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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2585

Speaking Truth to Power

By Habib Siddiqui

The people who are either in power or with wealth and influence like to be followed or obeyed and usually don’t like detractors challenging their wrong views or opinions. Speaking truth to power is not easy and requires moral courage and deep conviction. Thus, it is not difficult to see the rarity of such a trait in today’s human beings who seem to be motivated more by material gains than what’s morally right and just.

The religion of Islam puts great emphasis on upholding truth and justice under all circumstances, even against one’s loved ones. Let me share below some relevant verses of the Qur’an:

“O ye who believe! Be ye staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both (them ye are). So follow not passion lest ye lapse (from truth) and if ye lapse or fall away, then lo! Allah is ever Informed of what ye do.” – Qur’an (4:135)

“O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is informed of what ye do.” – Qur’an (5:8)

“Confound not truth with falsehood, nor knowingly conceal the truth.” – Qur’an (2:42)

“O ye who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah and be with the truthful.” – Qur’an (9:119)

“O ye who believe! Guard your duty to Allah and speak words straight to the point (without any equivocation).” – Qur’an (33:70)

Prophet Muhammad (S) said, “Speak the truth even when it is bitter.” [Ibn Hibban; Hilyat’ul Awliya Wa Tabaqat’ul Asfiya: (narrated by) Abu Dhar Ghifari (RA)]

He (S) also said, “No man can attain a firm faith, unless he developed strength of character and that cannot be achieved unless one acquires the habit of speaking the truth.” [Nahjul Balagha: Ali (RA)]

He (S) said, “By Allah, you must enjoin good and forbid evil, and hold the hand of aggressors to persuade them to act justly and make them steadfast on truth, failing which Allah will punish you along with others (i.e., wrong doers) and you will be cursed like the Bani Israel.” [Abu Dawud and Tirmizi: Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (RA)]

Caliph Umar (RA) famously said to a congregation of Muslims gathered in a mosque near Jerusalem, “… And speak the truth. Do not hesitate to say what you consider to be the truth. Say what you feel. Let your conscience be your guide. Let your intentions be good, for verily God is aware of your intentions. In your deeds your intentions count. Fear God, and fear no one else.” [Source: John Alden Williams, ed., Themes of Islamic Civilization (Berkeley; University of California) 1971]

Amir-ul Mu’mineen Ali (RA), the fourth Caliph, said, “Adhere to the cause of truth and justice wherever you find it.” [Nahjul Balagha]

In Bahr al-Fava’id, a medieval Islamic work of religious and ethical exhortation, it is said that ‘Whoever is ashamed to speak the truth is a disgrace to mankind; and whoever fears to speak the truth is a devil.’

It is not difficult to understand how and why the Qur’anic commandments and Islamic teachings had emboldened many Muslims throughout the Islamic history, dating from the time of the first call of pure monotheism to more contemporary times, to dare to speak the truth.

When Prophet (S) preached pure monotheism amongst the pagan Arabs of his time, he (S) and his followers (RA) faced much resistance from the leaders of the community. Islam was a new faith amongst the Arabs of the 7th century C.E. that challenged the old order - customs, traditions, rules and regulations, requiring uncompromising belief in an unseen God – Allah. It challenged the Makkan aristocracy. It required the believer to change his/her lifestyle so that he/she won't lie, deceive, gamble, intoxicate, kill, murder, steal, fornicate, commit female infanticide, etc. It required fasting (without food and water) from dawn to dusk, during the entire month of Ramadan, a task which was very difficult in unusually hot summer days of Arabia. It required praying five times daily to remind the believer of his/her servitude to Allah and accountability of his/her deeds – good and bad, large and small. It demanded paying the poor-due (zakat) and making regular charity It advocated freeing of slaves. It demanded fair treatment of all – especially, the women and orphans. It preached brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind, irrespective of one's upbringing, color, race, nationality and wealth. It demanded standing out for truth and justice, even if it was against one's own soul (nafs). It demanded leading a clean life away from sin and vice that is always mindful of relationship with Allah, fellow creatures and environment, and his/her own self.

