South Africans of all persuasions are bracing themselves for a hive of lively road shows after the various political parties launched their election manifestos recently. An election manifesto is a public declaration of the action plan, policies and priorities that a party aspires for if it is voted into power. People do not just vote for issues that are in the party political manifestos but for personalities as well, which means that the manifesto has to be supported by an individual of integrity. What are the credentials of a reputable leader and how does leadership engage with the electorate once it comes into power?
Honesty and Justice
“O, Dawood! Verily we have placed you as a successor (Khalifah) on the earth, so judge between men with truth and justice.” (38:26). The Qur’an refers to the leadership role of Nabi Dawood u by highlighting the most important credentials of a leader; an undying commitment to honesty and justice. It is the religious obligation of a leader to govern on the basis of justice irrespective of colour, cult, class, gender or creed.
Transparency and Accountability
The inaugural speech of the very first Caliph of the Islamic empire serves as the benchmark for people in leadership positions. When Abu Bakr Radhi-Allahu anhu was nominated as the Caliph after the demise of Nabi Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam he addressed his people thus: “People! I have been put in authority over you and I am not the best of you. So if I do the right thing then help me and if I do wrong then put me straight. Truthfulness is a sacred trust and lying is a betrayal. The weak amongst you is strong in my sight. I will surely try to remove his pain and suffering. And the strong among you is deemed weak by me, until I take from them what is rightfully (someone else’s), insha-Allah.” When obscene things spread among any nation, calamities generally continued to descend upon them. As long as I obey Allah and His Messenger Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, you should obey me, and if I do not obey Allah and His Messenger Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, then obedience to me is not incumbent upon you.
This short but very profound address has innumerable lessons for us. A brief analysis of the speech reveals the following salient indicators:
1. “People! I have been put in authority over you and I am not the best of you.” This is a clear declaration that you do not assume power because of any inherent superiority over others nor are you treated differently in the eyes of the law because of the political seat that you occupy. The hallmark of a good leader is that he is unassuming and humble as is evidenced from the statement of Abu Bakr Radhi-Allahu anhu when he says: “ I am not the best of you.”
2. “If I do well, then help me; and if I act wrongly, then correct me.” Abu Bakr Radhi-Allahu anhu affirms the obligation of citizens to support him in doing the right as well as their right to hold him accountable and to demand correction if he does wrong. Citizens cannot afford to remain docile in the face of wrong doing and corruption, and simply entrust the business of governance to those vested with power.
3. “Truthfulness is a sacred trust and lying is tantamount to treachery.” Truthfulness is far more than having an honest tongue. In Islam, truthfulness is the conformity of the outer with the inner, the action with the intention, the speech with belief, and the practice with the preaching. Truthfulness is the very cornerstone of the upright Muslim’s character and the springboard for his virtuousness deeds. Nabi Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam has said: “I order you to be truthful, for indeed truthfulness leads to righteousness, and indeed righteousness leads to Paradise. A man continues to be truthful and strives for truthfulness until he is written as a truthful person with Allah. And beware of falsehood, for indeed falsehood leads to sinning, and indeed sinning leads to the Fire. A man continues to tell lies and strives upon falsehood until he is written as a liar with Allah.” [Muslim]
4. “The weak among you is deemed strong by me, until I return to them that which is rightfully theirs. And the strong among you is deemed weak by me, until I take from them what is rightfully (someone else’s), insha Allah.” Justice is the corner stone of good governance. The weak shall not be overlooked because of their helpless and vulnerable social and economic position nor shall leadership ingratiate itself to the strong because of their power and influence. The Qur’an warns us against the notion of selective justice: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah even though it be against yourselves or your parents or your kin and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts) lest you swerve and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (4:135)
5. “Obey me so long as I obey Allah and His Messenger Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam. And if I disobey Allah and His Messenger Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, then I have no right to your obedience.” Obedience to the leader is contingent upon the leader following the source of legislation – the Qur’an and Sunnah. Patriotism is therefore not an unqualified commitment or loyalty to an individual or to a party. Loyalty should never be a simple matter of ‘my party right or wrong’. Such blind prejudice borders on bigotry and fanaticism.
We often complain about corruption in government. Beyond complaining what is our duty as Muslims when dealing with fraud and corruption? Anas ibn Malik Radhi-Allahu anhu reported: The Messenger of Allah Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or is being oppressed.” It was asked, “O Messenger of Allah, we help the one being oppressed but how do we help an oppressor?” He said, “By seizing his hand.” [Bukhari] When we see a leader oppressing people, indulging in corruption, etc. we have a moral duty to speak and to demand corrective measures.
Religion is advice
“’The Deen (religion) is naseehah (advice/sincerity).” We said, “To whom?” He said, “To Allah and His Book, and His Messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk.” [Muslim] The hadith states that “Religion is advice.” What is the meaning of ‘advice’ to leaders in this hadith? Advice to the leaders involves helping them in the cause of Truth, advising them about justice, kindness, and instructing them about vice and immorality. “The best jihad (in the path of Allah) is to speak a word of justice to an oppressive ruler.” [Abu Dawood]
Participation in the electoral process involves much more than just casting your vote. We cannot simply make our mark at the ballot box and then leave the business of governance to those elected to power. It requires making an informed choice and then holding those voted into power accountable.
May Allah bless our country with peace, prosperity and morality.