Oppression has pillars; specifically, five of them. If present, then the equation of subjugation becomes complete. These pillars are fixed, found in every civilisation that chooses to oppress its communities, regardless of their religion, race or era. What changes are the faces, as well as the instruments employed. But as for the underlying principles, they are the same.
In the eyes of Muslims, the symbol of oppression has become the Pharaoh of Egypt whose story with Prophet Musa PBUH is the most repeated story in the Qur’an. A subtle indication that the story of oppression will continue to repeat itself over the course of history, and that the pillars of oppression in each era are identical. So what are these pillars?
The arrogant authority
This first pillar is a reference to an authority that considers itself immune to any form of accountability, where nothing should nor could stand in its way. An authority that views criticism as rebellion, treason and a threat that should be eradicated. Rewinding to the story of Musa, this first pillar is represented by the Pharaoh figure himself whose reign was unchallenged, whose opinions were above the law, and who considered advisers as opposition deserving of jail, torture and even execution.
The hypocritical minister
The second pillar of oppression culminates in a minister(s) who cosies up to the authority, reassuring it that it is justified in its measures. A minister who takes every opportunity to give a round of applause for the authority’s statements, fulfilling its every instruction without a second thought. Rewinding to the story of Musa, this pillar of oppression is represented by Hāmān, the Pharaoh’s minister.
Every suppressive regime requires wealthy members of society who have a personal interest in the existence of such a regime. They vehemently oppose any efforts for reformation as it threatens their fortunes. Hence, they extend a very generous hand in ensuring that such authority remains unchallenged and that any voices of reason are quashed. Rewinding to the story of Musa, this pillar of oppression is represented by Qāroon, one of the wealthiest of human beings to exist and a supporter of the Pharaoh’s cause.
The religious authority
The fourth pillar of oppression is religious clergy who paint the injustices of the authority with a gloss of religion. Ones who, not only justify their decrees – even if blatantly contradictory to their past religious verdicts – under the guise of ‘Maslaha’/public interest or ‘Daroora’/necessity but will praise such decisions as being the essence of wisdom and even divinely inspired. They are ‘scholars’ who sell their homes in the Hereafter for a petty worldly return, and rewinding to the story of Musa, this pillar is represented by the magicians of the pharaoh prior to their Islam.
No dictatorship can exist without it. A body that seeks to sway public opinion for the benefit of the establishment. One that only functions by covering those stories that glorify it, whilst turning a blind eye from news that may detract from it. Rewinding back to the story of Musa, this is represented by the gatherers; those who rushed to the street to congregate the people of Egypt to witness the dual between Musa and the magicians, saying:
هُلْ أَنتُم مُّجْتَمِعُونَ (39) لَعَلَّنَا نَتَّبِعُ السَّحَرَةَ إِن كَانُواْ هُمُ الغـلِبِينَ
“Will you gather? That we might follow the magicians if they are the victorious?”
What if they are not victorious? Does that mean they will follow prophet Musa? Well, they didn’t even consider mentioning it to the people as a viable option, for they wish to push public opinion to a corner that serves the authority, and only the authority.
These are the pillars of oppression which, when any one of them is absent, the building of oppression cannot stand. Moreover, a cursory glance at the international political scene today, particularly in much of the so-called Muslim ones, displays how similar yesterday was to today. For the purpose of this piece, I don’t wish to dwell on this as most of us are very aware of the deplorable circumstances of today.
What I do wish to shed light on is the question; how do we proceed from here? In light of the challenges – whether locally or abroad – what is required from us? In reality, a wholesome answer to this question can only be provided by the collective efforts of scholars and experts from all walks of life. However, regardless of their conclusion, their proposal must and will include this following ingredient, one that is incredibly prone to wear and tear in climates like today. An ingredient that was nurtured as part of the upbringing of every Muslim generation which saw a revival. An ingredient which, when mixed with anything, leads to outcomes in both worlds that are nothing short of miraculous;
= Yaqeen / Certainty.
Consider the Prophet Mohammad’s PBUH attempt to re-enter Mecca during what was one of the most challenging years of his life. He had left Mecca in secret in search for a land that would perhaps accept the seeds of Islam. He travelled to Al-Tā’if where they would reject him in the vilest of ways that one could possibly reject another human being, let alone a prophet from God. He returns back to Mecca knowing all too well that another episode of persecution awaits him, but where else was he supposed to go?
As he stands at the gates of Mecca, Zaid b. Hāritha asks the Prophet PBUH:
كَيْفَ تَدْخُلُ عَلَيْهِمْ يَعْنِي قُرَيْشًا وَهُمْ أَخْرَجُوكَ ؟
“How will you re-enter when they had exiled you?”
