15.2 Are all politicians liars? The Islamic approach to political accountability

Photo credit: Iraq is still on fire over a decade after the US invasion.

In the previous post, we looked at how Islam deals with the issue of bias when extracting laws from the divine text. By dealing with internal biases, the problem of special interest groups is something becomes easier to manage because it is about the legislation, not the personalities involved. In this post, we look at what's required to make such a mindset possible and how to hold the rulers accountable.  

Paradigm shift: Essence of Islamic belief

Islam addresses mindsets before it addresses mindsets and makes this the foundation on which the Islamic personality is built. The Caliphate will not work if people still have the Capitalist mindset in place. Consequently, for an Islamic society to function, there must be a paradigm shift away from the current "cost-benefit." This thinking is not native to Islam but was imposed on the Muslim countries by the Capitalist colonialist who invaded the Muslim world due to colonial invasions. For a Muslim's belief to be complete, the Muslim must submit:

"But no! By your Lord! they do not believe (in reality) until they make you a judge of that which has become a matter of disagreement among them, and then do not find any straitness in their hearts as to what you have decided and submit with entire submission” [TMQ 4:65]

Those who seek to understand the Khilafah (the Caliphate) must first understand that paradigm shift one must attain. Think something as necessary as sleeping and eating. When one decides to follow Islam correctly, one cannot sleep and eat when they like. For example, the dawn prayer comes around 4 am in the high latitude areas (e.g. UK, Canada, Russia, etc.). This means we must break our sleep to fulfill one of the most fundamental obligations in Islam. Also, that Muslims must abandon eating and drinking for 12 to 20 hours per day for ~30 days consecutively.

This concept of obligation, or fard in Arabic,  is an integral part of Islam. In contrast, it is a four-letter word in Capitalism because the idea of putting a limit on oneself is the antithesis of freedom. For example, how did (the then-Senator) Phil Gramm justify removing the Depression-era limits placed on banks?  He did so in the name of freedom:

 "...we have learned that government is not the answer. We have learned that freedom and competition are the answers".

 Consequently, we see the powerful elite in a see-saw process where they tie themselves to obligations (to appease the masses) and then untie themselves when the timing is right:

 Depression (1929) --> Glass-Steagall (1933)--> Gramm-Leach-Bliley (1999); repeals Glass-Steagall  ---> Financial Crisis (2007) --> Dodd-Frank (2009)--> Gutted in 2018 --> Crisis in 20YY

The point is that Islam has the "ideological infrastructure" to mandate duties to rich, poor, and everyone to do things. In Capitalism, it is impossible to do this because the elites – taking their freedom to its logical conclusion – believe they are not obligated to anyone. Hence, the current situation we find ourselves with billionaires fearing that either rebellion is on the horizon or that pitchforks are coming for them.

Ruling: An “auditable” contract

So when we combine what we discussed in the first post and the concept of a paradigm shift, we can see that there is a greater scope to hold the rulers accountable. Also,  each law must be backed up by a divine text, so there is a way to "audit" whether they are being influenced by money or whatever else. In Islam, the ruler is contractually obligated to implement Islam on the people, and the people will obey them if they fulfill this. The Prophet (saw) authorized an armed uprising should the ruler implement a system other than Islam:

 “There will be Amirs, you will recognize some of what they do, and you will deny some. Whoever disliked them he will cure himself of the sin, and whoever denied he will be safe, but the one who agreed and followed (will not).” And the Prophet (saw) was asked: “O Prophet of Allah shouldn't we declare war against them?” He (saw) said: "No, as long as they establish amongst you the prayer.”

 Though the Hadith mentions establishing the prayer, by implication, it means the whole of Islam; this is an indirect expression which means governing by Islam. However, if the ruler makes an error or does something wrong. Then they should be corrected. For example, when the second Khaleefah (Caliph), Umar (ra) forbade the people to give too much in dowries. When he came down from the minbar, a woman from Quraysh intercepted him and said to him:

“Have you not heard what Allah revealed in the Qur’an? He said: What is that? She said: Have you not heard that Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “…and you have given one of them a Cantar (of gold, i.e. a great amount) as Mahr …” [an-Nisa’ 4:20]? 'Umar said: May Allah forgive me; all the people have more understanding than 'Umar. Then he ascended the minbar and said: I had forbidden you to do such and such, but now whoever wishes to give whatever he wants of his wealth may do so. He said: Whoever is happy to do that, let him do so.“

So, although it could be argued here that Umar (ra) had good intentions – to make marriage easier for the people –  his ruling contradicted the revelation. More importantly, he reversed his ruling within a span of a conversation. It didn't take months or a massive lobbying effort to get him to do the right thing.  We can contrast to the enormous effort that emergency workers had to put forth even to get the US government to hear the pleas for life-saving health care. Even after getting a celebrity involved, the government rejected their request due to "budget priorities."

That being said, the Caliphate is not a utopia. It’s a real state that requires the effort from the people to stay on track. Specifically, there can also be unjust rulers who will need to be advised – even if it means sacrificing one’s life:

 The Prophet (saw) said: “The master of the martyrs is Hamza and the man who stood to advise the unjust Imam and he killed him.” [Hakim] And he (saw) said, “The best Jihad is the word of truth which is said to an unjust ruler” [Abu Dawud]

 The Caliphate is not a magical system that will automatically correct itself. The people must take on the responsibility to fix their rulers. If they don't, well here I am writing this post in English instead of Arabic. 

Iraq: A Tale of Two Invasions

The invasion of Iraq is a good case and point that highlights the differences between Islam and Capitalism. Under Capitalism, when America invaded Iraq in 2003, they did so on the pretense that Iraq was a danger due to its alleged weapons of mass destruction and that:

"You [Iraqi] will be free to build a better life, instead of building more palaces for Saddam and his sons, free to pursue economic prosperity, without the hardship of economic sanctions, free to travel and speak your mind, free to join in the political affairs of Iraq."

We now know these are all lies.

No one was held accountable for the invasion that left 1 million dead. Till today the people of Iraq suffer due to this invasion.

What about Islam? The same land, Iraq, was also invaded by Islam centuries ago. But Islam fulfilled its promises. In fact, the capital of the Caliphate relocated to Baghdad reigning for a few centuries. Iraq was on one of the best of places to live on the planet with the House of Wisdom attracting all sorts of scientists and thinkers. In other words, when the Islamic politicians who were in charge at the time promised to bring better lives to the people of Iraq and, by Allah’s (swt) leave they did.  

So, are all politicians liars? No, they are not. Democracy, however, has made lying the norm instead of the exception. It is only the political system of Islam that has the ideological infrastructure that makes the truth the focus of society. This gives the citizenry the power to hold rulers accountable - even if they were the Prophet’s (saw) companion - to change course in a single conversation.

In the next post, in sha Allah, we will explore the propaganda used to cover up the influence of money in democratic politics and the counter-propaganda against it as well.