in category Scholars

What does Islam say about scholars close to rulers?

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Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an:

“They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah (by obeying them in things which they made lawful or unlawful according to their own desires without being ordered by Allah.)” (9:31)

Uday bin Haatim used to be a Christian. When he heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW) recite the above verse he tried to deny this and responded:

"We did not serve them (rabbis and priests)." The Prophet (saw) replied: “Did they (not forbid what Allah permitted and hence you forbade it; and permitted what Allah forbade and you permitted it?” Uday replied “Yes.” The Prophet (saw) said, “That is how you served them.” After this incident Uday (ra) embraced Islam.

The Messenger (saw) said:

إيَّاكُمْ وَأبْوَابَ السُّلْطَانِ ، فَإنَّهُ قَدْ أصْبَحَ صَعْبَاً هَبُوطَا

"Beware of the gates of the rulers, for they herald severe downfall" (Tabarani)

The Messenger of Allah (saw) came out to us, we were made up of nine; five and four. The first of the numbers for the Arabs, and the latter for the non-Arabs. He said:

"Listen, have you heard that after me there will be rulers: whoever enters upon them and condones their lies and supports them in their oppression, then he is not from me and I am not from him. And he shall not drink with me from the Hawd. And whoever does not enter upon them, nor help them in their oppression, nor condones their lies, then he is from me and I am from him, and he shall drink with me at the Hawd." (Tirmidhi)

Abu Hurayra reported the Messenger (saw) said:

"The most detested of all those who recite the Qur’an are those who visit rulers." (Ibn Majah, Dibaja, I, 154)

Another narration states:

"Scholars are the trustees of God’s messengers over those who serve Him, as long as they do not mix with rulers. If they do that, they will have betrayed the trust of God’s messengers. So be on your guard against them and stay away from them." (Daylami, al-Firdaws bi ma’thur al-khitab, III, 75)

Imam Ghazali quotes some of the companions:

Hudhayfa said, ‘Beware of the places of trial!’ When he was asked what places those were, Hudhayfa replied, ‘The doors of the rulers. You might visit the amir and find yourself verifying his untruths, and saying things about him that are fictitious.’ (Isfahani, Hilyat al-awliya, II, 273; Abd al-Razzaq, al-Kitab al-musannaf, XI, 316)

Abu Dharr said to Salama:

"O Salama! Do not enter the doors of rulers! You will never take anything from their world except they will take something better from your deen..." (Ibn Abi Shayba, al-Kitab al-musannaf, XIV, 221-222)

Abu Dharr said:

‘Whoever frequents a people will become one of them; especially if those frequented are tyrants.’ (Daylami, al-Firdaws bi ma’thur al-khitab, III, 519)

Ibn Mas‘ud (ra) said:

‘A person may enter into the presence of a ruler with his religion intact, and then exit without it.’ When he was asked why this should be, he replied, ‘Because when he pleases the ruler, he angers God.’ (Bukhari, al-Tarikh al-kabir, I, 443)

Some noted early Muslims are also quoted. Sufyan al-Thawri [d. 166/777] said:

‘In the fire of hell (jahannum) there is a valley inhabited only by those scholars who used to visit kings.’ (Ibn Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ bayan al-ilm wa-fadlih, I, 636)

Awza‘i [d. 157/774] said:

‘There is nothing more hated by God than a scholar who visits a governor.’ (Ibn Adi, al-Kamil fi du‘afa al-rijal, II, 35)

Sahnun [d. 240/855] said:

‘What could be less becoming of a scholar than to be sought at his regular place, but not found; and then to have it said to those who seek him, “He is with the amir!” I used to hear it said that if you see a scholar in love with the world, then do not trust him in matters of your religion until you have tested him. I have tested myself and found that whenever I visit a ruler, I incline towards him; regardless of how harshly I speak with him or oppose his desires.’ (Isfahani, Hilyat al-awliya, III, 194; Qadi ‘Ayyad, Tartib al-Madarik, IV, 76-77)

Al-Fudayl [d. 187/803] once said:

‘No one ever grew closer to a ruler except that they grew more distant from God.’ (Ahmad, Musnad, II, 371; a-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad, II, 446)

Imam Ghazali encourages scholars to stand up to rulers, citing the example of Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib [d. 94/713]:

“When Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib was invited to pledge his allegiance to to al-Walid and to Sulayman, the two sons of Abd al-Malik b. Marwan he said, ‘As day follow night, I will not pledge to two [at the same time]. The Prophet (saw) prohibited two pledges [to more than one caliph at a time].

People said to him, ‘Just go in one door and go out the other.’

He [Sa‘id] responded by saying, ‘By God! [If I do that] no one will ever follow me again.’

Then Sa‘id was whipped one hundred lashes and forced to wear a rough woollen garment.” (Isfahani, Hilyat al-awliya, II, 166)

Scholars' Views

Imam Abu Hanifa stated:

إذا رأيتم العالم يرتاد أبواب السلاطين فاتهموه في دينه

"If you see the Aalim going to the gates of the rulers, accuse him in his Deen."

It is consistent with the hadith narrated by Tabarani, where the Messenger (saw) said

إيَّاكُمْ وَأبْوَابَ السُّلْطَانِ ، فَإنَّهُ قَدْ أصْبَحَ صَعْبَاً هَبُوطَا

"Beware of the gates of the rulers, for they herald severe downfall"

Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201) himself, a prominent Hanbali scholar, wrote:

‘It is from the Devil’s deception of scholars to make them intermingle with rulers and sultans. They look away from their faults and never admonish them in spite of their ability to do so. Some of them might even give fatwas allowing them to do things just for worldly gain. Three aspects of harm are involved with such behaviour:

First: The ruler assumes that had he not been on the right path, then the scholars would have admonished him. And had my wealth been gained through illegitimate ways, scholars would not have eaten from it.

Second: The general public will think that this ruler, his wealth and his actions are fine because the scholar is always visiting him.

Third: The scholar himself ruins his religion. Sometimes the scholars use an excuse just to (be able to) mix with the rulers. They say: “We will only visit the ruler to intercede for so and so.” However, what proves that this is from the devil is that if someone else goes to intercede he would get annoyed, and might even attack that person for visiting the Sultan.

lblis also deceives them to take from the ruler’s wealth…’ (The Devil’s Deceptions, Dar as-Sunnah, p. 213)

Elsewhere he writes:

“We have seen among the Sufis and scholars those who cheat the rulers in order to get what they have. Among them are those who flatter them or try to impress them with their virtue and knowledge, and among them are those who praise them in ways that are forbidden, and among them are those who stay silent regarding evil deeds the rulers do, and beyond these of flattery and servility…” (The Sayings of Ibn al-Jawzi, translated by Ikram Hawramani, Steward Publishing, 2018, pp. 9-10)

The Shafi'i scholar Ghazali devotes a whole chapter on how to deal with despotic rulers in Book XIV of his Ihya’ ‘Ulum al Din (‘Revival of the Religious Sciences’). He states:

“Know that three relationships are possible to you in regard to despotic rulers and officials:

First, and this is the worst of all possible relationships, that you visit them;

Second, and this is not quite so injurious, that they visit you; and Third, and this is the safest, that you avoid them so that you never see them and they never see you.

The First Relationship: Visiting Rulers

This is an extremely blameworthy state from the perspective of Shari‘a. Indeed, there are numerous texts in censure and reproach of such a relationship …”
(Al-Ghazali on the Lawful and the Unlawful, p. 201)

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