In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, decisions, and policies and encompassing the obligation to report, explain, and be answerable for resulting consequences.In an era of political-correctness, where terms such as “environmentalism”, “green policies”, “fiscal responsibility” and others make the daily headlines and are haphazardly thrown around by politicians to garnish votes at election times to show that they are actually “concerned” about other than themselves and their fat wallets, another term – “accountability” – is often heard.
Accountability is a concept which is talked about in the science of ethics which carries with it several meanings. It is often used synonymously with concepts such as “answerability”, “enforcement”, “responsibility”, “blameworthiness”, and others and refers to the fact that there is a sense of account-giving at play.
In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, decisions, and policies and encompassing the obligation to report, explain, and be answerable for resulting consequences.
Islam, a faith which covers all aspects of our life in this temporal world, also envisions and has constantly stressed upon each and every one of us to be accountable for everything we say, do, and think – and even what we see and hear others do and say. In fact, we are told that if a person sees an act of aggression taking place and does not stop it, or if he hears about an act of tyranny and does not oppose it at the simplest level of having an aversion to that act in his heart, then he shares in the accountability of that act!
As believers, we have at least five levels of accountability which we need to study and seek to implement for a better future for ourselves and our society.
The Noble Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) informed his companion Abu Dharr al-Ghifari that, “Take account of yourself before you are taken to account.”
Today, we spend thousands of dollars on hiring the best accountants, financial planners, and tax advisors to help us put away the maximum amount of our earnings while paying the minimal amount of taxes to the government. We make sure to have latest software to balance our checkbook every month. However, what do we spend on ensuring our own personal accounts with Allah are up to date? The best checkbook to use on a daily basis is the Qur’an – if we were to weigh our deeds with the Qur’an, would we come up in the green or red?
One of the tips the scholars of Islamic ethics give to the truth-seekers is that at the end of every day, they should sit down and write (or perhaps in this modern era, they can use their notebook computer) every good and bad deed they did in the day. If they see that their good deeds were more than their bad, they should thank Allah and work at removing the bad deeds; however, if they see there is more bad than good, then they need to seek forgiveness and work harder at removing the bad deeds.
Once again, our beloved Messenger has said: “Each of you is a shepherd, and each of you is accountable for his flock.”
At the second stage, we need to look to our family – spouse, children and others in our immediate guardianship – and ensure that they too are on the straight path. This level of accountability can also be extended to the greater Muslim masses whom we interact with and are able to influence.
The beautiful words of the Prophet provide us with a stark example of our accountability on this second level – just as a shepherd ensures that his entire flock of sheep or goats does not stray off and is devoured by the hungry wolves, so too, we need to ensure our “flock” does not deviate from the straight path. How this is done varies by time and place, and is outside of the scope of our current discussion – this is something which each and every one of us needs to think about given our own circumstances.
Financial Accountability with the Muslim Community
As the circle of responsibility widens, so the level of accountability become more difficult to enact. The third level is aimed at the greater Muslim community and specifically upon the leaders of our non-profit religious organizations, mosques, and Islamic centers.
In some communities, we see complete apathy to the workings of the executive committees such that even if religiously unaware people or those who do not hide the fact that they are open transgressors of the laws of Allah (do not follow the most basic of Islamic regulations) run for the board of governors of the Islamic center, rather than the membership ignoring them, they will actually encourage them to stand for office and will vote such individuals into office! How many times have we seen people who cannot even take care of their own next life think that they can “lead” the community of believers?!
Fortunately or unfortunately, such people will have a great price to pay as they have been charged with one of the greatest responsibilities – maintenance of a trust given to them by Imam al-Asr (may Allah hasten his reappearance).
When the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him) send Malik al-Ashtar to Egypt as his governor, he offered him numerous pieces of advice, one which was, “Sharpen your pencils, write your sentences closer together (do not waste office supplies), and remove any extra information (which does not have to be written), and only write that which is necessary (to be mentioned), and (above all of this,) I advise you to keep away from excessiveness, since the wealth of the Muslims cannot put up with wastage.”
I wonder when our “community leaders” are running the centers and are building the mega-mosques for which they are taking enormous loans, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in interest, are they are keeping the words of the Imam in mind? If the Imam was so particular to not waste office supplies, which can cost pennies, what would he think about the state of affairs in our “Muslim communities” today?
Political Accountability of the Society
The Prophet of Islam has a very interesting statement when it comes to the leaders who are over us – in the secular world or the religious world – in which he has mentioned, “People follow the religion of their leaders.” We can take this tradition two ways: if people are good, they will elect a person who is just like them – good – since everyone in their society will be righteous, and if a society is evil, then their leader will be just like them, as they come from amongst them; the other understanding of this tradition is that when evil and irreligious people take over the helms of leadership of a society, they end up corrupting the people as the masses take them as role models! This is seen in the politics of the world today when presidents and heads of state get caught with their hand in the cookie jar or are caught engaged in sexual improprieties – the spin is put that these are “regular people” like you and I and are bound to slip, and thus, if we follow their footsteps, it is “normal” and “human nature”.
The Commander of the Faithful told Malik al-Ashtar that, “Make use of those who are righteous people, come from good, righteous homes (families), and have a proven track record.”
Unfortunately today, the criteria for leadership are not the religiosity of an individual – it is his/her closeness to who is in charge! Nepotism, which is one of the greatest evils of modern man, is nowhere seen better than in “religious circles”.
Yes, it is true that perhaps family members, as they live together, may share the same goals and aspirations and be able to work together; however, if they are given preference over those who are equally able to fulfill the responsibility simply because the others are family members, then this is where the real problem starts.
Religious Accountability with Allah
Our final accountability lies with our Creator – Allah. However, as we previously mentioned, it is not only the acts which we perform, the things we say, and the thoughts which run through our mind which we will be accountable for, but it is also the things which people around us do and say and think.
We are ultimately responsible to Allah for what we ourselves do, and this should be the primary motivating factor behind everything we do. However, in addition to being responsible for our own deeds, we are also accountable (to an extent) for what others do. Consider the following lines from Ziyarat al-Warith: “May the curse of Allah be upon those who killed you; and may the curse of Allah be upon those who oppressed you; and may the curse of Allah be upon those heard about what was transpiring and were silent about it (i.e. they gave their tacit approval to what was happening).”
As we prepare for the advent of Imam al-Mahdi, let us look at ourselves and the responsibilities we have at various levels and do what is best for ourselves and our society – as without this constant process of checks and balances, we risk losing this life and the next.
In addition to working full-time for Canada’s largest manufacturer of smartphones, Shaikh Saleem Bhimji has also written and translated numerous works on Islam and Shi’ism. These can be read and purchased at http://www.al-haqq.com and http://www.iph.ca.