Leadership in Islam
The Qur`an and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) laid great emphasis on the principles of `outstanding` leadership. It is important to understand and live out these principles, since every person is responsible for being a leader, whether he or she is a parent, spouse, child, teacher, doctor, faith-leader, principal, or a CEO. The Prophet Muhammad emphasised the right leadership in all spheres of life including travel. He recommended, “If there are three people on a journey, they should appoint one as a leader from among them.” Leaders provide a necessary service in their spheres.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The imam of the people is a shepherd (guardian) and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the shepherd (guardian) of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the shepherd (guardian) for her husband`s home and his children and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a shepherd (guardian) of the property of his master and he is responsible for it. Indeed, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock “[Bukhari; Muslim]. The word shepherd may now also be read as guardian or leader. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also said, “The leader of the people is their servant.” It must be noted that the purpose of leadership in Islam is not to seek self-establishment but to please God by serving his creation in a fair, just and honest manner. Hence, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said, “O Abd al-Rahman, Do not ask for leadership, for if you are given it due to your request, you will be left to yourself. But, if you are given it without having requested it, you will be aided in it [by Allah].”
The purpose of this article is not to expound the different theories, methods or models of leadership in Islam but to highlight some of the skills, qualities and characteristics of true leadership in Islam.
Leadership is a huge task and responsibility; it therefore entails high skills and competency to plan and solve effectively, organise resources efficiently, make informed judgement and implement procedures strategically in order to achieve desired targets and outcomes.
Skills and Action
Leaders must possess all three: strengths (skills), sincerity and a high sense of responsibility. The Glorious Qur`an [28: 26] quotes the daughter of Prophet Shu`aib (peace be upon him) saying, “Verily the best [for you] to employ is the one who is strong and trustworthy.” Likewise, the testimony that the leader must be highly skilled and highly trustworthy is found in the words of Prophet Suleiman (peace be upon him), “I indeed have full strength, and may be trusted” [Qur`an, 27: 39] and Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him), “Set me over the treasury of the land; I am indeed a [trustworthy] skilled custodian and knowledgeable” [Qur`an, 12: 55].
Creating new leaders – A Role model
Leaders are role models. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) exemplified outstanding leadership in all spheres of life. The Law of Lid and the Law of Influence measure leadership based on a leader`s ability to affect and influence others. Both of these illustrate that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was successful not only in directing and guiding people but also as a role model and creating new leaders. He was greatly effective in his mission: to transform his society, influence his people and leave a positive impact and model in the world not only for Muslims but also non-Muslims. One of the striking features of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was his ability to identify potential leaders who have a great sense of responsibility. The Prophet thereafter would train them to lead and make judgments through delegation of authority. He was effective in developing, inculcating and imbibing the art of leading, with outstanding skills and traits, in his companions through modelling and providing opportunities.
The companions learnt leadership skills through a process known as modelling or observational learning: observing and imitating the Prophet`s behaviour and conduct. The Qur`an [33: 21] asserts, “There is indeed for you in the Messenger of Allah (Prophet Muhammad) an excellent uswah for him who hopes in Allah and the Last Day, and [the one who] remembers Allah abundantly.” The Arabic word uswah refers to a pattern, example or model that should be imitated and followed in all aspects – behaviour, attitude and style. A leader must act as a role model. The Glorious Qur`an [2: 44] poses a rhetorical question, “Do you enjoin right conduct on people and forget [to practice it] yourselves?”
Leaders should have a high degree of empathy to their followers. The Qur`an [3: 159] asserts, “It was by the mercy of Allah that you [O Muhammad] were lenient with them (the followers), for if you had been stern and fierce of heart, they would have dispersed from round about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs …” A leader thus understands his responsibility and the potentials and limitations of his subjects. He is practical, realistic and courteous towards them. The Glorious Qur`an [9: 128] declares, “Now has come to you a messenger (i.e. Prophet Muhammad) from amongst yourselves; it grieves him that you should perish; ardently anxious is he over you; to the believers is he most kind and merciful.” A leader is firm and determined but not compulsive or forceful. The Qur`an declares, “On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear” [2: 286] and “Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him” [65: 7].
