In his [History of the] Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the renowned Christian author, Gibbon, narrates the story of a Turkish king, Malek Shah, who was only a youth when his father (Alp Arsalan) passed away. Following the demise of his father, three other individuals — Malek Shah’s brother, an uncle and a cousin — rose as claimants to the throne, leading to a civil war. Nizamud-Din Toosi who was Malek Shah’s vizier [minister] and happened to be a Shia, persuaded Malek Shah to visit the tomb of Imam Musa Riza to offer prayers. After the prayers, Malek Shah asked his vizier, ‘what had been the object of his secret petition’? The vizier replied that he prayed to Allah ‘That your [Malek Shah’s] arms may be crowned with victory.’ ‘For my part (replied the generous Malek), I implored the Lord of hosts that he would take from me my life and crown, if my brother be more worthy than myself to reign over the Moslems.’ Gibbon, is a Christian historian, deeply prejudiced against Islam, yet he was compelled to say regarding this incident that historically: ‘it would not be easy to extract a sentiment more pure and magnanimous than is contained in the saying of the Turkish prince’.
Where did this spirit come from? How was it embedded in the Muslims’ hearts that governance was not the personal right of any individual, that it was a trust that a country’s people confer upon the most deserving, and that it was the ruler’s duty to govern with justice and fulfil the rights of individuals? Such noble ideology and splendid examples exist amongst the Muslims because the Holy Quran from the very beginning taught Muslims that authority is a trust that should only be handed over, by elections, to the deserving person. It cannot be seized by some as their hereditary right, nor can it be passed on according to any criteria other than merit.
Similarly, the person who is granted this trust must fulfil all the obligations associated with it. Anyone who does not fulfil these obligations shall stand before God as a condemned man. Muslims always kept in their minds the following verse: 1
That is, only those individuals should be given this trust who are worthy of it and have the capability to deal with administrative issues.
The people who were given this trust always remained mindful of the Quranic injunction that they must rule with integrity and justice. They knew that if they were unmindful of justice and were not scrupulously honest, or otherwise became unworthy of the trust reposed in them, they would be answerable before God to face retribution for their transgression.
1 Surah an-Nisa’, 4:59, (publishers)