We live in a world where democracy is promoted as the panacea for all socio-political ills. Western states proselytise democracy around the world, and particularly in the Muslim world. Lord Acton had once said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Democracy is promoted as the antidote against dictatorship and corruption.
In the history of the Muslims, the caliphate was at times a tyrannical system where the caliphs had too much power. Hasan Turabi argues, “The caliphate began as an elected consultative institution. Later it degenerated into a hereditary, or usurpatory, authoritarian government. This pseudo-caliphate was universally condemned by jurists, though many excused its acts on the grounds of necessity or tolerated them in the interest of stability.” 
Does power inherently lead to dictatorship and corruption? If so, how does this notion apply to the caliphate where the rulers are very powerful? Will the return of the caliphate in the Muslim world mean the return of dictatorship and corruption? This paper will examine how political sleaze and despotism can be prevented and will explore:
1. whether democracy prevents dictatorship and corruption;
2. the Islamic textual and philosophical position regarding good governance;
3. the institutional mechanisms in the caliphate that can prevent tyranny;
4. the importance of taqwa in preventing dictatorship and corruption; and
5. the critical role of Islamic groups and civil society in accounting the rulers.
Before proceeding with the substantive arguments, let us briefly define democracy, dictatorship and corruption.
In basic terms, democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”  The legislative assembly keeps the executive body under scrutiny. On the other hand, dictatorship is “a form of government in which one person or a small group possesses absolute power without effective constitutional limitations… Dictators usually resort to force or fraud to gain despotic political power, which they maintain through the use of intimidation, terror, and the suppression of basic civil liberties”.  As for corruption, it can be defined as “dishonest or illegal behaviour especially by powerful people (such as government officials)”. In other words, it is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. 
The myth that democracy can tackle dictatorship and corruption
From a philosophical perspective, democracy is opposed to dictatorship. However, arguably democracy is not the solution to tyranny. We can see dictatorship and corruption in the guise of democracy around the world. For example, in Bangladesh the government of Sheikh Hasina has successfully established a totalitarian state which is corrupt to the core in spite of the fact that Bangladesh is a democratic state and parliamentary elections occur regularly. Sheikh Hasina consolidated her authority through two successive terms with the blessing of Western powers. Bangladesh is a democracy ruled by absolutely corrupt dictators.
Similarly, if one looks at Britain, the so-called mother of parliaments, corruption amongst the political class is hardly a rarity. The Telegraph Newspaper has recently exposed the ‘cash for access’ scandal involving two serving British MPs, Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, for offering their services to a private company for cash.  Furthermore, the infamous MPs’ scandal in 2011 and numerous other incidents involving political sleaze e.g. the ‘cash for questions affair’, Tony Blair’s intervention in the BAE corruption scandal or the plethora of draconian terrorism legislations which repressively target the Muslim community in Britain, amply demonstrate that democracies cannot offer protection against tyranny and political sleaze. The argument that only democracies can effectively deal with tyranny is at best a misnomer, if not intellectually dishonest.
The Islamic textual and philosophical position
Islam recognises that dictatorship and corruption is entirely possible in human societies, and thus, Islam adopted a robust stance against this issue. Let us examine the Islamic textual and philosophical position. There are an abundant number of ayat and ahadith which address those in positions of authority against abuse of power. Allah سبحانه وتعالى said,
فَاحْكُم بَيْنَهُم بِالْقِسْطِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ
“And if you judge, judge with justice between them. Verily, Allah loves those who act justly.”
إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ
“Verily, Allah enjoins Al-Adl (i.e. justice)…”
In the above two ayat, Allah سبحانه وتعالى the creator of man orders the rulers to establish justice and refrain from ruling unjustly. Similarly, the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم had very stern warnings against any ruler who contemplates abusing his power and authority.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said,
ما من عبدٍ يسترعيه الله رعية، يموت يوم يموت، وهو غاش لرعيته إلا حرّم الله عليه الجنة
“There is no governor (wali) who takes charge of governing the Muslims, and then dies, and he had been cheating them, except that Allah prohibits him from Paradise.” (Bukhari/Muslim)
The above hadith warns a ruler who engaged in corruption or embezzlement whilst in public office that he will be prevented from entering Jannah, which is a very stern warning. In another hadith, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said
مَا مِنْ أَحَدٍ يُؤَمَّرُ عَلَى عَشَرَةٍ فَصَاعِدًا، لا يُقْسِطُ فِيهِمْ، إِلا جَاءَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فِي الأَصْفَادِ وَالأَغْلالِ
“No one who is placed in leadership over 10 or more, then does not act justly between them, except that on the Day of Judgement he is brought in shackles and chains.” (Hakim)
In this hadith, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم commanded the rulers to act justly and establish justice in society. He صلى الله عليه وسلم warned against acting as dictators, as Allah سبحانه وتعالى has reserved particular punishments for dictators in the hereafter. Finally, in the following hadith, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is reported to have said,
مَنْ وَلِيَ مِنْ أَمْرِ الْمُسْلِمِينَ شَيْئًا، فَأَمَّرَ عَلَيْهِمْ أَحَدًا مُحَابَاةً، فَعَلَيْهِ لَعْنَةُ اللَّهِ لا يَقْبَلُ اللَّهُ مِنْهُ صَرْفًا، وَلا عَدْلا، حَتَّى يُدْخِلَهُ جَهَنَّمَ
“Whoever is responsible for anything from the Muslims’ issues, and then appoints over them a person due to his love of them, then the curse of Allah is upon him, Allah will not accept from him aversion nor correction until He enters him into the Hellfire.” (Hakim/ Ahmed)
In this hadith, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم prohibited the rulers from engaging in favouritism and cronyism, which are all too common in democracies in the East and the West. The shari’ah requires only the best people to be in positions of authority and those who disregard this principle will be punished severely.
The second caliph, ‘Umar (ra) once said, “By Allah, O Ibn ‘Abbas, only the strong person without violence, the one who is gentle without being weak, the one who is economical without being miserly and the one who is generous without being wasteful is worthy of this affair.”  If we analyse the attributes described by ‘Umar (ra) for the caliph, he ought to be a man who is neither an oppressor nor corrupt. Rather, this person would be firm, generous and economically prudent and running the people’s affairs justly would be his main priority.
It is acknowledged that in the history of Muslims, many caliphs appointed their family members e.g. sons, as their successors without having due regard to merit and suitability. However, such incidents were deviations from the divine guidance and misapplications of Islam and are unjustifiable under the shari’ah. From a textual and philosophical perspective, Islam from the outset adopted a zero tolerance attitude in this regard.
The institutional mechanisms which regulate the caliph and his subordinates
The majority of the Islamic scholars are of the opinion that the caliph must be elected and approved by the ummah. Imam al-Mawardi stated, “It is necessary for the electors to agree to his Immamate and that once agreed, it comes into effect because the Immamate is a contractual agreement and it is not brought into being except by the contracting partner”. There are a number of conditions which a candidate for the position of caliph must satisfy, one of which is justice. Therefore, the caliph must be a just person before he is even considered for the role. The race to become the caliph will not be a clandestine process; rather, the ummah will participate in electing (or selecting) the caliph, and thus, the qualities of the prospective caliph would be apparent prior to his appointment. The best person would be selected from amongst the candidates, whom the people would obey and support willingly.
The first caliph, Abu Bakr (ra) was elected by the influential sahabah around him in Medina and was subsequently given bay’ah (pledge of allegiance) by Muslims generally. On the other hand, when Abu Bakr (ra) was ill, which led to his death, Abu Bakr (ra) appointed ‘Umar (ra) as his successor and asked the sahabah to give bay’ah to ‘Umar. Furthermore, when ‘Umar (ra) was on his deathbed, he appointed a council of six prominent sahabah (Ali, Az-Zubair, ‘Uthman, ‘Abdur Rahman ibn Awf, Talha and Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas) to elect one from amongst them and they elected ‘Uthman (ra) as the caliph. As a result of the above, the scholars generally accept either of these methods of appointing the caliph.
