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Bay'ah (Arabic: بَيْعَة, literally a "sale" or a "commercial transaction"), in Islamic terminology, is an oath of allegiance to a leader. It is known to have been practiced by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Bay'ah is sometimes taken under a written pact given on behalf of the subjects by leading members of the tribe with the understanding that as long as the leader abides by certain requirements towards his people, they are to maintain their allegiance to him. Bay'ah is still practiced in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In Morocco, Bay'ah is one of the foundations of the Monarchy. In many Islamic traditions, the meaning of bay'ah is to sell ones self to a spiritual master, pir or sheikh in exchange for the spiritual knowledge which he gives.
In Islamic history
The tradition of bay'ah can be traced back to the era of Muhammad. From the beginning bay'ah was taken by Muhammad as an oath of allegiance. Anybody who wanted to enter Islam did so by reciting the basic statement of the faith expressing his faith in the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad. In addition to this the prophet formally took bay'ah from the people and tribes. Through this formal act they entered the Islamic community and showed their willingness to follow and obey Muhammad. The wordings of the oath differ in different traditions but it contains the shahada and prayers of repentance.
It is reported that at the occasion of annual gatherings outside Mecca, Muhammad met people from Yathrib, later to be renamed Medina, who accepted his call towards Islam. At this occasion the prophet took bai'ah from them.
In the Qur'an
Certainly Allah was well pleased with the believers when they swore allegiance to you under the tree, and He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down tranquillity on them and rewarded them with a near victory,
Bay'ah of women
Muslim women have been participating in the political life of the Muslim Ummah since the earliest times. The oath of allegiance that Muhammad took from the women after the conquest of Mecca in the year 7 AH is a document attesting to political rights of women in Islam. It is the best testimony to the woman’s role in Muslim society in the Prophetic Era and to her practice of her political rights which are enshrined in the Qur’ân. The method of taking the bay'ah of women was not different from that of men, except that Muhammad (saw) did not take their hand in his hand.
The Qur'an mentions the text of the bayah of women in the 60th Sura. The oath is given as:
O Prophet! When believing women come to thee to take the oath of fealty to thee, that they will not associate in worship any other thing whatever with Allah, that they will not steal, that they will not commit adultery (or fornication), that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forging falsehood, and that they will not disobey thee in any just matter,- then do thou receive their fealty, and pray to Allah for the forgiveness (of their sins): for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
The oath of allegiance that was taken by the women – as well as the open dialogue that took place between Muhammad and the women on that occasion – shows us the establishment of a constitution on both a religious and political plain. It shows the high level of actual participation that women exhibited in their exercise of their political rights. This oath entailed the willful transfer of political allegiance from one nation founded on pagan and polytheistic principles to another nation founded upon Islam. The taking of this oath was both a religious and a political act. It was through this oath of allegiance that the stable political existence of the Islamic society was formed.
Islamic teachings repeatedly emphasize and clarify to us that the basic responsibilities imposed upon men and women in the political sphere are the same.
The political activities of the women in the time of Muhammad were not limited to that oath of allegiance. It extended back to the Second Oath of `Aqabah which established the permission for Muhammad and the Muslims to emigrate to Madinah. This oath was a covenant that entailed upon those who entered into it that the people of Madinah (then known as Yathrib) would afford protection to Muhammad. There were women who participated in this oath, and this event attests to their political involvement in the very founding of the Islamic state, on a level of equality with men.
The involvement of the women did not stop there, with their verbal oath. Their participation continued in their striving for Islam and to establish the principles of its message.
The bay'ah of Rizwan, a collective initiation of thousands of Muslims at the hand of Muhammad, is mentioned in the Qur'an. This tradition was continued by the Caliphs.
In subsequent ages, bay'āt were associated with Sufi orders; spiritual masters would initiate their followers. This practice still exists in Sufi orders around the world.