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Good Governance in Islam

By Mohammad Abbas

IN public administration all the key public functionaries ought to be people of high calibre, just and energetic and must possess qualities of head and heart. In the words of fourth rightly guided Caliph Hazrat Ali (RA) they should have the qualities of refinement, experience, alertness, power of comprehending problems, secrecy, freedom from greed and lust.

A careful analysis of principles of administration and qualities of an administrator from Islamic point of view would show that man’s personal character is the key to good governance.

Perhaps the most exhaustive work on Islamic ethics of administration and qualities of an administrator is by a Pakistani specialist on public administration Shaukat Ali. His book “Administrative Ethics in a Muslim State” offers a comprehensive survey of instructions in the Holy Qur’an and “Traditions” on the subject.

The other monumental work on Islamic system of administration is by Dr. Mohammad Al Burray of Medina University. The book is titled “Administrative Development: An Islamic perspective.

The following advice to the Governor (Wali) Mali Alk-Ashtar contained in a letter of Hazrat Ali (RA) gives in a nutshell the qualities of an administrator. He should be an ideal for his staff and fellow citizens and choose the most qualified yet pious, honest, truthful and God-fearing men for his administrative structure.

He should be impartial and dispense justice with equity and should be very careful about the back biters, sycophants, corrupt and scandal mongers. He should constantly remain in contact with his staff consult them and should not issue authoritative and arbitrary orders.

He should strike against corruption, injustice and evil usages of authority against citizens and take responsibility for any defect in his subordinates and staff. He should not reserve for himself or his relatives any common property in which others have share and stake.

If studied carefully, this letter of Hazrat Ali (RA) (text available in Nahjul Balagha) is a blueprint for efficient administration. It is based on the golden principles of Islam. The emphasis is on the character of the administrators.

They should continuously watch that justice, social equity and honesty prevail in the society and conduct themselves as servants of the people and trustees of state and of those below them in command as well as the public in general. They should love their fellow citizen as they love themselves and their families and not behave like rulers.

A long letter written during the rule of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mamun is another best available source on the principles of administration in Islamic literature.

Written by Tahir Ibn Al-Husayn, Al-Mamun’s general, to his son Abdullah Ibn Tahir. This letter is summarized in Ibn-e-Khaldun’s “Muqqaddamah”. According to Ibn-e-Khaldun, Tahir in this letter to his son gave him advice concerning all religious and ethical matters.

He urged him to strive for virtue and good qualities in a manner so exemplary that no king or commander can do without. The general theme of this letter is duties and responsibilities of the administrative leaders or executives.

In the letter principles of administration abound and deal with accountability and punishment, moderation in administration, avoidance of falsehoods, consultation with specialists, on employment policy, supervision and foresight, punctuality, redressal of grievances and complaints, care for subordinates and the people of the State generally, a time schedule for officials, and policies governing revenue and expenditure.

Since Islamic system is democratic in nature and is based on Shariah and the Sunnah, there is no place in this system for dictatorial leadership, authoritarian attitude and one man decision-making. This is the principle which forms a constant current in Islamic system of administration. The system is human in nature, content and application. When Hazrat Omar (RA) would appoint a governor, he would invariably advise the incumbent

“Not to make reception halls so that you are accessible to every one, not to eat refined flour as it is not available to all citizens of the Ummah, not to wear thin cloth because this would make you easy going and not to ride a Turkish horse because this would make you haughty”.

There is absolutely no doubt that principles of administration in Islam are by far the most scientific and comprehensive set of principles for effective and efficient administration. Instructions of Hazrat Omar (RA) and Hazrat Ali (RA) noted earlier provide a complete frame for Islamic administration.

Islamic system of justice includes social justice, which means that the Government must manage to meet and fulfil the needs and requirements of all citizens because they have rightful share in State resources and are bonafide citizens of the country.

This includes provision of job, means of subsistence and economic justice. This further implies that it is the responsibility of the State to provide food, shelter and clothing to all the citizens of the State. Economic justice is aimed at equitable distribution of means of living and check concentration of wealth in a few hands.

That is why the rightly guided second Caliph Hazrat Umar (RA) refused to allot lands to the Muslim soldiers and commanders in areas conquered by Muslims in Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Only justice can create discipline in life of the people. Also essential is administrative justice, which means that all State functionaries are also subject to accountability and do not consider and treat people as “slaves” or “personal servants”.

They should not insult the people in any manner. They should be honest and efficiently administer public affairs. It should be ensured that the concentration of wealth in one class or in a few hands does not occur.

According to Ibn-e-Khaldun, a successful and viable administrative set up is that in which people’s participation is ensured. If the governed feel that they share the administrative process, the society would be stable.

What Ibne Khaldun observed is reflected in modern theory of New Public Administration(NPA) that administration should be such as make people feel that they are equal partners in the process of planning, administration and implementation. Thus public participation is an essential part of Islamic model of administration.

During the caliphate of first four rightly guided Caliphs and the rule of Umayyads and partly during Abbasid rule and under Fatimids in Egypt, public administration was a great success because of its efficiency and God-fearing administrators.

[The writer is former Director General Radio Pakistan]


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