Government and Governance in The Islamic World

Venue : OXFORD CENTRE FOR ISLAMIC STUDIES

Bismillahirahmanirahim in the Name Of Allah the Merciful and the Compassionate.

Assalamualaikum and very good afternoon everyone. Mr. Nizam, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. I feel deeply honoured that I had been asked to speak once again at Oxford University. I have chosen the subject called Government and Governance in the Islamic World. The first thing that you would note about the system of governnce in Islamic World is that it had hardly changed. At the time when the rest of the world were modifying their system of government. The Islamic World remained attached to the system the monarchy system which supports an authoritarian system. Nobody could think of any revision in that system. The ruler is supreme and obedience to him is a must. The ruler has absolute power. And this is accepted by the people in muslim countries that the ruler should have absolute power. Of course as you say absolute power corrupts and corrupts absolutely. Invariably this happens in most of islamic states. It doesn’t mean that they don’t provide good governance all the time. They have been rulers in Islamic state who have done a great deal for their country who have led their country to prominence until at one time of course the muslim appeared to be the most successful people in term of governance of their countries. They were strong they were able to conquer their neighbours. They were able to provide for the development of their countries. In fact they were so impressive they are letting a lot European countries felt they need to copy from the muslim governance system. And so therefore some time around 15th century Europeans began to study Islamic way of governance and development. They even studied arabic in order to gain access to the great libraries in Cordoba in Baghdad because they want to know how was it that the muslim so abled to build the great civilisation. The standard in those days was the muslim standard. Everybody felt that if they copy the muslim system they would progress. Indeeed they did around 15th century they gained access to the libraries of the muslim intellectual and they learned alot from the Muslim.

But unfortunately at about the same time the muslim decided that their system was wrong. They decided they were not Islamic enough. They thought anything that is not about Islam is not desirable. The study of other subjects will not gain merit for the after life. And so they cease to study all those subjects at which they excelled in the past. Of course we know of name like Ibn Sina, Ibnu Rusyd and the others who find many of the knowledge that gave muslim civilization the edge over other civilizations.

However, through out all these the whim and fancies of the ruler prevails. If they have good ruler then they succeed and they become very modern in that sense during their time. But the ruler upon gaining absolute power invariably abuse the power that they have and so we find that some of the intellectuals were the victims of jealousy on the part of the ruler. And of course they did not get the benefit of intellectuals in the governnce of their countries.

These prevail until today and now muslims have to admit that they are not leading the world anymore. They have been left behind and they have been left behind because they have discarded the learning that they find before. This has been taken over by the European and they find that they were left behind they continue to be left left behind. Eventually of course the great Muslim civilisation fragmented and almost all their lands and teritories were conquered by western countries. They no longer have anything to buy and to rule. This does not mean they are incapable they are very capable people but their opportunity to learn anything else other than religion had denied them. As a result they began to regret.

This is one of the things that happen when will give absolute power to anyone at all. They tend to be jealous of others and they tend to downgrade anybody else who may appear to be better than them. Throughout history of the Muslim word we see these things happening eventually they had to come around to prepare to accept the fact that they are no longer the great Islamic Civilisation that they used to be. They see all around them countries which had prospered greatly. These countries prospered because initially these countries learn from the muslim civilisation and they made progress from there on. After the muslim countries were conquered they felt that they were no longer able to compete with the West and they developed inferiority complex and they feel that they could do nothing right. The regression goes on and on until many of them migrated to live in other countries and and they find that other countries are doing better then their own countries. They find that giving power to one person is not right . They need to adopt the system that was developed in the West. Eventually of course they felt they too should become democratic.

But democracy is not the easiest way to manage. It is very complex it needs self restrain on the part of many people including of the people who have been given the right to choose their government but this is something that muslim generally does not understand how could the ruler be chosen by the people. The ruler should be because of his right because he comes from certain family even if the ruler is overthrown by some leaders in their community. The new leader inevitably adopt the title of ruler. They all became sultan and they all propagated same sytem of government in which the ruler does everything for the country for the people. Indeed all revenues go to the ruler. It is up to his generousity to distribute wealth to the country in order to grow or to administer the country .That is still stand today. Revenue of country belong to the ruler and it is up to him to be generous to pay for the administration and development of the country. And as I said just now invariably they become corrupt . So the answer to that is to change system of government and they found that system must be the democratic system and they were urge to overthrow their rulers and setup a democratic government.

We know they tried to do this now known as the Arab Spring but as you know democracy in the west did not become the system overnight. It took the West almost 200 years to develop the system of democracy. It required a certain frame of mind to accept having a ruler who is chosen by the people. The progress was slow. Initially only land owners were allowed to participate in voting for the government subsequently other groups were also allowed working people were allowed like to go to other government women took a long time get the right to vote for the government.

So you can see that the democratic system did not come to the West overnight. It took many many years before the frame of mind was such that they accept the result of simple things like a tick on a piece of paper called the vote to determine who will rule the country.

The other thing about the muslim world is that they believe in consensus that any decision must be agreed to by everyone. Until it is agreed to by everyone a decision cannot be made. It is almost impossible to have everyone agreed to anything invariably there will be wdifferences in their views and opinions as in order to achieve consensus they have to water down whatever decision to make until it becomes quite meaningless. So it is very difficult for Muslim countries to change on their own. They may have noticed the dictatorial ways of the absolute rulers but they could not think of changing the system because to do so need to have consensus. It took them a very very long time before some members of their community having been exposed to system of the government in the Western countries. For them to decide they took long time until they were forced by outside power to change. This was the regime change that they have to undertake.

