Imam Luqman Ahmad

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The Lotus Tree Blog

CAN MUSLIMS IN AMERICA PARTICIPATE IN PUBLIC RALLIES

By Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid

            The above question has been posed to me by a young Muslim seeking guidance regarding Islamically legitimate means for resisting evils and injustices. He showed me a question posed by a Muslim to two scholars from amongst those of our faith, which read “Are demonstrations considered to be a means from the legitimate means of  Da’wah?” The esteemed scholars answered the questions posed to them (May Allah reward them), and from that answer the questioner sought refuge in Allah from “evil ideologies and destructive manners”, characterized  rallies under “destructive manners”, and identified those who call for Muslim participation in demonstrations as those ignorant of “Islamic principles”.   

The response of the questioned scholars contained the following statements:

  Indeed, the concept of demonstrations is a new, modern issue. It was not  known in the time of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم),  nor in the time of the rightly-guided Khalifahs, nor in the time of any of the Companions (رضى الله عنهما).

Furthermore, the chaos and disorder that is included in it make it an impermissible matter, so much so that (it includes acts like) the breaking of glass, doors, etc. Results from it, also included within it, is the mixing between men and women, the youth and the elderly, and
similar to that from corruptions and detestable things.

As for the issue of putting pressure upon the government; if it is a Muslim government, then sufficient for it as an admonishment is the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم). This is the best of what could possibly be brought before any
Muslim. If it (the government) is a disbelieving one, then it would not even care about these ‘demonstrators’ and perhaps it would behave politely with them outwardly, while inwardly remaining upon what it was on of evil. For this reason, we hold that demonstrations are detestable actions.

As for their statements that these demonstrations are peaceful ones, then perhaps they may be peaceful in the beginning or the first time, yet then they become destructive. So I advise the youth to follow the path of those who have proceeded, for indeed Allaah (سبحانه وتعالى) has praised the Muhaajireen and the Ansaar and has praised those who followed them in righteousness.

“Our religion is not a religion of chaos. Our religion is a religion of discipline, and a religion of order, and calm, and tranquility. And demonstrations are not from the actions of the Muslims and it is not something the Muslims are familiar with. And the religion of Islaam is a religion of calm, and a religion of mercy, and a religion of discipline; not chaos, and not dis-order, and not (a religion) of inciting trials (fitan). And this is the religion of Islaam. And rights
are earned by asking for them in the manner legislated by the Shar’iah and through ways legis-lated by the Shar’iah. And demonstrations cause bloodshed and cause the ruination of wealth (of the Muslims). And these matters are not permissible.”

Further, at the outset of his comments, the questioner stated, “‘The lack of Islamic knowledge is the result of confusion among the  youth. Al-Islam is the religion of peace, the religion of dignity, the religion of calmness and the religion of devotion…” 

In reality, the lack of  Islamic knowledge is not the result, but rather the cause, of youthful confusion. Part of the solution to this problem is that the context of  sincere questions and statements must be illuminated, as Al-Islam is not only the religion of peace, calmness and devotion, but also the religion of justice, and the struggle against injustice .        

I must admit that the first thing that struck me about the initial question was a curiosity as to the origins of the questioner. Is this a person living in America, where demonstrations and rallies are part of the culture of the land, inquiring of scholars who were born and raised in, and who live (or lived as one of the scholars is deceased) in countries where protest or freedom of expression against injustice and oppression in the public square it is not allowed, and is often brutally repressed by the dictatorial regimes of  Muslims or non-Muslims? Are such scholars living in countries  where those expressing a dissenting opinion from that of the government are jailed or worse, even though their positions are based upon an erudite understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah? This is important for a couple of reasons.

 Firstly, students who are naive about such things place scholars who live in oppressive environments in danger, by asking them questions that could place some of these ulamaa and their families, living in a real world of corruption  under the authority of Muslim leaders who are “tight” with kuffaar, in real jeopardy.

