Islamic Culture

The Islamic ruling on protests and demonstrations

The Saudi Attempt to Silence the Word of Truth

The ummah (Islamic nation) around the world is rising and seeking to reclaim the authority that was stolen from her by the tyrant rulers of the Middle East. In country after country we are seeing the people lose their fear of the regimes that have been suppressing, repressing, torturing and imprisoning them and standing in the way of their political aspirations. Now some of these rulers have fallen, and others are living precariously; the momentum is for change and the ummah will not now turn back.

This struggle that the ummah is engaged in is the highest struggle: political struggle sanctioned by the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم when he said:

‘The best struggle (jihād) is the word of truth spoken to a tyrant ruler.’ (Al-Nasā’ī)

Yet, we find some ‘ulamā (clerics) sponsored by the Saudi regime giving a most unfortunate regressive fatwā (religious edict) that protests and demonstrations in that land are harām (prohibited). In this article, Allāh willing, we want to scrutinise this fatwā, since Muslims are commanded not to be like the Ahl al-Kitāb (The People of the Book) who took their priests and rabbis as Lords (instead of Allāh), accepting their judgments blindly without question. The reasons given by government scholars and others range in gravity, from the serious charge of rebellion, to the downright ludicrous – demonstrations will hold up traffic! Indeed it is embarrassing to read the justifications given by the ‘Ulamā of the Saudi government’s ‘Council of Senior Scholars’ and those who follow them; thus legitimising the Saud regime, which is a haven for the other illegitimate tyrants in the region – such as Mubarak, Ben Ali and now Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Saudi fatwā is premised on one principal reason: that protests and demonstrations constitute rebellion against the legitimate rulers of Saudi Arabia. Here are some relevant quotes:

‘Protection of the community is of the greatest principles of Islām. It is from the great issues that Allāh commanded in His Holy Book, and condemned whoever abandoned it. Allāh Almighty says: “And hold fast, all together, by the rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves…” (Āl-‘Imrān: 103) This is the principle of protection of the community, which the Prophet commanded upon all citizens, common and elites alike, as he صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Allāh’s hand is with communion” (narrated by Tirmidhī). He صلى الله عليه وسلم also said: “Whoever held back the hand from obedience, will meet Allāh on the Day of Resurrection without any justification for himself; and whoever died without the pledge of allegiance on his neck, had died a death of ignorance” (narrated by Muslim). He صلى الله عليه وسلم again said: “He who wanted to separate the affairs of this nation when they are unified, you should kill him with the sword, whosoever he is”(narrated by Muslim).’ [Source:]

It is claimed that Saudi Arabia is based on the Qur’ān and Sunnah, and that anything said against the rulers is division and rebellion against the legitimate authority. We wish to make the following points about this:

The fatwā assumes that the Saudi regime rules by Islām and as such, they are legitimate rulers. The reality of the matter is that the Saudi Regime is far from being a legitimate Islamic authority.

It is important to note that accounting the rulers is an important obligation in Islām, independent to the issue of legitimacy i.e. whether legitimate or illegitimate, the ummah has the right and the duty to hold their leaders to task; this article will inshā Allāh explain that public protests and demonstrations (that hold to the guidelines laid down by the Sharī’ah) are a permitted form of accounting.

What is a legitimate authority in Shariah?

A state becomes Islamic when its rules and policies derive from the Islamic ‘Aqīdah (creed) i.e. when their basis is the Qur’ān and Sunnah; meaning the sovereignty lies with the Sharī’ah. That is why obedience to the rulers is restricted and not unqualified. Allāh سبحانه وتعالى says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ ۖ فَإِنْ تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا

“O you who believe! Obey Allāh, Obey His Messenger and those in authority from amongst you; and if you differ, then refer it to Allāh and His Messenger, if you believe in Allāh and the Last Day.” [Al-Nisā: 59]

This noble verse in Surah al-Nisā comes after verse 58, which focused on the rulers when they were enjoined to rule by justice – which is nothing other than what Allāh سبحانه وتعالى has revealed (i.e. the Qur’ān and the Sunnah). In this verse, the focus is on the Muslims under the authority of the rulers, and their responsibility. In this respect the message of this ayah is addressed to the Ummah at large and we can learn from it the following matters:

The āyah (verse) begins with the imperative (command) form verb atī’ū (‘obey’): the subject of obedience (i.e. those who obey) is in plural form, meaning ‘ALL those who believe in Islām’; and the object of obedience (i.e. the one who is obeyed) is Allāh سبحانه وتعالى. The verse then repeats the command atī’ū (obey) and this time the object of obedience is the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم. The repetition of the word ‘obey’ and the order indicates the two basic reference points that Muslims have: the Qur’ān and Sunnah. Therefore anything in contravention of Qur’ān and Sunnah must be disobeyed, and anything from the Qur’ān and Sunnah must be obeyed. This is the principle upon which Muslims are told to live by and this is the principle on which Muslims are instructed to view their rulers. Here the word for rulers, or those in authority, is ūlul- amr (literal translation: ‘the people of Command’). It is not restricted to the Khalīfah, but also includes the wāli’s (governors), wazīrs (ministers) and all those who have authority, especially since the word has been used in the plural form (ūlul-amr and not the singular waliyul-amr).

It is significant that the āyah does not repeat the verb atī’ū when it comes to the Rulers, as it did in respect to Allāh and His Messenger; this is an additional indication alongside the clear verses and hadīth that state that rulers must obey Allāh and His Messenger in their ruling and exercise of authority. For example the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم said: ‘There is no obedience (when this results) in disobedience of the Creator.’ [Sahīh Bukhārī] Here the mantūq (directly apparent meaning) is an absolute prohibition of following an order that goes against the order of Allāh سبحانه وتعالى – whosoever makes that order. This hadīth came specifically in the context of authority and ruling. Its mafhūm (implied meaning) indicates that just as the person cannot obey a ruler who commanded disobedience to Allāh سبحانه وتعالى; so in the same way, a ruler or amīr cannot order, enact laws or rule by anything that is in violation of what Allāh سبحانه وتعالى has ordered.

Consider for example the following hadīth: It has been reported that ‘Alī (ra) said, “The Messenger of Allāh sent a troop under the command of a man from Al-Ansār. When they left, he became angry with them for some reason, and said to them, `Has not the Messenger of Allāh commanded you to obey me?’ They said, `Yes.’ He said, `Collect some wood,’ and then he started a fire with the wood, saying, `I command you to enter the fire.’ The people almost entered the fire, but a young man among them said, `You ran away from the Fire to Allāh’s Messenger. Therefore, do not rush until you go back to Allāh’s Messenger, and if he commands you to enter it, then enter it.’ When they went back to Allāh’s Messenger, they told him what had happened, and the Messenger said, ‘Had you entered it, you would never have departed from it. Obedience is only in righteousness.’” (Reported by Bukhārī volume 9, book 91, number 363). Here the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم stated that obedience is only in the ‘ma’rūf’ (good) and not in the ‘munkar’ (evil). So the one in authority cannot command anything but ma’rūf, and people cannot obey anything but ma’rūf. What is ma’rūf is what Islām has defined as good, and munkar is what Islām has defined as evil. It is not left to the discretion of man to decide these matters.

