How al-Awza‘i* Spoke the Truth to a Tyrant Ruler

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After the Banu Umayyah were massacred and banished from Syria by the tyrannical Amir of Syria, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Ali (the first Abbasid caliph’s uncle), he summoned al-Awza‘i. After going missing for three days, the latter appeared before the court of the Amir.

Al-Awza‘i relates:

“I went in to see him and he was reclining on his bed with a staff in his hand and soldiers to his right and left bearing menacing swords and iron rods. So I imparted the Islamic greetings to him but he didn’t reply. He banged the staff in his hand and asked: ‘O, Awza‘i, what’s your view regarding what we have done to the people and this land in removing the oppression of those [Banu Umayyah]? Was it considered Jihad and defending Islam?’

I thought to myself and decided to tell the truth, bracing for certain death [and said]: O Amir! I heard Yahya b. Sa`id al-Ansari say: I heard Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Taymi say: I heard `Alqama b. Waqqas say: I heard `Umar b. al-Khattab say: I heard the Messenger of Allah say: “Actions are based on intentions and every person will get what he intended…” [Bukhari, Muslim and others]

[The ruler] stamped his staff harder than before and made all those around him seize their swords with their hands saying: ‘O Awza‘i! What do you say regarding the blood of the Banu Umayyah being spilled?’

I said: ‘The Messenger of Allah said: “A Muslim may not spill the blood of another except in three cases: [1] a life for a life, [2] an adulterer and [3] someone who leaves his religion by separating from the community” [Bukhari, Muslim and others]’

The Amir continued: ‘Tell me about the caliphate, is it not our inheritance as stipulated by the Prophet ?’ I replied, ‘Had that been the case, ‘Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) would have never let anyone come before him.’

He stamped his staff even more fiercely than before and said: ‘But what do you say about the treasure of the Banu Umayya?’. I replied: ‘If it were lawful for them, it is unlawful for you, and if it were unlawful for them, it is even more unlawful for you!’

He then banged his staff down even harder than before that and said: ‘Shall we give you a position of authority [in the courts]?’ I replied: ‘Your predecessors were not fond of offering me such a position. I wish to complete the excellence that was begun by them for me’.

He said: ‘So, you desire to leave?’

I was waiting for my head to be severed from my shoulders in front of him. So he ordered me to leave. When I left with his messenger following behind me, he had with him 100 dinars and said I should take it and spend as it was from the Amir.

So I did take it but distributed it to the needy as sadaqa because I took it out of fear…”

* ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Amr ibn Yahmad Abu ‘Amr al-Awza‘i (88 H/707 CE to 158 H/774 CE), Shaykh al-Islam, the saintly, wise Scholar of the People of Sham (Greater Syria), was one of the mujtahid Imams of the Salaf along with the Four Imams, Sufyan al-Thawri, al-Tabari, and others, the first – with Ibn Jurayj and Abu Hanifa – to compile the Sunna of the Prophet and the Companions under fiqh subheadings. Born orphaned and poor in Ba‘balak and raised in al-Kark in the Biqa‘ valley, he came to live in the area known as – and populated by – the Auza‘ or “variegated tribes” in Damascus then moved to Beirut where he remained garrisoned until his death, his fame having spread to the entire Islamic world of his time.

[Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, vol. 10, pp. 124-126. Cf. The Four Imams and their Schools, Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad, Muslim Academic Trust, 2007, p. 100]