Account of Power, Beneficial Speech, Accountability and Oversight

Issue 829 » February 13, 2015 - Rabi Al-Thani 23, 1436

Living The Quran

Account of Power
Al-Rum (The Romans) - Chapter 30: Verse 8 (partial)

"Have they not reflected on their own selves?"

There are plenty of signs and evidence which point to the Hereafter but people are heedless of these due to their own short-sightedness. They only see the apparent and outward aspect of this worldly life and they are unaware of what is hidden behind it. If people reflect on their own selves, apart from the external phenomena, they will realise the necessity of a second life after the present one. The following represent three special characteristics of a human being:

1. All the bounties of the earth and around it are bestowed upon human beings for their use.

2. Man is free to choose a way of life for himself. He can follow virtue or vice, obedience or denial, the way of belief or disbelief.

3. Man judges deeds as good and bad and decides on a good action to be rewarded and an evil one to be punished.

These three characteristics in themselves identify that man will be called to account for his deeds, for the use of the powers delegated to him. This call will happen after man's life-activity has finished. The checking and auditing of the account will be done only after all the activities of not only one man, or one nation but of all mankind living in this world have expired. Hence, the very pattern of living in this world demands that after the present life there will be another life when a court will be established, the life-record of every person be examined justly and then reward or punishment be given according to one's deeds.

Compiled From:
"Words That Moved the World" - Qazi Ashfaq Ahmad, pp. 61, 62

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Beneficial Speech

The believers are encouraged to be thoughtful and to speak only with discretion and forethought as to the likely effects of the words they utter. For those who do so, the following Hadith promises a great spiritual reward:

"When a servant of God says that which is clear and correct (i.e. having given thought to whether it is beneficial or not), through (his words) he is distanced from the Fire by a distance greater than that what is between sunrise and sunset." [Riyad As-Saleheen]

When quoting this Hadith, Al-Nawawi makes the following observation: "although talk that is not for the sake of a benefit is generally frowned upon, conversation with one's guests, discussion in pursuit of knowledge and remembering the virtues of upright and pious are not discouraged."

Compiled From:
"Freedom of Expression in Islam" - Mohammad Hashim Kamali, pp. 129, 130


Accountability and Oversight

There is the risk that the deference ordinary people are sometimes expected to show to religious leaders and Sayyids can make it difficult to hold the latter accountable for any misbehaviour. Early modern reformers, who were keen to bureaucratize the religious sector, were particularly concerned about this. But even before modernity, there was a strain of Muslim popular and folk culture that related tales of the religious classes using their charisma and social capital to exploit the underprivileged, and to avoid accountability for their actions. A strong strain of what could be called "anti-clericism" has therefore, always existed alongside the reverence shown to "saints," Sayyids, and charismatic religious leaders. In the end, what is clear is that in the religious sector, as in the political sector, it is critical that institutions are accountable to the greater community. It is only with such accountability and oversight that any sector of Muslim society can carry and transmit the values their community ascribes to the Quran.

Ordinary people will never demand such accountability, however, if they do not have a certain level of confidence in their convictions and courage to articulate them. This is why we need not only to study the history of the dominant leaders and institutions in Muslim societies, but also to search for the voices of marginalized individuals and groups - to see how they articulated and maintained their faith when they had little power. It is for this reason that Abu Dharr's opposition to the Umayyads serves as an inspiration for those fighting the status quo. But here we need to exercise some caution. We cannot simply romanticize the voice of protest - after all, Abu Dharr was claimed as an inspiration not just by pious reformers but also by Arab communists. Further, the Khawarij were a marginalized protest movement - but they were ruthlessly violent and intolerant. Indeed, there is a lesson in that history as well: sometimes groups are marginalized for good reason, and no person, no matter how noble his stated cause, is immune from error or the temptations of arrogance and power.

Compiled From:
"The Story of The Quran: Its History and Place in Muslim Life" - Ingrid Mattson, p. 226