The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the tag “ruwaybidah”

The World Gets Topsy-Turvier: Signs of the End Days [2/2]

salvador-dali-swans-reflecting-elephants-1345978791_orgOne of the main themes that runs through hadiths about the End Days is how good will be considered as being bad; and visa versa, how trustworthiness and honesty shall disappear, how the worthless will be raised to positions of rank and respect, and how there will be an increase in disobedience and widespread violation of rights (kathrat al-‘uquq wa ida‘at al-huquq). Rights that firmly belong to some shall be denied them, and instead be given to others. This inversion of rights and reality, perhaps more than anything else, is what characterises the fated end times. And it is this topsy-turviness of the times, and the ensuing spiritual and social turmoil, that I wish to discuss in the second and final part of this blog. After quoting a volley of hadiths that describe the state of affairs that heralds the end days and final Hour, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said: ‘All this is part of the inversion of realities during the end days and the topsy-turviness of affairs.’1

In what is to follow, one point must be kept firmly in our minds: Even though many negative things will eventually come to pass, we are each called upon to swim against the tide and work against the inevitable decay. In the words of the venerable Shaykh, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, it is a case of us each having to ‘fight against destiny’.

Having documented several of the signs of the Hour (ashrat al-sa‘ah) in Part I of this blog piece, let us now turn to those hadiths that specifically talk about things being turned on their head; how reality will be inverted and the world made topsy-turvy:

1. The first hadith to qualify for this genre has got to be: ‘When the affair is given to other than its rightful people, then await the Final Hour (idha wussida’l-amr ila ghayri ahlihi fantazari’l-sa‘ah).2 Al-Munawi explains that when matters such as the caliphate, governance, teaching religion or the issuing of fatwas are in the hands of those who are undeserving, unsuited and unqualified for such Herculean tasks, then this signals the coming of the Hour. Why? Because such an inversion of affairs can only happen when Islam becomes weak and neglected, ignorance has conquered minds and hearts, sacred knowledge has markedly diminished in society, egos and desires rule the roost, and the people of knowledge and wisdom are unable to establish the truth or support it.3 When religious and spiritual anarchy prevail at such levels in society, where in the land of the blind the one eyed man is comfortably king and the minds of the masses comfortably numb, how can such a state of affairs not foreshadow the approaching of the Hour? Regrettably, this rot continues to fester and secrete itself into the collective Muslim psyche and social fabric; and Allah’s aid is sought.

The remedy against this malaise is to not be pretentious, sincerely remember our own levels and conduct ourselves in a way that befits a believer. The crux of this all is that we avoid meddling in matters that do not concern us, or for which we are unqualified or inexperienced – especially when it comes to matters related to sacred knowledge. For unless one has been sufficiently nurtured at the hands of wise, qualified, seasoned and compassionate teachers, and has their permission and blessing to enter into such matters, we are likely to find that we will bring about far more corruption than good, as well as be a terrible nuisance to knowledge and its people. Imam Ibn Hazm 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 think they are rectifying matters.’4 The prophetic caution has been issued, it’s now up to each of us to take heed.

2. The Prophet, peace be upon him, once foretold: ‘Indeed from the signs of the Hour is that the virtuous shall be demeaned and the wicked elevated.’5 It is difficult to see how virtuous people could be devalued, unless you first demote and demean morality and virtue itself. And yet this is precisely what has happened. For ours is an age (and it has been so for quite some time now) where the old certainties, and the morality that flowed from them, have been dealt a crushing blow. Although long in the making, the liberal revolution of the 1960s was the beginning of the end of England as a Christian country in terms of Christian ethics being reflected in law and Christian morals being the glue that bound society. Against the backdrop of the swinging sixties, the country witnessed a series of liberalising laws that would usher in the start of a Post-Christian milieu: suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961; and in 1967, abortion was legalised, as was homosexuality. Hereinafter there would be a parting of the ways for law and morality: the law would now intervene only to prevent individuals from harming each other. As for morality, it could no longer be thought of as the code for society. Instead, it would be relegated to an individual choice, and people would be free to indulge in whatever experiments in living they desired. Rights would soon replace responsibilities, desires would eventually trump duties and, by the 1990s, society would begin to significantly fray at the seams. There is no other choice for believers, driven as they must be by the healing lights of tawhid or Abrahamic monotheism, than to seek society’s redemption and moral restoration.

