Humility Is A Guide For Islamic Rulers
In everything the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, whether a comment on a situation, a story, an advice, or a sermon, and in everything he dictated, such as an agreement, a promise or a letter, he was in effect delivering God’s message, explaining the part of it that was related to the situation in hand.
He realized that his mission meant that he dedicated his life to this task. God tells us that His messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him), provides a good example for us to emulate if we aim to earn His pleasure and happiness in the life to come. Therefore, the Prophet realized that he had to provide such good example, by word and deed. He certainly did that in the best way a human being could do.
One value that the Prophet wanted instilled in his followers was humility. This is a virtue that people would do well to have. However, it is easily lost when a person is in a position of authority. The Prophet wanted those whom he appointed as commanders or governors to make this virtue natural to them. Last week, we looked at a hadith which detailed some of the instructions the Prophet gave to such commanders, when they faced an enemy. Before they could engage the enemy in a fight, they were to offer them one of three choices. The same hadith gives further instructions, as follows: “If you besiege people in a fort and they want to make an agreement with you, asking you to give them a pledge on God’s honor and His messenger’s honor, do not give them that. Give them a pledge on your own and your companions’ honor. Should you violate a pledge on your honor is much lesser (as an offense) than violating a pledge on God’s and His messenger’s honor. If you besiege people in a fort and they want you to administer to them God’s judgment, do not do that, but give them your own judgment. You do not know whether you exactly pass God’s judgment on them or not.” (Related by Muslim).
In this outline, the Prophet urges anyone who is in a leadership position to keep focused on their positions. They are entrusted with duties of responsibility and they must discharge their responsibility without losing sight of the fact that as human beings, they are liable to make mistakes or take wrong actions. Hence, if an enemy wants to arrive at some peaceful arrangements with the Muslims, the Muslim commander should grant them that. It is natural that the surrendering enemy wants to be certain of the commitment of the Muslim army. Therefore, they ask for the agreed arrangements to be solemnized with a pledge on God’s and His messenger’s honor. The Prophet tells such commanders not to give such a pledge. Should circumstances change, a different commander takes over, or a threat is perceived, or anything that might compel or persuade the Muslims to go back on their commitment, they would be violating a pledge given in God’s name and on His honor. This is very serious. Hence, they should never put that to the test. Instead they make their pledges on their own honor. This is sufficient for any party, because Muslims must never violate their promises.
The same applies to anyone asking for his case to be dealt with according to God’s verdict. A Muslim governor or commander must never give such a pledge, because he will rule according to the circumstances and conditions that are presented to him. There may be something he does not know that may affect his judgment. Hence, he cannot tell in advance that his judgment will concur with God’s judgment. Therefore, his pledge is to look into the matter in hand and consider it in accordance with God’s law, but his judgment will be on the basis of what he sees to be right. Of course he will have to make every effort to arrive at the right judgment, but in the end it will be his own. We see how in our world dictators utilize every means at their disposal to instill in people’s minds that what they do is the absolute right, producing the ultimate good. Even leaders in democratic regimes make similar claims, albeit a little tamed. A Muslim ruler will always know his place and say that he will endeavor to be right, but as a human being he is liable to err.
– by Adil Salahi