And yet, despite such new set of do's and don'ts, there were people who embraced Islam – from Bilal the Abyssinian to Shu'aib the Byzantine to Salman the Persian to Abu Bakr the Quraish, from a 10-year old young boy – Ali ibn Talib to a 55-year old lady – Khadijah, from a freed slave by the name of Zaid bin Haritha to a rich merchant by the name of Uthman ibn Affan to a shepherd by the name of Abdullah ibn Mas'oud (RA). They all dared to speak truth to power. They were all ready to make the ultimate sacrifice – personal, family, social, cultural and economic – for their belief in the new faith – Islam. They were even willing to die to defend their faith in the battlefield when called for.

Let me share the following historical facts from the lives of some of the early Companions of Muhammad (S).

Bilal (RA) was the slave of a rich man in Makkah, Umayya bin Khalaf, who was one of the worst enemies of Islam. Because of Bilal's acceptance of Islam, he was whipped at night and with the cuts thus received, made to lie on the burning sand with a heavy stone put on his chest during the day to force him to renounce Islam or to die a lingering death from the wounds. But Bilal (RA) would not yield.

Similar is the story of Khabbab ibn Al-Aratt (RA) who was one of the very early converts to Islam. He was the slave of a woman who was hostile to Islam. She used to brand Khabbab’s head with a hot iron rod. He was made to put on steel armor and lie in the sun to sweat and swelter. Very often he was made to lie flat on burning sand, which caused the flesh on his back to waste away. Yet this was not enough for his pagan slave-owner. She would have his body dragged by others over heaps of smoldering charcoal. This would cause his blood and fat to come out of his back.

Sumayya (RA) and her husband Yasir (RA) were slaves of a Makkan idolater who was utterly hostile to Islam. He wanted them to renounce the faith. When they did not, he tortured them mercilessly. They were tormented on scorching sands of Makkah. One day, Sumayya (RA) was standing when Abu Jahl, the worst enemy of Islam, passed that way. He flung all sorts of dirty words at her and then put his spear through the most private part of her body, causing her death. She had refused to renounce Islam in the face of terrible torture in her old age. The blessed lady was the first to meet martyrdom in the cause of Islam. Yasir (R) died after prolonged sufferings at the hands of his persecutors.

Abu Fakeeh, Aflah, a freed slave of Bani Abd Ad-Dar, was another victim of persecution. The oppressors used to fasten his feet with a rope and drag him in the streets of Makkah. [See this author’s book - Book of Devotional Stories – for many such stories.]

When the pagan Arabs could not sway Muhammad (S) and his followers into renouncing Islam, they tried to entice him with worldly gains. Consider, e.g., what 'Utba Ibn Rabi'a had said to Muhammad (S):

"O son of my brother, if by this affair you intend to acquire riches, honors, and dignity, we are willing to collect for you a fortune larger than is possessed by any one of us; we shall make you our chief and will do nothing without you. If you desire dominion, we shall make you our king..."

When Muhammad (S) could not be swayed the pagan Arab leaders persuaded Abi Talib, the Prophet’s (S) uncle to approach him. To this suggestion the Prophet (S) firmly replied: "O my uncle, if they placed the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand to cause me to renounce my task, verily I would not desist therefrom until Allah made manifest His cause or I perished in the attempt." [Ibn Kathir]

The Prophet (S) and the nascent community of Muslims faced much atrocities in the hands of those pagan Arab polytheists in Makkah. Muhammad (S) said, “All the Prophets are opposed and tortured and I was tortured the most.” After 13 years of incessant persecution, the Prophet (S) had to seek refuge in Madinah that provided him asylum. [See this author’s book – Muhammad (S) and the Prescribed Highway to Peace, co-authored with M. Siddiqur Rahman.]

- Asian Tribune -

Speaking Truth to Power
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