The Islamic Perspective on Excellent Leadership and Good Governance.

Posted on April 30, 2011


Professor Muhammad Abdallah Al Buraey, King Fadh University, presentation in Sydney, Australia (and commented upon  by Professor Rafik Beekun),

In choosing excellent leaders and making appointment of public officials, only merit matters, nothing else. [Note from Rafik Beekun: clearly as indicated by the Qur’anic quotations and ahadiths cited by Professor Buraey below, “merit” is not only performance.   From an ethical egoism perspective, “merit” could be performance at the expense of everybody else and everything.  However, the Islamic perspective of “merit” is one that is based on the rule of law, submission to Allah, empathetic justice, trust, integrity and promise keeping.)

1. Excellent Islamic leaders submit to Allah and govern by His Edicts:

  • Governance powers are prudently disciplined, checked, and the rule of law is ensured through supremacy of God’s  (Allah’s) direction“And whosever does not govern by that which Allah has revealed, such are the wrongdoers” ( Quran 5:45).
  • Note from Rafik Beekun: Although it is highly desirable to look for a leader with iman, it may not always be possible to find someone who has the requisite skills and is at the same time a strong Muslim. An Islamic organization may have to choose between a strong Muslim with weak leadership skills or a strong leader with moderate or weak Islamic understanding. The example of Amr ibn al ‘Aas is to be remembered here. He had been a Muslim for only four months when he was appointed by the Prophet (saw) to lead the Muslims at the battle of Dhat al Salasil. This issue was explained by Ibn Taymiyya in his book Assiyasah Ash-Shar’iyya. A leader with weak or inadequate expertise can bring disaster to an organization whereas a skilled leader may advance and help the same organization. Even if the skilled leader is deficient in Islamic practice, his shortcomings can be made up through the shura process of decision making.

2. Excellent Islamic leaders are empathetic, forgiving and use a shura form of decision-making:

  •  The Quran states: “And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you; so pass over (their faults), and ask (Allah’s) Forgiveness for them; and consult them in the affairs. Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah, certainly, Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)” (3:159).
  • Note from Rafik Beekun: Please note that this ayah was revealed after the battle of Uhud when part of the Muslim army (specifically the archers posted at the hill passes at the back) had abandoned their posts, and moved up to collect booty.  Their disobedience led to the near rout of the Muslim Army and to Muhammad (s) being wounded.  In the above verse revealed right after Uhud, Allah is ordering the Prophet (s) to show leniency to them.  The Qur’an also orders him to continue to use shura–even though it was a shura decision that led them to come outside the city of Madinah, and engage the approaching hostile forces.  Thus, the primary decision-making style of Islamic leaders is one that is consultative and participatory.  Finally, the above verse refers to the concept of Tawakkul–which I have discussed at length in my book on “Strategic Planning and Implementation for Islamic Organizations.

3. Excellent Islamic leaders are truthful, just and avoid bribery.

  • And do not devour your wealth among yourselves through falsehood, and offer it not as a bribe to the authorities that you may knowingly devour a part of the wealth of other people with injustice.” (2:189).

4. Excellent Islamic leaders keep their word and deal firmly with those who break theirs.

  • If you fear treachery from any people throw back (their covenant) to them (so as to be) on equal terms (that there will be no more covenant between you and them). Certainly Allah likes not the treacherous”. (8:58).

Accountability for Islamic leaders goes beyond the confines of this life; they will also be accountable to Allah in the Hereafter.  Here are two relevant hadiths from the Prophet (s) about the consequences to Islamic leaders who are corrupt, and self-serving:

  1. “There is no governor who rules Muslim subjects and dies, having played foul with them, but Allah will forbid him Paradise”
  2. “If he does not strive diligently to promote their welfare, he will not enter Paradise with them.”

Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them. And that when you judge between them, you judge with justice.” (4:58)