ISLAM AND GOOD GOVERNANCE

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DELIVERED AT THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON BEST PRACTICES IN GOVERNANCE, HUMAN RIGHTS’ FORUM ACCRA, GHANA

DATE: JUNE 22, 2014

INTRODUCTION

The world order constructed after 1945 has almost collapsed completely. Liberal democracy and Keynesian economics have not been able to provide answers to the multi-dimensional problems assailing modern societies- inflation, unemployment, widening disparities between the rich and the poor with all the attendant tensions and conflicts caused by these. All known political theories have failed to establish equilibrium in our social universe. The welfare state as well as the Marxist alternative has also not succeeded in confronting effectively the challenges occasioned by the post-industrial society’s movement from social contract to the corporate state. It is obvious that ‘things have indeed fallen apart and the centre cannot hold’ to borrow from W. B Yeats’ The Second Coming.

Despite the aforesaid, according to most political thinkers, liberal democracy still enjoys the goodwill of being the best political ideology. Francis Fukuyama for instance declared in an article in the Wall Street Journal on October 5, 2001, that his end of history thesis remains valid twelve years after he first presented it in 1989. His main argument in the article is that after the demise of Communism and National Socialism, there can be no serious ideological competitor to Western-style liberal democracy. Therefore, in political philosophy, liberal democracy is the end of the evolutionary process.

Other thinkers are however more cautious in their pronouncements. They realize that the various merits of democracy do not in any way preclude its inherent imperfections. Authorities like Schumpeter, Dahl, Sartori and Popper, despite their apparent appreciation of democratic ideals, have done their best to induce disenchantment and demystification. They all embrace the irony of Churchill when he defined democracy as the ‘worst of political systems except for all the others’, a definition that has invoked a guarded attitude on the part of the more enlightened political analysts in marked contrast to the somewhat brash and imperious assumptions of some of our Nigerian politicians, who, having been educated within the binary limits of western information-fed academism, do not see the difference between the ‘most applauded’ system and the ‘most appropriate’ one.

There is no doubt that democracy is the most applauded system in the modern world, and so-called democracies are seen as models for all nations. It is however pertinent to note that despite the wide acclaim; it is increasingly becoming more vulnerable as a system of governance. Recent history has shown that the system, in both the well established democracies as well as the neo-democracies, favours those already in power. In these nations, there is veiled leaning toward authoritarianism. The phenomenon of marginalization of masses and concentration of professional politicians naturally precede consummation of authoritarianism, which increases as a democratic system moves towards maturity. The people in whose name democracy is formed are often sidelined in favour of professional political merchants. The decreasing voter turnout from US to New Zealand is a testimony to this fact.

Leading political figures are therefore beginning to revisit their mythical views about democracy and its exponents. A leading politician in the US, Jerry Fresia, observes:

“Far from being a government of ‘the people’, ours is a government which rests on the assumption that ‘the people’, especially when they become politically excited, interested, and alive are thought of as subversive. Any serious student of political surveillance and repression in this country knows this to be true. But we seem to prefer to protect our moral high-mindedness by permitting elites, virtually at every chance they get, to persist in the lie that it is ‘we the people’, and not ‘we the largest property owners’, who govern this country. In so doing, we risk weakening our understanding of the ways, which systematically subordinate our lives to the interests of the rich and politically powerful. And in so doing, we invite our own destruction.”

Similarly, Ralph Epperson also declares:

“It is generally conceded that even a monarchy or a dictatorship is an oligarchy, or a government run by a small, ruling minority. Such is also the case with a democracy, for this form of government is traditionally controlled at the top by a small ruling oligarchy. The people in a democracy are conditioned to believe that they are indeed the decision-making power of government, but in truth there is almost always a small circle at the top making the decision for the entirety”.

In the light of the above, there is a dire need for a re-examination of the Ideals of governance in Islam, particularly at this period of our corporate existence as a nation. It must be understood that Islam does not speak of any particular system of governance. It speaks rather of the ideals of good governance. It teaches that good governance depends largely on God consciousness and our conducts and attitude; and not on the name we choose to call our system of government. It also depends on our appreciation, support and respect for the system we run. Because economic problems are as old as man’s sojourn on earth, Islam maintains that the political growth of human societies should always be measured against the social and economic wellbeing of the people. A government is therefore good if it scores high in the objective of achieving larger good for the generality of people in the society.

Islamic Principle of Governance

Governance, according to Islam, is premised upon what is called ‘al-maqasid ash-shar’iyyah’ that is, the objectives and goals towards which the legal and extra-judicial provisions of the shariah gravitate. According to Al-Ghazali {d. 1111}, these objectives are the promotion of the wellbeing of mankind as a whole through safeguarding of their faith, their self or soul, their intellect, their posterity and their wealth. Several authorities throughout the ages have attempted to rearrange the sequence of the ‘maqasid’, but the majority seems to have endorsed Al-Ghazali’s list and sequence.