The verse also obliges the obedience to the command of the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم and links that to the rulers. As long as the rulers or those in authority obey the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم then there is the obedience to him, otherwise there is no obedience. It is ludicrous after saying that there is no obedience in the disobedience to the Creator, that there can be obedience in the disobedience to the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم as the āyah obliges obedience to Allāh and His Messenger. That is why the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace, said in a hadīth reported by Abū Hurayrah, ‘Whoever obeys me has obeyed Allāh and whoever disobeys me has disobeyed Allāh. Whoever obeys the amīr has obeyed me and whoever disobeys the amīr has disobeyed me’” [Agreed upon]. As for the statement ‘whoever obeys the amīr has obeyed me and whoever disobeys the amīr has disobeyed me’ in the above hadīth or the following one: “Anyone who dislikes something from his amīr should be patient. Anyone who abandons obedience to the amīr for even a short time dies the death of the Jāhiliyyah (ignorance)” [Agreed upon]: This does not mean absolute obedience to the rulers. These ahādīth are about not rebelling against the rulers due to their misappropriation of the people’s rights, but not about obeying the rulers in the matters which are a clear violation of the Sharī’ah. Rather, when the ruler commands a clear munkar, the Muslim must disobey that command and cannot say he was following orders.

The verse then concludes that if there is a dispute over a matter, between the Muslims and their rulers, then the final arbiter must be Allāh and His Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم. It states: “if you differ, then refer it to Allāh and His Messenger, if you believe in Allāh and the Last Day.” Just as the young man in the above hadīth disputed with his amīr when he commanded them to enter the fire, and referred the matter to the Messenger; we are also obliged to refer to the Islamic reference point i.e. the Qur’ān and Sunnah when there is a dispute. The last words of the āyah enjoin on the believers the importance of referring to Allāh and His Messenger in ruling, by drawing attention to the fact that not to do so is a negation of imān; hence it says: ‘…if you believe in Allāh and the Last Day.”

This is how the Sahābah (ra) understood this matter and nothing shows this more clearly than the speech of Abū Bakr al-Siddīq when he assumed the post of Khalīfah: “Help me if I am in the right; set me right if I am in the wrong. The weak among you shall be strong with me until Allāh willing, his rights have been vindicated. The strong among you shall be weak with me until, if Allāh wills, I have taken what is due from him. Obey me as long as I obey Allāh and His Prophet; when I disobey Him and his Prophet, obey me not.

The conclusion therefore is that a ruler becomes legitimate only when he bases his rule on the Kitāb and Sunnah, ie sovereignty is for the Sharī’ah, and it is for this reason that obedience becomes obligatory. We are not asked by the ahādīth to give ‘our backs and property’ for no reason, i.e. if a ruler oppresses people, but rules by Islām, we are still obliged to obey such rulers, and not obey them in a sin; while at the same time accounting and advising them to stop their injustice. (The obligation to obey and not rebel against a ruler who commits oppression whilst accounting him will be clarified in detail in a separate article inshā Allāh.)

However, when we look to the case of the Saudi regime, we find that the basis of its rule is not the Sharī’ah, as indicated by its persistent and constant explicit contravention of the Sharī’ah; here are a few examples:

  • Permission of usury (ribā) and banks trading in usury, which is category prohibited in Islām
  • Submission to man-made international law as members of the UN and other international bodies, whose charters and rules are not in accordance with Islām

The flagrant and persistent violation of Sharī’ah by the Saudi regime, even after having been accounted by the ‘ulamā and the da’wah carriers means that the above constitute explicit kufr (kufr buwāh). Consequently, their rule is not legitimate and they need to be removed by the people of power (nusrah) and a just ruler appointed in their place.

So to claim that demonstrations against the Saudi rulers is prohibited, is misplaced as the Saudi regime does not enjoy any legitimacy whatsoever from the Sharī’ah perspective. Holding on to the rope of Allāh, and unity of the Jamā’ah arises only when Muslims gather under the leadership of a ruler who rules by the book of Allāh and Sunnah of the Messenger, not under the leadership of those who betray the interests of the Ummah and are only interested in being the khādims (servants) of America. A more detailed discussion on the issue of ‘Sharī’ah rules regarding legitimacy of Rulers’ will occur in a separate article inshā Allāh

Again, it is important not to confuse the issue of legitimacy, with the issue of accounting the rulers, since that is an independent obligation in Islām. Suffice to say, as the following section will show; if public accounting was permitted in the time of our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and the Khulafā Rāshidah (the rightly-guided Caliphs), who represent the pinnacle of legitimacy and just Islamic leadership, then by greater reasoning (min bāb al-awlā) such accounting is needed in the time oppressive and corrupt rulers, whether they are legitimate or illegitimate.

Evidences for permissibility of demonstrations and protests

As for the proofs (adillah) for the permissibility of demonstration, there are both general and specific:

A demonstration or protest is a public display of opinion. The general evidences which allow people to meet and express opinions would permit people to demonstrate their opinions as long as the opinions expressed are permitted by Islām. As such protests and demonstrations are merely a permissible style, which takes its hukm (ruling) dependent on the reasons and aims of the demonstrations; thus these must be assessed before a hukm can be given for how can a style be labelled harām without consideration of its aims and purpose? For example, if Muslims come out on a demonstration calling for the legalisation of ribā, such a demonstration would not be halāl (permissible), as it calls for something that is harām. However, if people come out to account the rulers for their oppression, and neglecting the people’s legitimate rights (given by Islām); then such a demand – whether via a letter, meeting or demonstration – is halāl, because it is regarding a matter that is not only permitted, but obliged by the Sharī’ah.

Another form of general evidences are the ‘umūmāt (generality) and unrestricted (mutlaq) import of the ahādīth that enjoin Muslims to speak the haqq, enjoin the good and forbid the evil. So for example the hadīth:

The best struggle (jihād) is the word of truth spoken to a tyrant ruler.’ (Al-Nasā’ī).

This hadīth encouraging political struggle does not specify the manner in which the truth should be spoken to the tyrant ruler, which means any style that has not been prohibited by another text is permitted. So whether by a letter, distribution of leaflets, publication of a book, article in a newspaper or speaking directly to the ruler, these are all permissible means of fulfilling the obligation. This is similar to the hadīth of the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم when he said: ‘Convey from me even if it be one verse’ (Bukhārī) This hadīth enjoins on us to convey Islamic knowledge or carry da’wah to others but nowhere in the language of this hadīth did the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم restrict it to any particular style or means. Therefore, it is permissible to impart knowledge via one to one teaching, group lessons or even via the internet. These are all permissible style as the command ballighū (convey) is unrestricted (mutlaq): so whatever action will realise this is permitted, as long as there is no specific nass (text) to the contrary.

The above hadīth for example says ‘the best struggle’: this fits a reality where the accounting is done publically, since that is truly a struggle, whereas it is easier to account privately. It is when the ruler is accounted in front of everyone that he is likely to kill or imprison the person accounting him. This is also the import of the following hadīth:

“The master of martyrs is Hamzah and a man who stood up to a tyrant ruler to advise him and was killed” (Reported by al-kim and declared sound by Albani in his Sahih at-Targhib No 2308)

The fact that ruler was accounted publically is the most likely reason for the accounting-person being killed.

This is the same indication in the hadīth, that some refer to prove accounting should only be in private. The hadīth in question reported by Ahmad in his Musnad states:

“Whoever wishes to advise the ruler, then let him not mention it in public; rather let him take the ruler by his hand. So if he listens then that is that, and if not, then he has fulfilled that which was upon him.” This hadīth, assuming it is authentic, does not indicate a nahī (prohibition) of accounting publically. One might argue that there is a karāhah (disliked, but not harām) or ibāhah (permissibility) here, but not that it is harām (categorical prohibition); i.e. that public accounting is discouraged or that it is permitted, but not a prohibition; since the indications of the aforementioned texts and many others (that we have not quoted here) are that public accounting is permissible; and there is no qarīnah (indication) in this hadīth to make the request (not to do something) decisive. So what is the nature of the request (talab) in this hadith?  The context of this narration is that ‘Iyād b. Ghanam quoted the above hadīth to Hishām b. Hākim, who had accounted a leader publicly, and said to him: “You are bold and show audacity against the ruler; do you not fear that the ruler will kill you?” This shows that ‘Iyād b. Ghanam did not himself consider it harām to account publically, but was mentioning it to Hishām b. Hākim to inform him that due to fear of death, it is permitted to account in private as a rukhsah (dispensation).  Another possible interpretation is that initially it is better to advise privately though not to do so is permitted especially when the rulers have persisted in their ruling by what Allah has not revealed. However, in case of tyrannical rule, as the aforementioned two hadiths mention the tyrant ruler, the norm or preference is the public accounting as that is what is required to stop the ruler’s injustice and oppression. In any case, whichever understanding is adopted, the permissibility remains of accounting the ruler in public, as per the other, sounder ahādīth and it is the best reconciliation of the various ahadith on accounting the rulers.

