Quran, Autocracy and Dictatorship

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Seyyed Mehdi Mousavi

Dictatorship has always been a major hurdle on the way of dignity and progress of nations and Quran’s attitude to dictatorship can help the existing Islamic countries adopt correct political behavior. This paper will try to delineate basic principles of methods stipulated by Quran to fight dictatorship.

Introducing the concept

Dictatorship is when a person refrains from consulting others when he should do so. This word has been frequently used in Islamic traditions and literature and its conventional meaning is when a person imposes his own opinions without heeding other people’s viewpoints [1]. There are many words in the holy Quran which denote this state [2].

Quality of dictatorships

Political systems can be divided according to different criteria. Some divisions have been passed to us by Plato and Aristotle as well as Muslim thinkers and every one of them have divided political societies and systems in accordance to their own basic political ideas.

Farabi, the great Muslim philosopher has divided societies into two categories of utopia and corrupt societies. He also subdivides corrupt societies into six subgroups one of which he calls “madinat al-taghallub”. He means a land where a tyrannical rule is governing people by force and mentions dictatorship as a blatant example of such rule. In such a society, he argues, there would be no freedom and manliness and they will be supplanted by bloodshed, deceit, and class divide [3].

Charles Louis Montesquieu (1689-1755), the great French theorists, has written in his book, The Spirit of Laws, that political systems are divided into monarchies, dictatorships, and republics and notes that the basis of dictatorship is fear [4].

Ayatollah Naeini has divided political systems in two groups in his book, “Tanbihul Umam wa Tanzihul Milla”: 1. Tamlikiya or dictatorships; and 2. Wilayatiyah or the rule of law and constitutionalism.

In totalitarian political systems including dictatorships, despotism, totalitarianism, fascism and so on, rulers impose their decisions on people. Under such systems, political decisions are made unilaterally without any care for the public opinion and people’s demands and in the absence of any limits to the power of political rulers [6]. Therefore, in an autocratic system there is no boundary to the power of the ruling person and he is considered as manifestation of law and the symbol of sovereignty [7]. The head of the state acts upon his powers [8]. In short, the political system of a dictatorship is a lawless system run according to the will of the ruler [9].

Quran has explained about autocratic dictatorships with which prophets have fought and has paid special attention to autocratic rule of pharaoh.

When Moses was ordained prophet by God, he was first instructed to go to pharaoh in order to remove the most important obstacle on the way of human culture and religion. In Quran, pharaoh is the symbol of a tyrant who has created an atmosphere of terror, murder, and plundering the society and who exploits people as if they are his slaves [10].

The important point regarding psychological disposition of tyrants is that since they lack popular base and legitimacy, they are always fearful about continuation of their rule and, therefore, try to repress people through austerity and muffling free speech. Quran has revealed this fear as such “And we wanted to make them lords of that land and to show Pharaoh and his minister, Haman, and their armies the thing that they were always fearful of.” This Quranic verse shows that Pharaoh and Haman had a constant fear which upset them all the time.

Quran rejects dictatorship

The teachings of monotheism and Quran are by no way compatible with autocracy and dictatorship and Quran has showed that incompatibility throughout its text:

1.    The Holy Quran has noted that prophets aimed to establish justice on the Earth. Quran says, “We have sent our messengers with proofs, and sent them with the book and the scales, so that people might establish the scale (of justice)” (Chapter Hadid: 25). God has also told David to judge among people on the basis of justice: “David, we have made you a caliph in the earth. Judge with justice among people,” (Chapter Saad: 26).

2.    Quran has also advised Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) to consult with Muslims and use their intellects and experiences. “Take counsel with them in the matter,” (Al-e ‘Imran: 159). “Those who answer their lord establish the prayers, and their affairs are by consultation; who spend of that which we have given them,” (Chapter Shura: 38).

3.    Quran has warned Muslims about any form of supplication before anybody but God. The Quranic culture has noted that dignity is only for God and his prophet and the faithful: “But they might belong to Allah, and his messenger and the believers, but the hypocrites do not know,” (Chapter Munafiqoun: 8). And no non-Muslim may be superior to Muslims: “Allah will not grant the unbelievers any way over the believers,” (Chapter Nisa: 141).

4.    Quran announces that worship should be for God and the authority belongs to the faithful: “Believers, obey Allah and obey the messenger and those in authority among you,” (Chapter Nisa: 59).

5.    Quran maintains that no human being is superior to the other and all are equal in creation: “People, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might know one another. The noblest of you before Allah is the most righteous of you. Allah is the knower, the aware,” (Chapter Hujarat: 13).

6.    Quran warns Muslims about giving in to or doing injustice: “Neither do injustice, nor accept it,” (Chapter Baqara: 279).

7.    The role of prophets in fighting dictatorship and repression is among the most important roles in Quran. Quran has introduced dictatorship and repression as the most important obstacle on the way of guiding human beings and has noted that prophets were assigned to oppose it. Quran has put much emphasis on this mission of prophets.

