Fight Fire with Water, Not with Fire

The popular adage of “fighting fire with fire” seems to be gaining more acceptability in practice within the socio-political sphere of America. The justification of using the same or similar tactics of perceived wrongdoers to counter them is now being justified not only by columnists and pundits but even by politicians of major political parties. As people of faith guided by sacred law and the pristine model of conduct in Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him and his family), we need to constantly re-anchor ourselves in our spiritual tradition and gently remind each other that the ends do not justify all means when challenging injustices, even if those injustices are grave.

There are few crimes that stir anger within humans more than the targeting of families. Allah (Mighty and Sublime) instilled within our primordial nature to cherish the bonds of blood-kin and to preserve our offspring. Hence, it is natural for people to not only be angered when seeing their family members intimidated, injured or forcibly removed from them but also for those who possess the spiritual quality of empathy to be highly disturbed when seeing such happening to others outside of their families. But again, the natural inclination to loathe these injustices does not give Muslims license to transgress boundaries set forth by the Qur’an and the Sunnah when pushing back against oppression.

In early history, there was no family which suffered more oppression than the family of the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him and his family). They were cursed from the pulpits, martyred during the reign of Bani Umayyah, and incarcerated and martyred in greater numbers during the rule of Bani Abbas. This oppression led to a misguided response from one among them during the rule of Bani Abbas in which fighting fire with literal fire was committed.

One of several protests and uprisings by the descendants of Sayyiduna Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah ennoble his face) during the Abbasi era was led by Zayd bin Musa al-Kazim bin Ja’far as-Sadiq bin Muhammad al-Baqir bin Ali as-Sajjad bin Husayn as-Sibt (may Allah’s mercy be upon them).1 Zayd bin Musa became so infuriated by the targeting of his kinfolk by Bani Abbas that he and those who he organized burned down the family homes of Bani Abbas in Basrah, Iraq during the rule of Abu al-Abbas “al-Ma’mun” bin Harun.2 From this extreme event, he became known as Zayd an-Nar (the Fire) for fighting the oppression of Bani Abbas against his family by targeting their families’ homes in which women and children resided.3 Zayd an-Nar’s targeting of the families within Bani Abbas was an unjustifiable response according to sacred law even though he had legitimate grievances about systematic oppression against the Prophetic Household (Ahl al-Bayt) and their disciples.

Anger is a natural response within humans, for without it, people would be indifferent towards tyranny and violations of created beings’ natural rights. Our spiritual direction through the Qur’an and connection with our Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) are to be like water for us to temper our anger so that it does not become a fire which serves the force of further destruction. Thus, when the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) advised a man “Don’t be angry,” it was counsel not to act upon matters driven by rage.4 Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (may Allah sanctify his spirit) stated in relation to this the expression that “Anger is the flame of the fire.”5 Fighting fire with fire makes the fire grow and spread.

In the current socio-political environment, we must consistently measure what our responses should be based upon our spiritual tradition, not what is politically in vogue among politicians, pundits and activists who are not rooted in our spiritual foundations. It is not from our noble tradition to spew profanity at others because they institute racist government policies or call us racial slurs. It is not from our path to intimidate persons’ spouses and children in public or at their homes even if they are in favor of the Muslim Ban or splitting up families through rushed deportations. Our way is to stick to our faith principles, to work in accordance with them and to patiently preserve in that work trusting that Allah (Mighty and Sublime) will grant relief when He decrees so, not when we think so. Our spirituality should be like water which tempers and properly guides our indignation. We should not expect true success or victory by reacting to injustices in ways that are against the Qur’an and Sunnah, for true success comes from Allah (Mighty and Sublime), not by means outside of what pleases Him.

1. Yahya bin al-Hasan al-‘Aqiqi, Kitab al-Mu’qibin min Walad al-Imam Abi al-Hasan Ali bin Abi Talib Amir al-Mu’minin, Page 329
2. Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, Ash-Shajarah al-Mubarakah fi Ansab at-Talibiyyah, Page 113
3. Ibn Jarir at-Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari, Volume 8, Page 535
4. Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith #5765
5. Al-Ghazali, Ihya Ulum ad-Din, Kitab adh-Dhamm al-Ghadab wa al-Hiqd wa al-Hasad


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