Question: As it is known, a little breakdown in the center will cause greater problems in the periphery. Taking this truth into consideration, what are the essential disciplines to be observed by people in central positions?
Answer: Attitude and behaviors of people who are in a position to represent a lofty ideal are very important, since those who come behind will do the same. If those in front walk straightly, those who come behind will also proceed on a straight line, as they follow the footsteps of the former. However, if those who walk in front—may God forbid—commit wrongs, then the wrongs will grow manifold among those who come from behind and spread rapidly like a virus.
The collective rights
Unfortunately, from the past to present, as certain people who seemed to be on the fore in different movements of revival failed to give their position its due, they became victim to some uncalculated words, slips of tongue, deviations of thought, and making too many exaggerated statements. As the effect of such situations reverberated through lower levels, they grew much more harmful. Sometimes an unbecoming word, attitude, or raising one’s voice in an unbecoming fashion, and making gestures with hands and feet paved the way for animosities that became impossible to make up for. Even when such wrongs of those who seem on the fore were not taken in an exaggerated fashion, but copied as they were, they caused very serious damage. Moreover, such wrongs are never transferred exactly as they are. According to an individual’s own character and receptors, he or she makes his or her own interpretations of those wrongs, and the effect grows worse as the issue spreads in the periphery. It is for this reason that those who are on the fore owing to their administrative positions have to be very sensitive and careful of their attitude and behaviors. When I make a criticism of my own past, I see so many things in retrospect to be corrected in this respect that for every one of them I say, “I wish it had not been this way, but that way instead…” On the other hand, I am aware that such considerations cannot correct things bygone. Actually, in order not to have some useless considerations for things in the past, one must adjust his or her attitudes, behaviors, words, and actions in a way that will not require correction in the future and live accordingly. As a single mind cannot suffice to manage that, people in administrative positions in particular must consult with others. They must form committees of consultancy and not make any decision with respect to any issue without discussing it first. Although we have the fundamental sources of Islamic culture and the values inherited from the past, interpreting them in a way to suit our day still requires seeking consultation and shared wisdom.
In addition, it needs to be known that the ideal of conveying truths to others concerns everybody’s rights. For this reason, any flaws in this respect will be a violation of collective rights. From a perspective of Islamic jurisprudence, as public rights are God’s rights at the same time, committing a wrong in this respect will have violated God’s rights as well. It can further be said that doing wrongs will also violate the rights of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, of those who served in the way of God previously, and those who run on the same lane with us for the cause of God now.
Living in spite of oneself
Actually, consultation in a way means choosing to act in spite of oneself. A person’s acting in spite of oneself does not necessarily signify a loss. On the contrary, one becomes a winner thanks to acting in spite of oneself in certain respects, and becomes a loser because of acting one’s own reasoning. The noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, stated that there are seven types of people whom God will shade with His shade on the (Judgment) Day when there will be no other shade. And then he mentions a just ruler in the first place. It is understood that it is a difficult matter for a person in power to remain just. If a person is leading the people, represents power, and has the control of the resources of an entire nation, his remaining as a just, upright, righteous, beneficent, and humane person depends on his living in spite of himself.
In another hadith, the Pride of Humanity stated: “There are three categories of people whom God will not talk to, purify, and (even) look at their faces on the Day of Judgment. And there is a terrible punishment for them: an old one who fornicates, a sovereign who lies, and a poor one who is arrogant.”
Certain facts are brought to attention through the negative examples here. We know that fornication is forbidden for all. However, for an elderly person who should be turning away from the world, it is heaping sin upon sin. Such a person deserves to be reprimanded as, “Shame on you! You are such an immoral one in this old age! If you are unashamed of people, you should feel shame before God!”
