View Full Version : The Defining Characteristic of Ahl’l-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah during Fitnah

Ibn Abi Ahmed
07-09-2009, 07:02 PM

By Abu Eesa Niamatullah

Perhaps it’s a bitter irony that one reviews the current desire for revolution and rebellion in the Muslim world as thousands of British children have just celebrated that most infamous of rebellious plots against their government: the attempted destruction of the Houses of Parliament by Guy Fawkes himself.

The political chaos that the Muslim world and Pakistan in particular finds itself in at the moment has taken an even greater turn for the worse. One struggles to decide who are the greater criminals in these soap-operas that result in real peoples’ deaths; is it the rampaging group of rebellious vigilante “Mujāhidīn” of the NWFP declaring anyone who opposes them as heretics? Is it the criminal secular leader? Is it the opportunistic group of opposition political figures inciting the common folk to rise and then naturally be massacred as their heroes hide behind bullet proof glass?

It’s at times like these when we should remind ourselves of what it actually means to be from the people of Ahl’l-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah, and to identify ourselves with that great Prophetic generation that brought light, justice and humanity amongst the darkness and oppression of disbelief.

The characteristics of Ahl’l-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah or “the People of Sunnah and Community” meaning “those that follow the way of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and stick close to the community of Muslims upon the way of his Companions and the rightly guided Imams after them” as expressed by many of our scholars in their books on ‘aqīdah, manhaj and usūl’l-dīn (tenets of belief, methodology and the foundations of the religion) are detailed and many. Often, depending on context, certain characteristics are emphasised due to a need, such as Ahl’l-Sunnah uniting against the Khawārij, or against the deviancy of the extreme Rāfidhah or defending the belief that the Qur’ān is the Uncreated Divine Word of Allah during the political turmoil of Imam Ahmad’s era. Throughout history, various aspects of Ahl’l-Sunnah have kept deviation and destruction at bay.

Our time is no different. If we focus on the “Mujahid” group mentioned above, the Islamic extremism and fanaticism we are experiencing at the hands of these deranged few, in response to the now clichéd Western hegemonic advances but also oppression and abuse of human rights from within the Muslim countries, are actually nothing new. History has borne witness to violent and deviated responses to the tyranny of Muslim rule, justifying by it the killing of innocents, the destruction of the community and the ultimate loss of our freedoms, including the most important of them, the freedom to worship freely.

Hasn’t our generation witnessed over the last 25 years the catastrophe of Syria, Algeria, Iraq and countless other examples and now Pakistan? There was no-one who doubted that the brutality of the regimes running these Muslims countries and that their crimes against the masses had been closer to disbelief than Islam, but how were Ahl’l-Sunnah expected to react?

At that time, when one was young and inexperienced, full of emotion and immaturity, there was only one way to react: to fight back. It was a given to declare the leader a kāfir or a munāfiq, to find the evidences for it and then to call for the ruler’s head and everyone who supported him, and then of course to demand absolute and unrestricted Sharī‘ah (“We don’t want Nawaz Sharif!! We want Qur’ān Sharīf!!”).

Naturally, the leaders of this call had been hasty to ignore what Ahl’l-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah traditionally have done at such times, when the Muslims have become tired and defeated at the hands of evil and unjust rulers: to have patience. Patience here meant to stick to the fundamentals, audit one’s actions, look at our relationship with Allah, stick closely together with the general Muslims and, most strikingly, not revolt against the ruling authority.

“What?! Not revolt against the authorities?! Tell us to do anything but that! How on Earth can you not expect us to fight back, to not fight for the Deen of Allah, to not fight and become Shaheed?!”

Emotionally, the argument to hold our tongues and restrain our anger doesn’t hold up. Admittedly, it’s rather politically incorrect in Western Islamic circles to just accept authorities as they are and “turn the other cheek”. When even the most politically apathetic Muslims are see in the streets involved in beating and then getting beaten by the police and army, in revolt against the oppressive measures present at the moment, it doesn’t help when the more popular public figures, the educated and celebrities of them, succumb to un-islamic modes of reply and thereby incite the people to protest and fight back now with claims that “the fight for democracy will be lost for the next five years.”

But know that there is no space for an emotional argument when we have sacred traditions and a clear picture of the actions of the rightly guided Imāms of Ahl’l-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah during their encounters with leaders and rulers of a similar evil streak. Indeed, we can say that, in our political context today, the most defining characteristic of Ahl’l-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah we might wish to revive today was their patience with the prevalent political condition and their concentration on reformation and not revolution.

