by Abu Dharr (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 2, Ramadan, 1444)
Let it be known that the Khilafah ruling method is based upon the concept of bay‘at. This means that the citizenry in an Islamic socio-governmental order is involved in deciding who their “chief executive” shall be. One way of understanding the Khilafah is to say that it was a “social contract” between the executive decision maker(s) and the resident citizens on the basis of Shura.
In this arrangement the successors to the Prophet (pbuh) vow to their constituents that they will rule by the standard of al-Haqq [truth, justice, and integrity], they will morally enhance the “public interest”, and they will continue – as best as they can – the course of action set into motion by the perfect Prophet of Allah. In exchange for that honest declaration by the khulafa’ the Muslim citizens pledge to “listen and obey” as well as to offer advice and to give support.
We don’t know of any imperfect successor (Khalifah) to Allah’s ma‘sum Prophet (pbuh) who imposed himself as a ruler upon the Muslims. Of course all of that changed with king Mu‘awiyah. To legitimately rule over an Islamic population there had to be an exchange of pledges: the ruler pledges to obey Allah (swt) and His Prophet (pbuh) and the citizens pledge to obey him as long as he honors his pledge to Allah and the Prophet (pbuh).
Governorship commences with this contractual relationship. This is particularly important to understand in light of the diabolic sectarian overtones and undercurrents that obsessively seek to keep the Muslims divided. This should explain to a rational thinking Muslim why the Prophet (pbuh) avoided a quick-to-develop public impression in a tribal/nationalist culture that would have understood Imam ‘Ali’s immediate succession to the Prophet (pbuh) to be hereditary rule – absent a societal consensus. We can read our common history and understand that the Prophet’s family unit [Ahl-al-Bayt] did not inherit authority and power, neither did Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, or ‘Uthman. Abu Bakr became the successor to the Prophet (pbuh) as a result of an honest albeit “less than perfect” social consensus.
In today’s political parlance he was “elected” – not by munafiqeen, al-tulaqa’, al-mu’allafah qulubuhum, al-A‘rab, etc… He was elected/endorsed by the true-and-tried prevalent critical mass of the Muhajireen and Ansar. Note that neither Abu Bakr nor any of the Khulafa’ appointed any of their sons or family members to become the ruler over the Muslims. When Abu Bakr selected ‘Umar to be the ruler after him he did so after consulting, probing, and scrutinizing the views and sentiments of the Muhajireen and Ansar in particular and others in general. Note that ‘Umar did not become the Khalifah when Abu Bakr chose him; he became the Khalifah when the Muhajireen and Ansar and the rest of the committed Muslims approved of him. ‘Umar categorically rejected the idea that any of his children would succeed him as ruler over the Muslims. After designating a Shura committee to choose his successor, ‘Umar designated his son ‘Abd-Allah to be a simple “tie-breaker” in case that committee was tied in its decision to agree upon a Khalifah. His son ‘Abd-Allah was not included in the Shura committee.
This guiding principle of Shura was ingrained in Islamic public opinion so deeply that when Mu‘awiyah prearranged for his son Yazid to be the heir (crown prince) to the throne, Islamic public opinion was inflamed. The public impression was that Mu‘awiyah had subverted the Khilafah/Imamah into a monarchy akin to the way the Byzantines and Persians did.
If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that the choice of rulers was not something revealed in Scripture, and was not meant to exclude people from affirming who will be their ruler. The Khilafah years of ruling were not meant to supplant the Imamah, rather they were meant to hold on to an interactive and integrative relationship between the rulers and those who are ruled. Never has this writer come across a statement by Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman saying that they are in opposition to Imam ‘Ali as “Imam”. They were popularly known as, and still prevalently identified as, the Khulafa’.
The initial fraying of this relationship between the Khulafa’ and the Muslim public emerged during ‘Uthman’s period in office when Mu‘awiyah, among other things, claimed that funds, revenue, and proceeds consigned to the Islamic Treasury belonged to Allah (swt) and not to the Muslims; i.e., no Muslim had any right to claim/demand any of that revenue. Muslim public opinion began to show signs of protest and opposition to high ranking officials in the Islamic administration – such as Mu‘awiyah who tried to exclude deserving Muslims of their financial rights.
