Oppression and Injustice the gravest sins
Ayatullah Shaykh Muhammad Reza al-Muzaffar
Following the Holy Qur'an, the Holy Imams (`a) have considered transgression against others and wronging people to be among the gravest sins man may commit. As for the Holy Qur'an, it has condemned oppression and deemed it one of the most appalling sins: Deem not that Allah is heedless of what the iniquitous do; He is only deferring them to a day when eyes shall stare. (14/42)
Likewise, Imam `Ali Amir al-Mu'minin (`a), the most veracious, has described the atrocity and revulsion of wronging people in such astounding terms: By Allah, even if I am given all the domains of the seven (stars) with all that exists under the skies in order that I may disobey Allah to the extent of snatching one grain of barley from an ant I would not do it.
This states the utmost of what man may imagine in the field of abstinence from wrongdoing.
Imam `Ali (`a) would never wrong an ant by snatching even the skin of one grain of barely from it even if he would be given the seven continents. This is the situation with Imam `Ali (`a); how would it be with those who shed the blood of Muslims carelessly, usurp the properties of people and desecrate their honor and dignity? Who can compare those who commit such heinous crimes with Imam `Ali (`a)? What chance do they have? Indeed, the Imam (`a) has described the essence of Divine morality that religion wants human beings to abide by.
Wrongdoing is prohibited in the law of Almighty Allah; therefore, warning against it, condemning it, and emphasis on its forbiddance have occupied a leading position in the traditions and supplications of the Ahl al-Bayt (`a). Such has been their policy; and such has been their conduct even with those who transgressed against them and dared to challenge their position.
For example, the story of Imam al-Hasan (`a) with a Syrian is wellknown. This story shows the Imam’s forbearance with a man who attacked his dignity and railed at him; nevertheless, the Imam (`a) treated him with kindness and sympathy until the ignorant man realized his fault.(36)
We have already cited passages of Imam Zayn al-`Abidin’s (`a) supplications in which he used a supremely appropriate diction to express how to pardon those who wrong us and ask Almighty Allah’s forgiveness for them. This is in fact the utmost hieght of perfection one can attain.
However, according to the laws of Islam, it is permissible to inflict injury on those who act aggressively against us, yet in exactly the same way they inflicted injury on us.
Likewise, to invoke Almighty Allah’s punishment against those who wrong us is also permissible. Even so, permissibility is something quite different from pardon, which is one of the qualities of nobility of character.
Moreover, exaggeration in invoking Almighty Allah’s punishment on wrongdoers may be considered an act of injustice, in the view of the Holy Imams (`a). Expressing this view, Imam al-Sadiq (`a) is reported to have said: Verily, a servant (of Almighty Allah) may be oppressed; but he may become oppressor due to excessive invocation of evil upon those who oppressed him.(37)
To explain, an oppressed person may exceed the proper bounds of invoking Almighty Allah against the one who oppressed him, thus changing into an oppressor.
How sublime this is! Even an oppressed person’s invocation against the oppressor can be a sort of oppression when it exceeds the just limits! What will, then, be the condition of those who instigate oppression and iniquity, act aggressively against people, attack their reputations, plunder their property, denounce them before the unjust ruling authorities, deceive them so as to involve them in perils, defame them, hurt them, or spy on them? What a place can such transgressors find in the wisdom of the Holy Imams (`a)?
Truly, such persons are the farthest from Almighty Allah, the most sinful and the most deserving of the most horrible punishment from Him.
Cooperation with Oppressors
Oppression is the most dangerous of all deeds and the worst in consequence; therefore, Almighty Allah has warned us against all sorts of oppression including cooperation with oppressors and inclination towards them. He has thus stated: And do not incline towards those who are unjust, lest the fire touches you, and you have no guardians besides Allah, then you shall not be helped. (11/113)
This is the directive of the Holy Qur'an from which the Holy Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (`a) have derived all their directives. They are reported to have used the most expressive words in making people realize the hideousness of inclination towards oppressors, connecting with them, taking part in any of their deeds, and cooperating with them even by offering them half a date.(38)
Indisputably, the gravest misfortune that has beset Islam and Muslims is their lack of firmness in dealing with oppressors, their connivance with them, their taking action in their matters not to mention siding with them and furthering their oppressive acts.
This deviation from the right path is the basic reason that is responsible for the misfortunes that have befallen the Muslim community and weakened the religion of Islam to the extent that it was in the beginning of its advent. Day after day, those claiming being Muslims lost Divine support and became worthless in the eyes of both their powerful and weakest opponents, such as the contemptible Jews, and the powerful Crusaders.
Making every effort, the Holy Imams (`a) tried to drive their followers away from cooperating with oppressive rulers and exerted pressure on their disciples to abandon supporting and helping the wrongdoers and tyrannical authorities. As confirmed by innumerable traditions, the Holy Imams (`a) concentrated on banning any sort of cooperation with transgressors. For instance, Imam Zayn al-`Abidin (`a) is reported to have written the following epistle to Muhammad ibn Muslim al-Zuhri, warning him against helping the unjust authorities in furthering their wrongdoing: As the unjust ones invite you, they make you the axis of the hand-mill of their wrongdoings, the bridge on which they cross to the misfortunes they cause, and the stairs to their deviation. You become the propagandist of their temptation when you take their courses. They have employed you as the means through which they arouse doubts against the scholars and attract the ignorant. The best one in their government and the most powerful of them could not have achieved the success that you have attained for them by presenting their corrupt affairs as honest and attracting the attention of the celebrities as well as the ordinary people towards yourself. As for what they have given you, you will find it too little. Likewise, they have built for you very trivial things while they have ruined your great things. Look within yourself, for no one will look within you except you yourself, and judge yourself impartially, as if you are the criminal.(39)
How expressive the last sentence is! When man is overcome by personal whims, he sees himself in the depths of his inner self as a hollow being that is unworthy of honor. In plain words, man finds himself responsible for his deeds, looks down upon any act that he commits, and believes that he is too ignoble to offer any excuse for what he has committed.
The Imam (`a) intended to draw al-Zuhri’s attention to this interior consequence, which secretly destroys human beings that are prone to evil, so that he would not be deceived by any illusions, and ignore his responsibility towards himself.
The following instructive conversation between Imam Musa al-Kazim (`a) and Safwan al-Jammal, one of the trustworthy disciples and reporters of the Imam’s traditions, depicts the forbiddance of cooperation with unjust authorities: Writing the life of Safwan al-Jammal, al-Kashshi records the following narration: Safwan said: One day, while I was paying a visit to Imam al-Kazim (`a), he said to me, “Safwan: all your manners are acceptable and right except one thing.”
“May Allah accept me as ransom for you!(40) What is that?” I wondered and asked.
The Imam (`a) answered, “It is that you hire camels for this man. (i.e. Harun, the ruler)”
Explaining my situation, I said, “I swear by Allah that I have never hired him a camel to be used for luxurious, reckless, funny, or hunting purposes. Rather, I have hired out camels for him so that he would use it as riding animals on his way to Makkah. Moreover, I do not take charge of the camels myself; rather, I employ some of my servants to do so.”
The Imam (`a) asked, “Do they (i.e. the ruling authorities) pay you for this hiring?”
“Yes, they do,” answered I.
The Imam (`a) further asked, “Do you wish that they would survive until they keep paying you?”
“Yes, I do,” answered I.
The Imam (`a) stated: “Then, he who wishes survival for them is definitely one of them; and he who belongs to them will definitely be in Hellfire.”
Immediately after that, I sold all my camels.(41)
Merely wishing survival for tyrannical rulers lands one in hellfire. What then will be the future of those who dedicate themselves to helping the tyrannical rulers proceed in their wrongdoings, those who support them in their acts of transgression, those who engage themselves in their groups, those who imitate them in their oppressive acts, those who go along with their processions, and those who comply with their orders? survival for tyrannical rulers lands one in hellfire. What then will be the future of those who dedicate themselves to helping the tyrannical rulers proceed in their wrongdoings, those who support them in their acts of transgression, those who engage themselves in their groups, those who imitate them in their oppressive acts, those who go along with their processions, and those who comply with their orders?
Holding offices in Despotic Governments
The Holy Imams have intensely warned against cooperating with oppressive rulers even by handing them over half a date or hoping for their survival; therefore, the situation will definitely be worse with those who participate with them in ruling and hold offices in their despotic governments. Moreover, the matter will be much worse for those who have a hand in laying the foundations of such despotic governments, play a major role in activating their authorities, and plunge into fortifying their power. Giving reasons for such prohibition, Imam al-Sadiq (`a) is reported to have said: “…because to hold an office in the government of despotic rulers wholly eradicates the right and wholly enlivens the wrong. It also spreads injustice, oppression, and corruption…(42)
On the other hand, the Holy Imams (`a) are reported to have permitted holding offices in the governments of despotic rulers if this helps maintain justice, institute the laws of Almighty Allah, and contribute to treating the believers properly, enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong. In this respect, Imam Musa al-Kazim (`a) is reported to have said: Verily, among the company of the oppressors, there are those through whom Almighty Allah has made bright His path and given power in countries to protect His intimate servants and resolve the difficulties of Muslims. These are indeed the true believers. These are the shining guides to Almighty Allah in His lands. These are the light of Almighty Allah among His subjects.(43)
Concerning this matter, many traditions have been reported to demonstrate the course that must be adopted by governors and governmental officials, such as the famous epistle of Imam al-Sadiq (`a) to `Abdullah al-Najashi, the governor of al-Ahwaz44.
36. ()Al-Mubarrad and Ibn `A'ishah narrated the following: A Syrian man went on reviling Imam al-Hasan ('a) who was riding an animal. The Imam ('a) kept silent until the Syrian man finished. He then approached him and said, with a smile: “Old man! I think you are a foreigner. You might be wrong. If you admonish us, we will pardon your ignorance. If you ask us for something, we will give it to you. If you seek our guidance, we will lead you. If you ask us to load something on your riding animal, we will assist you. If you are hungry, we will supply you with food. If you are naked, we will clothe you. If you are needy, we will satisfy your need. If you are a fugitive, we will provide for you. I now request you to drive your animal towards our residence so that you can be our guest until you decide to leave. This will be better for you. We have a large residence, a remarkable position, and an abundant fortune.”
As he heard the words of the Imam ('a), the Syrian man wept and said, “It is surely true that Allah knows best who is the worthiest to convey His message. Previously, your father and you were the most hated creatures of God for me. But now, you are the dearest.”
He then turned towards the residence of the Imam and was his guest until he left, filled with awe and affection for the Ahl al-Bayt ('a).
Reference: Manaqib Al Abi-Talib by Ibn Shahr Ashub (AH 588), 3:184. The same story, yet will little difference in words, is cited in Kashf al-Ghummah by al-Arbali (AH 693), 2:184.
37. () See al-Kafi by al-Kulayni (AH 329), 2:334, Section: bab al-zulm (Injustice), H.17; Thawab al-A`mal wa `Iqab al-A`mal by Shaykh al-Saduq (AH 381), pp. 274. A similar tradition is mentioned in Makarim al-Akhlaq by al-Tabrisi (AH 548), pp. 332.
38. () See Wasa'il al-Shi`ah by al-Hurr al-`Amili (AH 1104), 17:177, Section: bab ma`unat al-zalimin walaw bi-maddati qalam wa-talab ma fi aydihim min al-zulm (Assistance of the Oppressors Even By Extending A Pen To Them And Desiring For Their Oppression); Mustadrak al-Wasa'il by al-Nuri al-Tabrisi (AH 1320), 13:122; al-Kafi by al-Kulayni (AH 329), 5:108, Section: bab `amal al-sultan wa-jawa'izuhum (Working With The Rulers And Receiving Their Rewards).
The Holy Prophet (s) is also reported to have said: “As for those who hold positions in an unjust government or assist its members, the Angel of Death will receive them with the following words: ‘Ahead of you is Allah’s curse and Hellfire: a hapless journey’s end!’”
“He who guides an oppressor towards an act of injustice shall be the companion of Haman (Pharaoh’s assistant) in Hellfire.”
Reference: al-Amali by Shaykh al-Saduq (AH 381), pp. 513.
39. () See Tuhaf al-`Uqul by Ibn Shu`bah al-Harrani (the fourth century of Hijrah), pp. 275-276; Bihar al-Anwar by al-Majlisi (AH 1111), 75:132-133, H. 2, Section: bab wasaya `ali ibn al-husayn wa mawa`izuhu wa hikamuhu (Instructions, Sermons, and Aphorisms of `Ali ibn al-Husayn); Man La Yahdhuruhu’l-Faqih by Shaykh al-Saduq (AH 381), 4:483.
40. () This statement, the translation of ‘ju`iltu fidaka’, was usually said in the presence of the Holy Imams ('a) to express loyalty to them. I thus pray to Almighty Allah to grant us the opportunity to address the Imam of our age, al-Mahdi (may Allah hasten his advent) with this statement. [translator]
41. () See Man La Yahdhuruhu’l-Faqih by Shaykh al-Saduq (AH 381), 4:436; Ikhtiyar Ma`rifat al-Rijal (also called Rijal al-Kashshi) by al-Tusi (AH 460), 2:740; Wasa'il al-Shi`ah by al-Hurr al-`Amili (AH 1104), 17:182, H.22305.
42. () In Tuhaf al-`Uqul, by Ibn Shu`bah al-Harrani (the fourth century of Hijrah), pp. 332, under the title: tafsir ma`na al-wilayat (Explanation of Work in Governmental Offices), Imam al-Sadiq’s ('a) words, from which the aforementioned paragraph is quoted, are as follows: To hold an office with the despotic ruler or with his deputy and his assistants beginning with the chief down to the novice, and to work with them and gain earnings from them are prohibited and illegal; and those who hold such office, be it chief or minor, will suffer punishment. Every act that is seen as support for the unjust rulers is an act of disobedience (to Almighty Allah) and a grand sin, because to hold an office in the government of despotic rulers wholly eradicates the right and wholly enlivens the wrong. It also spreads injustice, oppression, and corruption, breaks the laws of the Divine Books, kills the prophets and believers, destroys mosques, and distorts God’s norms and principles. For that reason, it is prohibited to work with them, support them, and seek earnings from them except in cases of necessity that are similar to the necessity of having blood or meat of corpses.
In Bihar al-Anwar by al-Majlisi (AH 1111), 100:45, Section: bab jawami` al-makasib al-muharramah wa’l-muhallalah (General Lawful and Unlawful Revenues), this narration begins with, “In the government of the unjust ruler, the good is eliminated…”
43. () In the book of Munyat al-Murid fi Adab al-Mufid wa’l-Mustafid by al-Shahid al-Thani (AH 966), pp. 164, and Bihar al-Anwar by al-Majlisi (AH 1111), 72:350, Section: bab ahwal al-muluk wa’l-umara' (Manners of the Kinds and Emirs) and on page 381, Section: bab al-rukun ila al-zalimin wa hubbuhum wa ta`atuhum (Leaning On Unjust Rulers and Loving and Obeying Them), H.46, this tradition is reported from Imam al-Ridha ('a) with little difference.
44. See Wasa'il al-Shi`ah by al-Hurr al-`Amili; Section: Kitab al-Bay`, Chapter No. 78.