Taking up arms against the rulers is forbidden in Islam: Debating Takfeer & Khurooj (Part 1)

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Dr Ali Akbar Al-Azhari Director Research, Fareed Millat Institute, Minhajul Quran, Lahore
I have divided the main questions of debate into three categories to look at them in the relevant theological/jurisprudential, historical/political and contemporary perspectives. The theological and jurisprudential aspect of this debate builds upon the commandments and principles set out in the holy Quran and the Sunnah. Islamic scriptures have provided us with the fundamental principles regarding that. A great deal of scholarly literature is available on that including comprehensive decrees by jurists (fuqaha, singular faqih: jurists or experts of Islamic jurisprudence) and Islamic scholars.
In 2010, a book by Dr Tahirul Qadri containing comprehensive arguments and legal decrees on the subjects of takfeer, khurooj and resort to violence etc. It is imperative to understand how the concepts of takfeer and khurooj evolved in Islamic history, particularly in the political perspective. This understanding should eventually lead us to examine the current situation of legality, interpretation and application of these two concepts in the West, in the Muslim world and in Pakistan separately.
In my view, the most significant reason why taking up arms against the rulers is forbidden in ahadith could be the fact that Islam is a religion of peace and prioritizes security of human beings. It does not allow any individual or a group to challenge the writ of the state in order to impose their ideas on others forcibly. We find a vast range of definitions of khurooj and baghawat (rebellion) by jurists and scholars of the Hanafi school of thought while those subscribing to the Shafi, Hanbali and even Ja’fria (Shia) schools simply observe that these terms include meanings of kufr (unbelief/disbelief), takfeer (declaring others non-believers/ or excluded from the bounds of Islam), antagonism and bloodshed. Islam has strictly forbidden all these acts and they cannot be justified in any circumstances. 5 Reference to a verse from the Holy Quran: “Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way…” (16: 125)
Maulana Dr Ejaz Ahmad Samdani Jamia Darul Uloom, Korangi, Karachi
Islamic jurists and scholars have tried to explain its rationale of the holy Prophet forbidding armed struggle against the rulers. Before going into detail of that we should first acknowledge that we are bound to abide by the commands of Allah.
Allama Ibne Hajr has asserted in the first chapter of his book Al-Fitan that submission to the rulers is better than khurooj because the latter could lead to bloodshed among Muslims which is exceptionally disapproved of in Islam as a fitna (trial and discord).
The emphasis on forbiddance of armed struggle laid down in the ahadith was indeed meant to check this fitna of infighting and anarchy among Muslims. The question whether an oppressed group can take up arms against the state in self-defense or to avenge excesses is not related to khurooj. This is armed resistance or fight for self-defense. To fight against the state in self-defense and on the basis of principle of khurooj are two entirely different propositions. We should, therefore, try to find answers to the question whether fighting for self-defense is justified in Islam or not. There is an obvious legal decree in Islam that those who are killed defending their property, honor and life are martyred. However, some Islamic scholars observe that showing restraint in such situations is better than going to fight. They mainly cite in support of their argument one of the traditions of the holy Prophet in which he ordained his followers to be like the better son of Adam.
The Prophet (pbuh) wanted his followers to be like Haabeel, and not Qaabeel, who had assassinated the former.
Although there is some justification in Islam for victims of aggression and tyranny to fight in their defense, the question is if that is available to other citizens of the state too if they want to support the victims of aggression in their fight against the state. The jurists and experts of Islamic law have a divided opinion on the matter. Some sanction a conditional permission. The predominant opinion is that if citizens’ support does not cause depravation, disorder or mayhem in society and that the fight of the oppressed retains an exclusively defensive character, only then such backing is justified. But if such support strengthens the group of the oppressed to such an extent that it emerges as a strong resistance army capable of creating trouble for the government in other cities or areas then the people are not allowed to support the group’s fight against the state.
Now I would like to respond to another question put forth in the debate, i.e., when establishment of the standard Islamic system seems impossible in the current system of democracy then what is the legal ruling about resorting to armed struggle for achieving that purpose?
To me, it seems very clear that there is no room and justification in Islam for armed struggle or revolt against a democratic system of government. Armed revolt is strictly conditional to some act of kufr buwah and so far we have not seen any decree anywhere declaring democracy a kufr buwah or linking the two in anyway. When there is no such declaration that democracy is a system of visible and clear disbelief and infidelity or kufr buwah, how can we justify armed struggle against a democratic government?