The excellence of the Prophet’s PBUH response was simply on another level;
يَا زَيْدُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ جَاعِلٌ لِمَا تَرَى فَرَجًا وَمَخْرَجًا ، وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ نَاصِرٌ دِينَهُ وَمُظْهِرٌ نَبِيَّهُ
“O Zaid, Allah is going to provide relief and a way out from the difficulty that you are seeing, and Allah is going to support His religion and will cause His prophet to prevail.”
Consider the context of that statement;
- – His home city had turned against him.
- – His companions were being tortured in front of him in Mecca.
- – He and his tribe were subject to an embargo that lasted three grueling years.
- – His wife Khadeeja, his internal line of defence, had passed away.
- – His uncle Abū Tālib, his external line of defence, had passed away.
- – He had travelled for miles on end only to be sworn at and assaulted in Tā’if.
- – He had returned to Mecca as no alternative was available.
- – On top of all of this, he had no idea how he was even going to walk back into Mecca since he was not permitted to leave it in the first place.
Despite this, he says to Zaid at that very moment of weakness, “Allah is going to provide relief..”
This element of Yaqeen is what carried prophets and reformers during times like ours, and it is Yaqeen which raises one Muslim over another in the Eyes of Allah, despite it being invisible to us, as it resides in hearts. But Allah sees hearts, and it is hearts that Allah wants.
I’ve always wondered what it was that made those before us excel the way they did. How was it that they rose to such extraordinary levels of worship and sacrifice? How was it that their Iman was consistently solid? That their attachment to Dunya was so minimal and that their composure during testing times was on another level? I read into this and found the following;
Bakr b. ʿAbd Allah Al-Muzani said in praise of Abū Bakr:
ما سبقهم أبو بكر بكثرةِ صلاةٍ ولا صيامٍ ولكن بشيءٍ وقرَ في قلبه
“It was not abundance of prayer or fasting which raised Abū Bakr beyond all others, but it was because of something which had settled within his heart.”
But what is the nature of this secret? It still wasn’t entirely clear to me. I continued reading and came across a statement made by Ibnul Mubārak in praise of Imam Mālik, saying:
ما رأيت أحدا ارتفع مثل مالك، ليس له كثير صلاة ولا صيام، إلا أن تكون له سريرة
“I have never seen a person who rose like Mālik did. He didn’t engage in huge amounts of prayer and fasting, but perhaps he has a secret.”
Again, the topic of secrets kept coming up! I continued reading and came across another statement by Ibnul Mubārak in praise of Ibrahim b. Adham, saying:
له فضل في نفسه، صاحب سرائر
“He is a virtuous man who has many secrets.”
Naturally, at this point, one’s eagerness to uncover this “secret” is almost unmanageable! Finally, I arrived at a Hadith which brought me so much joy. A narration that uncovered the veil and revealed the jewel underneath. The jewel that was responsible for their strength of heart, steadfastness during testing times and revival;
The Prophet PBUH said:
صَلَاح أول هَذِه الْأمة بالزهد وَالْيَقِين وَيهْلك آخرهَا بالبخل والأمل
“The goodness of the earlier generations of Muslims is due to their Zuhd/minimalism and Yaqeen/certainty, and the latter generation of Muslims will be ruined because of stinginess and false hopes.”
This is the secret that hid in the heart of Abū Bakr that raised him in the Eyes of Allah and allowed him to stand tall like a mountain during testing times. The same secret which we hope was in the hearts of Imam Mālik, Ibrahim b. Adham and their likes till the end of time.
This is the Yaqeen which was described by the companion ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ood:
الصبرُ نصف الإيمان، واليقينُ الإيمان كله
“Patience is half of Iman, and Yaqeen is the entirety of Iman.”
And was described beautifully by Imam Ibnul Qayyim, saying:
اليقين من الإيمان بمنزلة الروح من الجسد، وفيه تفاضل العارفون، وفيه تنافس المتنافسون، وإليه شمـّر العاملون
“Yaqeen in relation to Iman is like the soul in relation to the body. This is what the righteous people competed over.”
Allow me to pose a series of quick questions that require honest answers;
(1) Is it not true that you wish for your good deeds, even if they are a few, to be a means of erasing your major sins? If so, then investigate your levels of Yaqeen.
Ibnu Taymiyya said:
والحسنةُ الواحدةُ قد يقترن بها من الصدق واليقين مايجعلها تكفر الكبائر
“It may be just one good deed which one puts forward, but is merged with truthfulness and certainty which causes it to wipe away major sins.”
(2) Is it not that you have made Du’aa in the past without seeing signs of an answer? If so, then investigate your levels of Yaqeen.
The Prophet PBUH said:
ادعوا الله وأنتم موقنون بالإجابة
“Call upon Allah with certainty in the response.”
(3) Is it not that the trials of life do take their toll and can push us to breaking point? If you can relate to this, then investigate your Yaqeen, for it is an active means of lessening their impact and restoring happiness despite the bleakest of circumstances. Allow me to draw an analogy.
Imagine the situation of an extremely impoverished person who has enormous debts and a large family to maintain. Later on, he receives a phone call and is told that his distant uncle had passed away, leaving behind a sum of 10 million pounds, and that he is the only remaining inheritor of his uncle. He is told, however, that due to the amount of money, it’s going to take up to one year to free up this wealth and get it over to him. I ask: What type of happiness and excitement will such a person experience during this waiting period? Yes, he is still poor, still debt-ridden and still responsible for a large family, but what has changed is the hope of what is to come, keeping him buzzing with positivity and excitement. This is the analogy of the believer who has Yaqeen that paradise is real and awaits; the patient believer. His eyes are on the prize, thus, living in light even if surrounded by darkness.
This is why we have been taught to say in the Du’aa:
ومن اليقين ماتهوّن به علينا مصائب الدنيا
“ .. and grant us Yaqeen that will lessen, in our eyes, the calamities of life..”
(4) Do you not wish to be a person who is taken as a guide in his/her actions, to then be blessed with not only your own deeds on the Day of Reckoning, but copies of the deeds of others who emulated you in goodness? If so, then investigate your Yaqeen.
وَجَعَلْنَا مِنْهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا لَمَّا صَبَرُوا وَكَانُوا بِآيَاتِنَا يُوقِنُونَ
“And We made from among them leaders guiding by Our command when they were patient and when they were certain of Our signs.”
Patience + Certainty = Leadership in the religion. That is because patience closes the window of Shahawāt (impermissible subtle desires), whilst certainty closes the window of Shubuhāt (doubtful matters), and a person who manages this is worthy of becoming a leader.
(5) Don’t you wish to be a person who masters the skill of contemplation, to know how to see the signs of Allah in everything around you, being in almost a permanent state of remembrance? If so, then investigate your Yaqeen. Allah said:
وَفِي الْأَرْضِ آَيَاتٌ لِلْمُوقِنِينَ
“And on the earth are signs for the people of Yaqeen.”
Therefore, a gift which brings with it the erasing of major sins, the answering of Du’aa, the easing of calamities, leadership in the religion, and the ability to benefit from Allah’s signs, is truly a gift like none other. With this we can now understand why the Prophet Mohammad PBUH would say:
سلوا اللهَ المُعافاةَ أو قال العافِيةَ فلم يُؤْتَ أحدُ قطّ بعد اليَقِينِ أفضلَ من العافيةِ
“Ask Allah to grant you wellbeing, for one cannot be given anything – after Yaqeen – that’s greater than wellbeing.”
Despite the challenges; dictatorships that imprison scholars, others who have set up 21st century concentration camps, the plight of Muslims at large, and the voiceless Ummah that we’ve become, our certainty in Allah remains unshakable and our belief in His promise is unwavering, as we repeat the words of Prophet Mohammad PBUH,
“O Zaid, Allah is going to provide relief and a way out from the difficulty you are seeing …”
If, however, anything is to be doubted, then it’s you and me;
Who am I in light of these challenges?
What is my role in alleviating them?
What part of my lifestyle, appearance, relationships and business requires changing?
What is the status of my certainty in Allah?
It’s our decisions today that shall illustrate the answers to these questions.
 Al-Qur’an, 26:39-40
 Tabaqāt Al-Kubra, Ibn Sa’d
 Latā’iful Ma’ārif, Ibnu Rajab
 Hilyatul Awliyā, Abu Nu’aim
 Taareekh Dimashq, Ibn ‘Asākir
 Narrated by Al-Bayhaqi in ‘Shu’abul Iman’, on the authority of ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘Aas
 Shu’abul Iman, Al-Bayhaqi
 Madārijus Sālikeen, Ibnul Qayyim
 Mukhtasar Al-Fatāwah Al-Misriyya, Ibnu Taymiyya
 Narrated by Al-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Abū Huraira
 Narrated by Al-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Ibnu ‘Umar
 Al-Qur’an, 32:24
 Al-Qur’an, 51:20
 Ahmad, on the authority of Abū Bakr
Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is Islam21c’s Tarbiya Editor. A UK national of Palestinian origin, he gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari’ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Shaykh Ali is the author of several books including ‘The Daily Revivals’, ‘The Ten Lanterns’ and ‘The Friday Reminder’. He delivers sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.