Friday, May 10, 2019

Exploring how our religious and cultural biases influence our leadership decisions

( Note: The following is an edited version of my presentation for the BYU Management Society's Las Vegas chapter luncheon yesterday. In attendance were a number of political and business figures. )


In the name of God, The Most Compassionate, The Most Merciful




Theological introduction

Islam is an Arabic word meaning "Submission to God". It is our understanding that God has sent forth prophets to different audiences, with variations in priorities, but all conveying the same basic point- surrender to the Divine will. The Qur'an phrases it thusly: " To every people, a guide has been sent." ( Q 13:7)  Those who do the act of submission are called in Arabic "Muslims".

The Qur'anic teaching is that the process of the conveying of those Divine principles found its perfection in the coming of Muhammad as universal model, and in particular the Quranic scripture given through him. 

The Muslim world encompasses a great deal of cultural diversity and understandings, and already we have a clue that diversity existed with God's prophets. Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them both)  were both sent by God, however their practical functions differed. Moses was a lawgiver, while Jesus was a moralist. These are important things to understand when trying to understand the Muslims in their approaches.


Scripture read according to one's needs

The Qur'an, accessible to Muslims everywhere, is read differently by different people because it speaks to us in different conditions. A rather mundane example is that of diet. The Qur'an both disallows and allows the consumption of pork (Q 2:173 and other places). Pork is forbidden in normal circumstances, but allowed in periods of starvation. Syrian scholars have allowed eating cats and dogs, due to the lack of access to food because of the civil war.

Spiritual foundation needed for proper decision making

The Qur'an says "Verily, prayer restrains from immorality and repugnant actions" ( Q 28:45). This shows us that prayer is supposed to influence our decision making process, regardless of what position we are in. 

Muslims pray a minimum of five times daily, at times spread out through the day. Prayer reminds us of God, His presence and it provides us with an injection of consciousness and sense of responsibility. The more you pray, the stronger your fortification will be against immorality, repugnant actions and thoughts.

The Qur'an gives the same basic moral code as found within other religious traditions ( i.e. worship God, prohibitions against killing, theft etc), but what happens when a particular situation arises where we can't figure out the answer to it?

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave three important statements which answer this question.

Leave off that which gives you doubt for that which gives you certainty. 

Righteousness is good character, and sin is that which wavers in your soul.

Another statement attributed to the Prophet goes even further. A man comes to the Prophet to inquire as to his ( i.e. the Prophet's) definition of righteousness. The Prophet responds "Consult your own heart. Righteousness is that which the soul feels tranquil about, and sin is that which causes unrest in the soul, even though people keep giving opinions in its favor" (An-Nawawi's Forty Hadeeth)

The underlined sentence in Arabic reads Wa in Af-taakan Naasu, wa Aftook.  In other words, Fatwas, a word which has been made famous in recent years by the media. 

These sayings of the Prophet show us that personal judgement is a valid source of guidance, however that judgement can only be applicable, sound and practical when the soul is healthy, nourished properly by sound spirituality. Thinking right would translate into acting right.

The main goal of Islam is the preservation and nourishment of the soul. It is for this reason that Islam forbids alcohol, drugs, gambling and promiscuity. It also encourages modesty in dress, care in speech, clarity in relationships, and cleanliness of body and soul.

Muslims are currently in the month of Ramadan, abstaining from dawn to sunset from food, drink and physical relations. It is a spiritual cleansing. Similarly the religion obligates us to give in charity, which is also traditionally done in Ramadan. 

These acts cultivate the soul, strengthening one's ties with God and should thus provide a firm foundation for making decisions. 


Leadership

Prophet Muhammad made a statement which would be very shocking for today's political culture. The tradition (hadeeth) asserts that a man came to him, seeking to be appointed a governor. The Prophet replied "By God, we do not appoint someone to this job who seeks after it, or to someone very covetous of it."  

Another hadeeth says "Do not ask for position of power. If you are granted the position without asking for it, you will be helped (i.e. by God) in discharging its responsibilities, however if you attain  it as a result of your seeking, you will be alone as its captive." (Bukhari/Muslim)

I believe these statements indicate the danger of power being held by covetous, narcissistic personality types, persons who have been seeking personal glory. 

