Ability to dispense justice makes a leader legitimate

It is for the state to find out, lay out opportunities, and define and design ways to enrich its people’s potentials


Durdana Najam October 28, 2021
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore. She tweets @durdananajam

hen Plato attained adulthood, Athens was on its last legs of peace and tranquillity. Its moral values and statehood had gone awry. Its people had become more inward-looking. Its leadership concepts had been skewed in favour of a self-aggrandising life that would seek immediate gratification instead of a sustained and prolonged struggle to an ultimate good. Such was the state of the affair that one of their finest scholars had to die in the hands of those who could not see their true image in the mirror that Socrates held.

He had to die to keep the value of justice, truth, and reality alive. Aristotle picked up the thread from there to continue the life journey that would impact humanity years on. A state is not merely a collection of people who need to be herded to some direction. A state is a living entity relying on its people. A state is not merely a collection of a few riding the big horse of leadership, whipping their people to submission along the way to rule and reign. There is a marked difference between a state and a zoo. People are not born to be chained but to be directed towards the ultimate good that benefits the world. It is the duty of those sitting at the helm of affairs to work out what suits best for whom.

It is for the state to find out, lay out opportunities, and define and design ways to enrich its people’s potentials. Eventually, the state, the people, and its leadership achieve the objectives of an authentic life toward the ultimate truth. However, this reality about the state’s mission could not be accomplished if those running the affair i.e. the leaders are not suitable for the job. When the state’s system is not based on equality or principles, it ultimately leads people to a self-fulfilling life.

When Athens fell in the hands of Spartans, it was the system and leadership style that led it to failure despite having the finest minds in the intellectual realm. However, it was the endurance and commitment of these intellectuals to Athens and their confidence in their society that they kept preaching idealism, from which eventually sprang a leadership concept that would hold the world in fascination for centuries to come. Western theories on leadership abound in definitions. From trait base to transformational, a leader is said to be a person born with innate qualities, such as self-confidence, intelligence, determination, integrity, and sociability.

This participative approach allows a leader to engage with his followers and make them pursue goals that transcend immediate self-interest. A true leader is interactive. He keeps in touch with his people. In western literature or concept, a leader is not bound by any religious decree but by a contractual underpinning that binds him to his people. A leader in Islam excels in knowledge, is committed to Islamic principles, and possesses superior moral values.

Power in Islam is a way to unite a leader and its follower toward a common purpose of achieving a respectful community life. A Muslim leader does not exercise his power to rule because he is ordained to do so, but because he was chosen by his people based on specific traits that he exhibits such as justice, knowledge, physical and mental fitness, sound judgment, courage, determination, and nasab (descent), as Al-Mawardi has pointed out. Hence, the leader is obligated to seek the community’s advice and administer it firmly once a policy decision is made. The leadership in Islam is not a right but a function to be performed on behalf of the community.

The Sharia rules out usurpation and hereditary succession as grounds of political legitimacy. According to Iqbal, personal authority is inimical to human individuality. Islam’s emphasis on humility and dignity is worth mentioning here. Subjects, even the humblest, have dignity; therefore, rulers must avoid arrogance. Leadership read from any angle in any literature, religious or non-religious, encompasses a singular concept i.e. a leader of the people, by the people, and for the people. Wisdom, an essential quality of a leader, is inculcated by exercising good deeds, knowledge and virtue.

A leader’s wisdom from Plato to modern theorists manifests itself in such virtue as administrative ability, mindfulness, clarity of vision, and shrewdness. It is not merely power for the sake of rule that makes a person leader, whether in a country or an organisation. It is the ability to dispense justice that makes a leader legitimate and worth following.

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