fbpixel

Join Yaqeen on the digital frontlines.

Speaking Truth to Power: Islamic Rules for Protests, Civil Disobedience, and Encampments for Gaza


Published: May 16, 2024 • Updated: June 4, 2024

Author: Dr. Ovamir Anjum

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

To those of us witnessing the genocide in Gaza, can there be any doubt that we must do all we can to stop it, protest publicly even as we weep to ourselves, and demand change with all our strength as we console one another? To those raised with the proper teachings of Islam and blessed with compassion and a God-given love for justice, such a question might sound moot. Even beyond our bond of faith, our sheer humanity compels us to act, as the world awakens to the persecution of the Palestinians. Not only has the entire Global South long recognized the obvious justness of our cause, the young generation across the Global North too has suddenly awakened, standing aghast at the diabolical cruelty, hypocrisy, and support for the massacre of innocent children, women, and men that they are witnessing at the hands of their own governments. No one, however, has greater love and pain for the Ummah than the believing Muslims themselves—from Jakarta, Karachi, and Marrakech to our communities in the West, Muslims have come together. To say that we support the Palestinians is an understatement: Muslims everywhere are crying tears of blood that they cannot stop this carnage. They would stand, if they could, between the sweet children and the bombs and bullets tearing apart their tender bodies. And yet, they are powerless, betrayed by their own ruling elites. In this unequal world, decisions are made by a few in the Global North, in Western capitals, and the lives, let alone desires, of two billion heart-broken Muslims matter little.
Western Muslims, in this context, have a double responsibility, given that our voices have the potential to change public opinion where it matters, and our tax dollars are used against our will to support this genocide. The enemy is a diabolical ideology that labels the Palestinians Amalekites—less than human and worthy of genocide—and its supporters are seasoned colonizers who have for a couple of centuries now honed their art of mass murder with impunity, justifying the stealing of land and resources, yet still trying to take the moral high ground by rewriting history. Many Jews worldwide, it must be noted, are among the most vocal opponents of the genocide, and some of the best scholars and journalists documenting Israel’s crimes. Opposing the genocide is not antisemitic, but insisting that those Jews who rise above partisanship and speak the truth often at great personal cost are “self-hating” probably should be. The Palestinian struggle resonates so deeply with the recently colonized peoples of the world, including many conscientious Jews, because it speaks deeply to their still fresh and in some cases deepening wounds. The Palestinians’ refusal to submit emanates from their Islam, their love for the Sacred Mosque and its blessed precincts, but the moral clarity of their struggle and its natural resonance with the human heart are such that they have awakened the world to the beauty and truth of Islam itself and given hope to the possibility of human justice and goodness.

It is for these reasons perhaps that the protests and encampments that began on a few American university campuses have not only continued, but have spread to university campuses across the world, pitting administrators beholden to money and politics against their own students and faculty. These powerless student groups have put their complicit governments and apathetic societies to shame, and have already secured significant concessions.

And yet, there are doubters among us, victims of the same propaganda that has led many to accept normalization with the genocidal entity. Among them are good-hearted folks confused by the propaganda. Even among the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah speaks of those righteous Muslims who were gullible, “avid listeners” to the hardened hypocrites whose agenda was to destroy Islam (Qur’an 9:47). A primer of Islamic rulings and reflections on the permissibility and even necessity of the current protests, then, is in order. Even more importantly, everything a believer does is guided by Islamic teachings. In that spirit, we capture some of the main Islamic considerations in the following seven points.

1. Enjoin good and forbid evil

First, protests are a form of enjoining good and forbidding evil. Speaking up for justice is a fundamental principle of Islam. As in the well-known saying of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, when you see evil, change it by your hand, if you cannot, then by your speech, and you cannot, then hate it in your heart, and this is the weakest of faith. Numerous leading scholars of the Muslim world have not only declared protests for a legitimate Islamic cause permissible but have encouraged them:

“Participation in protests against oppression is required, as it falls in the category of prohibiting evil, which is an obligation upon Muslims, and it constitutes giving help to the oppressed (which is also required); as for the mixing of genders, it is impermissible whether during or outside the protests.” 

This means that protesting, if done with faith and trust in Allah, is a meritorious act regardless of whether it results in immediate benefits. If, however, one knows with reasonable surety that such protests will deliver Islamic goods such as coolness of the hearts of our suffering brothers and sisters far away in Gaza, encouragement for others who are scared, education for those who are ignorant, and most of all, possible change in policy that could stop the genocidal war, then it becomes an obligation to do what we can to support these protests. Protests and encampments, it should be remembered, are only a means to the goal of aiding our oppressed brethren, and despite overwhelming empirical evidence today that they have been highly effective, having terrified the genocidal entity and its supporters worldwide, reasonable people may disagree about their effectiveness or usefulness of their own participation in them. In some circumstances, such as in recent student protests in Southern California when Muslim women were threatened by hired goons, it may become obligatory for Muslim men to go and physically protect them. If one feels considerably unsafe or genuinely fears falling into haram, and no reasonable safeguards are available, he or she may individually avoid them and support the cause in other ways. When deciding whether to join or otherwise support these protests, remember that our people in Gaza have their eyes on us, and they are incalculably encouraged when they see people around the world, especially their Muslim brethren in the West, come out and show support.

2. Fulfill the collective obligation of defending Muslims

Second, protests and encampments are a way to dispense our collective obligation to defend oppressed Muslims. When a collective obligation is not being fulfilled, to work toward fulfilling it becomes an individual obligation, and to fail to do one’s part becomes sinful. Since most collective obligations require coordination, persuasion, organization, and leadership, the immediate action that one undertakes can take many different forms that seem to be remote from the location of the action itself, but are necessary for the action to take place. Put differently, protests and encampments do not subsist on their own, but need active legal, educational, pastoral, logistical, and other practical means of support, and these are all meritorious and carry the same blessings and reward. An example of such action in the time of the Prophet was ribāṭ, which is defined as holding on to the position between the Muslims and their enemies, which could mean living on the frontiers of Dār al-Islam, being on the watch for the enemy’s aggression. This is one of the most meritorious actions in Islam, and one day spent in this activity is better than the whole world. The best ribāt today is in Gaza, as many scholars have argued, based on a prophecy of the Prophet. The next best, God willing, is to show them our support and try to change public opinion about them in the heart of the land that has for decades supported their persecution and genocide.

3. Maintain Islamic etiquette and avoid anything haram

Third, bring your Islam with you, avoid anything haram, and make your protest a form of daʿwa. Participating in protests about a righteous cause tends to uplift and empower us but can also induce group-think. We have to be extra careful about Allah’s limits. Any illicit actions must be avoided, and what is unavoidable must be kept to a minimum. Prayers must not be lost or delayed. In fact, the encampments are an opportunity to showcase our faith, as we have indeed witnessed the protesters do in many cases, where even non-Muslims have joined Muslim students, inspired by their faith and trust. On Ohio State University campus, for instance, the Muslims praying ʿIsha became the center of the protest, and the non-Muslim students surrounded the Muslims engaged in prayers to protect them from the police, chanting “Let them pray!” The fear of something new and uncharted should not be overstated, and the possibility of such scenarios should not prevent you from taking action. It was a trick in the bag of the hypocrites, as on the occasion of the Expedition of Tabūk, to play up this temptation. We do not want to join the Prophet’s campaign, they said, because of the temptation we feel toward the women there. The Almighty rejects this false pretension of piety: “Into temptation they have indeed fallen” (9:49). The analogy is not perfect, given that they were disobeying the Prophet directly, but the idea is to refrain from using minor temptations as an excuse for not fulfilling a great and urgent imperative. Courage tempered with wisdom is a virtue.

The Prophet said, “The believer who mixes with people and patiently endures their harm is better than the one who does not mix with people and endure their harm.”

Welcome back!
Bookmark content
Download resources easily
Manage your donations
Track your spiritual growth

4. Build intentional alliances

Fourth, the participation of non-Muslims in the protest, or even their leadership, neither takes away from the benefit of the protests—it in fact makes them more effective—nor the reward with Allah for the Muslims who participate. The Prophet sought and benefited from the help of non-Muslims in Mecca. His uncle Abū Ṭālib protected him for the first ten years of his mission, his largely non-Muslim clan Banū Hāshim endured at his side when the other leading clans boycotted them for supporting the Prophet, and a pagan chief al-Muṭʿim b. ʿAdiyy protected him out of a sense of honor when later the Prophet’s own clan refused to protect him. In all of these cases, these non-Muslims’ support for the Prophet was driven by their own natural virtue, sense of justice, family ties, and tribal loyalty. The Prophet loved his uncle and relatives dearly and appreciated their help all his life, mentioning them to his companions in Medina. Like them, participants in these righteous protests are varied: some are not Muslim, or not practicing Muslims, or associated with other objectionable ideas. Still, they are good-hearted people who are willing to get bullied, doxxed, even expelled and lose their careers, because they are compelled by a noble human impulse. Furthermore, we are seeing their hearts soften towards Muslims as they witness their faith and reliance on Allah and the brutality and tyranny of their enemy. This alone should establish for us the beneficial nature of these protests and encampments.

