One of the principles of the Ahl as-Sunnah is that salah may be offered behind any Muslim, pious or wicked. The Friday prayer and the `Id prayers may also be offered behind a heretic if no one else is available. Again, no Muslim should be denounced as kafir on account of any sin he or she may commit or any mistake he or she may make in matters which the ummah has debated.
One of the principles of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama`ah is that they offer the Friday prayer, the `id prayers, and the regular daily prayers, and never suspend them as do the proponents of bid’ah like the Rawafid and others. If the conduct of the imam is not known or his bid’ah or wickedness is not open, the Friday prayer and all daily prayers in assembly may be offered behind him. All the four imams of the Muslims as well as others are agreed on this point. None of them has ever said that salah is not valid except behind an imam whose private life is known. In fact, Muslims have been praying behind persons whose lives have not been known.
However, if salah is offered behind a person who is known to be guilty of bid `ah or an open sin (fajir) while an alternative imam is available, many scholars say that the salah of those who pray behind him will still be valid. This is the view of Ash-Shafi `I and Abu Hanifah, and this is also one of the two views ascribed to Malik and Ahmad. However, when there is no other alternative available and prayer has to be offered behind a heretic or a sinner (fdjir), as, for example when you do not get anyone other than a heretic or a sinner to lead the Friday prayer, and there is no other place where it is conducted, then you must offer the Friday prayer behind that heretic or sinner. This is the view of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jamd’ah in general. Abu Hanifah, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and all other imams of the Ahl as-Sunnah are agreed on this.
The Companions used to offer prayers behind those whose sins they were aware of. For example, `Abdullah Ibn Masud and other Companions prayed behind Al-Walid Ibn ‘Uqbah Ibn AbI Mu`It,788 who used to drink, and who once, while leading the Fajr prayer said four rak `dt, for which `Uthman Ibn `Affan punished him with lashes. `Abdullah Ibn `Umar and other Companions prayed behind Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf,’89 similarly, many Companions and Successors prayed behind Ibn Abi `Ubayd,790 who was charged with blasphemous views (ilhdd) and of preaching them.
No Muslim should be excommunicated on grounds of any sin or mistake in controversial issues which he commits. God has said, “The Messenger believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believes in God, His angels, His books and His messengers. (They say): `We make no discrimination between one and another of His messengers.’ They say: `We hear and We obey. Your forgiveness, Lord (we seek), and to You is the end of our journey”‘
(2:285). A hadith in the Sahih collections says that in response to this prayer God forgives the mistakes of the faithful.791
The Prophet commanded fighting the Khawarij as they were renegades. Amir al-Mu’minin `Ali, one of the four rightly-guided caliphs, fought against them, and all the a ‘immah of the religion from among the Companions, the Successors and those that followed them were agreed upon fighting them, even then neither `Ali Ibn Abi Talib nor Sa’d Ibn Abi Waggas792 nor any other Companion declared them kafir. They waged war against them, but they treated them as Muslims. `Ali did not start war against them until they had shed the blood of Muslims and plundered their properties. He fought them only to save the Muslims from their atrocities and not because they were kafir. This is why he did not take their women captive or their properties as spoils. These were the people whom the Scripture and the consensus have declared wrong and mistaken, and whom God and His Messenger have commanded to fight. Even then they were not pronounced kafir. How then can those
be pronounced kafir who could not see the truth on issues in which people more learned than they went wrong! How would anyone of these groups be justified in calling the others kafir, or killing them or confiscating their property, even if they were guilty of a real bid’ah! How could it be when those who pronounce others to be kafir are also committing bid’ah, which is even worse than the bid’ah of others! The fact is that all of them are equally ignorant of the truth in the matters they debate.
The fundamental principle is that the life, property and honor of a Muslim are inviolable and cannot be taken by anyone except by the leave of God and His Messenger. In his farewell address on the occasion of hajj the Prophet said, “Your blood, your property, your honor, everything is sacred just as this day of yours, this city of yours and this month of yours are sacred.”793 He pronounced, “The whole of a Muslim is inviolable for another Muslim: his blood, his property, and his honor. ,794 He declared, “Whoever prays like us, faces our qiblah and eats of the animals we slaughter, is a Muslim and is under the protection of God and His Messenger.”795 He warned, “When two Muslims take out swords against each other, both the killer and the killed go to Hell.” People asked him, “This is true of the killer, but why of the one who is killed, Messenger of God?” He said, “He was trying to kill his companion.”796 He also issued these warnings: “After me don’t turn kafir, one killing the other;”797 and, “When one Muslim calls a brother Muslim kafir, one of the two is kafir. ,798 All these ahadith have been recorded in collections.
