A dervish, whose prayers met with answers, made his appearance, and Hajjaj Yusuf, calling him, said: ‘Utter a good prayer for me’, whereon the dervish exclaimed: ‘O God, take his life.’
He replied: ‘For God’s sake, what prayer is this?’
The dervish rejoined: ‘It is a good prayer for you and for all Muslims.’ [Gulistan: Shaykh Sa’di]
Al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf al-Thaqafi (40-95 A.H.) was a tough military general who later became governor in the service of Umayyad rulers. In 73 A.H. he was sent by Abd-al Malik ibn Marwan to Makkah to bring the territory under Umayyad control. His seize of Hejaz resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent inhabitants. Although he was a brilliant orator, a highly gifted man of literature and an effective administrator, history remembers him mostly for his cruelty whose campaign had killed such Islamic luminaries as Abd-Allah ibn Jubayr (RA). So, it is not difficult to understand the prayer of the saint, quoted by Shaykh Sa’di.
The Muslim experience since the days of colonization of their vast territories, especially after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century has been anything but a pleasant one. As the colonizers left – forced out or negotiated, new states emerged with new flags under new leaders from Indonesia to Senegal, each promising to better the lives of their citizens. And, as if by some odd design or bad karma, they failed miserably to deliver their promises. Of course, there are some exceptions, but the gain achieved in the post-colonial era was more like a zero-sum result for vast majority of the people.
The new leaders governed, borrowing rules and traditions that seemed to have worked well for their former masters, but were a total mismatch for the new states under the new environment. What was worse, the very religion that has had always induced its adherents to seek equity, truth and justice was even misused by the newer leaders that soon replaced the old guards. Mindful of the role of religion in Muslim society, Islam came to be falsely portrayed as a religion that is not at odds with monarchy, dictatorship and all other mumbo-jumbo systems.
As the ruling system strayed away from the dictates of Islam, the Muslim world was visited by military rulers like Yahya Khan, Suharto, Zine ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, let alone the kings and emirs that even bought security for their very existence from their former colonial masters. Many of them were al-Hajjaj in spirit. They forgot the advice for good governance so many times uttered by men of piety: “Know that subjects are God's dependents, and he who wrongs the people has wronged God. Among the rights of subjects are that (the ruler) prevent them being wronged either by himself or by his agents; that he keep the roads safe, protect caravans on the highways, and punish thieves and brigands; that he give justice to the oppressed and support the poor; that he not conceal himself from them …; that he enforce the command of what is right, strengthen the qadi [judge] and the muhtasib [officer in charge of detecting and punishing offenders of the Law and public morals], and respect strangers.” - [Bahr al-Fava'id]
As these Muslim rulers enriched themselves with wealth beyond imagination denying the due share to their people, they promoted cronyism by creating a class of sycophants. The best of those who protested were killed, and the good ones were either forced out to a life of exile or left to rot inside solitary prison cells. So the landscape that once produced revolutionary leaders like Husayn bin Ali, Mus’ab and Nafs-e Zakiyah in the early decades of Islam became a land of the silent majority and wicked few under the neo-Pharaohs and neo-Nimrods.
Truly, the post-colonial experience in the Muslim world has been a history of shame imposed upon the people who deserved better.
It is no surprise to find that the Arab world, which had a glorious history of resisting occupation, tyranny and injustice, is now trying to correct its sad past by overthrowing its despots. Two have gone, and others are trying to avoid joining their queue by acting like al-Hajjaj. Many of these despots are inherently bad. They inherited bad genes and are now showing their real evil selves through the massacres that they are committing against their own people. So when push came to shove the son - Seif Al-Islam al-Qaddafi is found to be no better than his half-educated father. He even has a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. What a waste of education!
And look at the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad! More than 400 people have died since demonstrations began two months ago. On Monday, the Syrian Army stormed the city of Dara’a, the center of the popular opposition. Phone, water and electricity lines have been cut and journalists barred from reporting firsthand what is really happening there. Bashar’s father Hafez was a butcher of Hama that killed some 40,000 people nearly three decades ago, and if needed, the younger British-educated ophthalmologist will have no moral qualms in surpassing his father’s murderous records.
And what about the Arab League, which has issued a statement declaring that pro-democracy protesters “deserve support, not bullets” without even mentioning Syria? If the Arab League and its leaders want to be taken seriously, including in their own countries, they have to do better; better than what they did for Libya. They must also come against the murderous regime in Bahrain without any equivocation.
The silence to condemn the Syrian massacre is simply inexcusable. The UN Security Council hasn’t even been able to muster a press statement. The International Criminal Court should investigate the Syrian and Bahrain governments’ abuses. It is good to see Obama administration’s push to have the United Nations Human Rights Council spotlight Syria’s abuses in a session on Friday. This welcome gesture shouldn’t and can’t excuse its earlier hypocritical stand with the findings of the Goldstone report, prepared by the same UNHRC that found Israel guilty of war crimes in Gaza in 2008-2009 (days before Obama was sworn in). Ultimately, Syrians will determine their country’s fate. Others can either choose to support them or simply stand like an immoral bystander.
The best defense against the emergence of ghosts of al-Hajjaj is to ensure that they are held accountable for their crimes against our people. As the recent events show the Muslim world has many such diabolical personalities. Sooner we understand that ‘forbearance with the wicked only increases their iniquity’ the better we are prepared never to allow a repeat of our humiliation.