I believe the Prophet is saying that those who are already doing community work should be given the roles in an official capacity, in order to make the results of their work more effective.

The early Islamic period saw that governors lived humbly, in apartments next to the main mosque. They would also lead the five daily prayers in the mosque. Their God-awareness made them more aware of their social responsibilities. A beautiful example is in 'Umar b.'Abdul-'Aziz (died 720 C.E.), a ruler who would not even use a government lamp when conducting his own personal business.

Returning to the above-mentioned  Prophetic narrations, how do they work in a world of electoral politics, a world of campaigning for votes and financial support? 

Every society has its own unique political culture, and the truth of the matter is that Islam does not give a systematic or detailed blueprint for governing. Regarding the above-mentioned Prophetic narrations, I believe they provide guidance for attempting to identity the thinking and motivations of the candidates. Has their history been one of of sincere public service, or that of personal aggrandizement?  Those who have been of service, they will be known by their fruits.


Shared interest between religious communities

It seems fair to say that the same overall interests are shared by the various religious communities. Our source materials are different, but the goals are the same, to live in a world where we can make positive contributions, where our children can be safe, where we have the sanctity of life and morals.

The Qur'an says (Q 49:13) that God intentionally made people to be different, and it also says "Be competitive in doing positive actions" ( Q 2:148).

Positive competition creates blessings that are universally felt, in music, literature, sciences, and any other field. The Quranic worldview, if properly understood, eventually puts an end to xenophobia, racism, and any other negative thinking patterns.


Dr. Muqtedar Khan writes in his new book Islam and Good Governance " I understand witnessing the divine as advancing a moral-political vision that is designed to support a polity and politics that pursues the good of others as a divine mandate." 

He also writes " When you struggle for others, you witness their pain, their marginalization, and their needs, and when you act for them, you are acting as a deliverer of divine grace. To serve others without an axe to grind is to worship God as if you see him."



10 comments:

Unknown said...

Salams...very well organized and informative presentation, and may Allah find favor with your work.

Non Believer said...

Hi Waheed,

There are a few interesting ideas in your presentation.

You say that Islam does not give a systematic or detailed blueprint for governing. However, I think we can learn what the thinking was by examining the systems that were put in place as the Islamic State developed.

As far as I know, the first Caliphs were elected by councils. This is a system that has been effectively employed for centuries. In our parliamentary systems, the Prime Minister is not directly elected by the people and he does not campaign directly on his own behalf. In effect, we elect a council which chooses a PM from their numbers. This process is going on in the UK right now.

In your hadeeth about appointing a governor, there is a second thing that is wrong, besides the one that Muhammad points out, and that is that the ruler has the authority to appoint governors. This system almost always leads to problems. Looking at US politics, the President is constitutionally constrained and, whatever his defects, he is limited in the harm that he can do, provided the elected council, i.e. the Congress, performs the role that it should. The President cannot appoint judges without the approval of the council, the President cannot appoint cabinet ministers without the approval of the council. And so on. The risk to the integrity of the US government is that the council will abdicate its responsibility. American news media are too obsessed with what the President does.

While wanting power may seem like the underlying problem, I don't think that it is. A leader must be motivated to serve his constituents, which implies that he "wants to" serve. It's the same thing. I can't imagine an effective leader who isn't driven to serve.

Of course people should be judged by their fruits; by their actions and not by their words. When you say the Quranic worldview "if properly understood" ..., are you speaking of words or of actions? As I've pointed out, the Qur'an has many chapters that are full of "negative thinking patterns" which were acted out against people who were treated with grave injustice, their only crime being that they held a difference in opinion.

Are Muslims able "to support a polity and politics that pursues the good of others" and include all people, whether they accept your ideas or not? This, too, is the problem facing the US right now, a government which shamelessly panders to its base to the detriment of those who have different ideas. In my opinion, a collective narcissism like this is far more harmful to society than individual narcissism.

