Seyed Kazem Seyed Beqeri
The concept of “oversight” is one of the most important and complex issues in every institution and organization, and in general in any political and social system, and it has an unbreakable link with social responsibility.
Oversight is based on jurisprudence and Islamic law and the realization of monotheism and the implementation of shari’ah [Islamic law], the protection of the lives and property of the people from aggression, the restoration of rights and justice, the uprising against falsehood and oppression, the need for caution in important matters, the realization of good and prevention of vice, efforts in the affairs of the Muslims and the protection of public interests can be considered as the foundations of Islamic jurisprudence in regard to the issue of oversight.
According to Imam Khomeyni’s view of Shi’ah jurisprudence, while recognizing the power of oversight and the need for rulers to be accountable to God and the people for their actions on the axis of law, the oversight of power is recognized in both the internal and external spheres and at the stages of acquisition, action and the distribution of power and it also offers some specific solutions in this regard.
Based on the supervisory mechanism explained in Shi’ah political jurisprudence and in accordance with the perspective of the late Imam Khomeyni, not only is the oversight of power recognized at all stages but the political system is based on Shi’ah political jurisprudence has more efficiency and effectiveness in the field of oversight of power. From the perspective of capacity, oversight is more comprehensive than in existing political systems. For this reason, it will be able to better control and oversee power.
One of the issues that play an important and fundamental role in the analysis of the issue of power and the issue of the oversight of power is a major concern among political thinkers.
The presumption of the issue of the oversight of power is that power provides one individual with various political and economic facilities and distinct powers of wealth and politics. For this reason, it is possible for that individual to have a tendency towards corruption and thus, it is necessary for there to be oversight over that individual.
In our genuine religious thought, whenever the argument of the exercise of power is raised, the principle of the exercise of its power and originality belongs to the Prophet Muhammad and the Infallible Imams and as long as power is in the hands of an infallible individual, he has absolute knowledge and the Infallibles are immune from error.
For this reason, the concern for the tendency of power to corrupt is not explained and an individual can turn their heads toward powerful organizations and individuals with full eagerness and complete tranquility and be certain that this powerful individual does not oppress and not commit corruption.
But where the discussion gets complicated is when we want to apply power and sovereignty during the Era of Occultation. During this period, there are many discussions. We know that during the Era of Occultation, the Muslim community has not been left to its own devices.
For this reason, Islam believes in limitations for the ruling individual and because the ruler is at the threshold of error at every moment, he must have certain characteristics in order to be able to reduce the percentage of such error. For example in the discussion of the theory of Wilayat al-Faqih [Guardianship of the Jurisprudent], the issue of the knowledge and the justice of the jurisprudent is discussed.
The issue of the oversight of political power in Western thought has also been raised and, as I have said, it has been the concern of all political thinkers, but in regard to this issue, there are key differences between the Western and Islamic perspectives.
The principle of oversight and the fact that the ruler must be accountable has been accepted in both Western and Islamic discourses, however, there are differences in Western thought and religion regarding the question of which means and mechanisms of power should be controlled.
In the West, after experiencing the repression of the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages, struggles, efforts, and concerns to curb power were raised more seriously because thinkers and theorists of the issue of power considered that their society could experience a deteriorating situation at any given time and to this day, they have tried to find a strategy to prevent their societies from suffering from this repression and deviation.
The French lawyer, the man of letters, and political philosopher Montesquieu argued for the separation of powers, and Montesquieu said that when determining power is combined with implementation in one person and one governing body, there is no longer any freedom because it is feared that arbitrary laws would be exercised and be enforced arbitrarily. The principle of the separation of powers is to prevent the corruption of power.
English philosopher John Locke’s analysis of this is that if a person who is a legislator also has executive power, there is always the temptation to misuse power and it is not unlikely that he will be able to exercise his own power in the position of exercising the law.
The English Catholic historian, politician, and writer, John Dalberg-Acton is also famous for his views on oversight over political power, wherein he has famously stated that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
When we look at the events throughout history; the experience of history, the assets and the thoughts of mankind and the powerful, they emphasize to us that there must be oversight over political power. In our religious literature, there is also an argument about power. In verse 83 of Surah al-Qasas, God says: “This is the abode of the Hereafter, which We shall grant to those who do not desire to domineer in the earth nor to cause corruption, and the outcome will be in favor of the Godward.”
