Better Governance in Islam

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

The Islamic holy city of Madinah, where the Madinah Charter was drafted.


Dr M. Emdadul Haq


The need for good governance is a magic substance to the World Bank in addressing the problems of public administration these days. In Arabic, ‘governance’ is termed as al-hakimiya and identifies a higher moral and social order to which all decision-making structures and ‘authority’ ought to submit. This article provides a backdrop of the Islamic model of Better Governance (BG) and its universal pursuit for present day intellectuals.


The Quran & Sunnah gave an outline of BG under different circumstances. Laws established by the Holy Quran and sayings & practices of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) emphasise habitual practice, customary procedure, action, norm, and usage sanctioned by Islamic tradition.


Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) founded, as early as the 7th century AD, the constitutional government under the guidance of the ‘Constitution of Medina’. He laid down all the necessary principles of BG & after his death his followers established a Caliphate based on justice, individual freedom, equity, mutual consultation, accountability and transparency.


There are many examples of BG set by the Caliphs (632–61) Hazrat Abu Bakr; Hazrat Umar ibn al-Khattab; Hazrat Uthman ibn Affan; & Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib. Hazrat Ali once advised Malik Ashtar, Governor of Egypt, “do not treat the good & the bad alike. That will deter the good from doing good and encourage the bad in their bad pursuits”. The Khilafah state was a human state better than any existing theological state of the contemporary world.


A Khalifah used to be “Abd Allah”. or servant of God. His authority was the Amana or trust that gives rise to obligatory relationships & duties towards Almighty Allah. He has to maintain Aqidah or faith on shariah and enact various revealed laws. The essence of Khalifa, however, somehow lost its limpidness under the later “sheikhocracy”!


Majlish-e-Shura or mutual consultation council provides fundamental institutional support of the Islamic BG. In the Islamic political system, the primary political authority must collaborate with a pluralistic governing body of representatives & by such means enable the ummah to prevent a single individual or entity from seizing control over the community and establish a dictatorship.


The Islamic decision making process must be of mutual consultation (Shura) so that every individual has a shared opinion. Everything should be in equilibrium with free and fair elections and a balance of power so that a single group is not able to take control of the ummah and derail the movement towards dictatorship. The process of mutual consultation underpins the democratic pluralism of all decision-making & governance matters.


In Islam, emphasis has been given to justice (Adl), impartiality, & fairness or “to act justly”. The special role of government leadership is to implement a program of justice in the broader spectrum. Quranic verses suggest “Allah commands justice, the doing of good … & He forbids all indecent deeds, & evil & rebellion: He instructs you that ye may receive admonition’ (16:90). Al Quran elaborates ‘O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, & whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both” (4:135). These verses emphasise justice as fairness, non-discrimination & equity in order to ensure balance & harmony, something at which Islam aims.


As a means, Islamic justice is soul-searching to internalise universal moral truths. There are two key tenets to Islamic justice: (i) equality before law, and (ii) the treatment of the wealth & income as the trustee of God on earth. Justice embedded in the notion of trusteeship is a call for conduct based on a code of personal ethics.


Islam takes personal life & social living in a holistic perspective. Islamic jurisprudence covers all areas of life & not simply those that are of interest to a secular state or society. In comparison to the modern day humanist principles or documents such as the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and welfare system, Islamic justice is rooted in the responsibilities of adherents as the trustees of Allah on earth. There are mutual rights & obligations among parents, children and near kin, and there is the obligatory distribution of inheritance among extended family.


In Islam, using intoxicants is a crime and forbidden both by the prescribed (Hadd) and un-prescribed (Tazir) punishments. The other areas include prohibition of extramarital relations, discouraging divorce, prohibition of homosexuality, taking care of orphans’ property, honesty in commercial transactions, and so on. It emphasises acquiring halal income and assets, and forbids rent-seeking against loan and prescribes Mudarabah or share of the profit instead.


One of the Five Pillars of Islam is Zakah- giving the equivalent of 2.5% of one’s assets to the needy in such a way as to preclude the giver any sort of benefit. The Holy Quran says “Alms are for the poor and needy, and those employed to administer (zakah funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt, and in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge & wisdom”.(9:60)


In Islam, community obligation is ‘fardekifaya’ and there are rights & obligations of individuals over community & vice versa. There are elaborate mechanisms to institutionalise philanthropy. Together these provisions cultivate and reinforce Islamic social capital and create a large space for informal societal and communal modes of governance.


Corruption as referred to in Islam is a broad range of behavioural traits that threaten the social, economic & ecological balance. Highlighting the importance of honest income, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “The truthful & honest merchant shall be with the Prophets, with the standard bearers of truth & with the martyrs” (Tirmidhi: Hadith 2796). The Prophet (pbuh) declined many who sought a public appointment on the grounds that such positions were a trust and given only to those possessing appropriate attributes. The Holy Quran explains corruption in plain language, in terms of being just or unjust, with reference to their detrimental impact on social organisation & universally respected standards of moral virtue.


The Holy Quran prohibits conflict of interest of the rulers, judges, decision-makers and parties to refrain from facilitating the unjustified appropriation of the property of others or public property by obtaining a favourable ruling in exchange for bribery (2:188). It calls such behaviour as “batil” meaning “false or deceptive” and “ithm: meaning “criminal or sinful or inappropriate”. The sunnah censures both the givers and the receivers of “rashwa” or private gain from public office or seeking rent for rendering normal duties. Gifts for public officials are rashwa and prohibited in Islam. Quran decrees that Muslim equity does not mix up with unlawful properties.


The terms “fasad”, “batil”, “rashwa” are used for dishonesty, bribery, corruption as negative connotations. In Islamic perspectives, lying and corruption are part and parcel of vice ingrained in human nature. There is zero tolerance for bribery in Islam. It rejects any idea that bribery serves as “the grease that oils the economic wheels”. There is no scope for legalising corruption in the name of commissions, gifts, donations, advances, or whatsoever. Moral education designed to inculcate in believers a clear preference for virtuous behaviour, and reinforced by Islamic legal structures and administrative systems, can combat corruption.


According to Islam all human beings are created to be inclined to truth, modesty & compassion, and fearful of ultimate accountability on the Day of Judgment. Shariah is the essential guiding force as it encompasses all aspects of human life and accountability to Allah. The Holy Quran states: “To Allah belongeth all that is in the heavens & on earth. Whether ye show what is in your minds or conceal it. Allah calleth you to account for it” (2:284).


There are as many as 19 verses in the Holy Quran placing emphasis on the reliability of information. In Islam, true disclosure of financial facts, and the provision of them without any deceit or fraud in order to satisfy users’ requirements, is essential to facilitate the making of decisions on investment and business matters. Much of the principles of Islamic BG stems from firm commitment to recognising private property, rule-based governance, transparency, supremacy of shariah and the brotherhood of the ummah.


The author is Chair of the Department of GCE at North South University


  1. property in mumbai
    September 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Interesting point of view. Wondering what you think of it’s implication on society as a whole though? There are times when things like this begin to have global expansion and frustration. I’ll check back to see what you have to say.

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