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Assigning adept people is one of the significant principles imposed by Islam concerning state governance. Here is the verse in Quran that instructs this: “Indeed, Allah commands you to render trusts to whom they are due and when you judge between people to judge with justice. Excellent is that which Allah instructs you. Indeed, Allah is ever Hearing and Seeing.” (Surah An-Nisa 4:58) Ibn Taymiyyah stated that the two principles “render trust to whom they are due” and “judge with justice” underlined in this verse constitutes the essence and core of a solid and fair ruling and his book titled as-Siyasah ash-Shari’ah fi Islah ar-Ra’i war-Ra’iyah is based on this verse which he calls the “verse of the governor”. 

Importance of Respect for Trust

It is important to underline in the beginning that respect for trust is one of the inseparable properties and main virtues of Islamic ethics. Thus, the Quran commands the following: “And they who are to their trusts and their promises attentive.” (Surah Al-Mu’minun, 23:8) Another verse commands, “O you who have believed, do not betray Allah and the Messenger or betray your trusts while you know [the consequence].” (Surah Al-Mu’minun 23:8) The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated that breaching of trust is one of the main signs of being a hypocrite (Sahih al-Bukhari, Faith 24) and pointed out that even if one gets betrayed, there should be no retaliation with another betrayal (Sunan Abi Dawud, Buyu, 79; Jami` at-Tirmidhi, Buyu, 38). And the following hadith relates trust directly to faith: “Whosoever does not have trust has no faith.” (Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, 3/135)

Meaning of Trust

Trust is one of the most fundamental principles of ethics and law pointed out often both in the Quran and Sunnah, and it means reliability, righteousness, and honesty when it is used for people. And concerning the law, it is used for something which is temporarily entrusted to somebody. Besides all these, religious liabilities such as faith and worship; possessed senses and organs; owned properties and wealth; offices and positions held; contracts and agreements made with other people, promises and secrets give to others; spouses and children granted by Allah (SWT) are among the trusts that should be protected, secured, and catered. 

It is possible to handle the concept of trust in three categories with a different classification. The first of these is the trusts that should be fulfilled before the Supreme Being (SWT), and these include obeying the orders and prohibitions of religion and sensitively performing the duties of being a worshipper. The second category focuses on the trusts before the people such as protecting the trusts that are given under our responsibility; complying with everybody’s friendship; keeping other’s secrets; keeping promises; not disclosing the personal flaws that are learned because of the relationship. And the third one focuses on the trusts about the people themselves such as keeping the organs such as eyes, tongue, and ears away from the forbidden; using the knowledge, intelligence, and ability efficiently; protecting the physical and mental health; feeding the heart and spirit. 

Public Duties as a Trust

In addition to the aforementioned, primarily the presidency and any kind of public duties such as deputyship, governorship, judicature, and commandership are each important trusts for the people. In fact, the Prophet (PBUH) told the following to Abu Dhar al-Ghifari who asked to be assigned a duty: “Abu Dharr, thou art weak and authority is a trust. and on the Day of judgment, it is a cause of humiliation and repentance except for one who fulfills its obligations and (properly) discharges the duties attendant thereon.” (Sahih Muslim, Bk 20, Number 4491)

And the following hadith points out that the works and duties are important trusts: “Allah’s Apostle said, “When honesty is lost, then wait for the Hour.” It was asked, “How will honesty be lost, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “When authority is given to those who do not deserve it, then wait for the Hour.” (Sahih Bukhari BUKHARI Volume 8, Book 76, Number 503)

The part of the verse of Surah An-Nisa we provided at the beginning of the article which reads “trusts to whom they are due” is interpreted as the primary works and duties. Because of the very fact that the 58th and 59th verses of Surah An-Nisa focuses on the matters concerning the ruling and the incident which is the reason for the revelation of this verse both support this interpretation. 

Here is the incident, which is accepted by the glossators, that led to the revelation of this verse: 

On the day the Prophet (PBUH) conquered Mecca, the protection/watch duty (maintenance of the Kaaba, changing its cover, opening for visitation, protecting its keys) was given to Uthman ibn Talha on behalf of the family of Abdu Dar. The Apostle of Allah (PBUH) takes the keys from Uthman ibn Talha after he circumambulates the Kaaba and enters it. He breaks the figures inside and performs a two-rakat-prayer. When he steps outside, Abbas (Ali according to other narrations) requests from him the duty of delivering water to the haji and protecting the Kaaba for themselves (Hashim family) and requests the keys from the Prophet (PBUH). However, the verses in Surah An-Nisa, which instructs that the “trusts to whom they are due”, had been revealed while the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) had been inside the Kaaba. Therefore, the Prophet (PBUH) calls Uthman ibn Talha and recites the related verses and passes over the keys to him. Then, he tells them that this duty will be assigned to them until the Hour (Doomsday) and that only the cruel will take this duty back from them. 

