Despotism is a government or political system in which the ruler exercises absolute power, unrestricted by a constitution or laws or opposition. It is one of the signs of the Judgment Day. In other words, among the signs of the Day of Judgment is that the reins of power become held by unworthy people, and the worst people become the elite.
Actually, unjust rule constitutes the worst danger for the Muslim Ummah (nation), for deviant authorities do not base their rule on Islamic Shari`ah. They separate political affairs completely from religion. They follow the way of the enemy instead of following the way of Allah. This ruling methodology leads to religious degeneration and a life of loss.
However, despotism is not a recent phenomenon in our life. Yet it is a sign of the Day of Judgment that despotism will spread widely near the end of this world.
The eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, states: “Dictatorship is the worst disease in the body of the Arab and Muslim worlds, especially in political affairs. It refers to despotic control of affairs against people’s will. Dictators do not bother themselves with the will of their subjects; rather, they find nothing bad in humiliating people in order to stay in power. They assign leading posts to deviant people and drive honest counselors away.
Despotism constitutes a great danger for the ideologies, morality, talents and innovative abilities in the Muslim Ummah. In his famous book Tabai` al-Istibdad wa Masari` al-Isti`bad, Sheikh `Abdur-Rahman al-Kawakibi discussed the dangers of despotism and its effects on the life of individuals as well as the society.
However, despotism has become more intense in recent ages than ever before. It has reached alarming proportions, as rulers have given themselves absolute powers over everything. The governments now tend to brainwash people; they influence them through the education system, mass media, and different cultural and legislative channels. Most or even all systems have become powered and regulated by the state.
Here I would like to stress that Islam is mostly endangered by the spread of despotism and tyranny. The history of modern ages shows that Islam cannot flourish and take its way to people’s minds and hearts except in an atmosphere of freedom, so that people can express themselves freely. People must have free will to accept whatever they like and reject whatever they do not, without being harmed or prosecuted by any means.
Modern and contemporary history proves that Islamic call diminishes with the growth of dictatorship and tyranny. It is through severe dictatorship that secularism dominates every field of life in Turkey. Education, legislation, media and social life in general succumb under secular policy despite rejection of the majority of the Muslim people. However, the Islamic identity cannot ever be altered or even shaken by the secular regime that has lasted about sixty years up till now.
Most of the Islamic and Arab countries suffer from tyrannical regimes. A poet describes the reign of tyrannical rulers saying that once they held the reins of power, they put an end to peace of mind and aspects of backwardness prevail. That is to say, people reject them and disdain their rule. They yearn for the day when they get rid of their rulers; they will consider it a festival.
Ironically, we see in most states of the Arab world and the developing world that the result of presidential elections is usually 99.9% in favor of such dictators. Despotism not only spoils political life, but it also spoils the administrative system, the economy, the moral and religious aspects of life. It severs life in general.
Despotic rulers do not choose honest, efficient, knowledgeable people for strategic posts as good rulers do. They do not put the right man in the right place. They do not reward the good and punish the wrong doer. Things go with them the contrary. Dictators promote people who acquire their trust even though they are not efficient or honest people. They dismiss the good followers who care for the Muslims’ welfare. Rather, they take the hypocrites who flatter them as the state counselors.
Such a despotic regime violates all sides of life. It causes great disorder and chaos and, thus, leads the Ummah to its ruin. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘When trust is breached expect the (last) Hour.’ A man asked, ‘How can trust be violated?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied ‘When posts are assigned to unworthy people, expect the Hour.’
There is an appointed hour in which the whole of mankind will come to an end. In the same way, there is an appointed hour for each Ummah. At that specific time, the Ummah loses its identity and power due to posts being assigned to dishonest, unworthy people who do not perform their duties as they should, who do not keep their trust or fear Allah Almighty, who lead illicit life.”
The late Muslim da`iyah, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali (may Allah have mercy on him) adds:
“Hadiths of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) explain some of the signs that indicate the imminence of the Hour. Among them are: ‘There will be abundance of money and nobody will accept charitable gifts.’, ‘When a slave (woman) gives birth to her master. When the herders of black camels start boasting and competing with others in the construction of higher buildings.’ and ‘When the poor become leaders.’
Some people misunderstand these hadiths. They think that Islam refuses leadership of the poor. However, this is a wrong belief, as Islamic history witnesses that most of the early believers who carried the banner of Islamic civilization were poor shepherds. So the hadith mentioned above means that ill-natured, extreme people who lack proficiency and competence would jump into positions they do not deserve.
This interpretation is supported by other hadiths; the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: ‘The Hour will not come until the most privileged in this life are the arch-evils,’ ‘The Hour will not come until life affairs will be regulated by the most evil among you.’ and ‘The Hour (Resurrection) would not come upon anyone so long as he supplicates Allah.’
Therefore, an evil reign is the worst tribulation that ever exists because evil rulers help demolish the well-established morality of the Ummah. They spread degeneration and injustice. Under their reign, honor is violated and blood is valueless.
It seems that such tribulation will spread mostly within the Muslim Ummah. It is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was once sitting with his Companions, exhorting them. Then a man came to him and asked, ‘When will the Hour come?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) finished his exhortation, then he asked, ‘Where is the questioner (about the Hour)?’ The man replied, ‘I am here, Allah’s Messenger.’ The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) answered his question: ‘When the trust is violated, expect the Hour.’ The man asked, ‘How can the trust be violated?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, ‘When posts are assigned to unworthy people, expect the Hour.’
It is true that there were always examples of social and political injustice throughout history. Yet it will prevail dangerously and uncontrollably near the end of this world. We see despotic rulers who belong to very poor roots enjoying a luxurious life. They have private planes for transport. Not only that, but they even use private planes to send gifts and presents to their sons and grandsons. All the luxury such rulers and their families enjoy are extracted from the public wealth of the people. How miserable Muslims are with such despotic rulers!
Dishonest scholars are the same as oppressive rulers and despotic authorities, for such scholars pave the way for degeneration in the Muslim Ummah. It is because of them that political life and power are completely separated from religion and scientific knowledge. Religious life witnesses great division, so that we find Sufis imbued with true faith but they lack knowledge. On the other hand, there are some scholars who have knowledge but lack thoughtful hearts and true faith.
Then deviation reached such a dangerous degree that Sufis have lost their transparency and sincerity and divided into different groups of different schools and customs. On the other side, the recent generations of jurists lack talents of legal reasoning and deduction; they cannot sense the wisdom of legislation, nor do they play their role in giving legal advisories for recent unprecedented events.
Moreover, there is a great deficiency in different fields of knowledge and science. All these factors contribute to the great backwardness of the Muslim Ummah in comparison to its enemies, as the Muslim Ummah has lost its economic and spiritual identity.
One of my friends once told me that the Europeans and the Americans hate the Jews, but they scorn the Arabs. He wondered what the Arabs should be respected for.
I remember in this respect that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘You will fall prey to other nations, in the same way eaters gather upon a tureen.’ A man asked, ‘Is it due to our small numbers?’ The Prophet said, ‘Nay, you will be abundant at that time. But you will be as worthless as scum. And Allah will void the hearts of your enemy of any respect for you, and He will imbue your hearts with al-wahn or effeteness.’ People asked, ‘What do you mean by al-wahn?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘It is to love life and hate death.’”