Patience is an incredibly difficult quality to achieve, even more so when one cannot see the justification for it in times of anger and revenge. Many of us, when confronted with the evil, greed and even kufr of the ruling authority, react in a way which conforms to our desires – a reaction of resentment with the desire to physically change the prevailing condition. It’s almost as if we demand that all those in authority over us to be like the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) even though it was he (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) himself who informed us that we would be ruled by evil tyrants after the early generations of the rightly guided Caliphs!

The status quo with all our de-facto leaders are that they are not people of religion, except a tiny few. In fact, if we were to make religious uprightness a condition for the validity of their leadership as Imām al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abd’l-Salām (rahimullāh) mentions, then many legitimate acts to do with judgement, the courts, possessions, earnings, the economy, charity etc would all be rendered null and void. In fact, it is well known that most of the leaders are sinful and immoral but the loss of these general benefits is far worse than the ruler being upright. (Qawā‘id al-Ahkām, 1/50-51)

Who did the Muslims expect to be ruled by anyway? In what state of righteousness are we to deserve righteous leaders? “You reap what you sow” we’re often told and certainly, the fact that many Muslims across the world make up some of the most immoral, dishonest, fraudulent and corrupt members of society cannot bode well for the future.

We take the rights of other people every day but when we are oppressed by our rulers, we wish to demand our rights by revolution, fighting, and rebellion – yet the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “You will see after me, selfishness (from the rulers etc) and other matters that you will disapprove of.” The Companions asked, “What do you order us to do, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Pay their rights to them (to the rulers) and ask your right from Allah.” (Bukhari)

Thus, we have been commanded to have patience with their evil, and hope for the reward with Allah. Actually, if one is to reflect, this is a great mercy from Allah because in the absence of the ability to do anything else anyway, then with the intention to have this patience, we are (quite incredibly) rewarded for following the Prophetic guidance.

In fact, whether in times of difficulty or ease, even the most rudimentary study of the biography of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) will show that he was a reformer and not a rebel. He worked all his life to obtain helpful conditions to allow the beauty and power of Islam to flourish in the hearts of the People. His actions, treaties, patience and wisdom bear testimony to that and his results, sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam, speak for themselves.

Likewise, the Qur’ān is a book of reformation and correction through peace and security and not violence and rebellion except in the most extreme circumstances of war. The Qur’ānic message is to strive for every opportunity to make peace and cease fighting to allow the people the opening they have been searching for.

It is vital to understand that Islam always looks to the consequences of the actions done in its name, to determine the validity of the original proposed action. The concept that only better should result, and that a greater evil must be avoided at all costs, is something easy and clear to understand and is well established as a key principle in our Deen; yet for some bizarre reason, this concept still seems to remain elusive to the violent few.

Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimullāh) said, “Rebelling against the kings and rulers is the basis of all evil and fitnah until the end of time – whoever contemplates on what has happened to Islam historically with respect to fitnah, whether major or minor, will recognise its connection to this fundamental problem i.e. that to resist the evil (authority) leads to an evil worse than it, and that the lack of patience with that evil and the seeking of its removal produces a problem even worse than in the first place. The Messenger of Allah (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) witnessed the greatest of evils in Makkah yet he was not able to change it; indeed when Allah opened up Makkah and made it Dār’l-Islām, he (the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam)) was determined to change the Ka‘bah back to the original foundations of Ibrahīm but he did not despite being able to do so, fearing creating a situation even worse with the possibility that the Quraysh would not be able to handle it due to their newness to Islam and their recent departure from kufr. Thus, it is not allowed to rise up against the leaders due to the consequences that result, which is even worse than before, as is well known…” (Turuq’l-Hākimiyyah)

We should also look at the immense concern for the sanctity of human life the scholars had, especially when it comes to taking political control, even if the situation demands it such as when oppression is rife from the leaders and all the people on the ground support you.

Ibn al-Athīr (rahimullāh) narrates that Marwān b. al-Hakam approached ‘Abdullāh b. ‘Umar (radhy Allāhu ‘anhumā) to pledge allegiance to him in an attempt to convince him to take the leadership of the nation as Khalīfah, saying, “The People of Shām are with you.” “And what will I do with the People of ‘Irāq?” replied Ibn ‘Umar. “Fight them,” said Marwān.

Ibn ‘Umar turned to him and said, “By Allah, if mankind in its entirety obeyed me except the people (of the tiny, rural village) of Fadak, and I fought them and a single man was to die, I would not do it.” (2/154, Usud al-Ghābah)

No-one claims that to adopt such an attitude is easy, especially when our anger demands itself to be spent in some direction against the tyrant ruler, whether by cursing, or making du‘ā against him etc. yet if we wish to be truly upon the methodology of the most pure, we must have patience. Imām Ibn ‘Abd’l-Barr (rahimullāh) narrates with his own chain to Anas (radhy Allāhu ‘anhu) that he said, “The senior Companions of the Messenger of Allah (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) would prohibit cursing of the Leaders.”