5. Recognize your right to oppose injustice

Fifth, civil disobedience, strikes, and encampments are a recognized and honorable tradition in recent history across the world, from the anti-colonial movements in the Global South to civil rights, anti-apartheid, and other movements. Great injustices such as racial segregation in the US and South African apartheid were all technically lawful until grassroots civil disobedience had them outlawed; the holocaust itself was the fruit of a modern, legal order, which perhaps could have been averted had enough citizens protested in civil disobedience. Regardless of whether one agrees with their specific causes in every instance, these movements generally do not necessarily cause violence, but in fact avert much greater eruptions of violence, civil war, and continuation of murderous policies. They have succeeded in drawing attention to wars and genocides in relatively peaceful ways. The alternative to civil disobedience and protest is either total acquiescence to elite interests or civil war and violent rebellion. Some Muslims in the West might feel terrified to engage in such acts, or they may feel hindered by an imagined citizenship contract of total obedience. Some may be victims of modern authoritarian propaganda in the Muslim world that asserts that all protests are rebellion, and all rebellion is impermissible.,  They may be moved by a desire to follow the law, and terrified to run afoul of it. They should know that it is the university administrations and police departments that are in fact engaged in unconstitutional actions. Regardless, even if we hypothetically suppose that these unjust actions are constitutional, as Muslims, unjust laws that support genocidal policies against anyone or curb “speaking truth to power” in service of murderous ideologies are never binding on us.

6. Stay focused on the cause

Sixth, lead the protests in a direction that is productive, effective, and focused. Avoiding conflict as much as reasonable, Muslims who are well-informed about the cause and Islamic rulings should assume leadership of the protest, or at least their section of the protest, and ensure that the uniting cause of justice in Palestine and end to the genocide remain the focus. Inevitably, people with ulterior motives and other ideologies will join. They should be appreciated but not be allowed to hijack the protests. The protests have been 99% peaceful, which is a remarkable achievement. Even the 1% are those cases in which goons have been hired to sabotage the peaceful protests by raising antisemitic slogans, falsely claiming harassment, or by attacking the protesters. The purpose of these protests is not to destroy the government, the police, to harm anyone, or to harm private property. Nor is it to cause inconvenience, obstruct passages, or take over buildings; even though in particular circumstances some administrations’ hostile and unconstitutional crackdown may lead students to improvise. Such instances can be evaluated only on a case-by-case basis. Our adversaries want to cause distraction, divide, and accuse the peaceful protestors, so erring on the side of patience, like the Muslims in Mecca, is always better. Furthermore, we can direct the protest in an Islamic direction. One scholar recalled that in one instance, the students were playing Arabic music, and he gently suggested that playing recitation of the Qur’an is more authentic to the Gazan struggle, which was received well. In another instance, as noted above, Muslim students’ performance of the ʿIsha prayer became the centerpiece of the protest. Obviously, these kinds of interventions will be easier if Muslims are present in large numbers and are unified around basic principles.

7. Put your trust in Allah

Seventh, pray, pray, pray. During times of grief and calamity, Qunūt Nāzilah—the Supplication of Devotion upon a Calamity—is the Sunnah of the Prophet, upon him be peace. Be it in the protests and the encampments, or during our congregational or private prayers, supplication is the greatest weapon of the believer. What distinguishes us from all others is that while we pursue all legitimate means with all our might as we are commanded, we rely ultimately not on our actions, nor on any human power, but on Allah alone. May Allah preserve and bless our local imam in Toledo, my dear friend and neighbor, Sh. ʿAbd al-Ḥaleem, who has untiringly followed this Sunnah of the Prophet and prayed Qunūt for the people of Gaza for the last seven months in every one of the five prayers.
How could we not stand for justice and speak out against tyranny? Our religion is the religion of justice:

“O you who have believed, stand firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do” (5:8).

We are the Ummah of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, who said, “The greatest jihad is to speak a word of truth before a tyrant.” We are the Ummah of Moses, whose story of confronting Pharaoh is the most paradigmatic story in the Qur’an, the most frequently repeated. I cannot think of a better ending for this brief reminder than to quote the words of the Almighty addressing Moses and his people: “Lo! Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into factions, oppressing a section among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their women alive; indeed, he was of those who work corruption. Yet We wished to show favor to those who were oppressed in the land and make them leaders and make them the inheritors” (28:5–6). For our people in Palestine, and like them, we supplicate to God without impatience and without exhaustion, and raise our voices until the time of Divine Favor is come and the time of the tyrants is up.

Notes

1 I am grateful, after Allah, to a number of friends and teachers who have reviewed and improved this article, including Yahya Birt, Mairaj Syed, Jawad Qureshi, Mobeen Vaid, Osman Umarji, Omar Suleiman, and the Yaqeen team. The errors remaining are all mine.
2 Ovamir Anjum and Omar Suleiman, “The Palestinian Struggle through the Prophetic Lens,” Yaqeen, July 31, 2021, https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/the-palestinian-struggle-through-the-prophetic-lens.
3 Jillian Kestler-D'Amours, “With Eyes on US College Campuses, Students Stress: ‘Gaza Is Why We’re Here,’” Aljazeera, April 26, 2024, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/26/with-eyes-on-us-college-campuses-students-stress-gaza-is-why-were-here . For a review of their success from a generally hostile source, see Michael T. Nietzel, “Campus Protests Pose Big Question For College Leaders: Deal Or No Deal?,” Forbes, May 12, 2024, https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltnietzel/2024/05/12/campus-protests-pose-big-question-for-college-leaders-deal-or-no-deal/?sh=4cc9508e1108
4 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 49.
5 Libyan Grand Mufti Shaykh Ṣādiq al-Gharayānī, https://sadiqalghiryani.ly/fatwa/2493. Note that “the mixing of genders” has to be understood in accordance with the custom (ʿurf) of a given society that has been accepted by the Muslim scholars of the land. The ruling here is similar to that of attending educational institutions, which most American Muslim scholars encourage for both men and women, since in most cases proper hijab and other sharʿī norms can be observed. For those who adhere to a stricter code of gender interaction, participation of men with requisite precaution and women with their maḥram (legally related) males is still possible, God willing. Such Muslims are encouraged to proactively secure proper conditions and participate in a way permissible in their respective culture or madhhab.
6 This principle is established in 7:164 in the Quranic story of the Sabbath-breakers.
7 Abdullah Oduro, Osman Umarji, and Mohammad Elshinawy, Iman Cave, forthcoming episode.
8 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 2892. Another hadith has it that waiting between obligatory prayers in the mosque is also a kind of ribāṭ, thus suggesting the idea of patiently persevering and waiting.
9 Yaqeen Institute, “Why Is Gaza Important? Honoring a Land of Ribat,” Yaqeen, December 11, 2023, https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/post/why-is-gaza-important-honoring-a-land-of-ribat.
10 Sunan Ibn Mājah, no. 4032; declared authentic (ṣaḥīḥ).
12 Note that even the most conservative scholars, in Saudi Arabia for instance, make a distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim countries. Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn said, for instance, “If [protests] are a custom in Christian, Western countries, these being lands of non-Muslims, and Muslims as individuals or as a group cannot attain their rights except through this means, then I hope that there is nothing objectionable about it.” حكم التظاهر السلمي للمطالبة بالحقوق.
13 Lois Beckett, “Nearly All Gaza Campus Protests in the US Have Been Peaceful, Study Finds,” The Guardian, May 20, 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/article/2024/may/10/peaceful-pro-palestinian-campus-protests.
14 The Prophet ﷺ prayed for the oppressed Muslims held back in Mecca, naming them one by one and generally, and against their oppressors (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 2932) and on another occasion for an entire month after every prayer, according to a report in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 4090.
15 Sunan Abū Dawūd, no. 4344; Sunan al-Nasā’ī, no. 4209, graded ṣaḥīḥ.
Tags:

Disclaimer: The views, opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in these papers and articles are strictly those of the authors. Furthermore, Yaqeen does not endorse any of the personal views of the authors on any platform. Our team is diverse on all fronts, allowing for constant, enriching dialogue that helps us produce high-quality research.