Peaceful protestors have taken to the streets for the second day across Egypt calling for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to step down. Such protests are extremely rare in Egypt after the 2013 military coup, which saw Sisi snatch power from Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, President Mohamed Morsi.
Since he seized power, Sisi has cracked down on all forms of political dissent. The Sisi regime has been characterised by widespread clampdown on civil rights, with demonstrations rendered all but illegal. Sisi currently has at least 60,000 political prisoners incarcerated.  Against this backdrop, the demonstrators these past few days have been exceptionally brave.
Unmasked protestors chanted “the people demand the fall of the regime” in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square late on Friday. Whilst the current crop of protestors may be too young to remember the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the use of the 2011 motto is revealing.
Should Dictatorship be given a Divine Right?
Over the course of 2010 and 2011, a wave of optimism blew across the Middle East as dictators fell like dominoes. This region, in which puppet tyrants had ruled with an iron fist, saw the first seedlings of hope for the first time in decades. One after another, despotic regimes were brought down by people peacefully protesting. The streets of Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Egypt were thronging with people chanting, “the people want to bring down the regime.” It was under these circumstances that three school-aged children wrote graffiti on a wall calling for Bashar al-Assad to step down. The Syrian secret police promptly arrested the boys on 29 April 2011.
One of the boys arrested was 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb, whose lifeless body was returned to his family one month later on condition of their silence. However, the scars on his body spoke to the ghastly torture he endured at the hands of the secret police.
A video posted online showed a battered, bruised and bloodied face, with skin riddled with gashes, burns, and bullet wounds. Hamza had a fractured neck and marks consistent with whipping from an electric shock device. His injuries were designed to hurt and torture, but not to kill the child. Hamza’s jaw and kneecaps were also shattered. In an act of sordid barbarity, the child also had his private parts cut off.  The boy’s torture and killing ignited waves of protests that spread across the country. Like his father before him, Bashar al-Assad responded with disproportionate and brutal force. The Assad regime’s military crackdown on the civilian population compelled the people to defend themselves. Hamza al-Khateeb will forever remain a potent symbol for the insurrection.
It was therefore bewildering to hear Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s ‘mocking’ of the Syrian people and their uprising against a tyrant. When the history books are written, Bashar al-Assad will be recorded as one of the vilest oppressors of our time. Assad’s murdering and maiming children firmly places him in the hall of infamous tyrants.
Sheikh Yasir Qadhi has intervened by saying:
“It is a misuse of the Prophetic traditions and legacy, and an abuse of the traditionalist understanding of Sunnism, then, to quote traditions like ‘Whoever humiliates the Sultan shall be humiliated by Allāh’ (even if they are authentic – which is another topic altogether) to essentially side with modern Yazīds against the innocent people whom they are slaughtering, and to emotionally blackmail people to remain subservient to tyrants.”
Sheikh Yasir went on to say:
“I reiterate: mainstream Sunnism is much more nuanced. In the battle against a legitimate Caliph who is tyrannical, our hearts and sympathies are with the Ḥusayns [raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhuma], not the Yazīds, even as we understand the wisdom of not creating civil war. To therefore quote these traditions to make it appear that Sunnī theology tells us to side with tyrants is just plain wrong, and our history is full of hundreds of examples, from across all strands of Sunnism (from the likes of al-Nawawī to Ibn Taymiyya, and before them Ibn Ḥanbal and Mālik and Abu Ḥanīfah), who showed us what a true Sunnī scholar does under an unjust ruler. No scholar should EVER appear to side with a tyrant or endorse emotional and theological subservience to one – that is simply not what our tradition teaches.
And one final point: this is the view of mainstream scholars regarding a legitimate Khalīfa – meaning one who applies the Shariah and rules over a land governed by the laws of Islam.
To take these prophetic traditions and apply them to modern atheistic secularist anti-religious tyrants who have no shred of Islamic sanctity is simply unacceptable. Those who don’t attempt to govern by the prophetic tradition have no claim to the sanctity it affords.”
Sheikh Hamza has since apologised, and this is the end of the matter. Any public apology cannot be easy and ultimately, of course, Allāh alone is the Judge.
