It has become almost impossible to come across those who claim adherence to Ahl al-Hadīth today who are actually so. You find those who claim to do so particularly submissive to their rulers, issuing legal verdicts (fatāwa) in their favour and prohibiting going against them even by mere speech. Some have gone to the extent of becoming informants against those who express opposition to their rulers, until they become imprisoned and castigated. The question is, was Ahl al-Hadīth of old on this methodology of praise and flattery towards their rulers, even if the latter were oppressive and depraved? Is it classically accepted and truly the case that our rulers are justified “even if they fornicate for half an hour live on television everyday” as one of these submissive people recently claimed?
The never-ending wonders of the ‘fatāwa’ issued by some ‘neo-Muhaddithūn’ have focussed on backing the ruler regardless of their oppression. The Ahl al-Hadīth of old, such as al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110 AH) and Sufyan b. ‘Uyaynah (d. 198 AH) rahimahumā Allāh, would edict that “backbiting does not apply to three”, one of them being “the oppressive ruler [Imām]”. Meanwhile, we find some neo-Muhaddithūn instead tipping off others for the sake of oppressive rulers. This is despite the unequivocal Hadīth that states:
“A man passed by Hudhaifah b. al-Yamān and it was said to him: ‘This person conveys news about the people to the leaders.’ Hudhaifah said: ‘The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: ‘The qattāt shall not enter paradise.'” Sufyan said: “The qattāt is the tale-bearer [nammām].”
In reality, the Salaf were very different when it came to dealing with oppressive rulers. The first contention was on the ruling of armed struggle against the ruler (‘by sword’ – bi al-sayf), and most concluded its impermissibility without precluding the obligation of speaking out against evil and tyranny. Ahl al-Hadīth in particular have a profound history of political opposition. In these articles, we will attempt to elucidate some of this, notwithstanding the objective reasons that Ahl al-Hadīth kept their general distance from those in authority.
The Principle of Critique
The first factor that can explain the Muhaddithūn keeping their distance from the ruler is the principle of critique (naqd), which is from the foundations of the Science of Hadīth. The Science of Hadīth is critique-based, aiming to “separate the authentic (sahīh) from the flawed hadīth”. This is impossible without a distinguished spirit and critical ability to deal with transmitters, chains, and wording (matn). In scrutinising the veracity of transmission, the traditional Islamic sensibilities of backbiting and overlooking mistakes are overridden by the need to reveal the nature of the transmitters and establish the veracity of the text. This provides such a scholar a natural ability to criticise, and empowers him with the boldness in speaking the bitter truth in the face of wrongdoers.
The distance the Muhaddithūn kept from the those in charge was probably because their closeness would have scarred their credibility. Credibility is aptly the first condition to verifying a narrator. Those close to rulers may benefit from the dubious wealth offered to them by the leadership, which may adversely influence them. As such, the books of al-jarh wa al-ta’dīl (criticism and endorsement) are replete with rebuking those who would accept gifts from rulers and others who snugged up to them or carried out some of their duties on their behalf. It was narrated that Imām Ahmad (d. 241 AH) would never pray behind his uncle Ishaq b. Hanbal, nor would he speak to him or his two sons, because they accepted gifts from the Sultan of the time.
Living in a Prophetic Environment
Another factor for such scholars distancing themselves from the rulers is their living in the ambiance of Prophetic heritage. The Muhaddith naturally ponders over the life of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) and the four Rightly Guided Caliphs who succeeded him. The Muhaddith sees the gulf that existed between those leaders and the oppressive, corrupt, and amused leaders that led in the time of the Muhaddith. The heart of the Muhaddith and the embodied Hadīth thus provided a constant reminder of the hideousness of the corrupt leader at the time.
The earliest examples of the carriers of Hadīth criticism of the political establishment is recorded in the lives of the Companions and their speaking truth to power whenever they would see deviation from the example of the Messenger (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). The following are a few examples of this.
