Can the Will of the People find a place in Islamic Political Discourse?

Malick Elias 

Can the will of God be ever expressed through the will of the people? Some may think that this question is new to Islamic political thought; but quite to the contrary. Evidence suggests that this question was relevant to the earliest companions of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon them) as it is important today. In the year 624 CE, the second year after Prophet Muhammad (saw) migration from Mecca to Medina and during the Holy month of Ramadan, the Prophet was facing his greatest challenge yet, when force of some 1000 warriors from the tribe of Quraish were on their day to attack Medina and purge it of the influence that Islam had over it. The holy prophet and his companions poorly equipped and ill prepared for their first real conflict with the Quraish, had to decide where best to face the enemy. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) had previously consulted the people of Medina, as they were all signatories to a constitution, which obliged all parties to protect Medina if the city was ever under attack. The results of the war consul was that they would meet the enemy at the watering holes of Badr, which was on route to the city and would have been an important watering place for the warring forces of Quraish of Medina. There were other strategic decisions which the Holy Prophet (pubh) had made himself, which were questioned by his companions as to their strategic value and which showed that his companions could distinguish between the prophet’s leadership role both as their leader in worldly matters, as a Human and his capacity as an agent of the Divine. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) had decided to fight his enemies taking up positions from the first set of wells he had encountered. Hubab Ibn al-Mundhir al-Ansaari al-Khazrajee asked the Prophet (pbuh): “O Messenger of Allah, is this the location that Allah ordered you to fight from, that we should not go beyond it? Or is this the opinion (you have taken) and the war strategy? The Holy Prophet replied: ‘The opinion and the war strategy.’ Hubab then added, that it was not the best place to fight from and explained what he saw was a better fighting position and strategy, to which the Holy Prophet accepted and refined his approach. What is indicative from the story of Hubab Ibn al-Mundhir’s questioning was that the prophet’s companions understood that the Holy Prophet acted within both human and divine agency. This meant that the Prophet (pbuh) exercised human judgement (Ijtihaad) on a range of worldly affairs, which he saw, without self interest or gain, that was in the interest of his followers. Hadith reporters tell us of an incident in which the Prophet (pbuh) suggested to some date farmers of Medina not to manually cross-pollinate their date palms, which was the custom of the local farmers, but to leave the dates to be naturally pollinated. This later resulted in the harvesting of a bad crop. They complained to the Prophet (pbuh) regarding his advice and he said to them: “… I only offered my opinion. Do not hold me account to what I think. However, when I speak to you about anything regarding Allah, then accept it, for indeed I never speak falsely about Allah the Almighty.” [Hadith Talha Ibn ‘Ubaydullah mentioned in Sahih Muslim] Continue reading Can the Will of the People find a place in Islamic Political Discourse?