However, besides addressing Sheikh Hamza specifically, it is prudent to address the general idea proposed by some that challenging tyrants (such as in Syria) is khuruj – a rebellion against a legitimate Muslim. Would such people consider the Palestinian uprising a khuruj? If not, what is the difference between Assad and Netanyahu? If anything, as loathsome as Netanyahu is, Assad is far worse.
The position that the uprising in Syria was a rebellion against a legitimate ruler is not without its consequences. It criminalises the revolution and, by extension, removes our responsibility towards the Syrian people. As a consequence, it validates Bashar al-Assad, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah, and Putin. It sanctifies the billions of dollars that the Iranian regime has spent murdering mothers, amputating children, and bombing hospitals. Is this really the side the Ummah of Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) should be on?
Moreover, the views held by some religious groups and their scholars condemning the oppressed only serves to give a veneer of religious authority to the oppressor. It is as if to say, God has placed you under the authority of the dictator and as such, if you rebel against him, you have rebelled against God Himself. It is such reckless and flawed emotional blackmail that saw the worst excesses in Christendom in medieval Europe. It seems that rather than use their energy to challenge such authoritarianism, some people seemingly want the Muslim nation to remain subservient.
Let us look at Egypt and the peaceful people’s revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Initially, the Salafi Da’wah movement in Egypt denounced it as a fitna (chaos) and advised its members not to participate in the protest, but soon changed their view when it became apparent that Mubarak would fall. However, this same Salafi Da’wah movement had no compunction supporting the military coup that removed Egypt’s first democratically elected leader in 2013. The resultant dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has seen a brutal crackdown on civil rights and religious freedom in the country.
Uhud and the rise of Hypocrisy
The cowardice of the view that the Syrian revolution was ill-advised and a defeat is nothing new. The Muslim Ummah first became aware of such cowardice after the Battle of Uhud. Before the fighting had begun, the leader of the hypocrites, Abdullah ibn Ubayy, withdrew his soldiers from the army, saying: “We do not know why we should kill ourselves.”
After the battle of Badr, the small Muslim community thought it could not be defeated. The loss at Uhud was therefore shocking; 70 companions, including the uncle of Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), were martyred during the battle. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), the most beloved to Allāh, was himself injured and bloodied in the fighting, and even had to withdraw to the mountains.
Uhud is not recorded as a defeat. Rather, it is remembered as a victory. It was at Uhud where Abu Dujanah wore his red bandana. It was at Uhud where Handalah was given ghusl by the angels. It was at Uhud where Anas bin al-Nadr was asked by Sa’d bin Muadh when charging against the enemy: “Where are you going Abu Umar?” To which Anas replied: “How sweet is the scent of Paradise that I smell here in Uhud.” Anas fought with such bravery that none but his sister could identify his dead body. It was at Uhud where Talha became a living martyr. These are the stories that have become immortalised from the events of Uhud.
Upon the burial of the martyrs of Uhud, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “I bear witness that anyone wounded in the cause of Allāh will be resurrected on the Day of Judgement, with his blood flowing from his injuries with the fragrance of musk.” It was after Uhud that Allāh revealed:
“And do not be weak against your enemy. If you are suffering then surely they too are suffering, but you have a hope from Allāh, for which they do not hope.”
“Allāh will not leave the believers in the state in which you are in now, until He distinguishes the wicked from the good.”
The response of the hypocrites to the perceived loss at Uhud is the same response echoed by some to the situation in Syria today. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says in the Qur’ān: “Among you there is the sort of person who is sure to lag behind: if a calamity befalls you, he says, ‘God has been gracious to me that I was not there with them’.”
Had Allāh wanted us to meekly accept tyrannical rule, then Ibrahim (ʿalayhi al-Salām) would not have been thrown into the fire; Musa (ʿalayhi al-Salām) would not have risen up against Fir’aun; Dawud (ʿalayhi al-Salām) would not have thrown his stone; Isa (ʿalayhi al-Salām) would not have upturned the tables of the money lenders; and Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would not have been inspired by the words: “How often has a small company overcome a large one by the Permission of Allāh?”
What would such people say about the incident when Umar ibn al-Khattab was challenged for having two pieces of cloth from the Muslim treasury? Where is Umar to these tyrants, and what are two pieces of cloth compared to the vast resources (that belong to the people) usurped by these despots? Umar gave clear instructions to his followers that they should obey him when he followed Allāh and His Messenger and to correct him should he stray from that.
Assad the Alawi
Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite. Originally known as Nusayris, Alawites are an extreme offshoot of the Shia, but have incorporated aspects of other beliefs, including Christianity, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism. Alawites have their own Holy Trinity, drink wine as Imam Ali’s transubstantiated essence in rituals, and also believe in reincarnation. Some Alawi soldiers believe Bashar al-Assad is Imam Ali reincarnate. It is mainstream Alawi doctrine to believe that God was first reincarnated as Joshua who conquered Canaan, and then later reincarnated as the fourth Caliph ‘Ali, cousin of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).
To blame the Syrian people for opposing their tyrant is victim blaming in the extreme. By extension, this position condemns the resistance of the Palestinian, Kashmiri, Chechen, Yemeni, and Rohingya people. What would such prominent voices posit as a solution to the manifest injustices in these countries? Is their only advice to sit at the feet of tyrants with a begging bowl as some so-called scholars have done? What is their view of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, a movement that stood up to an oppressive and unjust system and ultimately succeeded?
Scholars are the heirs of the prophets and have a special status. But with that position comes increased responsibility before Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and to people. It is simply not becoming of a leader to denigrate and demoralise his flock. Rather, at a time of crisis, a true leader inspires his congregation.
During the Battle of the Trench, the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) were digging a trench as a protection from the Quraish. They came across a boulder which they could not break and so approached the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said “With the Name of Allāh” and struck it while saying: “Allāh is the Most Great, I have been given the keys of Ash-Shaam (Greater Syria). By Allāh I can see its red palaces at the moment.” On the second strike he said: “Allāh is the Most Great, I have been given Persia. By Allāh, I can now see the white palace of Madain.” On the third and final strike of the boulder he said: “Allāh is the Most Great, I have been given the keys of Yemen. By Allāh, I can see the gates of Sana’a.” We see here the Prophetic model of leadership is to inspire and provide a positive vision at times of difficulty.
We should not lose sight of the fact that the companions were so afraid that Allāh said of them:
“Remember when they massed against you from above and from below, your eyes rolled with fear and you thought ill thoughts about Allāh. There the believers were sorely tested and deeply shaken. The hypocrites and the sick at heart said: ‘Allāh and His Messenger have promised us nothing but delusion!’ Some of them said: ‘O people of Madinah, you will not be able to stand the attack, so go back!’.”
But Allāh praised the believers’ response:
“When the believers saw the Confederates they said: ‘This is what Allāh and His Messenger had promised us. The Promise of Allāh and His Messenger is true.’ And it only served to increase in their faith and submission.”
Powerful Muslim Voice
At a time when the world is in turmoil, with fascism spreading across the globe; with capitalism literally destroying our planet; when poverty, injustice and wealth hoarding is widespread; now is the time for a robust, dignified, and confident Muslim voice to be heard. Now is the time that humanity needs to be shown that there is a better, more just, peaceful, and more harmonious way to live. Now is the time to show to the world why Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) describes the Muslim community so:
“You are the best nation produced (as an example) for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allāh.”
In order to become beacons to mankind, we need a spiritual transformation. We need to liberate our minds from the shackles of inferiority. But in order to lead we must be an example; the embodiment of the Qur’ān not only in public, but also in private to become a prophetic community.
One day – and let us be honest, it will be sooner than we like to think – we will meet our Maker. The description of that day is terrifying. That day, when the skies crack open and the seas are set on fire and mankind is screaming and scampering from place to place to find refuge, will be 50,000 years long. On that day, the fallen children, mothers, and elderly in Syria, Kashmir, Myanmar, and elsewhere will be sitting on thrones with a crown of honour. Let us pray that when we lock eyes with them, they do not ask those who had criminalised their resistance: “How’s it working out for you now?”
 The Sealed Nectar, Al-Mubarakpuri
 Ibn Husham 2/98
 Al-Qur’ān 4:104
 Al-Qur’ān 3:179
 Al-Qur’ān 4:71-73
 Al-Qur’ān 2:249
 Al-Qur’ān 33:10-14
 Al-Qur’ān 33:22
The views expressed on Islam21c and its connected channels do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation.
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