Protests, Demonstrations and Civil Disobedience in the Light of Islam (Ethics 3.8)

The photograph above shows protestors in Egpyt during the “Arab Spring” in 2011.

Objectives: Understanding protest and Muslim attitudes to protest.

Protest: An action to show disagreement with something, for example, government policy.

Why people protest?

A protest is any action an individual or group may take to draw attention to an issue or cause in which they believe. Protests usually arise when people feel an injustice has occurred.

People protest against injustice in many different ways. This ranges from writing letters, boycotting products and joining protest groups to even breaking the law and going to prison. People may decide on some kind of public protest because they feel they have no other way to make their voices heard. It is a way to attract media attention and make other people aware of the issue. Protestors may think that it is right to stand up for what they believe. Sometimes people may believe that it is the only way to bring about change or correct something that is wrong. 

Non-violent protests involve methods of protesting that do not cause harm to others or damage to property. These can be simple actions such as signing a petition, writing to an MP or opting not to buy goods and services from a particular company or country. Other forms of non-violent protests may involve more direct action: street marches, sit-ins (occupying a building or space), refusing to work such as strike action or causing disruption such as blocking roads. These actions can be frustrating for individuals and companies who are affected by protests, but no direct physical harm to people is caused.

Some protestors feel that non-violent actions such as these are not enough. They believe that they the only way their concerns will be heard is if they use more extreme forms of protest. This can include methods that are intended to intimidate others and force change. They believe direct violence against others and property will change public opinion. However, this change may only be achieved due to fear of violence, not because the people necessarily agree.

Islamic viewpoint:

Muslims must be guided by the Quran and Sunnah in all their activities from the mundane to the most serious. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) taught his Ummah (nation) every affair that would bring them closer to success in this life and Paradise in the next, and he warned them from every affair that would harm them and bring them closer to Hell.

When a Muslim sees injustice, he has been guided by the revealed texts to act appropriately. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Help the oppressed and the oppressor.” When it was said to him that it is correct that the oppressed should be helped, but how does one help the oppressor?! He responded: “Stop him and prevent him from oppression, and that is helping him.”

He also said: “Whoever among you sees an evil, let him stop it with his hand. If he is not able, let him stop it by speaking. If he is not able, let him at least hate it with his heart for that is the weakest of faith (Imaan).”

However, there are some mighty principles that go along with these Prophetic narrations to avoid anarchy and disorder in societies. For example, if one’s mother and father are involved in drinking wine or smoking and gambling, it is not permitted to physically assault them or to harm them under the guise that one is forbidding evil!

Another example is that if a burglar breaks into one’s house, it is not permissible to pursue him and imprison him in a homemade prison or carry out the prescribed punishment upon him.

On the other hand, a father and mother may physically withhold their children from taking drugs, stealing or smoking, by rebuking them. Likewise, a ruler and his appointed courts may sentence criminals and punish them because they have an Islamic duty to do so. Many Muslims and non-Muslims misunderstand the Islamic texts and think that any person can do whatever they wish to correct wrongs in society by “any means necessary”. This is wrong and in contradiction to other explanatory texts.

The Messenger of Allah said: “If one of you sees something from the ruler that he hates, let him not publicise it.” This is a clear hadeeth forbidding openly protesting (even publicly speaking) against the ruler. Then he gave the Muslims a method of correcting the ruler: “Rather you should take the ruler by his hand and advise him. If he accepts the advice, then that is good. If he refuses, then you have fulfilled your duty.” In another narration, he said: “The martyr is the one who speaks a word of truth in the presence of the tyrannical ruler for which he is killed.”

These authentic narrations make it very clear that the ruler should only be advised in his presence and NOT in public. So, one may write to the ruler with gentle words advising him with correct conduct. The Messenger (peace be upon him) never ever protested in the streets of Makkah though he and his companions were oppressed and persecuted for 13 years in Makkah. They never once blocked the streets, participated in sit-ins, or plotted assassinations. However, the Prophet would constantly advise them and remind them of their duty to their Lord and the impending Day of Judgement wherein Allah would call them to account.

