Imam al-Awza`i and Accounting Rulers


Imam al-Awza`i (d 177/774) – Exemplar in Accounting the Rulers 

  • Muslims have a duty of accounting the ruler.
  • This is an Islamic requirement.
  • Many hadith-texts establish this such as:

The Messenger of Allah (saw) said:

أفضل الجهاد كلمة عدل عند سلطان جائر – أو أمير جائر

“The best form of Jihad is the just word against an unjust Sultan or sinful ruler…”[1]

  1. Here Jihad is in the linguistic sense as mentioned by al-Munawi.
  2. “Just word” implies it is the truth, what is right, in the best of manner possible.

سيد الشهداء حمزةبن عبد المطلب ورجل قام إلى إمام فأمره ونهاه فقتله

  • “The best of martyrs is Hamza b. `Abd al-Muttalib and a person who stands before an Imam and enjoins the good and forbids the wrong and is killed as a result…”[2]
  1. This hadith indicates the political character of commanding good and forbidding wrong (as it involves rulers/people in power).
  2. The letter “waw” here is grammatically conjunctive (`atf) and thus indicates the best of martyrs is Hamza (ra) and anyone else who accounts the rulers in their wrongdoing, oppression and injustice.
  • The events in north-Africa and the Middle East are indicating the Umma’s strong mobilisation and open opposition against the rulers who have served the interests of the western-alliance of nations.
  • The umma is desiring real change and not cosmetic re-constructions.
  • Real change means structural change, i.e. a total change of systems and not just faces/individuals.
  • The legitimisation of the current Muslim rulers has been clearly exposed and their treachery, betrayal, incompetency, injustice, servitude to western-alliance nations, mismanagement of the regional resources and lies are no longer tolerated.
  • So, as Muslims, we cannot stand by but be involved and act to agents of change from a unjust, hypocritical system in democracy to a divine, just and perfect system: the khilafah.


  • There are certain scholarly individuals throughout the history of this umma who have risen as heros and shown how to account the rulers and carry the knowledge they have acquired practically or demonstrably.
  • One such figure, fitting for our times especially in how the Syrian people have been slaughtered by the cowardly Syrian regime, is the illustrious Imam al-Awza`i (may Allah have mercy on him.

His life:

  • His name: Abu `Abd al-Rahman Ahmad ibn `Amr.
  • Born in Ba`albek.
  • He was extremely pious.
  • He was one of the leading jurists and hadith scholars of his time and attained the level of mujtahid.
  • He was born an orphan and moved to Damascus living in areas populated by various tribes and hence acquired the appellate ‘al-Awza`i’ as his father was from the Awza` a Yemeni tribe or due to a village with the possible name of al-Awza`.
  • He also moved to the coastal city of Beirut and spent the rest of his life there.
  • He was a jurist-scholar with widespread fame especially for his fearless manner in accounting the ruling class of the day (see: Ibn Hibban, al-Mashahir, pp.285-286; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa’l-Nihaya, 10:123-and al-Zirikli, al-A`lam, 4:94).

 His status: 

  • It was said about him as listed by Ibn Kathir al-Bidaya:[3]

وقال عنه الإمام مالك : كان الأوزاعي إماما يقتدى به

وقال سفيان بن عيينة وغيره : كان الإوزاعي إمام أهل زمانه

وقال محمد بن عجلان : لم أر أحدا أنصح للمسلمين من الأوزاعي

وقال يحيى بن معين : العلماء أربعة: الثوري، وأبو حنيفة، ومالك، والأوزاعي

It was said of him by Imam Malik: ‘al-Awza`i was the Imam followed by all’… Sufyan b. `Uyayna said: ‘al-Awza`i was the Imam of his time’… Muhammad b. `Ajlan said: ‘I have not seen anyone who has advised the Muslims more than al-Awza`i…’ Yahay b. Ma`in said: the scholars are four: al-Thawri,  abu Hanifa, Malik and al-Awza`i…”

His accounting the Amir of Damascus:

ولما دخل عبد الله بن علي – عم السفاح الذي أجلى بني أمية عن الشام، وأزال الله سبحانه دولتهم على يده – دمشق فطلب الأوزاعي فتغيب عنه ثلاثة أيام ثم حضر بين يديه.

When `Abd Allah b. `Ali entered Damascus – the uncle of al-Saffah banished the Umayyads from Syria and Allah (Glorified is He!) removed their state from their hands – he sought al-Awza`i. He went missing for three days but then appeared before the court [of the ruler].

