The principles of administrative mentality in Islamic civilization

Emre Aracı

Administration has come until today as a phenomenon from the time of the Prophet Adam (as). It has seemed as one of the most basic needs of humanity, because the innate nature of human requires an efficient administration, and many natural events, which we can call the innate nature of the universe, also teach us the administrative mentality.

To be able to define a system as an administration, these four elements must be together:

1- A particular thought system

2- A community that gathers around this thought system

3- The goals to be pursued, and the aims to be achieved, which are proper to the thought system

4- A leader, or administrator, who coordinates and organizes all these elements in a particular way of relationship and balance and ensures supervision. 1

Now, in consideration of the elements mentioned above, we can evaluate the administrative mentality of Islamic civilization as follows:

1- Our thought system is Islam which we describe as “greater humanity” and the borders of which are drawn by the Islamic scholars.

2- Our community – currently – is the 2-billion Muslim ummah.

3- Our aim and purpose are to secure the happiness of the two worlds, make the justice prevalent under the sun, establish the order of the world, and raise the perfect human. And many others can be mentioned here.

4- Our leader, administrator, is the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and, after his passing away, the Khalifah who is charged with the Prophet’s duties except prophethood and represents him.

Before we continue with the principles of administrative mentality, I would like to draw your attention to two hadiths that form the backbone of Islam’s administrative mentality:

The master [leader] of a people [nation] is the one who serves them.2

All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. The amir [leader] of a people is a shepherd and he is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. A man’s servant is the shepherd of his master’s property and he is responsible for it. Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock.3

The principles of administrative mentality in Islam

The administrative mentality in Islam is based on five elements: Trust, Justice, Merit, Consultation, and Legitimacy. Islamic scholars stated that the administrations that are formed based on these elements are ‘legitimate.’ 4

1- Trust

Trust means “confidence, uprightness, a thing put into someone’s protection.” As a term it has got the meanings that the position of service and authority is entrusted to the administrator’s protection, and these positions can be protected by confidence and uprightness.

In Islamic civilizations, administration is not only entrusted to administrators. The administered is also held responsible for checking the administrator. It is the aim of an ideal society that the administration is both entrusted to the administrator and the administered. In a narration, it is said that the best of the jihads is to say the truth to the face of tyrant ruler. When he became the Khalifah, Abu Bakr (ra) said, “Warn me if I stray from the justice.” Upon this, the companions said, “We correct you with our swords.” Omar (ra) said when he became the Khalifah: “O people! Obey me as long as I obey Allah and our Prophet. If I stray from the right path, correct me with your swords.”

The following event beautifully shows the understanding of trust and reliability in Islam:

When Omar (ra) was the Khalifah, a companion came to his office. He said ‘assalamu alaikum’ and sat down. But Omar (ra) did not return the greeting at that moment. He was busy with his work, so the companion waited. Having not looked at the face of the companion, Omar (ra) finished his work and put out the candle. Then he lighted another candle and started talking by returning the greeting of the companion. The companion asked:

O Omar! Why didn’t you return my greeting at once and why did you start talking to me after putting out one candle and lighting another one?

Omar (ra) replied:

The first candle was bought with the state treasury. If I busied myself with personal affairs while it was burning, I would be held responsible in the sight of Allah. For we would not talk about state affairs with you, I lighted the candle which I bought with my own money and then I started to talking to you.

2- Justice

Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi evaluated the concept of justice in two ways: the positive justice, which is to give the rightholder his due; and the negative justice, which is to discipline the wrongful. 5

Legal arrangements have come into existence with the need for protecting the human honour. The humanity has always been in search of being governed with justice; and the justice has been accepted as the basis of the state. Prophets and holy books were sent to secure the justice. Allah (swt) has commanded people to be just: “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression.” (Nahl, 16:90)

Another verse from the Qur’an about this subject is as follows: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah , witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.” (Ma’idah, 5:8)

In a narration it is said that the most beloved and the closest person to Allah in the Doomsday is the just ruler, and the person whom Allah torments most and keeps away from Himself is the tyrant ruler.

Kınalızade Ali Efendi wrote in his Ahlak-ı Alai, “Justice exists with state, state exists with land, land with soldier, soldier with treasury, treasury with subject (folk), and folk exists with justice.” What draws attention here is that Kınalızade links the justice of the state to the justice of the folk which is formed by individuals’ coming together. This understanding is exactly in line with the hadith “You are governed how you are,” and with the sentence “Let the human live so that the state lives.

