The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2010. Thousands of Arabs protested and demanded that their leaders either reform or leave.
Not very long afterwards, protesters were marching in Damascus, the capital of Syria, motivated by other Arabs whom they took notice of through media outlets like Al Jazeera as well as through social media.
Although many Arabs and observers were hopeful that the Arab Spring would be a positive force of change, it largely did not turn out this way. Many Arabs now lament over the loss of life caused by the Arab Spring and regret the actions that they and others took against their governments.
Syrian Ahmadi Muslims decided not to participate in these protests specifically because they predicted that this would happen. They also took to heart a verse in the Holy Quran that in part translates to “obey those who are in authority among you.”
At the same time, Bashar al-Assad committed terrible atrocities against his own people that must be condemned. Although the Assad family self-identifies as Muslim, claiming adherence to the Alawi sect, the actions that their regime has taken for decades have been contrary to the teachings of Islam.
Islam has no room for such abuses, and al-Assad’s actions have been antithetical to the hallmarks of what political leadership is supposed to look like in Islam.
The Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, who is the Imam of the largest single body of Muslims, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad said in 2013, “we should pray that the leaders of all countries discharge the rights of people, be compassionate, righteous and just. If they are unable to reform themselves, then we should pray that they be replaced by leaders and governments that do bear these hallmarks.”
These hallmarks are, in fact, of the character traits of true Islamic political leadership. Although Islam demands a clear separation of politics and religion in the contemporary age, the hallmarks of true Islamic leadership were established by the Holy Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, peace be upon him, who himself was a political leader.
Much like how Bashar al-Assad belongs to the minority Alawi sect, deemed heretical by most Muslims, the Holy Prophet was part of the minority Muslim population in the town of Medina, which he ruled over. Yet he was able to build peace in Medina by not only protecting the rights of the Muslim minority, but also by protecting the rights of the others, which included Jews and polytheists through the Charter of Medina, often cited as the world’s first constitution.
He was also advised by a council, and when he passed away, there was nothing left in his home except a small quantity of barley. Currently, the al-Assad family is estimated to have a net worth of 1.5 billion dollars, and al-Assad has obviously failed to protect the rights of either the Alawites or other Syrians.
The reality is that there is perhaps no contemporary Muslim leader who even remotely embodies the hallmarks of true Muslim leadership. We must remember this so we do not make the mistake to mischaracterize the teachings of Islam as found in the book of Islam, the Holy Quran and in the biography of the Holy Prophet.