The second type deserving of a severe punishment is a sovereign who is a habitual liar. As lying is a sin for everybody, when it is told by a person who governs all, the sin grows much worse. The third one mentioned is an arrogant one in spite of being poor, one too big for his breeches in spite of not having a decent pair of trousers. It is surprising how such a person can put on airs and graces. This attitude by such a person is a serious deviation to make the sin twice as worse. Incidentally, let me state that the opposite is also true. By thinking the other way round, we can understand how valuable in God’s sight a rich but modest person is, because such a person acts against his or her carnal soul that is prone to evil, in contrast with the former. The first hadith refers to a person’s living in spite of oneself, while the second is about living in pursuit of the desires of the carnal soul. As Hell is surrounded by carnal desires, one who indulges in them will be destined to fall there eventually. As for Paradise, it is surrounded with things unpleasant to the carnal soul. That is, entering Paradise depends on a person’s living in spite of human nature and overcoming oneself.
One who consults does not experience disappointment
The Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, stated that one who makes consultation will not be upset. Accordingly, one who does not wish to become lost in distress must consult with others, even with respect to matters he or she could handle individually.
Personally, I have always tried to consult even about most trivial matters with a few people around me. When a problem bothers me at one o’clock in the morning, and if I cannot find anybody here to consult with, I make a phone call to some friends in Turkey and ask for alternative suggestions for solving the issue. So far, I have suffered no damage at all by doing this. If we were mistaken, it was all of us. That is, we shared the mistake. When we are called to account before God, we will be able to say, “O Lord, we talked and consulted about it, but could not manage to find the best option. So it seems, even the totality of our intellect did not suffice for this issue.”
Some people may have certain experience and knowledge to make them say, “I know this well.” But it should not be forgotten that others may consider issues in a broader and holistic perspective. Such people do not only look at the particular issue at hand, but also take other factors relating to it into consideration. In addition, one course of action seeming to be favorable from one person’s perspective may turn out to be unfavorable. Actually, a person may claim to have made a sensible remark beginning with, “In my opinion…,” but this does not mean that it is really sensible. Commonsense is not limited to “one person’s opinion.” “Sensible” denotes a course of action found reasonable by all accounts. As Harith al-Muhasibi puts it, it is a truth confirmed by Qur’anic logic and reasoning. Therefore, if one wishes to test whether a certain thought is reasonable or not, that person should first judge it with the criteria of the Qur’an and Sunnah. If this is not done, something a person sees as reasonable might actually be a desire of the carnal soul.
A Muslim who observes the Daily Prayers recites Surah al-Fatihah forty times a day and thus repeats the verse (which means), “You alone do We worship, and from You alone do we seek help” (al-Baqarah 1:5). Thus, he or she learns to say “we.” Worship observed individually might not suffice to save a person. In a way, deliverance of an individual believer depends on maintaining real brotherhood or sisterhood in a row and being eligible for receiving all the manifold Divine rewards for their collective good works. In the same way, an administrator’s finding the option closest to the right one and remotest from the wrong is possible through saying “we” and then acting with collective reasoning and due consciousness.
To sum up, in order to let all the ongoing philanthropic services grow further, people who seem on the fore need to live in spite of themselves and by giving up the consideration that “my reasoning, my thoughts, my understanding etc. suffice me” and instead ascribe every word they say and every decision they make to a systematic consultation process. An administrator who wishes to be a “just leader” as referred to in the hadith must value the thoughts of the people around him, consult with them, and be able to give up one’s own thoughts if necessary, in order to find the most sensible and reasonable course of action. If matters are entrusted to the discussion and consultation of a committee, then exchange of ideas will let the truth emerge and prevent mistaken decisions. However, no matter what area or subject is concerned, if people act by leaving issues to personal initiatives, mistakes will be inevitable.
 Sahih al-Bukhari, Adhan 36; Sahih Muslim, Zakah, 91
 Sahih Muslim, Iman, 172
 At-Tabarani, Al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, 6/365; Al-Qudha’i, Musnad ush-Shihab, 2/7
This article has originally been published in Turkish on 16/09/2013.