The Rabble, the Ruwaybidah & We the People (Pt 1)
One hadith foretells: ‘There shall come upon people years of deceit in which the liar will be believed, the truthful one disbelieved, the treacherous will be trusted and the trustworthy one considered treacherous; and the Ruwaybidah will speak out.’ It was said: Who are the Ruwaybidah? The Prophet, peace be upon him, replied: ‘The lowly, contemptible one who will speak out about public affairs (al-rajul al-tafihu yatakallam fi amri’l-‘ammah).’1
Affairs of public welfare and security, and how religion should articulate the common good – as well as rulings related to shari‘ah politics; weighing up harms and benefits; tackling widespread evils; and how best to address and resolve grievances with those in authority – are undoubtedly the most pressing concerns that collectively confront Muslim states today. Public security (amn) is held in Islam to be one of the greatest of blessings that God confers upon any people. The Qur’an, in an appeal to the Makkan Quraysh to worship God in gratitude for His blessings of political security upon them, says: For the protection of the Quraysh; for their protection during the winter and summer journeys. So let them worship the Lord of this House, Who has fed them against hunger and has secured them from fear. [106:1-5] Indeed, in one passage, public security is seen as being a right of sorts of faith: “Which of these two factions has more right to security, if you have knowledge? Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is security, and they are rightly guided.” [6:81-2] It follows, that to the extent faith (belief) is mixed with wrongdoing, collective security is jeopardised!
The blessings of security is also the subject of the following prophetic words, peace be upon him: ‘Whosoever awakens in the morning safe and secure in his dwelling, fit and healthy in his body and with enough food for the day, it is as if he has gained the whole world.’2
Islam, then, disdains anyone or anything which undermines the blessings of security; since, to steal a phrase from Bob Marley’s Rat Race, ‘collective security for surety’. Or to put it differently, no security, no surety! Faith best flourishes when public security is intact. Justice is best served when it is intact. Economic well-being best grows when it is intact. But in its absence, fear, terror, lawlessness, bloodshed, tribal and factional vendettas, economic cave in, and even anarchy, prevail. Classical Muslim scholarship and consensus only permits the tampering of public security through the act of khuruj (“rebellion”, “armed revolt”) under strict theological conditions. That it doesn’t lead to a greater tribulation and instability is one of them. And that the ruler be replaced with a better (more righteous) one is another. The question of the Muslim ruler’s apostasy or not, however, is paramount. Although a few theologians allowed rebellion against a ruler whose tyranny had become entrenched and widespread (provided the above two conditions can be actualised), most did not – unless there appeared from such a ruler unambiguous, clear-cut disbelief (kufr bawah). In fact, al-Nawawi and the best part of orthodox scholarship relate a consensus on this latter point.3
Revolutions are messy and bloody. And although you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs (as one saying goes), Islam insists that there can be other things on the breakfast menu besides eggs. Revolutions are not events, they are processes – often, long, drawn-out ones – whose sought-after outcomes are seldom guaranteed. In fact, given our globalised world, wealthy and powerful outside interests, as well as regional geo-politics, are far more likely to shape final outcomes than are the well-conceived intentions of the masses.
In the topsy-turviness that characterises social deterioration at the end of times (liars seen as truthful, the truthful as liars; evil as good, and good as evil, etc.), we have been cautioned about the Ruwaybidah. Scholarly commentaries do not specify exactly who the Ruwaybidah are, but do point out their traits. Lexically, being the diminutive of the word rabidah (“lowly”, “despicable”, “worthless”), the Ruwaybidah are even lower than worthless: they are utterly worthless. These are people who are incapable of rising up to nobility, lack integrity and, above all, possess little more than a glimmer of religious knowledge.4 In spite of this, they feel to speak out about socio-political affairs beyond their grasp and experience. They feel to offer fatwas and act as social commentators, despite their flimsy understanding. They presume to be advisors to the ummah, while still being wet behind the ears!
Unlike the Ruwaybidah, if we know our own worth, we will conduct ourselves in ways that befit a believer. We will avoid treading on the toes of others; avoid hampering the knowledge and efforts of others. Ibn Hazm, the great Spanish Muslim polymath, once wrote: ‘There is nothing more harmful to knowledge and its people than those who enter into it, yet are not from it. They are ignorant, but think they are knowledgeable. They cause corruption while they imagine they are rectifying matters.’5
In another verse of the Qur’an that speaks of public security, we learn this important code of conduct: If any matter comes to them concerning security or fear, they spread it around. But if they had only referred it to the Messenger or to those charged with authority, those among them who are able to investigate and think out the matter would indeed know [what to do with] it. [4:83] Commenting on it, Imam al-Sa‘di wrote:
‘This is a counsel from God, to His servants, about their unbefitting conduct. And that it is imperative for them, when there comes to them news about important affairs of public benefit – such as those related to the security and welfare of the believers, or to breaches of security and [impending] calamities striking them – that they should first verify such matters and not be hasty in spreading such news. Instead, they must refer such affairs to the Messenger and to those in authority among them – those possessed of sound judgement, learning, intelligence, sincere advice, calmness and composure; those who understand such issues and have knowledge of the associated benefits and harms. If, after that, they see that in broadcasting such news there is benefit for the believers and a cause of joy for them, or a means to protect them from their enemy’s harm, they should do so. But if they see there to be no benefit, or that there is benefit but the harm in it is greater, they should not do so. This is why God said: those among them who are able to investigate and think out the matter; meaning, they will evaluate it with their well-grounded thinking and sound knowledge. So in this is an evidence for a principle of [correct] conduct, which is that: When there arises a need to investigate a particular matter, it is essential that it be left to those qualified to do so and that they are not to be preceded in this by others.’6
As can be seen, the Qur’an grants no room for zealous Muslim activists, who possess none of the above skill-sets, to make pronouncements about the affairs of this blessed ummah. Nor for the trigger-happy texters and tweeters among the Muslims who give no thought to the social consequences of their actions.
In the second and concluding part of this blog piece, we shall discuss the nature of the masses vis-a-via progress and socio-political change. ‘We the People’ continues to be a powerful force for change. But how much stock should we as Muslim place in the idea of ‘We the People’?
(This article was first written for www.islamicate.co.uk and is reposted here with kind permission, and with minor editing).
1. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.4036; Ahmad, Musnad, no.7899; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:465, saying: ‘Its chain is sahih.’
2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2346. The hadith was graded hasan by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1991), no.2318.
3. Consult: Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 12:189-90.
4. See: Sunan Ibn Majah bi Sharh al-Sindi (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1996), 4:377.
5. Al-Akhlaq wa’l-Siyar fi Mudawat al-Nufus (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 24.
6. Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman (Dammam: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2011), 193-4.