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Grace Under

An Islamic Perspective on Protests and Peaceful

By Shadeed Muhammad
Courage is Grace Under Fire

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution
inevitable JFK

Much speculation has circulated throughout the American Muslim community

with respect to our role/position amid the ongoing protests and demonstrations in
this current climate of hostility and heightened frustration. The American Muslim
community finds itself caught in the crossfire of a social revolution, trying
earnestly to stay neutral in a state of injustice where neutrality lends to the position
of the oppressor and not the oppressed.
In the Quran, Allah gave the Muslim community the accolade of being the best
of communities raised forth for mankind (3:110). This was not because we choose
neutrality during times of blatant injustice (of minority groups), but because of the
exact opposite; we speak truth to power, even in the tragedy of circumstance. For it
is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
What we are experiencing today is the residue of generational prejudice and
injustice, which our grandparents didnt have a chance to finish eradicating. And
here we are today getting bit by the same snake, as the old Arab proverb says,
And how clearly does today resemble yesterday.
The nature of oppression is continuity until it is confronted by an equally powerful
force that will completely eliminate it. Allah (God) says in the Quran, When
truth comes falsehood vanishes (17:81) And there is nothing more powerful in
the face of injustice than an impartial tongue lisanul mizan to speak out against it.
This is why Prophet Muhammad said, The greatest form of Jihad is to speak a
just word in the face of an oppressive ruler. (Collected in Sunan At Tirmithi)
The scholars explain that the reason why this is one of the greatest forms of jihad
(notice the more generic usage of the term jihad), is because the one who wages
war against his enemy is torn between fear and hope. He doesnt know which of
the two will be more dominant, while the oppressive ruler holds the authority in his
hands. So when he advises truthfully, he subjects himself to being killed and
therefore this is the greatest form of jihad.

Courage is Grace Under Fire

Another interpretation is that the oppressive ruler holds the masses under his
authority. Thus the greatest jihad is when his oppression is thwarted by a word of
truth that benefits the masses of people under his rule.
One of the methods that has been used, past and present, to speak truth to power is
peaceful protests and demonstrations Mathahirah As Salmiyah Wal Ihtijajaat.
Peaceful protests and demonstrations are designed to express an opinionalbeit
oppositional to the status quo and to influence or persuade public opinion, also
described as civil resistance.
Protests can take on many physical forms such as: picketing, boycotting, strikes,
vigils, lawsuits etc. Toyi-toyi is a South African dance originally from Zimbabwe
that became famous for its use in political protests in the apartheid era of South
Africa. There are also written forms of protesting such as: information distribution,
petitions and letters (to show political power by way of the volume of letters
Many American Muslims are confused about the employment of said methods as
well as participating in such. So this article will seek to address any confusion in
this regard from a purely Islamic perspective, while not necessarily endorsing it.
It was a common teaching method of Prophet Muhammad to address things by
their opposites. He was asked by one of his companions, What does the pilgrim
wear while performing Hajj? and he responded with what the pilgrim doesnt
wear, simply because the clarity of a thing is often times conceptualized by
understanding its opposite. Islamic scholars deduced a principle from this strategy
known as; Clarifying things by their opposites.
So Ill start with what protests are not in an attempt to eliminate some of the
misconceptions surrounding what many perceive it is. Peaceful protests and
demonstrations are not to be considered revolting against the ruling authority (i.e.
Khurooj Alal Hukkaam). When the Prophet forbade his community from
revolting against the ruling authorityeven if oppressive it was explicitly within
the context of a violent revolt or rebellion with weapons, not in terms of a peaceful
civil opposition.
The scholars of fiqh (Fuqahaa) define this technical term mustalah as a violent
revolt or rebellion against the ruler/leader with swords (i.e. weapons) while
refusing to recognize his rule/authority as valid. Thus the present-day

Courage is Grace Under Fire

demonstrations we are witnessing all across America are peaceful/non-violent

protests that dont involve weapons (at least on the part of the protestors).
The objective of these protests is neither to revolt/rebel against the ruling authority,
nor undermine their authority, but to voice an opinion about the current state of
excessive use of force against young black males and the lack of justice for these
innocent victims and their families. Therefore, these protests and demonstrations
should not be categorized as revolting against the ruling authority.
Unfortunately, those who classify these measures as such have a very shallow view
of socio/political processes authorized by the constitution under which we live (i.e.
Constitution of the United States) as well as the constitution that governs the
practice of our religion (i.e. Islamic Sharia). The old Arab proverb rings true today
as it did in the past, Perhaps the ignoramus who wants to help you, ends up
hurting you.
In addition to this, protests and peaceful demonstrations are one of the many
Islamically legislated methods employed to fulfill our communal responsibility
Fardhul Kifayah to stand up against injustice (i.e. enjoin what is good and forbid
what is evil). Prophet Muhammad said, Whoever from amongst you sees a
wrong, then let him change it with his hands, and if he doesnt have ability to
do so then let him change it with is tongue (i.e. say something about it), and if
he doesnt have the ability to do so then at least let him hate it in his heart and
that is the weakest form of faith (i.e. Iman) (Collected in Sahih Muslim)
If the opinion we are advocating for, (in this case it is the ending of a continuous
pattern of hostility and murdering of young African American males by police
officers with complete impunity), and the change its condition is more beneficial
than leaving it, then protests are allowed. Peaceful protests and demonstrations are
a means waseelah to an end ghayaat, and in the principles of jurisprudence, the
waseelah adopts the same ruling as the ghayaat. [Refer to books on Usool ul Fiqh]
The means i.e. wasaail (plural of waseelah) are methods used to attain
rectification/reformation and its legislation is not contingent on specific texts. The
generality of the texts found in the Quran coupled with the objectives of the
Sharia are what dictates the legislation of the means simply because Islamic aims
and goals have a much broader context than that of a specific text revealed for a
specific reason.