How much morality should be translated into law, and how much is to be left to the individual conscience, is a question which all civilised societies must grapple with. In Islam’s Sacred Law, ‘sins which involve injustice to others and injury to them, be it in the religious or worldly sense, are more severely punished in this world than those not entailing harm to others; despite the fact that the punishment for the latter may be greater in the Hereafter.’6 This is why, despite disobedience to parents being more morally wrong than, for instance, fornication, the shari‘ah has no fixed penalty for the former, but it does for the latter. Again, arrogance is a far greater sin than consuming alcohol; and yet there is no prescribed worldly punishment for the first, but there is for the second. ‘The reason is clear: such punishments are there to safeguard religious and worldly interests from the wrongdoing of wrongdoers, whereas the punishment of those who wrong only themselves is left to their Lord.’7

As the assault on traditional morality and virtue continues to intensify from, among other quarters, the media, movies and trash TV; and as more and more of the world is exposed to the mediocrity and moral bankruptcy of the monoculture and is gradually ‘normalised’ into it; we Muslims should be clear that ours is a religion of meritocracy. That is to say, in Islam people are valued, respected and held in high esteem according to their piety, virtue and merits. People of corrupt morals, or who lack basic adab and decency, or who wallow in self-inflicted ignorance of even the basic teachings of the faith – they may be looked upon with the eye of pity, tolerance and charity; but never with honour, distinction and approbation.

Those who have even a slight insight into the gravity of the Quranic message, or who recognise that the Sunnah came to elevate humankind and restore us to our Adamic dignity will, in all likelihood, find today’s crass (and oftentimes, vulgar and irreverent) celebrity culture more than a trifle troublesome. Surely ones ease with, or acceptance of, it simply reflects how much souls have become desensitised to virtue or how much hearts have cozied up to vice; doesn’t it?

This is why Islam puts great weight on al-amr bi’l-ma‘ruf wa’l-nahi ‘ani’l-munkar – the duty of “commanding good and forbiding wrong.” Allah, exalted is He, declares in the Qur’an: The believers, men and women, are allies one to another; they enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. [9:71] If we are to continue to recognise and honour people of virtue and piety, so as to be inspired by their conduct and be guided by their example, then we must collectively ensure that the lines between halal and haram, virtue and vice, and morality and immorality, are not blurred or made fuzzy. For if knowledge of what constitutes virtue and vice is lost to us; if Islamic morality is made subjective to the tastes and fashions of the times, and is no longer a rock firmly planted, we shall have brought about our rack and ruin in both worlds. Immense pressure is now being brought to bear upon Muslims to do precisely this. Ibn Mas‘ud, one of Islam’s earliest converts and one of its most illustrious scholars, once heard a person say: ‘Whoever doesn’t enjoin the good or forbid evil has perished.’ To which Ibn Mas‘ud responded: ‘Rather, one whose heart doesn’t recognises good from evil perishes.’8 These words become even more meaningful if we recall the following hadith: ‘Whoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; if he is unable to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.’9 If the heart no longer recognise evil, let alone detests it or seeks to change it, then what type of faith is there? For in all of this, it is faith that is at stake.

3. ‘Allah does not take away knowledge by wresting it from the hearts of men; rather He takes knowledge away by taking away the scholars. So when no scholar remains, people take the ignorant as leaders who, when asked, give fatwas without knowledge: they are misguided and misguiding.’10 This hadith tells us about the public’s inability to reign in their haste and impulsiveness so as to patiently seek out qualified scholars from whom fatwas, religious rulings and guidance about the faith should be sought. Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know, is what the Qur’an says [16:43]. Things, however, have begun to be turned on their heads. Instead of the masses asking those who are qualified to give fatwas and have been schooled and authorised in fiqh, they have begun to ask any Tom, Dick or Harry, or the so-called “knowledgeable brother,” or even the now proverbial Shaykh Google! The upshot: they make the unworthy look worthy, treat the unqualified as qualified, and view the unschooled as schooled; with the ummah continuing to suffers at the hands of these imposter-muftis, cowboys da‘is and charlatan wannabe shaykhs.

