Oppression is Not Removed by Force

Hasan al-Basri said:

“The oppression of kings is from the punishment of Allah the Almighty. And the punishment of Allah cannot be warded off by swords. Verily, safety and warding off are only realized by means of supplication, turning to Allah in repentance and abstaining from sins.” [1]

Reflection: This is a timeless quote that delivers an important perspective in times like these, where Muslims are being oppressed all over the world. Many people might think that this quote encourages a passive approach which isn’t applicable to our time, as our reality is different and we need to take direct action, often through force, to change it. Others might understand the quote as something related to the individual, and fail to see the role of the community in taking the means to ward off these tribulations.

As always the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes.

The direct action based approach usually encourages an understanding, that the oppression and political crisis of the Ummah is caused by the lack of a material entity to support the Muslims, usually in the form of a caliphate. With a caliphate they say, we would be able to remove the oppression and guarantee the wellbeing of the Ummah. There is definitely some truth to this, as many of the classical scholars have pointed out that the tribulations will be inflicted upon the Ummah once they are without a Caliph to manage their affairs.

That being said, a caliphate has conditions and necessities before it can be established. It needs competent scholars to guide it’s affairs. It needs a material force able to withstand attacks from enemy nations. It needs economy and resources to sustain it’s population, without relying on foreign powers. And it needs a population who are spiritually mature enough to follow Islam, accept it’s rulings being implemented on them and potentially sacrifice their lives for it.

As many of our scholars have pointed out, our reality is very far from the above-mentioned. We have a major lack of scholars and usually the ones who pursue that path are the less competent students, who didn’t have the grades to enter medicine or engineering. We have Muslim nations with fragile economies and infra-structure, who are reliant on foreign powers to sustain their military might. Many of them have a hard time even supplying their populations with basic needs like water and electricity. And when it comes to Islam, huge parts of the Ummah are struggling with their individual obligations like prayer, fasting etc. and even more are influenced by thoughts of nationalism and Western culture. [2]

Especially after the Arab Spring, polls have shown a major decline in religiosity as many people are disappointed by the performance of Islamic parties once they came into power. The same goes for many of the brothers and sisters who left to join ISIS and other rebel groups, some of whom ended up leaving Islam completely in the end. They left for what they thought was an Islamic state, but later realized that what they arrived to was neither Islamic, nor a state. [3] This shows just how dangerous it can be to claim you’re implementing Islam and then fail to deliver.

With many Muslims resorting to material action, others flee to the mosques and homes to isolate themselves and guard their religion until Allah relieves them of the situation. Their intentions are praiseworthy, like many of the people in the first group, but the approach is skewed towards an individual understanding of Islam, which might worsen the issues we face.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

The parable of those who respect the limits of Allah and those who violate them is that of people who board a ship after casting lots, some of them residing in its upper deck and others in its lower deck. When those in the lower deck want water, they pass by the upper deck and say: If we tear a hole in the bottom of the ship, we will not harm those above us. If those in the upper deck let them do what they want, then they will all be destroyed together. If they restrain them, then they will all be saved together.” [4]

This hadith is a profound example of the wisdom of the Prophet (ﷺ), when he described the community as a ship with the righteous people on top and the disobedient ones at the bottom. If the righteous people have an individual understanding of Islam and are ignorant and passive in regards to the evils committed by the people on the lower deck, the ship will sink – i.e. the community will collapse. This is because Allah only punishes a community after sins become widespread and they have left the Sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ), even if righteous individuals remain amongst them.

Striking the balance: The hadith shows the importance of interacting with and reforming society, whilst guarding one’s own religion. So if we return to the quote of Hasan al-Basri, we should implement the approach he is recommending, not only as individuals, but as a community as well. We need to take action, not by force, but by changing the evils we see in our societies and by building strong Muslim communities. Obviously the individuals efforts to do this depend on his knowledge, capability and many other factors.

To know how we ourselves can contribute, we are often best off asking someone knowledgeable in our community after making sure they don’t represent one of the two extremes mentioned earlier. Furthermore, we should keep studying Islam to learn what we need to change and how to bring about that change.

Don’t forget that your efforts in this regard might help us learn the lesson Hasan al-Basri mentioned and be a cause for Allah to relieve the Ummah of it’s trials.


[1] Adab al-Hasan al-Basri, page 115 by Ibn Jawzi (Unfortunately this book hasn’t been translated yet)

[2] https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2017/11/02/despots-are-pushing-the-arab-world-to-become-more-secular

[3] The authority of ISIS wasn’t Islamic for several reasons which has been mentioned by the scholars and can be found in several articles and videos (have a look at seekershub.org for example). There’s no doubt that many articles from Western media contains propaganda, but the sheer amount of stories from countless sources makes it unlikely that everything is fake, as some supporters of ISIS might claim. Why they weren’t a state is judged by looking at the reality of states in our times. We cannot say that the requirements of a state in terms of resources and area is decided by comparing it to the Islamic state of Medina, during the Prophets () time, just as we can’t say that 313 men with arms, in our times, would be considered an army, even though that was the amount of the Muslim army in the battle of Badr (we would most likely refer to that amount as a rebel group, gang or mob in our times). The fact that ISIS didn’t have an air force for example, and thereby couldn’t protect their territorial integrity so enemy plans could strike wherever they wanted to, whenever they wanted to, is vital in judging if what they had was a state or not. This understanding is an important principle in Usul al-Fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence) that should be kept in mind, as it’s likely ISIS won’t be the last to claim they have established an Islamic state, when this is not the case.

[4] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, hadith number 2361

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