Secondly, as the undoubtedly young questioner stated, “Knowledge  comes before any statement and action”. Additionally though, as  the late Waziri of Sokoto in 15th Century Muslim West Africa (Timbuktu), Junayd ibn Muhammad al-Bukhari  (May Allah forgive his sins and reward him with Paradise, amin) once said, “Knowledge is universal and eternal but it has a social and cultural stamp. It also has a purpose and a commitment to a particular world view. It therefore cannot be neutral.”

Therefore the various questions that one poses, and the answers to them, must be contextualized according to (amongst other things) time, place, condition (i.e. circumstance) and the like, in order that true guidance might be made manifest. So the cultural stamp and world view of the questioner, and his respondent, must be examined before one blindly follows or accepts a number of presumptions. More on that later.

It is evident from examining both the question and responses of both the student and the two scholars he consults,  that at least in their minds, public demonstrations and rallies are wholly associated with “chaos and disorder”. That is their world view.

Further, there is no discussion as to the evils which produce such public outcries. The initial question, “Are demonstrations considered to be a means from the legitimate means of  Da’wah?”, reads like translated text (from Arabic to English), and thus indicates in and of itself the presence of cultural stamps, written perhaps with invisible ink – but no matter, as the intent of the question seems or appears evident.

The point is that public demonstrations against acts of injustice are not in and of themselves acts of da’wah (propogation of the faith, or proselytization). They are human, universal outcries against evil (state-sponsored oppression, repression, murder,etc.), and often non-violent resistance against the same. Is this, generally speaking, from Islamic principles? Yes, it is..

Allah (Glory be to him) poses the question in His Speech (Book, the Qur’an):

[وَمَا لَكُمْ لاَ تُقَـتِلُونَ فِى سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَالْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَآءِ وَالْوِلْدَنِ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَآ أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ هَـذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ الظَّـلِمِ أَهْلُهَا وَاجْعَلْ لَّنَا مِن لَّدُنْكَ وَلِيّاً وَاجْعَلْ لَّنَا مِن لَّدُنْكَ نَصِيراً – الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ يُقَـتِلُونَ فِى سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ يُقَـتِلُونَ فِى سَبِيلِ الطَّـغُوتِ فَقَـتِلُواْ أَوْلِيَاءَ الشَّيْطَـنِ إِنَّ كَيْدَ الشَّيْطَـنِ كَانَ ضَعِيفاً ]

“And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help.’ Those who believe, fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of the Taghut (idolatry). So fight against the friends of Shaytan (Satan); ever feeble indeed is the plot of Shaytan.” (Q 4:75-76)

            The context of this question posed by Allah is one where-in  believers who had escaped the oppression imposed upon the innocent by the Meccan un-believers, were challenged by their Lord to fight (the highest level of struggle) on behalf of those still under the crushing hand of their oppressor.

  In other words, as it is written in Tafsir Jalalayn:

“What is wrong with you, that you do not fight: this is an interrogative of rebuke, in other words, there is nothing to prevent you from fighting, in the way of God, and for, the deliverance of, the oppressed men, women, and children, whom the disbelievers persecuted and prevented from emigrating.”

“Ibn ‘Abbas, may God be pleased with him and his father, said, “My mother and I were among them”; who say, supplicating, ‘O, our Lord, bring us forth from this town, Mecca, whose people are evildoers, through unbelief, and appoint for us a protector from You, to take charge of our affair, and appoint for us from You a helper’, to defend us against them. Allah responded to their supplication and facilitated escape for some of them, while others remained behind until Mecca was conquered, in charge of them the Prophet (s) placed ‘Attāb b. Asad, who proceeded to seek justice for the wronged from those that had wronged them.”

The “saying” of the oppressed in this Qur’anic verse is a du’a (prayer of supplication), and its plaintive and desperate nature is conveyed in the translation of it as “cry”, and it is the cry of a people or group of people, and the response called for is a group one.

Now, how should one respond to a such a cry? In this verse fighting (qitaal) is mentioned. But is physical combat  the only option? Certainly not, for the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said in several authentic ahadīth (oral traditions):

” On the authority of Abu Sa`id (radhiallahu `anhu) that the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said, ‘Whoever sees something evil should change it with his hand. If he cannot, then with his tongue; and if he cannot do even that, then in his heart. That is the weakest degree of faith’.”

