Comment, Featured

Pandora Papers: How Islam deals with government corruption

1.   What are the Pandora Papers?

The Pandora papers are a leaked cache of 11.9m files from companies that specialise in creating offshore companies and trusts. Similar leaks occurred previously with the Panama papers in 2016 and the Paradise papers in 2017.

For ordinary hardworking people who are just about managing, they have to pay their taxes or face fines and prison if they don’t. They don’t have £millions to pay accountants who can devise elaborate schemes to avoid you paying tax. The super-rich on the other hand which includes the rulers and politicians of most Muslim countries can afford this and so their accountants dream up all sorts of schemes to pay little or no tax.

If an ordinary hard-working person in Britain buys a house over £125,000 they have to pay stamp duty. If you don’t pay you will be fined and eventually you could face prison. But as the Pandora Papers revealed, when Tony Blair bought a £6.45m London townhouse he paid zero stamp duty when he should have paid £312,000. How? The house was owned by an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands and owned by the current Bahraini minister for industry, commerce and tourism. By purchasing the holding company, they gained ownership of the house without paying stamp duty.

2.   How do Muslim countries rank?

With all these leaks and the next leaks, what is pretty consistent is that the rulers and politicians in Muslim countries will always make an appearance. In the latest leak it was revealed that the Qatari ruling family bought two of the UK’s most expensive homes ever sold. The wife of the former Emir of Qatar bought 1 Cornwall Terrace, opposite Regent’s Park, for £84m, then purchased 2-3 Cornwall Terrace for a further £40m. Like the Blairs they paid zero stamp duty due to the offshore company loophole.

Also it was revealed that King Abdullah of Jordan amassed a £70m secret property empire.

3.   Where do the rulers get their wealth from?

The corrupt rulers in Muslim countries get their wealth from three sources.

  1. Using the state treasury as their personal bank account. In 1996 according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks the yearly ‘allowances’ to the thousands of Saudi royals was around $2 billion a year. Estimates of the royal family’s current wealth is $1.4 trillion.
  2. Taking ownership of the natural resources like oil and gas. These natural resources are public property and belong to the Muslim ummah and must be spent on behalf of the ummah for things which will benefit Islam and Muslims. They cannot be owned by private individuals and families. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Muslims are partners (associates) in three things: in water, pastures and fire,” (Sunan Abi Dawud 3477). Fire here refers to the fire-based fuels.
  3. Siphoning off funds from the foreign aid. Jordan receives substantial international aid, including from the US and UK. The UK government is one of the regime’s biggest financial backers, doubling its funding to £650m over five years in 2019. In 2020, Egypt received $1.46 billion in foreign assistance, mainly from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

4.   What about western corruption?

Even in the west you don’t find poor politicians. Most MPs are also landlords and company directors on top of their £82K minimum salary + generous expenses. At one point two-thirds of David Cameron’s cabinet were millionaires.

Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, on top of her MP and Ministerial salary was paid £1000 an hour by the military satellite communications firm Viasat as a strategic adviser. Why did they pay her £1000 an hour? Is she an expert in global satellite communications? Of course not. Viasat, a Californian company with a UK base in Farnborough, supplies services and products to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The MoD works in collaboration with the Home Office on numerous projects, including the Innovation and Research Insights (IRIS) Unit, which sets up technology-based contracts for both departments. Viasat was bidding for a £6billion defence contract at the time which it won. Coincidence?

Government corruption and bribery is rampant in the west but its just well hidden.

Matt Hancock, former UK Health Secretary gave his ex-neighbour Alex Bourne a lucrative contract for the NHS. He won about £30m of work producing test tubes despite having no prior experience in the medical devices industry.

5.   Is corruption inevitable?

I doubt many people are surprised that politicians whether in the west or in the Muslim world are corrupt. People see politics as a dirty game and want to distance Islam from it.

But does it have to be this way? Is corruption in government and politics inevitable?

To answer this, we need to go back to the ideology that underpins the world today which is secular-liberalism and its economic model known as Capitalism. Even in China which is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party its economics is still Capitalist.

If you have a man-made ideology like Capitalism built on individual freedom and survival of the fittest, where happiness is ‘get rich or die tryin’ then corruption is inevitable because the ideology itself is corrupt because it denies the Creator any role in the constitution, laws and running of the society, and instead replaces them with following man’s whims and desires or democracy as its otherwise known.

