Tweet on Eligibility for a Muslim Leader

I sent a tweet on April 30 which read like this: “A former playboy can be an angel after repentance; he can be eligible to the best paradise but not to lead Muslims. U’ve a right to disagree.”

The tweet met with an unusually negative response. So strong was it that I had to decide that I would stop using my twitter account until after the elections were over.

My view was partly a personal opinion and partly a religious one. I will explain what I meant by it.

The Qur’an states a unique punishment for extra-marital sex (Zina): flogging them (both man and woman) with hundred lashes in public and denying them the right to marry a chaste person ever in the future. It is seemingly a harsh punishment. But the reason behind it is that it is in the nature of this particular crime (extra-marital sex) that if it isn’t dealt with an iron hand it has the potential of spreading like an epidemic. Human weakness is particularly vulnerable to it; and opportunities of committing it are numerous. If strict measures aren’t taken by the society against it, it would amount to trivializing the crime and allowing it to spread like an epidemic.

The other aspect of Qur’anic treatment for this evil is that you can’t even talk about ordinary people’s involvement in this crime unless you have four witnesses who testify that it has happened. If you accuse someone of doing it without bringing four witnesses, you’ll be flogged with eighty lashes. In other words, the Almighty wants that if the filth is happening in secret, we shouldn’t even share it with others so that the filth remains isolated and is not allowed to affect others. And if it has happened in a way that public has learnt unmistakably about it, deal with it so mercilessly that others are deterred from coming close to it.

That much is the Qur’an.

A playboy is someone who has a carefree lifestyle. He is seen around with one woman or another in a way that the apparent relationship and the manner they show around are not very convincing to a decent taste. If taken lightly, this lifestyle carries a very similar danger of spreading like wildfire.

With someone who is quite openly known for such a past and the Qur’an clarifying that when crimes of this nature become public, in order to condemn the crime — not the individual — strict measures are necessary to be taken, people with a past of that kind should not be allowed a prominent status and the highest office of a Muslim state. If that clarity is not adopted, it would tantamount to taking the evil lightly. People would start talking on the lines that it isn’t really a big deal. If our leader can do that — and he being otherwise a great man — why can’t we? We too can reform later after having spent an exciting, unbridled youth. A still more dangerous stance Satan can whisper into the heart is that probably the natural path to greatness is what our hero has experienced. If you can’t relive his past, you can’t be what he has become now.

My point is that even though no one has a right to call a playboy a Zani, (if he does it, he will deserve eighty lashes) his apparent lifestyle should not be allowed to get popular in the society by allowing its evilness to get trivialized. While we don’t have any right to accuse or punish him, we shouldn’t make him our hero. Someone who is not allowed to marry a chaste woman, I argue, can’t be considered eligible for leading Muslims politically as well. That doesn’t mean that he should not be respected in the society. Likewise is the case of a former playboy.

Because the link between the example of a person who commits Zina in such an open way that he is caught and punished and the one who has spent a part of his life with women in suspicious circumstances may not be completely convincing for all, I mentioned that people had a right to disagree with me. My point is that a playboy who hasn’t been punished for Zina can certainly marry a chaste woman legally, but his public reputation in this matter is something that causes the same concern of trivializing evil as is caused by a Zani being allowed a normal life. A Muslim society should be sensitive enough to not give him the status of their leader. Doing so, strictly speaking, wouldn’t be against the law; but it would certainly be against the spirit of the law.

I mentioned in another of my tweets briefly that when John Profumo who as an important part of the British government was caught in a scandal with a woman in UK in 1963, he quit his office and served public quietly for the rest of the forty three years of his life, washing toilets in a hall run as charity etc It is reported that towards the very last part of his life some respect was restored to him because of his relentless attitude of repentance by being invited to the eightieth birthday of Mrs Thatcher. This firm stance is adopted in that otherwise relatively liberal society because of the realization that if an important government official is afflicted with such a moral disease, he can be vulnerable to more temptations and therefore he is unreliable to be given an important position of authority.

My whole line of argument can be incorrect but how on earth can I be accused of saying anything against the “basic teachings of Islam and basic ethics” when I express these views? If people disagree with my argument, they have a right to. It is the beauty of democracy that facts are put across with arguments from both sides without hurling accusations and filthy language at each other. And I will fight for my right to claim that for a Muslim society religious arguments are no less important.

Several questions were raised in response to my tweet. I am addressing some of them.

Were some of the companions not involved in the sin of extra-marital sex earlier and yet they later became leaders of Muslims? We don’t know if that claim is true. What is mentioned in history, in particular pre-Islamic history, is not fully reliable. What I have mentioned above is a principle that I am pleading to be applied on people whose past is as visible as their present by virtue of newspaper clippings, photographs, television clippings etc. Moreover, when you belong to a religious group, whether willingly or otherwise, you are judged by its principles. If a playboy is a Muslim, his conduct shall be judged by the principles of Islam. The companions of the prophet, alaihissalam, changed their lifestyle after embracing Islam. Also, the Qur’anic law mentioned above was introduced at a particular point in time. It couldn’t have had application with retrospective effect.

Doesn’t the Qur’an say in verse 24:5 that God will accept repentance of the people involved in sex-related crimes? Why would God punish someone for a life time? The punishment for a fornicator is a part of the Islamic Shari’ah. God has given His verdict on certain important aspects of the moral life of humans in His Shari’ah which were beyond the grasp of their intelligence. That’s what Shari’ah is all about. Clearly, we couldn’t have thought of that punishment ourselves. But God knows the nature of crimes and human weakness that inclines man towards it. If He doesn’t allow a person found guilty of committing such a crime despite his repentance to marry a chaste woman, there has to be a reason for it. And if you have a doubt about the whole argument, look at another punishment of the Shari’ah: In an ideal Islamic state the hand of an established thief is amputated. The question is: How can a thief restore his self image after he has repented sincerely given that the absence of one of his hands is advertising his past? The only answer that comes to one’s mind is that although he deserves respect from all decent members of the society and he can attain the highest level of piety in the eyes of God, his amputated hand is a living testimony for the society that theft is an intolerable crime even though a thief who has repented has a right to respectability.

Why did I withdraw from tweeting?
Answer: God doesn’t want me to let people know about His religion when they aren’t interested in it. When I saw people were more interested in ensuring that a certain candidate wins the elections and not quite as much in learning if a certain argument was religiously more valid, I felt it was about time that I withdrew tweeting to let them be assured that my interest was not in helping one candidate to win or another. Now that the period of frenzy is over, I am clarifying my position to those who care to understand.

Why didn’t I talk about the weaknesses of other candidates?
Answer: I didn’t talk about weakness of any particular candidate. I talked about a principle. I wasn’t launching a political campaign. I was raising a religious point. As soon as I realized that an angry mob was accusing me of launching an indirect, clever political campaign for a certain political party, I decided to withdraw from using tweets for communicating the message until after the elections were over. Only one person sought my advice from Pakistan on whom he should vote for. My response was: Respond to the voice of your conscience! In fact, when I noticed that he wanted to vote for the party of my choice, I dissuaded him from doing so and urged him to vote in response to the voice of his conscience.

But why after all did I have to send a tweet like this just before the elections?
Answer: Because a principle must be mentioned at the time when its application is needed the most.

Aren’t you guilty of accusing someone without any real proofs?
Answer: I am accusing nobody. I am simply stating a principle. If you think it is applicable to a candidate and you think the principle I stated is correct, think about it. If you think the principle isn’t correct, ignore it.

If you can talk about one person why not about several other candidates’ past whose scandals are well known?
Answer: I am talking about scandal of no one. If someone talks about scandals of others, it is his responsibility to bring their cases before the competent authorities to prove his point. Hurling unsubstantiated blames on others, I have already stated, isn’t an Islamically acceptable thing to do.

What was I trying to achieve?
Answer: I was trying to create awareness of an Islamic principle and invite discussion on its application on other aspects of life at a time when that principle was needed the most. A well established principle is more important than an individual. An individual can rise very high and then fall; a principle can never fall.

How would you respond to the claim of a scholar: “A former playboy can certainly become head of the state of a Muslim state so long as he enjoys the support of the majority; in fact even if he continues to be playboy while being the head of the state, he will continue to enjoy the right of that status”?
Answer: I am sure this statement is correct. I am not contesting the legal right of an individual to be the head of the state of a Muslim country if there is no law preventing him from becoming a head of it. What I am pleading are two things: Conscientious Muslims shouldn’t support a candidate who had a suspect past even if he/she has seemingly repented and a Muslim state should ideally have a law that bars such people from becoming the head of the state. In the absence of that law, I am sure the claim of the scholar is correct.

Another response was this: “Even if the weakness you are mentioning about my leader is correct, he is an angel compared to the other candidates.”
Response: The fact is that I didn’t point out any particular candidate. If some people think that their leader was a former playboy it’s for them to worry about. But the comment in this response is confirming my worst fears. If my line of argument is correct, a man who should be considered unworthy of becoming a leader because of his suspect past is being declared an angel relative to others. Satan will have little difficulty in pursuing his task thereafter.

May God Almighty guide us all to the right path!