The caliph is appointed by the ummah through consent by giving the bay’ah. Sheikh an-Nabhani stated, “The Khalifah has the absolute authority to manage the citizen’s affairs according to his own opinion and ijtihad. However, he is forbidden from violating any shari’ah rule under the pretext of benefit (maslaha).” 
The caliph can only rule within the boundaries of the shari’ah and is not permitted to rule according to his whims and desires. Although the shari’ah principle “The sultan reserves the right to adopt new laws for as many new matters that arise” allows the caliph to adopt such rules as he considers necessary, he is restrained by a number of fundamental principles as outlined below, which would curtail corruption and dictatorship.
1. Every Muslim including the caliph must conduct himself according to the shari’ah rules. Allah سبحانه وتعالى said,
فَلَا وَرَبِّكَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىٰ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لَا يَجِدُوا فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا
“No, by your Lord, they are not believers until they make you their judge in the disputes that break out between them, and then find no resistance within themselves to what you decide and submit themselves completely.”
The caliph is not free from the requirement to obey the shari’ah and must implement only that which exclusively emanate from divine sources.
2. The bay’ah given to the caliph is conditional upon his following and implementing the shari’ah. If he deliberately violates the shari’ah, he might be liable to be removed.
3. The caliph is prohibited from referring to any source other than Islam for legislation. If he knowingly rules by anything other than the shari’ah, the ummah must remove him, unless he reverses such non-Islamic laws.
The role of the judiciary in the caliphate
Most western states have constitutional courts. In England the constitutional function is performed by the Administrative Court which is part of the English High Court.  Similarly, Islam has put judicial mechanisms in place which can address wrongdoings by the rulers in the caliphate. The court is able to investigate abuse of power by the rulers including by the caliph and bring such officials to justice. The power to investigate and offer redress against public officials falls within the judiciary’s investigative powers. Imam al-Mawardi states, “This [power] is a necessary part of investigation and is not dependent upon a petition from a plaintiff; thus he [the judge] examines the behaviour of governors and enquires after their state in order to strengthen their case if they are equitable, to restrain them if they go beyond their limits, and to replace them if they are unjust”. 
The Court of Unjust Acts or al-Mahkamat ul-Mazalim is the judicial institution which has the authority to remove or caution the caliph or his subordinates. The Qadi al-Mazaalim who sits within the Mahkamat ul-Mazalim is empowered to settle disputes between the state and its citizens. An act which mandates the removal of the caliph is known as mezlema, which must be proved before the judge (Qadi). If the caliph acted unjustly, the Mahkamat ul-Mazalim has the shari’ah mandate and the power to investigate such allegations and ultimately can unseat the caliph. In an age of 24-hour media scrutiny, a caliph may well be compelled to resign if he committed an act of gross injustice.
Sheikh an-Nabhani stated that where there is a dispute between the ummah and her rulers, including the caliph, the matter must be referred to the judiciary in light of the ayah,
فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّـهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا
“If you have a dispute about something, refer it back to Allah and the Messenger, if you have iman in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best thing to do and gives the best result.”
Given the command in this ayah to refer a dispute to Allah and His Messenger, it therefore necessitates the presence of such judge to resolve disputes between the rulers and the citizens. There can be a number of such judges, depending on the circumstances. The Qadi al-Qudhah, the chief judge, can appoint the Qadi al-Mazaalim if he is mandated to do so by the caliph, although it is ultimately the role of the caliph to appoint the Qadi al-Mazaalim.