In another hadith warning us against this same danger, we read: ‘From the signs of the Hour is that knowledge will be taken from the young ones.’11 These young [junior] ones (asaghir, sing. saghir) refers to either: the innovators (ahl al-bid‘ah); as Imam Ibn al-Mubarak declared, or to those who give fatwas and religious rulings without sound qualification and expertise; as per Abu ‘Ubayd and others.12 In either case, it is just as Ibn Mas‘ud, may Allah be pleased with him, cautioned: ‘People will not cease to be upon good as long as they take knowledge from their senior ones. If they take it from their junior and wicked ones, they are sure to perish.’13

What each of us must ensure is that, when it comes to seeking religious rulings and guidance, we must turn to those men or women known in society for their learning, knowledge, piety and qualification. Anything less than this will not do. The obligation on the general public is to not be slack, but rather to try their best and ask only those who they think are qualified; just as they would do in other important or crucial areas of their lives.

Similarly, mosques must ensure they do not give the pulpit to some young, half baked, hot-headed khatib. Muslim TV channels and websites which host Q&A sessions must only allow qualified people to answer the publics’ questions. And the public should, if they are unsure, ask the organisers of such shows and websites if those who are acting as muftis are qualified for the task. Let’s be clear. This is not about whether someone has memorised the Qur’an. or is a student of the sacred Islamic sciences (talib al-‘ilm), or is qualified in hadith, tafsir, tajwid or tarikh. It’s about whether they are qualified in actual fiqh and fatwa. If not; or if one is in doubt, switch channels.

4. Again from Ibn Ma‘sud: ‘You are in a time in which its scholars (‘ulema) are many and its speakers (khutaba) are few. But after you will come a time in which its scholars are few and its speakers many.’14 Again, the end times bring with it a deterioration in standards and an inversion in roles and ranks. Now since the idea of “being qualified” or “proper qualification” has been insisted upon a number of times already, let’s look at the learning and levels of the qualified scholar and muftis in more detail:

The genre of literature known as Adab al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti – “Conduct of Muftis and of Seeking Fatwas” – lists the needed credentials in terms of being ‘alim bi ahkam al-shar‘iyyah, “learned in the rulings of the Sacred Law.”15 This requires muftis to possess thorough knowledge of: (i) The five-hundred or so legal verses in the Qur’an. (ii) The hadiths related to legal issues, along with knowing how to evaluate their authenticity and epistemological value; or to at least rely on the experts in this field. (iii) Those cases which have become subject to scholarly consensus (ijmå‘) so as not to contradict it. (iv) Theories of abrogation, so as not to rule on the basis of an abrogated verse or hadith. (v) Arabic language and its nuances, in order to understand literal and metaphorical useage; general and particular discourse; idioms; and also equivocal and unequivocal speech. (iv) The procedural methods of analogical deduction (qiyas) and inferential reasoning (istinbat).

The legal literature also states that the term mufti is synonymous with mujtahid – one capable of ijtihad: of extracting or infering rulings directly from the foundational texts (i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah). A mufti who has gained complete mastery in the above-listed qualifications is called an absolute mujtahid (mujtahid mutlaq). A mufti who has gained expertise, but not complete mastery, in these ijtihad credentials is a mujtahid bound by the legal framework of a law-school (mujtahid fi’l-madhhab). In both cases, these two mujtahids work with the foundational texts: the first does so unrestrictedly and directly; the second, according to the methodological principles of his law-school or madhhab.

Below these two are muftis who are “non-mujtahids.” They too are of varying ranks. There is the mufti who, although not capable of ijtihad, is highly versed in his school’s modes of legal reasoning and analogy; has committed to memory its rulings; and is able to defend, refine and resolve ambiguous cases – tilting the scales in favour of one of two or more opinions on the matter. He can even infer rulings for new cases based on established precedents of the school. Then there are muftis who are trained jurists, but their skills are limited to distinguishing between the authoritative (mu‘tamad) and less authoritative positions of their school, as well as memorising its issues (masa’il), or positive law.