He also relates on the authority of Ibn Mas`ud that the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said, “There was not a single Prophet among those who were sent before me who did not have apostles and companions and followed his Sunna and obeyed his commands. But afterwards other generations came whose words belied their deeds, and whose deeds were not in accordance with what they commanded others to do. Whoever struggles against them with his hand is a believer. Whoever struggles against them with his tongue is a believer. And whoever struggles against them with his heart is a believer. But when none of these things are done, then not a single mustard’s seed weight of faith is present.”

Malik ibn Dinar once recited the verse, “There were in the city nine men who caused corruption in the earth, and would not cause reform”, [Q 27:48] and said, “Nowadays, there are people in every clan and district who cause corruption in the earth, and do not cause reform.” He also said, “We have become accustomed to loving the world, so that we do not enjoin good or forbid evil to one another. Allah the Most High will certainly not permit us to continue doing this, but would that I knew what kind of punishment shall befall us!”

`Umar ibn `Abdul `Aziz said, “It used to be that Allah the Most High did not punish the common people for the sins of the elite; but when the evil is done openly, and they do not repudiate it, they all become deserving of His punishment.”

            These statements make clear the imperative for “speaking truth to power” (as we say in American social justice tradition), or engaging in “the most excellent jihad” (as when the Prophet Muhammad , peace be upon him, stated “The most excellent jihad is a word of truth before (meaning in the face or presence of) a tyrannical ruler. ” . There is no evident restriction upon “jihad with the tongue” that prevents acts of  verbal resistance by groups of people.

            These various ahadith also give meaning to Allah’s statements (Glory be to Him),

 وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَأُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

“Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity”.(Q 3:104) , and

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ وَلَوْ آمَنَ أَهْلُ الْكِتَابِ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُم مِّنْهُمُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَأَكْثَرُهُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted trans-gressors”.  (Q 3:110)

The very nature of these verses, and their command to “enjoin” and “forbid” is one of non-violent jihad of a verbal nature, incumbent not just on individuals, but the Muslim community.  Ibn Kathir (May Allah be pleased with him) wrote in his famous exegesis,  that such activity “ … calls to righteousness, enjoins all that is good and forbids evil in the manner Allah commanded… Imam Ahmad recorded that Hudhayfah bin Al-Yaman said that the Prophet said,

«وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِه، لَتَأْمُرُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ، وَلَتَنْهَوُنَّ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ، أَوْ لَيُوشِكَنَّ اللهُ أَنْ يَبْعَثَ عَلَيْكُمْ عِقَابًا مِنْ عِنْدِهِ، ثُمَّ لتَدْعُنَّــهُ فَلَا يَسْتَجِيبَ لَكُم»

“By He in Whose Hand is my soul! You will enjoin righteousness and forbid evil, or Allah shall send down a punishment from Him to you. Then, you will supplicate to Him, but He will not accept your supplication” . At-Tirmidhi also collected this Hadith and said, ‘Hasan’. ”

Enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong is the essence of demonstrations and rallies, or should be for Muslims, in many parts of the world where Muslims are either  the majority or the minority, in society. Where they are the majority, Muslims sometimes rally and demonstrate either against evils perpetrated against them by other Muslims who rule in government, or against non-Muslim governments whom they perceive as seeking to oppress them as a nation.

The American tradition is that rallies and demonstrations serve as occasions for people to gather together to stand or sit and listen to speeches, or sometimes march and perhaps shout slogans, amongst other things. Their purpose is organization, education, inspiration and mobilization of the masses, in the struggle for justice, and against injustice. Injustice is clearly haraam (forbidden by Allah), as we learn from the hadith qudsi:

On the authority of Abu Dharr al-Ghifari (may Allah be pleased with him) from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is that among the sayings he relates from his Lord (may He be glorified) is that He said: ‘O My servants, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another’

Such rallies and demonstrations in the U.S. are overwhelmingly neither disorderly nor chaotic. They stem from the disciplined, public demonstrations of the American tradition, upheld  by those often seeking sacred (i.e. human or civil) rights. They are not in and of themselves acts of da’wah, but can and should serve as occasions for it, by Muslims.