The Mahkamat ul-Mazalim was formally instituted from the early Umayyad period during the reign of Caliph Abdul Malik ibn Marwan. Caliph Ibn Marwan used to personally deal with complaints against state officials and he also used to delegate such complaints to the judiciary to deal with. Eventually, this process was formalised in the form of the “Dar ul ‘Adl” or the House of Justice.
Restoration of property seized unlawfully by state officials falls within the powers of such judges. If a governor, for example, unlawfully takes the property belonging to a citizen, and even if a complaint was not made to the court, if the judge learnt about such wrongdoing, then he has the power to order its restitution to the rightful owner without waiting for anyone to complain about the governor’s wrongdoing. By way of illustration, caliph ‘Umar ibn Abdul ‘Aziz was once on his way to the mosque when a man from Yemen came to complain that the governor ‘Abd-Allah al-Walid ibn ‘Abd-al-Malik had taken his land by force. After conducting an investigation, it transpired that the man’s complaint was true and the caliph immediately restored the man’s right to his property.
Islam’s historic track record in establishing justice
Albert Hourani in his analysis of the Abbasid era notes that the caliphs were ruling in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم. Hourani stated, “It was in line with this claim that religious specialists played some part in his rule, and the office of judge (qadi) was given greater importance. His functions were separated from those of the governor… The chief qadi was a dignitary of some importance in the hierarchy of state”. Hourani further notes that the separation of powers between the rulers and the judiciary existed and the judges dispensed justice in accordance with the shari’ah.  The ‘ulema also played a pivotal role in accounting the rulers and acted as the guardians of society. According to Hourani, the ‘ulema were able to limit the powers of the rulers and used to give them advice and were able to act as the representatives of the ummah. 
There are countless examples of justice and honesty amongst the caliphs in the past, which certainly cannot be catalogued in this paper. However, some examples will be examined here to demonstrate that justice and honesty was a commonplace, not a rarity.
It is narrated that after Abu Bakr [ra] was appointed as the caliph, the next morning, he took some garments and proceeded towards the marketplace. When ‘Umar (ra) saw this, he asked Abu Bakr (ra), “Where are you going?” He replied, “To the market place”. ‘Umar (ra) then said, “What are you going to do, when you have been put in charge of the affairs of the Muslims?” Abu Bakr (ra) replied, “What am I going to feed my family?” Umar (ra) then took him to Abu ‘Ubaydah who was in charge of the Bait al-Mal. Abu ‘Ubaydah (ra) said, “I allocate you the supplies of a man among the Muhajirun, not the best of them nor the least of them, and the clothing of winter and summer.” Abu Bakr (ra) was then allocated half a sheep each day and just about enough clothes to cloth himself. This was far from a life of luxury and extravagance.
When Abu Bakr was on his deathbed, he told his daughter A’ishah (ra), “Look to the camel whose milk we used to drink, the bowl in which we used to prepare food, and the outer garments we used to wear, for we used to benefit from that when we were in charge of the command of the Muslims. When I die, return them to Umar”. After Abu Bakr’s death, ‘Aishah (ra) sent these items to ‘Umar (ra) but ‘Umar refused to accept these for fear that Abu Bakr (ra) was setting such high standard of integrity in public office that it would be impossible for his successors to live up to the same ideals. ‘Umar said, “May Allah show mercy to you, Abu Bakr. You have exhausted the one who comes after you”. 
The above examples demonstrate an acute sense of honesty, integrity and taqwa on the part of the first caliph of the Muslims. Abu Bakr (ra) was fearing none but his Lord, for he knew that the ruler will be accountable for his actions on the Day of Judgment.
Let us review another example from the Abbasid era. Al-Muhtadi Billah became the caliph in year 255 A.H. He was one of the decedents of caliph Harun ar-Rashid. It is narrated that Caliph al-Muhtadi was once holding an audience with his tax officials regarding the kharaj tax collected from As-Sawad region in Yemen. Al-Muhtadi had received complaints from the inhabitants of this area that tax officials were over-taxing the people. Upon learning about the complaint against his predecessors, al-Muhtadi said, “May Allah guard me from imposing an unjust measure on the people, be it from long ago or the recent past – relieve the people of it!” The caliph was told by his adviser Hasan ibn Makhlad that the abolition of this tax represented an annual “loss” of 12 million dirham to the treasury, to which the caliph replied that he would “establish what was right and remove an injustice, even if it were to the detriment of the treasury”. 
