An unpretentious money magnate (billionaire) becomes the ruler of the land. He is surrounded by tycoons and well-to-do businesspersons. At age 72, he is certainly not young. He places his relatives in sensitive positions and hands them volatile dossiers that range from foreign policy issues to domestic policies. During the first half of his reign things seem to be holding together, but during the last half the people become agitated. The distance between the rich and the poor has reached the point of no return: the rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep on getting poorer. The down-to-earth money magnate who is for all practical purposes the chief executive of his country has many policies of his predecessors annulled or reversed. Nepotism has become very obvious. What used to be a representative government has turned into an oligarchy. The fault lines of ethnic groups, class discrimination, and national and racial exclusion become unmistakable. No, I’m not talking about President Donald Trump. I’m not even talking about King Salman. I’m referring to ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, the third legitimate khalifah of the Muslims.
Our early history was misappropriated by those who lost their domineering positions of power and authority due to the lifelong struggle of Allah’s Prophet (pbuh). Having lost their elitist positions prior to the Islamic liberation of Arabia, they took a back seat, took their time, and took advantage of every opportunity that came their way to make it back to the seat of power, which they had to surrender when Makkah was militarily liberated by Rasul-Allah (pbuh) and the committed combat-ready Muslims with him.
The first opportunity they had was during the reign of ‘Uthman. The deviation away from Islamic justice, equality, and freedom during the last six years of ‘Uthman’s rule resulted in a public backlash that, regrettably, ended with the assassination of ‘Uthman. It fell upon the next legitimate ruler of the Muslims — Imam ‘Ali — to correct the social and political deviations that were set in motion during the six years before he assumed his responsibilities. But the “deep state” that already had its hands firmly on the instruments of power and wealth would not tolerate losing another round of opposition with Imam ‘Ali and his supporters. What were to follow, among other things, were four significant standoffs that have us where we, the Muslims, are today: the battles of al-Jamal, Siffin, al-Nahrawan, and Karbala’. The final outcome of these early Islamic clashes was the immediate military victory of those who usurped legitimate rule and turned an Islamic representative government into dynasties and monarchies.
Fast forward to today and we see that very similar developments are unfolding in front of our eyes. The difference is the time scale: in our early Islamic history the fault lines were quick to appear and quick to be confronted. In our contemporary world those fault lines have taken more time to appear and more time to be confronted.
The world is showing a pronounced resurgence of classism, nationalism, racism, exclusivism, and sectarianism. Elections in the northern hemisphere and even in the southern hemisphere are bringing into the highest offices in the land racist bigots, nationalistic supremacists, sectarian fanatics, and super-rich moneyed politicians.
In the Muslim world, the relationship between the rulers and the people they rule is in flux. This will continue until, finally, there is a realignment between the citizens of a particular country and its rulers.
This instability between the Muslim populations and the rulers in Muslim countries is exactly what we had during those “deep-state” last six years of ‘Uthman’s reign and the centuries since the beginning of the Umayyad dynasty up to this very day.
We shall zero in on two examples from within the Islamic realm: the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has a “deep-state” component to it. That deep-state element has been waiting for the opportune moment to take control. Within that deep-state section of society there are sectarians, business billionaires, nationalists, and munafiqin. That deep state tried to make a breakthrough during the presidency of Mr. Khatami (the first ‘Uthman) in Iran. Then it tried to sneak into positions of control through the influence of the late Mr. Rafsanjani (the second ‘Uthman) in Iran. Some would argue that Mr. Rafsanjani was the first ‘Uthman and Mr. Khatami the second. Wherever the truth is, both of these deep-state attempts failed. That is due to the enlightened and principled position of the leader of the Islamic Revolution and Republic, Imam Khamanei.
Now during the reign of Mr. Rouhani there is a third attempt by the deep state to take charge and for all practical purposes “Umawize” Iran. We pray that Allah (swt) foils their attempts and guides the leader Imam Khamenei and the dedicated Muslims with him to see them through this very trying tribulation.
Then we have the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This kingdom is exposed by its very name a “kingdom.” Well, this kingdom is the continuation of that deep state with an age now approaching 14 centuries. The king and his cronies are a virtual reincarnation of King Mu‘awiyah, King Yazid, king this, and king that. Those historical kings got away with omitting their crimes and atrocities from the mainstream history books. And those ‘ulama’ who stood up to and opposed, in their own ways and in their own times, the officials who usurped and abused power and wealth are virtually unknown for their “word of truth and justice in the face of a tyrant ruler.” To get a sense of the impact that historical deep state has on us today, due to their counterparts in our Muslim countries, ask yourself what do you know about the following in their opposition to unjust and autocratic rulers? What do you know about the trials and tribulations of Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab, Sa‘id ibn Jubayr, Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, Abu Hanifah, Malik ibn Anas, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Muhammad al-Shafi‘i, al-Bukhari, al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abd al-Salam, Ahmad ibn Taymiyah, Ahmad al-Sirhindi, ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak, Asad ibn al-Furat, Ahmad ibn ‘Irfan, ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah al-Mahdi, Ahmad al-Sharif al-Sanusi, and ‘Umar al-Mukhtar, etc?
In the best tradition of that deep state we have today the Saudi kingdom rounding up its own ‘ulama’. Since September of last year, the deep state has detained 2,613 scholars and placed many of them in harsh and intimidating confinement. The mainstream media (MSM) will never highlight this gross violation of human rights. These scholars were arrested and thrown into prison just because they disagree with the policies of their capitulating kingdom. The number 2,613 does not include those who were put in prison because of their thoughts and conscience prior to September 2017. The number is in the tens of thousands. There are reports that scabies has broken out among a number of these political prisoners in the prison of Dhahban in Jeddah.
Lest anyone entertain the notion that this column is endorsing the opinions of those who have been put in prison — some of them scholars; others educators, journalists, activists, etc. — the reply is no. Some of them would probably behave in a similar manner as their tormentors if they were to be at the helm of the state. No one is entitled to lock up another person because of his opinions and views And no one can pre-judge a person before he has actually committed a crime for which he has been charged. From the time of the first monarchy beginning with Mu‘awiyah and up to the present-day monarchy, which we pray will end with Salman, we should have the necessary divinely revealed information to expose, incarcerate, bring to court, put on trial, and pass fair judgement on those who commit crimes against humanity and war crimes, and try to get away with them because they hide behind a culture that is assumed to be Islamic. How long will Muslim public opinion permit criminals to kill hundreds of thousands of Muslims by saying “we have to obey him because he is our wali al-amr (official superior)?! How many more innocent Muslim lives will be bombed to death by a Zionist-imperialist-Arabian all-iance just because the king prays, or the king fasts, or the king goes to Hajj?
Has it ever occurred to anyone that a person can be a criminal and still pray and fast and go to Hajj? Where does it say that if a person prays he is automatically immune from offenses and corruptions?
Rather, [as for those who have violated their faith in Allah — ] their hearts are lost in ignorance of all this! But apart from that [breach of unity] they have [on their conscience even worse] deeds; and they will [continue to] commit them until — after We shall have taken to task, through suffering, those from among them who [now] are lost in the pursuit of pleasures — they cry out in [belated] supplication (23:63–64).