With all the recent revolutionary events that have been filling the headlines and causing upheaval in the world - from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Yemen to Bahrain – we find many conflicting and even contradictory stances depending on who is being asked.
If you ask the people of the Gulf States, the majority will say they support the government of Bahrain using force to quell its rebellion, but they stand against the governments of Libya, Iran and Syria from quelling their rebellions. If you ask the people of Iran, they support the rebellion in Bahrain but not in Syria or Iran – and so on and so forth with different answers coming from as many people as asked.
What we, as Muslims, are concerned with is “what is the Quran’s view on such matters” as our only legitimate source of law are the words of the Almighty – our Lord and Master.
Types of Government in the Qur'an
In reviewing this subject, the first point that became apparent was that many people, including students of the Scripture, are under the misconception that only a certain “type” of government can be acceptable. If the person speaking is a Sunni, then he/she will only advocate the “Khilafa” as the type of government sanctioned by God while all other are null & void. If the speaker is a Shite, then the government of “Wilayat Al-Faqeeh” is the only acceptable form. Similarly, ask a person from Europe/North America and he/she will tell you that only a democracy can be legitimate, and so on and so forth.
Although the Qur’an gives details of the most “perfect” system of government based on a Council appointed leadership, what we find is that other systems, even though despised, are acceptable to work within, from Kingdoms to group democracy:
12:54-55 And the king said: “Bring him to me so that I may employ him to my person.” So when he spoke to him, he said: “Today you are with us in a high standing and trusted.” He said: “Appoint me over the granaries of the land, for I know how to keep records and I am knowledgeable.”
Here we have the Prophet Joseph not only living under a Monarchial system of government, but he even takes employment directly under the King – and invites his entire family to come and join him under such system (12:99).
27:23 “I found them ruled by a woman, and she was given all possessions, and she had a great throne.”
27:32 She said: “O commanders, advise me in this matter of mine, for I will not take a decision until you give testimony.”
Also we have the example of Sheba, which was ruled by a woman who participated in Council leadership and whose rule was kept in-tact by Prophet Solomon.
Therefore, according to the Qur’an, any type of government that has been formed is acceptable, as long as it has “legitimacy”.
Legitimacy of Governments
If all types of government are acceptable, then the question arises: How, according to the Qur’an, can a ruler/government gain legitimacy and be acceptable?
A study of the Scripture shows at least three ways that a government/ruler can obtain legitimacy according to the laws of God:
- Direct appointment by God.
- Inheriting authority from a legitimate government/ruler.
- Creating legitimacy through a pledge of allegiance from the population.
2:247 And their prophet said to them: “God has sent Saul to you as a king.” They said: “How can he have the kingship when we are more deserving than him, and he has not been given an abundance of wealth?” He said: “God has chosen him over you and increased him in knowledge and physical stature.” God grants His sovereignty to whom He chooses; and God is Encompassing, Knowledgeable.
In the example above, we find that the Prophet of Israel decreed for them that God has chosen Saul as their King; to which the Israelites objected and it was explained to them why God had favored Saul over them – this Kingship was then passed on by God to David (2:251).
27:16 And Solomon inherited from David, and he said: “O people, we have been taught how to understand the speech of the creatures that fly, and we have been given from everything. This is indeed an evident grace.”
In the second example above, we see how legitimacy can be passed on as in the case of Solomon inheriting the kingship from David.
48:10 Those who pledge allegiance to you, are in-fact pledging allegiance to God; the hand of God is above their hands. Those of them who violate such a pledge, are violating it only for themselves. And whoever fulfills what he has pledged to God, then He will grant him a great re ward.
The third form of legitimacy comes from an “oath of allegiance” that a government/ruler obtains from his/her people such as in the case of the Prophet Mohammed.
Under such settings, if a government/ruler has legitimacy to begin with, then the actions available at their disposable become far more encompassing…And, obedience of such government becomes a requirement rather than an option:
4:59 O you who believe, obey God and obey the messenger and those in authority among you. But if you dispute in any matter, then you shall refer it to God and His messenger if you believe in God and the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for knowing.
Legitimate Governments Fighting Rebellion
As stated, in the case where a government/ruler has been legitimized, then breaking the oaths of allegiance and fighting against such a government or working towards its downfall is considered a crime with authority granted to the government to retaliate in force:
9:13 Would you not fight a people who broke their oaths and intended to expel the messenger, especially while they were the ones who attacked you first? Are you concerned about them? It is God who is more deserving that you be concerned with if you are believers.
In-fact, a large portion of Sura 9 deals exactly with this issue where people who have broken their oath of allegiance are given a severe warning after which use of force is authorized (note: the Qur’an treats all such rebels with the same law and does not segregate between “armed” and “unarmed” rebels as we see in today’s politicians and media).
9:5 So when the restricted months have passed, then you may kill the polytheists wherever you find them, and take them, and surround them, and stand against them at every point. If they repent, and they hold the contact prayer, and they contribute towards purification, then you shall leave them alone. God is Forgiving, Merciful.
