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Power Distance in Islam- Rashid Mateen Khan

rashidmateenkhan@yahoo.com
Riphah international University

Introduction

When the subordinates of an organization, or the masses of a country think that the
authorities have all kind the power over them; they accept all the decisions made by the
authorities and they assume that they have no right to give suggestions or make
amendments of any kind. This distance between the heads and the subordinates is known
as the power distance. All the important decisions are made by the authorities in such
situations and the inferiors have to follow, whether they like it or not. This is slightly
different from dictatorship, however, where the ordinary people cannot challenge the
government and the government is not accountable for any thing.

Power distance in Islam

The concept of power distance in Islam is very different to that of other cultures and
religions of the world. Islam does not teach the head of a state or an organization to be
the boss, instead it teaches to be the leader i.e. not to impose their decisions on the
subordinates but to let them give their suggestion and make decisions by counseling.

The Quran says: “And those who respond to their Lord and keep up prayer, and whose
affairs are (decided) by counsel among themselves ...” (42: 38).

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) always made decisions after consulting with his peers.
He not only told the people to obey their rulers but he also stopped the rulers from
disobeying Allah. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “A Muslim has to listen to and obey (the
order of his ruler), whether he likes it or not, as long as his orders do not involve
disobedience (to Allah). But if an act of disobedience (to Allah) is imposed, one should
not listen to it or obey it”.

In Islam the responsibility of the government is to take care of the people and to spread
the word of Islam throughout the world. But this can only be done when the government
and the masses are in harmony with each other. An ordinary man should not be afraid to
stand and question the leader about any wrong that he has done. The Prophet Muhammad
(PBUH) encouraged the people for this by saying: “The best of jihad is of him who
speaks a just word before a tyrannical authority.”

This was practiced even in the rule of the pious Caliphs. People were not afraid to ask the
Caliphs about any action they took or anything they did. They were given the right to do
so and the caliphs would not mind at all. Instead they were bound to answer them and
explain the reason for their action.

Also. in Islam the authorities are not secluded from the law. when the governor of Baghdad appointed a guard out side his palace. and questioned the Caliph about the piece of cloth.A. It is said that once a man accused Hazrat Ali (R. By Allah. The Caliph immediately called him for questioning and ordered to remove the guard from the governor’s doors. Conclusion Islam is the religion of peace and acceptance. However. Instead it makes the rulers accountable in front of God as well as the people. It does not acknowledge cruelty or strictness. Islam encourages the culture of collectivism.A. After hearing this. He was lead to the court and was trialed. They are equally penalized as the other individuals of the society for their conduct. Also.) stood and told that he had given his share to his father and it was not gained by illegal means. which had been obtained from the things left behind by the enemies after a war. who were gathered for the Jumma prayers. a woman stood up and said that this was not correct. It was then when his son Abdullah (R. but he was innocent and was led free. had Fatima. All these examples show that power distance is less in Islam. He stood in front of all the people. the authorities should make decisions after consulting the subordinates and should consider their suggestions. One such example is very famous from the time of the Caliph Hazrat Ali (R.A) was giving a Friday sermon.A). Even the head of the state is not protected form being accused. so that any needy person can call for help by ringing the bell any time. single pieces of clothes were distributed among every body. That is why. These rights to question the government were also given to the women.A. the daughter of Muhammad (PBUH). And Islam emphasizes on a culture of no communication gap between the authorities and the subordinates.Once in the reign of the Caliph Hazrat Umar Farooq (R. Even the family of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was not untouched by the law. I would have cut off her hand”. The mughal King Jehangir had put a chain and a bell outside his palace. It presents the authorities as the servants of the low level people. by mistake he told a wrong problem about the bride’s mehar. He once said. committed theft. A person noticed that the Caliph is wearing a dress made out of two pieces of cloth. power distance in Islam does not make any communication barriers among the rulers and the masses. they passed no sentence on him. creating an atmosphere of harmony and agreement. the subordinates are bound to obey their leaders. . Therefore. which would not let any body meet the governor. while deciding a case of a noble woman: “Verily those who were before you were destroyed because when a noble man from among them committed theft.). Once when Hazrat Umar Farooq (R. Power distance in Islam is seen as the cooperation between the head and member of any organization. The Caliph thanked her for making him right and apologized instead of being furious for interrupting him.) of theft. thus.