"Death by Doctrine of the 'Legitimacy of the Usurpers'"

The Islamic tradition is full of pearls of wisdom born directly from the Qur’an, like rays of light influenced by the guidance of the Quran. These pearls of wisdom, partly because of the nature of historical progression, and partly because of the way that Muslims have failed to take care of their own tradition, are not always easily located or appreciated. They are often scattered, sometimes even submerged in accumulations of dust, mud, ignorance, and misguidance. To locate, understand and evaluate these pearls of wisdom requires an active intellect and a properly guided heart.


In a well-known collection by Imam Al-Tabarani, it is reported that a Prophet’s companion heard him say, ‘Know that the affairs of Islam, like the affairs of history and time, will go up and down. There will be various situations where Islam will appear victorious and in a healthy state, and others where it will appear that Islam is in trouble.’ The Prophet advises, ‘Stay with Allah's book. Regardless of the situation, regardless of whether things look good or bad, hold fast to the Qur’an. That’s your guidance. That's your compass. That's your safety belt. That's how you make sure that you don't spin off in a misdirection. Regardless of what happens, don't let go of the Quran.’


Then the Prophet is reported to say, ‘Know that there will come to be rulers who are not going to rule for you as they would for themselves. They will apply double, triple and quadruple standards. What they would do for themselves, their family, their allies, their friends and their supporters is not what they would do for you. The type of justice that they think is befitting for the weak and the disempowered is not the type of justice they would accept for people they care about. These types of rulers, they want blind obedience. If you disobey them, they could imprison you, they could torture you, they could murder you. But know that if you do obey them, they will lead you astray.’


Here, we have a paradox that if you follow these rulers wherever they take you, you will lose everything, including the guidance of the Quran, but if you disobey them, you are in danger. So, the Prophet was asked, 'What do we do?' to which he responded, ‘Know that life in God's disobedience is worse than death in God's obedience.’ In other words, it is better to die obeying God than to live disobeying God.


This tradition is similar to many others that teach Muslims that it is unacceptable to live a life of submissive obedience when confronted with injustice. This tradition, like many others that we've talked about in other khutbahs, echoes the basic Islamic teaching that submission to Allah means submission to no other. It echoes the basic Islamic teaching that you cannot obey any other human being if it means disobeying God. It also echoes the basic Islamic teaching calling for goodness and morality while opposing immorality and ugliness. It is a basic Islamic duty.


Our tradition is full of jewels. Effort is required to reclaim them, to polish them, and to show them. Why is that? Keep in mind that in Islamic history, we started out with what Sunnis call the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. They were Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali. After these four, the Rightly Guided Caliphs came to an end. After these four came usurpation of power, power for the sake of power, power that doesn't rely on the consent of the governed, power that doesn't rely on the principles of justice.


Whoever usurps power establishes themselves as the ruler and has enough power to force people to obey them as a legitimate ruler, so you must obey them. While it was introduced in old history, it’s still seen among Muslims today, such as with el-Sisi of Egypt. While an usurper, he’s considered a legitimate ruler. Muslims today view Haftar of Libya, the rulers of Saudi and the rulers of the Emirate all as legitimate rulers.


This tells Muslims to abandon the aspirations of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, who ruled on the basis of justice and the consent of the governed. To accept these usurpers is to say justice and consent of the governed are old dreams that died after the first four caliphs, that will never return. To say that now, the only option you have as a Muslim is the usurper who rules without the need to achieve justice or gain the consent of the governed. We are also told that the Prophet commanded that we obey the usurper, even if that usurper steals your money, flogs you, imprisons you or beats you.


I cannot exaggerate the impact of this authoritarian, despotic theology all over the Muslim world, including among Muslims in the West. Whether you go to mosques that are under the influence of Saudi Arabia or under the influence of the Emirate, or you go to most Sufi mosques, or you go to Zaytuna or most Islamic schools in the West, they will always tell you, ‘Yes, consent of the governed is nice. Yes, justice is nice. But the Prophet commanded that you obey the ruler, regardless of whether that ruler has consent and regardless of whether that ruler achieves justice. Obey the ruler, even if that ruler commits injustice, including human rights abuses.’ They tell you that this is your Sharia duty, because the Rightly Guided Caliphs came to an end after the first four, and after that it became the legitimacy of the usurper.