Any system of administration therefore must acknowledge that man is a moral being in whose system the Divine has programmed the ability to discern between what is good and what is not. This ethical dimension of man is managed and coordinated by faith in Allah because moral values tend to fall within the caveat of relativism. What is therefore needed is ethical absolutism which is only possible with faith in a divine authority. It is faith that provides the worldview which shapes the human personality and provides the moral filter that injects meaning and purpose into man’s relationship with fellow men. When faith is safeguarded, the other focal points of the ‘maqasid’ namely, the human self, intellect, posterity, and wealth are given proper direction. The Sharia thus embraces all aspects of human life in its provisions. Good governance according to Islam therefore guarantees an all-round felicity for man by protecting his moral and spiritual wellbeing through his faith in Allah, his individuality and identity by nurturing his selfhood, his intellectual growth by illuminating and enriching his thoughts, his posterity through adequate provisions for his progeny, and his material possessions by functional fiscal legislation to safeguard his wealth.

Haven dealt with the objectives of the Sharia briefly and how it is reflected in governance, it is necessary to re-assert that Islam gives us no particular form of government. Two extreme schools exist on this issue. One claims that Allah has given us total freedom to construct our system of government based on our intellect, and the socio-political realities and peculiarities of our land and time. The second school on the other hand, insists that Islam provides a comprehensive, highly detailed and particularized system of government.8 The truth in reality lies somewhere between these two extremes. While Islam gives a certain amount of freedom to men to decide how they are to be governed, it does not leave them at the mercy of their whims and caprices. Neither does it impose a particular political system on men in obvious recognition of the cosmopolitan complexity of their nature. It rather gives a set of rules and principles which constitute the Islamic ideal. This ideal can be adapted to any system of governance. Its core essence is Divine sovereignty and its goal is to create a state where men are able to fulfill the purpose for which they were created. Maududi opines:

The state of Islam is not intended for political administration only nor for the fulfillment through it of the collective will of any particular set of people; rather, Islam places a high ideal before the state for the advancement of which it must use all the means at its disposal. And this purpose is that the qualities of purity, beauty, goodness, virtue, success and prosperity which God wants to flourish in the life of His People should be engendered and developed and that all kinds of exploitation, injustice and disorder which, in the sight of God, are ruinous for the world and detrimental to the life of His creatures, are suppressed and prevented.

Good governance is thus seen in Islam as any system based on God-consciousness, respect for the rule of law, social justice, mutual consultation and collective responsibility. In Nigeria however, It is obvious that we need a new social and economic ideology to meet the challenges facing our Nation. This ideology does not have to be entirely new in its contents. It may be a modification of the Western concept of democracy plus piety, in line with our worldview, vision of society, value-framework and moral ethos. What I am saying is that the most appropriate governance model- governance with piety and moral conscience must replace the most applauded, but the least properly applied system popularly known as democracy because our quest for social and economic justice has not completed and our failure to achieve it has proved to be the most tragic theme of the contemporary Nigerian history. We are not alone in this. The quest for good governance is a global phenomenon. Authorities such as Wilfried Beckerman in his Crisis in Economy or Economics, Amitai Etzioni in his ‘The Moral Dimension: Towards a New Economics’, Cristovam Buarque in his, ‘The End Of Economics: Ethics and the Disorder of progress’, have all argued in favour of morality driven socio-economic and political systems in the post-industrial societies.

The link between moral values and socio-economic behavior both at individual and governmental levels has been torn asunder during the ascendance of secular capitalistic systems. Political analysts, economists and social theorists are all trying today to re-discover the missing ethical link. May I conclude this talk with a very perceptive submission by a leading economist, James Robertson in his monumental work, ‘Future Wealth: A New Economics for the 21st Century. He writes:

Unlike both the capitalist and socialist versions of conventional economics, the 21st century economy must be based on recognition that people are moral beings whose freedom as such should not be narrowly bound by impersonal parameters laid down by market and state. The 21st century economy must accept, as an aspect of self-reliance, that people need space in which to exercise moral responsibility and choice in their economic lives. Measures designed to allow this free space to people as individuals, and also to groupings of people in local economies and national economies{ especially in the Third World}, must be part of the new economic order… The new economics must thus transcend the materialist assumptions of a conventional economics: that economic life is reducible to production and consumption; that wealth is a kind of product that has to be created before it can be consumed; and that wealth production and wealth consumption are successive stages in a linear process which converts resources into waste. It must re-interpret the manipulative concern of conventional economics with the production and distribution of wealth and the allocation of resources into a developmental concern with how to enable people to meet their needs, develop themselves, and enhance the resources and qualities of the natural world. It must recognize that because human beings are moral beings the basic questions about economics are moral questions.

NOTES AND REFERENCES

  • Michal Shanks, ‘What’s wrong with the modern world?{London: The Bodley Head, 1978} p.1
  • Francis Fukuyama, ‘ History Is Still Going Our Way,’ Wall Street Journal, October 05, 2001.
  • Lord Hailsham, ‘The Dilemma OF Democracy, {London: Collies, 1978} p3.
  • Abid Ullah Jan, ‘The End Of Democracy, {Canada: Pragmatic Publishing, 2003} p10.
  • Fresia Jerry, ‘ Toward an American Revolution,{ Boston: South Ene Press, 1988} p. 5
  • Epperson A, Ralph, ‘The Unseen Hand, { London: The Publius Press}
  • Umer Chapra, ‘ The Future Of Economics, {Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 2000} p118-119
  • Abid Ullah, loc cit, p 162
  • Ibid, p128
  • James Robertson, ‘Future Wealth: A New Economics For The 21st Century,{London:Cassell Publications, 1990}

 

 

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