Saturday, February 05, 2011

Islamic arguments against revolution - A farce

There is a ridiculous aspect to Sunni political Islam which holds that to revolt against an unjust ruler goes against the teachings of the Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet. I have heard several people, in recent days, tell me their opinions about the Egyptian revolution, namely that it is forbidden in Islam and that the people who have died at the hands of the police are not martyrs.

Firstly I reject the insinuation that any of the people who died at the hands of the government thugs and police are going to any kind of hell. I don't think that is in anybody's power to make such a judgment. Secondly, I don't believe for an instant that Muslims are expected to be meek little sheep whilst they are ruled by a tyrant who has betrayed his country to its enemies, amassed a personal fortune during his reign and whose thugs are torturing and abusing the people. But I want to look at the arguments that these people make because the Qur'an does say:

ادْعُ إِلَى سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلْهُمْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنْ ضَلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ

Apparently, khuruj an Wali al Amr(الخروج عن ولي الأمر) or 'revolting against the ruler' is a grave sin. Well I decided to go straight to the fountain head and see what the late Saudi Islamic scholar Abdul Aziz Abdullah Bin Baz said on the subject. Here is a link in Arabic to what his views are on the subject.

Sheikh Bin Baz is a firm believer that it is a grave Islamic sin to rise up against a ruler who is mistreating his people. He starts with a quote from the Qur'an, which will be the strongest part of his argument. This is in the Nissa verses in the Quran.

فقد قال الله عز وجل: {يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِي الأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ فَإِنْ تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِنْ كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ ذَلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلاً} [النساء: 59].

"Oh you who believe, obey God and obey the prophet and those who lead from amongst you, and if you disagree in a matter then refer it to God and the Prophet and if you believe in God and the Last Day then that is a better solution" verse 59

Bin Baz says this is a comandment to obey those who lead from amongst you. He then lists out the key teachings of the prophet which support his argument. The references are on the link I provided.

1. And he who has a ruler and sees this ruler disobeying God, let him hate the disobeying of God but not let it affect his allegiance to the ruler.

2. And who leaves the group and disobeys, then dies, dies the death of the Great Ignorance.

3. And it is a duty to listen and obey both for what he likes and dislikes. Unless he is commanded to sin, in which case there is no listening or obeyance.

4. (When asked about what to do with rulers who do things that are wrong) Give them their rights and ask God for your rights

5. Unless you see from them blatant blasphemy with evidence before God.

Basically, the sum of Bin Baz's judgement is that if a greater evil were to befall the Muslims then they must not revolt and if they are able to avoid bloodshed in removing the ruler then they can go ahead and do so. In all other cases it is forbidden.

Well, I won't go into the legitimacy or acceptability of Bin Baz giving out judgements. He is highly regarded by many people who adhere to the view I have outlined above. What I will do is pick apart what he said and see if it is still valid.

Firstly, with regards to the Quranic verse 59 in Nissa, then yes, it is a direct command to obey God, the Prophet and those who lead amongst you - اولي الأمر منكم. That is a very important word, Olee al Amr Minkum (those who lead from amongst you) as this is not just a word for a ruler. It is a word which, when translated properly, as I have done, implies that: Firstly the ruler is from amongst the believers; Secondly it implies a certain loyalty and almost democratic legitimacy that the ruler is given in order to lead in the first place.

My argument is as follows. The verse from the Qur'an applies to certain circumstances only. The ruler is appointed from amongst the believers, that is why the word is اولي الأمر منكم, 'minkum' means 'of you' and the Qur'an does not say "Ruler" or "King", even though it uses those words in other contexts, especially when referring to tyrants who opposed the prophets. That's a very important choice of words and I don't think Bin Baz has picked up on it. Why use the word minkum? I think it is because there is a need for legitimacy to be granted to the ruler from amongst his peers before he can be referred to as Wali al Amr. If that legitimacy is not there, the ruler cannot be obeyed regardless of how he has seized power.

If this argument is correct then there is probably not a single ruler in the world that has this mandate. In fact every government in the region has seized power from the previous wali al amr and the one before that, and the one before that. The so-called "Arab Republics" and the Arab kingdoms, cannot, as a matter of logic, have an actual Wali al Amr, let alone one assigned 'minkum' or 'of you', because they all came to power through coups and military revolts, ie. By the very means that Islam is said to prohibit, according to Bin Baz. This chain of reasoning is absent in his arguments and for this reason the rest of his judgement becomes fatally flawed.

The hadith, which are of secondary importance to the verses in the Qur'an for any pious Muslim, should thus be viewed in light of the precise definition of what constitutes a legitimate Wali al Amr. Only then can the teachings of the prophet be considered appropriate to apply in a modern political context such as we see in Egypt. Therefore only then can someone be in a position to say that revolting against that ruler is wrong.

Mubarak was unelected. neither was Sadat nor Nasser. The fact that Nasser was legitimately appointed by popular and outright consent from the people on the street after his attempt to resign in 1967 is important, however, Sadat was not made president through such a process. Yes, he was assigned by Nasser, but Nasser cannot substitute the "Minkum", or "of you" proviso in the Qur'anic verse. Therefore, it was necessary that Sadat too submit to a process of legitimisation by the people upon assuming the presidency when Nasser died. That did not happen. Sadat was assassinated and Mubarak automatically became the next president. Mubarak is said to have fraudulently rigged the outcomes of six elections during the thirty years of his rule. He has no legitimacy as a ruler today and never had any since assuming power. Therefore, it follows that a revolution against Mubarak, Islamic or otherwise, cannot possibly be contrary to Islam and a 'sin' as some misguided people might believe. It is ludicrous to believe otherwise and an insult to common-sense and human decency.


Unknown said...

I fear that so much of what we think of as 'Islam' is in fact the state-directed interpretations of Islam made up until the 14th c. the muslim world has suffered enormously because it didn't develop a political science.

shia said...

it is time for you guys to stop beating around the bush."those in authority from among yourselves" refers to 12 Imams chosen by Allah.only the shia have really got this verse right.obedience to Allah and His messenger cannot be equated with obedience to a fallible ruler who can lead others astray even if when elected.also,are you meant to obey umar who was not elected but appointed by abu bakr,because abu bakr appointed him and you must obey abu bakr?dont tell me the people later paid allegiance to umar as if umar would have readily abdicated from the caliphate if people wanted him gone.what about yazeed?was he too legitimate?its not hard for falsehood to leak out.

Maysaloon said...

The 12 Imams are long gone, and both Abu Bakr and Omar are long dead, over 1400 years if I'm not mistaken. So unless you have a direct fax line to Allah, I don't see how the points you made are helping us find a solution to this problem.