Bay'ah (Arabic: بَيْعَة , literally to sell), 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
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 method of taking the bay'ah of women was different than men, in that Muhammad did not take their hand in his hand. Simply repeating the words after him was considered enough or Muhammad put his hand into water and the women who wanted to take baiat put their hand in the same water after him, thereby repeating the words of the oath.
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.