With regard to the legal interpretation of kufr buwah and the extent of the acts of disbelief falling in this category of kufr (disbelief), I would like to say that only outright, absolute and established-byconsensus disbelief should be declared as kufr buwah. As it has been elaborated in the following hadith: “[…and not to fight against him] unless you see open disbelief for which you have evidence from Allah.” The Arabic word used in this hadith for seeing can be used as a transitive verb with one or two objects. When it is used with two objects it means seeing by heart but when it is used with one it means seeing with the naked eye. Here ‘you see’ means you see kufr buwah with the naked eye. In other words, you are as certain about it as if you see it with the naked eye. Secondly, for an act of disbelief to be called kufr buwah, there should be consensus among all legal schools of thought in Islam regarding that. In response to the question of whether legal ascertainment of kufr buwah only justifies khurooj or makes it obligatory, I would say that in the light of the hadith cited above it appears to be a matter of justification only. The Arabic words translated as ‘unless you see’ describe istisna (exception) and whenever a command or prohibition (amar or nahi) are followed by istisna in a sentence then according to the principles of Arabic grammar, mainly their justification is intended.
Allama Mufti Muhammad Assadullah Shaikh Administrator, Darul Aft’a Jamia Haidaria, Khairpur
Islam is a comprehensive and universal religion. It is a complete code of life, a combination of beliefs, prayers, morals and ethics, dealings and transactions, and manners of social or collective living.
In my opinion, the issues of takfeer and khurooj are largely related to attitudes, behaviors, dealings, matters of financial transactions and borrowing and lending, etc. In absence of honesty and responsibility, conflicts emerge among human beings in their day-to-day dealings. Being charged with authority, the rulers are responsible to judge with justice, provide a fair trial to parties in a conflict and punish the culprit; otherwise the people would feel helpless in deciding their matters themselves and that would contribute to lawlessness and anarchy.
Islam stresses on collectiveness and collective order. The holy Prophet (PBUH) said: “Hear and obey your chief even if he was a negro slave…” It means it is obligatory for every Muslim to listen to and obey those charged with authority. Personal opinions should not become the basis of differences. The Quran and the Sunnah are sufficient proofs and arguments to guide us and if we follow them we will take care of others and live in peace with all. And if there is no emir, all Muslim countries can try to appoint one through mutual consultation. If they fail to agree on one emir, each country or region can have its own emir. This is what has been alluded to in the Quran as: “O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Apostle, and those charged with authority among you” (4: 59).
Similarly, Amr Bil Ma’aroof wa-Nahi Anil Munkir (enjoining acknowledged virtues and forbidding vice) has a great deal to do with the rulers and the ruled. It is every Muslim’s obligation to invite the people towards the right path and keep them on, which has been ordained in the Quran in several instances. Without establishing a fair, healthy and upright society, a government can neither champion the causes of democracy and civilization nor expect peace, stability and dignity. Our society is in a process of moral decay. Immorality and vulgarity are now routine matters for many; the government is also legalizing vulgarity. Everyone is free to do whatever one wants and no one can be stopped. Humanity has lost its worth. No one knows today why he is being killed or kidnapped. There is a dearth of honesty and righteousness among us. We treat state property and treasury as our personal belongings. Moral depravation, crime and bad deeds have become part of our daily life. Only by acting upon Islamic teachings and commandments can we make our sick society alive and the failing government a success.
As far as khurooj is concerned, Imam Abu Hanifa provided moral support to Imam Zaid bin Ali and issued a decree in favor of his khurooj. But he had anticipated that Imam Zaid’s companions would desert him and his khurooj would be futile that could bring more trouble to Muslims so he did not join his khurooj practically. Imam Abu Hanifa held this opinion that a failed khurooj or armed revolt could lead to a situation with worse consequences for Muslims. We find such situations in history. It happened in the Indian subcontinent in 1857 when many religious scholars had declared India darul harb (abode of war), speculating that a revolt against the British government will be successful. The failure of the revolt brought severe consequences for Muslims in this part of the world.
Maulana Muhammad Salafi Administrator, Jamia Sattaria, Karachi
Many verses in the Quran say it is not allowed in any situation to take up weapons or revolt against the emir, caliph or head of the state. Allah says: “O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Apostle, and those charged with authority among you.” (4:59)
The holy Prophet (PBUH) once said: “[It is obligatory for you to] hear and obey your chief even if he was a negro slave…” So obeying the rulers is not a question of their learnedness, superior social status or other abilities. Even if a ruler does not have these attributes it is obligatory for Muslims to obey him and not fight against him.
According to one tradition, the Prophet (PBUH) said to his Companions to “listen to your ruler”. The Companions asked: “O prophet of Allah, even if he oppresses and tyrannizes us”. The Prophet said: ‘If he oppresses you he will be responsible for that (will be punished by God), and you will get reward for your patience.”
The history of Islam also tells us that the Companions of the holy Prophet (PBUH) preferred not to revolt and fight against the rulers. Hazrat Abdullah bin Abbas, Hazrat Zubair bin Al-Awam and some other close Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) were present in Makkah at the time when the Muslim rulers were tyrannizing the Muslims in the city. They did not revolt. Even when Abdullah bin Zubair was hanged, most of the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) did not revoke their allegiance to the rulers. Imam Abu Ja’far Tahavi has written in his book Al-Aqeeda Al-Tahavia that when the rebels had confined Hazrat Usman to his house a person came to him and said, “O leader of the faithful! You are just caliph of the Prophet. But I see today rebels leading prayers instead of you. Should I offer my prayers while standing behind them?” Hazrat Usman replied, “Prayer is among the symbols (obligations) of Islam, an expression of faith, so if they are offering and leading prayers, go and offer your prayers even if they have opposed the caliph.
