On the Islamic System of Government

Islam, as we know, is comprehensive of all the departments of life, both individual and collective. Like fundamental articles of faith, worship, morality, social behaviour and monetary transactions, it deals with government and administration as well and furnishes necessary guidance with regard to them. In fact, government forms a most important branch of it for it exercises a profound influence on many other spheres of human existence also. The four Companions, Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman, and Ali, who, one after the other, succeeded the Prophet as his deputies and Heads of the Islamic State did their best, paying due attention to the peculiar needs and conditions of their time, to follow, in all respects, his ways, manners of conduct and instructions while discharging their duties, and it is for this reason that they are known as Khulfa-i-Rashida (the Rightly-guided Caliphs). Only a government which wholly abides by the teachings and example of the Prophet, to the best of its ability, deserves to be called Khilafat-i-Rashida.

(1) It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever obeyed me obeyed God, and whoever disobeyed me disobeyed God, and whoever obeyed the Amir obeyed me, and whoever disobeyed the Amir disobeyed me; and the Amir is the shield: fighting is done behind him, and guarding (against an opponent’s attack) is done with him. Thus, if he (the Amir) gives the command of piety and Godfearingness and follows the path of justice, there is an immense reward for him, and if he acts otherwise, he will have to pay the penalty for it.” Bukhari and Muslim


Says the Qur’an: “Whoso obeyeth the Messenger, obeyeth Allah.” (IV: 80). The reason is plain. Whatever commands the Prophet gives are from the side of God, and it is His Will and Command that these should be obeyed. Hence, compliance with the commands of the Prophet denotes compliance with the commands of God, and violation of the commands of the Prophet denotes violation of the commands of God. Again, as it is by Allah’s command that the Prophet has declared that the Amir should be obeyed and his orders and instructions carried out faithfully, provided, of course, that these are not opposed to Shariat, obedience to the Amir will mean obedience to the Prophet, and, conversely, disobedience to the Amir will mean disobedience to the Prophet.

The aim of the above Tradition, apparently, is to emphasize the importance of rendering obedience to the ruler in what is lawful and legitimate, by indicating that to obey or disobey the Amir is to obey or disobey the Prophet, and, indirectly, God Himself. It, further, tells that the ruler is like the shield which is used for protection and defense. The Amir, thus, is the defender and custodian of Faith and protector of Muslims. It is a special function and responsibility of his for which he may, sometimes, even have to take up arms. Consequently, it is essential for Muslims to obey the Amir and carry out his orders for, without it, he cannot fulfill the duty of defense and protection. Lastly, those who are in power and authority are told to observe piety and justice, and keep it always in the mind that Allah is watching over them and they will have to appear before Him on the Day of Last Judgement and render a full account of the things done by them as rulers. For them, there is a vast reward in the Hereafter if they act and behave like that, or else a grievous penalty awaits them.

(2) It is related by Muawiya that the Apostle of God had once told him that if he was appointed the Amir, he should make the fear of God, and justice and fairness his practice. Muawiya says that “owing to this edict of the Prophet, I had a constant feeling that I was going to be entrusted with the responsibility of government until I was, from the side of God.” – Musnad-i-Ahmad


The moral of this Tradition for the rulers is the same as of the earlier one. They should govern with justice and make the fear of God the rule with themselves. It, also, shows that, perhaps, it had been revealed to the holy Prophet that Muawiya will come into power one day. Thus, he served as the Governor of Syria during the reigns of Umar and Usman, and, later, rose to be the Head of the Islamic State after the Treaty with Hasan.

(3) Umar relates saying that the Apostle of God said: “The best of men, in the sight of God, on the Day of Resurrection, will be just and benevolent rulers, and the worst of men, in the sight of God, on the Day of Resurrection, will be unjust and tyrannical rulers.” – Baihaqi



It shows that, in addition to being just and God-fearing, a ruler should, also, be kind and considerate in the exercise of his powers.

(4) M’aqil bin Yassar related to us: “I heard the Apostle of God say: ‘Whoever is made the ruler of a people by God, and does not sincerely, look after their welfare, he shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise’.” – Bukhari and Muslim


It tells that the ruler should take a keen and sincere interest in the welfare of his people. If he failed to do so and was neglectful of their needs and comforts, Paradise, and even its sweet smell would be denied to him. In it, and some other Traditions, the ruler is described as Ra’ee and the subjects as Raiyyat, In Arabic, Ra’ee denotes the shepherd, and Raiyyat, the herd he guards, The two terms are enough to show what the concept of leadership and government is in Islam, and what are the duties of a leader or ruler.

(5) It is related on the authority of Amr bin Murra that he told Muawiya that he heard the Apostle of God say: “The ruler who will shut his door to the weak and needy bondmen, God will shut the doors of the heavens at the time of his distress and privation, (Help will not reach him from God in the hour of his need.” – Tirmizi


The doors of the holy Prophet, and, after him, of Khulafa-i-Rahshideen, always remained open for the suppliants and petitioners. They had a free access to them and could meet and place their difficulties before them without any trouble, But when the Kharijis took to terrorism and Usman was killed by them and an attempt, also, was, made on the life of Muawiya, the latter placed restrictions on visitors. It was, then, that Amr bin Murra related the above saying of the holy Prophet to him. It is, further, mentioned in the same report that, after it, Muawiya appointed an officer who used to listen to the needs and grievances of the people and pass them on to him.

(6) It is related by Abdullah bin Umar that the Apostle of God said: “It is the duty of a Believer to listen and obey (the commands of) men in authority, in matters he likes as well as in matters he does not like, as long as he is not told to do a thing that is sinful. When, however, the person in authority, gives an order for something that is against the Shariat, the command to listen and obey will not apply.” – Bukhari and Muslim


It emphasises that if the ruler tells anyone to do a thing that may not be to his liking, but is not against the Shari’at, it is his duty to carry it out, irrespective of his own inclination or judgement. There will, ostensibly, crop up difficulties and confusion at each step if it is not done. But if the ruler gives an order that is inimical to the letter or spirit of the Shariat, he should not be obeyed. The commandment of God and His Shariat must prevail.

(7) It is related by Sa’eed Khudri that the Apostle of God said: “To say a just word before a tyrannical ruler is the best of Jihad.” – Tirmizi, Abu Dawood and Ibn-i-Maja


Though in a war there is the danger of defeat and death, there is, also, the hope of victory. But one, positively, risks his life, or, at least, invites punishment if one dares speak out boldly before a cruel and unjust ruler. For this reason, perhaps, it has been called “the best of Jihad”.

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