Recently Frances Haugen a former product manager at Facebook revealed that Facebook put profit before people, and knew its products were damaging the mental health of teenage girls, resisted changes that would make the content of its main platform less divisive and knew its main platform was being used to incite ethnic violence in Ethiopia. We know how social media is used against the Rohingya and prevent any expose of the Zionist State of Israel war crimes. This IS Capitalism in 2021.

Is this any different to Capitalism in 1974, when a report entitled The Baby Killer accused Nestlé of causing illness and infant deaths in poor communities in third world countries by promoting their infant formula products at the expense of breastfeeding. Profit at the expense of human suffering is part of the ideology. As the saying goes, they would sell their own grandmother if it made a profit.

If however you have an ideology built on accountability and responsibility where happiness is pleasing the Creator Allah (Most High) i.e. Islam, then the atmosphere in state and society is completely different. All elements of society from the institutions, media, judiciary, government, politicians, ministers, governors, armed forces, police and so on, all work to achieve Islamic interests and objectives.

This doesn’t mean an Islamic State is a utopia. Corruption can never be fully eliminated because to err is human and Islam was revealed for human beings not angels or saints. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Every son of Adam commits sin, and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 4251) What it does mean though is that corruption in an Islamic State can actually be addressed and reduced to a manageable level that doesn’t significantly impact the day to day lives of its citizens. Allah says:

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَـٰٓئِكَةِ إِنِّى جَاعِلٌ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً ۖ قَالُوٓا۟ أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ ٱلدِّمَآءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّىٓ أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

˹Remember˺ when your Lord said to the angels, “I am going to place a Khaleefah (˹human˺ authority) on earth.” They asked, “Will You place in it someone who will spread corruption there and shed blood while we glorify Your praises and proclaim Your holiness?” Allah responded, “I know what you do not know.” (Al-Baqara, 2:30)

6.   So how does Islam deal with government corruption?

To answer this, we need to look at the neglected sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ. We hear a lot nowadays about the importance of following the sunnah but this is translated in to clothing, miswak, optional prayer, beards and so on. What about the sunnah in governing, accounting the rulers and mu’amilaat which is all wajib? Allah says:

وَمَآ ءَاتَىٰكُمُ ٱلرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَىٰكُمْ عَنْهُ فَٱنتَهُوا۟

Whatever the messenger brought you take it; and whatever he forbids you abstain from it” (Al- Hashr: 7)

The word Maa in the ayah is ‘aam (general) which means everything the Messenger ﷺ brought. We don’t pick and choose the sunnah according to our minds rather we refer back to the sharia for the priorities of actions.

When we look to the sunnah we find the Prophet ﷺ firstly established self-accountability (taqwa) and building all elements and relationships of the Madinah society which was the first Islamic State on the basis of Islam. This was documented in the Sahifa or constitution.

This created an atmosphere of Islam where the concepts, criteria and convictions of all people including the government officials were Islamic. Even the non-Muslim Jewish tribes and mushrikeen conducted their public affairs, buying and selling according to sharia.

There are five main mechanisms for dealing with corruption in an Islamic State:

  1. Self-Accountability (taqwa)
  2. Khaleefah and his government are not above the law
  3. Accounting others (enjoin good & forbid evil)
  4. Monitoring officials
  5. The High Court – Mazalim

7.   Self-Accountability (taqwa)

It is narrated that Abu Hurayrah said: “We were with the Messenger of Allah in the year of Khaibar, and we did not get any spoils of war (ghaneema) except for wealth, goods and clothes. Then a man from Banu Ad-Dubaib, who was called Rifa’ah bin Zaid, gave the Messenger of Allah a black slave who was called Mid’am. The Messenger of Allah set out for Wadi Al-Qura. When we were in Wadi Al-Qura, while Mid’am was unloading the luggage of the Messenger of Allah, an arrow came and killed him. The people said: “Congratulations! You will go to Paradise,” but the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “No, by the One in Whose hand is my soul! The cloak that he took from the spoils of war on the Day of Khaibar is burning him with fire.” When the people heard that, a man brought one or two shoelaces to the Messenger of Allah and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “One or two shoelaces of fire.”” (Sunan an-Nasa’i 3827)

Ghaneema (money, weaponry, goods, provisions, etc. from the place of war) is a revenue of the Islamic State. Stealing from the state funds like the rulers today entails a severe punishment. Mid’am ordinarily would have been a shaheed which is why the sahaba congratulated him, but instead he was punished in the grave for stealing from the state funds. This created an atmosphere where another Muslim came forward giving up two shoelaces voluntarily once he heard of the punishment.

