All praises be to Allah and may peace and blessings be upon the Prophet.
The situation in Syria undeniably compels every human being, let alone every Muslim, to help those who currently face one of the most brutal regimes on earth. Allah says:
“The believers are nothing else than brothers (in faith).”
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“The Muslim is the brother of his fellow-Muslim; he does not wrong him or abandon.”
In another narration the wording has it, “and does not forsake him.”
al-Hafidh ibn Hajr al-Asqalani, the famous commentator on Sahih al-Bukhari wrote, ‘He does not abandon him means he does not leave him with someone who could harm him, or in a situation where he could be harmed, but instead helps him and defends him…It may be obligatory or recommended, depending on the situation.’
Ibn al-Athir in his book Jami’l-Usul fi’l-ahadith wrote, ‘Abandoning someone refers to when he leaves him to his fate and does not protect him from his enemy.’
The famous Shafi’i scholar, al-Nawawi, wrote, ‘And he does not forsake him – the scholars have said forsaking means failing to help and support. What this means is that when a person is asked for help to ward off an oppressor and the like, he is obligated to help him if it is possible and where he has no legitimate shar’ii excuse (for not doing so).’
Recently, and in many circles, discussions have begun in relation to the Islamic ruling on participating in military fighting, Jihad, in Syria. The fact that people are concerned with the affairs of the ummah is a great blessing as it shows that many still have a deep connection with Allah and a strong belief in tawheed. It also shows that they righteously seek to worship Allah by aiding the oppressed – Jihad is one of the most virtuous acts to Allah. There are numerous verses in the Quran which establish the virtue of Jihad. For example, He, the Most High states:
“How many of the prophets fought and with them (fought) large bands of godly men? But they never lost heart if they met with disaster in Allah‘s way, nor did they weaken (in will) nor give in. And Allah loves those who are firm and steadfast [in battle].”
“Those who have believed, emigrated and strove hard and fought in Allah’s Cause with their wealth and their lives have the highest rank with Allah. They are the successful.”
Additionally, Abu Hurairah narrates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked as to which action was greatest. He replied, “Faith in Allah.” He was asked, “then what?” He replied, “Jihad in his path.” He was asked, “then what?” He replied, “An accepted pilgrimage.” According to the hadith of Abu Dharr who asked the Prophet as to which action was greatest, the Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, “Faith in Allah and Jihad in His path.”
Having established the virtue of jihad and its lofty station in Islam, we must now analyse a number of issues that are repeatedly neglected by most of those who explore this topic.
Firstly, it should be established that due to the complex nature of conflicts that occur in modern times, attaining victory is not merely a matter of success on the battlefield. Wars are fought on many fronts – politics, the media and economics are all but examples. While many may argue that these mediums are merely a way to deceive the masses, we are forced to recognise this fact since the Quran establishes it. For example, Allah considered financial forms of jihad an essential aspect of combat – all Quranic verses pertaining to Jihad except one mention those who perform Jihad firstly with their wealth and then physically. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used popular mediums that would now function in the form of media, such as encouraging Hassan ibn Thabit to perform poetry to give confidence to the people. Military victory is very much dependent on gaining the upper hand in these realms as well. A strong army but with low morale or insufficient strategic planning can be defeated easily. It has been seen in our times that political and media engagement can achieve more than guns and bullets. Altering ideological or political views of people is in many cases more effective than ending their lives. Winning over hearts is far better than burying them.
Secondly, based on the above point, it may be noted that help given to Muslims should not be limited to participation in physical combat. There are many effective ways to aid the Syrians such as facilitating their cause through the media and other channels of engagement. Helping them financially is a key factor for the continuity of their struggle. Thousands of orphans, widows and the disabled are left with no support. Medical aid either by sending medical equipment or paying for doctors to provide relief is one of the greatest forms of support that the Syrians need.
Thirdly, participating in physical Jihad becomes compulsory in certain circumstances, and on certain people. A very basic example of obligatory physical Jihad is when the enemies of Islam attack Muslims or Muslim lands where there aren’t enough men to defend their lives and/or their land. However, if there are sufficient numbers but they simply lack other resources to defend themselves, other forms of jihad become compulsory. If there is a lack of finance, then financial Jihad becomes the obligatory form of Jihad upon those who can afford it. The principles which must be kept in mind when helping the needy people of Syria are that a) the necessary resources should be provided, and b) in a way that is likely to lift the calamity. Failing to observe these two conditions might add to the problem rather than solving it.
The regime in Syria is one of the most inhuman and tyrannical regimes in the world, having been engaged in a war against Islam and Muslims for decades. The number of Muslims who have been killed by Hafiz al-Assad, the father of Bashar al-Assad, exceeds the number of Muslims killed by the Israelis. History can never forget the women raped by the army of Hafiz in Hamah and other cities in 1982. However, the son is no better than his father. This regime, in both periods, has waged war against Sunnis carrying out religious cleansing in every possible way. Thus there is no doubt that Muslims in Syria fight to defend their religion and protect their lives, honour and dignity. According to all Muslim scholars defending the religion is a fundamental reason for Jihad. Defending life and honour also takes the ruling of Jihad. Allah says,
“Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory. [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is Allah.” And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.”
With all that has been discussed, it is evident that both military and non-combative Jihad in Syria is compulsory upon the Syrian Muslims. The question that follows is: what is the ruling of jihad upon Muslims who live beyond Syria?
It is well established in Islamic jurisprudence that if the Muslims of a certain region are attacked and unable to protect their lives, honour, land, or the sovereignty of their faith, then it is incumbent upon other Muslims to provide them with whatever support is needed.
As is evident, the purpose of this obligation is to lift their afflictions. Hence the ruling is based on a legal cause (‘illah) which is to do that which leads to elevating the calamity that has befallen them. It is known (and quite logical) that in the absence of the basis of a ruling, the ruling itself becomes non-existent. For example, if the military participation of a disabled person will bring about losses for the Muslims then the disabled Muslim must desist from engaging in combat so as not to harm the efforts of the Mujahideen. Similarly, it is completely unjustifiable for a Muslim to participate in combat where he might cause harm to the Mujahideen merely because he seeks martyrdom (rather than the greater goal of victory for the believers).
It has been confirmed by scholars and military personnel living in Syria that they have no need for foreign Muslim men intending to join the cause. I have personally contacted a number of scholars, activists, and students of knowledge as well as a Syrian scholar (who is a member of a board of scholars and activists) in order to consult with him in regards to those who wish to travel to Syria to aid in repelling the oppressive regime. He informed me that they urge foreign brothers not to travel to Syria to participate in military activity. He stated firstly that that this is the opinion of the vast majority of scholars and activists in Syria (that they do not need men), and secondly, such participation will lead to many problems that are evident to those who know the situation from inside. In other words, the obligation of Jihad for Muslims outside of Syria is of a non-combative nature. This is what they inherently need, and in the situation, this is the effectual form of engagement.
I know that many Muslim men are keen to help their Syrian brethren; indeed, this noble feeling is an obligation upon us. However, we should look to help them in the way that they need and not in the way we assume. We should be careful not to misleadingly veil our own desires for martyrdom with expressions such as ‘helping our Muslims brothers and sisters’ which will ultimately cause more harm to their cause. I am also concerned about the intention of some of those who travel, who desire to fight out of a sense of frustration many Muslims feel due to the beleaguered state of the Ummah. Although some may find it difficult to digest, the reality of the situation is that, as it stands; to travel to Syria intending to participate in jihad without the express permission of the recognised Syrian revolutionary leaders is closer to sin than virtue. It is not allowed to interfere into someone’s affairs without his clear approval and furthermore, it is totally prohibited to do anything that may cause harm to others.
The possibility of incurring sin becomes greater when a person abandons his immediate family for whom he is directly responsible, or leaves his parents grieving in the wake of his departure. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (may Allah be pleased with them both) said, “A man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and asked for his permission to go for jihad. He said, ‘Are your parents alive?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘then your jihad is with them.’” According to another report, a man came and said, “O Messenger of Allah, I have come to participate in jihad with you. I came and my parents were weeping.” He said, “Go back and make them smile as you have made them weep.”
It was also reported from Abu Sa’eed (may Allah be pleased with him) that “a man migrated to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) from Yemen. He [the Prophet] said, ‘Do you have anyone in the Yemen?’ He said, ‘My parents.’ He said, ‘Did they give you permission?’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Then go back to them and ask their permission. If they give you permission, then go for Jihad, otherwise honour them.’”
As I have already stated, the leaders of the Syrian uprising have not yet called for the involvement of external personnel in any military activity and thus have declined to co-ordinate the arrival of foreigners. Those who do go, join small unorganized units under the leadership of an individual who normally coordinates with like-minded people in isolation from a centralised authority recognised by the local people. This eventually leads to many internal conflicts whilst causing more immediate strategic problems. Additionally, these small groups lack the presence of qualified scholars able to provide impartial and well formulated legal guidance, and as a result they fall into many shar’ii errors. In fact, it has been confirmed that such conflicts provide fertile grounds for developing ideas and views alien to the shari’ah. Such ideas include participating in activities that involve the killing or harming of innocent people who are protected by the covenant of the shari’ah itself. It has been also witnessed that some brothers develop a very narrow-minded mentality by which they see everything through the medium of combat rendering them unable to participate in any productive non-combative activity once they return to their home countries. They eventually become receptive to many unIslamic ideas that promote an incorrect conceptualisation of combative Jihad.
We must learn from the past. Whenever incidents like this take place, many nations of an imperialist design use the situation to their own benefit. For example, they might infiltrate the cause and pit some of the foreign Mujahideen who are unaware of the social and political situation in the occupied land against local Mujahideen. These powers then monitor these brothers who have left for jihad until they return to their own respective countries and then manipulate them or use them for their own political agenda. This has been the case with many brothers who participated in Jihad against the communists in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Whilst many governments have refrained from addressing the issue of ‘Jihad’ in Syria (since it is not in their favour to make it an issue at the moment), it is undoubtedly a matter of time until the entire context will be used in some bad intentioned way.
Finally, I ask Allah Almighty to make the imminent month of Ramadan a month of mercy and victory for Muslims in Syria, Myanmar (Burma), and wherever else they are oppressed.