Al-Bukhari narrated on the authority of Junada b. abi Umayyah who said: We went to ‘Ubadah b. as-Samit when he was sick and we said: May Allah (swt) guide you. Inform us of a Hadith from the Messenger of Allah (saw) so Allah may benefit you from it. He said, the Messenger of Allah (saw) called upon us and we gave him the Bai’ah, and he said, of that which he had taken from us, that we should give him the pledge to listen and obey, in what we like and dislike, in our hardship and ease, and that we should not dispute the authority of its people unless we saw open Kufr (kufr buwah) upon which we had a proof (burhan) from Allah.
The hadith was reported by At-Tabarani as “kufran Surahan (open kufr)”, and as “unless the disobedience of Allah is bawahan”. It was also reported by Ahmad as “unless they order you of ithmin bawahan (open sin)”.
'Awf Ibnu Malik Al-Ashja'i said: "I heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW) say: 'The best of your Imams are those whom you love and they love you and whom you pray for and they pray for you, and the worst of your Imams are those whom you hate and they hate you and you curse them and they curse you.' We asked: 'O Messenger of Allah, shall we not then declare war on them?' He said: 'No, as long as they establish the prayer among you', [Muslim]
Muslim reported on the authority of Umm Salama that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: "Ameers will be appointed over you, you recognise some of what they do and you disown some. Whoever recognised he is absolved from blame. Whoever disapproved (of their bad deeds) he is safe, but whoever consented and followed them (he is doomed.)" They said: "Should we not fight against them?" He (SAW) replied: "No, as long as they prayed."
What is meant by establishing the prayer is to rule by Islam, that is to implement the rules of Shari'ah . This is because the whole of Islam is denoted here by naming part of it. This is common in Arabic, for instance Allah (SWT) says: "To free a neck" [4:92] which means to free the slave i.e. all of him and not just his neck. In this Hadith he (SAW) said: "As long as they establish the prayer among you." This means the establishment of all the rules not just the prayer and is a figurative form (kinayah) where basically the part is mentioned to refer to the whole.
Views of the scholars
There is difference of opinion amongst the scholars regarding when it is legitimate to rebel against the Khalifah. They have discussed the oppressive ruler, unjust Imams and the overpowering (mutaghallib) ruler who comes to power by force and not by the consent of the people. Remember when they talk about the oppressive Imam they are talking about one who implements Islam unlike the rulers in the Muslim world today who don’t.
The scholars agree that the subject is contesting the ruler, but they differed concerning the hukm of such contest, whether it is by the sword or by the word and disapproval. However, they agreed without much argument, that he is contested with the sword if he showed the kufr bawah or kufr surah (open kufr). The difference was over other forms of actions of the rulers. It is understood from their statements that they consider all these actions of the rulers, like overpowering authority, which is taking authority with force, inflicting oppression (zulm) and taking people’s wealth illegally and the like; all of these are munkar deeds. So, they consider these as munkar committed by the ruler, which must be contested. Those who advocated the obligation of rebel against the oppressive rulers, contesting them with the sword, and challenging them with fighting, have used, as a proof, the general imports of the Book and the Sunnah concerning the obligation of enjoining the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar.
While those who advocated the obligation of obedience to the rulers and not allowing rebel against them, they used, as proof, the ahadith that came regarding the obedience to the ruler even if he treated unjustly. This is like the hadith of Hudhayfah: “You have to listen to and obey the Ameer, even if he hit your back and took your property, listen and obey.” [Muslim] They said these ahadith are absolutely more specific than those general imports, i.e. they have specified the general (‘aamm). Accordingly, the general imports are diverted to other than the ruler, and the ruler is excluded from them. Those who advocate the obligation of obedience to the overpowering ruler, and to make jihad with him, have used, as proof, that not rebelling against him saves the blood and pacifies the masses. This means they considered the patience at the munkar of the ruler is of less harm than shedding the blood and creating disorder and civil strife.
As-Shawkani said: “Those who viewed the obligation of rebelling against the oppressive rulers, challenging them with the sword and struggling against them with fighting, have used as evidence some general imports from the Book and the Sunnah, concerning the obligation of enjoining the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar. There is no doubt that the ahadith we mentioned in Al-Musannaf in this subject are absolutely more specific than those general imports; besides these ahadith are mutawatir in meaning as understood by those who have knowledge in the Sunnah.”
An-Nawawi mentioned, in his commentary on the hadith narrated by ‘Ubadah, regarding the phrase ‘ unless you see an open kufr (kufran surahan)’: “What is meant by al-kufr here is the sin (al-ma’siyah). And the meaning of the hadith is not to dispute with rulers (wulat ul-umoor) regarding their authority, and not to object them unless you see from them an unquestionable munkar you know from the fundamentals of Islam. If you have seen that, then disclaim it and say the truth wherever you were.” It came in Al-Fath, as commentary on the words of An-Nawawi: “Others said, if the contest was regarding the authority (wilayah), then he should not contest him in a matter that degrades the authority unless he committed kufr. He explained the narration of the sin (ma’siyah) saying it means the contest over a matter other than the authority. If he did not degrade the authority, then he can contest with him over the sin by disapproving with him kindly and in a way that achieves establishing the truth without violence. He would do that if he could.”
Qadi Iyad said: "If he is adamant on Kufr, (and) in changing the shariah, or on innovation, then his obedience is invalid and it becomes a duty upon the Muslims to revolt against him, removing him and placing a just Imam (ruler) in his place if possible”.
It also came in Al-Fath: “The Fuqahaa’ agreed unanimously on the obligation of obedience to the overpowering (mutaghallib) ruler and of fighting (together) with him; and that obedience to him is better than rebel against him, because this spares the blood and appeases the masses. However, if the ruler showed explicit kufr (kufr sareeh), then it is not obliged to obey him; it is rather obligatory, for those who can, to fight against him, as it came in the hadith.”
The meaning of open Kufr
The open kufr (kufr bawah) that came in the hadith, is an undefined word attached with description (nakira mausoofa) that applies to anything, which is open kufr. This means, if any kufr bawah, emerged, then rebellion is obligatory, whether it was ruling with the laws of kufr like ruling with other than what Allah revealed. Or it was other than ruling with the laws of kufr, such as the silence over (acceptance) of apostasy from Islam, and the apostates show their kufr openly, or the like. All of this is kufr bawah, for it includes every (type of) kufr. This is the case, which is excluded, that is the emergence of al-kufr al-bawah. If al-kufr al-bawah emerged, then rebellion is obligatory. In other than this case, it is absolutely prohibited to rebel against the Khaleefah. The understanding from these ahadith of the obligation of rebellion against the ruler in this case comes from the fact that the Rasool forbade combating them, fighting them and disputing their authority. Then he excluded from that (prohibition) this case. The exclusion of this case means removing it from the prohibition, which means the commanding of doing it.
So the meaning (mafhoom) of the hadith indicates the command of combating the ruler, fighting him and disputing his authority if that case took place. The indication of the mafhoom is equal to the indication of the mantooq (wording) concerning the proof. So, the indication of the mafhoom would be evidence that the shaari’ (law-giver) ordered the combat with the ruler, fighting him and disputing his authority, if the kufr bawah emerged. The indication (qareena that this order is decisive) is that the subject of the order is of what the shar’ came to emphasise. Ruling with Islam, for example, shaari’ obliged it and did not make it (only) mandoob. While the emergence of kufr bawah, the shar’ prohibited it, and did not make it (only) makrooh. Thus, the subject of the order is an indication (qareena) that the order is decisive. Accordingly, the rebellion against the ruler in this excluded case is not only allowed; it is rather obligatory upon Muslims. However, it should be known that what is meant by the emergence of al-kufr al-bawah, is the kufr that there is a definite evidence to prove it to be kufr. This is because the Rasool was not content with saying (kufr bawah), but he followed that by saying “you have a proof upon it from Allah”. [Al-Bukhari] The word burhan (proof) is only called to the definite evidence. Therefore, the presence of definite evidence about it being kufr, is one of the conditions for rebellion.
So if the Khalifah permitted something based upon a legitimate Islamic opinion this would not be Kufr bawah such as permitting music as it is an area of difference amongst the scholars. However if he with knowledge permitted something like fornication (zina), accepting the sovereignty of international law above the laws of Allah (swt) which are clear cut definitive (qat’i) prohibition then this would fit the meaning of kufr bawah.
It is not necessarily the case that he would become an apostate automatically by doing so as in the view of some scholars if he doesn’t believe in that and does it for some other reason it would still be the implementation of open kufr but he would have committed a lesser kufr, meaning open sin (fisq). This is an area of difference of opinion amongst the scholars, some believe that ruling by kufr would make him a kafir automatically whether he believed or disbelieves in that.
Ibn al-Qayyim said: "The correct view is that ruling according to something other than that which Allah has revealed includes both major and minor Kufr, depending on the position of the judge. If he believes that it is obligatory to rule according to what Allah has revealed in this case, but he turns away from that out of disobedience, whilst acknowledging that he is deserving of punishment, then this is lesser Kufr. But if he believes that it is not obligatory and that the choice is his even though he is certain that this is the ruling of Allah, then this is major Kufr." [Madaarij as-Saaliheen, 1/336-337]
Whereas Ibn Taymiyyah said: "Undoubtedly, whoever does not believe that it is obligatory to rule according to that which Allah has revealed to His Messenger is a Kafir, and whoever thinks it is permissible to rule among people according to his own opinions, turning away and not following which Allah has revealed is also a Kafir...So in matters which are common to the Ummah as a whole, it is not permissible to rule or judge according to anything except the Quran and Sunnah. No one has the right to make the people follow the words of a scholar or Ameer or Shaykh or King. Whoever believes that he can judge between people according to any such thing, and does not judge between them according to the Quran and Sunnah is a Kafir." [Minhaj as-Sunnah, 5/130-132]
The reality today
Although some scholars may disagree, these Ahadith are not connected to the current situation. By studying them closely it becomes clear that they are connected to revolt and rising against the Khaleefah and Imam. The current situation is not that of the Khulafah who used to rule by Islam and then turned away from Islam. The current problem is also not merely related to removing a ruler by killing him. Rather, entire systems of Kufr have been implemented over Muslims for many years, none of the current rulers have ever ruled by Islam and none of them are Khulafa within a Khilafah. The systems that they are applying are either monarchies or Capitalistic with some sort of democratic framework. Hence, the reality isn’t that of removing a bad Khaleefah within an Islamic State. The reality is of uprooting an entire Kufr system, including it’s ruler, to again establish the Khilafah state. The current rulers are not comparable in any way to Khulafah who have introduced one Kufr law into the Khilafah.
Hence these Ahadith do not apply upon the current situation. The reality which they address is that of removing a Khaleefah who rules with Kufr within the Islamic State, not that of uprooting an entire Kufr system merely by fighting and killing the ruler of that system.
The closest situation that is comparable from the evidences is the establishment of the Islamic State for the very first time by the Prophet (saw) and the struggle which he (saw) went through in order to establish this State and change the non-Islamic society into an Islamic one. As that is the only instance in which a complete system of Kufr existed and was changed to a complete system of Islam. So the matter is regarding the changing of a system, not merely a ruler. The Ahadith of fighting, apply to changing a ruler i.e. a Khaleefah who has gone astray not a system, only the struggle of the Prophet (saw) in Makkah applies to the changing of a system. So armed struggle is not the method of re-establishing the Khilafah today.