But when a Muslim fights a Muslim or calls him kafir in the light of his interpretation of a text, he will not be kafir. We know that when `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab said with regard to Hatib Ibn Al-Balta`ah, “Messenger of God, let me kill this hypocrite,” the Prophet said, “He participated in the battle of Badr. You don’t know if God has looked at the people of Badr and said: `Do whatever you like; I have forgiven you. “’799 This hadith has been mentioned in both Sahih collections. It has also been reported in them that Usayd Ibn Khudayr,800 said to Sa’d Ibn `Ubadah,801 “You are a hypocrite, you are defending hypotcrites!” Then there was a quarrel between them and the Prophet had to intervene and make peace between them. All of them had participated in the battle of Badr, but one called the other a hypocrite. However, the Prophet pronounced neither one nor the other kafir; on the contrary, he gave both of them the glad tidings of Paradise.802 We also have in the Sahihayn that `Usamah Ibn Zayd803 killed a man after he had confessed that there was no god except Allah. When the Prophet came to know of it he was shocked. He asked, “`Usamah, did you kill him after he had said `There is no god except Allah’?” and repeated the words time and again, till `Usamah cried out, “I wish I had embraced Islam only today.”804 But in spite of that the Prophet did not prescribe vengeance, or order any ransom, or any expiation, because `Usamah only erred in his judgment. He killed him because he thought he had made the confession only to save himself from his sword.
The Elders fought each other at the battles of the Camel, Siffin and other occasions. They all were Muslims and men of faith, as God has said, “If two parties from among the Believers fall into a quarrel, make peace between them. But if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other, fight against the one that transgresses until it complies with the command of God. If it complies make peace between them with justice and be fair, for God loves those who are fair (and just)” (49:9). Thus God has made it very clear that in spite of the fact that they fought each other and wronged each other, they were brother Muslims. He has further asked them to restore peace and amity between themselves and to live together with justice. This is why the Elders made peace among themselves and helped each other even if they had fought among themselves earlier. They did not treat each other like enemies as they did the infidels. They accepted the testimony of one for another, learned knowledge from one another, married among themselves, inherited from one another, and treated one another as Muslims even though they had fought and cursed each other earlier.
In the Sahih collections we have a hadith that Prophet prayed to his Lord not to destroy his ummah through a widespread famine, and God granted that; then he prayed to Him not to place over them an enemy from another people, and He granted that, to; but when he prayed to Him not to punish them at the hands of their own men, He did not grant that.805 Thus he told the ummah that God will not put over them enemies from other nations to suppress them, but they will themselves be killing and suppressing each other. The Sahihayn have also the hadith that at the revelation of the words, “Say: He has power to send calamities on you from above,” as well as the words, “from under your feet,” the Prophet sought protection in God. But at the last part of the verse, “or to cover you with confusion in party strife, giving you a taste of mutual vengeance, each from the other” (6:65), the Prophet said, “These two are lighter (punishments).”806
This is true in spite of the fact that God has commanded maintaining unity and solidarity and has forbidden indulgence in innovations and schisms. “Those who divide their religion,” He has said, and break up into sects, you have no part in them in the least” (6:159). And the Prophet said, “You must stick to the community (jams `ah) for God’s hand is on the community.”807 And, Satan is close to one, but away from two.”808 “Satan is to a single person as a wolf is to lambs, and you see that the wolf readily pounces on a solitary lamb removed from the flock.”"
So whenever a Muslim passes through a city of the Muslims he should offer with them all the daily prayers, as well as the congregational prayer on Fridays, meet them like friends, not like enemies even if he finds some of them mistaken. If possible he should show them the right path and call them to truth. If they do not listen to him he will not be held responsible, for God charges a soul only with what he can do. Let him put on them, if he can, the best among them to lead their prayers, and let him check the spread of bid `ah and shameful practices among them. But if that is not possible let him offer salah behind one who is more learned in the Quran and the Sunnah and more obedient to God and His Messenger. The Prophet said, “From among the people the one should lead the salah who knows the Book of God most; if they are equal in it, then the one who knows the Sunnah most; if they are equal in it, too, then the one who has migrated first; and if they are equal in that also, then the one who is older than others.s810 However, if one thinks that one would do a better service if one shunned those who are committing bid `ah or evil one may do so. The Prophet dissociated himself from those three men who stayed behind (at the time of the campaign of Tabuk) till God turned to them with His mercy. However, if someone else is made imam of whom one does not approve, and if one does not expect greater good by abstaining from the Friday prayer or the daily prayers in assembly one will only be doing something rash and silly if one abstains, and will be countering one bid’ah through another bid `ah..
Author: Ibn Taymiyyah
Islamic Topic: The purpose of government
Source: Book: [Majmu `at ar-Rasd'il wa al-Masa'il 5: 198-202] / Also mentioned in “Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam”