Jazib Mehmood, Student Jamia Ahmadiyya International Ghana
On Tuesday morning 27 June, Nahel Merzouk, who was of Arab descent, was shot in the head by the French police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. There is video evidence of what occurred that seems to contradict the initial narrative of the police regarding what occurred.
In any case, the incident has caused protests and riots, feeding longstanding complaints of police violence and systemic racism inside law enforcement agencies. The protests have also turned violent and criminal at times.
In the wake of these protests and riots, there are many who have insisted that this violence is the work of Muslim immigrants and refugees and that it should be taken as evidence that Muslims would riot and loot since that is what their religion teaches, God forbid. Videos on social media of protesters chanting “Allahu Akbar” seem to further fuel those voices that say that Islam teaches Muslims to resort to violence to make their voices heard.
Therefore, let us address an important question here: does the backlash have anything to do with the teachings of Islam? What does Islam teach Muslims about public remonstration?
Are Muslims allowed to riot and loot?
Since the shooting, police and firefighters have struggled to contain protesters and extinguish numerous blazes through the night that damaged schools, police stations, town halls, or other public buildings, according to a spokesperson for the national police.
The national police have reported fires or skirmishes in multiple cities, and more than 200 officers were injured in the unrest on Thursday night. More than 6,000 fires were attended by the fire brigade and the police, and nearly 500 buildings had been affected. (www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-france-protests-riots-reason-map-b2367022.html)
Despite what many would have us believe, damaging public property to affect social and perhaps moral change is completely forbidden in Islam. Allah the Almighty states in the Holy Quran:
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اَطِیۡعُوا اللّٰہَ وَاَطِیۡعُوا الرَّسُوۡلَ وَاُولِی الۡاَمۡرِ مِنۡکُمۡ
“O ye who believe! obey Allah, and obey [His] Messenger and those who are in authority among you.” (Surah an-Nisa’, Ch.4: V.60)
Similarly, the Holy Prophetsa stated:
“Whoever notices something that he dislikes done by his ruler, then he should be patient, for whoever becomes separated from the company of the Muslims even for a span and then dies, he will die as those who died in the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance (as rebellious sinners).” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Fitan, Bab qawli n-nabiyyi satarawna ba‘di umuran tunkirunaha, Hadith 7054)
Speaking of this Islamic teaching of loyalty to one’s nation, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa stated:
“A true Muslim can never raise his voice in hatred against his fellow citizens, nor for that matter against the ruling authority or government of the time. It is the responsibility of a true Muslim that he should remain loyal and fully abide by the laws of the land of which he is a subject.” (Baitul Futuh Inauguration Reception, 11 Oct 2003, www.alislam.org/articles/opening-of-baitul-futuh-mosque-morden-london/)
This is in line with a clear commandment of the Holy Quran:
وَلَا تَعۡثَوۡا فِی الۡاَرۡضِ مُفۡسِدِیۡنَ
“And commit not iniquity in the earth, causing disorder.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.75)
The protests in France also have people destroying the property of those who have nothing to do with the ongoing problem. This also goes against the teachings of Islam, which uphold the rights of the innocent.
Concerning this, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa states:
“It should be remembered that even where protests or strikes are conducted peacefully, without recourse to criminal damage or violence, they can still have a very negative effect. This is because even peaceful protests often result in the loss of millions to the nation’s economy.
“Under no circumstances can such behaviour be considered to be an example of loyalty to the nation. A golden principle taught by the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat was that, under all circumstances, we must always remain obedient to Allah, to the Prophets, and to the rulers of our nation.
“This is the same teaching given in the Holy Quran. Hence, even where a country permits strikes or protests to take place, they should only be conducted to the extent where they do not harm or cause damage to the nation or to the economy.” (True Loyalty to One’s Nation, Address at the Military Headquarters in Koblenz, Germany, 30 May 2012, World Crisis and the Pathway to Peace (2016), p. 35)
How should Muslims deal with unjust rulers?
Obedience to authority is given paramount importance in Islam. But to what extent must we obey our rulers, especially if they are acting unjustly? Building on the teachings of the Holy Quran, the Holy Prophetsa has issued detailed guidance for us in this regard. He once stated to his companions:
“The best of your rulers are those whom you love and they love you, who pray for you and you pray for them. The worst of your rulers are those whom you hate and they hate you, whom you curse and they curse you.”
Upon this, someone asked the Holy Prophetsa, “Shall we confront them with swords?” To this, the Holy Prophetsa, replied:
“No, as long as they establish prayer among you. If you find something hateful from them, you should hate their actions but not withdraw your hand from obedience.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-imarah, Bab khiyari l-ummati w shirarihim, Hadith 1855)
Similarly, the companions of the Holy Prophetsa asked him:
“O Prophet of Allah, what do we do if we have rulers over us who demand their rights yet withhold our rights?” He replied: “Listen to them and obey them [regardless]. Upon them is their burden and on you will be your burden.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-imarah, Bab al-Amri bi luzumi l-jama‘ati ‘inda zuhuri l-fitani wa tahdhiri l-du‘ati ila l-kufr, Hadith 1847)
Similarly, he once stated:
“It is obligatory for you to listen to the ruler and obey him in adversity and prosperity, in pleasure and displeasure, and even when another person is given (rather undue) preference over you.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-imarah, Bab wujubi ta‘ati l-umara’i fi ghayri ma‘siyatin wa tahrimiha fi l-ma‘siyah, Hadith 1836)
Some people also attack Islam and state that it does not find compatibility in Western societies. This is also a misunderstanding. The teachings of Islam in this regard are best explained in the words of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa today:
“We consider all forms of extremism and terrorism to be inherently evil and against the teachings of Islam. Where peaceful protests or events take place to condemn extremism or where vigils are held to remember the victims of attacks, we Ahmadi Muslims consider it necessary to take part.
“For us, this is an expression of our solidarity with the society in which we live. It is our duty to stand up and reject all extremism and this is actually what integration into society means.” (Diary of Abid Khan, Germany Jalsa 2017, Part 2, pp. 13–14)
So how should we reform such rulers? The Holy Prophetsa stated:
“Whoever intends to advise someone with authority should not do so publicly. Rather, he should take him by the hand and advise him in seclusion. If he accepts the advice, then all is well. If he does not accept it, then he has fulfilled his duty.” (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith 14909)
Similarly, he stated:
“Verily, among the greatest acts of jihad is a word of justice in front of a tyrannical ruler.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-fitan ‘an rasulillahsa, Hadith 2174)
Therefore, seeking justice within the confines of the law is not just logical and appropriate; it is the Islamic way. Otherwise, causing anarchy is completely against the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophetsa.
The responsibilities of the government
The French government also bears some blame for the current situation, according to many. Several people have died or sustained injuries at the hands of French police in recent years, prompting demands for more accountability.
It is obvious that the government also has certain responsibilities towards its people. Islam teaches rulers in the Holy Quran:
اَوۡفُوا الۡمِکۡیَالَ وَالۡمِیۡزَانَ بِالۡقِسۡطِ وَلَا تَبۡخَسُوا النَّاسَ اَشۡیَآءَہُمۡ وَلَا تَعۡثَوۡا فِی الۡاَرۡضِ مُفۡسِدِیۡن
“Give full measure and full weight with equity, and defraud not people of their things and commit not iniquity in the earth, causing disorder.” (Surah Hud, Ch.11: V.86)
Explaining what Islam expects of governments, Hazrat Khaliatul Masih Vaa, in his Friday Sermon on 5 June 2020, stated:
“The government should also understand the situation that simply using force to respond to this is not the answer, nor is using force the solution to solving problems. In fact, governments can only function when all citizens are given their due rights.
“It is only through this that peace and prosperity can prevail and not without this. Irrespective of how powerful a government may be, if there is unrest amongst the people, the government cannot remain established. (Al Hakam, 20 July 2020, Issue 120, p. 20)
Lastly, perhaps it would be pertinent to end with a letter to French President, Emmanual Macron, which Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa wrote back in 2020. His words carry just as much weight today as they did then. He wrote to the president:
“In light of the prevailing circumstances, it is my sincere and humble request that where your government is forming and enacting policies to stop the spread of the coronavirus, as the leader of your nation, you should also encourage the citizens of your country to fulfil the rights of one another and to be ready to make personal sacrifices in the cause of humanity.
“Similarly, your government should strive to ensure the peace and security of society, both within your country and at a broader, international level. I sincerely request that you uphold the demands of justice and integrity by seeking to fulfil the rights of your own people and of all other nations.” (Letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, The Review of Religions Magazine, January 2021)