Obedience to a ruler is an obligation in Islam except in all matters sinful. The ruler according to the Muslim is referred to as the imam (that is the leader or the ruler). Due to his appointment at the helm of leadership, the ruler thus becomes a respected father figure who should be revered with due reverence and never be insulted or harassed, for this is what Islam teaches. No sane person would insult or allow anyone to disrespect his own biological father. Likewise the ruler who can be described as the father of the nation due to his leadership, should be well revered, respected and honoured.
There are many Islamic exhortations from the Noble Qur’an and sunnah (narrations and traditions of the Prophet Mohammad SAW) which emphatically underline obedience to the ruler, which comes right after obedience to Allah and His Prophet, the two most important symbols of Islam. Narrated by AbdullAh Ibn Abbas: The verse from the Noble Qur’an which states: “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”; [Surah An-Nisa; Verse 59] was revealed when ‘Abdullah bin Hudhafa bin Qais bin ‘Adi’ was appointed as the commander of an army unit by the Prophet Mohammad SAW. [Sahih Bukhaari; Volume 006, Book 060, Hadith Number 108].
It is narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah (May peace be upon him) said: “It is obligatory for you to listen to the ruler and obey him in adversity and in prosperity, in pleasure and in displeasure, and even when another person is given (rather undue) preference over you”. [Sahih Muslim; Book 020, Hadith Number 4524].
Democracy should not impair our better judgments, words and actions vis-à-vis doing what is right by ourselves, our rulers and the entire society. Let us not import some democratic model from elsewhere and adopt it wholesale without modifying and contextualising it to suit our unique needs and purposes. You cannot speak to or address the ruler anyhow. You cannot write or say about government whatever you feel like, purporting negativity and destructive criticism for you are sending the wrong signals to the generations to come and they might do much worse which would jeopardise national peace and security. If you see evil in the leader and his government, it is behooving one’s level best to endeavour to rectify it constructively and positively, in a civil and good way, wherein such rectification should not be the cause of a greater evil.
The best form of advice to the leader or anyone else for that matter, should be secretive, in a humble and respectful manner. In presenting one’s understanding of a particular subject matter, one should always endeavour to do so with wisdom and goodness. This is demonstrated very beautifully in the Noble Qur’an when Allah sent Prophet Musa to Pharaoh, the latter who was undoubtedly a tyrant and an oppressor who committed great evil of severe magnitudes and transgressed all boundaries (even calling himself ‘god, the most high’). Allah SWT advised Prophet Musa in Surah At-Taha, Verse 44 to speak to the evil Pharaoh thus: “And speak to him with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear (Allah)”.
In fact, Islam has taught us to keep good silence in circumstances when speaking the truth would only lead to greater harm or evil. We all cannot be drivers in one passenger vehicle. If everyone tries to grab the wheel to prove that he or she is the better driver, then we shall all crash and woefully perish. We all cannot be football players in a derby game. The pitch is only large enough to accommodate 22 players plus one referee for a duration of only 90 minutes (plus injury time, and our political constitution unfortunately allows no injury time for the leader). A football team cannot be coached by two or more referees otherwise there will be total chaos.
Likewise, this world and all that it contains (of the seen and unseen) cannot be managed by two or more gods! Otherwise the authority and absoluteness of Allah, The One and Only True God deserving of true worship, would always be challenged by the other co-gods. This will result to pandemonium in the heavens and the earth, where we infinitesimal earthlings would always be in constant danger of annihilation. So as commuting passengers in a passenger vehicle, or die-hard fans and or spectators of a football match, we could sound our best opinions and suggestions in constructive and helpful ways for the best possible outcomes and for the common good. Let us not try to be the bravest bull with the biggest and ‘baddest’ horns which can say or do whatever he wants, and address our leaders and governments anyhow no matter what.
To lead and to follow are both not easy tasks. Patience is the diamond key for the successful dispensation of both responsibilities. Governments, leaders and people do come and go.
Let the former government and its leadership be an important moral lesson for us today and tomorrow. Nothing is permanent and nothing shall last forever except Allah. To lead a whole country is indeed huge responsibility. Ask heads of households, CEOs of businesses and other institutions. It is very challenging indeed to manage human, material and financial resources and get them to work together for the achievement of development goals. The leader cannot successfully manage the country singlehandedly.
The government cannot also do it all alone. We as a people should always work together to help the leader and government achieve success, for their success is our success. We are the government, for we are its people and we elected them into office. One way or the other, either directly or indirectly, we as a people are implicated in the smooth or poor running of the affairs of government and the nation state. We as a people are a reflection of our leadership and governments. If we are good, then our leaders shall also be good and vice versa.
Allah says in the Noble Qur’an: “Verily, Allaah will not change the (good) condition of a people as long as they do not change their state (of goodness) themselves (by committing sins and by being ungrateful and disobedient to Allaah)” [Surah Ar-Ra’d: Verse 11].
So what is all this deafening noise about this and that and about our current leadership and the government? In fact we should be more worried about the current deplorable state of our youths, the swiftly deteriorating security situation intensified by increasing homicides, and the potential rise of the ugly head and face of tribalism just to mention a few. Is it that the cat is away that the mice will now play?! Do we rather prefer a leadership which would mercilessly beat our backs and get us to do things forcibly, than a lenient leadership that would listen to us and allow us grow and thrive in peace, progress and prosperity? Are we not reminded of the very important leadership lessons and the situations of countries like Libya and Iraq?
Let us remember that whatever good or bad we do comes back to none other than ourselves in this life and the after. The fire that we help put out in a neighbour’s house may well safeguard our homes from burning.
We are each other’s keeper and we should not develop the auto-destructive attitude of “it is not my business”. My brothers and sisters, it is definitely your business. We should not relinquish our rights and obligations to beautifully teach and remind ourselves foremost and others against the commission of all forms of social vices. We should collectively and individually advise the thief to stop stealing, the cheat to stop cheating, the gambler to stop gambling, the alcoholic to stop drinking, the prostitute to cease prostitution, the liar to stop lying, the bully to stop bullying, the lazy to start working, and so forth until we have a clean, healthy and functional society.
No one will truly help us unless we start helping ourselves. And none shall truly respect us, unless we start by respecting ourselves. So how can we really reproach an outsider from insulting and disrespecting The Gambia and Gambians when it is us who insult and disrespect our own selves and at the highest level?
May Allah bless us with good lives and endings. Remember that to pray for the leader and his government is indeed Islamic. It is reported that Fudayl Ibn Iyyaad (may Allaah have mercy on him) said, “If I had one supplication that was going to be answered I would make it for the imam (the ruler), for the wellbeing and righteousness of the Imam means the wellbeing for the land and its people.” [Al-Dhahabî, Siyar A’lâm Al-Nubalâ` in his biography of Fudayl Ibn Iyyaad].
Imam Al-Barbahârî stated in Sharh Al-Sunnah pages 113 – 114; “If you see a man supplicating against the ruler, know that he is a heretic, and if you see a man supplicating for the ruler, know that he is a (Muslim) and a Sunni – inshâ Allâh.”