Methods proposed by Quran to fight autocracy

1.    Public awareness

Today, public opinion plays a great role in decision-making by government and in establishment and development of social and political movements [11]. The higher social awareness, the more dignified will be that society. Quran has paid special attention to guiding people and has told Prophet Mohammad (PBUH): “Call to the path of your lord with wisdom and fine admonition. Dispute with them in the best manner,” (Chapter Nahl: 125).

The holy Quran has noted that Moses was given the Book to guide people: “Verily, we gave Moses the Book…” (Chapter Sajda: 22). “We made Moses a guide for Children of Israel.” Moses paid very much attention to awakening people and guiding them and sought a way through which he could bring about social changes.

Therefore, he delineated a suitable system conforming to human nature to meet their spiritual and material needs. He tried to guide people toward a prosperous life in the light of monotheism by explaining human proclivities. Therefore, people should be aware of their basic rights in order to get rid of dictatorship. Moses explained basic principles of his mission and showed obstacles on the way of the progress of the society in order to establish an optimal political and social system.

God says in Quran: “We sent Moses with our signs, 'bring your nation out of darkness into the light, and remind them of the days of Allah,” (Chapter Ibrahim: 6). During his fight with Pharaoh, Moses informed his people of his corruption and informed them about the outcomes of resistance. Quran says, “Moses said to his nation: ‘Seek help from Allah and be patient. The earth belongs to Allah; he gives it as a heritage to whom he chooses amongst his worshipers. The outcome is for the cautious.’ They replied: 'We were hurt before you came to us, and after you came to us.' He said: 'Your Lord may destroy your enemies and make you inheritors in the land. Then he will see how you conduct yourselves,’” (‘Araf: 128-129).

Also when the Children of Israel settled in the sacred land, Moses reminded them of bounties of God and called on them to fight tyrants who ruled the sacred land (Chapter Maeda: 20-21).

2.    Ordering good and prohibiting vice

In order to purify persons and society, the faithful should endeavor to remove any obstacle on the way of guiding people. Quran says, “Let there be one nation of you that shall call to righteousness, ordering honor, and forbidding dishonor. Those are the prosperous.” (Chapter Al-e ‘Imran: 104). Therefore, those who follow Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and order good and prohibit vice, would be saved. Imam Ali (AS) says, “Never forget about ordering good and prohibiting vice because rascals will rule you and your prayers would not be answered.” [12] Therefore, if people ignore the principle of ordering good and prohibiting vice, the Islamic society may collapse.

Ordering good and prohibiting vice will prevent dictatorship. God told Moses to go to Pharaoh and order him do good while observing necessary conditions. They were told to be first lenient to Pharaoh. “Go to Pharaoh, for he has become insolent. Speak to him with gentle words; perhaps he will ponder or fear,” (Chapter Ta-Ha: 43-44).

Moses then went to Pharaoh and called on him to believe in God using a comprehensible language and providing needed proof. After Pharaoh and his people were not convinced, Moses showed them his miracles. Therefore, Moses tried to even save Pharaoh from dictatorship.

Imam Khomeini used a similar method to fight the tyrant of his time. He said, “We must first use a lenient language and soft words to treat people, either a king or a shepherd. The foremost duty of scholars is to guide people and they should not discriminate among people in this regard. However, when he (Shah) refused to take advice, I felt that it was my duty to stand in his face.”[13]

3.    Jihad

If corrupt people and groups in the society are so attached to their vested interest that they are not ready to give up their corrupt practices and, in addition, are spreading corruption in the society, they should be fought against. Quran in many instances has stressed on the need to use this method to fight dictatorship and corruption. It has, for this reason, issued an order for Muslims to fight the leaders of infidels and autocratic leaders (Chapter Tawba: 11).

The leaders of blasphemy and autocracy ignore public expediencies in violation of all human norms and commitments and think about nothing else but their own desires and interests. Therefore, the only way to treat them would be recourse to violence because as long as corruption has not been uprooted, the society would not be back on the right path. Thus, the most important mission of divine prophets has been to fight tyrants of their time (Chapter Ta-Ha: 24).

The order to fight infidels and hypocrites who aim to undermine faith in the society and to oppose the religious rule of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) (Maeda: 33) was issued on this basis: “O prophet! Fight infidels and hypocrites and be hard on them.” Imam Hossein (AS) has explained the importance of fighting injustice as such: “O people! The Messenger of God said that anyone of you who sees an unjust ruler who forbids what God has permitted and breaks his pact with God, fights the Sunna of the Messenger and treats people in a sinful and hostile manner and does not protest to him or prevent him by words or acts, God would enter him into the same place with that despot.” [14]

Imam Khomeini, who followed suit with that method, said, “Overthrowing despots, that is the illegitimate political powers that rule the whole Islamic homeland, is a duty for all of us… Almighty God has told us in Quran not to obey tyrants and tyrannical political powers and … has encouraged Moses to rise against them.” [15]

Basic principles for fighting dictatorship

1.    Faith and trust in God

Moses called on his people to fight Pharaoh though faith and trust in God. He told them: “Moses said: 'O my nation! If you believe in Allah, put your trust in him, if you have surrendered to him’,” (Chapter Yunes: 84). It follows that in addition to true faith and surrender to orders of God, trust in God is also a requisite for fighting dictatorship.

