On Government


On Government

By Ayatollah Shaheed Beheshti

In many cases it is the duty of every individual to support what is right and to see that law is enforced in an equitable manner. But there are cases in which this duty requires more energy, more specialized knowledge and more power­ful machinery than an individual can possess. The vital duty of `exhorting to good and restraining from evil’ demands that in such cases all people should co‑operate to set up a powerful social organization having enough authority to undertake the required task. In an ideological society the organization charged with this responsibility is called “Government”.

Under the social system of Islam a government comes to power in one of the following three ways:

(1) By appointment by Allah, which automatically means its recognition by the people.

(2) By appointment by the Prophet, which also means recognition by the people.

(3) By appointment, or in other words election by the Muslims.

(1) Appointment by Allah in the then newly‑founded society of Medina the holy Prophet was in charge of the government. He was assigned this post by Allah. The Muslims were told by the holy Qur’an to obey him in their social affairs.

“Say: Obey Allah and the Messenger”. (Ale Imran, 3:32). “Obey Allah and His Messenger and do not quarrel among yourselves lest you lose your courage and strength “. (Surah al‑Anfal, 8:46).

This government began with the proclamation regarding the formation of the Muslim ummah and the issue of certain charters, following the arrival of the holy Prophet in Medina. The pledging of their allegiance to the holy Prophet by the representatives of Medina shortly before his migration (Hijrah), and by the various groups of the Muhajirs and the Ansar on other occasions, was a national and popular recognition of his Divine appointment.

During this period the governors, the judges, the army commanders, the treasury officers and other important functionaries were appointed by the Prophet himself, and had to discharge their duties within the framework of Islamic law. Their powers were also normally determined by the Prophet. In ideological societies the founder of the movement, which culminates in the formation of a society naturally holds the reins of the government himself, for, being the founder of the ideology, he knows its dimensions and implications better than anybody else. Moreover, his competence and efficiency having already been proved, naturally he is the fittest person to assume the leadership of the new society.

(2) Appointment by a Prophet

In many cases a Prophet appoints somebody to manage the affairs of the society. Such appointments have two forms:

(a) In his lifetime he appoints, in the territory under his control, governors, judges and commanders. As his appointees, these people exercise the power given to ‑them by the Prophet. They are in reality his deputies. They derive their authority to rule from the order of the Prophet. They are just like the officials appointed to various posts by the central authority of any country.

(b) The second forts of an appointment by a Prophet is that of his own successor. According to the Shi’ah belief, the holy Prophet appointed Imam Ali (P) to succeed him as the head of the Muslim ummah. The Shi’ah in this respect rely on a number of traditions which have been reported by the authentic Sunni sources also. The tradition of al‑Ghadir is one of them.

Tradition of al‑Ghadir

In the 10th year of the Hijri era, while returning from his last pilgrimage, the holy Prophet assembled his companions at a place called Ghadir al‑Khum and spoke to them. From his talk on various occasions during this journey, people were apprehending that the end of his life was imminent. Naturally at this stage they expected him to make clear as to who would succeed him as the head of the newly‑founded Islamic society. As expected, he took up this question in his speech and said:

“Have I not more authority over the Muslims than they have over themselves?”

All the Muslims exclaimed with one voice:

“Yes, you have; you are the Prophet of Allah”. The holy Prophet then said:

“Ali is the master of him whose master I am. May Allah be the friend of him, who is the friend of Ali, and the enemy of him who is the enemy of Ali. May He love him, who loves Ali, and hate him who hates Ali. May He support him who supports Ali and let down him who lets down Ali”. (Kanz al‑Ummal, vol. 6 p. 403).

This tradition has been handed down by 110 companions of the Prophet and is recorded in authentic books.

Besides this tradition, there are other sayings of the Prophet in which he referred to the leadership (Imamate) and succession (Caliphate) of other Imams. For example, he is reported to have said that the number of his successors would be twelve. (al‑Sahih by Muslim, vol. 1 p. 119 and al‑Sahih by Bukhari, vol. 4 p. 164). According to another tradition he once pointed to Husayn ibn Ali (P) and said:

“He is an Imam, son of an Imam, brother of an Imam and father of nine Imams”. (al‑Minhaj by Ibn Taymiyyah, vol. 4 p. 210).

The traditions are largely accepted by all or most of the non‑Shi’ah Muslims also but they interpret them differently. For example, concerning the tradition of al‑Ghadir they say that in his speech the Prophet did not appoint Ali to be his successor, but only introduced him as a fit person to succeed him, subject to his selection by the people.

It is evident that on the basis of this interpretation also the net result is the same, for the founder of an ideology being the best judge of the level of the faith, knowledge and competence of his associates, and because of his love for and interest in the expansion and consolidation of the principles propounded by him, will naturally introduce only that person for the leadership of the society who is most fit for that position and most loyal to the cause dear to him.