In respect of practice, this was the example of the Sahābah and Salaf al-Sālih who accounted the rulers in public. It is reported that a person told ‘Umar b. Khattāb (ra) to “fear Allāh” publicly, and ‘Umar responded by saying: ‘There is no goodness in you if you do not say it, and there is no goodness in us if we do not hear it.’ (Manaqib amir al-muminin by Ibn Jawzi. P.155)

As for the Salaf al-Sālih, look at the example of Hasan al-Basrī: he was present in Basrah when al-Hajjāj, a tyrant wālī, built his grand palace and called all the people to witness it. Hasan knew that this was a great opportunity to remind the people about the place of wealth and status in this life. He said: “We looked at what the filthiest of filth built, and we found that Fir’awn built greater than what he built and higher than what he built, then Allāh destroyed Fir’awn and what he built. Hajjāj should know that the inhabitants of the sky hate him and the people of the earth only deceive him!” It was said to Hasan “Be careful, O Abū Sa’īd!” Hasan replied “Allāh has taken a covenant from the people of knowledge to explain it to the people and not to be silent!” In this example the Hasan al-Basrī openly exposed the excesses of the ruler. (Suwar min hayat at-tabi’in, ‘Abdur Rahman Ra’fat Basha p.101-102)

Furthermore, it should not be said that the advice should be private or otherwise it is ghībah (backbiting). This is because the ahādīth have come in an unrestricted form, and in fact the indications of the ahādīth of accounting are that the accounting is to be done in public; and as for ghībah, there is no ghībah for the one who does open fisq (transgression). Imām Nawawī in his Riyad al-Sālihīn, under the chapter of ‘Types of Ghībah which are Permissible’ listed six types, which in his view are allowed as exceptions (to the normal prohibition of back-biting); of these, three are relevant:

a)      Complaining (tazallum) to the ruler or judge

b)      Seeking help to change an evil (munkar)

c)      Mentioning the one who openly commits a sin (fisq) or innovation (bid’ah).

Indeed, under any of the above three categories there would be a dispensation to backbite against the ruler’s oppression, evil actions or open sins. Some like Hasan al-Basrī did not consider accounting rulers as ghībah in origin, as it is reported that he said: ‘There is no backbiting with regard to the fāsiq (sinner who openly professes his evil).” (al-Lalikā’ī, 1/140,p. 279).

This was the same practice for Ahmad b. Hanbal when he accounted the Abbasid Khalīfah al-Ma’mun, and Ibn Taymiyyah with Sultān al-Nāsir the Mamluk sultan; so how can it be claimed today that it is harām to account the rulers publicly. It is not befitting for the Saudi scholars who claim to follow such scholars that they should give a fatwā, effectively stopping a means to accounting the rulers and speaking the word of truth. This is not blocking the means (sad al-zari’ah) to evil but blocking the means to hold the rulers to account and speaking the Haqq.