This incident shows that the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) did not give this very respectful and important protection and watch duty to his own relatives but to somebody else who was capable of performing it sufficiently. Because, Uthman ibn Talha and his relatives were the most competent ones at the time since they had been carrying out similar duties. It is also important that it is said Uthman ibn Talha was not converted to Islam at the time when he received this duty according to different narrations. Therefore, assigning the trusts to the competent people, in other words, acknowledging the principle of merit was coming even before Islam and religiousness according to the Prophet (PBUH).

Assignments from the Apostle of Allah (PBUH)

It will be obvious that the principle of merit was essential in Prophet’s (PBUH) life and it was not limited to this hadith only when we look closer to the assignments made by him throughout his life. On one hand, the Prophet (PBUH) prohibited favoritism and giving preferential treatment with this hadith, “A person betrays Allah, His Messenger, and the Faithful when he appoints a person as a governor of some people when they have those who would please Allah better”, and on the other hand, he served as a model to his ummah with his actions 

As it is known, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) raised paragons of merit in 23 years, which is such a short time compared to the history of humanity, inside a community he belonged to during the pre-Islamic age of ignorance and conveyed the revelations he received from Allah (SWT) to all of the Arabian Peninsula. If we leave the confirmation and the prosperity of Allah (SWT) aside, one of the most important reasons for the success of the Prophet (PBUH) in consequence of being a mortal was his well-directed recruitment.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used human resources in such a proper way and recruited such competent people according to the nature of the duty, it is not possible to encounter an unsuccessful person who was appointed by himself. He did not consider any kind of affinities or friendships, richness or poorness, ancestries or clans, age or maturity, being Arab or Persian when he assigned duties to the people around him. On the contrary, the Prophet (PBUH) considered merit and capabilities first when he distributed the duties. Otherwise, it is not possible to explain the decisions of the Prophet (PBUH) when he appointed Khalid ibn al-Walid, who had just recently converted to Islam, as the leader of an army above all his companions including Umar and Abu Bakr; appointed Zayd ibn Harithah, who had been relieved of being a slave, and Usama ibn Zayd, who was the son of Zayd and had been 20 at the time as the commanders of the army. The Prophet (PBUH) ignored raising objections and assigned them to command the army since he discovered these people are military genius and have capabilities. 

Likewise, the reason the Prophet (PBUH) assigned Amr bin Salamah as an imam over his clan even though he was only eight years old is the fact that he was wiser than anyone else in terms of ‘Quranic knowledge, in other words, he was the most capable one for the imamate position. Also, the reason the Prophet (PBUH) gave seventeen-year-old Amr ibn Hazm a letter, where some provisions were written, and assigned him as a zakat officer to Najran is the boy’s dexterity and competence on this matter. 

There are many more examples where our Prophet (PBUH) gave assignments according to competence and merit throughout his life. More precisely, this is the fundamental behind all of his assignments. Let’s make use of more examples. The Apostle of Allah (PBUH) brought Talq bin Ali of Hadhramaut, who was a master of mud works, during the construction of  Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, and he said the following after he saw how good he was: “Leave the mud steeping work to the one from Al-Yamamah. Because, he is the best, most ambitious, and strongest among you.” (Ibn Sa’d, Al-Tabaqat, 5/552)

Likewise, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) appointed Ja’far as the leader of the convoy that he sent to Abyssinia. Ja’far stood up after Amr ibn As requested the Muslims from Negus, and he revealed his diplomat personality, fulfilled what is required from his position, and showed that how our Prophet’s (PBUH) appointment was felicitous after he made a concise, fluent, and eloquent speech.   

Another example is when the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) chose Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umair as a mentor upon the request of Medinans after the Second Pledge at al-Aqabah. After he reached Medina, he conquered the hearts of the Medinans with his modesty and humility, soft pattern, and erudite words only to welcome Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with 72 converted people who accepted Islam a year later.  

Acting by the principle of giving the duty to the competent people in his assignments, the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) did not hesitate to benefit from the knowledge and experience of non-Muslims. For example, he hired Abdullah bin Uraiquit, who had not embraced Islam yet, as a guide during his emigration; benefited from a Christian master to build a pulpit for the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi; appointed the captives of Badr, who was literate and although they were not Muslims, as teachers in exchange for their ransoms; sent Amr bin Umayyah al-Damri, who had not been a Muslim at the time, to Abyssinia as an envoy; forwarded the sick Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas to Al-Harith ibn Kalada of Banu Sa’idah who was a physician and since he trusted his medical knowledge.

