The Seriousness of Fitnah
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks are due to Allāh, the Lord of the al-ā’lamīn. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, sallallāhu alayhi wa sallam, is His Messenger.
The fitnah includes the acts like deceiving, confusing the hearts mind; differing; falling for something; sinning; disbelief; alluring beauty, property and children; testing someone, torture, creating misfortune, or troubling others.
In nearly sixty verses [ayat] of the Qur'an, we find either this word or another word that is derived from the same root. While even a disagreement between two people can be called fitnah, acts aiming to spread disbelief, turning people from the path of Allāh the Almighty, and causing terror in society are also categorized as fitnah. Making two people dislike each other is fitnah and this is an abhorrent sin; but there is also another type of fitnah that is so bad that it invokes divine wrath. It cannot be regarded as equal to other types of fitnah, it is the case of causing someone to fall into a pit of Hellfire and end their happiness in both worlds.
Allāh the exalted Says: “Fitnah is worse than killing…” [Al-Baqarah 2:191]
The ayat categorized fitnah is so destructive that it is considered even worse than murder. Such fitnah is that such as trying to spread disbelief through brute force, alienating Muslims from their values, and making younger generations strangers to their spiritual values, thereby throwing them into a terrible torment in both worlds, are all grave offenses that are far more dangerous than murdering an innocent person.
Therefore, in order not to face such a terrible end, we need to keep away from even the pettiest kind of fitnah and eliminate the words and actions that may lead to it from the very beginning before they become great crimes.
In some cases of murder, there is both fitnah and murder intermingled. For example, somebody assassinates an important figure and then disappears. After that, an innocent person or a group is blamed for that murder. In this way, the situation becomes a blood feud. Both the supporters of the victim and the slandered group suffer. Thus, the murder is not limited to a single event; it is followed by mutual accusations and it becomes a great fitnah. Finally, an unstoppable chain of fitnahs is ignited, and results in a condition of anarchy where thousands of murders are committed.
Unfortunately, this kind of fitnah has taken place in the history of Islam and such acts have yielded far worse results than one single murder. For instance, the assassination of the second Caliph, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab was not just a simple murder; even more so since, as Hudzaifah Al-Yamani reported: ‘Umar was a locked door against fitnah. After his martyrdom, that door was opened; more correctly, it was broken down. Here we will examine this event in more detail.
One day, ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab asked Hudzaifah about the words of the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) describing fitnah that surges like the waves of the sea. Hudzaifah answered: "O Commander of the believers, there is no harm on you from this fitnah; for there is a locked door between it and you." When `Umar asked: "Is that door going to open or be broken down?" Hudzaifah answered: "It is going to be broken down." `Umar then commented: "Then it will not be locked again until the end of the world." When one of his friends asked about that door, Hudzaifah’s answer was: "That door is ‘Umar himself."
In this respect, the assassination of ‘Umar cannot be taken as an ordinary murder; it was the breaking down of the door that blocked fitnah, and the opening of the way for fitnah to continue until the end of the world. The Qur'an mentions the condition of the person who murders an innocent person, stating that he will stay in Hellfire forever. Therefore, this must also encompass murderers like Umar's assassin.
Ibn ’Abbas and some of the scholars and imams from the generation following the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) inferred from the following verse that somebody who commits murder will suffer eternal punishment in Hellfire:
“Whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense (in the Hereafter) is Hellfire, therein to abide; and Allāh has utterly condemned him, excluded him from His mercy, and prepared for him a tremendous punishment”
Some interpreters of the Qur'an have commented differently: In the same way that a murderer deserves to be executed in return for the crime he committed, the same punishment must be given to the person who killed all mankind. There is no greater punishment to be given. Likewise, as the punishment of the murderer of a single person is eternal Hellfire, the punishment of the person who has murdered all mankind must be the same. Therefore, a person who has murdered a single person is like the one who has murdered all mankind. The divine statement: “Assuredly Allāh does not forgive that partners be associated with Him; less than that He forgives to whomever He wills” (An-Nisa’ 4:48) limits the meaning of the verse that was mentioned above. However, when we look at the whole issue, we see that even if it is not true that every murderer will stay in Hellfire forever, there is a type of murder that the person who commits it will suffer eternal torment.
Hence, as there are degrees of sins, like fitnah, murder too has different degrees as an offense. These degrees depend on the identity and status of the victim, as well as the results it will incur. Regardless of who the victim is, murder is a grave crime, but assassinating the commander of an army or the head of a state is not the same as killing an ordinary citizen in terms of the chain of events that follow. Again, a murder committed in the Sacred Mosque in Makkah where it is even forbidden to kill an insect or pick tree leaves will not be equal to a murder that is committed elsewhere.
For this reason, Ibn ‘Abbas considered killing a prophet or a leader of the believers as equal to killing all mankind. Therefore, those who execute a person whose fate is connected with that of a nation will have issued a decree of execution for the entire nation. Those who poison a man of action who devoted himself to the salvation of all mankind can be considered to have poisoned the entire nation. We could even say that they have poisoned Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions. This is such a great atrocity that even if those who commit it are believers, they can never find their way to Paradise unless they are forgiven by all mankind.
In conclusion, every kind of unjust murder is a great sin; although we can look it from different degrees, depending on the time, place and the identity and status of the victim.
1. Excerpted with some modifications from http://en.fgulen.com
2. Fethullah Gulen is an influential Turkish Muslim intellectual who inspired a series of social activities, including a transnational education and business network, interfaith dialogue forums, and multicultural encounters.
[Via Islam Online Jan 8, 2008]