As for the specific evidences, they are numerous; we shall here give two clear examples of public display of opinion: It has been reported by Al-Bukhārī on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbās (may Allāh be pleased with him) that he said: “When the following verses were revealed:  “And warn your tribe [O Muḥammad صلى الله عليه وسلم] of near kindred.” [26:214] The Messenger of Allāh صلى الله عليه وسلم ascended Mount Al-Safā and started to call: “O Banī Fahr! O Banī ‘Adī!” Many people gathered, and those who could not sent somebody to report to them. Abū Lahab was also present. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “You see: if I were to tell you that there were some horsemen in the valley planning to raid you, would you believe me?” They said: “Yes, we have never experienced any lie from you.” He said: “I am a Warner to you before a severe torment.” Abū Lahab promptly replied: “Perish you all the day! Have you summoned us for such a thing?” Muslim has the following version reported on authority of Abū Hurayrah (ra) — He said: “When the following verses were revealed: “And warn your tribe [O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم] of near kindred.” [26:214] The Messenger of Allāh صلى الله عليه وسلم called all the people of Quraysh; so they gathered and he gave them a general warning. Then he made a particular reference to certain tribes, and said: “O Quraysh, rescue yourselves from the Fire; O people of Banī Ka’b, rescue yourselves from the Fire; O Fātimah, daughter of Muhammad, rescue yourself from the Fire, for I have no power to protect you from Allāh in anything except that I would sustain relationship with you.”

Here Allāh’s Messenger (may the peace and blessings be upon him), after receiving the command to carry the da’wah to his tribesmen, went out on top of Mount Safā and called out to the Quraysh to heed his warning. This was a public display of opinion by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, and what is permitted for the individual is permitted for the group (as long as there is no specific nass that restricts the action to the Messenger alone). So this is specific evidence for protests and demonstrations.

Similar to this is the first public demonstration of the Muslims, organised by ‘Umar b. Al-Khattāb, for which he was praised by the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم, as reported in ‘The Sealed Nectar’:  “With respect to the Muslims in Makkah, ‘Umar’s (ra) conversion had a different tremendous impact. Mujāhid, on the authority of Ibn al-‘Abbās (ra), related that he had asked ‘Umar b. Al-Khattāb why he had been given the epithet of Al-Fārūq (He who distinguishes truth from falsehood); he replied: After I had embraced Islam, I asked the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم: ‘Aren’t we on the right path, here and in the Hereafter?’ The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم answered: ‘Of course you are! I swear by Allāh in Whose Hand my soul is; that you are right in this world and in the hereafter.’ I therefore asked the Prophet, ‘Why had we then to conduct clandestine activism. I swear by Allāh, who has sent you with the Truth; that we will leave our concealment and proclaim our noble cause publicly.’ We then went out in two groups, Hamzah leading one and I the other. We headed for the Mosque in broad daylight. When the polytheists of Quraysh saw us, their faces went pale, and they got incredibly depressed and resentful. On that very occasion, the Prophet attached to me the epithet of Al-Fārūq.” (Al-Rahīq al-Makhtūm p113 1st ed. English trans.)

Therefore, demonstrations and protests to account the rulers and expose their betrayal of the ummah’s interest are permissible by the general and specific evidences regarding this subject. The caveat to this permissibility is conditional that no other rules of the Sharī’ah are violated, such as destruction of public or private property, non Islamic slogans or free-mixing etc.


Dear brothers and sisters, if a person were to steal our property will we sit back and watch as bystanders? Rather, we will at least protest or attempt to reclaim our property. So why is it that some choose to remain silent, or ask others to remain silent when the tyrant rulers have stolen something far more precious, which is the authority (sultan) of the Ummah to implement Islām. This authority has been stolen, usurped and abused by the tyrant rulers and we are obliged to reclaim that authority by accounting these rulers and working to re-establish the Khalīfah who WILL rule by what Allāh has revealed. Only the Islamic political struggle will change the lot of this Ummah, steer her destiny towards honour and tranquillity, and release her from the clutches of the zālimīn (oppressors). Let us continue to heed the words of Muhammad al-Mustafā صلى الله عليه وسلم, which came in the form of warning, when he صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

“Nay, by Allah, you either enjoin good and forbid evil and catch hold of the hand of the oppressor and persuade him to act justly and stick to the truth, or, Allah will involve the hearts of some of you with the hearts of others and will curse you as He had cursed them”. [Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi].