Political Violence & the End Days
One of the enormous achievements of our Prophet, peace be upon him, is that in less than twenty years he managed to bring law and order to a land that had hitherto been plagued with lawlessness and the absence of any political organisation whatsoever. In the event of a crime or injustice being committed, the norm was for the injured party to take the law into its own hands and dispense “justice” to the aggressor. Usually, this would lead to acts of great barbarity and would normally provoke reprisals, vendettas and tribal feuds which could often drag on for generation after generation. War was a permanent feature of pre-Islamic Arabian society. Rule of law didn’t enter the picture; ‘asabiyyah (“tribalism”, “clan zealotry” or “partisanship”) did.
By the time the final verse of the Qur’an had been revealed to the Prophet, peace be upon him, the Arabian Peninsular had undergone a profound transformation. For the Prophet had taken the fierce loyalties and strong sense of solidarity, which hitherto had been centred around tribe and clan, and extended it to embrace the whole society of believers; the ummah. Blood feuds and tribal vendettas were chiselled away to be replaced by a community which collectively worked for social welfare and service to others. The old traditions of tribal raiding were directed away from personal ambition or clan bravado towards the idea of jihad, fought for the sake of Allah, against tyranny and injustice and in order to make the word of Allah triumphant. Islam quarried the traits of the Arabs; elevating and refining their virtues like hospitality, generosity and chivalry, but rejecting their intemperance, zealotry and casual cruelty. The result was that a more egalitarian society arose, which valued the culture of law and order that the new religion brought, in the form of Islam’s Sacred Law or shari’ah (and the highly sophisticated fiqh, or jurisprudence, which would develop shortly after).
Given the above, it will come as no surprise how disdainfully Islam looks upon things like vigilante “justice”, taking the law into one’s own hands, anarchy, civil war, rabble-rousing that endangers collective security, or whatever gives rise to a mob mentality that seeks to jeopardise public order. The shari’ah, though it makes provisions for the public to air political grievances, strongly condemns the use of violence, or an assault against law and order, for such ends. As Islam sees it, such things would be a return to jahiliyyah – the pre-Islamic days of ignorance, lawlessness, arbitrary justice, vendettas and blind tribal zealotry! The laws regarding rebel insurgents, rebellion and political violence to or from the state are outlined in the smaller manuals of fiqh, and fleshed out in the larger ones, under the section: qital al-bughat/ahl al-baghi – “fighting rebel insurgents.”
Currently, much of what is called the Muslim world is haunted by great violence and political turmoil. Whether due to armed rebellion, civil war, sectarian schism, military occupation, state tyranny, Western interference, or petrodollar meddling, carnage and conflicts rage on. What follows are some hadiths that speak about such End of Days violence and how we are to act during such chaotic and confusing times. Indeed the believer puts more stock in the prophetic counsels and warnings about the end times, than he does his own ego-driven rationalisations.
1. Abu Musa relates that Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘Before the Hour comes there will be harj!’ I said: O Messenger of Allah, what is harj? He said: ‘Killing.’ Some of the Muslims inquired: O Messenger of Allah, now we slay [in battle] such and such number of idolaters in a single year. Allah’s Messenger said: ‘This will not be like slaying the idolaters. Instead, you will kill one another, to the extent that a person will kill his neighbour, his nephew and relatives!’ Some people said: O Messenger of Allah, will we be in our right minds that day? He replied: ‘No! For reason will have departed from most people at that time, and there shall remain only the dregs of people who will be devoid of reason. Most of them will assume they are upon something, but they won’t be upon any thing.’1
Thus we are assured in this hadith that madness shall descend upon the mob, giving rise to bloodshed and violence; giving rise to the marauding reckless herd. The story’s all too familiar. Whether due to civil war, or mob hysteria, or for reasons completely unclear, the frenzied herd throw reason and pious caution to the wind and goes on a rampage (a case of the mob having many heads but no brains). This itself is nothing new. What will be different about the End of Days drama is the frequency with which slaughter and bloodshed occur, and the intensity. No doubt, the carnage that modern, mechanised weapons of violence can inflict is unlike anything else that has ever come before. In certain instances, these “dregs of people devoid of reason” won’t even know what they are actually fighting for. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life, a time is coming upon the people when the killer will not know why he killed and the victim will not know why he was killed.’2 Such are times when people are blinded to the truth by their desires, anger or political grievances (real or perceived), as in the hadith: ‘There will be civil strife which will render people deaf, dumb and blind. Those who give it consideration will be drawn by it, and giving reign to the tongue during it will be like striking with the sword.’3
In some instances, there will be legitimate grievances and reasons to be angry. But the means won’t justify the ends. Seeking redress of wrongs is certainly mandated in the religion. But not through violence and bloodshed; nor by pitting one Muslim against another, as in a civil war. All of this is expressly haram. In fact, seldom does righting such socio-political wrongs ever warrant the chaos, killing and intense social unrest which normally ensues in these affairs. Righting a wrong must never lead to a greater harm, or wrong, prevailing. That, too, would be haram. The Arabs say: al-‘aqil la yubni qasr wa yuhaddimu misr – ‘The intelligent one doesn’t build a palace by laying waste to the city.’4 How much more absurd if the grievance, for which swords are drawn, does not amount to a palace, but only a garden shed or a tin hut!
