The oppressor and the oppressed
The position of the oppressed in relation to the oppressor:
Allah Says (what means): “And those who, when tyranny strikes them, they defend themselves. And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation – his reward is [due] from Allah. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers. And whoever avenges himself after having been wronged – those have not upon them any cause [for blame]. The cause is only against the ones who wrong the people and tyrannise upon the earth without right. Those will have a painful punishment. And whoever is patient and forgives – indeed, that is of the matters [requiring] determination [i.e. on the part of those seeking the reward of Allah].” [Quran 42: 39-43]
Theses verses include two matters:
First: Taking revenging from the oppressor.
Second: Forgiveness on the part of the oppressed.
Ibraaheem may Allah have mercy upon him said: “The believers hated anyone to humiliate them, but whenever they had the chance to take revenge, they would forgive instead.”
Allah praises the believers in the abovementioned verses for having the strength and power to avenge in a just manner, for restoring their rights, and for not allowing aggressors to take advantage of them. They are by no means incapable, weak or humiliated, and they are quite capable of exacting revenge, yet they forgive and forget.
This is how Prophet Yoosuf , may Allah exalt his mention, acted with his brothers despite his ability to take revenge from them. Likewise, the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) forgave the man who attempted to kill him whilst he sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) slept; the man was suddenly overcome with fear of the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) and therefore dropped the sword from his hand, and the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) took hold of it and forgave him, even though he sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) could easily have killed him.
There are many Quranic verses and prophetic narrations addressing this issue and encouraging the oppressed to forgive the oppressor when he is in a position to exact revenge, as this will boost his record of rewards on the Day of Resurrection. On the other hand, if the oppressed insists on revenge then this is his right and it is perfectly permissible to do so, but the revenge must be strictly limited to the extent that he was wronged. If the wronged person is one of two wives, it is permissible for the husband to enable the wronged one to gain revenge, as the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) permitted one of his wives to get back at another one who had badmouthed her.
The supplication of the oppressed against the oppressor:
It is permissible for the oppressed to supplicate against the one who transgressed his rights, and this is a form of revenge. The wronged person has the choice to avenge, to supplicate against the one who wronged him, to persevere and wait until Allah returns his right for him in the Hereafter, or to forgive. The best of all of these is to forgive and to do so would attain the greatest reward from Allah in the Hereafter.
The permissibility of the oppressed taking what was taken from him by his oppressor if he finds it:
It is permissible for the oppressed to do this, and it is also permissible for him to take something of the same value of the oppressor’s property, but he may not go beyond that. Similarly, if someone was badmouthed, then he may badmouth the one who badmouthed him but may not say more than what was said to him, or else he is a sinner, as the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: “Whatever two people say (from ill words) then both their sins lie with one who initiated, as long as the wronged does not transgress (i.e. exceed the extent to which he was wronged).” This means that whatever they say to one another will all go into the record of the one who initiated, as he was the cause of all of it, but if the wronged person retaliates with more than what he was wronged with, then this is a sin on his part which the other person will not bear.
Along the same lines, one should not supplicate against the one who wronged him with that which would neither yield benefit to him nor help him retrieve his rights that were taken; it is better for him to simply supplicate to Allah for his rights being returned. The only exception to this is when the person being supplicated against is a disbeliever, in which case he may do so.
Forgivingness versus revenge:
The last two verses [42-43] of Chapter Ash-Shooraa which were mentioned above and which mean: “The cause is only against the ones who wrong the people and tyrannise upon the earth without right. Those will have a painful punishment. And whoever is patient and forgives – indeed, that is of the matters [requiring] determination [on the part of those seeking the reward of Allah]” [Quran 26: 42-43] These verses confirm that the blame lies with the one who initiated the oppression and transgression, while the one who perseveres through it, is doing something praiseworthy, and will be highly rewarded.
Al-Fudhayl Ibn ‘Iyaadh may Allah have mercy upon him said: “If a man comes to you complaining about another man who wronged him, then advise him to forgive him. If he says, `I cannot bring myself to forgive him and would rather utilise the right granted to me by my Lord to avenge` then say to him: `If you can limit yourself to avenging in a fair manner, without transgressing the limits to which you were wronged, then proceed; but if you cannot control yourself, then it is safer to return to the option of forgiving him as the reward for the one who forgives is great with Allah.”
