Advice Is Seldom Welcome, And Those Who Need It The Most, Like It The Least

Developing Just Leadership

Abu Dharr

Dhu al-Hijjah 24, 1445 2024-07-01


by Abu Dharr (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 54, No. 5, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1445)

Image Source - Pixabay Free Content.

In addition to the urgency surrounding the consequences of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s assassination that ‘Uthman had to diffuse, he also had to communicate with his administrators and persons in charge as well as the Muslim public beyond al-Madinah to give them advice and guidance.

One such letter he sent to them says: “Certainly, Allah demands leaders to be public servants and He did not mean for them to be revenue collectors. The first generation of this ummah was brought forth to be public servants and not revenue gatherers.

“It is not far-fetched to assume that there is a tendency for leaders to turn into revenue collectors rather than the public service leaders that they are supposed to be. If this were to happen, all mannerism of modesty, trust, and fidelity will fade away.

“Let it be known that the fairest course of action is to look into the affairs of the Muslim public and what weighs down on them. You [the leaders] are to give them what is [administratively] due to them and attain from them their [civic] due. Then you follow that same policy towards the dhimmi [conscience guarded] citizens: you give them what you owe them and they give you what they owe you. After that you can focus on revolving adversaries with whom you shall be scrupulous.” (End of ‘Uthman’s message)

As one may notice, this message was dispatched to regional governors and their townspeople with an emphasis on social justice and the unmistakable concern that those who are in power may possibly accumulate disreputable wealth. ‘Uthman should be keenly aware of this as he himself was now in power. Besides, he was a man of assets and affluence.

The letter is short but the gist is sharp. The summary of these policy guidelines: leaders are public servants and not money-makers. This means that those in power have to be gentle and generous with those who are not in power, the rulers should not be possessed with personal incomes and family earnings.

‘Uthman repeats the words public servants and revenue collectors a few times in his short communiqué. This means he was keenly aware of the likelihood that those in power have an unrelenting tendency to accumulate wealth. This is what made Islam appealing to the populations in and around the Arabian Peninsula: the leaders were similar to the pedestrians.

Islamic liberation was not meant to be a military conquest; it was meant to be a cordial and social penetration of hearts and minds that were yearning for social justice. This is another way of saying that “power corrupts”. And the fast lane to total corruption is amassing [covetous] wealth.

Sinful behavior, immoral conduct, and criminal policies are, in most instances, generated by an institutionalized pairing of power with wealth. Power has to be restrained by personal privation and individual wealth has to be constricted through the needs of the population. When the gap begins to widen between the haves and the have-nots, the trust is lost and with that, serious fissures begin to appear in society.

Mistrust generates its own problems. A backlash of revenge by those who are powerless and poor will eventually ensue and take its toll. The paradigm of selfless rulers (the Prophet (pbuh), Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar) in due course begins to disappear. Selfish rulers give way to self-seeking tycoons who sooner or later rationalize a “cut-throat free-market” that ends up dehumanizing, for all practical purposes, virtually the whole population.

Up to this very moment in the history of the khilafah there should be no doubt that the Prophet (pbuh) and his immediate two successors were unselfish decision-makers, self-sacrificing rulers, and altruistic members of society.

‘Uthman’s advice and guidelines sought a government that is—to use a later expression—“of the people, by the people, for the people” with the addition of “from the people and to the people.”

Here is another letter sent by ‘Uthman to his “tax collectors”. “Heretofore; indeed, Allah created all creation in accordance with al-haqq [truth-to-justice] and He does not accept anything except al-haqq [truth-for-justice.] Interact [therefore] with each other by swapping truth and justice by which everyone [powerful and powerless] obtains their right(s) and entitlement(s). Be adamant about your trusts (fidelity and trustworthiness); be vigilant about that. Be not the first to betray your trust as you will be complicit in what follows such betrayal of [the public] trust. And always honor your words and promises at all times. And do not mistreat the orphan or those who “sign agreements with you”. Indeed, Allah is an opponent to every wrongdoer.” [End of ‘Uthman’s letter.]

In another letter ‘Uthman sent to the military commanders he said: “What’s more, you are the guardians of the Muslims and their defenders; be mindful of what ‘Umar has instructed you to do which was a consensual policy [agreed upon by virtually all of us]. Let not any news come to me indicating that you have changed or altered any of those guidelines for if that happens, Allah will taint you and have others assume your responsibilities. Be very attentive to what and how you do things as I am very heedful of my God-given responsibilities and the duties thereof.” [End of ‘Uthman’s letter]

We notice in these letters that ‘Uthman reiterated the general guidelines that were stressed by ‘Umar as these fiduciary and military guidelines were a matter of consent and agreement among the Muhajireen and Ansar. ‘Uthman himself was party to that during ‘Umar’s time in office.

Up to this point ‘Uthman was in line with the general policies that he became heir to, following the Prophet (pbuh), Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar. If we were to set aside the radical conflicting viewpoints about ‘Uthman (of the Sunnis, Shi‘is, and Khawarij) we should be able to say that ‘Uthman being a rich man himself with an understanding of what wealth does to a person and an understanding of how Islam tames that person, he expressed his caution and warnings pertaining to the deviations of wealth, the vulnerabilities of a young generation of Muslims who were now becoming much more “cosmopolitan”, and the fact that the massive influx of non-Muslims into Islam carried with it a degree of either artificiality, pretension or even disingenuousness in some cases.

During ‘Uthman’s time in office the material goods and the worldly merchandises reached an all-time high. At the same time, hundreds of thousands became Muslims in the socio-ethical sense of the word but not necessarily in the theo-ideological depth of Islam. In other words, they did not acquire—yet—a deeply-ingrained Qur’anic culture.

This resulted in some citizens of the Islamic state becoming profligate either because they were “loose” in their understanding of Islam and the Qur’an or they were naïve, which gave rise to other citizens who reacted to them and became exceedingly strict and tight in their approach to Islam and the Qur’an.

It should be noted that ‘Uthman honored ‘Umar’s instructions to have the governors stay on in their positions and not be immediately replaced by whoever ruler came after ‘Umar. Thus, ‘Uthman kept the ‘Umar-appointed governors for his first year in office.

It was deemed necessary to explain ‘Uthman’s approach in running the affairs of the Muslim country through presenting the reader with the letters above. It must be stated that the beginning of ‘Uthman’s management of affairs was not what it became towards the end of his rule, as we shall see later on. So far, though, there can be no worthwhile or useful disapproval of ‘Uthman’s pronouncements or findings.

In the next disclosure, we will familiarize ourselves with the governors who were mostly appointed by ‘Umar and who were addressed by ‘Uthman in the letters above.

انما الأعمال بالنيات [Deeds are sourced in their intentions]. (Hadith Sharif, narrated in Bukhari and Muslim).

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