If you inquire, ‘What about all these Hadiths that tell you, if you see injustice and you don't do anything about it, God will curse you? Like the Hadith that tells us that there will be unjust rulers, but it is better to die resisting them than to obey them?’ The typical answer is, ‘These are all weak Hadiths.’ Notice that, throughout this despotic history, it is the Hadiths that espouse obedience to unjust rulers that have been declared authentic, yet the Hadiths that espouse disobedience to unjust rulers that have been declared inauthentic.


Bluntly, the science of Hadiths was not an objective science, it was a science influenced by political ideologies. Unjust despots in the past, as they do today, put pressure on scholars so they ended up giving us this legacy of oppression, despotism and injustice. The scholars of Hadiths acted very much like the jokers of today, avoiding political confrontation. But, I cannot fail to notice that the Islamic tradition is replete with momentums of freedom, justice and resistance to oppression. The Prophet's own grandson, Husayn ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, clearly understood this to be his obligation when he resisted the Umayyads and was martyred in the process.


It’s clear that later Muslims were influenced by the institutions of despotism. While orientations that preserve the spirit of freedom continue to exist, scholars recognized and honored institutionally succumbed to the pressures of despotism, so they declared many of the Hadiths that taught the principles of social justice and resistance to be weak. At the same time, they declare the Hadiths that teach submission and dishonor before despots to be authentic. It is time that we, as Muslims, grow up. To the rest of the world, it’s elementary to know how critical it is that if people are ruled by someone, it is through the instrumentality of consent.


Once upon a time, when the Quran told us there's no coercion even in religion, Muslims were the most forward-thinking, progressive people on the planet, because their Qur’an taught them coercion is no good. Once upon a time, it was Muslims who were teaching the world the value of freedom, but now, Muslims are among the most reactionary people in the world. While the rest of the world is talking about human rights and democracy, many Muslims have slipped backwards, saying, ‘It's God’s will that you be ruled without your consent, without even the aspiration of justice. Obey the ruler. Even if the ruler is unjust, you still must obey.’


No ruler on the face of Earth, maybe other than the companions of the Prophet, achieves justice without people first demanding justice. Justice is not a gift to be given. Justice is an entire project by a community, by a people, by an ummah, by a nation. Justice cannot be gifted. Justice must be achieved. And if you don't demand justice, you will never receive justice. We must reexamine our tradition and cleanse it of despotism, oppression and ugliness; from what tyrants have done to it. We need to reexamine our lives, and tell all those who say that tyranny is God’s will, ‘Shame on you.’ Our Islam taught us that when we submit to God, we submit to no other. Obedience is owed to God and is owed to no other.


In the 21st century, there are many Muslims who tell you that if someone comes to power through the ballot box, peacefully and legitimately through the consent of the governed, you don't have to obey them, they’re illegitimate. But, if they come to power through the gun and the military, if they impose themselves without the consent of the governed, you must obey them, they're legitimate. It's completely backwards.


Today, Salafis and Sufis all over the world, because of this doctrine, tell us democracy might be appropriate for everyone else, but not Muslims. Human rights are appropriate for everyone but Muslims. It is God’s will that Muslims remain ruled by tyrants and despots, that they remain to live in injustice and oppression. That is their fate and that is acceptable to God. If it wasn't the reality that we live, it would be too surreal. You want to understand why is it that Muslims are forced to adopt such a twisted way of thinking? It's because the people with money and power have a vested interest in making sure that Muslims remain ignorant, that Muslims continue to believe, that it is God’s will that we live in tyranny and oppression.


Take, for example, the very government that controls our holy sites in Saudi Arabia. I'm going to give you just two examples that happened in the past couple of years. There was a shaykh named Suleiman Al-Daweesh. Al-Daweesh gave a lecture and later on also tweeted something that implied that the policies implemented by Mohammed bin Salman were haram. Bin Salman arrested this shaykh, beat him, and personally supervised his torture. This man of Qur’an was sodomized with a stick, and his torture was so savage that he died. Another shaykh, Abdullah Ali Ibn Basfar, who did nothing but teach people to memorize and recite the Qur’an, was arrested and disappeared. No one knows why this reciter of the Qur’an was arrested, but even more, no one has the power to compel the government to explain why they arrested such a man.


We have a situation where the pro-tyranny faction receives all this financial support and institutional support. Meanwhile, the pro-justice faction, the faction that says, ‘Justice is a collective social duty, it cannot be just achieved by some despot,’ receives no support.


Who is the most jubilant about Islam being associated with despotism and injustice? The Islamophobes and the clash of civilization people. Remember, Israel constantly states, "We are the only democracy in the Middle East." That's why Islamophobes are so happy when they find Muslims idiotically embracing the theology of despotism, so they can make such a claim.


As we speak, there are demonstrations all over Egypt. We all know that Egypt’s democratically elected president, Morsi, was overthrown in a military coup. The Islamists of Egypt, with the exception of the Muslim Brotherhood, acknowledged that Sisi came to power through a military coup, but still recognized him as the legitimate ruler.


Today, while people fill the streets in Egypt demanding the overthrow of Sisi, where are the Salafi Muslims? At home, because it is haram to overthrow a usurper, because they say the Prophet said, ‘It doesn't matter whether or not he’s just. It doesn't matter whether or not he has the consent of the people. As long as he has military power behind him, you have to obey him.’


Tell them that Sisi has imprisoned over 100,000 people. His security forces and military have tortured and systematically raped both men and women in prison. Pious, hijab-wearing women go into Egyptian prisons and disappear or come out pregnant. Not only that, but Sisi has made the most corrupt class in society richer than ever before, meanwhile 60% of the population are below the poverty line. Each year, a million Egyptians have slipped below the poverty line since Sisi came to power.


Tell them that Sisi has executed hundreds of young people on trumped up charges and confessions obtained under torture. Tell them that Sisi has destroyed more mosques in one year than Israel has destroyed in Palestine since 1948. Tell them that Sisi shut down all the religious television channels and filled the airwaves with people who do nothing but attack Islam all day, every day. Sisi has spread atheism all over Egypt.


Tell them that Sisi’s biggest supporters are Netanyahu of Israel and the Islamophobes in the West. Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer love Sisi because he completely turned Gaza into one huge concentration camp by building a huge wall separating Gaza from Egypt, as well as pursuing Israeli policies towards Palestinians.


Tell them if Sisi is overthrown, it will benefit the democracy movement in Sudan. It will benefit the democracy movement in Tunisia. It will benefit the democracy movement in Libya. It will benefit the democracy movement in Syria. It will even benefit the democracy movement in Saudi Arabia. It will enable Palestinians to at least live.


Our Salafi and Sufi brothers look at all of this, and simply say, ‘Well, that's unfortunate. But the Prophet said we have to obey.’ The rape doesn't matter, the torture doesn't matter, the injustice doesn't matter, the stealing doesn't matter, the corruption doesn't matter. None of it matters. The usurper must be obeyed. That is why, as demonstrations are going on in Egypt right now, Salafis and Sufis sit on the side watching Sisi destroy nearly 1,000 mosques, including historical sites. No other ruler, including the British and French, has destroyed as many mosques in the Muslim world. As Sisi destroyed mosque after mosque, the Salafis and Sufis sat in their mosques, praying. If the government came to them and said, "We want to destroy your mosque," they would let the government destroy their mosque without hesitation.


Is this an Islam you're willing to accept? Is this an Islam that you believe can survive in our modern world? One that is associated with oppression, suffering, and injustice? I pray to Allah that the revolution in Egypt succeeds and that Sisi is overthrown. I pray to Allah that MBS and MBZ are overthrown, just as I pray that this nightmare of pro-tyranny Muslims, including those in the United States, is overthrown.


Unfortunately, it's not going to happen until Muslims wake up. It’s not going to happen until every Muslim says, ‘I don't belong to the pro-tyranny camp and I will not believe anyone that tells me my Prophet taught that tyranny should be tolerated.’ Only when Muslims reach the point where they say, ‘It cannot be that our Prophet taught us that tyranny must be tolerated. It is an Islamic principle that Muslims be governed by our own consent and that we Muslims must live under a just system. We not only demand justice, but it is our obligation to work for justice and achieve justice.’


This issue is going to define the future of Islam for the coming century, at least. It may even define whether your children remain Muslim or leave Islam altogether for the coming century. Because if it dawns on your children, when they grow up, that their parents are pro-injustice and pro-tyranny, they will see you as backwards and ignorant, they will lose respect for you. Ultimately, they will lose respect for your entire system of belief. No one wants to follow an ignorant loser.

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