Power comes with accountability and responsibility

LAST week we talked about four specific means through which people try to attain happiness in this life. We classified the sources of happiness as follows:

By Abid Ishaq

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Published: Fri 25 Feb 2005, 11:37 AM

Last updated: Wed 1 Nov 2023, 4:43 PM

i. Wealth

ii. Rank and position.

iii. Educational achievements

iv. Fame (i.e., in politics, arts, sports, science, etc.).

Accordingly we dealt with the wealth factor and through guiding examples pointed out wealth’s shortcomings in bringing us happiness. Today we will talk about the other so-called theories of happiness and confront their adherents.

So this week we ask, can real happiness be attained by acquiring fame or position in society? To many the answer is in the affirmative. The Holy Quran however disagrees. It points to the fact that the only standard of criterion acceptable to the Most High is not a high social class or fame but rather Taqwa (piety). Piety and humility go hand in hand. There are many who strive for power and pelf simply to feel secure in society. Many strive for powerful positions, ignoring the nature of the rank or position and the responsibilities that they involve. As a matter of course, everyone wants to be rich and famous.

In Islam, holding any position, rank or office is first and foremost regarded as a trust and therefore constitutes an obligation and a legal as well as moral responsibility. It is not surprising that the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), shied away from this burden. They understood that those to be entrusted with such roles could only be citizens who possessed unquestionable competence, integrity and virtue. Unlike many influential officials of our day, they also kept the consequences of their actions in mind by being in continuous awareness of the meeting with their Lord.

Only a righteous and competent person can shoulder responsibility and use his position or office for public welfare. Such a person would be able to dispense justice based on moral values and promote sound administration. He would promote and enhance the well being of his people by handling their affairs in a manner that is in accordance with public interest. In return, he would earn his people’s obedience, support, loyalty and cooperation.

Upon the request of the rightly guided Caliphs, some of the Prophet’s noble Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) held official ranks and positions. They were reluctant to accept official positions and ranks but once forced to accept them, they did justice to their jobs, which in turn led to their being blessed with joy, happiness and contentment.

Any person who is entrusted with authority over others and does not conduct his affairs on the basis of justice and moral standards, would definitely be held responsible in the eyes of God. His position would only be a source of misery and corruption.

True happiness cannot be achieved through a high rank or position in society. Rather this sort of a position burdens the bearer with increased responsibility and can be the means of failure for those who fail to fulfil Allah’s commandments.

This again makes us wonder that if it’s not wealth, fame or a lofty rank in this world that lead us to happiness then what does? Could it be that the highly educated have found a closer means to happiness than the rest? It is true that Islam not only encourages but also requires man to seek knowledge and live in the light of learning. Islam is a way of life based on knowledge and not on superstition. Prophets are the sources of divine knowledge, and the first divine revelation to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, begins with the word "Iqra" meaning "Read". In that same revelation, Allah tells mankind that He taught man the use of pen and taught him "what he did not know".

Much emphasis is placed in Islam on knowledge and excellence in learning. The Holy Quran teaches mankind the following supplications:

"...and say ‘0 my Lord, advance me in knowledge’." (Quran, 22:114)

Again, contrary to the view held by many, Islam welcomes education that brings us closer to God (whether it be religious or scientific) and not the kind of education that solely seeks worldly happiness. Only piety can lead us to peace and true happiness.

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