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

Hello NB,

"You say that Islam does not give a systematic or detailed blueprint for governing. However, I think we can learn what the thinking was by examining the systems that were put in place as the Islamic State developed." (NB)

I don't disagree with your assertion here,, but allow me to explain further.
The Qur'an gives two main ingredients as necessary for an "Islamic state", Justice and what is called Shuraa, consultation. THE latter term is-in practical terms- used to refer to a variety of systems in terms of governing. Saudi Arabia and Iran both make the claim to be Islamically based, yet the former is a monarchy, while the latter holds regular elections. Both nations use the term "Shuraa" to refer either to the advisory councils (KSA) or to Parliament (Iran).

Every society has its own unique political culture, and that's perfectly acceptable according to Islam.

" While wanting power may seem like the underlying problem, I don't think that it is. A leader must be motivated to serve his constituents, which implies that he "wants to" serve. It's the same thing. I can't imagine an effective leader who isn't driven to serve." (NB)

There is a difference between wanting to serve and just wanting power.This is what is pointed out by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. In today's world, narcissism is on the increase, especially in the political realms. The Prophet is telling us about the proper motivations our leaders should have. If they want power simply for the sake of power, this is a recipe for disaster.

" When you say the Quranic worldview "if properly understood" ..., are you speaking of words or of actions? As I've pointed out, the Qur'an has many chapters that are full of "negative thinking patterns" which were acted out against people who were treated with grave injustice, their only crime being that they held a difference in opinion."

I disagree with this assertion that the Qur'an has negative thinking patterns but in any case as an answer to your question, I am speaking to both words and actions. In the presentation, we mentioned racism as an example. The Qur'an asserts that different colors/languages exists as beautiful expressions of God's power ( Q 30:21), and that mutual interaction/benefit for human beings is a consequence of having differences there (Q 49:13). Those who have internalized this Quranic teaching have internalized something positive and necessary.

" Are Muslims able "to support a polity and politics that pursues the good of others" and include all people, whether they accept your ideas or not? This, too, is the problem facing the US right now, a government which shamelessly panders to its base to the detriment of those who have different ideas. In my opinion, a collective narcissism like this is far more harmful to society than individual narcissism."

The Qur'an says to stand for justice, even if it is against one's own self or people ( Q 4:135). It says not to allow hatred of a people sway you to be unjust ( Q5:8 ).

The Qur'an likewise asserts that Muslims have a role to look out for the greater good { Q 3:110).

This should answer your question, from a theological perspective.



NB said...

"There is a difference between wanting to serve and just wanting power.This is what is pointed out by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. In today's world, narcissism is on the increase, especially in the political realms. The Prophet is telling us about the proper motivations our leaders should have. If they want power simply for the sake of power, this is a recipe for disaster."
You should not ignore the context of this narration. The context is that of an autocrat making an appointment and saying that he would not appoint someone who came to him. But I ask you: what then is the main criterion that an autocrat uses? Isn't it loyalty? Don't autocrats support their position of power by appointing ministers who are loyal to them and by eliminating those who are disloyal?

You are attempting to judge the motivation of a person's ambition. I view ambition, provided it isn't excessive, as a positive attribute and believe that we need to encourage people to step up and lead. It is very cynical to assume that anyone who puts himself forward is seeking power for the sake of power.

You say that narcissism is on the rise. No, I don't think so. It is easy to find examples in every polity and in every era. However, let me say this: There is no greater narcissism than believing that there is a Supreme Deity who favours you over all other people. You say: The Qur'anic teaching is that the process of the conveying of those Divine principles found its perfection in the coming of Muhammad as universal model, and in particular the Quranic scripture given through him. I wonder how your audience reacts to such a bald assertion, whether they are religious or not. You should think about it.

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

" You should not ignore the context of this narration. The context is that of an autocrat making an appointment and saying that he would not appoint someone who came to him. But I ask you: what then is the main criterion that an autocrat uses? Isn't it loyalty? Don't autocrats support their position of power by appointing ministers who are loyal to them and by eliminating those who are disloyal?" (N.B.)

The context is that a relative of another man came with that man to the Prophet, asking to be appointed as a governor, and the Prophet's reply to that, which was cited in the presentation.

A study of the early rulers after the Prophet and before Uthman ibn Affan show that they were against appointing people to positions based simply on loyalty. It is said that Umar's own son was punished for certain acts of abuse in Egypt by his father himself. In any case, your assertion above does not seem to me to be very much connected to the hadeeth under discussion.


" You are attempting to judge the motivation of a person's ambition. I view ambition, provided it isn't excessive, as a positive attribute and believe that we need to encourage people to step up and lead. It is very cynical to assume that anyone who puts himself forward is seeking power for the sake of power." ( N.B.)

You said "We need to encourage people to step up and lead." In essence, I agree with that and that is contrast to what the Prophet is critical of.

In terms of "attempting to judge the motivations of a person", isn't that precicely what we do when we vote? We are making judgements, based (hopefully) on available facts.

" There is no greater narcissism than believing that there is a Supreme Deity who favours you over all other people. You say: The Qur'anic teaching is that the process of the conveying of those Divine principles found its perfection in the coming of Muhammad as universal model, and in particular the Quranic scripture given through him. I wonder how your audience reacts to such a bald assertion, whether they are religious or not. You should think about it." (N.B.)

In terms of my assertion as you quote above, this is a theological expression. It only explains the Islamic belief. A person can believe in it as a theological truth or reject it, that's their choice and their business.

Typically Christians believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) is the way to heaven, and that those rejecting that belief are hell-bound. Yet that does not necessitate that Christians be selfish and arrogant.

NB said...

Hi Waheed. I don't know where our misunderstanding each other is coming from.

You say: A study of the early rulers after the Prophet and before Uthman ibn Affan show that they were against appointing people to positions based simply on loyalty. It is said that Umar's own son was punished for certain acts of abuse in Egypt by his father himself.
Doesn't this support what I'm saying? Umar appointed his own son, someone he trusted for his loyalty, and it became a problem. Then, because of this, it was Umar himself who had to rein in his son, not the council that should have made the appointment in the first place.

You say: In any case, your assertion above does not seem to me to be very much connected to the hadeeth under discussion.
My point is simply this: the hadeeth under discussion says what not to do: "we do not appoint someone to this job who seeks after it", but what does Muhammad advise as an alternative? Who can you appoint if not someone who seeks after it?

Furthermore, you've added a detail in your explanation: "a relative of another man came with that man to the Prophet", so now this is what we would call a "nomination". So not only are you saying that it unacceptable to consider a man who seeks a position, you are saying that it even unacceptable to consider a man who has been recommended by another.

You say: In terms of "attempting to judge the motivations of a person", isn't that precicely what we do when we vote?
No, I don't think about "why" a person wants to serve; I am interested to know what he intends to do if elected and whether he will carry it through and be successful. Because I live in a place where no one in an official position has so much power, I do not need to be overly concerned that an official might abuse his power. If there is abuse, the system that gave the official power can take that power away.

In autocracies where the top official has much power and in which this official is able to appoint his own ministers, there is much risk of unchecked abuse.

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

" Doesn't this support what I'm saying? Umar appointed his own son, someone he trusted for his loyalty, and it became a problem. Then, because of this, it was Umar himself who had to rein in his son, not the council that should have made the appointment in the first place."

I think you missed my point. In general one of the characteristics of the early Muslim rulers was to appoint those who were qualified to do the job, and not engage in nepotism. While this accusation was admittedly leveled against 'Uthman,the third Khalifah ( which can itself be argued either way) but it was not leveled against the first two, nor against 'Ali ibn Abi Taalib.

" So not only are you saying that it unacceptable to consider a man who seeks a position, you are saying that it even unacceptable to consider a man who has been recommended by another"

I will have to look at the text again, but the sense I got from this hadeeth is that jockeying for position is a function of an ego who could do more harm than good, thus the Prophet's statements.


" I am interested to know what he intends to do if elected and whether he will carry it through and be successful. Because I live in a place where no one in an official position has so much power, I do not need to be overly concerned that an official might abuse his power. If there is abuse, the system that gave the official power can take that power away.

In autocracies where the top official has much power and in which this official is able to appoint his own ministers, there is much risk of unchecked abuse."

Here you are talking about a system, a government built not on personality but rather a system of checks and balances that can remove power from unworthy hands.

I am not disagreeing with that, what I am saying is that when we vote we do make some value judgements. If a person has wrong intentions ( according to our limited judgement), should we still vote for him?


I hope you understand what I am saying.

NB said...

