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Value-Principles of Islamic Administration
Political Issues
Dr. Mustansir Mir


‘When there are three on a journey they should appoint one of them their commander1.’ This tradition of the Holy Prophet spotlights the importance that Islam attaches to organized activity in human life. A religion that induces administrative order in a group of three persons cannot fail to appreciate the need for regulating human behaviour on a wider scale. In fact, Islam is by nature administration-oriented, as is borne out by its rituals like daily congregational prayers and the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. All kinds of practices in Islam receive their sanction from certain fundamental value-principles. Confining ourselves to administration, we can identify four such principles:

A. Ideological Orientation.

B. Primacy of Humanistic Ends.

C. Moral Accountability.

D. Supremacy of Law.

We shall take them up in that order. After we have examined their theoretics in this section, we shall be concerned in the next with their practical implications.

A. Ideological Orientation

Leiserson and Marx have defined ideologies as ‘systems of social interpretation’ competing for men’s ‘attention as the most satisfactory method of explaining the facts of a complex world2.’ Islam is an ideology in this sense. It interprets the facts of the world with reference to its three cardinal beliefs: the Oneness of God, the (Final) Prophethood of Muhammad (sws), and the Hereafter. The essence of Islam is bearing obedience to the One God’s commandments as contained in the Holy Qur’ān and illustrated by the Prophet’s life, with a view to upgrading the quality of life on the earthly planet and achieving salvation in the world to come. When this essence gets into the veins of people and they are motivated to mould their individual and collective lives in accordance with Islam, we have an ideology in dynamic operation.

An administration is part of the larger societal structure. Like its parent discipline, political science, public administration in Islam is based on the triad of convictions stated above. From them, therefore, it must take its spirit, sanction, and strength, and to them must its form, goals, and character conform. This is what Islam demands generally of administration. There are several specific demands of which only a few will be discussed in the next section.

B. Primacy of Humanistic Ends

The triumph of mechanistic science in the West was celebrated with a death-bell for the human soul. Frederick Taylor complacently christened his theory “Scientific Management”. Since then public administration has changed greatly in outlook and method. The human relation school has left an indelible mark on it and today man is believed to be a distinct and important variable in any organizational set-up.

Islam has approached the human aspect of administration in its characteristic way. It regards man as a thinking and feeling entity, declares him to be the supreme creation and sets him the highest possible task, that of achieving moral perfection. This primacy of humanism, in the context of administration, rejects the exclusively materialistic value-scales and objectives of Western societies. Of its practical consequences we shall be talking in Section II. Suffice to say here that the Islamic concept of human relations has a clear adge over its Western counterpart for two main reasons. One, Islam addressed itself to the question long before the West ever did and supplied a solution whose practicability was proved beyond doubt. Two, Western human relationing may not be so human after all, for it is as much a grudging concession to the intractable human nature as a positive recognition of man’s greater intrinsic worth. That is why it has become in the West a saleable art or commodity and is being traded in on the same commercial principle of quid pro quo as any other. In Islam, on the contrary, it is not an opportunistic device for stepping up the profit margin but a necessary ingredient of the creed itself; it is an inviolable behavioural tenet, it is a moral imperative.

C. Moral Accountability

Like other systems, Islam provides legal checks and social strictures in order to make administrative accountability possible. What makes it unique, however, is its emphasis on accountability in the Hereafter. This stress is ethical in nature and Islam inculcates the sense of responsibility in its adherents by equipping them with what Reinhold Neibuhr describes as ‘the passion of moral good will3’ and what Marshall Dimock calls ‘a sense of mission4’. With its teachings it strengthens man from within so that he feels impelled---and not compelled---to do the right and proper thing.

The idea of moral accountability is rooted in the concept of the Hereafter. The omniscient and omnipotent God will, at an appointed time, cause the Day of Reckoning to come5 when He will justly reward men for their good and bad deeds and send them either to paradise or to Hell. None will be exempted from the questioning of that awful Day, not even the prophets6. Accountability is to be individual7, thoroughgoing8, and unshiftable9. Thus dereliction of duty is not only a crime in law, it is also a sin in religion. Anybody who is put in a position of trust will have a heavy job accounting for his doings. This is particularly true of rulers and administrators10.

