How should we understand the following hadith? "You need to listen to and obey your appointed ruler even if he is an Ethiopian (black) slave."

The Details of the Question
How should we understand the following hadith? "You need to listen to and obey your appointed ruler even if he is an Ethiopian (black) slave."
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

In the narration above and the narrations below, the necessity of obedience to ulul amr (those in authority) is expressed.

"If an Ethiopian slave with a cut off nose and ear were appointed as your ruler, you would have to listen to and obey his orders as long as he rules in accordance with the Book of Allah."(Ibn Majah, Jihad, 39; Bukhari, Ahkam, 4)

The following is stated in another hadith narration Bukhari reports from Anas (radiyallahu anh):

"You need to listen to and obey your appointed ruler even if he is an Ethiopian (black) slave whose head looks like a raisin."

The following is stated in a narration reported by Muslim: Abu Dharr said, 

"My friend (Hz. Prophet) said to me:"I advise you to obey the ruler even if he is a slave whose arms were cut off."

Those who explain the hadiths say what is meant by the words and phrases like "raisin" and "arms cut off" is lower rank in nobility and ugliness in appearance; that is, we are asked to obey the ruler without taking descent and physiognomy into consideration. 

Another narration is as follows:

"Even if an Abyssinian slave is appointed to rule you, listen to him and obey him. Keep obeying him unless you are threatened to abandon Islam or to be executed. In that case, surrender your head. If you abandon your religion, your world and hereafter will be destroyed anyway."

In the following hadith, rebellion against the imam is mentioned as one of the signs of  Doomsday:

"I swear by Allah that Doomsday will not strike unless you kill your imam, draw your swords against one another and the evil ones among you become your administrators."

In some narrations, obedience to the ruler is regarded as equal to obedience to Allah.

"He who obeys me is regarded to have obeyed Allah. He who disobeys me is regarded to have disobeyed Allah. He who obeys my ruler is regarded to have obeyed me. He who disobeys my ruler is regarded to have disobeyed me."(see Bukhari, Ahkam 1; Muslim, Imara 33; Nasai, Bay’at 26; İbrahim Canan, Kütüb-i Sitte Tercüme ve Şerhi, Akçağ Yayınları, V/64-65)

Accordingly, the administrators who are Muslims and who rule truly with justice are "ulu`l-amr"; it is necessary to fulfill their orders that do not necessitate disobedience to Allah. 

Ahl as-Sunnah scholars,unanimously agree that heads of state need to be chosen among just people who are good at administrative, political and military affairs and who are powerful and shrewd. According to the view of all religious scholars, it is wajib to obey the head of state who is chosen and appointed like that. 

However, Ahl as-Sunnah scholars regard it necessary to obey heads of state even if they come to power by force and whether or not they deserve it.

For, rebellion against state authority causes big mischief and evil. Everybody knows that it is very difficult to close the door of break down, tumult and anarchy opened by rebellion. This tumult can sometimes eliminate nations and states. 

The Prophet's advice of patience to his ummah toward the wrong and unjust deeds of the administrators does not ask them to surrender to oppression; on the contrary, it aims to make his ummah avoid bigger oppression and loss that will harm the unity of the state and nation.

Mujtahids, mujaddids and other Islamic scholars evaluated disobedience and rebellion separately.  They did not obey anybody regarding cases contrary to orders of Allah. However, they never attempted to rebel or encouraged others to rebel. On the contrary, they did their best to prevent people from rebellion; they served as examples to all Muslims through their attitudes.

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