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Moazzam – the Way of the Whistleblower

“Then it occurred to them that it would be in their interest to imprison [Yusuf (‘alayhi al-Salām)] for a time, even after they were convinced of his innocence and saw the proofs of his truth, honesty and chastity.”[1]

The issue concerning Moazzam Begg is well known to everyone. Moazzam’s crime wasn’t that he allegedly sent an electric generator to someone in Syria or that he allegedly carried out some fitness training whilst out there, Moazzam’s crime was that he had campaigned tirelessly against injustices of rendition, arbitrary detention and torture, as well as covert operations and the complicit involvement of nation states in such crimes. He has become one of the most authoritative voices against the global War on Terror and he was about to “blow the whistle” on the UK’s involvement in all of the above matters.

A Whistleblower is a person who exposes misconduct, alleged dishonest or illegal activity occurring in an organisation, institution or society. The alleged misconduct may be classified in many ways; for example, a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health and safety violations, and corruption. Whilst Moazzam may be a whistleblower today and others like him such as Assange, Snowden and Manning, the pages of history are full of such brave and courageous individuals in Islām. In fact, every Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon all of them) whistle-blew against the order of the day and the injustices which were prevalent at their respective times for indeed they came with no other message other than with the universal declaration of the freedom of man from the servitude of men and from the servitude to their own desires, to the servitude of Allāh jalla wa’alā and declaring that sovereignty belongs only to Him alone. The Message they came with was and remains a challenge to all kinds and forms of systems which are based on the sovereignty of man’s unjust rules. And how were the Prophets and those who followed them treated and responded to by the powers that were for their whistleblowing?

Many of us wander in the vastness of the scenes, listening and observing the actions which dazzle the onlooker with amazement when it comes to the sahābah who trod this path of whistleblowing. We can still hear Bilāl (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu) defying Umayyah b. Khalaf, his master, saying “Ahadun, Ahad” (He, Allāh, is One!), despite the burning sand under his back and the heavy stone on his chest. We see Khabbāb (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu) adhering faithfully to the religion of Allāh and proclaiming his faith despite being tortured by red-hot iron being applied to every part of his body when asked “What do you say about Muhammad” and his response being “He is the servant of God and His messenger. He has come with the religion of guidance and truth, to lead us from darkness into light”; and when asked about al-Lāt and al-’Uzza (idols worshipped by the Quraish) he firmly responded: “Two idols, deaf and dumb, that cannot cause harm or bring any benefit…” And what of the family of Yāsir (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu) being tortured, and Sumayyah (radiyAllāhu ‘anhā) killed, but yet their Imān did not weaken and proclamations and whistleblowing did not relent. We can hear Ibn Mas‘ūd (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu) daringly reciting the verses of his Lord openly to the Quraish at a time when no one did so and being severely beaten because of it, and then having the commitment by stating that he wanted to do so again the following day despite the dangers posed to his own life. We see al-Ghāmidiyyah (radiyAllāhu ‘anhā) who committed adultery and, although no-one found out about it and Allāh protected her, she whistle blew on herself out of her faith and insisted on confessing her sin and placing herself between the hands of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), pleading with him to purify her through the prescribed punishment. She sacrificed herself to please her Lord and to undergo a repentance so pure that “it would suffice to grant Allāh’s forgiveness to seventy of the people of Madīnah.”[2]

