Fudayl Ibn Iyad said: “If I had a supplication that would be answered, I would not make it, except for the ruler. Because when the ruler becomes righteous, the towns and the servants become safe and secure.” (Hilyat Al-Awliya)
How many of us keep the rulers of our time in our Duas? How many of us earnestly pray for their steadfastness and guidance? And how many of us make an effort to advise them if they err?
Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal said: “Verily I supplicate for the ruler, for his correctness, success and support – night and day – and I see this as being obligatory upon me.”
That brings us to the question: what does Islam says about Ulema, especially and people, in general, having the right to correct the rulers of their time when they oppress? While looking for answers, the Quran is our greatest guide. It is mentioned in the Quran: “And [mention] when your Lord called out to Moses [saying], ‘Go to the wrongdoing people – the people of Pharoah. Will they not fear Allah?’” (Ash-Shuara 26:10-11)
Allah (swt) instructed Musa (as) to go to the King of Egypt to invite him and his followers to His way and warn them against oppressing Bani Israel. He was also to advise them to let Bani Israel go free. The Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “The best of Jihad is a word of truth before the tyrant ruler.” (Ibn Majah and Ahmad) This Hadeeth explicitly states the obligation of declaring the truth directly to the oppressive ruler.
Umm Salamah (rtaf) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “In the near future, there will be Ameers, and you will like their good deeds and dislike their bad deeds. One who sees through their bad deeds (and tries to prevent their repetition through his hand or speech) is absolved from blame. Still, one who hates their bad deeds (in the heart of his heart, being unable to prevent their recurrence by his hand or his tongue) is (also) safe (so far as God’s wrath is concerned). But one who approves of their bad deeds and imitates them is spiritually ruined.” People asked (the Prophet (sa)): “Shouldn’t we fight against them?” He replied: “No, as long as they say their prayers.” (Muslim)
No matter if a typical people or a ruler, we are all humans, and we all make mistakes. Our duty is to obey our Muslim ruler as long as he establishes Salah. However, this does not mean we hold back from giving advice where needed. Giving advice is different from revolting or fighting. Sincere advice to Muslim leaders means assisting them in their tasks, notifying them when they are careless, uniting people to obey them, and connecting them to their leaders. The best and most sincere advice a person may give the leader is to prevent them from oppression. All the while not forgetting that it is a collective responsibility to protect society against corruption.
It has been narrated on the authority of Ibn Umar that the Prophet (sa) said: “It is obligatory upon a Muslim that he should listen (to the ruler appointed over him) and obey him, whether he likes it or not, except that he is ordered to do a sinful thing. If he is ordered to do a sinful act, a Muslim should neither listen to him nor obey his orders.” (Muslim)
It is a duty upon the believers to hold their rulers accountable if they fall short of their responsibilities towards the people or violate the rules set forth by Allah (swt). The Prophet (sa) advised us to help our brother, whether he is oppressed or the oppressor. And the way to help the oppressor is to stop him from oppressing others. Sheikh Omar Suleiman, founder and president of Yaqeen Institute, says: “When a scholar (Imam) is in the presence of an unjust ruler, it becomes incumbent on him/her to speak about the injustice being committed by that ruler.” (“40 Hadith on Social Justice”)
There are several examples from the lives of the Khulafa Rashideen (the Rightly-Guided Caliphs) where people would go up to them and directly pose their objections. One example is a man who interrupted Umar bin Khattab (rtam) when he was about to deliver the Khutbah in the Prophet’s Masjid to offer the Jummah prayers. The man said they would not listen to his Khubah until he explained why he was wearing two pieces of clothes while everyone else had received one from the Bait-al-Maal (state treasury) the day before. He wanted to know what gave the caliph the liberty to take double the share of the common man. Abdullah bin Umar (rtam), son of Umar (rtam), rose before Umar (rtam) could respond. He explained that just like every other person, he and his father also got one piece of cloth. However, since Umar is a tall man, the piece of fabric that he got from Bait-al-Maal did not suffice, so he offered his piece of cloth to his father. The explanation satisfied the gathering, and Umar (rtam) proceeded with the Khutbah.
During his Khilafah, Umar (rtam) established a specific division to investigate complaints against government officials. Any ordinary person could file these complaints without any fear of repercussions. Once, a woman challenged Umar (rtam) for his statement to correct him. Umar (rtam) acknowledged his mistake there and then. Abdur-Rahman as-Sulami (rtam) reported that Umar ibn al-Khattab (rtam) said: “Do not be excessive in the dowry of women.” A woman said: “It is not so, O Umar, for Allah (swt) said: “… and you have given one of them a great amount (as dowry) …” (An-Nisa 4:20) Umar (rtam) said: “Indeed, a woman has disputed Umar (rtam), and she has defeated him.” In another narration, Umar (rtam) said: “The woman is right, and the man is wrong.” (Musannaf ‘Abdur-Razzaq 10420)
If we want the advice to be practical, it must be given appropriately. When Allah (swt) sent Musa (as) and Haroon (as) to Firawn, He asked them to choose the softest of words, despite him being the greatest of tyrants. The way you say things makes a huge difference.
Iyad ibn Ghanam (rtam) reported that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “Whoever intends to advise one with authority on a matter should not do so publicly. Rather, he should take him by the hand and advise him privately. If he accepts the advice, all is well. If he does not accept it, he has fulfilled his duty.” (Ahmad)
We may conclude that the Ulema, in particular, and people, in general, have the right to correct the rulers of their time when they oppress. The misguidance of others surely affects those who are guided if they refrain from their responsibility of enjoining good and forbidding evil.
The Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “Indeed when people see an oppressor but do not prevent him from (doing evil), Allah (swt) will likely punish them all.” (Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi)
Allah (swt) has commanded in the Quran to enjoin good and forbid evil: “And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful.” (Al-Imran 3:104)