The Islamic civilization has developed its “view of justice” based on the understanding mentioned above. The proof for this is the thousands of just administrators in the 1400-year Islamic civilization. I will mention a striking event occurred between the Ottoman Sultan ‘Fatih Sultan Mehmed’ and a Greek architect:

The sultan entrusts two marble columns that will be used for the Fatih Mosque to the Architect Sinan Atik, who is originally a Greek. Sinan shortens the columns. The sultan gets angry for that and orders to punish him by cutting architect’s hand.

The architect wants to claims his right against the sultan. The first kadi (judge) of Istanbul, Sarı Hızır Çelebi accepts and files the claim.

When the sultan is summoned, he likes to sit down but the judge does not allow him to sit down. “Sir! You are going to face the complainant before the law,” he says. The sultan stands together with the complainant at the court.

When his plea is asked, the sultan accepts his mistake. The judge declares the sultan as guilty because of what he has done and decides to punish him with the same thing he has done for the architect which means his hand will be cut off.

Those present are all shocked. It is such an extraordinary situation that the architect’s hands and feet begin to tremble. Finally, when he comes to his senses, he goes down on his knees to the sultan and says, “I withdraw the lawsuit. I am dwarfed before the greatness of Islam’s justice. I cannot risk being cursed till the Doomsday by making the hand of such a world conqueror cut.” But the judge decides the sultan to pay compensation. And the sultan pays it from his own money.

When the case finished and everyone is gone, the sultan pulls out an iron bar and says to the judge, “If you had not decided to cut my hand according to the rules of Islam, I would be smashing your head with this bar.” And the judge takes out his mace and replies, “If you had not accepted my decision because you are the sultan, I swear, I would kill you with this.”

3- Merit (suitability, capability)

It means “being worthy of, suitability, capability, competence.” In Islamic civilization, the following five elements have vital importance in terms of an administrator or leader’s having the merit: ‘ilm, taqwa, akhlaq, cability to govern, and justice.

Allah (swt) shows Adam (as)’s suitability for being the Khalifah on the earth with regard to his scholarly superiority. By teaching all of the names, Allah (swt) showed that Adam (as) – and the humanity in his person – is superior, under certain conditions, to the angel and is suitable for being the Khalifah of the earth. 6

If an administrator does not have taqwa, that is, if he is not afraid of Allah (swt), his ‘ilm (knowledge) has no validity. Because someone who cannot apply his knowledge to his life cannot be appointed as an administrator.

Moreover, the most important characteristic that an administrator should have while leading the Muslims is the moral, or akhlaq. Only one example is enough for this matter. Our Lord, Allah (swt), addressed our Prophet (pbuh) in a verse: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you.” (Al ‘Imran, 3:159)

Giving the job to the competent is actually a matter of foresight and intuition. Our Master, Muhammad (pbuh), had these both and did the right thing while taking his most loyal friend Abu Bakr (ra) with him during the emigration to Madina; choosing Cafar b. Abu Talib as the head of the group he sent to Habashistan; sending Mus‘ab b. Umayr (ra) to Madina as the first murshid, or guide; leaving Ali (ra) in his bed before beginning his emigration to Madina; and leaving Abbas (ra) in Makka for intelligence. He charged them according to their skills, and all of them did their best and fulfilled their duty thoroughly.

Similarly, it is a good example that just a short time before his death our Prophet (pbuh) appointed 17-year-old Usama bin Zayd (ra) as the commander of the military expedition to Syria among all the other companions. It has been understood how much our Master (pbuh) gave importance to the skill while giving a mission. In this way, both the duties are fulfilled successfully and the companions felt at peace by being successful in doing their duties.

Abu Zar (ra) narrated:

I asked, “Oh the Messenger of Allah, would you not assign me [as an official]. He said to me, “O Abu Dharr, I see that you are weak and I like for you what I like for myself. Do not rule over (even) two persons, and do not manage an orphan’s property.7

Muslim leader, or administrator, must get the rightful weak’s due from the powerful oppressor; strengthen the weak, that is, establish the justice. Abu Bakr (ra) told in his sermon: “The weak among you is the strongest beside me in case of being rightful; the strongest is the weakest beside me in case of being wrongful.

Let’s finish the subject of merit with the words of Omar (ra) and Imam Bediuzzaman.

