Protesting against oppression in order to support the truth and the oppressed is a legitimate act that may be obligatory if it will affect the process of decision-making among the oppressors. However, these protests and demonstrations do not warrant riots or destructive acts against public or private property. This is because such acts fall under the category of wrongdoing and cannot be justified by the negative attitudes of governments.
Explaining the legitimacy of demonstrating in Islamic Shari`ah, the prominent Saudi Scholar, Dr. Muhammad al-Ahmari states: Holding demonstrations to support the truth and refuse injustice, oppression and corruption is a legitimate recurring act that Allah sanctions in condemning corruption as well as in celebrating feasts. Examples of this are the Prophet’s demonstrating (with the companions) to bid farewell to the Muslim armies as well as to welcome them when they returned. Another example is during the conquest of Makkah. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) commanded his uncle Al-`Abbas, to show Abu Sufyan the strength and power of the Muslim army as they were marching towards Makkah with their banners raised. By commanding them to do so, the Prophet wanted to convince Abu Sufyan that he could not confront the powerful army of Muslims.
If we cannot at least express our voice, display our position, and declare our sympathy with our oppressed fellows, as well as show our readiness to protect our invaded and occupied lands, then what does remain for us to do? Hence, explaining and supporting the truth as well as confronting and condemning injustice and corruption by all possible means is a legitimate recurring right in Islam.
Shedding more light on the issue and the Islamic guidelines for demonstrations, the following fatwa issued by the prominent Saudi Islamic lecturer and author, Sheikh Muhammad Saleh Al-Munajjid states:
There is nothing wrong with Muslims protesting against a certain act of oppression, condemning it, and asking for active reaction to stop it. Rather, Muslims should use all effective and Islamically acceptable means provided that these protests and demonstrations do not involve things that are forbidden in the Shari`ah. Some of those prohibited acts may include the following:
-Men and women going out without abiding by the Islamic code of dress.
-Shouting slogans that are improper.
-Doing wrong to others by such acts as blocking the road or preventing people from passing by.
-Using slanderous and insulting words that are not permitted in Shari`ah.
-Men and women mixing during the demonstration.
-Committing acts of aggression against the property of innocent people, such as destroying their shops or breaking their windows, or starting fires in public facilities, and other haram actions.
In stating that men and women should not mix during the demonstration, we mean that only indecent mixing is not allowed. Both men and women who join the rally should abide by the Islamic code of dress and women as well as men should not mix with one another in an indecent way. It is suggested that the people in the rally should line up in a way similar to that of prayer, i.e. men in the front and women in the back.
This is further clarified in the following fatwa issued by Dr. Ahmad Sa`id Hawwa, Professor of Islamic Jurisprudence and Its Principles at Jordanian Universities:
If a demonstration attracts a huge crowd, thus entails mixing between people, then it is not allowed for women to participate in it. However, if the rally is properly arranged that women are made to walk in separate lines or with men but without being jam-packed, then it is permissible.
What matters here is the amount of certainty about the consequences of the rally. For example, if there is a higher possibility that women will be subject to ill-treatment and the like from the police or other people, then they should not demonstrate. This is based on the juristic rule that states: removing hardship is given priority over accruing benefit. This must not be construed as preventing women from participating in the service of Islam, as there are many ways women can help in the cause of Allah.