In fact, if one thinks this to be difficult then reflect on this: the great scholar Fudhayl b. ‘Iyādh (rahimullāh) once said, “If I was to be granted just one supplication that would be accepted, I would make it for the Leader; if his condition is corrected, the lands and the people will become secure in peace.”

You can actually hear them cry out now: “What?! You don’t want me to fight and curse the enemy of Allah and destroyer of His Deen and then you want me to pray for him too?!!”

Yes, that’s the kind of patience, humility and vision we’re calling for. No-one said following the Sunnah in times of fitnah was going to be easy.

Hasan al-Basri (rahimullāh) also said about the king of all tyrant oppressors, Hajjāj b. Yūsuf, “Have no doubt, Hajjāj is the Punishment of Allah; don’t try to repel the punishment of Allah with your hands, rather you must humble yourselves and have humility because Allah, the Most High, says, “We have already seized them with punishment, but they did not turn humble to their Lord, nor do they supplicate in humility,” (al-Mu’minūn, 76)

Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimullāh) mentions in his Majmū‘ a key point that we often forget when we think about revolting against the government, namely that the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) highly praised his grandson Hasan (radhy Allāhu ‘anhu) for the fact that he would mediate and unite the Muslims by the Will of Allah, without rebellion. Yet, he (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) never praised at all the actions of those who fight during times of fitnah, nor rebelling against the evil ruler, nor withdrawing allegiance to the ruler nor splitting away from the Jamā‘ah of the Muslims.

Indeed, remember that the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) informed Abu Hurayrah (radhy Allāhu ‘anhu) of the secret “two containers of knowledge”, and even though we are sure that this information was about the later rulers to come and the evil that would result from them and those that fought against them, Abu Hurayrah still didn’t command the Muslims to fight these rulers despite knowing all their identities. Why? Because he knew that the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) didn’t want to establish such a precedent, and Abu Hurayrah knew that the evil that would result would be far worse than what he’d been told about as it was.
And why do we assume that Abu Hurayrah knew the identities of the people that would be involved in this fitnah? Why from history itself. Imām al-Dhahabi (rahimullāh) narrates from ‘Ubayd b. Sa‘īd that he entered Masjid al-Harām with Ibn ‘Amr (radhy Allāhu ‘anhumā) and they found the Ka‘bah burning after it had been caught in the middle of a battle from the army of Husayn b. Namīr. Ibn ‘Amr stopped and started to weep, so much so that the tears flowed over his cheeks and then he shouted, “O People! By Allah, if Abu Hurayrah had told you that you would kill the grandson of your Prophet and that you would burn the House of your Lord, then you would have said: there is no bigger liar than Abu Hurayrah! But you have indeed done that – so wait now for the anger of Allah to befall us…” (al-Siyar, 3/94)

When the people wanted to rebel with Ibn al-Muhallab during the time of Hasan al-Basri (rahimullāh), he advised them to stay in their homes and lock their doors and then said, “By Allah, if the people are put to trial by their leaders and yet remain patient with that, Allah ‘azza wa jall will lift that trial from them; (those who didn’t have patience) ran to the sword and they were eventually overtaken by it. I swear by Allah, they did not bring a single day of good whatsoever! Then he recited, “And the sublime word of your Lord was fulfilled for the children of Isrā’īl, because they stood patient; and We destroyed what Pharaoh and his people used to build and what they used to raise high.”” (al-A‘rāf, 137)

Instead, in our society, revolution is not just in vogue, it’s the modern way to deal with that which we don’t like. This attitude has to be changed, not to one of a deviant pacifism, for Ahl’l-Sunnah are as well known for their love of and steadfastness upon Jihād, just as they are famed for their patience against difficult times and tyrant rulers who take all our possession, rights, and liberties. No, the prevalent attitude needs to focus on those characteristics that are more applicable for our current weak condition.

One can never dream that the consequence of rebelling against the most evil leaders and oppressors in our secular times would lead to an even greater secular crackdown and even worse conditions and loss of liberty for the Muslims. Surely, as our opponents claim, the grass is always greener on the other side!?

One couldn’t be more wrong as a look at the reality on the ground confirms day in, day out.

In our times, to fight and dissent seems to be the only option that takes our hearts. It seems the only honourable and correct thing to do. And how wrong we are when we think like this, especially when we see from the actions of those scholars who were involved in fighting or rising against a ruler, that they were full of remorse afterwards and never praised their actions.