Abu Dharr al-Ghifāri (d. 32 AH) raḍy Allāhu ʿanhu, whose number of hadīth found in the Musnad of Ahmad are around 300, is responsible for the most famous political opposition before the fitnah between the Companions. This occurred when he criticised the position of ‘Uthmān b. ‘Affān and the latter’s deputy over Greater Syria (Shām), Mu’āwiyah b. Abī Sufyān (d. 60 AH) raḍy Allāhu ‘anhumā concerning the amassing of gold and silver.
Zaid b. Wahab narrates:
“I passed by a place called Al-Rabadha and by chance I met Abu Dharr and asked him, ‘What brings you here?’ He said: ‘I was in Shām and differed with Mu’āwiyah on the meaning of [the following verses of the Qur’an]: ‘They who hoard up gold and silver and spend them not in the way of Allāh…’ [Al-Qur’ān 9:34). Mu’āwiyah said: ‘This verse was revealed regarding the people of the scriptures.’ I said: ‘It was revealed regarding us and also the people of the scriptures.’ We had a quarrel and Mu’āwiyah sent a complaint against me to `Uthmān. `Uthmān wrote to me to come to Medina, and I went to Medina. Many people came to me as if they had not seen me before, so I informed `Uthmān who said to me: ‘You may depart and live nearby if you wish.’ That was the reason for my being here. And even if an Ethiopian had been nominated as my ruler, I would have obeyed him.”
A similar incident occurred involving the famous companion Abu al-Dardā’ (d. 32 AH) who differed with Mu’āwiyah raḍy Allāhu ‘anhumā concerning a particular transaction. Abu al-Dardā’ mentioned a hadīth that he heard from the Messenger (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam).He said: “Who will excuse me from Mu’āwiyah? I tell him something from the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) and he gives me his own opinion! I will not live in the same land as you!“
Contrary to what the Shī’a claim, Abu Hurairah (d. 59 AH) raḍy Allāhu ʿanhu, who narrated the largest number of Hadīth, would very often express his objection to the rulership of Bani Umayyah. However, due to fears over his own life in the face of authority, he would often object indirectly, becoming more direct towards the end of Mu’āwiyah’s rule. Abu Hurairah said: “I have memorised two elements of knowledge from Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). I have propagated one of them to you, and if I propagate the second, then my pharynx [throat] would be cut [i.e. he would be killed].” Commenting on this hadīth, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalāni (d. 852 AH) says: “The scholars considered that the knowledge that he did not propagate was those hadīths containing the names of evil rulers, their conditions, and eras. Abu Hurairah would hint towards some of it but not express it openly due to fear over his own life. This is like when he said: ‘I seek refuge from Allāh from reaching 60 (years after the Hijrah) and the leadership of children’, referring to Yazīd b. Mu’āwiyah. Allāh answered his supplication and he died one year before that.”
The Revolutions Led by the Companions
The pinnacle of political revolution occurred in the time of al-Husain b. Ali (raḍy Allāhu ʿanhu), a noble companion and the grandson of the Messenger (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). This revolution was against Yazīd b. Mu’āwiyah in 61 AH and paved the way for a series of armed revolutions led and fuelled by scholars. These revolutions persisted one after the other for around 85 years between 61AH and 145AH, even if they were sometimes separated by a few years.
Al-Husain’s revolt was followed by one that was led by the Companion Sulaymān b. Surad al-Khuzā’i (raḍy Allāhu ʿanhu) who related hadīth directly from the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) and led Jaysh al-Tawwābīn (the Army of the Penitents) that emerged from Iraq to battle what they saw as the oppression by some of Bani Umayyah in the year 64 AH. His contingent was four thousand strong. This was soon followed by the confrontation between the noble Companion Abdullāh b. al-Zubair b. al-‘Awwām (d. 73 AH) with Abdul-Malik b. Marwān (d. 86 AH), the latter assisted by his deputy al-Hajjāj b. Yūsuf al-Thaqafi (d. 95 AH), to name but a few mighty events and revolutions.