As such, it is the duty of the people also to accept the person so introduced, and pledge their allegiance to him, if they are really loyal to the ideology and give it preference over their personal inclinations and desires. In fact at the time of the Prophet’s demise the majority of the newly‑founded Muslim society consisted of neophytes who did not have deep knowledge of Islam. Their pagan nature had not undergone a total change, and they were not yet fully accustomed to new intellectual and social values. Hence, it was too early for the ummah to be in a position to use its discretion in the selection of its leader. The same is still the case even in many ideological societies of the 20th century.

Anyhow, a ruler appointed by the Prophet is both a leader and a ruler of the society like the Prophet himself. The society being ideological, naturally its head is expected to take measures to safeguard its ideological borders as well as to guide the people to mould their lives according to its principles.

According to a tradition what Imam al Sadiq (P) has said in this connection comes to this: A leader is a religious guide also. It is his duty to work for the progress and prosperity of the Muslims. Leadership is the basis as well as the principle of Islam.

Salat, Saum, Zakat, Hajj and Jihad are performed under the aegis of the appointed leader (Imam). Under him the public treasury expands and the injunctions of Islam, and its penal laws, are enforced. The frontiers become safe. (Usul al‑Kafi, vol. 1 p. 198 ‑ 205).

(3) Election by the people

This form of government is accepted by all Muslim sects, with the difference that the Shi’ah regard it as justified only during the occultation of the Imam of the Age. Otherwise the Shi’ah, give preference to those who were appointed or designated by the Prophet and the Imams. But according to the Sunnis immediately on the death of the holy Prophet, this form became the only right form of the government.

From the Shi’ah point of view, since the major occultation of Mahdi, the Imam of the Age in 329 A.H. no particular person has been appointed to be the Head and Leader of the Muslim ummah. That is why in the traditions related to leadership during this period only the general qualities and characteristics required to be possessed by a leader have been mentioned. This shows that it is up to the people themselves to choose a person as their leader, having those qualities and characteristics.

Main qualifications of a ruler during the period of occultation

(1) Faith in Allah, His revelations and the teachings of His Prophet.

The Qur’an says:

`Allah will never let the disbelievers triumph over the believers”. (Surah al‑Nisa, 4:141).

(2) Integrity, adherence to the laws of Islam, and earnest­ness about their enforcement. When Allah told the Prophet Ibrahim (P) that he had been appointed the Imam and Leader, the latter asked whether anyone of his family would also attain that position: In reply Allah said:

`My covenant does not include the wrong‑doers”. (Surah al‑Baqarah, 2:124).

The Prophet Daud (P) was told by Allah: “O Daud! We have made you Our ‑representative on the earth. There­fore judge rightly between people”. (Surah Sad, 38:26).

(3) Adequate knowledge of Islam, appropriate to his prominent position.

“Is he who guides the people to the truth more worthy to be followed or he who does not guide unless he himself is guided?” (Surah Yunus, 10:35).

(4) Enough competence for holding such a position and freedom from every defect not in keeping with Islamic leadership.

(5) His standard of living being equal to that of the low‑income people.

In this connection there is enough material in the sermons of Imam Ali (P) and in the epistles he sent to his officials. In a number of epistles it has been emphasized that an administrative officer should be free from love of money, ignorance, inefficiency, outrage, timidness, bribery, and violation of Islamic injunctions and traditions and should not be guilty of shedding blood.

The commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (P) says:

“You should remember that it is most inappropriate that a person, under whose charge the honour, the life, the property and the laws of the Muslims are placed should be:

• A lover of money and consequently should attempt to mis‑appropriate the property of other people;

• An ignorant person and consequently should mislead them;

• An unreliable person with whom others do not like to have relations;

• Discriminative in his treatment and favouring the influential people only;

• Accepting bribe and deviating from the course of justice and law, disregarding the laws and divine traditions and thus injuring the interests of the ummah”. (Nahj al‑Balaghah).

In his charter to Malik al Ashtar Imam Ali (P) said:

“You must strictly refrain from shedding the blood of the innocent. There is nothing more provocative, more catastrophic and more destructive than indulging in that”. (Nahj al‑Balaghah).

Once Imam Ali (P) received a report that a certain com­mander of a town in Persia was corrupt and fond of wine and women. He immediately wrote a letter to him, in the course of which he said:

“A man of your character is not fit to be entrusted with the defence of the borders or to be allowed to issue any order. Such a man is not fit to be promoted and no confidence can be reposed in him”. (Nahj al‑Balaghah).

By this very letter the Imam recalled the officer concerned and asked him to relinquish his post.

These qualifications of those who are appointed to a high office, are the natural corollary of an Islamic government.

 As we have already stated:
• The Muslim ummah is an ideological society;

• Islamic law is the basis of the administration of this society;

• It is the joint responsibility of all the people to see that this law is implemented.

• In many cases it is inevitable to set up a vast organiza­ tion for this purpose.

• As this organization, including its head, is set up with a view to realize the aspirations of Islam and to establish the system and the laws of this religion, it is necessary that its leaders and functionaries should be aware of these aspirations and should have faith in them. They should be honest, competent and efficient. Should they not have these qualifications, the basic aims and objects of the organization can hardly be realized.

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