An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer

Authority and Government in the Light of Surah an-Nisa Ayah 58

The Offices of Authority and Government are Trusts From Allah

This tells us that offices and ranks of government, whatever they may be, are all handed over to the recipients as trust from Allah. Those who receive it are its amin (trustees). This covers all officials and everyone else in authority who wield the powers of appointments and dismissals. For them, it is not permissible that they give any office or job or responsibility to anyone who is not deserving of it in terms of his relevant practical expertise or intellectual capability. Instead of doing that, it is incumbent on those in authority that they must make a serious search for the most deserving person for every job, every office within the jurisdiction of the government.

Cursed is He who Appoints Somebody Undeserving to Any Office

In case, it is not possible to find the most perfect person for an office, someone with the most desirable qualifications and capabilities, someone who combines in himself all required conditions, then, preference may be given to the one who is superior-most in terms of his capabilities and trustworthiness from among the many of those available.

In a hadith, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam has been reported to have said,

“If a person, who has been charged with some responsibility relating to the general body of Muslims, gives an office to someone simply on the basis of friendship or connection of some sort, without finding out the capability or merit of the person concerned, the curse of Allah falls on him. Not accepted from him is any act of worship which he has been obligated with (fard) nor any of that which he offers voluntarily, all along till the time he enters the Hell.” [Jam’ul-Fawaid, p.325]

In some narrations it is reported that whoever entrusts a person with an office of responsibility, although he knows that there is another person more suited and more deserving for that office, then, he has committed a breach of trust against Allah, against His Messenger and against all Muslims.

The chaos and corruption seen in many systems of governance these days is a sad consequence of ignoring this Qur’anic teaching, as offices are distributed on the basis of connections, recommendations and bribes. The result is that undeserving and unmerited people usurp offices they are not fit to occupy, doing nothing but harassing millions of God’s own people, and in the process, destroying the very edifice of the system.

Therefore, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam said,

“When the responsibility of affairs is placed under the charge of those who are not deserving of and fit for then wait for the Day of Resurrection (that is, there is no solution for this chaos).”

This instruction appears in a hadith from Kitab al-Ilm of Saheeh al-Bukhari.

To recapitulate, let us remember that the Qur’an uses the plural form for trust obligations, that is, Amanatand this gives the hint that trust obligations do not simply relate to property or other financial assets held in trust by one person on behalf of the other. Instead of that, it has many kinds, included wherein are offices of the government.

There is a hadith where the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam has said,

“Meetings are a kind of trust”.

It means that anything said in a meeting is a matter of trust restricted to it. Reporting and publicizing what transpired there without the permission of participants is not permissible.

Similarly, another hadith says, “The consultant is a trustee”It is incumbent on him that the counsel he gives must be, in his best judgment, most beneficial for the seekers of the advice. If he gives an advice which he knows is not in the best interest of the seeker of the advice, he has committed a breach of trust right there. Similarly, if someone confides you with his secret, it becomes an article of trust kept on his behalf. Disclosing it to anyone without his permission is a breach of trust. So, the present ayah tells us to be very particular in fulfilling all such trust obligations as due.

It was just the explanation of the first sentence of the first ayah which has brought us this far. Now, we proceed with the explanation of the second sentence of ayah 58 which reads:

وَإِذَا حَكَمْتُمْ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ أَن تَحْكُمُواْ بِالْعَدْلِ

‘….and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice….”

What is obvious here is that the mode of address in the ayah refers to those in authority who decide cases of dispute. Taking their cue from here, some commentators have concluded that the addressee in the first sentence is the same as in the second that is those in authority.  This does not take into consideration the leeway that exists here too, very much like it is in the first sentence, that is, the probability exists that both office-holders and masses are included in this address for the simple reason that among the common people at large the usual practice is to appoint a neutral arbitrator to judge and decide between disputing parties. However, there is no doubt that, at the first sight, the addressees of both these sentences appear to be none but those in authority. Therefore, it can be said that their addresses are, primarily, those in authority; while, secondarily, this address is also directed at all those who are keepers of trusts, and who have been appointed to arbitrate in some case.

It should be noted that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has said

بَيْنَ النَّاسِ 

That is,

“…between people…”; and not ‘between Muslims’ or ‘between believers’. Thus, the hint given is that all human beings are equal in the sight of the decider of cases in dispute. They may be Muslims or non-Muslims, friends or enemies, or they may belong to the same country, color, language, or may be from another country, differ in color and speak a different language. Those who have been made responsible to judge between them are duty-bound to cast aside all these connections and give their decision guided by whatever be the dictate of truth, right and just.

[Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]

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