I would not repeat what has been said previously about kufr buwah. To quote Imam Abu Jaafar Tahavi, kufr buwah is disbelief in God, the Quran, the Prophet, the religion of Islam (Deen), and the agreed-upon legal rulings of Islam. Disbelief in any of these is kufr buwah. Meanwhile, Imam Tahavi has asserted that we will not declare a Muslim disbeliever on the basis of his sin(s) unless he regards his sin(s) halaal (permitted by the faith) and defies Islamic law.
In my view, the rationale behind forbiddance of khurooj is that it shakes people’s reverence and trust in the integrity of the state and law. Secondly, khurooj leads to more violence and discord, for whose eradication Allah revealed the religion of Islam. Khurooj negates Islam. Therefore, it is not justified in any situation. Islamic history also tells us that a group of rebels, Kharijites, emerged during the caliphate of Hazrat Ali and challenged the latter with armed revolt. Various other Islamic regimes faced similar rebellions. But we do not find that in any instance a Companions of the Prophet, followers (taba’i) or eminent religious scholars declared khurooj permitted.
The divine judgment is: “And if two parties of believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them…” (Qur’an 49:9)
With regard to takfeer, it is not justified in Shariah to pass a verdict on a Muslim being a disbeliever. It is a well known tradition that Hazrat Osama killed a disbeliever during a war who, according to him, was pretending to be a Muslim. When the incident came to the knowledge of the Prophet (PBUH), he asked Hazrat Osama what led him to judge that the killed was pretending: “Did you see his heart by tearing it apart?”, the Prophet asked Hazrat Osama. It means that whatever be the situation, there is no justification in Islam for declaring others disbelievers or for killing them after declaring them disbelievers.
Secondly, ideological differences are natural and unavoidable. But we cannot prove permission of declaring others disbelievers or killing them in the name of ideological differences with reference to the Quran, the Sunnah, or the understanding and ways of the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) and eminent Islamic scholars. Imam Tahavi has discussed these issues at length. All Muslims should study him.
I believe that Imam Tahavi’s book Aqeeda Al-Tahavia should be promoted among religious circles as an essential reading. Islamic scholars should take up this task to critically review this book, hold academic discussions on it, and analogize Tahavi’s findings with emerging questions and terminology in related discourses. Such books could be very useful to understand critical issues such as khurooj, takfeer, militancy and violence in their proper perspectives and contexts.
Mufti Muhammad Ibrahim Qadri Member, Council of Islamic Ideology, and Principal of Jamia Ghosia Rizvia, Sukkur
The reason behind the Prophet (PBUH) forbidding khurooj against the rulers was to prevent the consequent turmoil and discord. Maulana Salafi has alluded to a tradition that the Prophet (PBUH) ordained his Companions to hear and obey their ruler even if they oppressed and tyrannized them. This tradition lays down a basic principle, that khurooj against the rulers is not justified in any situation, be it conflict on enforcement of Shariah or self defense against oppression.
Secondly, we should look at the question of kufr buwah in more depth. Let us review the complete hadith in which kufr buwah is mentioned. The Companions of the Prophet narrated: “The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) called upon us and we gave him the bai’ah (oath of allegiance), and he said, of that which he had taken from us, that we should give him the pledge to listen and obey, in what we like and dislike, in our hardship and ease, and that we should not dispute the authority of its people unless we saw open disbelief (kufr buwah) upon which we had a proof (burhan) from Allah.” We do not find the word ‘rebellion’ in this hadith but ‘dispute’. That we should not dispute those charged with authority unless we see open disbelief in them.
Rebellion and khurooj are something beyond raising one’s voice, and protesting against the rulers. About protesting against the rulers, the Prophet (PBUH) had once said: “The best jihad is the word of justice in front of an oppressive Sultan (ruler).” Hence protesting against and disputing with the rulers are concepts that are entirely different from khurooj and rebellion. The exception described here is that you can ‘dispute’ against the rulers in case they commit kufr buwah; that is not for khurooj and rebellion.
Imam Sharfuddin Novi says that kufr buwah means open disbelief and in the words of the Prophet (PUBH) ‘upon which you have a proof (burhan) from Allah.’ In other words kufr buwah is what you regard clear disbelief and sin and can prove it with a clear legal ruling from the Quran or hadith.
Imam Novi interprets the meaning of this hadith in these words: “Do not dispute with the rulers on matters of their rule, authority and do not put objections on them but when you see in them some clear vice or evil that you recognize as proven in laws of Islam. So when you see that, reject it and say the word of justice wherever you are…”
As I said earlier, it is a matter of protest or raising one’s voice, and not of khurooj. There is consensus among Muslims that khurooj against unfair, transgressing and oppressive rulers is forbidden in Islam.

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