Are there Hadith prohibiting speaking against leaders? Did the Prophet ﷺ prohibit us from criticising leaders in public?

ⓘ Supported by Al Medina 313.



Islamic Text

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah Most Merciful Most Kind

Short Answer

Although there is a Hadith in Musnad Ahmad regarding the prohibition of speaking against leaders, it is weak. Also, the Hadith does not necessarily prohibit criticising leaders in public. Rather, the hadith may be referring to discouragement instead of prohibition.

شُرَيْحُ بْنُ عُبَيْدٍ الْحَضْرَمِيُّ، وَغَيْرُهُ، قَالَ: جَلَدَ عِيَاضُ بْنُ غَنْمٍ صَاحِبَ دَارَا حِينَ فُتِحَتْ، فَأَغْلَظَ لَهُ هِشَامُ بْنُ حَكِيمٍ الْقَوْلَ حَتَّى غَضِبَ عِيَاضٌ، ثُمَّ مَكَثَ لَيَالِيَ، فَأَتَاهُ هِشَامُ بْنُ حَكِيمٍ فَاعْتَذَرَ إِلَيْهِ، ثُمَّ قَالَ هِشَامٌ لِعِيَاضٍ: أَلَمْ تَسْمَعِ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ: إِنَّ مِنْ أَشَدِّ النَّاسِ عَذَابًا، أَشَدَّهُمْ عَذَابًا فِي الدُّنْيَا لِلنَّاسِ. فَقَالَ عِيَاضُ بْنُ غَنْمٍ: يَا هِشَامُ بْنَ حَكِيمٍ، قَدْ سَمِعْنَا مَا سَمِعْتَ، وَرَأَيْنَا مَا رَأَيْتَ، أَوَلَمْ تَسْمَعْ رَسُولَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ: مَنْ أَرَادَ أَنْ يَنْصَحَ لِسُلْطَانٍ بِأَمْرٍ، فَلَا يُبْدِ لَهُ عَلَانِيَةً، وَلَكِنْ لِيَأْخُذْ بِيَدِهِ، فَيَخْلُوَ بِهِ، فَإِنْ قَبِلَ مِنْهُ فَذَاكَ، وَإِلَّا كَانَ قَدْ أَدَّى الَّذِي عَلَيْهِ لَهُ

Shurayh bin Ubayd al-Hadrami and others said: Iyad bin Ghanm flogged the leader of Daraa when it was conquered. So Hisham bin Hakim rebuked him harshly and Iyad became angry. A few nights passed, then Hisham bin Hakim came to him and apologised. Hisham said to Iyad: Did you not hear the Prophet ﷺ say, ‘Indeed, among the people who are punished most severely are those that punish people most severely in this world.’

Then Iyad bin Ghanm said: O Hisham bin Hakim, we have heard what you heard, and we have seen what you have seen. Did you not hear the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say. ‘Whoever wants to advise a ruler about a matter, let him not do it in public. Rather let him hold him by the hand and withdraw with him. If he accepts it, then that (is sought). If not, then He has fulfilled what he owed to him.’ (Musnad Ahmad 15333, weak).

Explanation of this hadith
رَوَاهُ أَحْمَدُ، وَرِجَالُهُ ثِقَاتٌ إِلَّا أَنِّي لَمْ أَجِدْ لِشُرَيْحٍ مِنْ عِيَاضٍ وَهِشَامٍ سَمَاعًا وَإِنْ كَانَ تَابِعِيًّا. (مجمع الزوائد ومنبع الفوائد)

It was narrated by Ahmad. The narrators are trustworthy. However, I did not find anything to prove that Shurayh took Hadith from Iyad and Hisham. Although he was a Tabi. (Imam Noorud-deen al-Haythami, Majma’ al-Zawaid).

This Hadith is used by some to say that it is sinful to speak out against Muslim leaders publicly. Firstly, as we seen in the above Nass, the Hadith is Munqati (severed). This is because a Munqati Hadith is missing a link in the chain of narrators (Sanad). Therefore, this hadith is weak. As such, a weak Hadith cannot be used as evidence in matters of obligation and prohibition.

Secondly, even if we assume the Hadith is authentic, it contains a proof for the permissibility of publicly rebuking rulers. This is because we find a Sahabi rebuking a leader publicly. However, this then opposes those who say the statement that the Salaf never refuted leaders publicly.

Furthermore, as for the Prophet ﷺ saying, ‘Whoever wants to advise a ruler about a matter, let him not do it in public,’ this could be referring to recommendation or obligation. Meaning, it is either recommended to criticise leaders privately or it is obligatory to do so. Consequenrly, as both options are possible, we should look at other related evidence such as the practice of the Sahabahand the views of the scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah to seek clarity.

Upon further research, it becomes evident that criticising rulers in private is a recommendation not an obligation (see related answers for details). Therefore, whenever one has the opportunity to speak to a leader privately and present criticism in such a manner, then that is the correct approach. However, when this option is not possible, then public rebuke is the correct path.

Concluding remarks

Some people in our community are misleading Muslims by prohibiting them from mentioning the public sins and evil actions of the leaders. This is incorrect since Muslims have a duty to speak out against evil. Furthermore, by not speaking out against evil, it also emboldens such leaders since they face no backlash regarding the oppression they commit. This is because sometimes silence is complicity.

And Allah Most High Knows Best.

Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (08.11.23)