Are we required to take up arms to establish the Islamic state?

Although the Muslims lost their state in 1924, the love for their Deen has remained in their hearts and it has given rise to numerous Islamic movements seeking to re-establish the authority of Islam through the return of the Khilafah. These movements have called for different methods to bring back the Khilafah and amongst them are some who claim that Jihad is the only way to fulfil this noble obligation. The sincerity and devotion to Islam of the proponents of this methodology is beyond doubt. However, as more and more Muslims become aware of the obligation to work for the Khilafah and seek the right way to fulfil this obligation, it has become more important than ever to understand and evaluate all the proposed methods to re-establish the Khilafah in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Therefore in this article I would seek to address the issue of fighting to establish the Islamic state.

Those who call for the use of arms to remove the existing regimes in the Muslim lands consider the current rulers as disbelievers as they are not ruling by the laws of Allah (SWT). They quote as evidence the following Ayah from the Holy Qur’an :

“And whosoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, such are the disbelievers” [Ma’idah:44]

Hence, they hold that the rulers today are apostates and the Muslims must fight them because the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said in a Hadith “whosoever changes his religion then kill him” unless they repent. Furthermore, they cite the Hadith that order Muslims to fight their rulers when they show open Kufr:

Al-Bukhari narrated on the authority of Junada b. abi Umayyah who said: We went to ‘Ubadah b. as-Samit when he was sick and we said: May Allah (swt) guide you. Inform us of a Hadith from the Messenger of Allah (saw) so Allah may benefit you from it. He said, the Messenger of Allah (saw) called upon us and we gave him the Bai’ah, and he said, of that which he had taken from us, that we should give him the pledge to listen and obey, in what we like and dislike, in our hardship and ease, and that we should not dispute the authority of its people unless we saw open Kufr (kufr buwah) upon which we had a proof (burhan) from Allah.

In another Hadith, Rasoolullah (SAW) says “The best of your leaders are those whom you love and who love you, who pray for you and you pray for them. The worst of your leaders are those whom you hate and who hate you, and you send curses on them and they send curses on you.” He was asked, “O Messenger of Allah should we not fight them by the sword?” He said, “Not as long as they are establishing prayer amongst you. And if you see from those in authority over you something that you hate then hate his action and do not remove your hand from obedience.” (Muslim)

The Hadith above mean that the ruler who shows open Kufr, for instance by ruling by other than Allah’s laws, must be fought and their authority challenged. So does it mean we are required to fight the current rulers as they are not implementing the Shari’ah?

Firstly, let us deal with the claim that the current rulers have apostatised by not implementing the laws of Allah (SWT). Ibn al-Qayyim clarifies the correct opinion pertaining to this matter as follows:

“The correct view is that ruling according to something other than that which Allah has revealed includes both major and minor Kufr, depending on the position of the judge. If he believes that it is obligatory to rule according to what Allah has revealed in this case, but he turns away from that out of disobedience, whilst acknowledging that he is deserving of punishment, then this is lesser Kufr. But if he believes that it is not obligatory and that the choice is his even though he is certain that this is the ruling of Allah, then this is major Kufr.” [Madaarij as-Saaliheen, 1/336-337]

To further add to Ibn al-Qayyim’s view, when we read the passage in Surah Ma’idah dealing with ruling by other than Allah’s laws, we find that Allah (SWT) calls those who do not rule by His laws as “disbelievers”, “oppressors” and “corrupt”. Hence, if a ruler rules by Kufr due to his corruption or fear of facing opposition if he does otherwise, yet acknowledges this action as sinful and blameworthy, he will be a corrupt oppressor and not a disbeliever. However if he rules by Kufr believing that it is not obligatory to rule by Allah’s laws or that the laws of Kufr are better than the laws of Allah (SWT), he will have dragged himself out of the fold of Islam and become an apostate. To establish the latter case, that is the rulers have become apostates, there must be clear evidence as the Hadith says, “…unless we saw open Kufr (kufr buwah) upon which we had a proof (burhan) from Allah”. Therefore it is not allowed to label someone a Kafir without explicit proof.

Furthermore, even if the current rulers were disbelievers, we need to ask whether certain individuals or groups from amongst the Ummah are allowed to implement the punishment for apostasy without the presence, and hence, the permission of an Imam. We know that the implementation of the Hudood, including the punishment for apostasy, is the exclusive responsibility of the Imam unless specifically stated otherwise in a text. The following Hadith of the Prophet (SAW) clarifies this issue:

“Nobody has the right vested in him to establish anything from the Hudood without the Sultan (authority of the State).” [narrated by Imam Bayhaqi (ra) in his Sunan]

Imam Tahawi also narrates a Hadith from Muslim ibn Yasar that the Prophet (saw) said, “The (collection of the) Zakah, the (implementation of the) Hudood the (distribution of the) spoils and the (appointment of the) Jumu’ah are for the Sultan.”

Secondly, we need to understand whether the Hadith that order Muslims to fight their rulers when they display open Kufr apply to today’s reality. A careful look at the Hadith that deal with this issue shows that they are talking about the Imam who has been given a legitimate Bay’ah by the Muslims and one who has been implementing Islam but later turns to implementing Kufr. That means we are required to fight the Khalifah when the Khilafah already exists but the Khalifah commits an action of clear-cut Kufr. However, today the reality is different to the one that these Hadith relate to. Today we are living at a time when the Khilafah has been abolished all together and replaced by entire systems of Kufr. The current rulers have never been pledged a Shar’ee bay’ah by the Muslims. None of them ever implemented Islam at all and neither did they even commit themselves to do so when assuming power. So today, the task is more than just replacing a single ruler who has gone astray. Rather, it is uprooting entire systems of Kufr imposed upon the Muslim lands and replacing it with the Islamic Khilafah.

The movements who have resorted to fighting to establish the Khilafah also cite the Shari’ah principle “what leads to a duty is a duty in itself” to justify their method. However, it is erroneous to derive a specific rule for a particular issue using a general principle and ignoring the specific texts relating to that issue or not considering the other principles of Islam in the absence of specific texts. Dr Haykal, who has done a thesis on the subject matter of our discussion, explains how this approach can lead to contradictory conclusions even in a single issue:

“For example in this issue i.e. the use of weapons to establish the Islamic state, it is possible for some to say that using weapons against the Muslims is forbidden because of the evidence of the prophet “Whosoever lifts a weapon against us(the Muslims) is not one of us”. But the establishment of the Islamic state is a duty and it cannot be established except by the use of weapons which are forbidden. Here the legal and illegal have come together in the same issue and the Islamic principle states “whenever the legal and illegal come together in one issue then the illegality will override the legality” i.e. One must then act on the illegality of the ruling and that is the illegality of the use of weapons.

“Also some people may say: The establishment of the duty which is the application of the rules of Allah is a benefit and doing what is forbidden which is the spilling of the blood of the Muslims is a corruption. The Sharia( the legal system of Islam) states that ” Blocking the means of corruption is more important then achieving our benefit”….

“…”What leads to a duty is a duty in itself” will only be considered if their is no difference of opinion in the issue that is required to be established and it cannot not be achieved except by a means that in itself is legal. It then can be said “What leads to a duty is a duty itself” i.e. The legal action that has been specified as a means to the duty becomes a duty in itself.

“But if this duty will not be reached except by something which in itself is forbidden like the use of weapons in this issue that we are discussing – Will we then allow it to establish that duty with the excuse of this Islamic principle? By Allah No!. Of course as long as this duty is not overshadowed by another principle “necessity makes the forbidden legal”!

“Yes! If their is a shariah text that regards specifically this situation i.e. Fighting in order to establish the Islamic state- and prevents it from falling under the general illegality of the use of weapons- then the evidence is the exceptional text and not the Islamic principle “what leads to a duty is a duty in itself”…

“In summary: Depending on the principle “What leads to a duty is a duty in itself” as an evidence by itself in the legality of fighting to establish the Islamic state- without looking at other specific evidence in this issue is something that we cannot not accept from its advocate.!!”

Yet another argument put forward by the advocates of armed struggle is that the Muslim lands today are occupied and Jihad has now become Fard ‘Ayn (individual obligation). Therefore, every Muslim must fight to free the occupied lands and establish an Islamic state in the process. This argument confuses the obligation of Jihad and the obligation of establishing a state as one and the same, whereas they are two completely separate obligations with totally different methods of fulfilling them. Jihad becomes Fard ‘Ayn upon Muslims when their lands are occupied and every Muslim in the occupied land must fight to free their land regardless of whether a state exists or not. In contrast, the obligation of establishing an Islamic state arises when the state does not exist, regardless of whether the Muslim lands are occupied by foreign forces or not.

Some even go as far as to claim that every Muslim land today is occupied as the rulers are enemies of the Ummah. Hence it becomes an obligation upon Muslims to fight these enemies to free their lands. This is an incorrect understanding of the reality of occupation. A land is occupied when foreign non-Muslim forces invade the land and snatch authority from the Muslims, as is the case in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. Only in such cases does Jihad become an individual obligation (Fard ‘Ayn). However, to claim that all Muslim lands are occupied because the rulers are not implementing Islam is incorrect because the authority of these lands is still in the hands of Muslims who will protect them from being invaded by foreign forces. So this situation is in stark contrast to that of a land that is occupied by foreign troops. Moreover, during the Prophet’s (SAW) da’wah in Makkah, Abdur Rahman ibn ‘Awf (RA) along with some other Sahabah once asked permission from the Prophet (SAW) to fight but he (SAW) refused saying “Indeed I have been ordered to forgive so do not fight the people.” [Reported by Ibn Abi Hatim and an-Nasai and al-Haakim]

Therefore, we, Muslims, have not been ordered to fight to establish the state. Rather we are required to emulate the steps that the Prophet (SAW) took in order to establish the first Islamic state in Madinah. The Prophet’s (SAW) da’wah before the establishment of the state can be summarised into three stages. The first stage saw the secret culturing of a core group of Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them) with Islamic concepts and emotions and preparing them to convey the message of Islam. The second stage began when Allah (SWT) ordered the Prophet (SAW) to proclaim Islam openly. That is when the Messenger (SAW) openly challenged the ignorant way of life of the Quraysh and spoke out against the Qurayshi leaders. This was the stage of intellectual and political struggle. In the third stage, the Prophet (SAW) approached different Arab tribes seeking military support (Nusrah) for the establishment of the state until ‘Aws and Khazraj from Madinah pledged to give this support (see The Messenger’s (saw) methodology of establishing the Deen for further details).

In conclusion, none of the evidences used to justify the use of arms relate to the method of establishing the Islamic state. Moreover, fighting to establish the state was specifically prohibited by the Messenger of Allah (SAW). Instead he (SAW) has shown us a specific way of establishing the Islamic state and we must strictly adhere to this method and be careful not to allow ourselves to deviate from it at the slightest bit as it is indeed a Shar’ee obligation.


Al-Jihad wa’l Qital fi as-Siyasa ash-Shar’iyya by Dr Muhammad Khair Haykal

When is rebellion against the Khalifah permitted:

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