"Chapter: There will not come a time, except that after it will be more evil than it." [Saheehul-Bukhaaree (13/22 - with al-Fath)]
[He then relates with his isnaad]: From Zubair ibn 'Adee, who said: We came to Anas bin Maalik and complained to him about (the oppression of) al-Hajjaaj. So he said:
"Be patient! For indeed there will not come upon you a time, except that after it will be more evil than it, until you meet your Lord. I heard this from your Prophet (صلى الله علیه وسلم)." [Related by al-Bukhaaree (no.7068)]
This hadeeth contains many points of benefit:
Note that he said: "There will not come a time, except that after it will be more evil than it." However, an objection may be raised that: 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-'Azeez (d.101H) came after al-Hajjaaj, and a great deal of good occurred to the Muslims with 'Umar, as well as removal of the oppression that was occurring. Thus, does this not contradict the hadeeth? Or is there an explanation for what occurred in the era of 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-'Azeez? There are many groups of Muslims who see that it is not possible to rectify the state of affairs of the Muslim Ummah, except by way of the rulers. However, from the apparent meaning of the hadeeth of Anas, the era of 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-'Azeez was more evil than the era of al-Hajjaaj, since the wording is: "There will not come a time, except that after it will be more evil than it." So what is the reply to this? And how does one refute the saying that it is not possible to achieve goodness for the Ummah, nor to rectify the current state of affairs of the Ummah, except by way of the rulers.
Al-Haafidh Ibn Hajr (d.851H) - (رحمه الله) - said:
"Indeed many have been confused by this general statement, since some ages have not [apparently] been more evil than the one before it. As was the case with the age of 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-'Azeez - which was shortly after the age of al-Hajjaaj - and the information about the age of 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-'Azeez is well-known." [Fathul-Baaree (13/23)]
So here are some of the replies from the Scholars about this:
Firstly: Ibn Hajr - (رحمه الله) - said:
"Some of them have said that what is intended by the excellence (of the previous age, compared with the age which follows it) is an overall excellence for one age, compared to the overall excellence of the preceding age. Thus, in the age of al-Hajjaaj there were many Companions that were still alive. But in the age of 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-'Azeez most of them had passed away. And an age in which the Companions are present is more excellent than an age in which they are not - due to his (صلى الله علیه وسلم) saying, which is related by al-Bukhaaree (5/199) and Muslim (7/184):"The most excellent of mankind is my generation."
And also his (صلى الله علیه وسلم) saying:"And my Companions are the custodians over my Ummah, so when my Companions depart, that which has been promised for my Ummah [i.e. the emergence of trials, false-desires, differences and schisms] will come to it." [Related by Muslim (16/82), Fathul-Baaree (13/24)]
Secondly: The second reply is as Ibn Mas'ood said:
"There will not come upon you a time, except that it is more evil than the time before it. I do not mean a leader better than another leader, nor a year better than another year. But your 'Ulamaa and fuqahaa (i.e. your Scholars) will disappear, and you will not find anyone to succeed them. Then there will come a people who will give verdicts according to their opinion." [Ibn Hajr related it in Fathul-Baaree (13/24), by way of ash-Sha'bee, from Masrooq, from him]
And in another wording:
"It is not due to abundance of rain, nor due to its scarcity. Rather it is due to the disappearance of the Scholars. Then there will come a people who will give verdicts on matters based upon mere opinion; and thus they will destroy Islaam." [Related in al-Fath (13/24) in the same manner as above]
So this contains a reply to the doubt, and also a refutation of those who have that understanding (i.e. that rectification of the Ummah is only possible by way of the rulers). Thus, this explanation is very clear. Since our method in seeking to understand the Book and the Sunnah is to do so upon the fahm (understanding) of the Companions. Since they are the most knowledgeable of people with regards to the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of the Prophet (صلى الله علیه وسلم). They saw the Messenger (صلى الله علیه وسلم), witnessed the Revelation, and lived whilst the Glorious Qur'aan was being revealed. So without doubt, they are the most knowledgeable of people concerning the Book and the Sunnah.
So the era of 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-'Azeez was not better than the era prior to it, because the evil that has been mentioned in the hadeeth is nisbee (relative), whilst the good is more general. Likewise, the good in the era of 'Umar was nisbee (relative i.e. to him), whilst the evil was more general. The hadeeth says: "There will not come a time, except that after it will be more evil." This is a general statement, and so the era of al-Hajjaaj is better than that of 'Umar - according to this hadeeth.
If it is said: With what is the era of al-Hajjaaj better than that of 'Umar? We reply by using the saying of Ibn Mas'ood - (رضي الله عنه):
"I do not mean a leader better than another leader." Thus the matter is not one of preference between leaders, between al-Hajjaaj and 'Umar. This is something we will return to. However: you are oppressed in proportion to your (evil) actions and lack of rectifying yourselves. And Allaah averts oppression from you in proportion to your (good) actions and your rectifying yourselves."
"Nor a year better than another year." Likewise, the evil is not due to what the earth produces, such as its fruits, and other things.
"But rather your Scholars will disappear and you will not find anyone to succeed them." So this contains a tremendous benefit, which is that goodness remaining in this Ummah is dependant upon the existence of the Scholars. Indeed, goodness is not connected to the rulers; rather it is connected to the correct understanding of the Deen remaining with the people. Thus, whenever the Scholars diminish, the true understanding of the Book and the Sunnah diminishes, and consequently evil increases amongst the people.
And that which affirms the truth of what Ibn Mas'ood said, is what is reported in the Sunnah of the Prophet, in his (صلى الله علیه وسلم) saying:
"Indeed, Allaah does not snatch away the knowledge, but He takes it away by the passing away of the Scholars. Such that when no Scholar remains, the people take ignorant ones as their leaders. They are asked and give verdicts without knowledge. Thus, they misguide themselves and misguide others." [Related by al-Bukhaaree (1/194) and Muslim (no.2673), from 'Abdullaah Ibn 'Amr (رضي الله عنه)]
And in the Hadeeth of Anas, the Prophet (صلى الله علیه وسلم) mentioned some signs of the Last Hour, amongst which he said:
"Knowledge will be lifted and ignorance will become widespread." [Related by al-Bukhaaree (1/178) and Muslim (no.2671)]
So what is the correct manhaj (methodology) which is obligatory to traverse, if we desire good for ourselves and for the Ummah of Muhammad (صلى الله علیه وسلم)? Is it concentrating upon siyaasah (politics)?
Ibn Mas'ood has explained that this is not what brought goodness to the Ummah: "I do not say a leader better than another leader." So is it by concentrating upon economics? No, this is not the cause for goodness to return to this Ummah: "Nor a year better than another year." Then what is it? He - (رضي الله عنه) - said: "But rather by the disappearance of the Scholars." Thus, as long as the Scholars remain, then goodness will continue to be present in the Ummah. However, when the Scholars go, then goodness will also disappear from the Ummah!