EVERY state has to work out its own rules for good governance, according to the needs of the times. But there are certain fundamental rules and principles, laid down by the Prophet of Islam (PBUH), which can be incorporated into any book of ethics, or even a constitution, anywhere in the world.
They give us some of the basic bricks of the foundation on which to build society. A careful reading of the documents and political arrangements of the time of the Prophet, such as the pact of Madina (623 CE), the peace of Hudaibiya (628 CE), the sermon at the conquest of Makkah (630 CE) and the last sermon (632 CE) addressed to Haj pilgrims, bring out some salient points. They spell out the basic values that should be acquired, concepts that should be understood, examples that should be followed, precedents that should be emulated and principles that should be developed to suit our times.
Firstly, the Prophet did away with the concept of the divine power of kings and rulers and the belief that they could do no wrong. This meant rejection of dictatorship and preference for democratic practices. He considered the ruler to be the khalifa, or deputy of God on earth, elected to carry out the will of God.
It was a position of responsibility towards God and His creation, humanity and nature. This concept allowed even a poor old woman to challenge the khalifa in Hazrat Umar’s time, and for the khalifa to be humble and sincere enough to retract his own suggestion.
The bai’at, or oath of allegiance, taken at the hand of the leader whom one would like to lead, was conducted by the Prophet. Women had as much right to give their vote of assent as did the men (60:12). It was only subsequently that Muslims turned to kingship and dynastic political set-ups.
The Prophet taught coexistence with followers of other faiths. According to the pact of Madina, he united the various tribes of religious groups: Muslims, Jews and Christians into a single community, the ummah. The political rights and duties of non-Muslims were declared to be equal to those of Muslims at Hudaibiya.
The Prophet introduced moral values into politics. Those who took up an official post were not supposed to do so for self-aggrandisement, or looting and filling their own coffers with public money, but to do an honest job and to serve the public in all spheres which needed attention.
The provision of justice was institutionalised. Seeking or meting out justice, instead of being the prerogative of the victim, his family or his tribe, became the collective duty of the ummah or the state. It was also stipulated that the criminal alone would be responsible for his crime. Consequently, unbridled revenge was controlled, laws were codified and a basic judicial system was developed in which no favouritism was tolerated.
It was agreed that the whole community would unite against anyone who spread injustice, enmity, sin or corruption. Everyone would be obliged to keep their word and also to protect anyone who was attacked and to cooperate in any pacts made collectively. Today, since the most powerful are the most corrupt, people are afraid to stand up for a good cause. But if people could unite, the corrupt could be turned into the weak and the honest would become powerful.
Contrary to the orthodox view, the concept of social insurance was introduced by the Prophet. If a person was caught in a difficult situation due to having to pay ransom or blood money, his tribe was made to pool resources and come to his rescue. Today, this concept can be broadened to cover health, accident and other unforeseen circumstances from which it becomes impossible for people of modest means to recover.
A concern was shown for the weak. The poor and the marginalised were given the same rights as others: if they gave protection to anyone they wished, the whole community would have to honour their word. Accordingly, today, a poor person would be able to stand for election, acquire an important post and get justice when wronged, even against the most influential and the powerful.
No individual or group had the right to start a defensive war, or jihad, without the permission of the head of state, who would have to be a righteous person, aware of all the rules and conditions which govern the concept of jihad.
Equality was emphasised. It was agreed that the criterion for honour would not be colour, caste, gender or tribe, but piety or God-consciousness: “O people, indeed, We have created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes so that you would recognise each other. Indeed, the most honourable of you, in the sight of God, is the most God-conscious” (49:13). In secular terms, piety could be interpreted as the spotlessness of a person’s character, in personal as well as public life.
The Madina pact gave the people a new perspective on unified culture and dealings with people outside their own family, religion or tribe. The needs of every class and individual, with regard to justice, peace, tolerance, freedom, including freedom of religion, were met.
Modern-day Muslims have strayed from these ideals. There is a need for citizens, as well as aspiring young politicians, to examine these values and to try to include them in the laws; to inculcate and practise them in everyday collective life.
The writer is a scholar of the Quran and writes on contemporary issues: firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: In the article ‘Intercession in Islam’ (Nov 25, 2011), the reference for Prophet Jesus’ intercession was published as (5:16-18). It should be read as (5:116-118). The error is regretted. — N.A.