Bismillah. This to share some important views from religious scholars over the last 6 months, but still relevant due to the ongoing Arab spring.
My father attended an international conference of Islamic scholars in Mecca before Ramadan, in the summer of this year. The Arab spring was obviously discussed. Some people of knowledge, who unfortunately can become trapped too close to corrupt governments, were trying to make out that the Arab spring was prohibited (haram), un-Islamic rebellion and revolt. As is well-known, at the height of the Egyptian revolution earlier this year, very senior religious authorities in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia condemned the protesters as “rebels against legitimate Muslim rule,” and lost credibility in the eyes of many as a result.
So, at the conference, up stepped Sheikh Muhammad Hassan Dadu of Mauritania, a highly-respected Hadith scholar, to give his view. He said that the rulers of Arab and Muslim countries, in the past, have generally held power on the basis of one or more of the following three factors:
1. By the direct allegiance (bay’ah) of their people. [This is the ideal manifestation of the Islamic principle of Shura (mutual consultation in social and public matters), which has given an entire chapter of the Qur’an its name. The theory of Shura has much in common with that of democracy: of course, both have had many different interpretations and manifestations throughout history. Muhammad Asad saw in the Prophet’s Medina and the rule of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs a very early form of the “social contract” discussed centuries later by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. The anti-democracy rhetoric of some extreme Islamist groups is therefore extremely problematic from an Islamic viewpoint, not least since some of them enjoy freely expressing this rhetoric in Western democracies. – U.H.]
2. By the support of the powerful elite (ahl al-hall wa l-‘aqd). [These are ideally supposed to represent the will of the people. Elected representatives in democracies can therefore be seen as a type of this classical Islamic formulation. – U.H.]
3. By force. [Traditional Sunni Islam tended to reluctantly accept the rule of the mighty, fearing greater harms from unsuccessful attempts to change the status quo. – U.H.]
Sheikh Dadu then observed that current rulers of Arab and Muslim countries tend to rule by no. 3, i.e. force. He added that therefore their only legitimacy was their strength, and thus that if a more powerful counter-force was to arise, such as popular protest or a more powerful army, whether internal or external, they would have no legitimate basis for holding on to power. He was of course describing accurately the course of much of Islamic political history: numerous caliphs and sultans seized power by force, and lost it by force. If dictators are unable to hold on to power by force, they simply cannot complain about it. (The dream-like picture of 14 centuries of perfect caliphate that can somehow be restored overnight by elitist military coups or terrorism is entirely false, not to mention fanciful.)
Update: on 16th December 2011, I attended the Friday Prayers at the Muslim World League in Goodge St., London. These happened to be led by Sheikh Sa’d al-Burayk of Saudi Arabia. (Two decades ago, I had often listened to his recorded recitation of Surah al-A’raf to help consolidate my memorisation of it: he had a strikingly strong voice and recitation style.) Al-Burayk’s topic was the Oneness and Majesty of God, and he kept repeating the Qur’anic phrase: ar-Rahmanu ‘ala l-arsh-istawa (The Most Merciful Settled Above The Throne). He mentioned some of the planets of the solar system by name, our galaxy, the seven heavens, and the lesser and greater thrones: God is beyond all of that, so His Majesty is far greater than even the majesty of the universe.
He condemned those who mix their monotheistic prayers with prayers to ‘Ali, Husain, ‘Abdul Qadir al-Jilani etc. for help. Although (thankfully) he did not use sectarian labels, this is well-known to be a classic salafi way of referring to shi’as and sufis. He asked twice, “How did shirk (polytheism/idolatry) enter the Muslim nation?” This raises the question as to whether or not he regards those “others” as Muslims. He seemed to be softer than some of the really hard-line salafis who openly excommunicate all shi’as and sufis, and perhaps closer to someone like the late Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali (rahimahullah) who famously argued passionately that if people are indeed falling into polytheism/idolatry, they should be advised, educated and enlightened: not condemned to Hell, cursed and excommunicated.
At the end of the sermon, Sheikh Burayk prayed, and urged the congregation of thousands to pray, for the people of Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. He also prayed specifically for “the oppressed people of Syria” and described emotively how they were pure monotheists, relying only on Allah to lift their oppression. This was a bit strange in the context of his earlier words since, of course, Shi’ism and Sufism are fairly strong in Syria. He also prayed twice to God to “protect the land of the Haramayn,” i.e. Saudi Arabia.
Thus, here we had a fairly senior Saudi sheikh supporting most of the Arab spring in his prayers in London, although a glaring omission was Bahrain: I fear that this is partly due to political and/or sectarian reasons.
We should hope and pray that Muslim nations, including their political and religious leaders, are guided closer to truth and justice. On top of hoping and praying, of course, we must try to (continue to) help that process and participate in it as much as possible.