It is now called the Arab Spring. Why it is called the Arab Spring is something that until now I cannot understand but the fact is that the the world caused is changing the system of government in the Muslim countries and this is something that is good . But they forget that it is not just the system that has to be changed it is also the mind set the value system of the people must change which has changed. From having hereditary king to having leader voted by the people is a big change which is not easy to adopt by whole country . So what we see is that they did carryout out revolution of sort to overthrow out the dictatorial leaders for all these they were all united . They thought that if the ruler is disposed then they will become the ruler. Always the thinking is still change a ruler for another ruler. They did not realised that the reason the why ruler was disposed was because there were many factions in their society wanted the leader to be dispose so for that reason they remain united. They have one objective to overthrow the ruler and they felt once the leader is overthrown then they will become democratic. But there are many factions which participated in the overthrow of the rulers and each faction believe with the ruler they will take over his place as soon as the ruler is overthrown they realise that the are many aspirants all wanted to pickup the ruler.

When they conducted election they found that through election one of them not all of them but one of them may achieve the desired number of votes in order to be the government.

But the loser do not want to accept this. They felt that something must be wrong if they themselves did not win. So a new government is formed with probably the people giving majority to one party the other party refuses to accept the result they would struggle to bring that government down In many instances of course they resort to violence and the new government elected by majoriy of people were pulled down and they’re either have to have another election or else somebody might elect to power . if there is a strong military force in society the military will take advantage of situation and form a kind of military government which of course is not democracy. Otherwise they might have an election they may be a new party would win but the new party will be subjected to the same forces which brought down the previous party. So sometimes you see something like musical chair with different parties becoming the government and being change without being able to rule the country.

This is because on the one hand the intellectuals may understand the workings of democracy but the vast majority of people do not understand that in the democracy you have to respect the vote. You have to respect the choice made by the people feel that if they are not being chosen there must be some mistake somewhere. So you find government being changed and change again some time through democratic processes at other time through seizure of power by some strong man or by military. You see this happening in many of the new democracies in the Muslim world.

If they are going to suceed I think it is necessary to give them more time to develop the mind set that understand that you can honour the vote of the people and accept there will be a ruler who is chosen by the people by the simple process of voting.

This is something that is not really understood in the Muslim world which I said just now is much more familiar much more comfortable with hereditary ruler. We find that even though there may be change of government invariably would try to assume the position of a hereditary ruler. They cannot imagine that after they finished their term either somebody else might take over from them. So you find in some dictatorship resulting from the overthrow of monarchy. Also setting a new monarchy with same system of hereditary ruler.

The expectation is that once a person win with his family have right to govern the country through his family forever. So this is the process that can only be avoided over time by learning and understanding the democratic system .

I am saying this about muslim countries. Malaysia is a muslim country not 100% muslim. 40% of our people are non muslim and 60% are muslim . But upon independence we decided that this system we would adopt would be democratic system.
This was not so easy because we have 9 rulers 9 hereditary rulers. Most of the muslim in the country are very loyal to this ruler. How do we deal with them? We thought we should adopt the British system of constitutional monarch. But then there are 9 monarchs so we decided to have a change of the ruler every five years but confined to the hereditary rulers of 9 states. Somehow it has worked because the people in the country seem to find that they still have their rulers but they can still have their democratic system.

It is not been easy there are problems like race differences and religion but Malaysian are probably the most timid people. They don’t like violent they are prepared to endure hardship with that government until it changes by itself. They are not going to make any effort to overthrow the government. No violence no assinnation and the like and so in Malaysia it seems to have work. But Malaysia is not 100% muslim. I do not know whether Malaysia as 100% muslim country would be able to fuction as democracy or not. We need to test that.

Perhaps by depriving the non muslim of the right to vote but of course we are not going to do that. But in other muslim countries we see the transition has brought about changes which are disastrous for those countries I think there is a need of them to spend more time understanding for the people themselves to understand the democratic system if you don’t understand that in a democracy the vote is powerful then of course you cannot have a democratic system. This is the problem faced by many Muslim countries because there is still much more comfortable with monarchy with authoritarian system even if there is seizure of power by a non royal still the new ruler would assume the title of king or sultan whatever and rule the country thru their authoritarian monarchal system so this is a problem that cannot be overcome overnight he’s going take long time unfortunately because they don’t understand the system they are facing terrible disasters today and every time they tried for democratic system they will be fighting among them and the countries can be almost totally destroyed. For me as a Muslim I feel shame that muslim countries are not so well governed to the extent that Muslims run away from Muslim countries to live in non muslim countries. That is what is happening today they find that non Muslim countries provide better protection and security for them but their own muslim countries are unstable one and oppressive. So Muslim need to understand that power given to the ruler is not for him to use for his own self but actually for the country and the people. This is something that many of the absolute rulers do not understand. I say this with repetition because even in my own country we cannot say anything against the ruler and of course you have such powerful rulers as it would be some abuses of power. We have in Malaysia we have to suffer in silence and some how or rather more likely is this a difficult task for us in Malaysia it is even more difficult for the 100% muslim countries because their people do not understand the democratic system. A system in which the people choose their government and support the government in their period of time . They cannot wait until term is over they need to change immediately after an election try to overthrow the winners. They cannot wait until 5 years or 4 years before the next general election is held . This is what we have seen today in many Muslim countries and I think it is going to take time for them to understand the working of democracy, time for them to learn to respect the vote and set up government which uses power in order for betterment of country and people.

I thank you.

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