Were any demonstrations of protest seen in the history of Islam? What is the place of protesting in Islam?

Details of the Question

- Are deeds like the demonstrations of the Palestinians appropriate? What is the view of our religion on protesting – whether it is an Islamic movement or not?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

We do not know about any famous incidents of protest in the history of Islam. However, the first deeds of the revolt against Hz. Uthman can be regarded as a kind of protest.

Islamic scholars have different views regarding the issue. According to the fatwas of some contemporary scholars, it is not permissible to hold a demonstration - with or without permission. Sheikh Uthaymin and Sheikh Muqbil b. Hadi al-Wadii hold this view.  

The reasons that the scholars who say protesting is not permissible put forward are as follows in brief:

a. Non-existence of protests in the Era of Bliss and the first three centuries of Islam called “the Era of Salaf as-Salihin” shows that it is not appropriate. 

b. Protests generally take place in the form of harming others. There are people who tend to cause anarchy, who are not sensible and who do not think about halal and haram among protesters. What they do usually consists of destruction.

c. It is a fact that the property of innocent people is harmed during protests.

“Neither harming nor being harmed exists in Islam.”

The deeds that are contrary to the hadith above cannot be accepted.

The reasons that the scholars who say protesting is permissible put forward can be summarized as follows:

a. Protests are a system of demanding rights accepted by the contemporary world. The real target of protests is to demand some things that the society needs and wants, to inform the authorities about some social problems and to solve them. It is a legitimate target.

b. The protests that are organized related to an issue that interests the whole Islamic ummah, not a certain part of the community, are regarded not only as permissible but also as jihad.

c. These kinds of protests organized by Muslims show that they are in unity and act together for the same target; this will intimidate the enemies of the religion of Islam and will dissuade them from oppressing Muslims. This issue is very important.

“…Nothing could they (Muslims) suffer or do, but was reckoned to their credit as a deed of righteousness,- whether they suffered thirst, or fatigue, or hunger, in the cause of Allah, or trod paths to raise the ire of the Unbelievers, or received any injury whatever from an enemy: for Allah suffereth not the reward to be lost of those who do good.” (at-Tawba, 9/120)

It is possible to understand that this issue is encouraged by the verse above.

In our opinion, protests to be organized based on the conditions to be listed below are permissible; otherwise, they are not permissible.

1. The aim of the protest must be to the point. That is, the aim must not be to display hostile attitude toward the administrators and to take revenge but to invite them to the truth and to help them make correct decisions. Otherwise, it might not be possible to obtain a good result from a protest in which personal hatred is involved.

“…Let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancor: fear Allah: for Allah is strict in punishment.” (al-Maida, 5/2)

“O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (al-Maida, 5/8)

It is possible to understand this fact from the verse above.

2. The aim of the protests organized in Islamic countries must be peace, not war. For, as Badiuzzaman Said Nursi states, sword is not used within the borders of Islamic land. Therefore, the protest demonstrations to be organized within the borders of Islamic countries must be free of armed action.   

“…So bring to remembrance the benefits (ye have received) from Allah, and refrain from evil and mischief on the earth.” (al-A’raf, 7/74),

“...Nor withhold from the people the things that are their due; and do no mischief on the earth after it has been set in order: that will be best for you, if ye have Faith.” (al-A'raf, 7/85)

We can understand it from the verses above and the hadith below:

Neither harming nor being harmed exists in Islam.”(Ahmad b. Hanbal; Ibn Majah)

3. It is not expected from Islam, which is a religion of repair, to approve of protest demonstrations that cause material harm and destruction. It is a fact that destruction caused by harming others’ property will not make any contribution to any repair and obtaining rights; on the contrary, such deeds will make a person who is right wrong and a person who is oppressed an oppressor.

4. In the actions with arms, innocent people are harmed more than oppressors. This does not comply with the consciousness and compassion of belief.

The following statement by Badiuzzaman Said Nursi sheds light on the issue:

“Secondly: Compassion, conscience and truth prevent us from politics (material conflict). For, if there are two irreligious and hypocritical people, there are seven or eight innocent, helpless, weak and ill children and old people. If a misfortune hits, those innocent people will be affected. Those two irreligious and hypocritical people might be affected less than them. Therefore, Risale-i Nur prevents its compassionate, merciful, truthful and honest students from entering politics because it might cause violation of peace and the result is doubtful.” (Tarihçe-i Hayat, p. 312; Kastamonu Lahikası, p. 240 -Envar Neşriyat-).

“The compassion, reality, and truth of the Risale-i Nur prevents us from involvement in politics. For innocents are afflicted with calamities and we would have been unjust towards to them. Some people wanted an explanation of this, and I told them:"

"In the present stormy century, the egotism and racialism proceeding from cruel civilization, and the military dictatorships resulting from the Great War, and the pitilessness arising from misguidance have led to such extreme tyranny and excessive despotisms that if the people of truth defend their rights through physical force, or through severe tyranny, numerous unfortunates will be burnt on the pretext of partisanship, and in that situation, they too will be excessively tyrannical and will be defeated. For those who act and attack out of the above feelings, on some petty pretext, strike at twenty to thirty people because of the mistakes of one or two, and destroy them. If on the way of truth and justice, the people of truth strike only at the one who struck, they win only one in the face of thirty losses, and are then in a position of defeat. If, in accordance with the unjust rule of responding in kind, the people of truth also crush twenty to thirty people due to the errors of one or two, they will then perpetrate a ghastly injustice in the name of right.” (Tarihçe-i Hayat, p. 426)

Ibn Taymiyya states the following regarding the issue:

“According to the most well-known view of Ahl as-Sunnah scholars, it is not permissible to revolt against the ruler even if he is an oppressor. This view is supported by many hadiths. The mischief, chaos and injustice caused by armed conflict is worse than the oppression and mischief caused by the ruler. History shows that the mischief, chaos and injustice caused by those who revolted against the rulers by weapons always became worse than the mischief, chaos and injustice they tried to eliminate.

Allah does not propose revolting against a cruel ruler in any way.

“If two parties among the Believers fall into a quarrel, make ye peace between them: but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other, then fight ye (all) against the one that transgresses until it complies with the command of Allah; but if it complies, then make peace between them with justice, and be fair: for Allah loves those who are fair (and just).”

The issue is clearly stated in the verse above. How does Allah allow armed struggle against rulers?” (see Minhajus-Sunnatin-Nabawiyya, 3/391)

The following should not be forgotten: If the Muslim people in any Islamic country organize peaceful demonstrations – free from armed actions, destruction and injustice – and if the despotic governments shoot them, the responsibility will belong to those fascist states and governments.

To sum up enjoining what is good must be fulfilled within the boundaries of good deeds and forbidding the evil must not involve doing evil deeds.

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