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Conditions of Revolt
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

Muslims are required by their religion to submit to the authority of the country they live in. They must comply with their rulers and not create chaos in anyway. The Qur’ān directs them to follow those in authority after following Allah and the Prophet (sws) in the following words:

يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ (٥٩:٤)

Obey God and the Prophet and those of you who are in authority. (4:59)

As a natural corollary to this directive, they must cling to state authority in all circumstances. ‘الجماعة’ (al-Jamā‘ah) and ‘السلطان’ (al-Sultān) are the two terms which the Prophet (sws) has used for the state. He has instructed Muslims never to detach themselves from state authority. And if anyone does so, it is as if he has left Islam and a Muslim who dies in this state is as if he died the death of Jāhiliyyah (the days of the age of ignorance that prevailed in Arabia at the advent of Islam). He is reported to have said:

مَنْ رَأَى مِنْ أَمِيرِهِ شَيْئًا يَكْرَهُهُ فَلْيَصْبِرْ عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ فَارَقَ الْجَمَاعَةَ شِبْرًا فَمَاتَ إِلَّا مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً (بخاري: رقم ٧٠٥٤)

He who sees something despicable in his ruler should bear it, for he who even slightly disassociates himself from the state system and dies in this condition shall die the death of ignorance. (Bukhārī: No. 7054)

Another text of this Hadīth reads:

مَنْ كَرِهَ مِنْ أَمِيرِهِ شَيْئًا فَلْيَصْبِرْ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ خَرَجَ مِنْ السُّلْطَانِ شِبْرًا مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً. (بخاري: رقم ٧٠٥٣)

He who sees something despicable in his ruler should bear it for he who even slightly disassociates himself from the obedience of the sovereign crown and dies in this condition shall die the death of ignorance. (Bukhārī: No. 7053)

Consequently, Muslims should be law abiding citizens of their country. They must be custodians of the law and follow it in letter and spirit. They must never breach the laws enacted by their elected representatives. Islam requires them to obey the law even if they find that obeying the law would increase their hardships and even if they are deprived of their rights. Such is the importance of obeying the law of the land in Islam that the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:

عَلَيْكَ السَّمْعَ وَالطَّاعَةَ فِي عُسْرِكَ وَيُسْرِكَ وَمَنْشَطِكَ وَمَكْرَهِكَ وَأَثَرَةٍ عَلَيْكَ (مسلم: رقم ١٨٣٦)

It is your duty to listen and obey your rulers whether you are in difficulty or at ease, whether willingly or unwillingly and even when you do not receive what is your right. (Muslim: No. 1836)

However, a stage may come when Muslims have been given the permission to rise against their government in the form of a public rebellion. This rebellion can take two forms:

1. The rebels refuse to submit to the authority of the state and in doing so remain peaceful and patiently bear any aggression of the government that they may encounter as a result.

2. The rebels resort to militancy and armed warfare.

Islam imposes certain conditions on both these options. Before these conditions are explained, it needs to be appreciated that rebelling against Muslim rulers even when all the conditions are fulfilled never becomes obligatory upon Muslims. They can still choose to live under their rule.

We now turn to the these conditions:

Case 1

If the first course outlined above is adopted then the following three conditions are required to be fulfilled.

Firstly, the rulers of the Muslims are guilty of openly and deliberately denying Islam or any of its directives.Ubādah Ibn Sāmit reports:

دَعَانَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَبَايَعْنَاهُ فَكَانَ فِيمَا أَخَذَ عَلَيْنَا أَنْ بَايَعَنَا  عَلَى  السَّمْعِ وَالطَّاعَةِ فِي  مَنْشَطِنَا وَمَكْرَهِنَا وَعُسْرِنَا وَيُسْرِنَا وَأَثَرَةٍ عَلَيْنَا وَأَنْ لَا نُنَازِعَ الْأَمْرَ أَهْلَهُ قَالَ إِلَّا أَنْ تَرَوْا كُفْرًا بَوَاحًا عِنْدَكُمْ مِنْ اللَّهِ فِيهِ بُرْهَانٌ (مسلم: رقم ١٧٠٩)

The Prophet called us to pledge allegiance to him which we did. We had been asked to pledge to the following: We shall listen and obey whether willingly or unwillingly whether we are in difficulty or at ease, and even when we do not receive what is your right and that we shall not contest the authority of our rulers. The Prophet of God said: You can only rise against them if you witness outright Kufr in any matter from them, in which you have a clear evidence from God. (Muslim: No. 1709)

The underlined portion of the Hadīth, which states this condition of rebellion, is actually based on 4:59 quoted earlier. Muslims are asked to obey their ‘Muslim’ rulers. This is indicated by the word ‘منكم’ (minkum: among you) which qualifies the word ‘اولو الامر’ (ūlu’l-amr: those in authority) in the verse. The implication being that they are required to obey the rulers as long as they remain Muslims. However, if these Muslim rulers do something which violates their status as Muslims, then these rulers are no longer required to be obeyed. In other words, only rulers who deny the requisites of being a Muslim in spite of being convinced about them are the ones who are actually implied here. Anything less than this does not suffice for the Muslims to rise against them.

Secondly, Muslims are not democratically able to change their rulers. The basis of this condition is found in the Qur’ānic directive of ‘امرهم شورى بينهم’1 (amruhum shūrā baynahum: Their system is based on their consultation). According to this directive, the rulers of Muslims should be democratically elected to office. Consequently, if Muslims are able to change their leadership by democratic means, resorting to rebellion and revolt is actually a violation of this principle. It amounts to revolt against the masses and not the rulers. This, according to the Sharī‘ah, is spreading disorder in the land and is punishable by death in the most exemplary manner. The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:

مَنْ أَتَاكُمْ وَأَمْرُكُمْ جَمِيعٌ عَلَى رَجُلٍ وَاحِدٍ يُرِيدُ أَنْ يَشُقَّ عَصَاكُمْ أَوْ يُفَرِّقَ جَمَاعَتَكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُ. (مسلم: رقم ١٨٥٢)

You are organized under the rule of a person and someone tries to break your collectivity apart or disrupt your government, execute him. (Muslim: No. 1852)

Thirdly, those who are undertaking this uprising are in majority and united under the leadership of one person. The basis of this condition also exists in the verse referred to above (42:38). In fact, it as a natural corollary of the principle stated in the verse: only the person who has the mandate of the majority is their legitimate ruler. If the person who is leading the uprising has the clear backing of the majority behind him, it means that the previous one has lost his mandate to rule. The majority is now willing to accept a new person in his place.

Case 2

If the second course is adopted, then besides the above mentioned three conditions, a fourth one must also be fulfilled: those take up arms in revolt must establish their government in an independent piece of land. There is a consensus among all authorities of Islam that only an Islamic State has the authority to wage a militant struggle. No group, party or organization has the authority to lift arms.2

It is evident from this discussion that if Muslims intend to rise and rebel against their government they must fulfill certain conditions. If they do not do so, they have no right whatsoever to publicly refuse submission to their rulers. Moreover, even in the worst of circumstances, rebellion never becomes obligatory.






1. 42:38

2. For details see the article ‘No Jihād without the State’ that appears in this issue

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