Hi Waheed.

"If a person has wrong intentions ( according to our limited judgement), should we still vote for him? "

We also live in an age of misinformation and personal attacks. Doesn't Islam teach that Allah alone is able to judge a person's intentions and that we can only judge by a person's actions?

And wouldn't you say that for the most part even dictators have acted with good intentions towards their own people, for example, Hitler did an outstanding job of rebuilding Germany after its humiliation at the end of World War I?

"Here you are talking about a system, a government built not on personality but rather a system of checks and balances that can remove power from unworthy hands."

You are confirming my main point, that Muhammad's advice applies only in the absence of an effective system of government. His government, using your words, was built on personality not on a system of checks and balances. Even then, I think it is poor advice. His response to an unknown person seeking an important position should have been "tell me what you have achieved" and if the person had not yet achieved enough, Muhammad might have offered him a lesser position to allow him to prove himself.

Isn't that what you hope for when you apply for a position?

BTW, I found this translation of Muslim Book 20, Number 4490. As you should be able to tell, this is a hadith that I believe should somehow be expunged. I don't know what means Islam has of removing such as this. Now I'm sorry I looked for the text that you cited. I'm going to be in a rage for the rest of the day.


Book 20, Number 4490:
It has been reported on the authority of Abu Musa who said: I went to the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) and with me were two men from the Ash'ari tribe. One of them was on my right hand and the other on my left. Both of them made a request for a position (of authority) while the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) was brushing his teeth with a tooth-stick. He said (to me): Abu Musa (or 'Abdullah b. Qais), what do you say (about the request they have made)? I said: By God Who sent thee on thy mission with truth, they did not disclose to me what they had in their minds, and I did not know that they would ask for a position. The narrator says (while recalling this hadith): I visualise as if I were looking at the miswak of the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) between his lips. He (the Holy Prophet) said: We shall not or shall never appoint to the public offices (in our State) those who with to have them, but you may go, Abu Musa (or Abdullah b. Qais) (to take up your assignment). He sent him to Yemen as governor. then he sent Mu'adh b. jabal in his wake (to help him in the discharge of duties). When Mu'adh reached the camp of Abu Musa, the latter (received him and) said: Please get yourself down; and he spread for him a mattress, while there was a man bound hand and foot as a prisoner. Mu'adh said: Who is this? Abu Musa said: He was a Jew. He embraced Islam. Then he reverted to his false religion and became a Jew. Mu'adh said: I won't sit until he is killed according to the decree of Allah and His Apostle (may peace be upon him) (in this case). Abu Musa said: Be seated. It will be done. He said: I won't sit unless he is killed in accordance with the decree of Allah and His Apostle (may peace be upon him). He repeated these words thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered him (to be killed) and he was kilied. Then the two talked of standing in prayer at night. One of them, i.e. Mu'adh, said: I sleep (for a part of the night) and stand in prayer (for a part) and I hope that I shall get the same reward for steeping as I shall get for standing (in prayer).

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

" We also live in an age of misinformation and personal attacks. Doesn't Islam teach that Allah alone is able to judge a person's intentions and that we can only judge by a person's actions?" (NB post)

Of course Allah knows best a person's intentions and heart, yet we still, with the intelligence and capacity we have, are to make decisions, and in a democratic system, in a political culture wherein its citizens vote, that is essentially what is supposed to happen.

We should do so based upon what knowledge we have access to. That does not negate false information and personal attacks, that is something that has to be confronted as well. Below you will find a link to an old post in which this particular issue was discussed, it may interest you.

https://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2011/06/news-as-tactic-lessons-from-gay-girl-in.html

" And wouldn't you say that for the most part even dictators have acted with good intentions towards their own people, for example, Hitler did an outstanding job of rebuilding Germany after its humiliation at the end of World War I?"

Is that an example of the old adage "power corrupts absolutely" ? If memory serves, Hitler wrote his Mein Kampf while in prison for doing illegal activities ( a coup attempt, I don't remember). In His work he seems to express usual rhetorical arguments for expansionist Germany and manifest destiny of the Aryan race.

I think of Adolph Hitler as a product of his society, a reflection of the deeply seated ills that existed, just as our (US) President reflects today. Perhaps here in this example it is the society itself which has the problem that has to be dealt with, the problems of racism and delusional thinking, scapegoating and injustice.