More so, the laws of the Qur’an and dealing with such rebellions maybe extended to the law of fighting corruption in the land” which stipulates that those who fight the authority of a legitimate government and set-out to make corruption in the land maybe dealt with extreme severity:
5:33 The recompense of those who fight God and His messenger, and seek to make corruption in the land, is that they will be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from alternate sides or that they be banished from the land; that is a disgrace for them in this world and in the Hereafter they will have a great retribution.
Challenging a Legitimate Government
How then, can a person living under a legitimate government that has become no longer acceptable to that individual or group enact a change?
According to the Qur’an, we find two ways that this situation is to be dealt with:
- Advising from within.
The first point is clearly repeated in many verses in the Qur’an. If a person/group are unable to live under a system of government, and even if they are being oppressed, then “emigration” is the suggested solution.
4:97-98 Those whose lives are terminated by the angels, while they had wronged themselves; they said: “What situation were you in?” They said: “We were oppressed on the earth.” They said: “Was the earth of God not wide enough that you could emigrate in it?” To these their abode will be Hell; what a miserable destiny! Except for those who were oppressed from the men, women, and children who could not devise a plan nor could be guided to a way.
4:100 Whoever emigrates in the cause of God will find in the earth many spoils and a bounty. And whoever leaves his home emigrating to God and His messenger, then is overcome by death; his recompense has fallen to God, and God is Forgiving, Merciful.
16:41 And those who have emigrated for God, after they were oppressed, We will grant them good in the world, and the reward of the Hereafter will be greater, if only they knew.
The above verses, as well as many others, all highlight that emigration is the act of a Submitter, even in the face of oppression. In-fact, the Qur’an even goes further to lay blame at the feet of those who were oppressed but did not emigrate that they have no argument for remaining in such a situation and that they should have sought the wide ranging lands of God’s Earth.
In-fact, we have an example in God’s messenger who himself emigrated from his people 33:50 (as did Abraham and Lot 29:26) rather than seeking a confrontation or attempting to change their people by force or pressure.
Looking further into the Qur’an, we find a live example in the story of Moses, who, in dealing with the subject of his people’s oppression at the hands of Pharaoh and his Commanders, seeks to emigrate with them from the land of Egypt – no revolution, no uprising, no marches, no sit-in’s, no demonstrations…
7:104-105 And Moses said: “O Pharaoh, I am a messenger from the Lord of the worlds. It is not proper for me to say about God except the truth; I have come to you with a proof from your Lord. So send with me the Children of Israel.”
It was the arrogance of Pharaoh in refusing to let the Children of Israel emigrate that causes God (not the people) to destroy him and his army by drowning in the sea.
2:49-50 And We saved you from the people of Pharaoh, they were afflicting you with the worst punishment; they used to slaughter your children, and rape your women. In that was a great test from your Lord. And We parted the sea for you, thus We saved you and drowned the people of Pharaoh while you were watching.
The second point for change that has been sanctioned by God is “Advising from within”.
40:28 And a believing man from among the people of Pharaoh, who had concealed his belief, said: “Will you kill a man simply for saying: ‘My Lord is God’, and he has come to you with proofs from your Lord? And if he is a liar, then his lie will be upon him, and if he is truthful, then some of what he is promising you will afflict you. For God does not guide any transgressor, liar.”
11:84 And to Midyan was their brother Shu’ayb, he said: “My people, serve God, you have no god besides Him, and do not give short in the measure and the weight. I see you in prosperity, and I fear for you the retribution of a day that is surrounding.”
7:79 Thus he turned away from them, and said: “My people, I have delivered to you the message of my Lord and advised you; but you do not like the advisers.”
As Submitters, we are given leeway to advise and speak against wrong doing, but such action may not spill over into civil disobedience or violence or any such political actions as we see – nor can such action be a challenge against the obedience of those in authority.
Challenging an Illegitimate Government
This point is the simplest to deal with, as, in the case of a government which is illegal, or one of occupation, then populace have the authority granted to them by God to fight such a government/system until their own legitimate government/authority is reinstated.
2:190-191 And fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not aggress, God does not love the aggressors. And kill them wherever you encounter them, and expel them from where they expelled you, and know that persecution is worse than being killed. And do not fight them at the Restricted Temple unless they fight you in it; if they fight you then kill them, thus is the recompense of the rejecters.
8:65 O prophet, urge the believers to fight. If there are twenty of you who are patient, they will defeat two hundred. And if there are one hundred of you, they will defeat one thousand from among those who reject; that is because they are a people who do not understand.
In-fact, fighting is not only an option in these cases, but rather it becomes an obligation.
In re-examining current events in the light of the Qur’an, we will find that our opinions and conclusions may differ greatly from that of the public or the media. However, Submitters, we should always be concerned with upholding God’s law than that of man.
The path of civil disobedience (even if non-violent) is not our path – the path of rebellion is not our path – the path of making corruption in the land for worldly gains is not our path…Ours is the path of establishing our own community/society or working and living within the structures that already exist – while trying our best to uphold justice even if at only the personal level
As always, the best path and judgment to follow can only be that of God…
5:49-50 And judge between them by what God has sent down, and do not follow their desires, and beware lest they divert you away from some of what God has sent down to you. If they turn away, then know that God wants to inflict them with some of their sins; and many of the people are wicked. Is it the judgment of the days of ignorance that they seek? Who is better than God as a judge for a people who comprehend?
Written for www.free-minds.org