Consultation – Gaining trust and acceptance of subjects
Leaders should respect their subjects (i.e. followers, staff or members) and consult them regularly in matters that affect them. The Qur`an [3: 159] declares, “… So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs …”
Resolve and Spirituality
“But if you persevere patiently, and guard against evil then that will be a determining factor in all affairs.” [Qur`an, 3: 186] Spirituality and resolve are deeply intertwined. True leaders try their best, and thereafter remain optimistic and place their reliance on Allah without being swayed away be negative thoughts or undue criticism. “And when you are resolved, then put your trust in Allah. Verily, Allah loves those who put their trust [in Him].” [Qur`an, 3: 159]
Growth and Development
The Law of Process asserts that leadership is not acquired in a single day but a result of continuous growth and development of these skills. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) exerted himself for the cause of humanity. He encountered new challenges on a daily basis whether it was in Makkah or Madinah; from his followers or enemies, rumours or opportunities. His leadership developed daily (and not in a single day).
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “People are like mines, the best amongst them in jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic era) are the best after Islam if they learned.” Hence, great leaders have some great innate traits that set them apart from many others but the effectiveness of these traits depends on acquiring essential knowledge and wisdom.
Knowledge, Wisdom and Forbearance
Leaders must have specialised knowledge and true wisdom to make informed judgements, and maintain accord and respect of his subjects. “And when he (Prophet Musa) reached full age, and was firmly established (in life), We bestowed on his wisdom and knowledge [to help him in his mission] …” [Qur`an, 28: 14]. Similarly, leaders should be eager to increase in learning and improving in skills to be able to adapt to new changes and challenges. “And say: O my Lord, increase me in knowledge.” [Qur`an, 20: 114] The leader must not only possess knowledge but must also act with courage and forbearance at times of prosperity as well as at times of difficulty. “And we made, from among them, leaders, giving guidance under our command, so long as they display patience, and continue to have firm faith in our signs.” [Qur`an, 32: 24]
Leaders have a vision. They are driven by high aims and objectives, and long-term targets. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was also high-aspiring and optimistic. The Qur`an declares, “We have not sent you [O Muhammad] but as a universal messenger …” [Qur`an, 34: 28] and, “as a mercy for all the worlds” [Qur`an, 21: 107]. Good leaders are not only self-motivated but also create a sense of commitment of the subjects, induce them to be more innovative and motivate and inspire them to reach self-actualisation. This sense of collectiveness and cooperation is found in the Qur`an [3: 103], “And hold fast, all together to the rope of God, and be not divided among yourselves”.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions endured great hardships, losses and sorrow in order to acquire a long-term success (such as, agreeing to the biased and controversial treaty at Hudaybiyyah and willingly returning to Madinah, in order to then enter Makkah victorious soon afterwards.)
Ibn Hajar, a great commentator on prophetic traditions, explains, “The wisdom behind having the prophets as shepherds before becoming prophets is that they [were trained to] develop their skills in herding a flock, as they would be responsible to [lead, guide and serve] their respective communities in the near future.”
Communication, Fairness and Loyalty
Leaders should possess good communication skills. The Qur`an [28: 34] quotes the plea of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him), “My brother Harun is more eloquent in speech than me; so send him with me as a helper, to confirm [and strengthen] me. Verily, I fear that they may accuse me of falsehood.” A true leader identifies his strengths and weaknesses and endeavours to improve continuously. In this verse, Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) acknowledges what he sees as a limitation [in his mission] and requests for support in order to serve his cause better. Therefore, a true leader must be just and not act unfairly whether it in his interest or not to act in a specific manner. The Qur`an [5: 8] asserts, “O you who believe, stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealings and let not hatred of others towards you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety.”
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Posted in General on 26th Jan 2017 by Our Imam | 2345 Views