A gentle reminder to the readers of this column that out of a sense of Islamic brotherhood on one side and a sense of preventing enemy plans and plots to divide the Muslims on the other side, this writer continues to mentally explore and rationally uncover the sectarian “grey area” in the traditional Muslim mind. For those who have stayed the course, we appreciate your keen interest. And for those who have been “turned off” we pray for you.
Do understand that the Arabs – the Muslims – of Makkah, al-Ta’if, and the rest of desert land Arabia who lived in the immediate years after the Prophet (pbuh) passed on were not directly engaged one hundred percent in the choice of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar becoming the successors (khulafa’) to the Prophet (pbuh). It was the overwhelming majority of the residents of al-Madinah who chose them. Afterwards the rest of the Muslims, in good faith, followed suit.
The exception were those tribes and power centers that rebelled against Abu Bakr’s leadership and wanted to break away from a central Islamic monetary authority in al-Madinah (that is why they are referred to many times as مانعي الزكاة (zakat rejecters). These are historically referred to as Ahl al-Riddah (those who denounced Islamic leadership, Islamic authority, and Islamic statecraft by refusing to pay their financial obligations to the Islamic treasury in al-Madinah.
At that early stage of post-Prophetic Islamic statesmanship, the general public did not have an exact, specific and detailed oversight committee or “agency” that was tasked with holding the khulafa’ accountable for any unconventional acts or divergences. Not even the Muhajireen and Ansar had worked out such a committee. Governance was conducted through an open channel of consultation between the khalifah and the Muhajireen and Ansar. This worked well when the common denominator among them all was trust and good faith.
At times, this consultation may have been private and at other times public. The final decision by the khalifah was taken without prejudice. Thus, the act of ruling by the khulafa’ was not a democracy, as is commonly understood in the secular world – both in ancient and contemporary times.
But then we have a humdrum understanding of the word “democracy” – an understanding that has affected the average Muslim throughout the age of colonialism and imperialism. This type of loose and sagging understanding of the word tells us that “democracy” is a form of governance in which the rulers need the approval of the people and the confidence of the citizenry. Rulers in this type of relationship are expected to govern with justice and impartiality.
Such a non-technical definition of democracy excludes oppression and condescension in a correlation between those who rule and those who are ruled. With this breakaway definition of “democracy”, perhaps someone can get away with saying that the first successors to the Prophet (pbuh) ruled in a representative, thus democratic way. This issue came to life and is strikingly demonstrated during the time when ‘Uthman was the khalifah and the trust and goodwill between the ruler and the “electorate” was stretched to breaking point.
Then there are those who argue that the successors to Allah’s Prophet – the khulafa’ – were authoritarian but fair, undemocratic but unprejudiced and highhanded but evenhanded. This argument says that the Prophet (pbuh) and the two successors immediately following him had no one rivaling them in the decision- making process. True, they had consultants or advisers and experts who would proffer their thoughts and views. But they were not attached to such thoughts or views.
In all this, the Prophet (pbuh) and the khulafa’ were very particular about justice and possessed by social justice, with the caveat that the Prophet (pbuh) stood head and shoulders above the other two as he was after all Allah’s impeccable Prophet.
By looking at it this way, someone could make the argument that in the final analysis there has to be one individual who makes the final decision – with emphasis on the fact that when that one individual (the legitimate ruler) makes that final decision he makes it after all the feedback he has received and with the good faith, good will, and trust that binds the popular base with the populist top.
If we, the Muslims, can settle on the fact that our Islamic governance is distinctive and one of its kind then we are on the right track. This acknowledgement cannot spring from a “broken psychology” or an “inferiority complex” or “slave mentality”. It takes a strong and binding relationship with Allah (swt) and loyalty to the Prophet (pbuh) to set in motion our Islamic model of self-control, self-determination, and thus become a light unto the nations.
Does this mean that we cannot learn from others? Does this mean that we cannot absorb the scientific achievements of other societies? Of course not. During the Khilafah era, the Muslim administrators acquired civic, administrative, and even managerial skills from the Persians and the Byzantines. But the majority of these skills and services were acquired after the Khilafah/Imamah era.
We may now state quite comfortably that Islamic leadership and governance was never a dictatorship, nor was it a democracy as was outlined by the Greeks. It was not a monarchy either, or a republic as was the case with the Byzantines. The model of Islamic governance was purely Qur’anic and Prophetic.
The Prophetic and Khilafah/Imamah era was not some type of kingdom or empire. It would be an insult to our dear Prophet (pbuh) and to the Khulafa’ and Imams to even insinuate that they were “royals” or “crowned heads”. Similarly, they were not “republicans” or “democrats”. We don’t know of any republican or democrat whose term in office ends with his death. There were no term limits on the Khulafa’/Imams. Unlike the superpowers of that time, the Khulafa’/Imams did not come to power through a military coup d’etat or that they were born into a royal family and inherited power.
Let us be clear – the Prophet (pbuh), unlike the successors to him both Khulafa’ and Imams – was a ruler who received revelation from Allah (swt) to guide him in his rulings and commands. His successors were not recipients of revelation; but they were intrinsically and fundamentally obliged and bound by Allah’s and His Prophet’s guidance to enhance social justice, to promote what is naturally right, to abolish what is naturally wrong, and to obliterate aggression and oppression.
Remember that the pioneering generation of committed Muslims lived a period of 23 years receiving instructive heavenly guidance that culminated in the whole Qur’an. They lived day and night listening to the Prophet (pbuh) explain by word and deed this Qur’an. This single generational experience had these committed Muslims develop a vibrant sense of right and wrong, an energetic conscience, a pulsating heart for equality and social justice as well as a razor-sharp mind for social justice.
It was impossible for this Prophetic generation to instantly relapse into its pre-Islamic ways. The relationship between the legitimate Islamic rulers (Khulafa’ and Imams) was a function of this heightened sense of justice, equality, and inseparability. The quality of Islamic governance is contingent upon this heaven-to- earth relationship. In other words, it is contingent upon the Will of Allah (swt) taking its course through the obedience of committed Muslims to Him.
This prophetic generation came into being without the prerequisites of family relations, wealth, or social status that we are familiar with in secular or ungodly societies. This prophetic generation came of age by its affection and attachment to the Prophet (pbuh). These devoted forerunners obeyed Allah (swt) and the Prophet (pbuh) without skepticism, suspicion, or hesitation.
If they could do it then, why can’t we do it now?
And if you defer to the majority of those [who live] on earth, they will but lead you astray from the path of Allah: they follow but [other people’s] conjectures, and they themselves do nothing but speculate. Al-An‘am: 116