Does Islam permeit the over-throwing of corrupt Islamic governments?

There is a common belief that Islam permits its adherents to over-throw corrupt Islamic governments. Such an act however, is totally UnIslamic.

This can be seen from the fact that despite the blatant perversion in the Muslim rulers after the pious caliphate, the Muslim ulama did not lead an insurrection against these corrupt individuals. For about a period of one thousand years they remained detached in this matter and continued to engage all their efforts in non-political fields. This was not a matter of accident but in obedience to the express injunctions of the Shariah.

As we know, in the books of Hadith detailed traditions have been set down in the chapters titled Kitab al-Fitan. The Prophet Muhammad observed in plain words that in later times perversions would set in in the rulers, they would become tyrannical and unjust, but that Muslims should not wield their swords against them. They should rather move to the mountains with their goats and camels.

By ‘goats and camels’ are meant the opportunities in non-political fields, which exist, even when the political institutions are corrupted. This injunction given by the Prophet meant that the Muslims should avail of such opportunities by avoiding clash and confrontation in the political field. In short, by ignoring the political problem, they should avail of the non-political opportunities.

These injunctions of the Prophet Muhammad were so clear that the Muslim ulama of later times formed a consensus to make insurrection against the rulers unlawful.

Imam An-Nawawi, commenting upon some traditions as set forth by Sahih Muslim (Kitab al-Imarah) observes: “You should not come into conflict with the rulers in matters of their power. Even if you find them going against express Islamic injunctions, you should attempt to make the truth clear to them solely through words of wisdom and advice. So far as revolt and war against them in order to unseat them is concerned, that is totally unlawful according to the consensus of the ulama, even when the rulers are zalim and fasiq (tyrants and corrupt).” (Sahih Muslim, bi sharh an-Nawawi, 12/229)

This command of the Prophet, as clearly expressed above, was based on extremely important considerations. In actual fact, in the early phase of Islam (as well as in the later phase) missionary and reform works had to be performed, without which the history of Islam would not have been complete. If the ulama of the Muslim community had tried to pose a threat to the political institutions, certainly all this constructive work would have been left undone. That is why the Prophet Muhammad expressly prohibited any clash with political institutions. This avoidance of strife guaranteed that non-political constructive work would continue to be performed without any break.

In every society there are always two systems side by side, one political and the other non-political. The latter is established through various non-political institutions. According to the scheme of Islam, non-political institutions established at the social level have always to remain stable.

In this way there is a continuing endeavour—even when the political institutions have become corrupt, or keep changing—to keep Islam firmly established at the level of the non-political system.

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