Rulers and the Ruled


‘What ever good befalls you is from God; and whatever misfortune befalls you is from yourself.’

(The Holy Qur’an)

Islam assumes that the governing elite should be an example upholding the highest level of Islamic ethical conduct, both in their outer rituals as well as in their personal qualities. When, however, this is not realized a clear division appears between the class of rulers and the ruled. Such divergence in the history of Muslims has often led to confrontation and revolt.

An institutionalized separation between the rulers and the ruled had begun from the death of the fourth Caliph’ Hazrat Ali (Razi Tal’ah Anhoo), when the objectives and the life styles of the Umayyad Caliphs and courtiers diverged from the general Muslim public. This state of affairs continued almost throughout the entire history of Muslims. In the early days it was the Byzantine and Persian Sassanian administrators and court advisors who helped Muslim rulers in fiscal and other bureaucratic controls. These were gradually replaced by other non-Muslims and foreigners who not only dealt with matters of finance but also military affairs and foreign relations.

The Ulama of the courts were all highly domesticated, often chosen for their tolerance, support, and ability to rationalize the rulers’ decisions and actions according to Islamic legal and theological precept. These Ulama were often held in contempt by ordinary people, echoing what prophet had said.

’’ I fear for my people (on account of) the Ulama who condone the rulers.’’

For the most part court life and public life continued in parallel giving rise to a culture of accord and mutual understanding. As long as the ruler appeared to be reasonably just and not too oppressive, the two tiers co-existed. Occasionally, however, confrontations erupted and in most cases the rulers resorted to brutality and sheer force, manipulation and certain compromising adjustments. Because the Shi’i maintained that the right to rule Muslims belongs to the qualified Imam, in whose absence only the most pious and knowledgeable could rule, the majority of the shi’is either opposed or ignored the institution of kings and sultans. The Sunnis on the other hand often accepted the rule of any Muslim as long as he professed Islam and the majority of the populace acquiesced.

The general population had their own hierarchy of Ulama as well as of leaders of commerce, artisans, and landowners. The ‘’people’s system was allowed to function as long as the ruler was paid his taxes and allowed to requisition his recruits. These Ulama and mosques maintained their independence from ruling interest through endowment, often in the form of shops and other sources of income.

This was general arrangements until the emergence of the twentieth-century modern Muslim, ‘’State. ‘The model for which was imported from the West and forcibly grafted on to Muslim lands, for it was not an indigenously cultivated model. From then on all mosques and other Muslim institutions were absorbed by the governments, thus coming directly under centralized rule. By the middle of the century, the new-style governments controlled every aspect of the life of the Muslim masses. This resulted in the rise of numerous opposition groups, frequent confrontation, and all kinds of social upheavals and disasters. In the past the alienation of the rulers from the ruled had seldom resulted in such major clashes because people had been left alone to live their ‘’separate’’ lives.

The situation in contemporary ‘’ Muslim states’’ is such that the rulers version of Islam is often no more than a ritualistic veneer, bearing no resemblance to the divine prophetic model. Pious and serious Muslims often consider their Government as traitors to the true cause of Islam and all attempts to democratize or parliamentize their method of government have therefore resulted in failure or are mere cosmetic face-lift to ensure Western approval.

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