There is a famous narrative in the Collection of Warram on page 155, which says: “The last thing of the love of this world which comes out from the hearts of the righteous believers is the love of prestige and position.” In Kitab al-Kafi, a hadith is narrated from the Prophet Muhammad, who said: “Oh Abu Dharr! The love of wealth and position harms man’s religion more than two vicious wolves injure the herd of sheep which they ambush at night time so that they have all the time till morning to ravage the herd of sheep.” That is, the danger of prestige for a believer is greater than two vicious wolves.
Therefore, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq said: “Beware of those who seek power, for, by God, none followed the footsteps of such a person, except that he plunged himself and others into perdition.” That is, when one gains power, it is possible to bring himself, as well as others who follow him, to perdition.
In the biography of Imam Khomeyni, it is said if someone was looking for the Imam on a street or alley, Imam stood up and said what work do you have? If that individual did not have a particular job, Imam would forbid that person from following him.
There is the possibility that power and rule, destroy and corrupt mankind and this is stated in our religious literature and in Western thought as well.
The experiences and traits of power within mankind have led thinkers on this issue to the conclusion that corruption prevents power.
Oversight is referred to as observation alongside reflection and depth, that is to say, in oversight, there is a kind of observation along with contemplation. The term “oversight” also means ruling among the people, resolving their claims, and helping them.
Oversight is vigilance and watchfulness alongside reflection and depth. This vigilance and depth can be key in different issues. For example, in jurisprudential and legal issues, when the meaning of the term “oversight” is mentioned, the discussion of the review, audit, valuation, and evaluation of work is accomplished. In the words of some scholars in the science of law, oversight involves inspection, assessment, and evaluation by the executives.
The meaning of the oversight of power is, in fact, a watch over the power, assessment, and evaluation of the process of power and the way in which power is exercised. In a narration quoted from Imam Ali al-Ridha, it is stated: “When the Prophet of Islam sent the army to one area, he sent assured individuals along with them to bring news of the army and the commander to him.” Thus, there was also supervision over the commander in deploying an army division.”
Imam Ali (peace be upon him) in the letter of 53 Nahj al-Balaghah and Malek Ashtar’s treaty stated: “You should also check their [executives] activities and have people who report on them who should be truthful and faithful because you’re watching their actions secretly will urge them to preserve trust with and to be kind to the people.” These affairs point to the necessity of oversight.
In political jurisprudence, there are jurisprudential principles for oversight, one of these principles is the preservation of the lives and property of the people from belligerent actions. The lives of the people in our jurisprudential and religious thought are of great importance and the property of the people has very precise, deliberate, and firm limits.
Therefore, in order to protect the lives and property of the people from belligerent actions, there must be oversight over the ruler who has power. If it is said that the life, property, and honor of the people are very important, placing a large amount of power in a single person and then abandoning them is meaningless. Thus, there must be oversight of power.
Another of the principles of the issue of restoring rights is pursuing justice and wanting justice. If those who want justice convey the rights of the people to them, when oversight over power occurs, we are sure that power will not be abused from the situation at its disposal.
Another principle is the fulfillment of the command of ‘enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong.’ We have a definite Quranic and Islamic doctrine known as ‘enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong,’ the implementation of which depends on political affairs and government. If the matter of ‘enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong’ is supposed to be implemented, naturally, a type of oversight over external power and universal responsibility is sought. Otherwise, it does not make sense to enforce the notion of ‘enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong’ in the areas of politics, governance, and power without oversight.
In regards to the discussion of ‘enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong,’ on the one hand, everyone is responsible because all people have been commanded to ‘enjoin the good and forbid the wrong.’ Therefore, this responsibility is universal and it leads to universal oversight.
Another discussion is the lack of the infallibility of the rulers and their probability of error, hence the need for oversight is discussed.
Reformation and corruption are other issues and if reformation and corruption are also part of our religious teachings, just as God says in the Quran about the Prophet Shu’ayb: “I only desire to put things in order, as far as I can” [11:88]. Therefore, if reforms are supposed to be made in the political arena and in the exercise of power, it is necessary to supervise them.
Another principle is the political participation of the citizens. If we want the political participation of the citizens, we must naturally accept that they also oversee affairs, issues, and power.