Finally comes the mufti who is a poorly trained jurist and is unable to distinguish left from right. What he does have going for him, though, is a competency to transmit the authoritative rulings of the school on any or most given issues, with reliable accuracy. His level is ifta’ bi’l-hifz – “issuing fatwa by having carefully and diligently memorised the school’s legal rulings.” In the absence of other types of muftis, lay people and other non-muftis are obliged to ask such trained transmitters of law and legal rulings.16

Before soldiering on, a few remarks are in order. Firstly, barring the last type of mufti, all the others engage in highly complex modes of legal reasoning and juristic activity. Secondly, in our age, when we say that so-and-so is a mufti, we don’t mean that he is a mujtahid, but rather that he gives fatwas based on the books and rulings of his law school, or upon the ijtihad of a mujtahid he is following in the issue. That is, muftis of today do not infer legal rulings themselves from the root sources. Thirdly, although in Islam’s earlier period muftis were invariably mujtahids, the term was widened at some later point to include non-mujtahid jurists too, out of a pressing need (hajah).17 And finally, in terms of the levels of muftiship today, most muftis fall into the last category; some in the two levels above; fewer in the mujtahid level (either mujtahid in specific areas of the law, like marriage, divorce, inheritance, or finance; or the rarer mujtahid fi’l-madhhab). As for the absolute mujtahid, from what my scholars and teachers have taught me, they have been absent from the ummah for a very long time now.

Even with just a casual grasp of the above levels, the distinction between the qualified scholar or mufti, and between the religious activist or da’i will be clear. The former are qualified; the latter more often than not lack legal qualifications and fiqh schooling. Fatwa and religious instruction is sought from the former, not the latter. In fact, the latter are themselves in need of the former. As for the vague, new-fangled category of the “knowledgeable brother,” it would be best if we stopped using such a meaningless classification. For one’s knowledge either qualifies her or him to give religious rulings and fatwas, or it doesn’t. For one is either followed in knowledge, or else one follows and imitates; and in both there is goodness. One hadith says: ‘Whoever gives a fatwa without due knowledge, shall bear the sin of those he gave it to.’18

5. Our final hadith depicting the topsy-turviness of the End Days is this one: ‘There shall come upon people years of deceit in which the liar will be believed, the truthful one disbelieved, the treacherous will be trusted, the trustworthy deemed treacherous; and the Ruwaybidah will speak out.’ They asked: Who are the Ruwaybidah? To which the Prophet, peace be upon him, replied: ‘The lowly, contemptible one who will speak out about public affairs.’19 This particular inversion of affairs usually plays itself out in matters related to society and politics.

Scholarly commentaries do not specify exactly who the Ruwaybidah are, but do point out their traits. Lexically, being the diminutive or tasghir of the word rabidah (“lowly”, “good for nothing”, “worthless”), the Ruwaybidah are lower than worthless: they are utterly worthless. These are people who are incapable of rising up to distinction, lack integrity and, above all, possess little more than a glimmer of religious knowledge.20 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, based upon their whims and ignorance. They presume to be sincere advisors to the ummah, while being infantile in their understanding and wet behind the ears! And those who speak from ignorance will, ultimately, do more harm than good.

In one verse of the Qur’an which speaks of society and politics, we learn this pivotal rule 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 then know [what to do with] it. [4:83]

Imam al-Sa‘di shed more light on the verse, saying: ‘This is a counsel from Allah, to His servants, about their unsuitable conduct. And that it is imperative for them, when there comes to them news about crucial affairs of public benefit – like those related to the security and welfare of the believers, or to breaches of security and calamities afflicting them – that they must first verify such things and not be hasty in spreading such news. Instead, they should refer such matters to the Messenger, or 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.’21 It wasn’t too long ago, in the not so distant past, that we the ummah deferred to knowledge, wisdom and dispassionate worldly discernment. The Ruwaybidah, however, are contagious; like rabies, they have infected a significant part of the ummah. And social media continues to be a perfect platform for their madness to spread. A calm, yet courageous commitment to taqwa, and a return to knowledge and its people, is the only inoculation we have against the Ruwaybidah rabies; and Allah’s help is sought.

As the Final Hour closes in, the world is indeed getting more and more topsy-turvy. Currently, the ummah is in a state of weakness, chaos and confusion. Externally, our way of life is threatened by liberalism’s bulldozer, which seeks to flatten all voices of dissent; particularly the Ishmaelite one. Internally, we are weak, woefully divided, and plagued by extremism and religious anarchy. And yet believers despair not. For out of this weakness, confusion and chaos the Mahdi shall come!

1. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:140.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.59.

