The writer is a Karachi-based research analyst and political consultant.
We must realise that every time we speak, it has serious consequences for good and the bad and the words we speak have impact and meaning.
The hadith that forms the foundation of this column has two narrations. The Prophet (SAW) said, “The best form of jihad (striving) is to speak a word of truth (haqq) in the face of an oppressor.” In another narration, he (SAW) said, “A word of justice (adl) in the face of an oppressor is the best form of jihad.”
This hadith is about using your tongue or voice to challenge oppression despite the difficulties. The Holy Prophet (SAW) mentions in a hadith that Allah (SWT) has more power over you.
If someone speaks a word of justice to an oppressive ruler, he does so knowing that he is powerless in the face of the powerful but realises that the ultimate power is Allah. This hadith illustrates that what is important is our effort, even if it doesn’t bring real change. Allah (SWT) is responsible for change; we just do our part.
There are different ways to speak a word of truth to an oppressor. The first way involves naseeha (advice to rectify). It includes reminding a person in authority that they do not have the right to wrong others.
The objective is to show them the wrongdoings so they can correct themselves. Be a sincere advisor. The goal is not to become a celebrity for bravery in challenging an oppressor; the goal is to rid society of oppression.
The second way comprises speaking a word of truth as a form of objection to express to the oppressor that they do not have unchallenged power and they cannot escape accountability. Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar (RA) asked to be called out if they made mistakes.
Why is this the greatest form of jihad? Imam Khattabi said that when two people are fighting on the battlefield, they are usually are on a level playing field. However, this level playing field doesn’t exist when you speak a word of truth to an oppressor. The oppressor has power and all you have is your courage and reliance on Allah.
Another group of scholars reasoned that if you can correct the ruler then it benefits the greater society without causing bloodshed and avoids all the negative effects of war and violence, and thus the goal is achieved without harm.
Another group of scholars speaks about it in the context of personal jihad (struggling against the nafs). Normally in situations in which someone has more power, fear is what stops a person from speaking up and this fear comes from a lack of trust in Allah (SWT). This can become a disease of the heart; hence, speaking up is a means of fighting that disease.
This can be considered the best form of jihad because it involves both striving against the self and striving against the oppressor. It benefits oneself and potentially society.
Even if you don’t make the ruler change, you might inspire others to speak out who might be more successful. You may also cause the ruler to grasp that if they continue their injustice they will be called out by the people. The action of speaking out still has meaning even if the impact is not immediate or concrete.
Fear is generally what stops people from speaking out against oppression. The greatest fear is fear of persecution and thereby, the greatest jihad is speaking despite this fear.
A couple of hadiths of the Holy Prophet (SAW) shows the seriousness to overcome the fear to speak out. The Holy Prophet (SAW) said: “Do not let the fear of people prevent you from speaking the truth if you see something that should be spoken about. Doing so will not cause your lifespan to be shortened and it will not decrease your wealth.”
In another hadith, he (SAW) narrated “If my Ummah comes to a time when a person cannot say to an oppressor, ‘O oppressor,’ then you might as well walk away from them.”
Regarding the second hadith, the Prophet (SAW) wasn’t literally saying to abandon the Ummah but stating what goodness could be left in them if situation reaches such a point that they cannot call oppression what it is.
The lesson for all of us in Pakistan is that sincere criticism of all governments is not just democratic but Islamic as such criticism should lead to improvement of governance and performance. It is always the responsibility of citizens and institutions to stand up to oppressors and dictatorship not selectively.