Protests & Demonstrations in the Light of the Quran & Sunnah

Recent events both on the national and international scenes have stirred up an issue which is connected to the practice of our faith as Muslims. The 'Arab' Spring' and the fuel subsidy protest have occurred in the context of leaders' oppressive policies and the massive discontentment of the led with these policies. This has pushed to the fore the issue of the relationship between the leaders and the led. How should we deal with repressive governments and oppressive government policies within the dictates of our religion? Does our religion permit us to rise in demonstration and protest against constituted authorities?

No doubt, this is an issue that many people feel strongly about. Nevertheless, emotion has never been the yardstick for the correctness or otherwise of any action, at least not in Islaam.

Allaah says: 

"... it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a ,thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know." (Q2[Baqarah}:216)


The prerogative for determining the correctness of action lies solely with Allaah and His Messenger and as Muslims, it should remain so in all matters however strongly we feel about it. Allaah says: 

"it is not for a believer, man or woman, when  Allaah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allaah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed in a plain Error."(Q33[Ahzab}:36)


So, within the context of the Sharee'ah, are there bases for protests and demonstrations? Does Islam permit publicly criticizing the leader who has authority over the .people through write-ups and other forms of mobilizing public opinion. Is it permissible for the Muslim to engage in public protests, demonstrations and confrontations against constituted authority?

What is established from the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam ) and the explanations of the scholars of the Ummah is that protests are basically prohibited on the following grounds.

It Violates the Right of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) to be Obeyed:

Allah the Mighty and Sublime has sent His Messenger, Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi  wa sallam), and conferred on him, the right that his instructions should be obeyed and followed. He the Exalted said:

'and whatsoever the Messenger (Muhammad) gives you, take it; and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain from it. And fear Allah ... " (Q[Hashr}:7)

Protests and demonstrations against constituted authority is violation of this right! Abdullaah bin Mas'ood reported that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said, ''After me, there shall be deprivation (of rights) and things that you will dislike." They asked, "0 Messenger of Allaah! What do you order us to do (then)?" He answered,

"Fulfill the rights oveyou and ask Allah for that which is for you. "(Bukhari)

Concerning this hadeeth,Shaykh al-Islam IbnTaimiyyah (RA) said:

"The Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) has said that the leaders will be unfair and will do detestable things. Yet, he ordered us to give them their rights and ask Allah for our rights. He did not allow us to take the rights through fight  neither did he permit us not to give them their rights." (Minhaaj as-Sunnoh [3/372]).

In another report from Hudhayfah bin al-Yaman (RA), the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said,

''After me, there will be leaders who will not rule according to my guidance and will not follow my path. There will be amongst them men whose hearts are those of the devils in the body of humans. "

Hudhayfah asked, "What should I do - 0 Messenger of Allah - if I am "alive then?" He answered,

"Listen to and obey the leader. Even if your back is beaten and your wealth is taken; listen and obey." (Muslim)

Unequivocally, the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) ordered that Muslims should in the face of the leader's injustice

a) ask Allah for their needs and

b) hold back and be patient.

Umar bin al-Khattab said to Suwayd bin Gafalah: "Perhaps you may live after me. Obey the leader even if he be an Abyssinian slave. If he beats you, be patient and if he deprives you, be patient. If he invites you to" something that reduces your worldly status, say: ' I hear and obey, my blood is lesser than my religion.''' (Ash-Sharee'ah)

These points are also highlighted in the following narrations from Imam Hasan al-Basree. He said:

"You should know - may Allah preserve you - that the oppression of the leaders is one of the punishments from Allah the exalted, and the punishment of Allah cannot be faced with the sword. It is only avoided and removed through  supplications, repentance, turning to Allah and abstaining from sins. When Allah's punishment is faced with the sword, it becomes more severe." (Aadaab al-Hasan al-Basree Ii IbnJawzee)

It Encourages Disobedience to Constituted Authority

The leader in authority over the people has the right to be obeyed when he commands good and not to be disobeyed as long as he does not order us to do what Allaah prohibits or leave what He, the Exalted orders. Allah's Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said,

"Listen and obey the leaders during difficulty or ease, in what you dislike and when he deprives you. Do not contest the affair with its people even if you think (i.e. you believe that you have) a right in the matter; do not act upon that believe. You should rather listen and obey until it gets to you without you defying obedience (to authority) – in another version it adds - even if they eat your wealth and beat your back. "(Bukhari, Ahmad and IbnHibban.Fath al-Baaree (13/ II ).)