Consider what Ibn Taymiyyah said: “The most that will happen is that they (the rebels) will either be overcome, or they will overcome (their opposition) and their control will eventually fade away leaving no result for them. Look at ‘Abdullāh b. ‘Ali and Abu Muslim who killed many people (along their path of rebellion against the tyrant and eventual victory) and yet were then later both killed by Abu Ja‘far al-Mansūr. As for the People of al-Hurrah, Ibn al-Ash‘ath and Ibn al-Muhallab et al, they were destroyed and their people were destroyed. They never established neither Deen nor Dunya; And know, that Allah, the most High, does not command to that which does not better the Deen or the Dunya.

And if there are those who attempt such from the saints of Allah, the God-conscious and even from the People of Paradise, they are not better than ‘Ali, ‘A’isha, Talhah and Zubayr et al; despite this, they never praised what they did with respect to fighting…”

Even the best of us can sometimes be tested in times of fitnah, so what then of the likes of us in our times? That’s why in times of confusion such as these, we must turn to our elders, scholars and wise people to help us through with knowledge, wisdom and patience.

These principles to be followed in times of fitnah are not something the scholars have just pulled out of thin air, rather these are experiences learnt from when the people rebelled against ‘Uthmān thereby breaking the Caliphate upon Prophethood, the aftermath after what happened with Husayn b. ‘Ali, the rising of Ahl’l-Madīnah at al-Harrah and the ensuing fitnah, the rising of the Qurrā’ with Ibn al-Ash‘ath against ‘Abd’l-Malik in ‘Irāq and the ensuing fitnah, the issue of Zayd b. ‘Ali and so on, may Allah be pleased with all of them and allow us to learn our lessons from them. These are examples from the rightly guided, so what then of the hundreds of examples in history since then until now from the ignorant and misguided? Will we never learn?

Don’t those who are fighting the government see the fear that has been created, the houses destroyed, the innocent killed and made homeless, the demolition of the mosques, the increase in crime, the loss of safety and security, the loss of trust and increase in suspicion, the closing of schools and institutions, the closure of charities and all the pain and suffering that comes with that, the imprisonment of people who wish only to worship Allah, and worst of all, Islam becoming hated by the common people for it is seen as the root cause of all this fitnah?

Even when Islam was being tested with the most dangerous of trials such as the introduction to orthodox Islamic theology of the “created Qur’an deviation”, Imām Ahmad b. Hanbal (rahimullāh) stood and refuted the concept but never lead the people in revolt against the deviant ruler. When his companions came to him to urge him to do so against al-Wāthiq, he replied, “Condemn their belief in your hearts but remain obedient to them and do not break the unity of the Muslims; don’t shed your own blood and the blood of the Muslims with you, rather look to the consequences of your actions and have patience…” (Adāb’l-Sharī‘ah, Ibn al-Muflih and Al-Mihnat’l-Imām Ahmad, 70-72)

All the above can of course be related to the current political problems the Muslims face in all their countries, yet the same general principles of not hurrying to physical action and depending upon patience and good deeds is actually a universal principle we need to apply in all aspects of our daily and personal lives as well, whether in the family with our wives, in our mosques with our Imams, in our workplaces with our colleagues and within our own organisations and groups.

No-one should turn away from what Ahl’l-Sunnah has historically become well known and established for. Our identity isn’t simply a verbal text, a weekend study course or a forum discussion to fight over.

Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimullāh) said, “From the key principles of Ahl’l-Sunnah wa’l Jamā‘ah is to keep (united) with the Muslim Community and to leave fighting the rulers during fitnah. As for the people of desires, such as the Mu‘tazilah, they see rebelling against and fighting the rulers from the very principles of their Deen…”

To be from Ahl’l-Sunnah is to live the ideals and to apply them as much as possible in every aspect of life that we can. We do this by preserving our unity, agreeing on the key basics and moving forward to maintain our collective strength until we deserve a better political condition and rulers.

At this moment in time, it is a minor miracle that we are still able to worship Allah at all – maybe someone is making istighfār for us somewhere.

Perhaps, as the sounds of the fun and games of Guy Fawkes fireworks start to fade away, and we realise that the sounds of missiles and gunfire increases with the loss of innocent life in the Muslim lands, we’ll start to call ourselves and our people to those defining characteristics of Ahl’l-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah in times of fitnah such as maintaining unity, not rebelling against our governments and having patience. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā give us all ability to do that, amīn.


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07-22-2009, 05:18 PM
JazakAllah Khayr! I'm so pleased to have found Sheikh Abu Eesa's blog. I love watching his explanation of Al Adab al Mufrad on Islam Channel. Great stuff!

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