Courage is Grace Under Fire

There are clear examples where the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet
Muhammad ) exercised protests and peaceful demonstrationsin a more modern
context as a means to attain rectification of a condition they considered unjust.
During the Battle of the Camel the Sahabah protested the unjust killing of Uthman
Ibn Affan. At the helm of this very tragic event was Az Zubayr Ibn Awwam,
Talhah Ibn Ubaidillah and the Prophets wife Aisha. They were thousands in
number who left the Hijaz (areas of Makkah and Medinah) heading towards Basra,
Iraq (where this incident took place). [Refer to Al Bidayah Wan Nihayah by Ibn
Albeit, they didnt leave out initially to fight, rather to protest the lack of
restorative justice (Qisas) for those responsible for the assassination of Uthman Ibn
Affan, and to put pressure on the leader of the believers, who was Ali Ibn Abi
Talib, to bring them to justice. This is a definitive example of a peaceful protest
from the early generation of the Sahabah in a more modern context of the word
Ali never criticized them nor did he find the origin of their action to be inconsistent
with the legislation of Islam nor undermining of his position as the ruling
authority. In addition to this, scholars of the past never considered this protest to be
an act that was prohibited by Islamic law nor did they consider it revolting against
the Muslim ruler, despite the damage that was caused as a result of it. The harm
that came out of this situation was circumstantial to the original objective and not
the desired goal they set out to achieve.
Ali Ibn Abi Talib never censored them for peacefully gathering/uniting and
marching all the way to Iraq to demand justice for the murder of Uthman. For if
this had been something that was unfounded in the religion, he would surely have
reprimanded them for such. And even if he would have reprimanded them, Az
Zubayr, Talhah and Aishas firm stance on this issue would have been sufficient as
an argument for its permissibility.
So we consider the benefit of the protest and weigh it against the detriment. And
this will differ from country to country, situation to situation and from one protest
to the next. For protesting in a country that does not allow its citizens to peacefully
assemble (like Saudi Arabia) would without a doubt to be more detrimental than
protesting in a country where it is allowed, such as America.

Courage is Grace Under Fire

You have some unfortunate ill-informed individuals who make Saudi Arabia the
standard when it comes to socio/political processes, despite the differences in
demography. They cite baseless principles such as, what is haram in Saudi Arabia
is haram outside of Saudi Arabia and confuse the masses of Muslims living in
here in America, and jeopardize the exercise of liberties (i.e. freedom of assembly)
they have here at the expense of abstract liberties Muslims dont even have there.
It is important that governments include in their constitutional laws processes that
will give citizens the opportunity to change policies that marginalize them socially
and economically and impacts their quality of life in ways that are less than stellar.
This secures their protection from systematic injustice that will endure for
generations. For no government or system has ever failed except due to the
oppression of its citizens and it has never succeeded as a nation except due to the
justice it has given its citizens.
The famous scholar and reformer Ibn Taymiyah said, People have never differed
with respect to the fact that the punishment for injustice is disastrous (upon a
nation) while the recompense of fairness is nothing but honor. And because of this
it is said, Allah will aid a nation established upon justice and fairness, even if
they are a nation of disbelievers. And He will withhold His aid from a nation
established upon injustice, even if they are a nation of believers. [Majmoo
Fatawa 28/63]
This is the system of Islamic Sharia Law that has been all but demonized in
modern Western society today. When Abu Bakr became the Khaleefah (i.e. ruling
authority) after the death of Prophet Muhammad , he delivered a very powerful
address echoing the justice of Islamic Law, O people! Indeed I was placed over
you and I am not the most qualified of you. If I am fair to you, aid me, and if I fail
you in anything (i.e. oppression) correct me [Seerah Ibn Ibn Hisham]
He encouraged the community to correct him, which established a space for those
living under his rule to differ with him peacefully without it being considered civil
disobedience or revolting against his leadership.
In conclusion, protests and peaceful demonstrations are in fact allowed in Islam
and should not be considered impermissible haram unless it results in a detriment
that outweighs the benefit of it. And in some instances, protests may even be
obligatory wajib, especially in the case where changing an injustice cannot be
achieved except by it, so as long as the detriment of it does not outweigh the
benefit of it.
Courage is Grace Under Fire

However, simply stating that it is emphatically impermissible in every

circumstance, and the harm outweighs the benefit in every situation is excessive
and void of any concrete textual evidence that would validate such a reality.
President Barak Obama once said in an address, Saying no to everything is
good for politics, but it is not leadership.
It is important for Imams, Muslim leaders, teachers and preachers to provide
solutions in times of crisis and not disarm the minority American Muslim
community by declaring everything to be haram based upon their own personal
feelings about matters that may/ may not be immediately relevant to them. It is
important for Muslims to return back to the puritanical teachings of their religion
in order that they interpret current conditions through the lens of ancient traditions
(i.e. revelation).

To live greatly we must develop the capacity to face difficulty with courage,
disappointment with grace and triumph with humility. Thomas S. Monson