3. Consult: al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 1:451.

4. Ibn Hazm al-Zahiri, al-Akhlaq wa’l-Siyar fi Mudawat al-Nufus (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 24.

5. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:554. Its narrators are all those of the Sahih, as stated by al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 7:326.

6. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 28:181.

7. ibid., 28:182.

8. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8564. Its chain is sahih, as Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut said in his crititical edition of Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:245.

9. Muslim, no.49.

10. Al-Bukhari, no.100; Muslim, no.2673.

11. Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Zuhd (Riyadh: Dar al-Mi‘raj, 1995), no.52. Its chain is excellent (jayyid), according al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), 2:316; no.695.

12. See: Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1995), 612-17; nos.1052-60.

13. ibid., no.1057.

14. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8066; Abu Khaythamah, al-‘Ilm, 109. Its chain was graded as sahih in Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Egypt: al-Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, n.d.), 10:510.

15. Consult: al-Khatib, al-Faqih wa’l-Mutafaqqih (Riyadh: Dar al-Ifta, 1968), 2:330-31; al-Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ (Beirut: Dar Ihya Turath al-‘Arabi, 1996), 1:72-96; Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawziyyah, 2003), 6:40-208.

16. Culled from: Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘låm al-Muwaqqi‘in, 6:125-28; Ibn al-Salah, Adab al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Beirut: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1986), 87-102.

17. See: I‘låm al-Muwaqqi‘in, 2:86.

18. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.54. It was declared sahih by al-Suyuti, as per al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, 6:77.

19. Ibn Majah, no.4036; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:465, who said: ‘Its chain is sahih.

20.  As per al-Sindi, Sunan Ibn Majah bi Sharh al-Sindi (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1996), 4:377.

21. Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman (Dammam: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2011), 193-4.

The Rabble, the Ruwaybidah & We the People (Pt 2)

tumblr_mr7nraxWnO1sz0elro1_1280This is the second part of the blog piece I wrote for www.islamicate.co.uk (the first part may be read here).

After the battle of Hunayn, a delegation from the Hawazin clan came to the Prophet, upon whom be peace, requesting the return of their wealth and captives. They were given a choice between one or the other, so they chose the return of the captives. The Prophet, peace be upon him, then addressed his Companions, saying: ‘These brothers of yours have come to us in repentance, and I wish to return the captives to them. So those of you who wish to return your captives freely, let them do so; and those who wish to keep their share until we give him something of the first booty that God has bestowed on us, let them do so.’ Some of the people said that they would willingly give up their captives for the sake of the Prophet, while others said that they could not. The Prophet said: ‘I cannot tell who among you is granting permission, and who is not. So go back and send your leaders to discuss the matter with us.’ The people went back to speak to their leaders, who then returned to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and gave their consent to set the captives free.1

Undoubtedly, to garner the opinions or sentiments of the masses definitely makes for good governance. When it becomes difficult to ascertain their opinions directly, then appointing representatives on their behalf becomes vital. This is the rationale behind what we now call representative democracy. This type of democracy, says the English philosopher Roger Scruton, is where ‘the people choose (say by voting) representatives who are then answerable to them, but at the same time directly involved, and usually without further consultation, in the practice of government.’2

Does the incident of the Hawazin clan prove the validity of representative democracy in Islam? Not quite. Consultation or shura is at the heart of good decision making in Islam, and so the public should be consulted and governance must reflect their needs and aspirations. But to allow unambiguous revealed truths to be consented to or cast aside by public opinion is a different thing altogether. Faith-based truths, private and public morality, and what is lawful and prohibited are to be decided by the dictates of Revelation – not withstanding juristic disagreement on some of the finer details of the Revealed Law. The Qur’an asserts: It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by God and His Messenger, to have any option about their decision; and he who disobeys God and His Messenger is clearly astray. [33:36] Government of the people, by the people, for the people certainly has its merits. But: Who is a better judge than God for a people who have certainty of faith? [5:50] Democracy wherein people have sovereignty even over the Divine, cannot be countenanced by the faithful.

