Bai`ah means a pledge of obedience. Bai`ah is an established practice in Islam. The Quran says:
“Verily those who plight their loyalty (bai`ah) to you, do no less than plight their loyalty to Allah: the Hand of Allah is over their hands: then anyone who violates his oath does so to the harm of his soul, and anyone who fulfils what he has covenanted with Allah, Allah will soon grant him a great Reward.” (The Quran, 48:10)
In a hadith (Prophetic tradition), Ibn Umar said, “When we gave our bai`ah to Prophet Muhammad on the basis of to listen and obey, he said to us ‘on what you are capable of’.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Bai`ah is a common practice in various Islamic groups. It is not limited to politically oriented groups but also in Sufi orders, which are known as tariqat.
This issue is relevant in counter-ideology work because bai’ah is practiced by many extremist groups. While, originally, there is no extremism at all in practicing bai`ah but it is used as psychological tool to maintain loyalty from members of extremist groups.
Many of the members also felt psychologically trapped by the bai`ah that they have given to the leaders. They fear that by leaving the group or disobeying the orders, they have committed grave sin and it will incur them the wrath of God because the pledge that they have made in His name. They also fear of being labeled as traitor or betrayer.
In was reported in the White Paper released by Ministry of Home Affairs on the arrest on JI operatives in Singapore
“Mystical manipulation was used to commits its members by having them take the bai`ah and pledging their allegiance to the JI leader and Amir [leader]. The pledge was a powerful compliance generating mechanism….. To ensure that members remained committed and did not blow the whistle on JI, the leaders employed social psychological concept of escalation of commitment. Hence, although a few members had misgivings about their reconnaissance missions, they felt they could not withdraw as they were already “in too deep”. (Ministry of Home Affairs, The White Paper: The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrest and the Threat of Terrorism, p. 16.)
On that context, it is useful to provide proper explanation on bai`ah with the objective of putting it in a correct perspective so as to avoid the abuse and to assist any members of extremist group escape from the trap.
Bai`ah in Islam may be classified into two:
a. Bai`ah Kubra (major), that is, bai`ah to an officially appointed leader in a Muslim country.
b. Bai`ah Sughra (minor) that is, bai`ah as a promise to carry out certain responsibility or noble deed.
Bai`ah Sughra is permissible based on a hadith, “Umaimah binti Raqiqah said ‘I came to Prophet Muhammad with other women. We offered bai`ah to him upon Islam. We said ‘O, Rasulullah! We declare our bai`ah to you that we will not associate Allah with another, we will not steal, we will not commit adultery, we will not kill our children and we will not fabricate stories that we created between our two hands and legs, we will not disobey you in matters that are ma’aruf (enjoined)’. Prophet Muhammad said ‘According to your capacity and ability’…” (Narrated by Malik & At-Turmuzi)
Sheikh Waliyullah Ad-Dahlawi in commenting the hadith, said, “This [hadith] contains evidence that the bai`ah is not restricted to simply accepting the position of caliph.” (See Waliyullah Ad-Dahlawi, Al-Musawwa Syarh Al-Muwatta’, Dar Al-Kutub Al-`Ilmiah, Beirut, 1403H, vol 2, p. 217.)
Bai`ah Sughra has three conditions as follows:
a. It is done for purposes that do not contradict the syariah
b. It is done to fulfill a need, which has been ascertained to be real.
c. It does not contradict, oppose or replace Bai`ah Kubra, if present. (Abdul Rahman b.Mu`alla Al-Luwaihiq, Religious Extremism in the Life of Contemporary Muslims, p. 232)
Bai`ah Sughra is only recommended in Islam, not obligatory.
However, for those who have given Bai`ah Sughra, it is obligatory for them to fulfill the promise made in the bai`ah as long as it does not contradict the syariah and the conditions mentioned above. This is because the Quran says:
“O you who believe! Fulfil (all) obligations.” (The Quran, 5:1)
Prophet Muhammad also said, “Muslims are tied to the conditions (they agreed to) except for conditions that make haram (forbidden) as halal (permissible), or halal as haram.”(Narrated by At-Turmuzi, Ibn Majah & Abu Daud)
It is sinful to break a promise with no legitimate reasons. Therefore it is obligatory for anyone who wishes to give bai`ah in any situation, to consider it carefully and not treat it as a simple matter.
No one can force another to give bai`ah, nor can one threaten others who refuse to do it that they will die out of Islam.
For those who gave their bai`ah and later break it with no valid reason under the syari`ah, they have committed a sin, but they are not out of the religion. Neither are they considered out of the Muslim ummah.
No Obedience in Committing Evil
Bai`ah given to Islamic groups, will be meaningless if the group ends up deviating from the teachings of Islam.
Bai`ah given to any individual or group must not include obedience to commit what is not permissible in Islam. Prophet Muhammad said, “There is no obedience in committing transgressions to Allah. Verily, obedience is only for matters that are ma’aruf (good).”(Narrated by Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Such bai`ah does not make any particular leader of a Muslim group an infallible source of truth. Whether the words which emanates from such a leader may be accepted as the truth, has to be assessed based on whether they conformed with the Quran and the Sunnah, and not because they came from the leader himself. Treating a leader to whom bai’ah was given, as an indisputable source of truth, is fanaticism and an extremism that should be condemned.
Breaking the Bai`ah
If after giving his bai`ah, a person finds better options than what he has promised in his bai`ah, or comes across a group that is better, or meets a leader who is more pious, he is encouraged to opt for the better alternative and give up the existing bai’ah. This is based on the Quran that says:
“And make not Allah’s name an excuse in your oaths against doing good, acting rightly, or making peace between persons; for Allah is One Who hears and knows all things.” (The Quran, 2:224)
Prophet Muhammad said:
“O, Abdul Rahman! Do not ask for a position of leadership. Verily if you are given the position because of your request, you will be left alone to deal with it. If you are given a position that you did not ask for, you will be assisted. If you give a pledge, and a better one comes along, take the better one, and your earlier pledge will be kaffarah (forgiven).” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari) (See Sa`id Hawwa, Al-Asas Fi As-Sunnah (Al-`Aqaid Al-Islamiah), Dar As-Salam, Mesir, 1992, vol 3, p. 1599-1605)
Although Islam allows it, one must observe proper etiquette by asking permission from the party to whom the earlier bai’ah had been given, before moving on to the better bai`ah.
(Adaptation from Seminar Paper 2 presented in Convention of Ulama organised by PERGAS on 13 – 14 September 2003 which was written by me. Details analysis of the topic can also be referred to Dr. Abdul Rahman b.Mu`alla Al-Luwaihiq, Religious Extremism In the Life Of Contemporary Muslims, translated by Jamaal Al-Din M. Zarabozo, Al-Basheer, 2001, pp. 225-242.)