Election Race in the Gambia: Islamic Views on Electing Leaders and the Onus of leaders

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Alieu Fatty

By: Alieu Fatty

On Saturday, May 20th, the Gambia will go to the polls to elect, and decide whether to maintain the incumbent mayors, in BCC (Banjul City Council) and KMC (Kanifing Municipal Council) and Chairpersons in BAC (Brikama Area Council), MANSAKONKO AND BASSE or elect new representatives en masse.

      Although, there are many candidates contesting in this forthcoming local government election. However, some candidates appear to be enjoying unique darling popularity from citizens due to their reputations, whilst others are pigeonholed for lack of credibility and competence to serve as representatives.

      The passage to this election has been interesting for all the political parties, to say the least. From heated and unruly debates, attacks on policies and even personal matters scrutinized with the lens of criticism just to scrutinize the competence of each political party and party flag bearer all amidst a global economic recession and political crisis; it is clear that citizens demand not more and not less from all the political parties and their flag bearers.

      But the least of all those citizens expect from all the political parties or party of their choice is to have the most robust party manifesto and blueprint to address the following burning issues that all Gambians have been facing; employment for the youth and social services, innovation, recycling projects, health, security, above all the desperate voices of the electorates in their respective constituencies to be heard and addressed.

       Yet, some citizens have decided to stay home on the D-day of the election based on their beliefs that their votes will not make any changes in the system or in the politicians. As the proverb goes, “Empty barrels make the most noise.” Meaning that, politicians make plenty and only empty promises, which they do not fulfil at the end of the day.

Staying away from voting is not goodness rather it is dangerous nostalgia because it means that one is; mandating others to decide their future and that of the future of their children who to trust the public office to. Likewise, that may also result in the minority deciding for the majority which is against the principles of democracy.

Former Nigerian minister Nasir El-Rufai in the government of former president Obasanjo best explains during an interview that: “so why are we surprised, if all the good people keep away from politics who will be in politics? It is a vacuum; it will be filled by bad people. If all the good people go abroad or join the private sector who is going to be in government? The people that are not so good. And this is what is happening, I see an intersection of bad people in government, bad people in politics and our country is running down”  

      However as far as an Islamic perspective is concerned, leadership is a sacred trust, which must be upheld with complete trustworthiness, integrity and honesty. In chapter 4 of the Holy Qur’an, God the Almighty says:

‘Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing’. (Chapter 4, verse 59)

Another place in the Holy Qur’an God the Almighty says:

‘O ye who believe! Be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is Aware of what you do.’ (Chapter 5, verse 9)

      From these verses of the Holy Qur’an, Allah the Almighty tells us that the responsibility of running the affairs of the state should be entrusted to such people who are entitled to it. It means that leadership belongs to those who take the development of the state to be their sole priority, and who rule with honesty and integrity.

      In addition, the Holy Qur’an commands us to not put candidates into public offices based on our tribal, regional, or family affiliations, which is hegemonic in some third-world countries, and for too long, this has been the main reason for standstill development in these parts of the world. People should be entrusted pubic offices after thorough and fair scrutiny of their party blueprint, manifesto, the profile and reputations of the candidate.

      His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), the fifth Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, further beautifully explains this point:

“Nowadays members of the public vote for the party they support. They do not look at the person representing the party, whether they are deserving of the role or not. Neither is the voter acting with justice, nor is the person being given authority as a result of the votes acting justly” (An enlightening audience: Jamia UK graduates in the blessed company of Huzoor, Asif M. Basit, www.alhakam.org, 2nd November 2020″)

 His Holiness, explains during in his weekly Friday sermon on the 12th of May 2023, that “There are some people who select representative, they might have not taken the consideration of Taqwa [righteousness] because of family relationship, friendship, and considering these connections they have might have selected those delegates. Anyway, those people who select them, they would be sinners in doing that. And they would have done wrong thing if they have not justified the trust, they should seek forgiveness from Allah the Almighty… Those who have been elected and then practically and spiritually their standard is not there which should be there. So then seeking forgiveness from Allah, and you should try to bring positive change in your condition and follow the path of righteousness, you should try to [ be] eligible of discharging this trust and when this effort will be there you will get the pleasure of Allah”

