Abu Bakr al-Sidiq (rAa) and freedom of expression
No need to introduce this honourable personality of Islam who was very close companion of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. My focus here is to shed some light on some of the lessons which can be learned from his inaugural speech after the death of the Prophet of Islam (sAaww).
Here is is an excerpt of this speech:
“I have been given the authority over you, and I am not the best of you. If I do well, help me; and if I do wrong, set me right. Sincere regard for truth is loyalty and disregard for truth is treachery. The weak amongst you shall be strong with me until I have secured his rights, if God wills; and the strong amongst you shall be weak with me until I have wrested from him the rights of others, if God wills. Obey me so long as I obey God and His Messenger. But if I disobey God and His Messenger, ye owe me no obedience. Arise for your prayer, God have mercy upon you.” (Wikipedia)
Abu Bakr al-Sidiq (ra) and freedom of expression
One of the many lessons he offers is the notion of freedom of expression and a reference to the formation of an opposition parties to keep the leader in check;
“ If I do well, help me; and if I do wrong, set me right”
Although this notion is being taught and encouraged by Islam, the messenger of God and our great early companions but unfortunately it remains very strange and non existence concept in the Muslim world today. Muslim countries are ruled by various types of corrupt political systems and mainly dictatorships and monarchies. Freedom of expression is tailored to suit the ruling elites and is redefined to say only things in favour of the ruler and his government and the rulers in these Muslim countries are unchallenged and indisputable. This has been the case for centuries.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human principle
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human principle and it is the right of the human “Intellect” to be worthy of itself. To think free is the manifestation of Man’s free will which is a fundamental principle of his humanity. It is the desire of Man’s intellect to project his individuality and various intellectual dimensions of his personality. To be able to think freely is the only way to bring out Man’s marvelous potentials and inner true feelings. It will enable him to express his hopes and aspirations which would contribute to the process of progress of society. Freedom of expression in society will greatly influence and shape up its future and it will identify the negative aspects and the various obstacles in the face of progress and success. And it will also identify the elements of success and works towards strengthening it.
Unfortunately, freedom of expression, in the true sense, is non existence in the Muslim world today and is often considered a crime and hence in many cases is punishable by death. This reality in the Muslim world brings great surprise to all of us when we examine the socio-political situation which was prevalent during the early stage of Islam. During the life of the prophet of Islam we see Muslims have truly enjoyed the principle of “freedom of expression” in its highest level in comparison to the rest of the world at that time. In numerous occasions the holy prophet permitted his companions to express themselves in various important events. He (sAaww) was very eager to get their input in respect to many political and social issues. The beauty of these teachings of the prophet of Islam has profoundly influenced his companions. The great companion of the prophet Abu Bakr al-Sidiq (rAa) was one of the prophet true devotees and faithful students who have transformed himself from a primitive Arab tribesman into a remarkable personality which has profoundly influenced millions of Muslims many generations after his departure to his Lord. Upon his nomination as the first ruler, he laid down some of the fundamentals of ruler ship and governance through his remarkable speech to the Muslims.
There are more lessons in Abu Bakr’s inaugural speech that can be identified in regards to the leadership characteristics as follows:
1) A leader is not better than a subject;
“I have been given the authority over you, and I am not the best of you”
2) The main mission of leadership is restoring the rights of the weak and destitute;
“The weak amongst you shall be strong with me until I have secured his rights”
3) The limitations of the strong;
“the strong amongst you shall be weak with me until I have wrested from him the rights of others”
In other words he sees the social strength of the rich do not have any influence on his governance and decision making process. Often the rich will have lobbyists to influence the political process of the government and this is the socio-political norms of societies in the past and present. But Abu Bakr was not influence by these unjust norms of society rather he was student of the best creation of God, the Prophet Muhammad (sAaww) and he was taught a different type of philosophy. Such philosophy is not influenced by Man’s social egotistic aspirations and special interests rather it is influenced by the divine social justice and Man’s universal aspirations.
4) A leader is subservient to the constitution and not above the law;
“Obey me so long as I obey God and His Messenger. But if I disobey God and His Messenger, ye owe me no obedience.”
It is important to note here that Abu Bakr has laid down the main two principles of the source of obedience for any Muslim; a leader, teacher, or for all Muslims at any human capacity, and that is God and His messenger. Now this important teaching of Abu Bakr raise some legitimate concern in regard to the principle of obedience which was presented after the death of the first and the second khalifas, namely Abu Bakr and Umer (rAa). History tells us that upon Umer’s death the elite of the Muslims, who were put in charge of the political selection of successor, were in the process of choosing a successor to lead the Muslims. The choice was between Ali bin Abi Talib (Karrama Aaalhu Wajuhu) and Uthman bin ‘affan (rAa). This Muslim selection committee put forward a condition, in addition to the Sunna of the prophet, upon those two nominees in order to win leadership and that is any one of those two nominees “Ali and Uthman” would obey “Sunnat al-Sheikhyan or sunnat the two shaikhs” or namely the Sunna of Abu Bakr and Umer (rAa). But clearly this kind of condition is not issued by these great leaders “Abu Bakr and Umer” rather it seems to be an innovation of these Muslim elites who were in charge of electing a successor where Abu Bakr clearly warned Muslims from innovation when he stated, “I am not an innovator; rather, I am nothing more than a follower”.
What is really interesting here that history tells us that those two nominees “Ali and Uthman” had a different approach to the issue of obedience “Sunnat al-Sheikhain-the teachings of the first two khalifas namely Abu Bakr and Umer” Ali Bin Talib (kAw) has rejected such condition and he made it very clear to the committee that he will accept the nomination of leadership of the Muslims based upon one condition and that is “obeying God and His messenger” and he rejected the new idea of “obeying the Sunnat of the sheikhain” but we find Uthman has yielded to the pressure of leadership and he accepted the new condition of “Sunnat al-sheikhain” . I believe this is very important political development in the history of Muslims theology. In fact this innovation in respect to the source of obedience in respect to leadership represents the first sign of the problem of “innovation” in the Muslim teachings. And it represents the first step to extend sacredness to people who do not fit such status. A status which Abu Bakr himself rejected to be attributed to himself when he said; “I am not an innovator; rather, I am nothing more than a follower”.” and he also defined the ultimate source of obedience, which is incumbent upon all people, including leaders or saints, to God and His messenger; “Obey me so long as I obey God and His Messenger. But if I disobey God and His Messenger, ye owe me no obedience.”
We see Imam Ali’s rejection of this condition-obeying the two Sheikhs or other than God and messenger, represents solidarity and agreement with Abu Bakr’s desire, “Obey me so long as I obey God and His Messenger”. This reality of extending sacredness to leaders and to anyone other than God and the messenger, has laid down the first seed for terrorism in our Muslim teachings. Nowadays we see an ordinary Sheikh who has received few courses in Muslim studies could decide the fate of an entire Muslim community. We often read about takfeer or shedding the blood of other Muslims over difference of opinion.
This is just for all of you to ponder about and to exercise your freedom of expression as commanded by the Quran, the Prophet of Islam, and Abu Bakr, as demonstrated above. In fact the innovated condition “Sunnat of the two Sheikhs”; which refer to the two Sheikhs, has evolved throughout history and it has become very long list of Sheikhs and it is no longer limited to “two Sheikhs”. And it has become a determining factor for who is a Muslim or who is not.
Muslims must go back to the teachings of this honorable Man, Abu Bakr, and try to truly comprehend his teachings. This invitation is directed to both major Muslim branches of Islam, Sunni and Shi’a. Many Sunni Muslims seem to adhere to many Sunni Muslim scholars except the great early ones such as Abu Bakr and others. And we find the Shi’a Muslims on the other hand may not give Abu Bakr his due respect and honor. In fact many of them take his statements above as a negative aspects to be attributed to him where as they ought to be taken as great attributes of his character which was shaped up and greatly influenced by the Prophet of Islam.