What then is the value of ‘We the People’? The Qur’an is explicit about the question of following the majority, insisting that numbers in themselves do not make for truth or right guidance: Were you to obey most of those on earth, they would mislead you far from God’s way. [6:116] Again, the Qur’an states: But most of mankind know not. [45:26] Or do you think that most of them hear or understand? They are like cattle. No, they are even more astray. [25:44]

And while human history is replete with examples of ‘We the People’ coming together to demonstrate courage and resilience in the face of tyranny, exhibiting strength and sacrifice in confronting falsehood, or showing acts of profound collective forgiveness against those who formerly oppressed them, that is no reason to downplay the above unambiguous verses nor, for that matter, ignore the warnings in the following hadiths which speak about the deterioration of people:

1. ‘The righteous will depart, one after another, leaving only the dregs behind, like the chaff of barley or dates: God will not accord to them any worth or weight.’3

2. ‘Glad-tidings are for the strangers: a few righteous people amidst a great number of wicked people; those who disobey them are more than those who obey them.’4

3. ‘Nations will soon summon each other to attack you, like [hungry] diners invite one another to eat from a platter of food.’ A person asked: Is it because we will be few in number that day, O Messenger of God? He said: ‘Rather, you will be plenty in number, but you shall be [as insignificant] as the foam on the ocean. And God will remove from the hearts of your enemies fear of you, and shall cast into your hearts weakness.’ They asked: What is the weakness, O Messenger of God? He replied: ‘Love of this world and hatred for death.’5

4. The hadith with which Part 1 began: ‘There shall come upon people years of deceit in which the liar will be believed, the truthful one disbelieved, the treacherous will be trusted, the trustworthy one considered treacherous; and the Ruwaybidah shall speak out.’ It was said: Who are the Ruwaybidah? The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The lowly, contemptible one who will speak out about public affairs.’6

5. ‘Indeed, people are like camels, out of a hundred you will hardly find a single one suitable for riding.’7

Explaining the above, Imam al-Sa‘di wrote: ‘This hadith incorporates a truthful report and a beneficial piece of guidance. As for the report, it is that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, informed us that deficiency (naqs) is something found in most people and that perfection (kamal) – or near perfection – is rare among them. Just like a hundred camels; a large number, but if you wanted one for carrying, riding, or going to and fro, you would be hard pushed to find even one. The majority of people are similar: if you wanted one suitable for teaching, giving fatwas, leadership, holding the highest office of governance, or lesser offices, or any other important task, you would hardly be able to find anyone to carry out the task properly. Such is the reality; and this because man is unjust and ignorant – injustice and ignorance being the causes of defects, which bar the attainment of perfection and completeness.

‘As for the guidance, then the report comprises an indication from the Prophet, peace be upon him, that the ummah should endeavour and labour together to prepare people who are suitable for taking charge of matters of importance and the running of public affairs beneficial to society as a whole.’8

The idea of human social life in its unregulated form as lacking morality, cooperation or cohesion has deep roots in traditional teachings. Without a higher code of ethics to guide them, or law to restrain them, human beings tend to ruthlessly pursue their own self interests and diverse passions; engage in harmful rivalry and constant strife; put qualities like affection and altruism on the back burner; and are ignorant of their true interests in this world and the Hereafter, thereby bringing about their own rack and ruin. Left to their egos and their own devices, man’s corrupted nature, or fitrah, would render man’s life – to cite Hobbes’s now famous words – ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.’9 Hence, according to medieval Muslim scholarship, the blessings of God sending Revelation and Prophets, for the guidance and welfare of both individuals and society. Hence, also, Islam’s insistence on yielding to political authority over anarchy and guarding public security, wary of any actors seeking to erode or undermine them. Needless to say, Islam envisages government to pursue the objectives of justice (‘adl), the promotion of benefit (maslahah), and prevention of harm (mafsadah). To be more specific, Islamic governance is committed to protect man’s five essential interests (al-dururiyyat al-khamsah); namely: faith, life, intellect, lineage and property. This, at least, is the theory.

My point here isn’t to try and flesh out the particular forms of Islamic governance in a post-Westphalian world of sovereign nation states, forceful regional/global economic unions and mega-corporate capitalism: even if I could! Rather, my point is simply this: what should the role of the masses in Muslim majority countries be, in terms of public uprisings, religious activism and socio-political change? Should they lead or must they be led? Steer or be steered? Define the discourse or defer to a higher discourse? And does the old dichotomy of the masses being the ‘ammah; the common folk and riffraff, and the rulers and religious leaders as the khassah; the elite, still hold? And given mass education and specialisation in the secular sciences, is there now not a new breed of masses; a third tier?