One of the main reasons that will give rise to so much unprecedented slaughter is the fitnah of civil wars, which is the subject of the next hadith:
2. Abu Dharr narrates that Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘How will you be when killing will afflict the people such that Ahjar al-Zayt will be blood drenched?’ I said: Whatever Allah and His Prophet want of me. He said: ‘Be with those who are like-minded as you are.’ I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, should I not take my sword and strike those who do that? He said: ‘Then you shall be just like them. Instead, stay in your house.’ I said: O Messenger of Allah, what if they enter my house? He said: ‘If you are afraid that the glimmer of the sword will dazzle you, lift the edge of your garment over your face and let him bear his own sin as well as yours; and he will be one of the denizens of Hell.’5
Another hadith runs as follows: ‘Before the Hour there will be civil strife like pieces of dark night, in which a man will be a believer in the morning and an unbeliever by the evening; or a believer in the evening and an unbeliever by the morning. He who sits during it is better than he who stands; and he who stands is better than he who walks; and he who walks is better than the he who runs. So during such times, break your bows, cut your bow-strings and blunt your swords upon stones. If one of them should enter upon you, then be like the better of the two sons of Adam.’6
Civil war, referred to in Arabic as fitnah (“sedition” or “civil unrest”) is where Muslim is pitted against Muslim. Islamic history has seen, and continues to see, its fare share of civil wars. But as the above hadith (and others like it) shows, a believer is required to do his or her utmost not to fan the flames of civil war, let alone shed blood for any particular faction – even if it means resigning oneself to being killed. And though it is easier said than done in the heat of the moment, the prophetic counsel here is: better to be killed than to kill. Those with the blood of Muslims on their hands, for whatever political goal or agenda, may have, in all likelihood, damned themselves. The Prophet, peace be upon him, warned in no uncertain terms: ‘Whoever fights under the banner of blind zeal, becoming angry for partisanship, calling to partisanship or aiding it, and is killed, dies upon jahiliyyah. And whosoever attacks my ummah, slaying its righteous and wicked alike, not sparing any believer, nor upholding his pledge [of allegiance], he is not of me, nor I of him.’7
In times of great public upheaval one definitely needs a level head and avoid the hot-heads; for they are about as much use as walnuts are to the toothless. One must also cling to the prophetic advice about keeping out of the fitnah, by staying at home and shunning the political agitators, seditionists and strife-mongers; avoiding them like one would do the plague. It is imperative also that one seeks to be guided by the wise counsel of seasoned ‘ulema in such tricky affairs; for they best comprehend the fiqh, theology and purposes of the religion. Above all, we should pray to Allah for wellbeing (‘afiyah) and security (aman); for there’s nothing like asking Him for ‘afiyah. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr once stood on the pulpit and wept, saying; Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, once stood in our midst on the pulpit while shedding tears and saying: ‘Ask Allah for forgiveness and wellbeing; for after certainty (yaqin) none has been given anything better than wellbeing.’8
Unjustified accusations of takfir – “excommunication”; declaring other Muslims to be unbelievers and apostates – is a vile scourge that underpins much of the slaughter and carnage that is currently visited upon Muslims and their lands; which is what the next hadith addresses:
3. Hudhayfah narrated that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘Truly what I most fear for you is a man who will recite the Qur’an until its radiance appears on him and he becomes a support to Islam, changing it to whatever Allah wills. He then separates from it, casts it behind his back and raises the sword against his neighbour, accusing him of idolatry (shirk).’ I asked: O Prophet of Allah, who most deserves to be imputed with shirk; the accused or the accuser? He replied: ‘The accuser.’9
This depicts to a tee the trajectory of many a takfiri. Enthused with a commitment to Islam, taking steps to improve their religious practice (usually just external practices), reading a few booklets, surfing a few websites, yet ignorant of how ignorant they truly are, they take to the takfiri narrative. In their ideology, they and those who agree with them are Muslims, while all other Muslims are apostates, idolators or Allah’s enemies whose blood is lawful. If circumstances are right, murder and mayhem usually follow. Ego, false piety and their own pathetic pathologies are often the driving forces behind such takfiri zealotry. And although a few trajectories are more complex and nuanced than this, most are probably not.
Let’s be clear here. What the above hadith is censuring isn’t takfir, per se, but wanton and unjustified takfir. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said – as reported in another hadith: ‘Whoever accuses someone of disbelief, or of being an enemy of Allah, whilst he is not like that, it will return back to him.’10 The issue of takfir has been previously discussed on this blog, in a piece entitled, Takfir: Its Dangers & Its Rules (which may be read here).
