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Islamic Perspective on Protests and Demonstrations

mosaic tileBy Mufti Zubair Bayat

Question:

Is it permissible to join protest marches, burn effigies of opposition leaders, burn flags of other countries, hold rallies in support of oppressed people of Palestine, Kashmir, etc. At many of these rallies, there is music, intermingling, missing of Salāts, blocking of roads, thus inconveniencing people in their daily movement, vandalism, coercion, etc. From an Islamic perspective, is it permitted for Muslims to indulge in these or not? Kindly reply urgently. May Allah reward you.

Answer:

Expressing solidarity and support for oppressed people in any part of the world is a noble act, more so if the oppressed happen to be Muslims. Allah is Just and He has made oppression Harām for Himself, so how would He ever allow it for another?

Islam imbues Muslims with a keen sense of love for justice and hatred for injustice. The Muslim therefore instinctively identifies with the suffering of an oppressed people or nation. The Qur’an and Hadith [are] replete with injunctions on this subject.

In today’s world, the mode of expressing indignation and outrage against oppression assumes many forms. Among these is the practice of holding demonstrations, protest marches, rallies, vigils, and so forth. Some of the primary objectives of adopting these modes of protest [are]:

  • to convey to the oppressed people one’s solidarity with them;
  • to draw the attention of the world towards their suffering;
  • to embarrass the oppressor and to swing international public opinion against them.

In a world that keenly tracks news events, the international media gives extensive coverage to events of this nature and thus, maximum exposure is gained to the strategic advantage of the oppressed.

For a Muslim to express detestation for injustice and solidarity with the oppressed in the form of protest marches, etc. is allowed. Mawlana Ashraf Ali al-Thanawi (ra) has deemed these to be mubah (permissible) acts [refer to Hakimul-Ummat ke Siyasi Afkaar by Mufti Taqi Usmani, p.60]. In a recent ruling, the eminent scholar, Mufti Taqi Usmani has also intimated that if the demonstration was not for any impermissible cause then [the demonstration] is permissible.

However, all mubah (permissible) matters are governed by certain provisions or regulations of Shari’ah (Islamic Law). So long as these regulations are adhered to, there is no issue. If these regulations are ignored, then a mubah act will be rendered impermissible and may in fact itself become an act of transgression and sin, akin to oppression. A Muslim is always motivated by the desire to seek Allah’s pleasure in all that he does and will not transgress or violate His orders in the process of attempting to perform a mubah deed.

Among some of the matters that need to be considered by the organizers and participants of these activities [are] the following:

  • They shall not be accompanied by any Harām activity such as violence, disrupting the peace, vandalism, coercion of unwilling people to participate by threats of violence, damage to persons or property, music, dancing, vulgarity, rowdy and uncouth behavior, hindering the safe movement of non-participants, or any other act that is un-Islamic in nature. All of the above acts are incorrect. In all of the above cases, support is being shown to others who are oppressed; but by the above acts, the protester is ‘oppressing’ his own soul in the process. The protester’s activity should not become a manifestation of Rabbana zalamna anfusana (“O Allah, we have indeed oppressed ourselves”). The organizers of these protest events have a greater responsibility to take the necessary measures that none of the above things take place, by arranging marshals and so on.
  • It shall not lead to the neglect of one’s primary responsibilities such as proper fulfillment of Salāt on its time, or a student neglecting his studies, or an employee neglecting his work duty unless permission is sought from the employer.
  • The act of expressing protest must not be considered as the end-all and be-all of a Muslim’s responsibility towards the oppressed. Such an attitude needs revision. Rather, it should be regarded as a means for greater involvement in the struggle against oppression. Muslims should never allow themselves to get ensnared in the deceptive thinking that by merely joining a protest event or two, they have truly fulfilled their duty towards the oppressed.
  • On the point of burning flags and effigies, caution must be exercised in not allowing the main issues from becoming obscured or covered. For example, at certain protest events, flags (and effigies) of countries that are friendly towards an oppressive regime are also burnt. From a strategic point of view, this may not be the ideal form of protest. Citizens of those nations, who may not fully understand the rationale behind this, will not take kindly to watching their country’s flag being burnt. Driven by a spirit of patriotism, they may in turn develop negative attitudes towards the oppressed people. This is counter-productive to the purpose of the protest, which was supposed to have influenced public opinion and not the other way around. The focus must therefore be kept primarily on the oppressor and must not shift away from the actual villains [and instead] towards their supporters and sympathizers. It is observed that some protest events unwittingly fall into this trap.

The purpose of this response is simply to set out the Shari’ah considerations in the matter of protest methods and does not deal with the issue of the advantages or disadvantages, the pros and cons, of different protest modes. That is a separate matter altogether. There are some who argue in its favor, whilst others are opposed to it, regarding it a sheer waste of energy, time, and resources. Different situations and conditions will beg different viewpoints.

And Allah Ta’ala knows best.

Mufti Zubair Bayat
South Africa

 

Note: This article was edited for spelling, grammar, and style.

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