Caliph al-Muhtadi had a simple lifestyle and was characterised by honesty and taqwa. He was known for his piety, justice and bravery. It was the month of Ramadan when al-Muhtadi received a guest, Hashim ibn Qasim. The caliph requested ibn Qasim to join him for iftar. They both broke fast and prayed Maghreb prayer. Ibn Qasim narrated, “When al-Muhtadi ordered supper, it was brought in a small willow basket. It contained thin loaves of bread, a pinch of salt in a cup, vinegar in another and olive oil in a third cup. He invited me to eat. I began to eat and thought that more food will follow so I ate slowly. He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you observe the fast?’ I said ‘Yes’. Then he said, ‘Will you not observe it tomorrow?’ I said, ‘It is the month of Ramadan. Why shouldn’t I observe it?’ He said, ‘Then eat well and don’t expect that more food will be coming, for there is nothing here except this’. I was taken by surprise and said, Amir al Mu’minin! ‘What is this? Allah has given you all the delicacies, conveniences and comforts of life’. He said, ‘Yes’, that is true. However, when I reflected, I found that ‘Umar bin Abdul ‘Aziz among Banu Umayyad was reduced to a skeleton due to his under-eating and preoccupation with providing all facilities to his subjects. Then I turned my attention to my family and I was highly ashamed to find that we, the Banu Hashim, are quite unlike them. That is why I have adopted the way you see’.” 
This is an amazing example of a caliph who was righteous and did not live a lavish lifestyle despite having the means to do so. Caliph al-Muhtadi was known for attending the court daily and used to deal with cases in open court. He used to conduct the state’s accounting by having the accountants sit in his presence, thus eliminating the risk of corruption. This caliph was neither corrupt nor dictatorial. In fact, his citizens “were very pleased with his justice and generosity and thought of him as a righteous caliph”. The above examples are by no means rare occurrences in the history of Islam. One could list countless other examples of caliphs with integrity, modesty and justice.
The role of Islamic groups and civil society
After the re-establishment of the caliphate (Insha-Allah), Islamic groups and civil society must play a pivotal role in accounting the rulers. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم encouraged and ordered the ummah to account the rulers. He صلى الله عليه وسلم said,
لَتَأْمُرُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ، وَلَتَنْهَوُنَّ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ، أَوْ لَيُسَلِّطَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْكُمْ شِرَارَكُمْ، ثُمَّ يَدْعُو خِيَارُكُمْ فَلا يُسْتَجَابُ لَكُمْ الطبراني في الأوسط
“You will enjoin the good, and you will forbid the evil, or Allah will make sovereign over you the worst of you, who will afflict you with the worst of punishment, then the best of you will make du’a and it will not be answered.” (Ibn Qayyim)
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said in another hadith,
سَيِّدُ الشُّهَدَاءِ حَمْزَةُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْمُطَّلِبِ ، وَرَجُلٌ قَامَ إِلَى إِمَامٍ جَائِرٍ فَأَمَرَهُ وَنَهَاهُ فَقَتَلَهُ
“The master of the martyrs is Hamza ibn Abdul Mattalib, and a man who stands (in front of) an oppressive ruler and enjoins the good and forbids the evil and so is killed for it.” (Hakim)
In the absence of the caliphate, the da’wah movements have a duty to culture the ummah with the correct ideas about their responsibilities regarding accounting the rulers whether now or in future. In modern terminology, we can refer to such political engagement as ‘civil society’. Some Western academics argue that the notion of ‘civil society’ is essentially secular and Western. This argument is objectionable because the ingredients which make up civil society are present in all nations and societies to varying degrees. “Civil society exists when people make concerted efforts through voluntary associations to mould rules: both official, formal, legal arrangements and informal social constructs.” 
