Should Muslims rebel against a ruler who fails to implement the commands of Allah?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
It is not lawful for Muslims to violently rebel against an unjust Muslim ruler. Rather, Muslims should be patient and encourage reform through non-violent action.
O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.
Surah An-Nisa 4:59
In many narrations, the Prophet has forbidden us from rebelling against the rulers.
Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
Rulers after me will come who do not follow my guidance and my tradition (sunnah). Some of their men will have the hearts of devils in a human body.
I said, "O Messenger of Allah, what should I do if I live to see that time?” The Prophet said:
You should listen and obey them even if the ruler strikes your back and takes your wealth, even still listen and obey.
Source: Sahih Muslim 1847, Grade: Sahih
Awf ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
The best of your rulers are those whom you love and they love you, who pray for you and you pray for them. The worst of your rulers are those whom you hate and they hate you, whom you curse and they curse you.
It was said, "Shall we confront them with swords?” The Prophet said:
No, as long as they establish prayer among you. If you find something hateful from them, you should hate their actions but not withdraw your hand from obedience.
Source: Sahih Muslim 1855, Grade: Sahih
Umm Salamah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
There will be rulers from whom you will see both goodness and corruption. One who recognizes their evil and hates it will maintain his innocence, but one who is pleased with it and follows them will be sinful.
It was said, "Shall we not fight them?” The Prophet said:
No, as long as they pray.
Source: Sahih Muslim 1854, Grade: Sahih
Many of those who call for violent rebellion have resorted to the use of terrorism against innocent civilians. Such acts are completely rejected by Islam. The Prophet severely warned those who engage in such acts of reckless violence and rebellion.
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
Whoever rejects obedience to the ruler and divides the community and dies will have died upon ignorance. Whoever fights under the banner of one who is blind, raging for the sake of tribalism, or calling to tribalism, or supporting tribalism, and is killed will have died upon ignorance. Whoever rebels against my nation, striking the righteous and wicked alike and sparing not even the believers and does not fulfill the pledge of security, then he has nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with him.
Source: Sahih Muslim 1848, Grade: Sahih
The righteous predecessors (salaf as-salih) recognized that the evil which comes through violent rebellion is worse than the evil of the ruler himself. For this reason, they counseled patience and wisdom in the face of injustice, and they would pray for the ruler to be guided to righteousness.
Hasan Al-Basri said:
If the people had patience when they are being tested by their unjust ruler, it will not be long before Allah will give them a way out. However, they always rush to their swords, so they are left with their swords. By Allah, not even for a single day did they bring about any good.
Source: Tabaqat Al-Kubra 8789
We do not recognize the rebellion against our leader or those in charge of our affairs even if they are unjust, nor do we wish evil for them, nor do we refuse to follow them. We hold that obedience to them is part of obedience to Allah the Exalted and therefore obligatory as long as they do not command us to commit sins. We pray for their right guidance and pardon.
Source: Aqeedah At-Tahawi
Ahmad ibn Hanbal said:
Do not confront the ruler, for his sword is unsheathed.
Source: Jami’ Ulum wal-Hikam
The main evidence used to justify a violent rebellion against the ruler is the saying of Allah:
Whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is those who are the disbelievers.
Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:44
It is argued that if the Muslim ruler does not refer to the Sharia for judgment, or he does not apply the proper Sharia rulings, then he becomes a disbeliever who should be killed. However, this is incorrect because the unbelief mentioned in the verse is the lesser unbelief that does not take the ruler out of the fold of Islam.
A man asked Ibn Abbas concerning this verse. Ibn Abbas said:
If he does that, then there is disbelief in it, but this is not like one who disbelieves in Allah and the Last Day and so on.
The verse means disbelief less than disbelief, wickedness less than wickedness, and oppression less than oppression.
This is not the unbelief that rejects someone from the religion.
Source: Tafseer Al-Tabari 5:44
Therefore, if the ruler does not apply the Sharia properly, this is sinful but it does not justify a violent rebellion against them. Rather, the proper way to enjoin good and forbid evil regarding the rulers is through non-violent preaching, advising, and if necessary, acts of civil disobedience.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal said:
Changing evil with one’s hand is not done with swords or weapons.
Source: Jami’ Ulum wal-Hikam
A Muslim should sincerely advise the ruler using mild speech, preferably in private.
Tamim Ad-Dari reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
Religion is sincerity.
We said, "To whom?” The Prophet said:
To Allah, His Book, His Messenger, the leaders of the Muslims, and their common people.
Source: Sahih Muslim 55, Grade: Sahih
In the same way, Allah commanded Moses and Aaron, upon them be peace, to speak mildly to Pharaoh, even though Pharaoh was a great tyrant and not a Muslim.
Speak to him with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear Allah.
Surah Ta Ha 20:44
If this is how Allah commanded them to speak to a great tyrant who was not a Muslim, then a Muslim ruler is even more deserving of better treatment.
It may become necessary to be more vocal and forceful if the ruler is a stubborn oppressor. Speaking the truth to him in this case becomes a form of jihad.
Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
Verily, among the greatest of struggles is a word of justice in front of a tyrant.
Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2174, Grade: Hasan
If the ruler commands the Muslims to commit sins, they should disobey him and not fulfill his command, but this should be done without violence. In other words, a Muslim should behave with civil disobedience.
Ali reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
There is no obedience to the leader involving disobedience to Allah. Verily, obedience is only for good conduct.
Source: Sahih Bukhari 6830, Grade: Sahih
Therefore, a Muslim should attempt to reform the ruler and enjoin good without resorting to violence. Violence and terrorism leads to the fracturing of Muslim society, which is even worse than the oppression of the rulers. Instead, Muslims must be patient and wise in the face of such injustice, and they should pray for Allah to guide the rulers to right conduct.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.