What then of the generation which followed them? In or around 146 A.H, Al-Mansūr – the ‘Abbāsi Khalīfa of the Muslim Empire whose capital was Baghdād – offered Imām Abū Hanīfah the post of Chief Qādhi (Judge) of the state, but Imām Abū Hanīfah declined to accept the post and chose to remain independent. In his reply to Al-Mansūr, Imām Abū Hanīfah excused himself by saying that he did not regard himself fit for the post offered. Al-Mansūr, who had his own ideas and reasons for offering the post, lost his temper and accused Imām Abū Hanīfah of lying to which the Imām said: “If I am lying, then my statement is doubly correct, how can you appoint a liar to the exalted post of a Chief Qādhi”? Incensed by this reply, Al-Mansūr charged the Imām with contempt, had him arrested and locked in prison. Al-Mansūr knew that Imām Abū Hanīfah was well regarded and sought to legitimise his leadership with the Imām’s backing, who himself was alleged to have supported another individual for the role of the khalīf. Imām Abū Hanīfah’s blowing of the whistle through his conduct that Mansūr was not the rightful khalīfa meant that while in prison, he was beaten severely. Mansūr sought to offer some money to the Imām only to be refused again. By now, Imām Abū Hanīfah had become well-known and thousands flocked to meet and seek his opinion wherever he went. His imprisonment far from reduced his popularity, and Mansūr realised that he would have to treat the Imām carefully, thus he allowed him to teach while still in prison. Mansūr finally decided to do away with the great Imām and had him poisoned. Abū Hanīfah, feeling the effects of the poison, bent down in prayer and died, may Allāh have mercy on him.

Around the same period, in or around 147AH, the governor of Madīnah, Ja’far b. Sulaymān b. ‘Alī al-‘Abbāsi, a cousin of the khalīf al-Mansūr, for his own benefit forbade Imām Mālik to narrate a certain hadīth on the invalidity of divorce pronounced under compulsion, which the Imām nevertheless insisted on narrating. The hadīth opposed the Abbāsid ruler’s practice of adding in the oath of allegiance given to them by the masses that whoever broke the oath was automatically divorced. Imām Mālik’s stance led the governor to have him arrested, stripped, shaved, lashed 70 times, mounted facing backwards on a donkey and paraded around Madīnah. But that did not stop Imām Mālik from whistleblowing. Rather he raised his voice and called out whilst humiliatingly being dragged around the city by a donkey proclaiming: “Whoever knows me, knows me. Whoever does not know me, then I am Mālik b. Anas and I declare that divorce pronounced under compulsion is invalid.” The governor recognised Imām Mālik’s unconquerable spirit and ordered he be released. After this event, Mālik’s reputation in Madīnah grew and people were in awe of him.

Then came in the earlier part of the second century, an ideology called I‘tizāl crept into the Ummah. The people following this ideology were known as the Mu’tazilah (rationalists and philosophers). They would try and justify Islamic teachings and beliefs through their rationale and intellect alone. The centre of their focus was mainly issues like the attributes of Allāh, seeing Allāh in Jannah, predestination, free will, and the nature of the words of Allāh. They gave preference to intellect, rationale and philosophy over the Divine revelation sent by Allāh and over the words of the Messenger of Allāh sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam. This ideology gained popularity during the reign of Ma’mūn Rashīd, so much so that it turned into a state religion, and their views were imposed upon the people, and the masses were forced to accept them.

The issue of the nature of the words of Allāh, the Qur’ān, became a major tenet of this school of thought who held that the Qur’ān is a creation of Allāh, whilst the Ahl al-Sunnah Wal-Jamā‘ah maintained that the Words of Allāh are an attribute (sifah) of Allāh and not a creation of Allāh. The Mu‘tazilis would punish and torture those who wouldn’t accept their views. Ma’mūn Rashīd, the khalīf of the time, once summoned all the ‘Ulema of the time to question them with regards to their beliefs about this issue. Most of those scholars accepted the views of the Mu‘tazilis, out of fear, whilst other scholars stayed firm on the correct belief. Out of them, some such as Ishāq b. Ibrāhīm, Bishr b. al-Walid and Ibrāhīm al-Mahdī were executed, and many were thrown into prison. After some time, Imām Ahmad b. Hanbal was brought before the governor in Baghdād. He was tied with four chains fastening his legs and was told to submit to the view of the Mu‘tazilis. He was told that the khalīf had taken a vow that he would not execute him, but would have him severely tortured and confined in a dungeon but the Imām would not relent. He was then brought in front of the khalīf who ordered that Imām Ahmad should be given 34 lashes. After each whip, Imām Ahmad would continue to whistleblow and say “Give me some proof from the Qur’ān or Sunnah, then I could accept your view.” Imām Ahmad was imprisoned and tortured for 28 months. People who felt for him, would visit him and narrated the Hadīth to him that in such a situation one is allowed to even utter words of Kufr (disbelief) to save one’s life. Imām Ahmad would reply, “But what do you say of the Hadīth of Khabbāb which says that there were people who were slaughtered into two, but they did not give up their faith.” SubhānAllāh (exalted and glorified is Allāh).

This was the courage, boldness and sacrifice of the great believers to defend the Dīn of Allāh jalla wa’alā and to uphold their belief in exposing the injustices of their time. It is clear that with the arrest of Moazzam and of others since then, that the authorities are seeking to silence people for standing up for and proclaiming the truth. They are seeking to scaremonger people to leave their Islām for the masjids only and for it not to be manifested in any other form. But what we learn from the rich tradition of al-Islām is that one should “not fear anyone but rather fear Allāh”.[3] Such was the way of the Messenger of Allāh sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam and his sahābah. From the example of his sahābah, we see such commitment and dedication as where Abū ‘Ubaydah (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu) slayed his own father on the day of the Battle of Badr as they fought on opposite sides, showing to the world that allegiance to Allāh trumps any blood relation. Searching through the ranks waiting to meet the enemy on the day of the Battle of Uhud you will find hiding among them ‘Umair b. Abī Waqās (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu), keeping out of sight of the Prophet sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam, lest the Prophet sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam would see him and send him back because of his tender age. We find Abū Bakr (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu) donating all his money to equip the Muslims, leaving for his children nothing other than “Allāh and His Messenger” and ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu) giving half his fortune, and ‘Uthmān (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu) equipping an entire army at his own expense. We can listen to the response of al-Khansā’ (radiyAllāhu ‘anhā) on the day of the Battle of Qādisiyyah when her four sons were martyred: “Praise be to Allāh who blessed me with the honour of their killing.” And we see a woman from the tribe of Banī Dinār who, having been informed of the deaths of her husband, father and brother in the Battle of Uhud, said: “How did the Messenger of Allāh fare?” The answer was that he fared well. When she saw him alive she said: “Every catastrophe, compared to your wellbeing, is easy to bear.”[4]

So let us take heart from their examples of commitment, dedication and steadfastness and continue to follow the way of the whistleblowers against those who have usurped the rule of law for themselves and carry on the work of those gone by and those of present who they are seeking to silence. As for Moazzam, though we must exert every ounce of energy within us to release him for our own sakes, let us not worry for him for he is in the sanctuary of Allāh jalla wa’alā. Allāh, the All Hearing and the All Seeing who watched and listened to the supplications of Yūsuf ‘alayhi al-Salām from the dungeons and Yūnus ‘alayhi al-Salām from the depths of the sea covered by layers upon layers of darkness, can also see and hear the supplications of our dear brother Moazzam from the confines of his prison cell in Belmarsh. Indeed, we know “When Allāh loves a servant, He tests him”[5] and just as in the same way an examiner devises a test paper with questions within it designed and framed in such a way that some questions are there specifically for the grade C student, some for the grade B student, some for the grade A student and some which no one but the grade A* will be able to answer so as to reward him/her for their ability, in the same way, tests such as the one Moazzam is being tried with are not ones which Allāh places on anyone except for the crème de la crème of this Ummah for verily the crème always rises to the top. His position is clear with the illustrious names Moazzam is mentioned with within this article alone, so blessed be the whistleblowers.

Finally, I leave you with words of Kate Hutson of Human Rights Watch who made a profound statement at the rally for Moazzam held in London on 3 March 2014 where she said:

“It is by no chance that the campaign message for Moazzam which has been trending on social media sites has aptly been termed as “ReleaseMoazzam” as opposed to “FreeMoazzam”, this is because Moazzam [in spite of his incarceration] is already free.”


[1] Al-Qur’ān 11:35

[2] Sahīh Muslim

[3] Al-Qur’ān 3:175

[4] At-Tabarī

[5] At-Tirmidhī

For all stories pertaining to the Sahābah, see ‘Men Around the Messenger’ by Khalid Muhammad and ‘Companions of The Prophet” by Abdul Wahid Hamid.

For stories relating to the Imāms, see ‘The History of Islām’ by Najeebabadi.

About Amanpaul Dhaliwal

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