His Holiness, whilst addressing the Shura [representatives] delegates, further expounded that (whilst giving suggestions and expressing opinions, the Shura [representative] delegates should not become influenced by someone else, they should not consider their personal friendships in the opinions they express, nor should they change their own opinions for fear of anything else. Rather, they should give their opinions whilst keeping righteousness at the forefront of their minds. They should remember that God knows what is in their hearts and what their actions are. They should be fearful of the fact that if they do not act to attain the pleasure of God, then they could incur His displeasure)

      There is no leader that has ever gratified this trust better than the Holy Prophet (saw). Even his bitter enemies who were day-to-day thirsty for his blood were compelled to attest to his high morals and integrity as a leader. Right before his claim to prophethood, the Holy Prophet (saw) was known as sadiq, the truthful, and amin, the trustworthy. His leadership inspired unwavering trust and his followers never questioned his intentions.

      The Holy Prophet (saw) mentioned his model of leadership in his own words when he said,

“Your high morals will manifest themselves when you consider yourselves to be the servants of the nation and when you serve the general public with all your capabilities.” (Kanzul ‘Ammal, Vol 6,p. 710, Hadith 17517, published Beirut, 1885)

In connection to this, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) asks this humble question,

‘Where do we see such standards among leaders and those occupying official post today? (Friday Sermon delivered by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) on March 2, 2018)

       The Holy Prophet (saw) declared leadership as a sacred trust and he says that,

“The leader of the nation is their servant.” (Kanzul ‘Ammal, Vol 6, p.304, Hadith 17513, published Beirut, 2004)

      He (saw) never felt superiority nor did he ever felt preference over himself towards the people. It is recorded in a narration that, once when a companion noticed that one of the shoelaces of the Holy Prophet (saw) was broken, he took the shoe to mend it, however the Holy Prophet (saw) would take it back and he (saw) said,

‘This is preferential treatment, and I do not like any preference to be given to me.’ (Ibid)

       Moreover, these high moral standards of leadership are opposed to what we see in most politicians today. They live a life of luxury whilst the people they claim to be serving wallow in poverty with their families and are not provided with even the most basic proper social amenities. 

During all his life as a prophet of God and a head of state, his entire life was an epitome of services to the people that he ruled. It is through these services that he connected with the people and whenever any of his companions called him, he would reply.

‘I am at your service’ (Al-Wafa’bi Ahwalil Mustafa by Allama ibn Jauzi, p.421)

      In the modern world, the most effective ways of enacting or amending changes in governments is to participate in the democratic process of electing leaders in every election, at every level. Through this manner, true and meaningful change can be made. His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) drew the attention of every citizen to exercise this right. He stated,

‘The real way to affecting change requires a more astute way to pressure the authorities. For example, every member should be mobilized to use their civic and democratic rights, rather than staying at home on election day. They, in turn should encourage other citizens that if they want to affect change then they should take part in the democratic process, at all levels, as this is the means to bring change and vote in people who will further their right and causes.’(Letter from Huzoor (aba) to Ameer USA, June 2020)

      Citizens can only exercise the right to hold the elected official accountable when masses actively vote and take part in a democracy. The fourth caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh) spoke about the needs for every Ahmadi to participate in elections. He stated:

‘Again, a trust must be discharged in good faith. Therefore, every voter must participate fully in exercising his vote during the elections unless he is unable to do so. Otherwise, he will have failed in the discharge of his own trust.’

 The responsibility to make a free and fair election is indispensable in order to main peace and order in the Gambia, which is part of a democratic requirement and Islam in fact supports this principle. Now, the power to make useful and wise change lies in the hands of every electorate.

Whatever decision every electorate is making, the effect of it will not be only visible on their lives but even on the lives of their future generations. Your vote is your power, in your hands, so make a choice wisely. Democracy means every citizenry to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote in a peaceful manner, without creating any violence. I hope and pray for a peaceful and meaningful election in mother Gambia. Ameen!

The Author Alieu Fatty is a student at the International Ahmadiyya University of Theology and Sciences Ghana

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