As a Muslim any words from the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) are of the highest importance; to be honoured and followed. When it comes to his final advice, therefore, it is something even greater than that. So what was the final advice of the Prophet (ﷺ)?
His words were heard by the Prophet’s (ﷺ) companion Abu Najih (رضي الله عنه) who says ” The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) delivered an admonition that made our hearts fearful and our eyes tearful.
We said ‘O Messenger of Allah, it is as if this were a farewell sermon, so advise us’
He said ‘I enjoin you:
- To have Taqwa of Allah and
- That you listen and obey, even if a slave is made a ruler over you.
- He among you who lives long enough will see many differences. So for you is to observe my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly-principled and rightly-guided successors, holding on to them with your molar teeth.
- Beware of newly-introduced matters, for every innovation is an misguidance.'” [Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi]
Point 1, 3 and 4 are quite straight forward. Fearing Allah, following the Prophet’s (ﷺ) way and not adding anything to the religion. What seems the most intriguing is the second advice. “That you listen and obey, even if a slave is made a ruler over you.”
Here the Prophet (ﷺ) is advising us to follow and obey the ruler even if the ruler is a slave i.e. has no right to be the ruler. Simply put even if you think the ruler has no right to be the ruler, still listen to him and obey him.
But to what extent and how?
To find out, lets see what other advice the Prophet (ﷺ) gave on this subject.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said “There will appear after me rulers:
- they will not guide by my guidance
- and they will not establish my Sunnah
- there will be amongst them men whose hearts will be hearts of devils in the bodies of men!”
He was asked: ‘How should I behave, O Messenger of Allah, if I reach that time?’
He replied: ‘Hear and obey the ruler, even if he beats your back and takes your wealth – hear and obey!'” [Sahih Muslim]
So even if the ruler doesn’t establish the Sunnah and even if the ruler has the heart of a devil, we still must hear and obey. In fact even if the ruler beats our backs and steals all our wealth we need to hear and obey.
That’s the complete opposite to the attitude of many Muslims towards rulers today who will speak against every bad which they see in their rulers. Often these Muslims use a narration to back up their actions. The hadeeth used is:
The Prophet (ﷺ) “The most superior form of Jihad is to say a word of truth in the face of an oppressive ruler.”
But just like the last hadeeth, lets see another hadeeth to find out what this means.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said
- Whoever desires to advise the one with authority then he should not do so openly
- Rather he should take him by the hand and take him into seclusion.
- And if he accepts (the advice) from him then (he has achieved his objective)
- And if not, then he has fulfilled that which was a duty upon him.” ‘[Ahmad]
So now its clear. If the ruler is has the heart of a devil, doesn’t follow the sunnah, beats you up, steals your wealth and reaches these heights of oppression – still do not speak against him, rather hear and obey him. But if you get a chance to be alone with him, advice him. But once you’ve advised him then stop because you’ve done your job whether he listens or not.
Does it really apply to today’s rulers?
One could be forgiven for wondering if these narrations apply to current times considering that some of the rulers of the Muslim countries are oppressive. Here we can look to the example of the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) and their students as they understood the Prophet (ﷺ) advice the best.
During the lifetime of some companions, Hajjaj bin Yusuf rose to power. Today’s rulers’ oppression looks like child work compared to the things Hajjaj did which included killing the Prophet (ﷺ) companions, demolishing the houses of the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) and bombing the Kaaba with rocks causing part of it to be knocked down – lets not forget that the Kaaba is the most sacred place on earth and the house of Allah.
So lets take a look at what Hasan Al Basri did when people said they would fight against Hajjaj.
A group of youngsters came to al-Hasan Al Basri saying “What do you say about fighting this oppressor who has unlawfully spilt blood and unlawfully taken wealth and did this and that?”
So Hasan Al Basri said “I hold that he should not be fought. If this is the punishment from Allah, then you will not be able to remove it with your swords. If this is a trial from Allh, then be patient until Allah’s judgement comes, and He is the best of judges” [Tabaqatul Kubra (7/163-165)]
These people didn’t like what he had said so they left Hasan Al Basri and fought against Hajjaj, who in turn slaughtered them all. When Hajjaj sent their dead bodies to Hasan Al Basri to have the funeral prayers (Janaza) said over them, Hasan Al Basri refused and asked that their bodies be taken to the edge of the Muslim lands and thrown over as they have nothing to do with the Muslims.
Hasan Al Basri then used to say “If the people had patience, when they were being tested by their unjust ruler, it will not be long before Allah will give them a way out. However, they always rush for their swords, so they are left to their swords. By Allah! Not even for a single day did they bring about any good.”
So we see that today’s leaders are no where near the level of Hajjaj who bombed the Kaaba and killed the companions. Yet all the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ), except one, and the greatest of their students all heard and obeyed. Going back to the final advice of the Prophet (ﷺ) to hear and obey the ruler even if he has the heart of a devil, don’t follow the Sunnah, nor guide by the Prophet’s (ﷺ) guidance: ‘Hear and obey the ruler, even if he beats your back and takes your wealth – hear and obey!’