What Islam says about governance
By Mohamed Guleid
| August 29th 2016
Today I revisit the issue of corruption. During a recent Friday prayer at a local mosque, the Imam addressed the issue of mismanagement of public resources and what Islam has to say about it.
Here I am using the same title the Imam used for his sermon using this platform, considering its relevance to the contemporary Kenyan context. The subject under discussion was the leadership of Omar Ibn Khattab and his lessons on governance.
In his inaugural speech, Omar Ibn Khattab, the second caliph of Islam (ruler between 634 and 644 AD) said: “God has for the time being made me your ruler. But I am one of you. No special privileges belong to a ruler. I have some responsibilities to discharge, and in this I seek your cooperation.
"Government is a sacred trust, and it is my endeavour not to betray the trust in any way. For the fulfilment of the trust I have to be a watch-man. I have to be strict. I have to enforce discipline.
I have to run the administration not on the basis of personal idiosyncrasies; I have to run it in public interest and for promoting the public good. For this we have the guidance in the Book of God. Whatever orders I issue in the course of day-to-day administration have to conform to the Quran.”
According to Islamic faith, the Caliph is the head of state (equivalent of the modern-day President). Such a powerful message after taking the oath of office sends a clear signal of accountability. Under Khattab’s reign, poverty was reduced to zero and an unprecedented level of prosperity was witnessed.
Some narratives suggest people were so rich that the government could not find any destitute to give the zakaat (Muslim alms). There was zero tolerance to corruption. Khattab used to mingle with the low and mighty members of society to show his humbleness . “When it comes to matters of corruption Kenyans need to turn to God and pray” declared the Imam in his sermon. There was even a suggestion to declare corruption a national disaster in Kenya.
The President should declare a national day of prayer and dedicate it to raise awareness and to help us understand the negative consequences of this vice. The Islamic religion gives guidance on reducing excesses in government and how to increase accountability and transparency.
“A simple way to do it is to get some knowledge and create a curriculum for State officials to study the governance system of Omar Ibn Khattab, the second caliph and leader of the Muslim world after the death of Prophet Mohamed,” the imam suggested. The inauguration speech of Omar Ibn Khattab is probably the clearest language any leader ought to use to show commitment to good governance.
But the Caliph also created systems that ensured public resources are carefully guarded and the ‘baitul maal’ equivalent of our national treasury was well managed. People paid their taxes in forms of zakaat willingly and public officials were vetted for honesty and obedience to God.In the last two weeks, issues of corruption hit headlines again.
The spectacular mismanagement of the National Olympic committee and a survey on corruption early this year shows the level of corruption is still very high and probably worse than before.
Some leaders including those at the county level are said to have amassed so much wealth at the expense of development increasing disparities and gap between rich and poor which by itself poses unforeseen danger for the stability of our country.
The issue of corruption and misuse of public funds has been a subject of debate in Kenya for a very long time. The perception by most Kenyans is that they no longer trust government officials. During the early years of President Kibaki’s government, a former British diplomat complained openly that corrupt ministers were “eating like gluttons” and “vomiting on the shoes” of foreign donors.
When the diplomat was asked to apologise, he said, the only apology he could give was for underestimating the scale of the looting and for failing to speak out earlier.
That was 11 years ago, but today the level and intensity of corruption have increased both in scale and sophistication. The looting spree at national and county government is going on and with the new financial year starting around this time, officials are busy planning how to steal. Service delivery is not a major priority for most state officials.
Omar Ibn Khattab was once informed one of his officials was engaged in trade and had earned additional money beyond his salary. The Caliph summoned the said official and inquired about the source of his excess wealth.
The official replied he had earned additional money from doing honest business. Omar then commanded the official to surrender all the wealth he earned from doing his business and asked him resign if he wanted to engage in trade. The bottom line is it all comes down to leadership.
If the leadership at the top is not compromising, those at the bottom would have no choice but to follow the leader. A friend who recently visited Georgia told me that more than 10 percent of state officials currently are in prison due to anti-corruption crusade by the current president. I think a quick and rigorous effort to clean up our system is long overdue. The sooner we start the better before the dragon called corruption consumes all of us.
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