Tuesday February 26, 2013
The greatness of a leader
By Dr Mohd Sani Badron
As an ancient Persian saying goes – ‘He who has established justice may certainly sleep in safety; he who has oppressed is always fearful’
WAHB ibn Munabbih, a seventh century universal Muslim historian, had related that there was a king who was numbered among the great kings.
One day, the king wished to go for a ride and bade all the commanders of his army to ride along in a display of sovereignty and might to the people.
Magnificent garments were brought for him to wear, but it was not pleasing to him, so he demanded more until after several tries he donned the finest.
Splendid horses of pedigree stock were led before him; but he was not satisfied until an even more splendid horse was brought.
On this splendid horse the king rode out with great pomp into the midst of his entourage.
The Devil came and put his mouth on the king’s nose and blew the wind of vainglory into it, with the result that the king said to himself. “Who is there in the universe like me?”
Then an old man clad in rough clothes came and saluted the king, who gave no response.
The man seized the horse’s reins. “Do you not know whose horse’s reins you are holding?” asked the king. “I have a request to make of you,” he said. “Tell me what it is,” the king asked.
“Nobody must know,” he said, “I have a secret which must be told into no ears but yours.”
“Tell it,” the king said. The man raised his head to the king’s ear and whispered, “I am the Angel of Death. I have come to take your soul at this moment.”
“Give me a respite,” begged the king who was growing pale; “enough to go home and bid farewell to my wife and children.” “No, by God,” he replied. “Never again shall you go home and see your wife and children, for your life is reckoned at one breath – and the moment has come!”
And right at that moment, when the king was on horseback, he seized the king’s soul, and the king fell to the ground.
The Angel of Death then left the king and went to a believer with whom God was pleased.
He saluted the believer, who responded and then said to him, “I have a secret for you.”
“Tell it,” the believer said. “I am the Angel of Death,” he said.
“You are welcome,” the believer replied. “God be praised that you have come, for I have long been waiting for you.”
“Any business you have, you may attend to now,” the Angel of Death said. “Any business of mine,” the believer replied, “is less important than meeting the True God.”
“How would you like me to take your soul?” the Angel asked; “for I was bidden to take your soul in the way you would like.” “Give me a while until I carry out the ablutions and prayer.
“When I have prostrated myself, take my soul.”
The Angel of Death did as he was requested.
This story depicts in parable a contrast between two characters.
The king symbolises one to whom belongs powerful dominion, a possessor and owner of everything humanly possible.
Having a habit of indulging in the passions, such a man is not easy to please.
When fine clothes and splendid horses were laid before the king, he was not satisfied.
And those surrounding him might flatter and seek to please in order to gain their own worldly ambitions.
So powerful was he that he wondered, “Who in the universe is like me?”
Even as he was greeted with the salutation of peace (salam), he gave no response.
No wonder that at his death throes, all that this great king was concerned of was his family.
Under the threat of death, such a man refused to accept mortal danger and wanted to cling to life.
As an ancient Persian saying goes, “He who has established justice may certainly sleep in safety; he who has oppressed is always fearful.”
Compare that to the second character in the story – the believer.
He could be a king, ruler, scholar, judge, lawyer, soldier, teacher or trader. Indeed, such a man could be of any profession and position, but the ultimate aim of his endeavour in this life is one: to believe in the One God and His Messengers, to purify his soul, to make this world a better place for mankind, to do good to every man and to preach the message of God to one and all.
When Caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz asked Muhammad al-Qurazi to describe justice to him, he replied, “To every Muslim who is younger than you, be a father; and to every Muslim who is older than you, be a son; and to every Muslim of the same level, be a brother; and punish every offender in proportion to his crime.”
Again, if such a believer was a ruler or leader, he would act justly towards his inferiors and at the same time keep his staff, household and children on the path of justice.
However, according to al-Ghazzali in Nasihat al-Muluk, nobody can do this unless he first observes justice within himself, that is, by restraining his tyrannous passions and anger in order to make them under the control of reason and religion (al-‘aql wa al-din).
On the contrary, those who are under the sway of passion or anger will think up subterfuge and stratagems for bringing their passion or anger to fruition.
To borrow al-Ghazzali’s metaphor: The sun of justice first rises in the leader’s breast.
Then its light falls upon his family, then its beam spreads to his staff, and then its rays reach his inferiors. But to expect to find rays without the sun is to expect the impossible.
Prophet Muhammad had said, “There may well be persons whose names will be recorded in the register of the tyrants even though they hold no authority except over their own families.”
When offered respite from death, such a believer replied that “Any business of mine is less important than meeting the True God.”
As his time is up, he faces death with awareness and full understanding. As Abu Qilabah once said, “If God is with you, what is there to fear? If He is not with you, where will you take shelter?”
His aspiration is simply to die during prostration, which symbolises the endeavour to make the truth triumphant over everything else.
Whoever he is, this believer is in the deepest way superior than the great king.