Why should the duties be given to the competent?

As can be understood from the examples mentioned so far, the most important and preferential criteria that should be taken into consideration when employing people to different duties and work is capability and merit. Affinity, friendship, citizenship, partisanship, wealth, nobility, seniority, power and authority, and willingness can not be decisive in this regard. Likewise, belonging to any sect, ethnic group, cult or jamaat, or political party cannot get ahead of merit and competence. Again, a person, who is in any position as a ruler, will be opposing the verses of the Quran and hadiths if he assigns duties to people just because he thinks they will listen to his words better or flatter him more.

Even religiosity should be pushed into the background in this matter let alone friendship, affinity, fellowship or partisanship relations. Bediuzzaman states that knowledge and experience should be considered in business and art, not if the person is religious or pious. However, when more than one person appears to be qualified for a specific duty, of course, other factors will come into play while choosing among them. But even here, the main idea should be the better fulfillment of tasks and duties, and the increase in productivity and success. 

There will be influence, favoritism, and caderisation in a place regardless of whether it is a state, institution, or any social organization, where the duties are not assigned to the competent people; employment is not done by pursuing capability and talent; knowledge, specialization, and experience are ignored. And in such places, persecution and injustice will be inevitable; there will be deterioration and corruption; shallowness and ignorance will replace wisdom and experience. In a structure that does not comply with competence and merit, it is not possible to succeed or be productive since human capital will be lost and talents will be wasted.

In societies where work and duties are handled with complete neutrality, and knowledge and abilities are valued; persecution will be replaced by justice; corruption will be replaced by development; laziness will be replaced by efforts. Individuals, who know that the way to hold certain offices is through merit and not this and that, will work harder and try to increase their knowledge and experience. In the same way, if the people, who are assigned to any duty are aware that it is not possible to stay where they are by making up to someone or flattering another one, will try to do the works expected of them in the best way. Undoubtedly, there will be a great atmosphere of competition among the members of such a society; the ingenuity will be complimented; the potential talents will have the opportunity for development; ultimately the winner will be the society itself.

Leaving State Government to Qualified People

Everything from being a shepherd to a watch repairman should be left to the competent people. A person, who does not understand how to be a shepherd, will quickly lose his flock to the wolves. In the same way, if a person who knows nothing about trade takes up business, he will sink his capital in a short time, let alone making profit or money. Again, as it is famous among the people, half a doctor makes people lose their lives and half a teacher makes people lose their religion. In short, the primary condition for success is the fact that the works are carried out by skilled workers.

Undoubtedly, the first place where merit and competency are saught after should be the state government. Because the burden and responsibility of the head of state is more than everyone in the society. If a neighborhood watchman is unworthy, only a few houses will be robbed. But if a head of state is incompetent, the country will be wasted. Since the biggest trust in a country is the state government, the primary duty of the members of the nation is to fulfill their responsibility to keep this trust in competent hands.

Of course, good governance of the state is not limited to the head of state. Especially in today’s conditions where the separation of powers is accepted as essential and the bureaucracy becomes very important in the state governance, it is extremely important that all public offices, especially the high administrative authorities, to be in competent hands. As justice is the foundation of the state, securing justice depends solely on the competence and merit of the people who hold the offices for ruling and governing. 

There are two main aspects to understand the merits and competencies of the people in the government offices regardless of their level. The first one is whether they are reliable, honest, transparent and fair (entrusted), and second is whether they know the art of governing. Because the rulers, who are the people of infidelity and not the people of trust, will pose a threat to the safety of life and properties of the people themselves even though they are in charge of protecting the security of them.  Similarly, when the people, who do not understand anything about state governing and political science, occupy important positions at state offices, the wheels of the state will begin to deteriorate and the country will begin to decline and collapse.

If the competent people are the rulers, they will ensure justice and protect the rights and freedoms of the people, and they will assign all kinds of trusts (jobs and duties) to competent people. Therefore, Ibn Taymiyyah states that the following verse constitutes the fundamental dynamics of a fair and strong establishment of a sate: “Allah commands you to render trusts to whom they are due and when you judge between people to judge with justice”.

Finally, it should be noted that assigning duties to competent people is a very encompassing and important Qur’anic discipline, and it is also an important duty for Muslims to make plans and projects to educate competent people. While the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) made good use of the well-raised and talented people on one hand, and on the other hand, he raised rulers, commanders, and mentors of the future who will fulfill their duties as they should.

Professor Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Islamic Law and Religious Studies.

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Professor Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Islamic Law and Religous Studies.


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