The leader's usurpation of the wealth of the followers is – no doubt -a great sin and injustice, but it does not - based on this hadeeth and others in its meaning justify denying his right to be listened to and obeyed in goodness and not to contest authority with him. This is the ruling of Allaah's Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and his wise politics (Hukm al- Mudhaahaaraat Ii Abdil-Malik ar- Ramadaanee).

Thus, Imam an-Nawawee explained,

"As for rising against them and fighting them, it is Haraam, prohibited by consensus of the (scholars of the) Muslims even if they (i.e. the leaders) are sinful oppressors. The ahaadeeth have plainly proven what I have said and the Ahl as-Sunnah.are agreed that the authority is not removed because of sinfulness."(Sharh an-Nawawee)

Evidently, this right is violated during protests and public demonstrations.

In fact, "Civil Disobedience" in its various forms is not just defiance to constituted authority, it goes to pressurize or coerce constituted authority to accept its view - good or bad!

It Involves Cursing and Disgracing Authority

Anas bin Malik served the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) for ten years living under his tutelage. He said, "Our elders among the Companions of the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) forbade us from cursing our leaders.

Do not deceive them nor disobey them. Be patient and fear Allaah the Mighty and Sublime for the matter is near." (lbn Abee 'Aasim, Ibn Hibban inAth-Thiqaat)

They would also disallow the leaders to be abused or mentioned to be disgraced.  Ziyad bin Kusayb al- 'Adawee said, "I was with Abu Bakrah (RA) below Ibn 'Aamir's mimbar while he was giving a sermon wearing a pricely cloth. So Abu Bilal (a Kharijite) said, 'Look at our leader wearing the cloth of the sinful!' Thereupon, Abu Bakrah retorted, 'Be silent! I heard the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) say, 

"Whoever degrades the one made a leader on the earth by Allah, Allah will disgrace him.' " (Tirmidhi)

Unfortunately, protesters and demonstrators abuse and curse their adversaries vociferously. They change from one slogan of insult and curse for constituted authority to the other.

Abu Muslim al-Khawlaanee (RAH) said about the leader,

"He is like you but he is only made leader over you. If he is well guided, you should give thanks to Allah. But if he acts otherwise, pray for him to be guided and do not oppose him else you will go astray." (AI-Khallaal in As-Sunnah)

Similarly, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (RAH) said about the leader,

"I will certainly pray for him to be rightly guided; successful and strengthened, day and night. I consider that obligatory on me." (AI-Khallaal in As- Sunnah)

It Violates the Right of the Community to Safety of Life and Property

The Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) forbade frightening people, causing fear, and acts of ruthlessness in the community. He said:

 "It is not lawful for a Muslim to frighten another Muslim." (Abu Dawud)

At 'Arafah during his farewell pilgrimage, Allah's Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) addressed the people saying:

 "Indeed, the blood, wealth and honor of each of you are sacred as the sacredness of this Day, in this Month and in this City. .. (Bukhari)

On the other hand, protests disturb the peace of the community. It impedes the people in their normal businesses. When they are able to, it comes with added difficulties of different kinds depending on the form of "Civil Disobedience" employed by the protesters and demonstrators. In many cases, it leads to general breakdown of law and order where the aggressive and sinful among the people seize the situation to loot and destroy property; violate the honour of the innocent - male, female, old and young. The situation is followed sometimes with bloodshed, and more so, if the leader is determined to "crush" or repress the uprising .

How does Islaam recommend we correct the leader?

It Involves Copying Non- Muslims and Deviants

Allah the Mighty and Sublime said:

 "Then We put you (0 Muhammad - sallallaahu alayhi wa Sallam) on a (plain) way of (Our) commandment. So, follow it, and follow not the desires of those who know not." (Q Jaathiyah: 18)

Explaining this verse and the two others before it,  Shaykh ai-Islam IbnTaimiyyah said, “... He placed Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) upon a way of the commandment. He established for him and ordered him to follow it, and prohibited him from following the desires of those who know not.

And whoever contradicts his way is included among 'those who know not' And their 'desires' are what they want and what the polytheists are upon in their outward affairs which are entailments and implications of their strayed religion." (Iqtidaa as- Siraat al-Mustaqeem)

Sit-ins, strikes, go slows, boycotts etc. from the forms of protests and demonstrations against unfair constituted authority clearly contradict the guidance of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) to handle such tyranny by enduring patiently and supplicating to A1laah for change and fearing Him in all affairs. To this extent - and in the language of the Qur'aan -participating in protests and demonstrations against constituted authority fall within following "those who know not."

