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14 December 2012

Islam on good governance

NO nation can dream of development without good governance. It is an essential prerequisite for all state and non-state organisations to abide by the principles of good governance in order to move forward and attain the goal of public welfare.

At the state level, it is considered important and connected with a nation’s overall development and its sustainability. People cannot make progress unless they follow the principles of good governance. Good governance is a culture that makes people act responsibly, thoughtfully and conscientiously.

They behave with restraint and avoid abuse of power. People in authority act within the parameters of the law and take upon themselves the country’s concerns and hardships. They remain impersonal in the discharge of their duties and imperturbable in front of critics. They respect popular will but never go beyond their tether.

Unfortunately, during the course of Muslim history we have hardly seen any worthwhile examples of good governance. The majority of Muslim lands remained under dynastic rule; most rulers were despots, self-serving and a law unto themselves.

Their princes used to fight for the throne and their infighting often led outsiders to invade. They were least concerned about the welfare of their subjects. Common people had very limited access to the corridors of power.

However, we have a shining example when the Holy Prophet (PBUH) became head of the state of Madina and exemplified good governance. He created a bond of brotherhood among the Muslim citizens, concluded agreements with non-Muslims and remained concerned about their welfare. He upheld the Islamic value system in which justice remains central. He declared that all humans are the offspring of Adam and that there is no difference between Arab and non-Arab (Ajam).

Islam is a religion which guides us in all aspects of human life. Our value system originates mainly from the Holy Quran and our progress is forever dependent on its application. We find a number of Quranic injunctions considered to contain the essentials of good governance.

First is the concept of amanah (trust). Allah says that to Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth.

Every human being is a trustee on earth. All his possessions, including health, wealth, livelihood, power and status belong to Allah. One who performs his or her duties honestly and diligently is upholding his amanah.

Allah enjoins believers to “…Betray not Allah and His Messenger, nor betray knowingly your amanah [things entrusted to you and all the duties which Allah has ordained for you]” (8:27). In the light of this concept, no one in authority is absolute; one has to remain answerable to his conscience.

Another important principle of good governance is that the ruler must be sincere and of impeccable character. He must consider himself not a ruler but a servant. Similarly, he should be mindful of his every act, that it should not harm his subjects. Those who transgress their limits are the most disgraceful, and the Quran refers to them as zalimoon.

Merit is also one of the important principles of good governance, whereby all appointments in state and non-state organisations are made on the basis of competence. Every human is born with certain inherent competencies and those who actualise their competencies with hard work, integrity and honesty get a premium.

Nature rewards them for being active and hardworking. The Quran says “And that man can have nothing but what he does” (53:39). In meritocratic societies people upgrade themselves professionally and grow economically due to their performance, competence and ability.

Islam encourages Muslims to acquire knowledge and occupy the best position in their societies. We read the life story of Hazrat Yousuf who was in captivity but was called to head the food ministry because of his high degree of competence and knowledge. He was thus able to prevent the impending famine.

Here knowledge became fundamental in governance. Many Western societies are ahead of us because of knowledge and it is the demand of the present time that our parliament and all lawmaking and law-enforcing bodies be occupied by knowledgeable people.

Similarly, the concept of taqwa is also closely linked to good governance. It is an all-inclusive concept which says that every believer should be mindful of Allah’s omnipresence and be aware of accountability. We live in the constant presence of Allah. No act goes unrecorded and no one escapes the accountability of his or her doings. If a public servant develops such a sense of Allah’s presence in his mind and heart, it would result in peace and well-being in society.

The absence of taqwa in any society often leads towards unethical practices. For example, our present-day society is in the grip of widespread corruption. This is the result of poor governance over the years.

When a politician submits a fake degree to stand in elections, when a police party kills a person in a fake encounter, when a businessman evades taxes, when a builder uses outdated material, when a teacher skimps on class work in order to sell his time privately and when a doctor recommends a drug to gain commission from a pharmaceutical firm then the concept of taqwa is grossly violated. The foundations of society are undermined and the nation’s future is ruined.

Many think they will escape judgement but the Quran says “And We have fastened every man’s deeds to his neck and on the Day of Resurrection We shall bring out for him a book which he will find wide open” (17:13).

The writer is an educationist. amin.valiani@itrebp.org