By Hamdi AabdiNaasir
Superior to the western notion of freedom of expression that sees constructive criticism as a mere right, Quran made it an obligation upon every knowledgeable believer unless there is legitimate excuse. After mentioning how disgraceful the children of Israel and why they were cursed were, Almighty Allah says: “They used not to prevent one another from wrong doing that they did. How wretched was that which they were doing” (Surah al-Baqarah, Verse No. 79). The verse is to tell us that abstaining to criticise wrongdoing is a grave sin that ignites Allah’s curse. Verse number 159 of Surah al-Baqarah gels this interpretation. It says:
Verily, those who conceal the clear proofs, evidences and the guidance, which We have sent down, after We have made it clear for the people in the Book, they are the ones cursed by Allah and cursed by the cursers.
At another point in the Quran, Allah says, “And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful” (Surah Ali-Imran, Verse No. 104). On top of obliging the nation to rebuke corrupt manners, transgression and any wrongdoing regardless of who is the culprit, the verse makes clear that such is the way for a nation to succeed.
Ample evidence from the sunnah explain how turning a blind eye to wrongdoings wreaks havoc to the entire nation. For instance, in an eloquent parable, the Prophet (PABUH) said:
The example of the person abiding by Allah’s order and restrictions in comparison to those who violate them is like the example of those persons who drew lots for their seats in a boat. Some of them got seats in the upper part, and the others in the lower. When the latter needed water, they had to go up to bring water (and that troubled the others), so they said, ‘Let us make a hole in our share of the boat (and get water) saving those who are above us from troubling them. So, if the people in the upper part left the others do what they had suggested, all the people of the boat would be destroyed, but if they prevented them, both parties would be safe” (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith No. 2493).
The gist of the parable is to highlight that malefactors’ transgressions will destroy not only the bad guys who commit it but also the noble ones unless they try their best to stop. In another hadith, the prophet (PABUH) said, “When the people see the wrongdoer, and they do not stop him (from doing wrong), then it is soon that Allah shall envelope you in a punishment from Him” (Jami’ Tirmith, Hadith No. 3057). This is, exactly, the interpretation that Muslim scholars gave to verse number 25 of Surah al-Anfal which says, “And fear a trial which will not strike those who have wronged among you exclusively, and know that Allah is severe in penalty”.
The best rewarding constructive criticism is when it’s done in the face of a tyrannical leader. Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (RTA) reports that the prophet PABUH said: “The best of jihad is a just word spoken to an unjust ruler” (Sunanu Abudawud, Hadith No. 4344; Sunanu Ibnu Majah, Hadith No. 4011).
Though the obligation of constructive criticism is upon everyone, it is ultimately the scholars that bear the greatest responsibility since lack of knowledge exculpates the wrongdoer in Islam. Moreover, “scholars are the heirs of the Prophets” (Abu Dawud, Hadith No. 3641; Jami’ at-Tirmithi, 2682) whose sole mission was to call mankind to the right path. This is the rationale underlying the nobility of scholars. Highlighting their position in the society, the Almighty Allah says, “Are those who know equal to those who know not?” It is only men of understanding who will remember” (Surah Zumar, Verse No. 9). In different words, He says, “Allah will exalt in degree those of you who believe and those who have been granted knowledge. And Allah is Well-Acquinted with what you do” (Surah al-Mujaddilah, Verse No. 11).
Keeping the importance of constructive criticism and the spearheading role of the scholars in mind, is it not important to ask, where are our scholars despite the transgressions of our leaders? With the exception of the ostracized few, all we hear are those ingratiating themselves with our tyrannical leaders. Among the deadly sins by the tyrannical leaders are corruption, using national security apparatus for political revenges and giving the US drones and its special forces a carta blanche to raid Somalia anytime of their convenience irrespective of the civilian casualties. Worse than this, few weeks after committing a grave constitutional breach by extra-legally rendering Abdi-Karim Sh Muse (Qalbi-dhagax) they invited new battalions of Ethiopian forces that poignantly awakened the memory of their brutality when they invaded the country in 2006. Most deploringly, they rule the country on the basis of secular law though the constitution explicitly states that all laws of the country should be sharia compliant. As a matter of fact, fornication/zina is not a crime under the penal code of Somalia.
Instead of addressing these deadly injustices many scholars are heard only when they are in defence of the tyrannical leaders by presenting utterly irrational and un-Islamic arguments. Their much-touted excuses include: ‘protection of the state’, ‘opponents of the incumbent leaders are worse’ to justify that they choose the lesser evil, ‘we addressed the mistakes of the tyrannical leaders confidentially’ and so forth. Let us see the tenability of these excuses one by one.
To begin with, protecting the state is a lofty idea. But what is state? Is it interchangeable with Farmajo and Khayre or whoever is the incumbent president and the prime minister? I am framing this question because I heard the scholars rising this point in response to criticisms against their subservience to the president and the prime minister. Is the subjugation of the parliament to the president and the prime minister the archetype of the state they envisage? Is the state a means for serving the public or are the people consumable goods of the state? If injustice, corruption and regime’s brutality led the destruction of Somalia’ central government, how can we rebuild our state on the same viruses that costed the viable state we once had? From my observation, these scholars are either clueless of what state means or they are insincerely masquerading as patriots.