Omar (ra) said: “The administration can only be achieved with a discipline that does not cause oppression; gentleness that does not cause weakness; generosity that does not cause extravagance; and frugality that does not cause stinginess.8

Imam Bediuzzaman said: “Oh the class of the high! We, the common people and the people of the madrasa, demand our rights from you. We ask you to confirm your promise with your action, not to excuse yourselves with the mistakes of others, not refer the works to each others, not to be lazy with the works in your responsibility, to make up for the opportunities missed because of you, to listen to our affairs, consult with us about our matters, to disturb your comfort a bit, and ask after us!9

4- Consultation (Istishara)

Mash‘ar is the beehive, shura is the honeycomb, mishwar is the spatula for gathering the honey, and istishara is to gather the honey. (Mütercim Asım Efendi, Kamus Translation)

Holding a consultation with each other and making a decision about things, and then continuing accordingly is called “istishara.” It is one of the fundamentals of Islamic administration. The verse 42:38 (“…whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves…”) was revealed at the period of Makka, when the Islamic State (in Madina) was not established yet. It is emphasized in the verses of the Qur’an that the understanding of consultation should direct the life.

“…And if they both desire weaning through mutual consent from both of them and consultation, there is no blame upon either of them….” (Baqarah, 2:233)

“…and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah….” (Al ‘Imran, 3:159)

It is known that as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) commanded the Muslims to consult with each other, he himself consulted with his companions about general or private things. As a matter of fact, the Prophet (pbuh) took every decision that is crucial in the fight for survival of the first Muslim community by consulting with his community. Various stages of the battles of Badr, Uhud and the Trench; the Baiatul ridwan and the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah are some of the examples.

When the verse 3:159 (“…consult them in the matter…”) was revealed, the Prophet (pbuh) said:

“Know that neither Allah nor His Messenger needs counsel. However, Allah made it a mercy on my ummah. Whoever hold consultation among them does not remain deprived of goodness, and whoever gives up consultation cannot escape mistakes.” 10

Imam Bediuzzaman strongly emphasizes the importance of consultation:

The key to Muslims’ happiness in Islamic social life is the mutual consultation enjoined by the Shari’a. The verse, “Whose rule is consultation among themselves.” [Qur’an 42:38] orders consultation as a fundamental principle. Just as the consultation of the ages and centuries that mankind has practised by means of history, a conjunction of ideas, formed the basis of the progress and sciences of all mankind, so too one reason for the backwardness of Asia, the largest continent, was the failure to practise that true consultation.

The key and discloser of the continent of Asia and its future is mutual consultation. That is to say, just as individuals should consult one another, so must nations and continents also practise consultation. For it is the freedom resulting from the Shari’a, which is born of the consultation enjoined by the Shari’a, and the noble-mindedness and compassion of belief that will loosen and remove the fetters and chains of the various forms of tyranny fastened to the feet of three hundred, rather, four hundred million strong Islam.11

5- Legitimacy

Legitimacy means being proper to the public morality and the law. The legitimacy in Islamic administration is the regulations which carry positive value in terms of religiosity, morality and law, and which the religion approves. Legitimacy is based on the superiority of Divine Law. The ordinance of the Qur’an is clear in this subject:

O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.” (Nisa, 4:59)

Muslim administrators, in terms of authority, are the implementers of Allah (swt)’s ordinances. They cannot act arbitrarily in legislation, implementation and judgement or make any concession to a person or a group.

During his caliphate, Ali (ra) gave an order. After a while he wondered if his order was carried out, and asked:

“Did you do what I told you?”

Having not carried out the order yet, ashamed and timid, they said, “No.”

Ali (ra) warned them as follows: “I swear by Allah, you either do what is commanded, or the Jews and the Christian come and walk all over you.12

While determining the fundamentals for the virtuous society it wants to build, the Islamic civilization also presented the fundamentals of the understanding of administration of this society. When these fundamentals are examined, the administrator in the Islamic civilization knows that the society and the belongings of the society are the responsibilities of him as a result of the duty given to him; protecting the trust and being reliable become his characteristic. Reliable administrator governs the society with justice. He ensures that everybody is equal before the law. Administration is given to the one who is competent. The suitable administrator, who performs the fundamentals of the trust and justice, is chosen with consultation. The administrator who is chosen as a result of consultation obtains legitimacy. Obeying “ulul amr” (those in authority) who has obtained legitimacy is compulsory. When the adaptation of these fundamentals is achieved, it can be possible to build a virtuous and model society, equipped with wisdom and justice, with which Allah (swt) will be pleased.

Our Lord! Make these fundamentals rule our social life again! And make us virtuous Muslims! Do not give any change to those who target our unity, solidarity, life, religion and Qur’an in the Islamic world and in our homeland! Amin…

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  • İdris Tüzün, Hizmetkar Liderlik Modeli
  • Kashful Khafa
  • Bukhari
  • Enver Çakmak, İslam Kültür ve Medeniyeti
  • Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, Zülfikar
  • Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, İşaratü’l-İ’caz
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  • Kanzul Ummal
  • Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Debates
  • Imam Bauhaqi, Shuab ul Iman
  • Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Damascus Sermon
  • Ibn Abi Shaybah

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