There are many leadership training programs and institutes, yet few emphasize the importance of moral virtue for a leader. Rather, power is pursued for the sake of power, wealth, pleasure, or ego. Our Islamic organizations are less in need of Machiavellian-style leaders who build up cult of personalities through ruthlessness and self-interest and more in need of leaders that are firmly rooted in virtue and futuwwa (chivalry).
The following is a letter that was written by Hasan al-Basri to the Caliph ‘Umar ibn Abdul Azeez. al-Basri first establishes the purpose of the ruler, which is, namely, to promote justice and stem corruption. He then sets forth a series of parables of the just ruler, comparing him to a shepherd, father, mother, guardian, heart, and intermediary between people and God. He closes with some reminders that just like a ruler has power over people, God has power over all and one’s life should be devoted to His pleasure.
Description of a Just Ruler
By Hasan Al Basri
“When ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz assumed the caliphate, he wrote to al-Hasan ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Basri asking him to write to him and describe the just ruler. Al-Hasan, may God have mercy on him, wrote:
“Be it known to you, O Commander of the Faithful, that God instituted the just ruler to be the redress of every wrong-doer, the discipline of every unfair person, the correction of every corrupt man, the strength of every weak one, the justice of every wronged being, and the refuge of every fightened individual.
The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is like a shepherd who is tender towards his camels and kind to them; he takes them to the best pastures, prevents them from going to dangerous places, defends them against wild beasts, and protects them from the harms of the heat and the cold.
The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is like a father who feels compassion for his children, works hard for them when young and teaches them as they grow older, earns for them during his lifetimes, and saves for them after his death.
The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is like a tender mother who is dutiful and kind to her baby, who bears him and gives him birth unwillingly, who brings him up as a child, staying up at night when he does, and being quiet when he is at rest; she suckles him for a time and then weans him, she rejoices when he is healthy and is saddened when he is in pain.
The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is the guardian of orphans and treasurer of the poor, educating the young among them and providing for the older ones.
The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is like the heart among the other body organs: they are healthy if the heart is healthy, and sick when the heart is sick.
The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is the one who stands between God and his servants; he listens to what God says and conveys it to them, he looks to God and makes them look too; he is led by God and he leads them. Therefore, O Commander of the Faithful, in relation to the realm given to you by God, may He be exalted and magnified, do not be like a servant whose master entrusted him with his wealth and dependents, but who wasted the wealth and drove away the dependents like tramps, thus impoverishing his master’s family and frittering away his wealth.
Be it known to you, O Commander of the Faithful, that God has prescribed punishments to act as deterrents to wicked deeds and vile acts. So if these deeds and acts are committed by those responsible for implementing the punishments, what will happen? God has prescribed punishment as a means to better living for His servants. So if the one who should be doing justice to them kills them, what will happen? And remember death and what follows it, O Commander of the Faithful, when you will have no adherents and no supporters to help you against it; so provide for it and for the great terror that follows it.
Be it known to you, O Commander of the Faithful, that you have a home other than the one you are in now. In it you will abide for a long time. Your loved ones will abandon you and leave you in it all alone. Provide for it that which will remain with you. “On the day when a man flees his brother, and from his mother and father, and from his wife and his sons.” (Q. 80:34-36)
Remember, O Commander of the Faithful, “…when what is in the tombs is resurrected, and what is in the breasts is gathered” (Q. 100:9-10), secrets will become manifest, and the Book “…leaving out nothing small or great but has recorded it” (Q. 18-49).
Now, O Commander of the Faithful, while you still have time and before the arrival of the appointed hour of death and loss of hope: do not rule God’s servants as the ignorant do, and do not behave with them as oppressors do, the way domineering arrogant ones conduct themselves with those they deem to be weak, for they observe no covenant or compact of protection. Otherwise, you will end up bearing your burdens and other burdens too, and you will carry your loads and other loads too. Do not be deceived by those who enjoy what causes you misery and those who eat good things in this world of theirs, for you will then lose your good things in the Hereafter. Do not look at your power today but look rather at your power tomorrow, when you are captive in the snares of death, standing before God, may He be exalted, and in the presence of the angels, the prophets, and the apostles, when “All faces shall be humbled before the Living, Self-Subsisting One” (Q. 20:111).
O Commander of the Faithful, although I have not achieved in my sermon what earlier men of intellect have, I have not withheld advice and sympathy from you. Consider this letter of mine to you as would a healer who gives his beloved to drink bitter medicine because he hopes for the cure and good health it will bring about. Peace be upon you, O Commander of the Faithful, God’s mercy, and His blessings.”
(p 25-26 of “The Unique Necklace: Volume 1” by Ibn ‘Abd Rabbih)