D. Supremacy of Law

Supremacy of law in Islam should not be mixed up with the English rule of Law. The latter is usually contrasted with the French Droit Administrat if (Administrative Law), but in one sense these two are alike. That is, although Rule of Law and Administrative Law stand for two different kinds of legal spirit, yet neither of them points up the presence of any definite body of law. But the Islamic doctrine, besides upholding the cause of law, also implies the existence of a definite and identifiable corpus juris---the Shariah. Hence supremacy of law is perhaps better called supremacy of the law.

The Shariah being something recognizable and its supremacy having been conceded, it brings, on being applied, its own tinge to administrative situations. A test example is the relationship that Islam establishes between politics and administration. In the Qur’ān we find three guiding principles, those of the delegated authority of man11, permission of dissent12, and settlement of dispute according to the dictates of Allah and His Prophets13. All three follow logically from the idea of Allah’s sovereignty14. How they work out in administrative practice will be seen in the following section.


We shall now consider the practical implications of the fundamental value-principles.

A. Ideological Orientation

1. Commitment. An ideological state or administration can be run only by ideologically committed persons. The Qur’ān clearly lays down that only Muslim rulers are to be obeyed15 and that non-Muslims are not to be entrusted with positions of authority16 and confidence17. This means that the ideological consideration is extremely important in matters of appointment and that mere technical knowledge or administrative skill would not qualify just any man for just any position18.

2. Generalism. Chester I. Barnard says somewhere: ‘The higher the position in the line of authority, the more general the abilities required.’ In a restricted sense Islam prefers generalists to specialists, particularly at the higher, policy-making levels of the administrative hierarchy. Generalism in Islam, however, does not imply distrust of expert knowledge or professional skill. The term makes due allowance for specialist technical know-how and signifies an awareness of the superior national and ideological objectives and a capacity to translate that consciousness into administrative practice.

3. Position of Non-Muslims. The non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state will enjoy the same civil rights as Muslims but not the same political rights. They shall not, therefore, be appointed to posts carrying political power or considerable decision-making authority. They can, however, get high-grade posts of experts or professional provided their role is more or less advisory19. To all non-key positions they shall have an equal right and may compete with Muslims for them.

B. Primacy of Humanistic Ends

1. In case there is a real conflict between organizational and humanistic objectives, the former will have to be sacrificed for the sake of the latter.20

2. The terms and conditions of administrators and employees must be such as to provide them with means and opportunities of decent living. This includes reasonable wages and salaries, proper working atmosphere, and literally everything which contributes to the welfare of the members of an organization21.

3. All those practices which tend to detract from man’s humanity and which injure his dignity and honour will have to be cut out.

4. The legislature of the country will have the right to make, for one or more organizations, laws and regulations guaranteeing the satisfaction of the basic needs of all the members of an organization. This practice will be informally reinforced by the idea of ‘ihsan’ or ‘fadhl22’ which exhorts entrepreneurs and administrators to do ‘the extra bit’ for the workers or employees.

5. Organizations will be expected to create conditions under which the members can grow individually and become better human beings. This will imply developing in them, through lecture, literature, and actual example, traits like self-esteem, dutifulness, probity, and cooperativeness.

C. Moral Accountability

Legal accountability in an Islamic state is ensured through administrative measures, social accountability through popular opinion and pressure, and moral accountability through a fortified conscience.

Administrative integrity is the product largely of early influences, especially those of home and school, of proper training before administrative jobs are taken up, and, to repeat Dimock’s phrase, of a ‘a sense of mission’. It is necessary, therefore, to impart the teachings of Islam to the young people at educational institutions and to fix in the minds of prospective administrators the importance of observing the Islamic injunctions. Training programmes at administrative colleges and academies should lay pronounced stress on a purposeful study of the Islamic religion, culture, and history, the idea throughout being to understand the dynamics and calls of the Islamic ideology as applied to administrative phenomena. It is only when they are convinced of the profound significance of the ethico-ideological considerations that the administrators will rise above themselves and serve their country devotedly and conscientiously.

D. Supremacy of Law

1. Compliance. Persons in authority must be obeyed23, irrespective of whether one likes them24 and their orders25 or not. Wilful defiance of superiors is irresponsible and irreligious behaviour.

2. Discretion. But since accountability is individual and untransferable, every person must exercise discretion before he answers the helm. Compliance may, rather must, be refused when the orders are morally unjustifiable, evidently wrong, and involve disobedience to God26. There is a famous tradition: ‘The most excellent jihad is when one speaks a true word in the presence of a tyrannical ruler.’27

3. Courts and Tribunals. Permission of dissent necessitates the existence of an institution with powers of arbitration or adjudication between the political and administrative authorities. Ordinary courts can serve the purpose here, but, if necessary, special administrative tribunals can also be established. Such tribunals must, in the interest of justice and fair play, be completely free from any kind of executive pressure.28










1. “Mishkaat-ul-Masabih”, trans. James Robson, in four volumes (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1964) Vol. III, Bk. XVIII, Ch. III, Pg. 828.

2. Fritz Morrison Marx (ed) “Elements of Public Administration”, second edition (New Delhi: Prentice-Hall of India, 1964), Pg. 334.

3. D.B. Robertson (ed.), “Love and Justice” :Selections from the Shorter Writings of Reinhold Niebuhr (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), Pg. 89.

4. Marshall E. Dimock, “A Philosophy of Administration” (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), Pg. 6.

5. The Qur’ān, LXXVIII: 17.

6. Ibid., VII: 6.

7. Ibid., VI: 95, 165.

8. Ibid., XCIX: 7-8.

9. Ibid., II: 48.

10. “Kanz-ul-Ummaal”, (Hyderabad: Dairat-ul-Ma’arif, 1955), Vol, V, tradition 2505; Vol. VI, tradition 78.

11. The Qur’ān, II: 30.

12. Ibid., IV: 59. The words “...if ye have a dispute concerning any matter” grant this right of dissent.

13. Ibid., IV: 59; XLII: 10; V: 44-45, 47; IV: 65.

14. Ibid., XII: 40.

15. The Qur’ān, IV: 59 “....and obey those of you who are in authority.”

16. This follows naturally from the verse just referred to.

17. The Qur’ān, III: 118; IX: 16.

18. Muslim rulers generally abided by this rule. For instance, Umar b. Abdul-Aziz excluded Jews and Christians from public offices. (Philip K. Hitti, “History of the Arabs”, 4th edition London: Macmillan & Co., 1944) Pgs. 234, 353). In Mamun’s government, the number of high-ranking non-Muslim administrators was almost nil, a principal reason being Muslims’ distrust of them. (Shibli No’mani, “Al-Mamun”, Lahore: Maktaba-i-Jadeed, 1960, Pgs. 252-253).

19. The Qur’ān, III:28: “Let not the believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers. Whoso doeth that hath no condition with Allah unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them, taking (as it were) security. The italicized part of the verse can be interpreted to mean that qualified non-Muslims, when they are not in a position to harm the interests of Muslims, may be allowed to occupy important posts also.

20. Instead of mouthing false slogans of ‘equal opportunities for all without any discrimination’, Islam lets non-Muslims clearly know what they can expect in an Islamic state and then guarantees it in practice. Whatever else may be said, Islam cannot be accused of hypocrisy in this matter. For a brief but compact statement of the position of non-Muslims in Islam see Muhammad Qutb’s “Islam the Misunderstood Religion”, (Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1972), Ch. 16.

21. Muslim history offers some bright examples in this connection. Taking salaries alone, the administrators in Umar b. Abdul-Aziz’s time used to get 100 and 200 dinars, even more, as their pay. To objections that they were being overpaid, Umar replied that he wanted to free them completely from economic worries and that if they remained true to the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, even these salaries would be small. See Professor Labib As-Saeed’s article in “Nizami-i-Islami Mashahir Ki Nazar Men”, ed. Khalil Hamidi (Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1963), Pgs.215-216.

22. The Qur’ān, II: 195, 237 ; XVI: 90.

23. Ibid., IV: 59.

24. “Listen and obey even if an Abyssinian slave with a head like a raisin is made governor over you.” “Mishkat”, op. cit., Vol. II, Bk. XVII, Ch.I Pg. 780.

25. “Hearing and obeying are the duty of a Muslim man both regarding what he likes and what he dislikes,....”Mishkat”, op. cit., Pg. 780.

26. The Qur’ān, LXXVI : 24. The tradition cited under 11 continues: “... as long as he is not commanded to perform an act of disobedience to God, in which case he must neither hear nor obey.”

27.“Miskat”, op. cit., Pg. 787.

28. Two long-lived Muslim institutions which served as a close and constant check on the misuse of administrative power were the hisbah institution and mazalim courts. See Gustav E. von Grunebaum’s “Medieval Islam” (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1947), Pgs. 164-166.

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