A number of Arabic words may be translated to mean “masses,” particularly ‘ammah (commoners, general public), jumhur (majority, multitude) and sha‘b (folk, populace). There are also more pejoratives terms, like ra‘a and ghawgha – often translated as the rabble, riffraff, or mob. The masses, especially in pre-modern history, were the lower and working classes, the great majority; sharply distinguished from the elite – those of learning and high culture – by their ignorance, or poor education or erudition.10 The great multitude can be a tremendous force for positive change. They can also be fickle and easily swayed. Sometimes they can be the reckless herd, even if well-intended. At other times they can exhibit mob mentality or mob rule; this is where the whims and passions of the majority rule over reason and religion. Ochlocracy, government by mob rule, is certainly not unheard of in human history!

The truth about human nature is that this mob mentality can be extremely infectious. Stand too close to the whirlpool of a reckless herd, and one is likely to get sucked right in. The medieval Syrian jurist-theologian, Ibn Taymiyyah, observed: ‘How many there are who intend neither good nor evil, until they see another – especially someone like themselves – doing it, and then they go and do the same! For it is the nature of human beings to imitate each other, as birds of a feather flock together.’11 This, in large part, explains fashion trends, social media trending, why those who are usually law-abiding and sensible can plunge into bouts of recklessness, frenzy and criminality when with a crowd, how the general public can become highly volatile and violent in the absence of law and order, and other mass hysterias.

Received wisdom from our scholars, sages and saints tells us that ‘We the People’ – the march of the masses – if it is not led by sound religious learning and judgement, and if unenlightened by deep-rooted spiritual acumen, will do far greater harm than good. It will neither bode well for our religious welfare, nor our worldly one. Experience and textual proofs amply prove the point.

Consider the following hadiths:

1. ‘God does not take away knowledge by wresting it from the hearts of men; rather He takes knowledge away by taking away the scholars. So when no scholar remains, people take the ignorant as leaders who, when asked, give fatwas without knowledge: they are astray and lead others astray.’12 Here we are told of the public’s inability to reign in their haste and impulsiveness and patiently seek out whatever remains of qualified scholarship. As headless chickens, they race about asking any Tom, Dick or Harry for religious judgements and guidance. The masses turn things on their head by making the unworthy worthy, the unqualified qualified, the unacceptable acceptable. The upshot: the ummah, as whole, seriously suffers. (Much of the above prophecy has, in fact, already come to pass – and God’s aid is sought!)

2. Abu Musa relates: God’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘Before the coming of the Hour there will be harj!’ I said: O Messenger of God, what is harj? He said: ‘Killing.’ Some of the Muslims said: O Messenger of God, now we slay [in battle] such and such number of idolaters in a single year. God’s Messenger said: ‘This won’t be like slaying the idolaters. Instead, you will kill one another, to the extent that a person will kill his neighbour, his nephew and relations!’ Some people said: O Messenger of God! Will we be in our right minds that day? He replied: ‘No! 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.’13 Thus we are assured in this hadith that madness shall descend upon the mob, giving rise to mutual bloodshed and much violence and murder.

3. As for the masses being the rabble and the riffraff, then Ibn ‘Abbas relates: I used to teach some of the Emigrants, among who was ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf. While I was in his house at Mina and he was with ‘Umar b. al-Khattab in what was his last pilgrimage, ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf came to me and said: ‘If only you had seen the man who came to [‘Umar] the Leader of the Believers, saying: O Leader of the Believers! What do you say about someone who says that when ‘Umar dies, he will give the oath of allegiance to so and so person, for – by God – the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr was nothing but a reaction that afterwards became established?’ At this, ‘Umar became angry and said: If God wills, I shall stand and address the people tonight and will warn them against those who seek to deprive people of their entitlements. ‘Abd al-Rahman exclaimed: ‘O Leader of the Believers, don’t do so! For the pilgrimage season gathers the rabble (ra‘a) and the riffraff (ghawgha), and they will be the ones who will get closest to you when you stand to address the people. I fear that they will misconstrue your words and twist them out of context. So wait till you reach Madinah, for it is the land of migration and the Sunnah (dar al-hijrah wa’l-sunnah). There you will be among the people of learning, understanding and nobility, where you can say what you have to say, with confidence. For the people of knowledge will understand your words and they will keep things in context.’ To this, ‘Umar said: By God, that is what I will do in my first address to the people of Madinah; God willing.14 The narration is very telling and begs the question: if that was the case about the masses then, one wonders how it could possibly be any better today?