In justifying their sycophancy, scholars argued that those opposing the president and the prime minister are worse. I have two remarks in this. Firstly, do scholars want to tell us that Qalbi-dhagax and the martyrs of Bariire and Jilib are worse than their predators and that justifies their silent approval? Secondly, even if some of the president’s opponents are worse than him still we have to heed their criticism against the president whenever it is valid. Let us learn the justice from our prophet (PABUH) who once endorsed the words of the fiercest enemy of mankind: Shaitan. He said, “He told you the truth although he is a liar; and it was Shaitan” (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith No. 5010). The prophet distinguished the speech, which was true, from the speaker, who was a lair. Why scholars cannot do the same whenever valid criticism is launched by someone even if worse than the president? Why did not they criticise these “worse opponents” when they were in power yesterday? Or is their criticism halal only when it benefits to Farmaajo and Khayre?
Other times scholars justify their silent approval of injustices under the pre-text of confidentiality. In Islam stopping or advising the wrongdoer does not necessarily have to be confidential! All it depends is how the mistake is committed and which way is the most fruitful. For instance, if it is publicly committed, then it has to be rebuked publicly so those misled by the action of the wrong doer can learn from. Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Sahih Muslim, Hadith number 49) said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (PABUH) as saying: He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart, and that is the least of faith.
Interestingly, Abu Sa’id reported this hadith in support of a man who publicly denounced the actions of the leader of Muslims then, Marwan ibn Hakam. This highlights that leaders should be publicly rebuked when they commit mistakes that is a matter of concern for the public. Throughout the Quran you find number of criticism that Allah launched against the prophet or the Sahabah. Moreover, Abu Huraira reported that the “Prophet once saw a man who did not wash his heel and he remarked: Woe to the heels because of hell-fire” (Sahih Muslim, Hadith No. 242). Though it was personal, the prophet rebuked it publicly. Even if scholars are honesty in their allegation of abiding confidentiality, then why do not they do the same to the opponents of the president?
I cannot believe scholars in bed with tyrannical leaders are the ones praised in the Quran. They could be those ridiculed by the Quran though. Allah says:
And recite to them, [O Muhammad], the story of him to whom We gave [knowledge of] Our signs, but he detached himself from them; so shaitan pursued him, and he become of those who went astray. And if We had willed, We would surely, have elevated him therewith, but he clung to the earth and followed his own vain desire. So his example is like that of the dog: if you chase him, he pants, or if you leave him, he [still] pants. That is the example of the people who denied Our signs. So relate the stories, perhaps they may reflect (Surah al-A’raaf, Verses No. 175 – 176)
In the verse Allah ridicules the knowledgeable person trading his knowledge for worldly attractions to the extent of likening him a dog that never stop to pant. In another verse Allah says, “O You who believe! Verily there are many of the [Jewish] rabbis and the [Christian] monks who devour the wealth of mankind in falsehood, and hinder [them] from the way of Allah….” (Surah at-Towba, Verse No 24). Though the verse specifically mentions scholars of the Jewish and the Christian it also applies to our scholars. Because the prophet says, “you will follow the ways of those nations who were before you, span by span and cubit by cubit [i.e. inch by inch] so much so that even if they entered a hole of a lizard you would follow them” we said “O Allah’s Messenger! [Do you mean] The Jewish and the Christians?” He said, “whom else” (Sahihu Bukhari, Hadith No. 7320).
One day, “the messenger of Allah PBUH looked up the sky and said: This is the time when knowledge will be uplifted.”So a man from the Ansaar, known as Ziyaad bin Lubayd, said: “O Messenger of Allah, (how) will knowledge be uplifted when it has become firmly settled and retained in the hearts?” The Messenger of Allah replied to him: ” I used to consider you to be from amongst the most knowledgeable of the people of Madeenah.” He then mentioned how the Jews and the Christians went astray even though they had the Book of Allah in their hands” (Sunanu Tirmithi, Hadith No. 2653).
From the above, we learn the existence of individuals misleading the people despite their religious knowledge and their resemblance to truthful scholars. Ibnu Hazma likened such scholars as wolf-hearted though wearing sheep’s cloth. Ibnu-Qayim al-Jawzi likened knowledgeable person who does not speak out against injustice to a mute devil. Similarly, abu-Hamid al-Ghazali, wrote (in his book of ahya’ ulumu-din 1/61), ‘take care of being deceived by the mix of the haq with the falsehood by evil scholars. In fact, their danger is more fatal than that of Shaitan. It is through them that Shaitan picks out religion from hearts’. Abdullahi bin Mubarak said, in his famous poem, ‘has the religion been destroyed other than by tyrannical rulers and evil scholars?’
Great Muslim scholars’ depiction of the evil scholars is not out of the blue. It is consistent with the above-mentioned verses and hadiths. Moreover, the prophet himself portrayed the gigantic danger that evil scholars wield within the society. He said, “What I fear most for my followers is the errors of the learned and the arguments of the hypocrites about the Quran” (Tabarani 18/593, Ibn Hiban, 80).