However, the major revolution that sought to change rulership by force during the time of the Companions was that led by the people of Medina – the capital of Ahl al-Hadīth – in the year 63 AH against Yazīd b. Mu’āwiyah. With regards to this event, Imām al-Dhahabi (d. 749 AH) said: “Several revolted against him [Yazīd], after al-Husain [b. Ali raḍy Allāhu ʿanhu], like the people of Medina who stood up for the sake of] Allāh.” This particular revolution is dubbed the ‘Al-Harrah Revolt’, led by Abdullāh b. Mutī’ al-Adawi, who assumed emirship over the emigrants (Muhājirūn), and Abdullāh b. Handhala al-Ansāri, the Emir of the Ansār, after a delegation headed by Ibn Mutī’ testified against Yazīd that he “drank alcohol, abandoned Salāh and transgressed the injunctions contained in the Qur’ān.”
Thus, the people of Medina revoked the pledge towards Yazīd and instead pledged allegiance to Abdullāh b. Mutī’ at the pulpit of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), making the Prophet’s Masjid his headquarters. Most of the people of Medina joined him in his fight against Yazīd’s army coming from the Levant. Ibn Kathīr reports on the authority of Imām b. Shihāb al-Zuhri (d. 124 AH) that the latter was asked about the number of people killed in al-Harrah. He replied: “Seventy of the Muhājirūn and the Ansār and around 10,000 bondsmen, freed men, and others I do not know.” It was because of the horrors of al-Harrah that the relationship soured between Bani Umayyah and Sa’īd b. al-Musayib rahimahu Allāh (d. 94 AH), the Muhaddith and Imām of Medina. The Imām himself had courageous stances criticising their rulership and was beaten until near death.
Of the famous participants of the revolt from the people of Medina who were killed was Ma’qil b. Sinān al-Ashja’ī, about whom Imām al-Dhahabi said: “He has [some] companionship [with the Messenger sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) and narration, and held the banner of [the tribe of] Ashja’ on the day of the opening [of Makkah] … He saw reprehensible matters from Yazīd and thus travelled to Medina, revoked Yazīd, and was of the leaders of al-Harrah.” And among them was Abdullāh b. Zaid b. ‘Āsim al-Ansāri, about whom Imām Abu Na’īm al-Asbahāni (d. 430 AH) says that he witnessed the Battle of Badr; al-Dhahabi added that he is narrator of the hadīth on wudū’(who demonstrated the Prophet’s wudu’ when asked). Another participant of the revolt was Masrūq b. al-Ajda’ al-Hamadāni, who has a biography in Al-Tabaqāt of Ibn Sa’d (d. 230 AH) and about whom Ibn Sa’d said: “He has sound hadīths” and al-Dhahabi described him as “an Imām and exemplary.”
In the following article, we will, in shā’ Allāh, speak of further examples over later instances of history, including opinions held by some of the distinguished scholars of Islam concerning the topic in question. We will allow you to then determine whether this policy of submissiveness or cajoling oppressive or corrupt leadership was truly the way of the Salaf or the Muhaddithūn of old. And Allāh knows best.
Sourced from an article by Dr. Bara’ Nizar Rayan – rendered into English by Ahmed Hammuda
Dr. Bara’ Nizar Rayan is the son of the late Sheikh. Prof. Nizar Rayan, who was Professor in Islamic Law at the Islamic University of Gaza and an authority on Hadīth. Prof. Nizar Rayan was killed on the 1st of January 2009 by a Zionist airstrike, along with 15 members of his family, rahimahum Allāh. Bara’ is a lecturer at the Islamic University of Gaza and an author who regularly writes for Al Jazeera Arabic and other media outlets. He is one of a few surviving members of the Rayan family.
 Hadīth Hasan Sahīh in Jāmi` Al-Tirmidhi (2026), on the authority of Hammām b. al-Hārith. A similar hadīth, “the tale-bearer shall not enter Paradise” on the authority of Hudhaifa, appears in Sahīh Muslim (196).
 Al-Bidāyah wa Al-Nihāyah by Ibn Kathīr (d. 774 AH)
 Sahīh al-Bukhāri 1406
 Muwaṭṭaʾ Malik (Book 31, hadīth 1324)
 Sahīh al-Bukhāri 120
 Al-Bidāyah wa Al-Nihāyah by Ibn Kathīr (d. 774 AH)