Parts 27

The meaning of the oath of allegiance

January 19, 2020

The bay’ah (oath of allegiance) is a contract to render obedience.

It is as though the person who renders the oath of allegiance made a contract with his amir, to the effect that he surrenders supervision of his own affairs and those of the Muslims to him and that he will not contest his authority in any of (those affairs) and that he will obey him by (executing) all the duties with which he might be charged, whether agreeable or disagreeable.

When people rendered the oath of allegiance to the amir and concluded the contract, they put their hands into his hand to confirm the contract. This was considered to be something like the action of buyer and seller after concluding a sale. Therefore, the oath of allegiance was called bay’ah, the infinitive of ba’a “to sell (or buy).” The bay’ah was a handshake. Such is its meaning in customary linguistic terminology and the accepted usage of the religious law.

It also is the meaning of bay’ah in the traditions concerning the oath of allegiance rendered to the Prophet on the night of al-‘Aqabah and at the Tree, 324 and wherever else the word occurs.

The word is used for “oath of allegiance to the caliphs” and in ayman al-bay’ah “declarations (of loyalty) in connection with the oath of allegiance.” The caliphs used to exact an oath when the contract was made and collected the declarations (of loyalty) from all Muslims. This then was called ayman al-bay’ah “declarations (of loyalty) in connection with the oath of allegiance.”

It was as a rule obtained by compulsion. Therefore, when Malik pronounced the legal decision that a declaration obtained by compulsion was invalid, the men in power (at the time) disliked (the decision) and considered it an attack upon the declarations (of loyalty) made in connection with the oath of allegiance. The imam (Malik), as a result, suffered his well-known tribulations. 325

The oath of allegiance that is common at present is the royal Persian custom of greeting kings by kissing the earth (in front of them), or their hand, their foot, or the lower hem of their garment. The term bay’ah, which means a contract to render obedience, was used metaphorically to denote this (custom), since such an abject form of greeting and politeness is one of the consequences and concomitants of obedience.

The usage has become so general that it has become customary and has replaced the handshake which was originally used, because shaking hands with everybody meant that the ruler lowered himself and made himself cheap, things that are detrimental to leadership and the dignity of the royal position. However, (the handshake is practiced) by a very few rulers who want to show themselves humble and who, therefore, themselves shake hands with their nobles and with famous divines among their subjects.

This customary meaning of the oath of allegiance should be understood. A person must know it, because it imposes upon him certain duties toward his ruler and imam. His actions will thus not be frivolous or gratuitous. This should be taken into consideration in one’s dealings with rulers.


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