Another example is closer to home. In 2013 there was an ICM poll on Britain’s most generous charity givers. Now there is no law in this country forcing people to give charity yet Muslims were the top religious group even though 60% of the country is Christian and Muslims are the poorest community in the UK.

  • Muslims who donated to charity last year (2012) gave an average of almost £371 each
  • Jewish givers averaging just over £270 per person.
  • Atheists donated an average of £116
  • Roman Catholics giving £178
  • other Christians £178 and Protestants £202.

8.   Khaleefah and his government are not above the law

The Legislative branch in an Islamic State is the sharia. Everyone is restricted by sharia. The Khaleefah is not a King or dictator who can create any law he wants. Nor is he a President or Prime Minister of a democracy who can create any law he wants if he has enough votes.

The best of creation and master of the Prophets – Muhammad ﷺ showed us by example through his sunnah that no one is above the law, even him and his family.

Usayd ibn Hudayr narrated: A man of the Ansar, said that while he was given to jesting and was talking to the people and making them laugh, the Prophet ﷺ poked him under the ribs with a stick.

The Ansari said: “Let me take retaliation.” He ﷺ said: “Take retaliation. (أَصْبِرْنِ) The man said: “You are wearing a shirt but I am not.”  So the Prophet ﷺ then raised his shirt and the man embraced him and began to kiss his side. Then he said: “This is what I wanted, Messenger of Allah!” (Abu Dawud, 5224)

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ also said: “By Allah, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad committed theft, I would cut off her hand!” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4304)

Today even in their old age the rulers and politicians are doing corrupt deals. Why? To preserve their legacy and their families. Yet the Prophet ﷺ is showing that even his beloved daughter can expect no preferential treatment and is restricted by the law like everyone else.

Ibn ‘Umar said that when ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (his father) was in need, he used to go to the man in charge of the Bait ul-Mal and seek a loan from him. Often he might be in difficulty and the man in charge of the public treasury would come to him, seeking repayment of the debt and would oblige him to pay it, and ‘Umar would be evasive to him. Then often ‘Umar would receive his stipend/allowance and so pay his debt.[1]

The man in charge of the Bait ul-Mal was appointed by Umar who was the most powerful ruler on earth at the time, yet even he couldn’t use the treasury as his personal bank account!

9.   Accounting others (enjoin good & forbid evil)

Allah (Most High) says:

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ

“You are the best nation ever to be produced before mankind. You enjoin the right, forbid the wrong and have iman in Allah.” (Al-‘Imran, 3:110)

Within the state this duty which is a collective duty (fard kifiya) is embodied by political parties, media and the elected Majlis ul-Ummah (House of Representatives). Some examples now follow.

POLITICAL PARTIES. The companions of the Prophet ﷺ were the political party during the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphate. During the rule of the second Caliph Umar bin al-Khattab, some cloth from the spoils of war was distributed to the people, out of which each companion had one piece of clothing cut. One day Umar got up to speak and said: ‘Lower your voices so that I may hear you.’ He was wearing two pieces of that cloth. Salman al-Farsi, a senior companion said, ‘By Allah, we will not hear you, because you prefer yourself to your people.’ ‘How is that?’ asked Umar. He said: ‘You are wearing two pieces of cloth and everyone else is wearing only one.’ Umar called out: ‘O Abdullah!’ No one answered him. He said again, ‘O Abdullah ibn Umar!’ Abdullah, his son called out: ‘At your service!’ Umar said, ‘I ask you by Allah, don’t you say that the second piece is yours?’ Abdullah said ‘Yes.’ Salman said: ‘Now we shall hear you.’[2]

MAJLIS UL-UMMAH. In the time of the Prophet ﷺ and sahaba this was an unofficial institution where the senior sahaba and tribal chiefs would undertake this shura role. A short while after Abu Bakr as-Siddiq was appointed as Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab and Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah were walking in Madinah when they met Abu Bakr carrying garments on his shoulders and going to the marketplace to trade.

Umar asked Abu Bakr, “What are you doing?”

Abu Bakr replied, “I am going to trade.”

Umar said: “After you became responsible for all the Muslims???”

Abu Bakr said, “But I have to feed my family.” So Umar said, “Lets go and we will pay you an allowance.” [from the state treasury Bait ul-Mal] Umar was the Wazir and Abu Ubaydah was the treasury secretary in charge of the Bait ul-Mal.

Umar and Abu Ubaidah decided to pay Abu Bakr 250 dinars a year and a daily allowance of half a sheep in food.

