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Power is a Spiritual Responsibility

What is power? That is a question many have attempted to answer. The stance in Islam, independently of how others may define it, is that power is a gift from Allah, and every endowment carries a spiritual responsibility.

The Spiritual Responsibility of Sultan Abdul Hamid II

The United Nations established the State of Israel in 1947. It gained independence in 1948 after the partition of the Ottoman State and during the British rule of Palestine.

Following the inhuman persecution of the Jews in Europe, some Western leaders sought to compensate them for their suffering. They implemented a plan first envisioned by Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement, who had failed to do it while Sultan Abdul Hamid II ruled.

Herzl made a generous offer to buy the land of Palestine, but the Sultan, the last Khalif to rule over Mecca, Madinah, and Jerusalem, refused to sell it. Although the Ottoman State was in dire need of cash, the Sultan rejected the offer and declared, “I will not sell a single inch of the country because it is not mine. It belongs to all Muslims.”

A less known fact about the lands of Palestine is that much of the region was Awqaf, the plural of Waqf (a charitable endowment given in perpetuity), and whose metaphorical owner thereof is God.

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Sultan Abdul Hamid fulfilled his spiritual and material responsibility to the Creator by refusing to sell the land.

The Nature of Power in the Quran

Allah says in the Quran:

Say, “O Allah, Owner of Sovereignty, You give sovereignty to whom You will and You take sovereignty away from whom You will. You honor whom You will and You humble whom You will. In Your hand is [all] good. Indeed, You are over all things competent.”

Quran, 3:26

Allah has distributed His gifts amongst humanity. Wealth, beauty, intelligence, knowledge, and power are all reflections of His attributes. In the subsequent verse (3:27), Allah the Almighty says that He gives provision to whom He wills without limit or measure. 

We often understand provision as wealth, but everything in our lives is part of His provision to us. Our biological gifts – health, strength, or intelligence – are from our Creator, as are the sociological aspects of our lives. We did not choose our birth country, the family we were born into, or our social status.

Power or sovereignty in this world is the combination of the biological and sociological gifts that Allah has bestowed upon every one of us. Therefore, power is a gift from God. And a gift is an Amanah, a trust. 

Power and Circumstances

Power, according to French philosopher Michel Foucault, is not a particular form of coercion or structure although it may contain these elements. Power is a discourse and knowledge. A discourse that shapes circumstances in which power emerges. Power is intimately related to circumstances.

Contrary to Foucault, Muslims believe the opposite; that the inward state conditions our circumstances, based on the Quranic verse that says:

“Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”

Quran 13:11

Verse (3:26), referenced earlier, states that Allah the Almighty gives sovereignty to whom He wills and takes it away from who He wills. In light of the above verse, we could say that Almighty Allah arranges the circumstance in which a person attains power and vice versa. But, if our condition is a reflection of “what is in ourselves”, to change the circumstances that led to someone else having power over us, we should first change what is in ourselves.

Power Has Varying Faces and Degrees

A few years ago, I was traveling from Botswana back to Cape Town, South Africa. A few university friends and I had spent a couple of days in Harare, the capital of Botswana. The four of us were Europeans, one of Jamaican origin.

On arrival at the airport, we passed through immigration with no issues. However, my Jamaican friend, Latif, was detained for almost two hours – an experience that caused him to become ill. We also nearly missed our next flight.

The factors triggering the detainment of my friend were having a Muslim name, being black, and holding a UK passport that immigration officers attempted to allege was counterfeit.

Our skin tone, passport, language, or social status are all components of power. The more socially valuable components and attributes that someone possesses, the more outward power he will be able to wield, which comes with a greater responsibility to do so justly.

We all possess a share greater than others less fortunate than us of those attributes. Similarly, there will always be someone who has more than we do. The key is to understand that all attributes are gifts from Allah the Almighty.

Recently, a friend told me, “It is okay to be aware of your gifts. It is not okay when you treat them as your achievements.”

The Spiritual Responsibility of Our Gifts

Each of us maintains a degree of power over the other, even among creatures. And everyone has a responsibility to exercise that power justly following what Allah has commanded. This is true from the Sultan to the beggar. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family, and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of the home of her husband and his children, and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master, and he is responsible for it. No doubt, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.

Bukhari and Muslim

Our primary responsibility is first and foremost with Allah.

Acting rightly and with care and compassion for others, being cautious of abusing our power, are spiritual actions that will bring us closer to Him, if He wills.

About Luqman Nieto
Luqman Nieto completed the memorization of the Quran at the age of 18, in Majorca Spain. Afterwards he finished a BA in History, Politics and Islamic Studies at Dallas College in Cape Town, South Africa. He also holds a MA in cinematography and is currently pursuing a Degree in Psychology at UOC. He has studied traditional Islamic Sciences with different shuyukh in Spain, Morocco and Egypt. He has worked as a media producer and his writings have appeared in online and print media. You can catch more of him in or in social media @luqmannieto