By M Zeb KhanJanuary 11, 2017Print : Opinion
The UNDP has suggested five principles of governance for the 21st century. These principles include the fact that all citizens should have a voice in decision-making and development should be driven by a long-term perspective with due consideration given to socio-cultural complexities.
In addition, institutions that deliver public service should be credible, responsive, and efficient, decision makers in government, private sector, and civil society organisations should be accountable to the public, and all people should have equal opportunities and enjoy equality before the law.
Islam does not give a detailed account of what an Islamic state should look like and how it should function. It, however, gives some signposts and broad principles that guide the conduct of state and statesmen in Muslim majority countries.
Designing the nuts and bolts of any system of governance is better left to Muslim scholars to work out – with due importance given to the Islamic spirit and prevailing conditions. A workable arrangement, therefore, always requires reconciliation between faith and reason. As this reconciliation does not endure for long, Islam recognises ijtihad (intellectual struggle) as an important instrument of law-making to keep its spirit alive and ensure that its application remains feasible.
At the centre of governance in Islam is the question of selecting the ruler (caliph or sultan as they were historically called). The name of Abu Bakr (RA), to lead the Muslim Ummah as its first caliph, was proposed by a group of prominent companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). It was subsequently endorsed by others through an oath of allegiance. Umar (RA) was designated by the incumbent caliph and endorsed by Muslims afterwards.
Before his death, Umar (RA) constituted a six-member council to nominate a caliph on the basis of a majority vote and Usman (RA) was, thus, chosen as the next caliph. Similarly, the choice of Ali (RA) as the fourth caliph was based on a criterion dictated by the given circumstances.
This implies that there is no one way of selecting a Muslim ruler and that any mechanism is justified, provided it legitimately ensures public trust and support.
Another vital issue relates to policymaking. Though the caliph had the final say in making decisions, he never deviated from the mainstream opinion of scholars and the shura (governing council). Abu Bakr (RA) declared publicly that Muslims were obliged to follow his orders if he followed the Quran and Sunnah and must stop him if he failed to adhere to Islamic principles of governance.
New situations and unique problems were handled by seeking guidance from the Quran and Sunnah. In case of the unavailability of clear injunctions and precedence, the matter was resolved through independent judgment by the shura. Ijtihad, thus, constituted the central pillar of law-making in Islam.
Ijtihad, however, was not performed in isolation but was based on the Islamic framework of human welfare, which has been thoroughly investigated and elucidated by Imam Ghazali and Shah Wali Ullah. The overarching goals of Islamic governance/shariah have been identified as the preservation of faith, life, lineage, intellect, and property.
The instrument of ijtihad made Islam flexible to learn from, making it easier assimilate the positive aspects of other cultures and civilisations without compromising on its core values. Islam has made strides in regions as diverse and distant as Asia, Africa, and Europe within a few decades, simply because it struck the right balance between the need for universal brotherhood (ummah) and diversity.
Islam, in a sense, promotes a governance system that is based on the concept of glocalisation – universal principles and local sensitivities.
The writer teaches at the Sarhad
University. Email:[email protected]