A man came to Ibn Umar wanting him to abuse the Khalifah. So he said to the man, "It's all about money! If they give you, you become pleased. But if they give their relatives it annoys you. You, only like to copy the Persians and Romans; they never left any of their leaders except that they killed him!" Then tears flowed down Ibn Umar's cheeks while he supplicated, "0 Allah! We don't want that!" (Hukm a i- Mudhaaharaat)

The point in Ibn Umar's statement - may Allah be pleased with them - is that it is rather from the ways of the Romans and Persians to rise against their leaders and kill them: uprisings lack any basis in Islam and must not be tolerated; he wept as he prayed ...

The leaders are humans like other men; they err too and are certainly not infallible. But unlike the rest of the people, they are saddled with the difficult responsibility of leadership, Giving admonition to the leaders fall under two categories: a. Naseehah 'Aammah (General Advice) and b. Naseehah Khaassah (Specific Advice).

Naseehah 'Aammah (General Advice)

This involves generally admonishing the people publicly - including those in leadership - to obey the orders of Allah the Exalted and His Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) and abstain from what they prohibit. Such public sermons would generally touch on the various aspects of the religious and worldly life of the people, exhorting them towards goodness and warning them against injustice and other shameful practices without being specific.

Allaah the Exalted said, "You are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin good (all that Islam orders one to do) and forbid evil (all that Islam forbids) ... " (Q3[A1-Imraan]:IIO)

The Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said, 

"By the One in Whose Hand is my soul! You should enjoin good and forbid evil; otherwise, Allaah will  soon bring a punishment to you from Himself and then, you would supplicate to Him and not be answered. " (Abu Dawud)

 Naseehah Khaassah

(Specific Advice)

As regards specifically directing advice to constituted authority, it is from the rights of the leaders over their followers. In other words, followers have a duty to advice their leaders. 'Umar bin al-Khattaab, the second caliph after the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said:

"0 people! We have rights over you: sincere advice in confidence and help upon good ... " (Az-Zuhd)

Similarly, Imam Sufyanath-Thawree cautioned,

"No one should enjoin good upon constituted authority except the one who is well acquainted with what he enjoins or forbids, gentle about what he enjoins and forbids, fair." (Sharh $unnah)

When it was said to Usaamah bin Zayd (RA):

"Will you not go in to 'Uthman (RA) and talk to him?" He answered, "Do you think I have not talked to him unless I tell you? By Allaah! I have spoken to him one-on one without starting a matter I will never like to be the one to start." (Bukhari)

As regards his saying, "I have spoken to him one-on-one", Imam al- Qurtubee said,

"that is, he spoke to him directly in a gentle manner since that is best; instead of publicly criticizing and opposing the leaders owing to the great trials and-evil that results from that." (AI-Mufhim)

Sa'eed bin Jubayr said, "I asked IbnAbbass,

'Should I enjoin my leader to do good?' Ibn Abbass remarked, 'If you fear that he may kill you, do not. But if you have to, it should be oneon- one; do not back-bite your leader.''' (lbn Abi Shaybah)

While these narrations and the explanations of our scholars clearly show the importance and manner of admonishing the leaders, they also prove that the Prophet ((sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam)) had prohibited publicly criticizing constituted authority through write-ups and other forms of mobilizing public opinion against and confronting leadership.

From the above, it is clear that it is the duty of the learned to advice constituted authority, the advice and admonition should be given to the authority privately.

The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said: 

"Whoever wants to advice (a person in) authority on a matter should not give it openly. He should rather hold his hand and take him to privacy. If he accepts it from him, good; but if not, he has fulfilled what he owes him ." (Ahmad)

The context of this narration is even more instructive. Iyaad bn Ghanm al- Ash'ariyy (RA) (who was the ruler) once castigated the official (administrator) of Daaraa when it was conquered and Hishaam bn Hakeem (RA) approached and spoke roughly to him (Iyaad). Hishaam stayed for a few nights and then came to apologize to him and said to him: '0 Iyaad, don't you know that Allaah's Messenger said:

"the most severely punished of the people by Allaah on the day of Judgment is the most severe in punishing the people in this world.' Iyaad then said to him: '0 Hishaam, we have heard that which you have heard, we have also seen what you have seen and we have accompanied the one you have accompanied. Did you not hear, 0 Hishaam, Allaah's Messenger saying: 'Whoever has any advice for the one in authority should not say it to him in public, rather. He should hold his hand and be in conlusion with him. If he accepts it, well, otherwise, he has discharged what is upon him and what is due to him. 0 Hishaam, you dared to be audacious to the ruler. Are you not afraid that Allaah's (appointed) Sultan (ruler) might kill you and you would then become a casualty of the Sutan of Allaah?"(Ahmad, Baihaqi)



This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited