Al-Azhar Declaration in Support of the Arab People
In recognition of the necessities of the historical and crucial moment that faces the Arab people in their legitimate struggle for freedom, justice, and democracy and their longing for civilization, Al-Azhar Senior Scholars and the intellectuals participating with them hold their meeting. They are inspired by the spirit of freedom in Islam and the Islamic rules on the legitimacy of authority and reform, and the achievement of the objectives and the supreme interests of the nation. The meeting comes in consistence with the stand of Al-Azhar and the intellectual leaders in Egypt as well as the Arab world in supporting the liberation movements against brutal colonizers and tyrannical oppressors. It is also an expression of their belief in the necessity of alerting the nation to take up the causes of renaissance and progress, overcome the historical adversities, and establish the citizens' rights to social justice based on a solid foundation of the principles of Sharia and its fundamental tenets. This includes the preservation of human intellect, religion, soul, offspring, and property, and blocking the ways against the despotic authorities that denied the Arab and Muslim community their right to enter the age of cultural luminescence and the progress of knowledge, or contribute in achieving economic prosperity and holistic development.
Considering all these elements, the group, which is representative of the spectrum of thought in the Egyptian society, issued Al-Azhar Document, organized several constructive dialogues regarding the achievements of the Arab revolutions for fruitful interaction and close collaboration among different movements and trends. They also agreed on the set of principles derived from Islamic thought and the aspirations of the Arab nations. Under the auspices of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the group has concluded that it is necessary to respect the following principles according to this declaration:
First: The religious and constitutional legitimacy of authority depends on the consent of people and their free choice, through a fair, transparent, and democratic public ballot. This is taken as a modern alternative to the previous tradition of paying allegiance to Islamic good governance as per the evolution of governance systems and procedures in a modern and contemporary state and in compliance with what has been established by the customary constitutional rules governing the distribution and definite separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial authorities. This is based on the mechanisms of balances and accountability by which the nation becomes the source of all legitimate powers, as well as withdrawer of legitimacy.
The practice of many rulers, with aspirations to absolute power, misinterpreted the Qur᾿ānic verse "You who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger (Prophet Muḩammad) and those of you who are in authority" (Qur᾿ān, 4:59). They ignore its clear and obvious contextual meaning in the preceding verse which states: "Surely, Allah commands you to render back the trusts to whom they are due, and when you judge between people, to judge with justice" (Qur᾿ān, 4:58). This makes the violation of the conditions of good governance a valid ground for people to claim justice from their rulers and to resist injustice and tyranny. It must be observed that those among our scholars who justified patience with tyrannical rulers, to ensure the wellbeing of the nation from chaos, have also allowed the ousting of the tyrannical oppressor if the people have the ability to achieve this and if there is no possibility of damage and harm to the nation and its communities.
Second: When the voice of national popular opposition and peaceful protest arises, this is the inherent right of people to correct and guide their rulers when they do not respond to the call of their people by initiating the required reform and legitimate demands which call for freedom, justice and equity. Those patriotic protestors should not form violent rebels (bughāh). As defined in jurisprudence, the bughāh are those who have power and violently rebel against the legitimate leader, isolating themselves from the nation, using arms against their opponents, and spreading destruction on the land by force. Conversely, the national peaceful movements constitute the core of human rights in Islam as later on confirmed by all international conventions. Furthermore, it is the people’s duty to reform their society and correct their rulers. Responding to such demands is a duty of the rulers and those in power, without equivocation or obstinacy.
Third: Confronting any peaceful patriotic protest with hostility, armed force, and bloodshed of peaceful civilians is considered a breach of the charter of governance between the nation and its rulers, a case which deprives the authority of its legitimacy, and terminates its right to remain in power by mutual consent. If those in power insist on their transgression and tyranny, leading to injustice, oppression and aggression, and recklessly shed the blood of innocent citizens to preserve their illegitimate survival despite the will of people, the authority becomes guilty of crimes that tarnish their very legitimacy. It is, therefore, the oppressed people's right to strive to oust those tyrannical rulers and hold them responsible. They may even change the entire regime despite the pretexts made for stability or confronting disturbance and conspiracy. Infringing the inviolability of the sacredness of human life is the decisive line between legitimacy of the government and its falling into wrongdoing and aggression. In these cases, the organized armies, in all our nations, should be committed to their constitutional duties to protect the homeland from external threats and should avoid turning into an instrument of intimidation and oppression to citizens, or shedding their blood, since "If anyone kills a human being—unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on the land, it is as though he has killed the entire humanity. Meanwhile, if anyone saves a human life, it is as though he has saved the lives of the entire humanity" (Qur᾿ān, 5:32).
Fourth: The revolutionary, renovation and reform forces ought to utterly avoid anything that could lead to bloodshed, and must safeguard themselves from external powers, regardless of their origins, pretexts, or justifications given for interference in the affairs of their countries and nations. Otherwise, they would be regarded as committing violent rebellion, betraying their nation, and violating the legitimacy of their countries. In this case, it is the authorities' duty to lead them back to national unity, which is the primary religious duty and supreme obligation. The forces of the revolution and reform should stand united to achieve their dream of justice and freedom. They should avoid sectarian, ethnic, ideological, and religious conflicts, in order that they may preserve their national fabric and respect the rights of their fellow citizens. They should join forces to achieve a democratic transformation for the benefit of everyone, in a framework of national consensus and harmony with a view to building a future based on equality and justice. Furthermore, they must prevent the uprising from being exploited by sectarianism or denominationalism or provoke religious sensitivities. The revolutionaries and reformers should also preserve the institutions of their countries and avoid squandering their wealth or conceding it to external actors. They should also avoid falling into the traps of disputes and rivalries, or reinforcing themselves by different powers that aim at exploiting and depleting the national resources.
Fifth: Based on these Islamic and constitutional principles expressive of the essence of civilized consciousness, Al-Azhar scholars and the leaders of thought and culture declare their full support of the will of the Arab people in reform and modernization, and in building societies based on freedom and justice that have triumphed in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and for which the struggle continues in Syria and Yemen. They also condemn the brutal mechanisms of repression that have been trying to put a halt to the momentum. They call on the Muslim and Arab communities to carry out decisive and effective initiatives to ensure its success with minimal losses and affirm the absolute right of people in choosing their rulers, and their duty to correct them in order to prevent tyranny, corruption, and exploitation. The legitimacy of any authority is subject to the will of the people. Furthermore, the Islamic laws guarantee the right of unarmed peaceful national resistance as it is obligatory to 'remove harm'. It is also one of the fundamental human rights enshrined in all international conventions.
Sixth: Al-Azhar scholars and the group of intellectuals participating with them urge the Arab and Muslim regimes to work voluntarily towards achieving political, social, and constitutional reform, and to begin the steps of transformation to democracy. The awakening of the oppressed people is inevitable and unavoidable. No ruler can now obscure from his people the light of freedom. It is a shame that the Arab region along with some Muslim states, unlike other countries in the world, are still resting in the circle of underdevelopment, oppression and tyranny. Worse still, they attribute all of that unjustly and falsely to Islam and its culture, which is innocent of this malevolent allegation. Those countries should immediately and expeditiously endeavor to take full consideration of the reasons of scientific renaissance, technological progress of knowledge production, and invest their human and natural resources to serve their citizens and achieve prosperity for all humankind.
None of those who sponsor oppression and tyranny should believe that they are immune from the fate of the oppressors or that they could mislead the people. This is the era of free communication and the wide spread of knowledge, the supremacy of luminous religious and civilized principles, and the models of sacrifice and struggle which are witnessed in the Arab world. All these elements have made the awakening of people a glowing torch, turned freedom into a raising flag, and the hope of the oppressed people into a motivation leading them from their ongoing struggle to victory. Let those ignorant of the religion, those distorting the teachings of Islam and the proponents of tyranny, injustice, and oppression stop their vain absurdity.
"Allah always prevails in whatever His purpose may be, but most people do not know [that]" (Qur᾿ān, 12:21).
Good God! Please, grant us mercy whereby You guide our hearts, maintain our unity, and protect us from evil temptations!
Dhul-Hijjah 3, 1432 AH (October 30, 2011 CE)
Grand Imam of Al-Azhar