Imam al-Ghazali stated: ‘One ought to guard against imputing takfir as much as one can. For to render lawful the lives and property of those who pray towards the qiblah and clearly state that there is no deity [worthy of worship] but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger (la ilaha illa’Llah muhammadur-rasulu’Llah) is a serious matter. To err in leaving a thousand unbelievers alive is preferable than to err in shedding a drop of Muslim blood.’11
Ever since its origins in the mid-eighteenth century in the oasis settlements of Najd; central Arabia, most of its critics, opponents and foes have insisted that Wahhabism is an extremist, takfiri ideology. Without wading into that debate; and without arguing that Wahhabism in and of itself is responsible for takfir and terrorism – which have a whole host of social, economic, doctrinal and political causes – it does seem to supply the ideological conditions for takfir and religious violence on account of its intolerant and absolutist claims. This isn’t to say that all Wahhabis [Salafis] are takfiris or violent extremists. Absolutely not. Many are quietist and apolitical. Others are political, but eschew violence as a method for change. It is only a relatively tiny minority that seeks as much militant mileage out of Wahhabi-Salafi teachings as possible.12
The scourge of takfir is now a global epidemic. Indiscriminate violence, destruction of lives and property, decimation of public security and bloody sectarian violence are its fruits. The image of Islam has never been so tarnished or been made to appear so vile. Those who, for reasons of wanting to revive the Sunnah, opened the door for ordinary Muslims to ‘weigh-up’ and follow the ‘strongest’ proof in issues of taharah, salat and personal piety, but somehow imagined that they could keep the door closed when it came to the more delicate matter of politics and public affairs – well that logic doesn’t seem to have faired too good. Those ‘ulema who opened that door now see droves of ignorant and unqualified people rushing through it and making wild and not so wild fatwas on Islam – undermining qualified juristic authority, creating religious anarchy, and tearing apart whatever remains of Muslim unity – and they don’t know what to do or how to stem this tide. And, of course, out of this collapse of traditional scholarly authority have come the takfiris, with their terror and tribulations.
Islam is too good for wild egos to eclipse its light; for ignorance, anarchy and political violence to block out its beauty. The door to such takfir must be closed; as must those to religious anarchy. The narrative of groups like al-Qaeda, Boko Haram or ISIS seek to cheapen the sanctity of human life, in general; and of the people of la ilaha illa’Llah muhammadur-rasulu’Llah, in particular. Their takfiri ideology must be repudiated and rejected: wisely, firmly and courageously. We must also reaffirm amongst ourselves as Muslims – in spite of our sectarian divisions, and despite the orthodox and heterodox amidst us – that Muslim life and blood is sacrosanct. One hadith tells us that during one of the battles, one of the Muslims subdued one of the enemy combatants and was about to slay him, when unexpectedly the man uttered the shahadah – the Testimony of Faith, and declared that he was a Muslim. Believing that he only became a Muslim to avoid being slain in battle, the Muslim plunged his sword into him and killed him. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, was informed about this he rebuked the man, telling him that he should never have tried to second guess that person’s intentions. A short while later the man died. They buried him, only to find the following morning that the earth had cast him out and he was lying on the ground. So they buried him again, only to find the earth had cast him out yet again. On informing him about this unusual incident, the Prophet, peace be upon him, declared: ‘Truly the earth accepts those who are worse than him. But Allah wanted you to see how great is the sanctity of la ilaha illa’Llah.‘13
1. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3959, Ahmad, Musnad, no.19509. It was graded as sahih by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1682.
2. Muslim, no.2908.
3. Abu Dawud, no.4264. Its chain contains some weakness, as was detailed by Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Hidayat al-Ruwat ila Takhrij al-Ahadith Masabih wa’l-Mishkat (Cairo: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 2001), 5:97, no.5329.
4. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 17:420.
5. Ibn Majah, no.3958. It is sahih, as per Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut, Ibn Majah al-Qazwini, al-Sunan (Damascus: Dar Risalah al-‘Alamiyyah, 2009), 5:105-6.
6. Ibn Majah, no.3961; al-Tirmidhi, no.2204, who said that it is hasan. As for being the better of the two sons of Adam, this is a reference to Abel who was killed by his older brother Cain.
7. Muslim, no.1848.
8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3558, saying: the hadith is hasan gharib. Al-Albani, however, graded it hasan sahih in his critical edition of al-Mundhari, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh, Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2004), no.4869.
9. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.282. Ibn Kathir said: ‘Its chain is excellent (jayyid).’ See: Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar a-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 2:276.
10. Muslim, no.61.
11. Al-Ghazali, al-Iqtisad fi’l-I‘tiqad (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2012), 305.
12. Of course, this three-fold classification doesn’t take into account the fierce intra-Wahhabi/Salafi polemic where one group denounces the other of not being Salafi, or part of the Saved-Sect. Instead, I use such labels and classifications reluctantly, and in very broad terms. I have also equated Salafism with Wahhabism, again reluctantly and for the sake of brevity; though others may feel to make nuanced distinctions between the two. It is also worth noting that many quietist Salafis have been at the forefront of countering the takfiri narrative; not just post 9/11, but since the early 1990s.
13. Ibn Majah, no.3930. The hadith was declared hasan in al-Albani, Sunan Ibn Majah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, n.d.), 648-9.
* This piece was originally written for www.islamicate.co.uk and is posted here with kind permission.