“In sum, civil society exists whenever people mobilise through voluntary associations in initiatives to shape the social order. Civic groups have a wide range of constituencies, institutional forms, capacities, tactics and goals.” There is nothing inherently Western in this definition and the Muslim world should strengthen civic engagement and independent civil society should be harnessed which is deeply rooted in Islamic culture. Individuals and movements must account the rulers for the wellbeing of the ummah.
The ummah must stand against despotism now and in future and put appropriate measures in place, which prevent dictatorship and corruption. Such measures include strong civil institutions, the prevalence of the rule of law, an active civil society, and by extension, the media, an impartial judiciary and influential ‘ulema (scholars). There must be a consensus in society against dictatorship and rule based on consent must be non-negotiable. When such consensus is established, it would be extremely difficult for any potential dictator to contemplate ruling with an iron fist. This is where Islamic political parties are required to culture the ummah on an ongoing basis such that the ummah lives by Islam and inculcate the idea of accountability, enjoining the ma’ruf and forbidding the munkar. The ummah need not reinvent the wheel in this regard but simply resume the well-established principle of accounting the rulers.
Wakil Abu Mujahid
 Lord Acton was considered to be one of the most learned men of his time in England.
 Hasan Turabi, Principles of Governance, Freedom, and Responsibility in Islam, The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1987, p-3
 Merriam-Webster dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/162240/dictatorship
 Merriam-Webster dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/corruption
 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-31589202 [News reports dated 23/02/2015]
 Abu Luqman Fathullah, The Sixty Sultaniyya, A collection of narrations relating to Ruling, (London, year/publishers unknown), hadith 17, p-29
 Abu’l Hasan al Mawardi, Al-Ahkam As-Sultaniyyah (Ta-Ha Publications, London, 2005 reprint), pp- 21/22
 Ibid, pp- 15/16
 Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, The Ruling System in Islam (Nidham ul Hukm fil Islam) (Khilafah Publications, London), p-111
 Ibid, p-49
 English law provides a mechanism known as judicial review, which means “a claim to review the lawfulness of an enactment or a decision, action or failure to act in relation to the exercise of a public function” (Civil Procedure Rules, Part 54). This course of action is known as a public law remedy, initiated against any apparatus of the state, which is alleged to have acted unlawfully.
 al-Mawardi, p- 121
 an-Nabhani, p-208
 Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples, (Faber and Faber, London, 2005), p-36
 Ibid, p-67
 Ibid, p-69
 Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, The History of the Khalifahs who took the right way, (3rd ed, Ta-Ha Publications, London, 1995) p-66
 Ibid, p-67
 al-Mawardi, p-122
 Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, vol-2 (Darussalam Int. Publications, London, 2001), p-484
 Ibid, p-486
 As a further example, during Abbasid caliph al-Mamun’s tenure, he used to personally hear from his citizens about their grievances and disputes, including against state officials. One day, a woman came to the court of the caliph and complained that the caliph’s son al-‘Abbas had seized her lands. Upon hearing this, al-Mamun ordered his Qadi, Yahya ibn Akhtam (or some say it was his wazir Ahmad ibn Abi Khalid) for an independent investigation of the case. Following an investigation by the Qadi, al-Mamun held that his son was in the wrong and accordingly ordered that the woman’s lands be restored to her. Caliph al-Mamun’s action in having the investigation carried out independently shows that he was able to pass a judgment against his own son. The judicial independence was maintained in this instance. It also demonstrates that a simple citizen was able to raise a complaint to the highest authority in the land and was able to secure justice without fear or favour.
 Jan Aart Scholte, Global Civil Society: Changing the World?, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, CSGR Working Paper No. 31/99, May 1999, p-4
 Ibid, p-7