To conclude: The year 2011 witnessed a seismic change in the concept of citizenship in the Arab world. We saw the masses determined to actively have a direct say in their own affairs and destiny, as citizens. Millions of people from different socioeconomic and religious backgrounds protested against tyranny and dictatorship via organised campaigns of civil resistance, demonstrations, labour strikes and rebellion to improve oppressive regimes or to topple them. ‘We the People’ saw themselves as direct agents of change. But We the People, as this article has sought to highlight, can be a force for mayhem and the erosion of faith, as it can for good. So given the many authoritative Islamic texts that speak of the deterioration of the masses (in terms of faith, spiritual growth and sound religious judgement; and the sociopolitical consequences), given also the rise of the Ruwaybidah among them, the mere fact that the masses are agents of change should not in itself engender any immediate hope or confidence. As for the question of whether or not such activism and rebellion was lawful in the first place, according to the rules and principles enshrined in the shari‘ah, that will have to be left to address elsewhere.

Islam teaches us to assess change, not in terms of material advancement, nor even in terms of the presence or absence of political freedom, but in terms of an increasing awareness of God’s presence, worship of Him, and fulfilling the prescriptions instated by faith. If change through activism facilitates the former, but not the latter, how can believers really rejoice?

Here in the West, over the past four of five decades, much has been said and debated about the dumbing down of society. Dumbing down refers to the oversimplification of critical thought and the diminishment of the intellectual content in education, art, culture and politics. Even though we have more information at our disposal, we are seen to be less capable of critical thinking than those generations of people before us. The argument is that mass media and entertainment, the over reliance on technology, and allowing ourselves to be consumed by consumerism, has all led to this numbing and dumbing down. A more sinister narrative insists that the dumbing down has been engineered, in order that “the powers that be” can keep the masses subdued. (Less the Orwellian, and more the Huxleyan nightmare!)

Dumbing down has also been spoken of in the prophetic hadiths, some of which have been related above. They speak of how the masses will be dumbed down in respect to their escalating ignorance of religious knowledge; their diminishing grasp of spiritual realities; and their succumbing ever more to the dictates of anger and emotions which blind their sense of reason, making increasing moments of mob madness far more frequent. And while it is true that some of Muslim scholarship has still yet to make the transition into the modern world, where simple faith and little intellectual content tend not to be enough, our scholarship is becoming much more informed, critical and thoughtful. But if the masses are to be agents of positive change – and why shouldn’t they be – they too need to nurture in themselves a more thoughtful and enlightened practice of faith. And this can only come from resisting the Ruwaybidah tendencies in themselves and their ranks, reviving their connection to the scholars, and committing to a deeper level of religious study and meditation. Only then, when the scholars and masses work together for society’s moral, spiritual and worldly benefit, will the much sought-after change that believing hearts aspire to begin to come about. This ancient piece of scholarly wisdom must also be kept firmly in our minds: man ta‘ajjala’l-shay’a qabla awanihi ‘uqiba bi hurmanihi – ‘Whosoever seeks to hasten a thing before its time, will be deprived of its outcome.’

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Al-Bukhari, no.2307.

2. Scruton, The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought (Great Britain & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 169.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.6434.

4. Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Zuhd, no.775; Ahmad, Musnad, no.6650. It was graded authentic (sahih) by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1619.

5. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.4297, and it is sahih, Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.958.

6. Ibn Majah, no.4036; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:465, who said: ‘Its chain is sahih.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.2498; Muslim, no.2547.

8. Bahjat al-Qulub al-Abrar (Cairo: Dar al-Bayan, 1988), 365-66.

9. Hobbes, Leviathan (London: The Folio Society, 2012), 92.

10. See: G. Bowering (ed.), The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought (New Jersey & Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press, 2013), 330-31.

11. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 28:149-50.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.34; Muslim, no.2673.

13. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3959, Ahmad, Musnad, no.19492. It was graded as sahih by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1682.

14. Al-Bukhari, no.6830.

The Rabble, the Ruwaybidah & We the People (Pt 1)

rv5061f1efOne 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.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: