Boycotts and Resisting Oppressors: Where do the Ahlulbayt stand?

This Thaqlain Guide is created from Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi’s lecture at Jaffari Community Centre (linked here) and is dedicated In memory of Syed Tahir Abbas Naqvi.

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Amidst the ongoing Israeli aggression towards the Palestinians, a fatwa from Ayatollah Sistani has re-emerged, opening up another dimension in the conflict. The ruling deems it haram (forbidden) to purchase products from companies that “actively support” Israel’s occupation.

Although this Fatwa is old, its resurfacing provides an opportunity to examine its significance and see how the Quran and Ahlulbayt view such actions. Moreover, what is the general approach of Ahlulbayt in resisting oppressors, and is this Fatwa intended for all oppressive regimes, or is it specifically formulated for this particular case?

Position of Justice in the Shia School

Before delving into the jurisprudential background of Ayatollah Sistani’s ruling, it is important to understand the significance of Justice or Adl in the School of Ahlulbayt.

In contrast to other schools of thought, only the Shias place Adl as one of the core beliefs of religion (Usool ad-Din). In other words, it is fundamental for a Shia to believe that God Almighty is Just and all His actions are per justice.

Moreover, Justice (Adl) is also a prerequisite for all leaders, from the Prophet and the Imams, to a Jurist (Mujtahid) and Prayer Leader (Imam Jama’a).

I’anat al-zalama & Amale Sultan

The requirement of being just and not an oppressor (Zaalim) also translated into Jurisprudence. As an example, The Umayyads and Abbasids were considered Non-Aadil and oppressors. So, the Imams strictly forbade their followers, on the pretext of ‘I’anat al-zalama’ or helping the oppressors, to have any affiliation with them or to serve as a tool for these Zalimeen.

This concept of I’anat al-Zalama gained serious prominence during the early days of Major Occultation when the Buyid Dynasty, considered to be Shias, began to assume power within the Abbasid Caliphate.

Many Shia scholars began cooperating with them based on ideological alignment – a term known in jurisprudence as ‘Amale Sultan’ (working for the ruler). And while the ideological alignment was present, this government was not legitimate from the Shari’ah perspective.

This issue caught the attention of the Mujtahid of that time, Sayyid Murtaza (brother of Sayyid Razi, the compiler of Nahjul Balagha). Sayyid Murtaza wrote a comprehensive Risala outlining whether Amale Sultan is allowed in this case, what makes it legitimate and under what conditions such a collaboration is not permitted.

Foundations from the Quran & Hadith

The idea of being an anti-oppressor in the School of Ahlulbayt is firmly rooted in the Quran and we can see that in the following verse.

Surah Hud, verse 113, states:

وَلَا تَرۡكَنُوۡۤا اِلَى الَّذِيۡنَ ظَلَمُوۡا فَتَمَسَّكُمُ النَّارُۙ وَمَا لَـكُمۡ مِّنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰهِ مِنۡ اَوۡلِيَآءَ ثُمَّ لَا تُنۡصَرُوۡنَ
And do not be inclined towards those who are unjust, lest the fire touch you, and you have no guardians besides Allah, then you shall not be helped.

The choice of words by Allah here requires special attention. He clearly states that even a person “having an inclination” towards a Zaalim will taste Hellfire. So, having a soft spot for a Zaalim can result in Allah’s wrath the same way as being a Zaalim.

Hadith from Prophet & Ahlulbayt

The Prophet and his progeny showed, through their actions and words, that the only way to treat oppressors and tyrants is by resisting them. Not only that but they clarified that being indifferent and silent towards oppressors is the same as supporting them.

Perhaps the best example of that can be taken from Imam Hussain’s trial in Karbala.

After Imam Hussain’s (as) encounter with the army of Hurr, the Imam led the Zuhr prayers. He then addressed the army and gave a brief sermon, narrating a hadith of the Prophet (sallalahu alaihe wa’alihi).

He said:

أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ص قَدْ قَالَ فِي حَيَاتِهِ مَنْ رَأَى سُلْطَاناً جَائِراً مُسْتَحِلًّا لِحُرُمِ اللَّهِ نَاكِثاً لِعَهْدِ اللَّهِ مُخَالِفاً لِسُنَّةِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ يَعْمَلُ فِي عِبَادِ اللَّهِ بِالْإِثْمِ وَ الْعُدْوَانِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يُغَيِّرْ بِقَوْلٍ وَ لَا فِعْلٍ كَانَ حَقاً عَلَى اللَّهِ أَنْ يُدْخِلَهُ مَدْخَلَهُ

“The Prophet of Allah has said, ‘Any person who sees a tyrant king or ruler, who disobeys Allah’s prohibitions, who breaks the covenant of Allah concerning Adl (justice), who opposes the Sunnah of Allah, who acts on the basis of sin and transgression, then the person who sees such a tyrant king, and does not change in action or speech, then it is rightful of Allah to hold that indifferent person equal to the tyrant on the Day of Judgement.”

[Bihar al-Anwar, Vol 44, Pg. 381]

Similarly, when Imam Ali was fatally struck by Ibn Muljim, he called Imams Hasan and Hussain to convey his will. In those final moments, he said to his sons,

وَكُونَا لِلظَّالِمِ خَصْماً، وَلِلْمَظْلُومِ عَوْناً
‘Remember you have to be opponent of the Zaalim (oppressor) and you have to be the supporter of the Mazloom (oppressed).’

[Nahjul Balagha, Letter 47]

Practical Example from the Life of Imam Musa al-Kazim

Perhaps, the most compelling example of keeping distance from tyrant governments comes from the time of Imam Musa al-Kazim (as).

One day, during the era of Harun ul-Rashid, Safwan al-Jamal, who was the Imam’s faithful companion and known for renting camels, met him. The Imam, acknowledging Safwan’s overall virtuous character, pointed out a singular concern: his dealings with Harun ul-Rashid, renting camels for his trips.

Safwan, in his defence, explained that he did not personally accompany Harun on his trips to guard the camels; instead, he delegated this task to his employees and that he only rented camels for religious trips like Hajj.

At this moment, Imam Musa al-Kazim (as) posed a crucial question: “Is the rental payment from Harun still due?” To this, Safwan replied in the affirmative, prompting the Imam to inquire, “Do you wish for him to remain alive until he returns with the rental money?” When Safwan again replied in the affirmative, the Imam gave an invaluable principle in his reply:

“Whoever desires the oppressors to live another day is counted among them. When he is with them, God will destine him for hellfire alongside them.”

Hearing this, Safwan promptly took decisive action and sold his business. Even though Safwan was only providing Harun with a means of transport, the Imam still commanded him to refrain as he was becoming a tool for the unjust (I’anat al-zalama).

Resistance has many roads

While supporting the oppressor (I’anat al-zalama) is a Major Sin and resisting the oppression is obligatory according to the teachings of the Quran and the Ahlulbayt, it is important to note that the act of resistance may differ from person to person. A prime example is Zayd ibn Ali and Imam Jafar Sadiq’s way of opposing the Umayyads. While they both lived in the same era and had the same goal in their mind, they both navigated distinct paths in their resistance against the Zalimeen due to their divergent roles and obligations.

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