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BAY’AH. An unwritten contract or a pact, a bay’ah involves a recognition of, and an oath of allegiance to, a caliph, a ruler, a king, or an emir. This oath is usually given on behalf of the subjects by the leading members of the tribe, or the important members of a family or a clan. When these tribal representatives (or “electors”) make the pact with the ruler, they do so with the understanding that as long as the ruler abides by certain responsibilities toward his subjects, they are to maintain their allegiance to him. Usually, the representatives include religious scholars (`ulama’), political leaders within the community, and sometimes family elders. The bay’ah involves also a bestowing of God’s blessings or felicity (ridwan) on the ruler by the representatives of his subjects.

The Arabic phrase expressing these blessings, “Radiya Allah `anhu” (“May God be pleased with him”), is traced to the time of the prophet Muhammad and his companions. The same phrase was used also during the time of the caliphs. In the Qur’an, ridwan means that God looks with favor upon the ruler who is given the bay`ah by his subjects and is pleased with him. The ruler is essentially receiving God’s “good pleasure.” Surat al-Fath gives an illustration of God’s ridwan on the faithful: Allah’s good pleasure was on the Believers when they swore fealty to Thee under the tree: He knew what was in their hearts, and He sent down tranquility to them; and He rewarded them with a speedy victory (48.18). As a final, complete, and unequivocal acceptance by God, the ridwan is cited again in the Surat al-Fajr (8.27-30).

The prophet Muhammad himself received individual oaths of fealty from his followers in 628 at al-Hudaybiyah, a place on the road from Jeddah to Mecca, where he was preparing to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, in accordance with the Qur’anic revelation (48.27) that he would pray there. The oath given to the Prophet was known as the “Pact of Felicity” or bay’at al-ridwdn.

The bay’ah is still practiced in such countries as Saudi Arabia, especially at the time of the ascension to the throne. In 1964 during the dispute between King Sa’ud ibn `Abd al-`Azlz and his brother, the heir apparent Faysal, the latter was able to secure the throne as a result of the bay’ah that he received from the `ulama’ and other community leaders. Following the assassination of Faysal in 1975, his brother Khalid received a similar bay`ah from the `ulama’, as did Fahd in June 1982 upon the death of King Khalid.

The social, economic, and political challenges facing modern Muslim states, the rise of political Islam as a political movement, and the increasing demands by both Islamic and secular elites for political participation suggest that Muslim leaders are increasingly unlikely to receive bay’at al-ridwan unconditionally. Several important questions remain unanswered: what would an aspirant to the throne do if the representatives of the subjects refuse to extend the bay’ah to him? What would happen if a segment of the population decides to withdraw its bay`ah? Would such a person rely on the military to bring him to office and secure him there? Bay’ah, like other concepts of classical tribal Islam, is experiencing enormous change as traditional tribal communities transform themselves into modern administrative states.

[See also Authority and Legitimation.]


Khadduri, Majid, et al., eds. Law in the Middle East, Vol. I. Washington, D.C., 1955. Scholarly anthology on the origin and development of Islamic law.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/bayah/

  • writerPosted On: November 2, 2012
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