Had Muslim public opinion been convinced that the government is a theocracy – a predefined and preordained divine administration – they would not have voiced their opposition to the digression that crept into Islamic decision-making during the rule of ‘Uthman. Later on, Mu‘awiyah sensing the magnitude of his statement and its potential to backfire and result in an untimely/premature overthrow of ‘Uthman along with the self-centered Bani Umayyah around ‘Uthman, apologized for saying that the Islamic revenue belongs to Allah; inferring that Muslims don’t have a share in that revenue.
Now we go from refuting Islamic governance as a theocracy to refuting Islamic governance as a democracy. There are those hypnotized and vassal Muslims who say that the Islamic form of government is a democracy. They allege that the governance of the Prophet (pbuh) and the two successors after him was ‘democratic’. This type of declaration is made without a careful and studied discovery of definitions. Before any Muslim ventures into the Euro-Greek origins of words, he should be cautious of their meaning and exact nature. The word “democracy” has to be traced to its origins, which in a few words stands for people ruling themselves, by themselves, for themselves. In general terms, this means that people are free to choose their ruler as they see fit without any divine guidance, scriptural guidelines, or Prophetic precedents.
The breach of relationship between the people’s chosen ruler occurs when the ruler(s) does not rule in favor of his citizens but rather in favor of himself, his class or his clique. Once this unguarded relationship is ruptured in a democracy, people have the right to overthrow their “elected” official(s).
This type of understanding dates back to the Greeks and carries over to this very day in different parts of the Europeanized world. You may find flexibility in the definition of the word “people”. During the Greek age of “civilization”, the word people was constricted so much that it applied only to a few among the larger populace. These few enjoyed all the legal rights in a court of law. The multitude were virtually stripped of citizenship equality and civic equivalence.
After the French Revolution the word “people” was extended to include other segments of society. Consequently, we had more people qualifying for political rights but not everyone. Most of the time it was a person’s wealth that determined his civil status or the amount of taxes he was able to pay, or it may have been his educational accomplishments.
Democracy in the past century is presented to be inclusive of all men and women citizens. In theory, democracy is supposed to be a type of institutionalized “checks and balances” between the ruling class and the electing class.
If we were to buy into the technical/literal Euro-Greek definition of democracy we will come to realize that, without doubt, the first generation ruling style (the Khilafah) was not a ‘democracy’. The Muslim masses did not choose their rulers at that time in a straightjacket democratic definition. It wasn’t the “people” who chose the Prophet (pbuh) to receive Allah’s revelation and thus to rule them with Scriptural standards of personal and popular social justice. It was Allah (swt) who chose His Messenger (pbuh) and from there on some people supported the Messenger (pbuh) while others opposed him.
And if we were to say that it was the people who chose/agreed to have the Messenger (pbuh) as their ruler, we have to acknowledge that those people (al-Muhajireen and al-Ansar) did not “democratically elect” him to be their ruler. People (committed Muslims) did not subject the Messenger of Allah to their “checks and balances” and the types of institutions that come from such “checks and balances”. Rather the Messenger (pbuh) would consult with them, they would at times advise, and only he would finalize whatever decision had to be made. It was the prerogative of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) whether to accept or reject their advice.
Thus, it is not accurate to say that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ruled as democratic heads of state. Remember, it was not all the Muslims of that time who chose Abu Bakr and ‘Umar to be the successors to Allah’s Prophet (pbuh). It was the true and tried Muslims (Muhajireen and Ansar) who chose the successors to Allah’s Prophet (pbuh) – even though at the beginning they differed and disagreed as to who the immediate successor to the Prophet (pbuh) shall be.
And to you [O Prophet] have We given this divine Writ, setting forth truth and justice, confirming the veracity of whatever there still remains of earlier revelations and determining what is true therein. (Al-Ma’idah, 48-50)