" You are confirming my main point, that Muhammad's advice applies only in the absence of an effective system of government. His government, using your words, was built on personality not on a system of checks and balances. Even then, I think it is poor advice. His response to an unknown person seeking an important position should have been "tell me what you have achieved" and if the person had not yet achieved enough, Muhammad might have offered him a lesser position to allow him to prove himself." (NB's post)

One thing you may forget is that the Muslim perspective is is that the Prophet Muhammad was Divinely Guided. Also, the hadeeth literature basically contains summaries of incidents and reports (with varying degrees of accuracy which is itself under regular study and debate among hadeeth scholars). In other words, there may have been some information or facts omitted in the summary, but the overall point being is that the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was against appointing those who seek power to positions of power. Why do they want power? Do they want to serve or do they simply want to serve their ego?

In your hypothetical summary of what you say the Prophet "should have" done, it essentially confirms what I was attempting to convey. If we know the history of the candidate, the qualifications and experience of the candidate, we can have an idea of what he/she brings to the table. If they bring sincerity and ability, and NOT narcissism, it will be largely known by the good reputation and legacy.


NB said...

Hi Waheed.

When looking at an incident like this it is important to look at it as a choice. Instead of choosing a man of the Ash'ari tribe (I presume from Yemen), Muhammad chose to send Mu'adh ibn Jabal, a young man (not even 30 years old) from Medina and with no prior governing experience. This young man was a fanatical follower of Muhammad from an early age, having converted to Islam while a teenager.

Now, we see in Muslim Book 20, Number 4490 that, in what appears to be his very first act as governor, he demands the slaying of a Jew. This contradicts so many of your arguments. Quite frankly, I don't know how you reconcile these contradictions.

According to a hadith which you posted in a thread some time ago, Mu'adh received the following advice: Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 275:
Narrated Abu Burda: That his father said, "The Prophet sent Mu'adh and Abu Musa to Yemen telling them. 'Treat the people with ease and don't be hard on them; give them glad tidings and don't fill them with aversion; and love each other, and don't differ."


We discussed this hadith at some length, and I questioned whether the scope of "the people" was as broad as you were claiming (concerning slaves, you may recall). Isn't it obvious when you read these two hadith together, that "the people" refers to the new converts and that the advice is to be patient with those who are still learning the religion?

Many things are now clear to me:

First of all, Mu'adh might not have specifically asked for the appointment, but he received the appointment because he had ingratiated himself with Muhammad for many years, and not out of proven capability. You mention the President of the US, and you are probably aware that this is precisely the requirement for an appointment by him. People with integrity have long ago left his service.

Secondly, you appear to be blind to the narcissism that is being displayed in Mu'adh's words and actions. In spite of many, many Muslims claiming that the "People of the Book" are respected by Islam, we see it described here as a "false religion". Mu'adh was likely present when the Jews of the Banu Qurayzah were slaughtered. The very earliest converts may have felt a theological bond with the monotheistic Jews, however, it is obvious that that bond no longer existed by this time (and I would say hadn't existed from the time of the changing of the Qiblah[footnote])

You write: Perhaps here in this example it is the society itself which has the problem that has to be dealt with, the problems of racism and delusional thinking, scapegoating and injustice.

And I ask what about here in this hadith: Isn't this all those things that you list; racism, delusional thinking, scapegoating and injustice?

You try to hide behind the excuse that Muhammad was "Divinely Guided" and assert that you know that Muhammad's actions were just even if you are unable to explain why, but you cannot apply that same excuse for Mu'adh. And even in Muhammad's case, it's an unacceptable explanation to say that important facts may be missing from the account. What kind of an approach is it when you have to speculate about was behind some important rulings? For me, part of the wisdom of the Bible is how its lessons have been distilled to the most important factors.

[footnote] https://www.al-islam.org/the-message-ayatullah-jafar-subhani/chapter-29-change-qiblah

This article is an example of the sort of narcissism that I'm referring to. It is filled with bigotry and immodesty. Other articles at that website are no better. It is shameful that this hate-filled rubbish is being used to influence young Muslim minds.