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The Shi‘a and Armed Uprising

Question:

Is armed uprising one of the conditions of the Imamah of the Imam? Is armed uprising unconditionally and in all situations part of the agenda of the Shi‘a? In other words, must the Shi‘a always be in a state of armed conflict with oppressive systems of government, or are the same conditions relevant here as are mentioned about enjoining good and forbidding evil? Also, what was the role of the Shi‘a in the armed uprisings against the government of Banu Umayyah?

Answer:

The Shi‘a have no agenda regarding jihad against the infidels except the agenda of Islam, which has been explained in depth on books of jurisprudence, and which many jurisprudents consider obligatory only in case of the presence and call of the Imam.

However, defending the heart of Islam and honor of the Muslims and repelling the enemies’ attacks from the Islamic borders – whether physical, cultural, or economical – is a general obligation. In fact, according to the verse of the Qur’an preparation to defend and guard the physical and cultural borders is a Divine obligation.

وَأَعِدُّوا لهَُمِمَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ قُوَّةٍٍ وَمِنْ رِبَاطِ الخَيلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ.

“And prepare what strength you are able and trained horses with which you frighten the enemy of Allah and your enemy.”1

In the physical battlefield, this is by acquiring military weaponry and in the cultural or economic battlefield by acquiring the provisions peculiar to that arena. In this aspect, the time of the Imam’s presence is no different from the time of his absence.

Just as a Muslim’s house, dependents, property, and self must be safe from danger and attack by outsiders,

وَمَنْ قُتِلَ دُونَ مَالِهِ فَهُوَ شَهِيدٌ

“One who is killed defending his possessions is a martyr”2

the Islamic homeland as well – which is the home of all – must be free from danger.

This is the gist of the method of dealing with external enemies. As for dealing with internal anti-Islamic events and factors that hypocritically inflict damage on Islam and Muslims on account of seeking power, the positions taken to repel these dangers must be such as are able to remove that anti-Islamic movement.

Of course, in instances where this movement jeopardizes the existence of Islam or threatens the laws of Islam and society’s security and repelling this danger depends on an armed movement, armed uprising becomes obligatory.

In short, in the Shi‘a way of thinking, complacency with respect to opposing and oppressive events is condemned.

A Muslim must give importance to everything that is related to the honor and grandeur of Islam and Muslims and to elevating the word of Allah and must always act according to his duty.

Still, armed uprising is not among the conditions of the Imamah of the Imam as has been attributed to the Zaydi sect. It is not the case that every leader of an armed group, if from the descendants and family of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), is regarded as Imam. And one who apparently had no armed uprising and struggle cannot, for this reason, be declared not to be the Imam, as was the case with Imam Zain al-‘Abidin, Imam Muhamad al-Baqir, and Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him). This is because:

First, their non-armed policies were more effective than armed uprising in elevating the name of Islam, guarding the truth, and protecting the shari`at in their time.

Second, as has been related in the tradition of Mahmud ibn Labid from Fatimah az-Zahra (peace be upon her):

مَثَلُ الإِمَامِ مَثَلُ الْكَعْبَةِ إِذْ يُؤْتَى وَلاَ يَأْتِي15

It is the people’s duty to gather round the candle of the Imam’s existence and present themselves to assist him, elevate the name of Islam, and guard the objectives of the religion. In such a situation, the Imam chooses whatever position is appropriate.

Thus, Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him), after the death of ‘Uthman, did not leave the people without an answer when they rushed to him from all directions to pledge allegiance with that commotion and longing. He said:

أَمَا وَالَّذِي فَلَقَ الحَبَّةَ وَبَرَأَ النَّسَمَةَ لَوْلاَ حُضُورُ الحَاضِرِ وَقِيَامُ الحُجَّةِ بِوُجُودِ النَّاصِرِ وَمَا أَخَذَ اللهُ عَلَى الْعُلَمَاءِ أَلاَّ يُقَارُّوا عَلَى كِظَّةِ ظَالمٍ وَلاَ سَغَبِ مَظْلُومٍ لأَلْقَيْتُ حَبْلَهَا عَلَى غَارِبهَِا وَلَسَقَيْتُ آخِرَهَا بِكَأْسِ أَوَّلهَِا وَلأَلْفَيْتُمْ دُنْيَاكُمْ هذِهِ أَزْهَدَ عِنْدِي مِنْ عَطْفَةِ عَنْزٍ.

“Lo, I swear by the One who split the seed and created man, were it not for the crowd that had come to me and the establishment of the argument by the presence of supporters, and were it not for the covenant Allah has taken from the `ulama’ (scholars) not to remain silent in face of the waste of the oppressors and hunger of the oppressed, I would have abandoned the ropes of the khilafah and filled its latter part with the cup of its former part. You would then have well understood that your world [with all its attractions] is worth less to me than the water that comes out of a sheep’s nose!3

As for the armed revolts against Banu Umayyah, apart from the rebellions of the Khawarij – none of which reached fruition – the cause and motive of all other uprisings was to avenge the blood of Sayyid al-Shuhada’ (the Prince of Martyrs) Husayn (peace be upon him) and object to the oppression of Ahl al-Bait (peace be upon them).

Among those uprisings were those of `Ayn al-Wardah and Mukhtar, in both of which a large number of Shi’a participated. Subsequently, there was the revolt of Zaid and other uprisings, all of which sprang from love of Ahl al-Bait (peace be upon them) and declaring aversion and hatred towards Banu Umayyah. Therefore, we see that a man like Kumail participates in the uprising of `Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Ash`ath or in the last revolt which resulted in the termination of Banu Umayyah’s rule and the end of their dominion over most of the lands of Islam.

The true motive for the tragic events of Karbala’ and the heart-rending martyrdom of Zaid, in a word, was the oppression of Ahl al-Bait (peace be upon them).

Thus, what was important in these uprisings against Banu Umayyah was the role of the Shi‘a and making use of the oppressed position of Ahl al-Bait (peace be upon them), though after the martyrdom of the Prince of Martyrs (peace be upon him) the remaining Imams did not revolt since they did not see conditions as appropriate for the establishment of a just and Islamic government through armed uprising. So they became involved performing their Divine duty in other trenches, especially in spreading jurisprudence and repelling many innovations.

Even in the events after the success of the last revolt against Banu Umayyah the only personality more fitting than all others for leadership was Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him), but though they recommended this task to the Imam (peace be upon him), he refused to accept. His adopting such a policy was, in the belief of the Shi‘a, in accordance with a command of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) that was disclosed to the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) by revelation. In addition, every Imam recognizes better than all else his duty in light of the existing conditions and always gives precedence to the most important matters over all other matters. In this issue, too, if the Imam (peace be upon him) were to accept rulership, the important interests of Islam would be lost, since it was apparent to every authority that in those conditions there was no possibility of implementing the luminous laws of Islam and establishing a just Islamic system of government.

  • 1. Surah Anfal (8), Verse 6
  • 2. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 1, p. 226
  • 3. Nahj al-Balaghah, edited by Subhi al-Salih, sermon 3, section 1

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