So to oppose this methodology is to oppose the Prophet (peace be upon him) as he himself said: “Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not from me.” He also said: “You will have rulers over you who will not follow my Sunnah, nor my guidance. There will be amongst them men who will have the hearts of devils in the bodies of humans.” When asked how one is to behave towards such oppressive Muslim rulers, he responded: “Listen and obey the ruler, even if he takes your wealth and beats you in your back. Listen and obey.”

So patience is very important in times of hardship. There is tremendous wisdom behind this because of the great bloodshed and anarchy that results in standing up against those in authority. Furthermore, it is a reminder that the Muslims are only ruled by those they deserve and the leaders are merely a reflection of society. So Allah gives good people a good ruler and wicked people a wicked ruler as the great scholars such as Ibnul-Qayyim, Ibn Bāz and Al-Albāni have stated. So protests, demonstrations and rising up against the rulers and those in authority are not allowed in Islam.

A case study of a deviated innovator calling to his innovation: The misguided preacher, Yasir Qadhi (from the US) stated in opposition to the Qur’an, Sunnah and the ijmā’, and in contradiction of the fatāwa the major scholars of Hadīth and Sunnah: “I say this loud and clear: as Allah is my witness, my heart jumped for joy as I heard news of these protests, and saw the masses of Egyptians pour out onto the streets, wanting positive change, tired of the puppet-regime that had ruled them for three decades, confronting tanks with their bodies, prostrating to Allah in front of the troops even as they are doused with water guns. How can the heart of ANY believer not be overjoyed seeing the courage that the average Muslim has in opposing the tyrannical regimes that they are living under?” [1]

As for the duty of forbidding evil and how it is to be carried out, then the principle is as follows:

1. Forbidding evil with the hand is for the rulers and those in authority such as the courts and the police appointed by the ruler.

2. Forbidding evil with speech is for the scholars of Sunnah and those with knowledge (and not pretenders who claim they know!).

3. Hating evil with one’s heart is for everyone to whom the truth has reached from the general folk.

As for boycotting products and goods, then one should only do so if the ruler has commanded with that or the great scholars of Sunnah with the authority given to them by the Muslim rulers. Writing to advise the oppressive ruler should be done in private whilst showing gentleness and concern, free from rude and wicked speech. Also one may approach a government minister or scholar who can in turn advise those in authority. A worker may approach his employer directly, or complain to the leaders in government about mistreatment. This is the balanced and orderly method of rectification whilst maintaining patience and supplicating to Allah.  

One can see the evil effects of following a methodology that opposes the Quran and Sunnah in the “Arab Spring” which began in Tunisia (in 2011) with an Islamically forbidden act of suicide (a man burned himself alive as an act of protest) and then these protests spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and other countries that resulted in anarchy, mass killing of civilians and the general collapse of Muslim societies.

People were deceived into thinking they were doing a religious act approved of by the Quran and Sunnah. Since then, hundreds of thousands have died (and continue to do so), millions are homeless, schools and hospitals are bombed, and thousands imprisoned. Knowledgeable Muslims say: This is a clear proof that abandoning the guidance of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and resorting to direct public protests only brings about greater harm. One can see the many terrorist groups have arisen in the wake of the “Arab Spring” such that no right-minded person looks upon those protests except with sadness and regret.  And let us not forgot that these protests were condoned, justified and supported by many “liberals” and ignorant Muslims.

Further useful reading from this website:

“Muslims are oppressed around the world but the Salafis refuse to protest in the streets and boycott goods. Why?!”

Questions:

  1. Prove that protests are not supported by the Quran and Sunnah and that they only bring about more harm upon the Muslims. Use the “Arab Spring” as proof.
  2. What are the methods that the religion allows to show one’s disapproval to oppression.   
  3. What are negative effects of protesting?
  4. Why do you think the Prophet and companions never went out marching in the streets of Makkah with placards and shouting out for justice?
  5. “Muslims should engage in speaking publicly against the rulers from the pulpits and call for their downfall” – Do you agree? Is this allowed?

Footnotes:

[1] Published January 31, 2011, by muslimmatters.org/2011/01/31/yasir-qadhi-a-brief-statement-regarding-the-situation-in-egypt/

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