Imam Husain's going against Yazid & the Sunni view on Yazid

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Question: I have read your article regarding rebellion against rulers and open Kufr where you said “The ruler’s leadership should not be challenged unless if he commits Kufr or a grave sin, in which case, it should be condemned without using any violence. You also said that, “this ruling is when one is capable of doing so.” 

In view of this statement, what is the Islamic verdict on Imam Hussain’s (radiyAllahu-Anhu) rebellion against the corrupt leadership of Yazeed? Was this permissible according to the Shariah? 

Also, what view should Muslims hold of Yazeed. I notice Shi’a often curse him. Is this allowed?

Answer: In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

The answer to your question will be given in two parts. The first deals with Sayyiduna Husain’s (Allah be pleased with him) rebellion against the leadership of Yazid, and the second deals with the opinion of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah regarding Yazid. 

As far as the first question is concerned, it is an accepted fact among the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah that to challenge authority is generally not permissible. 

Imam al-Tahawi (Allah have mercy on him) states in his famous al-Aqida al-Tahawiyya: 

“We do not recognize rebellion against our Imam or those in charge of our affairs even if they are unjust, nor do we wish evil on them, nor do we withdraw from following them. We hold that obedience to them is part of obedience to Allah, The Glorified, and is therefore obligatory as long as they do not order us to commit sins. We pray for their guidance and their wrongdoings to be pardoned.” (al-Aqida al-Tahawiyya with the Sharh of al-Ghunaymi, P. 110-111). 

The commentators of al-Aqida al-Tahawiyya have mentioned many evidences for this. Allama al-Ghunaymi al-Maydani and Imam Ibn Abi al-Izz (Allah have mercy on them) have both elaborated on this topic by mentioning the relevant evidences. 

Allah Most High says: 

1) “O you who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you.” (al-Nisa, 59). 

2) Sayyiduna Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Whoever obeys me, obeys Allah, and whoever disobeys me, disobeys Allah. And whoever obeys my ruler (amir), obeys me, and whoever disobeys my ruler, disobeys me.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 6718 & Sahih Muslim, no. 1835). 

3) Sayyiduna Anas ibn Malik (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Listen to and obey your ruler, even if he is an Abyssinian slave whose head looks like a raisin.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 6723 & Sahih Muslim). 

4) Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Whoever sees his ruler doing something he disapproves of, he should be patient, for no one separates from the (Muslim) group even for a span and then dies, except that he will die a death of (pre-Islamic) ignorance.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 6724 & Sahih Muslim, no. 1849). 

5) Sayyiduna Abd Allah (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “A Muslim must listen to and obey (the order of his ruler) in things that he likes or dislikes, as long as he is not ordered to commit a sin. If he is ordered to disobey Allah, then there is no listening and no obedience. (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 6725 & Sahih Muslim, no. 1839). 

The above evidences are clear in establishing the fact that one must obey the ruler even if he is corrupt or a sinner (fasiq). The reason for this, in the words of Allama al-Ghunaymi, is that, there have been many corrupt rulers in Islamic history and never did the predecessors (salaf) rebel against them, rather they used to submit to their rule and establish Jumu’ah and Eid prayers with their permission. Also, piety is not a pre-requisite for leadership. (Sharh al-Ghunaymi, p. 110). 

Imam Ibn Abi al-Izz (Allah have mercy on him) states that, rebelling against corrupt leadership results in more tribulation and destruction than the initial oppression of the ruler. With forbearance and tolerance, one’s sins will be forgiven. And in reality, the corrupt ruler is imposed by Allah due to our own wrongdoings, thus it becomes necessary that we repent and seek Allah’s forgiveness coupled with good actions, as Allah Most High says: “Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because of the things your hands have wrought” (42:30)…….. And He says: “Thus, do we make the wrongdoers turn to each other, because of what they earn.” (6:129) Therefore, if a nation wants to free themselves from the oppression of their leader, they must refrain themselves from oppressing others.” (Sharh al-Aqida al-Tahawiyya, 2/543). 

However, if the ruler commands to do something that is a sin, then there is no obedience, as mentioned earlier in light of the many evidences found in the Sunnah. 

Also, rebelling and challenging a corrupt ruler becomes permissible when he openly transgresses in a way that his action is not open to any interpretation, provided one has the means to do so. (This was explained in detail in one of the earlier posts. (See the archives on this website) 

As far as the actions of Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) and his rebellion against Yazid is concerned, firstly, it should be understood that according to the majority of scholars, the status of a heir to the throne (wali al-ahd) is only one of recommendation that requires approval from the nations prominent and influential figures after the demise of the Khalifa. 

Qadhi Abu Ya’la al-Farra al-Hanbali states in his Ahkam al-Sultaniyya: 

“It is permissible for a Khalifah to appoint a successor without the approval of those in power, as Abu Bakr appointed Umar (Allah be pleased with them both) as his successor without the backing and presence of the prominent figures of the community. The logical reason behind this is that appointing someone a “successor to the throne” is not considered to be appointing him as a Khalifa, or else, there will be two Khalifas, thus there is no need for the influential people to be present. Yes, after the demise of the Khalifah, there presence and approval is necessary.” 

He further states: 

“Khilafah (leadership) is not established merely with the appointment of the Khalifa, rather (after his demise) it requires the approval of the Muslim Ummah.” (al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya, p. 9). 

In view of the above, the majority of the Umma’s scholars are of the view that if a Khalifah or ruler appoints his successor without the approval of those in power, then this is permissible, but it will only serve as a suggestion. After his demise, the nation’s influential and powerful people have a right to accept his leadership or reject it. 

Keeping this in mind, the leadership of Yazid was also subject to the same criterion. His leadership could not be established after the demise of Sayyiduna Mu’awiya (Allah be pleased with him) until it was approved by the major personalities of the nation. 

Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) from the outset did not approve of Yazid being designated a leader. This was his personal opinion that was based on purely religious grounds and there was nothing wrong in holding this view. 

After the demise of Sayyiduna Mu’awiya (Allah be pleased with him), Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) saw that the major personalities of Hijaz including Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) had not yet approved of Yazid’s leadership. Furthermore, he received heaps of letters from Iraq which made it clear that the people of Iraq had also not accepted Yazid as their leader. The letters clearly stated that they had not given their allegiance to anyone. (See: Tarikh al-Tabari, 4/262 & al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, 8/151). 

In such circumstances, Sayyiduna Husain’s (Allah be pleased with him) stand with regards to Yazid’s leadership was that the pledge of allegiance by the people of Sham can not be imposed upon the rest of the Muslims. Therefore, his leadership was as yet not established. 

In Sayyiduna Husain’s view, Yazid was a tyrant ruler who desired to overcome the Muslims, but was not yet able to do so. In such a circumstance, he considered his religious duty to prevent a tyrant ruler prevailing over the Muslim Ummah. 

For this reason Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) sent Muslim ibn Aqeel (Allah be pleased with him) to Kufa in order to investigate the truth about Yazid’s rule. His journey was not of a rebellious nature, rather to discover the truth. 

Had Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) thought that Yazid had imposed his rule and established his power all over the Muslim lands, the case would have been different. He would certainly have accepted his leadership without choice and would not have opposed it. But he thought that this was a tyrant ruler that had no authority as of yet, and can be stopped before he establishes his authority. 

This is the reason why when he came close to Kufa and discovered that the inhabitants of Kufa have betrayed him and succumbed to Yazid’s rule, he suggested three things, of which one was “Or I give my hand in the hand of Yazid as a pledge of allegiance.” (See: Tarikh al-Tabari, 4/313). 

This clearly shows that when Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) discovered that Yazid had established his authority, he agreed to accept him as a leader. However, Ubaid Allah ibn Ziyad was not ready to listen to Sayyiduna Husain and ordered him to come to him unconditionally. Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) was in no way obliged to obey his command and he also feared his life, thus had no option but to fight him. This was the beginning of the unfortunate incident of Karbala. (See, for details, Imam Tabari’s Tarikh al-Umam wa al-Muluk & Imam Ibn Kathir’s al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya). 

In conclusion, it is impermissible to rebel against authority even if the ruler is oppressive or a sinner. The opposition of Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) was due to the fact that Yazid’s rule had not yet been established and he intended to prevent his rule before it being established. 

The position of Yazid:

With regards to your second question that; is it permissible to curse Yazid? 

Firstly, it must be remarked here that this is not an issue on which one’s Iman depends, nor will one be asked on the day of Judgement as to what opinion one held about Yazid. This is a trivial matter, thus many scholars have advised to abstain from indulging and discussing the issue and concentrate on the more immediate and important aspects of Deen. 

Secondly, it should be understood that there is a general and accepted principle among the scholars that it is impermissible to curse a Muslim no matter how great of a sinner he is. 

Imam Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) states: 

“Cursing an upright Muslim is unlawful (haram) by unanimous consensus of all Muslims. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Cursing a believer is like killing him” (Sahih al-Bukhari). 

As far as the sinners are concerned, it is permissible (but not rewarded) to curse them in a general manner, such as saying “Allah curse the corrupt” or “Allah curse the oppressors” and so forth. It has been narrated in many narrations that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) cursed sinners in a general manner. However, to curse a particular person who commits some act of disobedience, such as oppression, murder, adultery, etc, there is a difference of opinion. The Majority of Scholars Including Imam al-Ghazali hold the view that this is impermissible. 

Yes, it will be permissible to curse a person regarding whom it has been decisively established that he died on disbelief (kufr), such as Abu Lahab, Abu Jahl, Pharaoh, Haman and their likes. (See: al-Adhkar by Imam Nawawi & Reliance of the traveller, P. 772-773). 

In view of the above, if it is established that Yazid died as a non-believer or he regarded the killing of Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) permissible and died without repentance, then it would be permissible to curse him. However, it this is not established, then it would not be permissible. 

Indeed some scholars did curse him (Sa’d al-Taftazani, for example, See: Sharh al-Aqa’id al-Nasafiyya, P. 2845), but the majority of the Ulama have cautioned against cursing him. Firstly, because it has not been decisively established that Yazid himself killed or ordered the unfortunate killing of Sayyiduna Husain (Allah have mercy on him). There are some reports that he expressed his remorse on the actions of his associates, and even if he did, then murder and other sins do not necessitate Kufr. 

Imam al-Ghazali (Allah have mercy on him) states that it is even impermissible to say that Yazid killed or ordered the killing of Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) let alone curse him, as attributing a Muslim to a sin without decisive evidence is not permissible. (See: Sharh Bad al-Amali by Mulla Ali al-Qari, P. 123-125). 

He further states: 

“If it is established that a Muslim killed a fellow Muslim, then the understanding of the people of truth is that he does not become a Kafir. Killing is not disbelief, rather a grave sin. It could also be that a killer may have repented before death. If a disbeliever dies after repentance, then it is impermissible to curse him, then how could it permissible to curse a Muslim who may have repented from his sin. And we are unaware whether the killer of Sayyiduna Husain (Allah be pleased with him) died before or after repentance.” (ibid). 

All of the above, whilst keeping in mind that (when cursing becomes permissible), it is not something that is obligatory (fard), necessary (wajib) or recommended (mandub). It only falls into the category of permissibility (mubah). 

Therefore, it would best be to abstain from cursing Yazid, as there is no reward in cursing him, rather one should abstain from discussing about him altogether and concentrate on more practical aspects of Deen. May Allah Almighty give us the true understanding of Deen, Ameen. 

And Allah Knows Best

Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK

Article taken (with Thanks) from


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