قال الأوزاعي: دخلت عليه وهو على سرير وفي يده خيزرانة والمسودة عن يمينه وشماله، ومعهم السيوف مصلتةوالعمد الحديد – فسلمت عليه فلم يرد ونكت بتلك الخيزرانة التي في يده ثم قال: يا أوزاعي ! ما ترى فيما صنعنا من إزالة أيدي أولئك الظلمة عن العباد والبلاد؟ أجهادا ورباطا هو؟

…al-Awza`i said: ‘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 [s: or indicated with] 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 [Umayyads]? Was it considered Jihad and defending Islam?’

قال: فقلت: أيها الأمير ! سمعت يحيى بن سعيد الأنصاري، يقول: سمعت محمد بن إبراهيم التيمي، يقول سمعت علقمة بن وقاص، يقول: سمعت عمر بن الخطاب، يقول: سمعت رسول الله يقول : «إنما الأعمال بالنيات، وإنما لكل امرئ ما نوى، فمن كانت هجرته إلى الله ورسوله فهجرته إلى الله ورسوله، ومن كانت هجرته لدنيا يصيبها أو امرأة يتزوجها فهجرته إلى ما هاجر إليه».

He said: ‘I 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 […]”

قال: فنكت بالخيزرانة أشد مما كان ينكت، وجعل من حوله يقبضون أيديهم على قبضات سيوفهم، ثم قال: يا أوزاعي ! ما تقول في دماء بني أمية؟

He said: [The ruler] stamped his staff harder than 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 Umayyads being spilled?’

فقلت: قال رسول الله : «لا يحل لمسلم دم امرئ مسلم إلا بإحدى ثلاث: النفس بالنفس، والثيب الزاني، والتارك لدينه المفارق للجماعة».

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] and adulterer and [3] and someone who leaves his religion by separating from the community”…’

فنكت بها أشد من ذلك ثم قال: ما تقول في أموالهم؟

He stamped his staff [s: or waved it ] even more fiercely than before and asked: ‘what do you say regarding their wealth?

فقلت: إن كانت في أيديهم حراما فهي حرام عليك أيضا، وإن كانت لهم حلالا فلا تحل لك إلا بطريق شرعي.

I said: ‘if they acquired it by unlawful means, then it would be unlawful for you but if they attained it through lawful means then it is permitted for only if you acquire it through lawful means.’

فنكت أشد مما كان ينكت قبل ذلك ثم قال: ألا نوليك القضاء؟ فقلت: إن أسلافك لم يكونوا يشقون علي في ذلك، وإني أحب أن يتم ما ابتدؤني به من الإحسان.

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’.

فقال: كأنك تحب الانصراف؟

He said: ‘so, you desire to leave?’

فقلت: إن ورائي حرما وهم محتاجون إلى القيام عليهن وسترهن، وقلوبهن مشغولة بسببي. قال: وانتظرت رأسي أن يسقط بين يدي، فأمرني بالانصراف. فلما خرجت إذا برسوله من ورائي، وإذا معه مائتا دينار، فقال: يقول لك الأمير: استنفق هذه. قال: فتصدقت بها، وإنما أخذتها خوفا

…He said: ‘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 but distributed it to the needy as sadaqa because I took it out of fear…’[4]

  • The fearlessness of Imam al-Awza`i. How encouraging and inspiring it would be to see our scholars today do the same; but some are deliberately mute.
  • The etiquette of of Imam al-Awza`i, e.g. “O Amir”, imparting the Islamic greetings, calm, collected, composed, polite, etc.
  • The procedural orthodoxy in debate byImam al-Awza`i, e.g. he was always prompted for his own view, i.e. ‘what do you think?’ but he always replies with the words of the Messenger of Allah (saw), the best proof, the best evidence and the best of speech after the word of Allah.
  • Imam al-Awza`i’s diassociation from any form of bribery, temptations, compromising offerings in exchange for abandoning his accounting. Many today offered positions in the Lajnas and Diyars compromise their integrity as religious jurist-consults.

This is exemplary conduct from one of the greatest jurists in our history. We and any engaged in the field of da`wa and learning must make him our model.

May Allah raise us up with the likes of Imam al-Awza`i. Ameen.

 Abundant salutations and blessings upon the best of examples, his family, companions and the best of those who follow them.

 [1] See Abu Dawud, Sunan (#4344) and al-Tirmidhi, Sunan (#2174); al-Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-Iman, 6:2577 and al-Bidaya wa’l-Nihaya, 1:243.

[2] See al-Mundhiri, al-Targhib wa ’l-Tarhib, 3:229; al-Haythami, Majma` al-Zawa’id, 7:269 al-Suyuti, al-Jami` al-Saghir (#4747).

[3] See Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa’l-Nihaya, vol.10, p.123.

[4] See Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa’l-Nihaya, vol.10, pp.124-126.


One thought on “Imam al-Awza`i and Accounting Rulers

  1. Pingback: Imam al-Awza’i: Speaking Truth to the Ruler | Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia

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