The one who forgives can sleep at night in a relaxed manner with no fear that he may have exceeded the extent to which he was wronged, because he did not avenge at all. However, the one who sought vengeance will agonise and think to himself: “Did I transgress? Did I go beyond my limit?”
Forgiving is a high rank which the callers to Islam should possess as it is a rank that only those with a high status attain, and they are the ones whom people take as examples to follow.
Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that a man once badmouthed Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, while the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) was sitting with them, and the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) expressed wonder and smiled. The man continued, and after he had said much more, Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, retorted with some of the same, which caused the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) to get up (to leave) with an angry expression on his face. Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! He badmouthed me while you were sitting there! Why did you become upset and leave when I answered back to some of what he had said?’ The Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: “You had an angel retorting on your behalf (when you where silent), but when you began answering him back (i.e., the man), Satan arrived, and I was not going to sit in the presence of Satan.” Then he sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: “O Abu Bakr! Here are three matters, all of which are true: Whenever a man is oppressed but forgives for the sake of Allah the Most High and the Almighty, then Allah will honour him with victory…” [Ahmad]
The obligation upon an oppressor:
The one who oppresses others should fear Allah and beware of transgression, because it will be counted as multiples of transgressions on the Day of Resurrection: one for him disobeying Allah, another for him oppressing his fellow Muslim, and a third for initiating and opening the gate of transgression and oppression for others to imitate. The wronged person could even eventually die as a result of the oppression, and the transgressor would bear the consequences of this.
Just look at what ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, did with the public property of the Muslims: Aslam, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated: “`Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab appointed a freed slave of his, called Hunayy, as manager of the Himaa (i.e. a pasture devoted for grazing the animals of the Zakaah or other specified animals, such as those used for Jihaad etc.). He, may Allah be pleased with him, said to him: ‘O Hunayy! Do not oppress the Muslims and (be sure to) ward off their curse (i.e. invocations against you), for the invocation of the oppressed is responded to (by Allah); allow the shepherd having a few camels and those having a few sheep (to graze their animals in that land), and take care not to allow the livestock of ‘Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn ‘Awf and the livestock of (‘Uthmaan) Ibn ‘Affaan (to graze their animals in your land), for if their livestock should perish, then they still have their farms and gardens, while for those who own only a few camels or sheep, if their livestock should perish, they would bring their dependents to me and appeal for help saying: ‘O Chief of the Believers! O Chief of the Believers!’ Would I then neglect them? (No, of course not). So I find it easier to let them have water and grass than to give them gold and silver (from the Muslim treasury). By Allah! These people think that I have been unjust to them. This is their land, and during the pre-lslamic period, they fought for it but then they embraced Islam (willingly) while it was in their possession. I swear By Him in whose Hand my life is! Were it not for the animals (in my custody) which I give to be ridden for Jihaad (i.e. fighting in Allah’s Cause), I would not have turned even a span of their land into a Himaa.’” [Al-Bukhari]
This was said regarding a matter that was not personal and he, may Allah be pleased with him, was merely being careful not to utilise the Muslim property in an incorrect manner, and yet he feared being unjust in any way. Therefore, those who transgress other people’s rights should fear Allah and fear the oppressed supplicating against them, as this is a very dangerous matter.
Mu`aath, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) dispatched him (as governor of Yemen) and instructed him thus: “Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and Allah.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
In another narration, the Prophet of Allah sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: “There are three persons whose supplications are never rejected: The just leader, the fasting person when he breaks his fast, and the oppressed when he supplicates and whose supplication is raised above the clouds and the gates of heaven are opened for it, and (to whom) Allah will say: ‘By My Glory! I shall assist you, even if it is after a while.'” [At-Tirmithi]
Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: “He who has done a wrong that affects his brother’s honour or anything else, let him ask his forgiveness today before the time (i.e., the Day of Resurrection) when he will have neither a Deenaar nor a Dirham. (On that Day), if he has done some good deeds, a portion equal to his wrongdoings will be subtracted from them; but if he has no good deeds, he will be burdened with the evil deeds of the one he had wronged in the same proportion.” [Al-Bukhari]
Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “The Messenger of Allah sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: “Do you know who is the bankrupt one?” The people said: ‘The bankrupt among us is the one who has neither money nor property.’ He sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: “The real bankrupt one of my nation would be he who would come on the Day of Resurrection having (performed) prayers, (observed) fasting and (spent in) charity, (but he will find himself bankrupt on that Day due to depleting these good deeds) because he despised others, uttered slanderous terms against others, unlawfully devoured the wealth of others, shed the blood of others, and beat others. Therefore his good deeds would be credited to the account of those (who suffered at his hand). If his good deeds are exhausted, their sins (i.e., those he oppressed) will be entered in his account and he will be thrown into the (Hell) Fire.” [Muslim]
The transgressor must return the rights of people to them or their equivalent:
How can the transgressor free himself from his transgression? Imam As-Safaareeni may Allah have mercy upon him said: “The rights of people are either of a type that can be compensated for by an equivalent, like wealth or ruined goods, or by a type that cannot be compensated for.” This means that if a person has unjustly taken wealth, then he should return it; if he ruined something, then he should replace it; if he took something and used it, then he should return it and compensate the owner for the usage. These steps should all be accompanied with sincere repentance to Allah.
That is in the case of it being something that can be compensated for, but what should the transgressor do in the case that it is of the other type, which cannot be compensated for? Slandering a person or backbiting him are not things that can be compensated for, and in such a case one should first of all regret what he did and repent, then he should supplicate for the forgiveness of the one whom he slandered or backbit. If the person falsely accused another of adultery or fornication, then he should go back and inform those in front of whom he made the accusation that he was lying.
Furthermore, he should seek the pardon of the wronged person unless he knows that by informing him things would only get worse, in which case he should refrain from telling him and simply supplicate earnestly to Allah for the wronged person’s forgiveness; he should also praise the wronged person in front of those same people that he had defamed or slandered him.
Ibn Taymiyyah may Allah have mercy upon him said: “If what was taken is of the type that can be compensated for, then one must return it, and if the owner has died then he should return it to his heirs. In addition to this, he must supplicate for the deceased, because he had deprived him of his right to benefit from his property for the period he was alive in, during which the property was in the possession of the transgressor.”
How should people deal with the transgressor and the transgressed:
After knowing the positions of the transgressor and the transgressed against, we need to know the stance that people should adopt towards each of them.
Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “The Messenger of Allah sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: ‘Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or is oppressed.’ A man asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah! I (know how to) help him when he is oppressed, but how can I help him when he is an oppressor?’ He sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: ‘You can restrain him from committing oppression. That will be your help to him.’” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Al-Baraa’, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “The Messenger of Allah sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) commanded us with seven things (one of which is): “Support the transgressed.”
Ibn `Umar, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, reported that the Messenger of Allah sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said: “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. (So) he should not oppress him, nor should he forsake him (i.e. when he is being oppressed).” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Therefore, one must support the oppressed and the one who is being transgressed against; the one who refrains from supporting an oppressed person, whilst being able to, is sinful.
Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “O people! You recite this verse (which means): “O you who believe! Upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided…” [Quran 5:105] (but misinterpret it) for I have heard the Messenger of Allah sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) saying: ‘When people see an oppressor but do not prevent him from (doing evil), it is likely that Allah will punish them all.’” [Abu Daawood and At-Tirmithi]
One should prevent the oppressor physically if possible, and this responsibility is greater with respect to the rulers and those in authority. If one cannot stop the oppressor physically, then he should do it verbally.
An oppressor must not be assisted:
Helping an oppressor is from the gravest of disasters; people should not imitate an oppressor and must prevent him and make him realise the wrong that he is doing; if people assist the oppressor then they will not get to drink from the fountain of the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) as He sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) himself informed us of this being the case.
Some people support a transgressor because he is a relative or a fellow tribe member, but the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) warned against such oppressive behavior.
A believer should not be deceived:
All that has been mentioned thus far does not suggest that one should be easily deceived by someone who claims to have been oppressed, for it is not necessarily true that every person who claims to have been oppressed has actually been; the following is a case in point:
During the era of Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, a man whose hand and foot had been amputated came to Al-Madeenah from Yemen and went to Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, complaining that the governor there had wronged him. A few days later, a necklace of Asmaa’ Bint ‘Umays, may Allah be pleased with her, the wife of Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, was stolen and so people began searching for it. The Yemeni amputee assisted in the search and supplicated: “O Allah! Punish the one who stole from this righteous household.” Finally the necklace was found in a jewellery store. After investigating the matter, the jeweller claimed that the man from Yemen was the one who brought it to him, and when he was questioned he confessed to his crime. Therefore, Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, commanded that his other hand be amputated and said: “I swear by Allah! His supplication against himself was worse than his theft.” Although this man claimed that he had been oppressed, it was subsequently discovered that he had not been, and that his hand and foot were in fact rightfully amputated.