Sometime later Umar was walking in Madinah when he came across a group of women. He asked them “What are you doing?” They replied, “We are waiting for the Caliph.”

Abu Bakr did not turn up for office that day so Umar went searching for him and found him in the marketplace trading again.

Umar grabbed the hand of Abu Bakr and said, “What are you doing?”

Abu Bakr replied, “The allowance you gave me is not enough.”

Umar said, “Fine, we will increase it for you.”

Abu Bakr said, “I want 300 dinars a year and a daily allowance of a whole sheep in food.”

Umar said, “No. We are not going to give you that.”

Imam Ali (ra) intervened and said, “Give it to him.”

Umar said, “You think so?”

Ali replied, “Yes.”

So Umar said, “We agree.”

Abu Bakr then stood on the minbar in the masjid and called the sahaba. He said, “You have paid me 250 dinars a year and a daily allowance of half a sheep in food, and that wasn’t enough for me. So Umar and Ali have given me an increase to 300 dinars a year and a daily allowance of the whole sheep. Do you agree?”

The sahaba replied, “We agree.”[3]

10.         Monitoring officials

The Prophet ﷺ said,

‏ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَتَبَ الإِحْسَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَىْءٍ

“Allah has decreed excellence (ihsan) in all things” (Sahih Muslim 1955a)

The state must therefore have governance in place for all its officials and policies. It can adopt the styles and means (administration) from any system such as the UK and America similar to Umar ibn Al-Khattab adopting the Persian administration (diwan).

An example of vetting and governance can be seen in the time of the Umayyad Caliph Umar bin Abdul-Aziz. He took great care in choosing his governors and was very astute following the words of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: “A believer is not bitten from the same hole twice” (Sahih al-Bukhari 6133)

Once a man named Bilal bin Abi Bardah arrived in a delegation to Umar bin Abdul-Aziz and after praising Umar with some poetry he stayed in the masjid, spending his days and nights reciting the Qur’an. Umar considered appointing him as governor of Iraq, saying: “There is virtue in this man.” But first he sent one of his trusted advisors to put Bilal to the test. The advisor said to Bilal, “If I can get you appointed over Iraq, what will you give me?” In return, Bilal guaranteed him a large amount of money. When Umar was informed of this, he immediately discarded him.[4]

The Prophet ﷺ appointed ibn al-Utbiyya in charge of the sadaqat of Banu Sulaym. When he came (back) to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and he accounted him, he said: “This is what is for you and this is a gift gifted to me”. So the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Why did you not sit in the house of your father and the house of your mother until your gifts came to you if you are truthful?” then the Messenger of Allah ﷺ stood and gave a khutbah to the people. He praised Allah and extolled Him then said: “As for what follows, verily I appointed men from among you upon matters over which Allah appointed me. Then one of you comes to me saying: ‘This is for you and this is a gift presented to me.’ Why did he not sit in the house of his father and the house of his mother until his gifts came to him if he is truthful? For by Allah, none of you will take anything from it without due right except that he will come carrying it on the Day of Judgement.’” (Sahih Muslim 1832c)

He ﷺ established anti-bribery laws among his officials through this incident.

Al-Mansur was the second Abbasid Caliph and ruled from 136H/754CE to 158H/775CE. Tabari narrates from Ibrahim b. Musa b. ‘Isa b. Musa how Al-Mansur supervised affairs in his provinces.

The postmasters in all outlying districts used to write to al-Mansur during his caliphate every day about the price of wheat and corn and seasoning, and the price of all foods and all the decisions the Qadi had made in their district, and what the governor had done and what wealth was returned to the treasury and items of news.

After they had said the Maghrib prayer, they used to write to him about what happened each day, and they used to write to him about what happened each night when they said the Fajr prayer.

When their letters arrived, he (Al-Mansur) looked at them and, if he saw that the prices were as usual, he did nothing but, if he saw that something had changed, he wrote to the governor and the tax collector there and asked about the reasons for the price change, and when the reply came about the reason he was gently concerned about it until prices returned to normal.

If he had doubts about a judgment the Qadi had made, he wrote to him about that and asked those who were in his presence about his conduct and, if he disapproved of anything that was done, he wrote to him, rebuking him and criticizing him.[5]

11.         The High Court – Mazalim

The last mechanism used to deal with corruption is the judiciary.

There is a special court called the Mazalim Court (Court of Unjust Acts) which is responsible for settling disputes between the people and the government.

This court is political and judicial so has some functions of an upper house like a Senate. Any disputes for example between the Majlis and the Khaleefah or his officials will be settled by the Mazalim.

The court also checks all legislation, administrative laws and constitutional amendments to ensure they conform to sharia.

This court is the supreme court, court of appeal and has the power to impeach the Khaleefah if such an extreme scenario ever occurred.

An example of this can be seen from the Abbasid Caliphate where they would appoint a Qadi ul-Qudah (Chief Judge) for the state who would act as the Mazalim judge.

It is narrated that Caliph al-Ma’mun (813 833CE, 191AH), used to personally sit in the Mazalim Court on Sundays. On one such day a woman in rags confronted him complaining that her land had been seized.

Al-Ma’mun then asked her: “Against whom do you lodge a complaint?” She replied: “The one standing by your side, al-’Abbas, the son of the Amir ul-Mu’mineen.” Al-Ma’mun then told his Chief Qadi, Yahya ibn Aktam to hold a sitting with both of them and to investigate the case – which he did in the presence of al-Ma’mun. When the women raised her voice and one of the attendants reprimanded her, al-Ma’mun said: “Leave her, for surely it is the truth which is making her speak, and falsehood which is causing him (his son) to be silent,” and he ordered that her land be restored to her.[6]

12.         Conclusion

To recap, there are five main mechanisms for dealing with corruption in an Islamic State:

  1. Self-Accountability (taqwa)
  2. Khaleefah and his government are not above the law
  3. Accounting others (enjoin good & forbid evil)
  4. Monitoring officials
  5. The High Court – Mazalim

Corruption can never be fully eliminated because to err is human and Islam was revealed for human beings not angels or saints. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Every son of Adam commits sin, and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 4251) What it does mean though is that corruption in an Islamic State can actually be addressed and reduced to a manageable level that doesn’t significantly impact the day to day lives of its citizens.

Let us finish with an example from the beginning of the Abbasid Caliphate when Islam was implemented in reality. This is the view of the Islamic State through the eyes of a non-Muslim Chinese POW Tu Huan.

The Battle of Talas took place in 751CE between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang dynasty. In the aftermath of the battle a number of Chinese soldiers were taken as prisoners of war back to Iraq. Among these was one Tu Huan, who remained a prisoner until 762. He narrates a graphic account of life in the Islamic State.

The capital is called Kūfa [Ya-chü-lo]. The Arab king is called mumen [that is, Amīr al-Mu’minīn, Commander of the Faithful]. Both men and women are handsome and tall, their clothing is bright and clean, and their manners are elegant. When a woman goes out in public, she must cover her face irrespective of her lofty or lowly social position. They perform ritual prayers five times a day. They eat meat, fast and regard the butchering of animals as meritorious. They wear silver belts around the waist from which they suspend silver daggers. They prohibit the drinking of wine and forbid music. When people squabble among themselves, they do not come to blows. There is also a ceremonial hall [the mosque] which accommodates tens of thousands of people. Every seven days the king comes out to perform religious services; he mounts a high pulpit and preaches law to the multitudes. He says, ‘Human life is very difficult, the path of righteousness is not easy, and adultery is wrong. To rob or steal, in the slightest way to deceive people with words, to make oneself secure by endangering others, to cheat the poor or oppress the lowly – there is no greater sin than one of these. All who are killed in battle against the enemies of Islam will achieve paradise. Kill the enemies and you will receive happiness beyond measure.’

The entire land has been transformed; the people follow the tenets of Islam like a river its channel, the law is applied only with leniency and the dead are interred only with frugality.[7]

[1] Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, ‘The History of the Caliphs who took the right way,’ translation of al-Khulufa ar-Rashidun, translated by Abdassamad Clarke, Ta Ha Publishers Ltd, pp.145

[2] Ibn Qutaibah, ‘Uyun al-Akhbar, 1/55

[3] Dr Ali Muhammad As-Sallabi, ‘The Biography of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq’, Dar us-Salam Publishers, pp.271

[4] Dr. Ali Muhammad As-Sallabi, ‘Umar bin Abd al-Aziz,’ Darussalam, pp.649

[5] al-Tabari, ‘The History of Al-Tabari’, translation of Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk, State University of New York Press, Volume XXIX, pp.140

[6] Abu’l-Hasan al-Mawardi, ‘Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyah,’ (The Laws of Islamic Governance), Ta Ha Publishers, pp. 128

[7] Robert G. Hoyland, ‘Seeing Islam as others saw it,’ pp.246