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IN his book titled “The History of the Caliphs”, the prolific Egyptian writer of the Middle Ages Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti narrates an expressive story about the “kadhis” (judges) and governors during the era of the Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja’far Al-Mansur.
The story goes like this: Caliph Al-Mansur wrote to Sawwar Abdullah, the Kadhi (judge) of Basra, “Look at the piece of land over which a certain officer and a certain merchant disputed. Give it to the officer.”
Kadhi Sawwar wrote back to him, “However, it was proven to me that it belongs to the merchant, and I cannot withdraw it from his possession without clear evidence.”
Caliph Al-Mansur then replied, “By Allah, you will give it to the officer!”
Kadhi Sawwar replied, “By Allah, I shall not withdraw it from the possession of the merchant except lawfully.”
When this letter reached Caliph Al-Mansur, he was delighted. He then exclaimed, “I have filled my office with justice, and my judges are now turning me to justice.”
With this position, the judge cut off the chain of corruption in his jurisdiction. That was why when Al-Mansur said his famous phrase “I have filled my office with justice and my judges are now turning me to justice,” as he was reassured that the state was fine as long as corruption did not infiltrate it.
On the other hand, there are many examples of the collapse of states, the most important of which was what happened in Andalusia. It was eroded by corruption and disputes among the leaders of the sects. The emirates then began to collapse one after the other until Granada was the last to stand. Its last ruler, Abu Abdullah al-Saghir, stood on one of the surrounding hills, and was crying while his mother chided him by saying, “My son, you do well in crying like a woman for a kingdom that you could not defend like a man.”
Andalusia would not have fallen had it not been for the bickering and disagreements between rulers and princes, the corruption that pervaded the country, and the quest to overcome the people of the same house in alliance with the Castilians.
These are two examples from which any official can learn about how he can preserve the institution he is in charge of. If he neglects anything, he will become a slave to the corrupt. This was what the sociologist and historian Abdul-Rahman bin Khaldoun had warned about in terms of the downfall of nations in his book titled “Muqaddimah” (Ibn Khaldun’s Prolegomena) published in 1377.
Ibn Khaldun wrote, “Injustice ruins civilization. It worsens when it is coupled with poor selection of aides, which is an outright attempt of suicide of the state. This is because these people screen the eyes of the ruler, and therefore, justice loses its path. Among the signs of nations that are collapsing is the presence of many astrologers, beggars, hypocrites, pretenders, scribes, cacophony singers, average poets, agitators, mouthpieces, palm readers, revelers, politicians, meddlers, satirists and opportunists. Terror reigns under such conditions. Mismanagement prevails. Rumors prevail. Friends turn into enemies and enemies into friends. False becomes true. True voices fade. People become more attached to their tribes and homelands such that it will be a form of delirium. The voice of sages is lost in the noise of preachers. Outbidding the concepts of nationalism, patriotism, belief and the fundamentals of religion becomes prevalent. People of the same household accuse each other of betrayal.”
The lesson from all of this is that the one whom the ruler entrusts the people’s affairs has to maintain that trust, so that he does not neglect the affairs of the common people, he is just, and he delivers trusts to their owners. Anything short of that would shake the foundations of the state, and make room for everything that Ibn Khaldun talked about as the reasons for the collapse of states.
If Kadhi Sawwar bin Abdullah was focusing on his personal interests, he would have implemented the Caliph’s order, but he opted for justice, and justice stood by his side, unaware of the consequence of his defiance for the sake of justice.
On the other hand, if Abu Abdullah Al-Saghir had not resorted to bargaining over his emirate with the King of Castile Ferdinand, he would not have stood crying on that hill. In this regard, what applies to him applies to the smallest and largest institution in any country.
Is there anyone who learns from the lessons of the past?
Ibn Khaldun wrote, “Among the signs of nations that are collapsing is the presence of many astrologers, beggars, hypocrites, pretenders, scribes, cacophony singers and average poets, as well as agitators, mouthpieces, palm readers, revelers, politicians, meddlers, satirists and opportunists too. Friends turn into enemies, and enemies into friends. People of the same household accuse each other of betrayal … “
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times