Earlier this year, Shaykh Jihad Brown of the Tabah Foundation wrote an opinion piece on CNN entitled “Muslim Community at a Crossroads with a Leadership Vacuum” in which he argued “Community leaders both East and West have been unable to articulate a clear direction for Muslims that illustrates a positive, authentic identity that is engaged as a participant in global society.” The absence of a unifying figure to rally the American Muslim community in the recent Ground Zero Mosque debacle was picked up by even non-Muslims such as a Reuters article entitled “Lack of national Muslim leader seen in NY furor.“
Now, the natural reaction of some might be to just step up to the plate and declare themselves leaders, but this might end up fueling the fire of anarchy and confusion. It is important for the next generation of Muslim leaders to be firmly grounded in Qur’anic thought and Prophetic living before taking on the arduous task of leading a community facing internal dissension and external threats. We must realize that worldly office has other-worldly consequences and that leadership is ultimately an amanah (trust) and that one is held to account in ways that one may not anticipate.
The following excerpt is from the English translation of “Ma’ariful Qur’an” by Mufti Shafi Usmani. It highlights the conditions for seeking office as follows:
- An office must be available for which one is objectively the most qualified to hold
- One must engage in honest self-assessment and conclude that they are able to discharge the responsibilities of that office
- One must not seek office for the sake of recognition, power or wealth
- One must seek office with the intention of serving the Creator by serving His creation with justice and equity
- In other words, if the applicant were not to seek office, the creation of God would suffer some sort of tangible harm
The Conditions for Seeking Office in Islam
By Mufti Shafi Usmani
“Appoint me to (supervise) the treasures of the land” (Surah Yusuf 12:54)
“We learn that the seeking of an office or position with the government is permissible under particular conditions – as was done by Sayyidna Yusuf (alayhi salam) when he sought to be appointed to supervise and manage the treasures of the land. But, in the light of details regarding this matter, when it is known about a particular office that no one else would be able to manage it well – and one’s honest self-assessment indicates that he will be able to discharge the responsibilities of that office well enough, and that there is, in it, no danger of getting involved in some sin – then, this would be a situation in which taking the initial step of seeking the office is also permissible, subject to the condition that the reason for doing this should not be the love of recognition, power and wealth.
Instead, the main purpose behind this should be to serve Allah’s creation genuinely and to carry to them their rights with justice and equity – as it was with Sayyidna Yusuf (alayhi salam) whose sole purpose was no other but this. But, wherever such a situation does not prevail, the Holy Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) has prohibited the seeking of any government office on one’s own. And he did not give an office to anyone who himself made a request for it.
It appears in a Hadith of Sahih Muslim that the Holy Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) said to Sayyidna ‘Abd-ur-Rahman ibn Samurah (radhi allahu anhu) “Never seek an office (of authority or responsibility) because even if you get it by asking for it, the support of Allah Ta’ala , through which you could stay safe from slips and errors, will not be there. And if you get an office without the asking and seeking, help and support of Allah Ta’ala will be there, because of which, you will be able to fulfill the rights of that office as due. Similarly, according to another Hadith of Sahih Muslim, someone requested the Holy Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) that he be appointed to a certain office. To him, he said: ‘We would not give our office to a person who asks for it.’
(Surah Yusuf 12 : 53 – 57)
The Seeking of Office by Sayyidna Yusuf (alayhi salam) Was Based on a Wise and Benign Consideration
But, the case of Sayyidna Yusuf (alayhi salam) is different. He knew that the king of Egypt is a disbeliever. So is his staff. The country was going to be hit by a famine. At that time, selfish people would have no mercy for the creation of Allah and millions would die of hunger. There was no one around who could be relied upon to do justice with the rights of common people. Therefore, he himself made a request for that office of responsibility – though, he had to support his request by pointing out to some areas of his expertise, as a matter of necessity, of course, so that the king becomes satisfied and entrusts the office with him.
Even today, if someone feels that there is an office of government for which there is no one available, especially someone who would discharge the responsibilities of that office as due – and his honest self-assessment assures that he would be able to discharge the responsibilities of that office as due – then, it is permissible for him, in fact, it is obligatory (wajib) on him to seek that office. But, this will not be to satisfy his own desire for recognition, power or wealth. Instead, it has to be for the purpose of serving people, a mission which relates to the intention and plan in the heart, something which is all too open before Allah Ta’ala. (Qurtubi)