A faithful man knows that all affairs are managed by God and they should trust in him and avoid trust in material causes. Moses ordered his people to trust in God in their confrontation with dictatorship and get rid of it by calling on God to help them (Chapter ‘Araf: 128).

2.    Steadfastness and patience

Quran tells Prophet Mohammad (PBUH): “Be patient like other major prophets who lived before you,” (Chapter Ahqaf: 35). Also, it introduces steadfastness as a means of achieving goals: “Lord, pour upon us patience. Make us firm of foot and give us victory against the nation of unbelievers.” (Chapter Baqara: 250). Therefore Moses called on God to grant him patience and advised his supporters to be patient and steadfast (Chapter ‘Araf: 128).

Following suit with prophets, Imam Khomeini noted: “Everybody who has risen to establish justice has come to hardships. When Abraham (AS) rose to defend justice, he was thrown into the fire. Since the beginning of the world up to now, those who have fought for justice, have paid a price and should continue to pay it….” [16]

3.    Obtaining necessary capabilities

Quran says that after Moses became prophet, God ordered him to go to Pharaoh because he did not obey God. Moses did not shun that responsibility (Ta-Ha: 24) and called on God to bestow upon him what was needed to complete that mission: “'Lord,' said Moses, 'Expand my chest, and ease my task for me. Unloose the knot upon my tongue, that they may understand my speech. Appoint for me a minister from my family, Aaron, my brother. By him confirm my strength and let him share my task, so that we exalt you and remember you abundantly. You are surely seeing us.” (Chapter Ta-Ha: 25-35)

It follows that to fight dictatorship; you need special tools and facilities without which you cannot take action.

4.    Self-confidence and negating fear and weakness

A basic principle and requisite for jihad and uprising against dictatorship is self-confidence and negation of fear and weakness. In fact, the main thing which encourages dictators to dominate people is people’s weakness and lack of self-confidence. Therefore, the faithful and friends of Moses put their trust in God, and asked him to protect them against weakness which would lead them to abjection [17]. Also, God told the mother of Moses to throw her infant into the sea and not be afraid of anything (Chapter Qesas: 7) because the Earth and Heavens were obedient to God.

5.    Endeavoring to change the destiny

Quran maintains that a nation or society is touched with a good or an evil development only when its people crave for that good or evil thing: “Allah does not change what is in a nation unless they change what is in themselves,” (Chapter Ra’d: 11). That is God will never take a bounty back from a people unless they became careless about it. “This is because Allah would never change his favor that he bestowed upon a nation until they change what is in their hearts,” (Chapter Anfal: 53). Since this verse pertains to the story of Moses and Pharaoh, it indicates that domination of dictatorship and tyrants over a society is the result of the behavior of that people and getting rid of it also depends on the people.”

6.    Immigration

Finally, if it is not possible for a people to rise against dictatorship, they have been ordered to leave their homeland and do not let tyrants to humiliate them. In this way, the dictator cannot control their lives and destiny. Quran says: “And the angels who take those who wronged themselves will say: 'In what condition were you?' They will reply 'We were oppressed in the land.' They (the angels) will say: 'Was not the earth of Allah wide enough for you in order that you migrate in it?' Those, their shelter will be hell, an evil abode,” (Chapter Nisa: 97). This verse clearly shows that God has not allowed people to let tyrants decide about the political and social destiny under any conditions. Moses, who was prosecuted by agents of Pharaoh when he was young, was told by a faithful to leave Egypt for another place (Chapter Qesas: 20). Also, God has mentioned immigration along with jihad and uprising in many verses of Quran which shows that immigration is as valuable and important as jihad (Chapter Anfal: 72-75).

1.    Tabaye’ al-Istibdad
2.    Dictionary of Quran, Vol. 3, p. 7
3.    Al-Siyasa al-Madaniya
4.    Education of Political Science: p. 156
5.    Tanbih ul-Umam wa Tanzih ul-Milal, p. 8
6.    Education of Political Science: p. 199
7.    Ibid, p. 170
8.    Fundaments of Political Science, p. 280
9.    Psychology of Dictatorship, p. 119
10.    Dictionary of Quran, pp. 97-110
11.    See: Welayat Faqih (Guardianship of Muslim Jurist), Imam Khomeini, p. 115; Fundaments of Political Science, p. 366, also see: An Introduction to Political Sociology, pp. 228-230
12.    Awali al-Aali, Vol. 1, p. 422
13.    Quoted from: Imam Khomeini’s Uprising, p. 12
14.    Bihar ul-Anwar, Vol. 44, Chapter 37, Hadith No. 2
15.    Welayat Faqih, Imam Khomeini, p. 138
16.    Sahifeh Nour (Book of Light), Vol. 20, p. 140
17.    Tafsir al-Mizan, Vol. 10, p. 182, Chapter Yunes: 85


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