles in their path, they went all out to crush them. In a similar way, even today, certain factions attempt to Islamize governments, then those rulers who become their targets, wreak all kinds of havoc on Islamists in order to save their political power.
The solution to this problem, as laid down in Islam, is to refrain from setting oneself on a collision course with the rulers. If any evil is found in them, the course to adopt is to give advice, privately, at the individual level, and to avoid all public condemnation or armed clashes. This sage counsel was given by Islam, so that the basic task of propagating and consolidating the religion might continue unhampered in non-political fields.
The manner of working of the traditionists gives us a good historical example. The gigantic task of the compilation of the traditions in the first phase of Islam lasted from the time of the Umayyad empire till that of the Abbasid Empire. Without doubt, the rot had set in the Muslim rulers. But the Islamic scholars of this period did not launch any movement against them. Remaining aloof from politics, they continued to serve the cause of the Hadith. It is the result of this wise policy on their part that today we possess in compiled form the precious treasure of the Prophet’s traditions. If the traditions of those days had opted to set themselves up against these Muslim rulers, they would have met the same fate as that of Abdullah ibn Zubayr, Husain ibn Ali, Nafs Zakiyya, etc. any political jihad engaged in by these traditionists would have come to the same disastrous end. All the people concerned would have been assassinated by the rulers,—as had happened with other political opponents. And then the inestimable wealth of the traditions would have been buried along with the traditionists, in whose memories they had been preserved.
From a study of the Qur’an and Hadith, we find that the actual target of a religious mission is the Islamization of the individual rather than the State. The domination of Islam at the level of the state is only an offshoot of the religious mission and not its actual target.
The Qur’an has clearly stated that, for believers, political power is a gift from God, and not a goal to be striven for. That is why the Qur’an observes:
“God has promised those of you who believe and do good works to make them masters in the land as He had made their ancestors before them, to strengthen the faith he chose for them and to change their fears to safety. Let them worship me and serve no other gods besides me. Wicked indeed are they who after this deny Me”(24:55).
The same point has been made in a tradition of the Prophet: Just as you will be, so will be your rulers. (Mishkat al-Masabih).
In actual fact this tradition tells us of a law of nature. The political power of a country depends upon its people. Any system which has the acceptance of the public will perpetuate itself, while a system which is anathema to the people will prove unsustainable. In a truly Islamic society, an un-Islamic political regime cannot take root, and cannot therefore be self-perpetuating. That is why Islam has enjoined the targeting of individuals for Islamic reform. If in any society a large number of people follow Islam, both in the letter and in the spirit, such a society will on its own come under the direction of political power based on Islam. This separation of Da’wah activism and political confrontation was crucial. It was by virtue of this separation that the propagation of Islam continued unhampered for a period of a thousand years after the emergence of Islam, until the number of Muslims rose to one billion. Without this, the great achievement of the dissemination of Islam could never have become a reality.
The wisdom of this teaching of Islam has become clearer than ever today. In present times two revolutions have taken place contemporaneously. After a long historical process, religious freedom has been held to be an irrevocable right of human beings all over the world. Today, the right to believe, practise and propagate any religion of one’s choice has become an established right of human beings. This freedom has only one condition: that in the availing of these rights, one should not engage in violence of any sort. The adoption of violence will render the practice and propagation of one’s religion impossible, whatever the part of the world that might be.

Another great revolution of our times has come in the form of modern communications, which has rendered the spread of Islam much more effective than hitherto. The print and electronic media, as well as other means of communication, have opened all the doors to the global dissemination of the message of Islam. Now the task of Da’wah in the present age has been so greatly facilitated that it seems as rapid and easy as the diffusion of the sun’s rays across the earth.



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