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Rules of governance

Man is required to exercise divine authority in this world within the limits prescribed by Allah.

ISLAM is an Arabic word which carries several meanings. In the Quran, two distinct meanings are used by Allah.

For example, in Surah an-Nisa’ verse 90 and al-Anfal verse 61, “Islam” or “salm” means “peace”. In a number of other verses, it carries the meaning of “submission” or “surrender”, for example, verse 83 of Ali Imran and 208 of al-Baqarah.

Nevertheless, such connotations are not in contradiction with one another. In fact, peace and submission are closely correlated in the sense that without practical submission to Allah and compliance with His commandments, real peace cannot be materialised nor can it be put into practice in life. (Abdurrahman, 1999).

As for submission and obedience, Allah proclaims: “O you who believe! Obey Allah and the Messenger and those in authority from among you; then if you quarrel about anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the last day; this is better and very good in the end.” (an-Nisa’: 59)

The verse basically explains the hierarchy of submission in Islam. Regardless of his status, man must first submit to Allah’s will since He is the Creator and the Owner of the Universe.

After the Divine, man must submit himself to His Messenger by following all thesunnahs of the Prophet. As the chain of prophethood was completed by Prophet Muhammad who needed to assign his companions to oversee new Islamic territories outside the city of Madinah, thus, the Quran also includes submission to the leader or Uli al-Amr.

The Uli al-Amr referred to in the verse reflects the concept of khilafah which means “representation”. The actual position and place of man according to Islam is that of the representative or vicegerent of Allah on this earth.

As such, by virtue of the power delegated to him by Allah, man is required to exercise divine authority in this world within the limits prescribed by Allah. (Siddiqi, 2006)

Since the Uli al-Amr holds the supreme power on behalf of Allah, and is responsible for the well-being of his people, justice, therefore, is incumbent on him.

Unlike the Divine-appointed prophet, a khalifah or leader under the concept of Islamic state secures his authority through the concept of mubaya’ah with its legitimacy clearly mentioned in al-Fath verse 10 and al-Mumtahanah verse 12.

Mubaya’ah is a double oath of allegiance binding the public to comply with orders and the ruler to guarantee public participation. As such, subjects must submit their obedience to their ruler, who, in turn, has to rule in accordance with justice and the dictates of the Syariah, including the duty to consult his subjects (see Ahmad [2002] in Righting Public Wrongs and Enforcing Private Rights: Public Involvement in Islamic Law). This double allegiance entitles a citizen to withdraw his allegiance to a ruler in the event the latter does not fulfil his own portion of the obligation.

After taking the bay’ah (pledge of allegiance) of both the Ansar and Muhajirun upon becoming the khalifah, Hadhrat Abu Bakar was reported to have imposed the following obligations upon those wishing to offer their Bay’ah. [see Walker in Pledge of Allegiance (bay’ah)]: “O People, I have indeed been appointed over you, though I am not the best among you. If I do well then help me; and if I act wrongly then correct me. Truthfulness is synonymous with fulfilling the truth, and lying is tantamount to treachery. The weak among you is deemed strong by me, and until I return to them what is rightfully theirs, Allah Willing. And the strong among you is deemed weak by me, until I rightfully take from them what is rightfully someone else’s, Allah Willing. No group of people abandons Jihad in the way of Allah, except that Allah makes them suffer humiliation. And wickedness does not become widespread among a people, except that Allah inflicts them with widespread calamity. Obey me so long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. And if I disobey Allah and His Messenger, then I have no right to your obedience.”

Another characteristic of the rules of governance in Islam is the concept of shuraor mutual consultation. Shura creates an avenue for the public to actively participate in governance and for this it is not merely a ceremonial procedure. When interests of members of the society are to be affected, the public must be consulted and their opinion weighed.

The importance of consultation is underscored by Allah who dedicated a Surah title in the Quran to the Arabic word. More precisely, shura is highlighted in verse 38 to the effect: “And those who respond to their Lord and keep up prayer, and their rule is to take counsel among themselves, and who spend out of what We have given them.”

Besides the above verse, a more direct injunction by Allah on Muslims to practiseshura is found in verse 159 of Ali Imran: “Thus, it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard-hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you; pardon them therefore and ask pardon for them, and take counsel with them in the affair; so when you have decided, then place your trust in Allah; surely Allah loves those who trust.”

Ibn Atiyya (d.546H/1151 C.E.), as quoted by Fathi Osman, stated his commentary on this verse: “Shura is one of the basics of Islamic law and a mandatory rule; and any [who is entrusted with a public authority] who does not take the counsel of those who have knowledge and are conscious of God, should be dismissed from his [or her public] position, and there is no argument about that.”

The Prophet, who could do away with this concept for the information arbitrage he had, seldom made a decision without engaging those who would be affected.

For instance, he consulted his Companions when before he decided to meet his enemies from Quraish in the Battle of Badr in the year 1H/622 C.E.

He took a similar approach before getting into the Battle of Uhud. Based on the majority opinion and rather than staying in and defending Medina, he decided to meet the attacking army out of the city.

Even in his private life, when his wife Aisha faced a fitnah (false accusation), he asked his Companions for opinions.

Arguably the minority or even a single person may be right and the majority may be wrong. Nevertheless, reliance on majority opinion reduces the risk of error in making decision.

More importantly, the principle of shura promulgates freedom of expression and allows members of society to participate in the decision-making process; and it indirectly ensures the appointed government does not regress into an authoritarian regime. Muhammad Hisyam Mohamad is Fellow at Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely his own. The STAR Home Opinion Columnist IKIM Views 04/10/2014

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