Muslims are asked , “Should we participate (meaning is it permissible) in public demonstrations for justice, along with people who are not Muslims? The answer to this lies in the Seerah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Al-Mubarakapuri writes in his famous biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him), entitled The Sealed Nectar :

“Muhammad [pbuh] was hardly fifteen when the “sacrilegious” wars, which continued with varying fortunes and considerable loss of human life for a number of years, broke out between Quraish and Banu Kinana on the one side and Qais Ailan tribe on the other. It was thus called because the inviolables were made violable, the prohibited months being included. Harb bin Omaiyah, on account of his outstanding position and honourable descent, used to be the leader of Quraish and their allies. In one of those battles, the Prophet [pbuh] attended on his uncles but did not raise arms against their opponents. His efforts were confined to picking up the arrows of the enemy as they fell, and handing them over to his uncles. [Ibn Hisham 1/184-187; Qalb Jazeerat Al-Arab p.260]

“At the conclusion of these wars, when peace was restored, people felt the need for forming confederacy at Makkah for suppressing violence and injustice, and vindicating the rights of the weak and the destitute. Representatives of Banu Hashim, Banu Al-Muttalib, Asad bin ‘Abd Al-‘Uzza, Zahrah bin Kilab and Taim bin Murra were called to meet in the habitation of an honourable elderly man called ‘Abdullah bin Jad’an At-Taimy to enter into a confederacy that would provide for the above-mentioned items.

“The Messenger of Allah [pbuh] shortly after he had been honoured with the ministry of Prophethood, witnessed this league and commented on it, with very positive words: ‘I witnessed a confederacy in the house of ‘Abdullah bin Jada’an. It was more appealing to me than herds of cattle. Even now in the period of Islam I would respond positively to attending such a meeting if I were invited”. “

            Thus it is clear that to network with others in pursuit of justice is permissible, though Islamic ethics demand that we do nothing that is contrary to Al-Islam, but rather participate on our own terms, as Muslims. For instance if there are public demonstrations against police abuse of power,  or unjust wars by the American military, there is no prohibition against Muslims lining up their own ranks to walk in the sea of humanity with discipline and fervor, in solidarity with our fellow human beings. Speakers addressing the assembly should include Muslim leaders who bring an Islamic dimension or understanding to the speeches or lectures, while addressing all present. Rallies and demonstrations for justice are not riots, nor acts of anarchy. They are disciplined, communal public expressions.

            Again, Allah (Glory be to Him) said:

“And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive, (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the religion of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); that the Messenger may be a witness for you, and you be witnesses for mankind! So establish regular Prayer, give regular Charity, and hold fast to Allah. He is your Protector – the Best to protect and the Best to help! (Q 22:78)

The Muslim witness should address various dimensions of analysis, promote understanding, and provide solutions to all phases of the problems of human existence, based upon the guidance of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

            Another problem with the original question posed to the scholars is that it is de-contextualized to such an extent that it doesn’t take into account the culture of say, we in America. Public expression of protest against injustice is part of the American way of life. The questioner did the scholar and the public a dis-service by not posing his or her inquiry so as to allow for a nuanced, comprehensive response. This is an error.

            As Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah has written in his essay “Islam and the Cultural Imperative”:

Al-Qarafi, a renowned thirteenth-century jurist, declared similarly: Persons handing down legal judgments while adhering blindly to the texts in their books without regard for the cultural realities of their people are in gross error. They act in contradiction to established legal consensus and are guilty of iniquity and disobedience before God, having no excuse despite their ignorance; for they have taken upon themselves the art of issuing legal rulings without being worthy of that practice.

“Their blind adherence to what is written down in the legal compendia is misguidance in the religion of Islam and utter ignorance of the ultimate objectives behind the rulings of the earlier scholars and great personages of the past whom they claim to be imitating.

“These words resounded well in the ears of Ibn Qayyim, a great jurisconsult and scholar of the following century, who commended al-Qarafi by saying:

‘This is pure understanding of the law. Whoever issues legal rulings to the people merely on the basis of what is transmitted in the compendia despite differences in their customs, usages, times, places, conditions, and the special circumstances of their situations has gone astray and leads others astray. His crime against the religion is greater than the crime of a physician who gives people medical prescriptions without regard to the differences of their climes, norms, the times they live in, and their physical natures but merely in accord with what he finds written down in some medical book about people with similar anatomies. He is an ignorant physician, but the other is an ignorant jurisconsult but much more detrimental’.”

 ( Adil Qutta, Al-Urf, 1:64-65) .

            Americans have rallied and demonstrated over the years to end slavery, stop the legal sale of alcohol , end police brutality and murder of the poor, gain voting rights for citizens, oppose war, close down crack houses, end racism, etc. This is part of the “American way”, to speak out forcefully against injustice.

That isn’t everyone’s experience throughout the world. When scholars claim “Indeed, the concept of demonstrations is a new, modern issue. It was not  known in the time of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم),  nor in the time of the rightly-guided Khalifahs, nor in the time of any of the Companions (رضى الله عنهما)”, that is absolutely true. But then to advise modern youth to follow the path of the best of Muslims (May Allah be pleased with them), without teaching these Muslims or commenting whatsoever on the strife, division and bloodshed which occurred amongst the Salaf,  is not telling the truth. It is concealing it.

            To state that “un-believing governments” don’t “care” about grassroots campaigns and movements is to miss the point, and sounds rather abstract. Advocates for justice don’t want to be liked by those in power. They want justice. The American experience has shown that occasionally public pressure does indeed result in a change of policies, and sometimes a change in leadership. This is true elsewhere in the world as well.

As for Muslim governments abroad, well,  if Muslim leaders could be turned from wrong-doing by just admonishing them from The Book of Allah (Glory be to Him), and the word of His Messenger (peace be upon him), then it would be a very different world, wouldn’t it?

There is no contradiction between the grassroots actions in pursuit of justice, as we have seen in America and mentioned above, and the justice values of  Al-Islam. On the other hand, Muslims should not substitute marches for other strategms, re-action for (proactive) action, nor protest for self-empowerment . Rather, such activities can and should be part of an overall strategic plan for the achievement of justice.

Further, Muslim acts of non-violent resistance should always uphold the special dignity of Al-Islam and its way of life. I say that because sometimes protestors rooted in other ways of life use profanity, sit or lie down in the street ,or on the ground, in un-dignified ways, ort even intentionally expose themselves by removing articles of clothing, etc. Such acts are not in accordance with our standard of comportment as Muslims.

 Lastly, the truth is that there are believers who choose the path of the “weakest of faith” in the cause of justice, and who stay home hating oppression in their hearts. That is their right, but they should not do so thinking that they and their chosen course are virtuous and preferable over that of those who stand up in public and demand justice, or who devote their lives to public activism in the Cause of Allah, for the sake of Muslims and/or all of humanity.

 Nor should they think or declare their brothers and sisters to be mis-guided, nor ignorant of Al-Islam. There is nothing more degrading, destructive, shameful, corrupt or detestable, than oppression and the way that innocent men, women and children are treated by the unjust,  in public and in private. However there are also those of us who prefer what some might view as the indignity  of public demonstrations for justice, over a so-called “dignified” life of oppression.

Allah (Glory be to Him) states:

لاَّ يَسْتَوِي الْقَاعِدُونَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ غَيْرُ أُوْلِي الضَّرَرِ وَالْمُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ فَضَّلَ اللّهُ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِينَ دَرَجَةً وَكُـلاًّ وَعَدَ اللّهُ الْحُسْنَى وَفَضَّلَ اللّهُ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِينَ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا

“Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah, with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons, than to those who sit (at home). Unto all (in Faith) has Allah promised good, but He has distinguished those who strive and fight above those who sit (at home),  by a special reward.” (Q 4:95)

 

 Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid is the religious and spiritual leader of The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. , Amir (leader) of the Harlem Shura, and a Deputy Amir of both the Majlis Ash-Shura (Islamic Leadership Council) of NY, and the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA)

 

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Filed under: American Muslims, Fatwas and American Muslims, Muslim Thought, Social Justice, , , ,

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