A Reminder on the Essence of Genuine Leadership

Good leaders promote action but – more importantly – they improve society by changing the character of the people. Leaders give those under their charge the chance to own the challenge, along with the glory of overcoming it. That is exactly what leadership is all about, writes HABIB SIDDIQUI.

Elections are held in many parts of our globe for a plethora of reasons – from electing the head of an organization (including but not limited to social, cultural, financial, business) to the head of a state. Not all elections are fair, though, and not all elected leaders are good for their constituencies either.

Election wins usually translate into wielding power for the winner or the winning group or platform, which when abused or misused can be a matter of serious concern for many. It is, thus, important that good leaders are elected when election provides such an opportunity to choose leaders.

The religion of Islam has put special emphasis on selecting leaders. In this regard, consider the well-known Prophetic hadith that says:

“When three people set out on a journey they should appoint one of them as a leader.” [Abu Dawud: narrated by Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (RA)]

This hadith alone is sufficient to point out the importance that Islam has attached to leadership.

So, what are the criteria for good leadership in Islam? In his two-volume work, The Qur’anic Foundation and Structure of Muslim Society, Dr. Fazlur Rahman Ansari (one of the greatest scholars of Islam to come from South Asia in the last century) deals with the issue of Tazkiyahand Islamic Leadership at length. He writes,

“The foundations of Islamic society are basically ethico-religious. Hence, anyone who honestly comes forward to lead the Muslims to the goal prescribed for them in the Holy Qur’an should possess a personality refulgent in its spiritual, moral and intellectual dimensions. That is the verdict of the Qur’an, and this is the verdict of the Islamic history.”

To elucidate this theory further, Dr. Ansari says,

“Let it be noted that these three dimensions are so essential for leadership that they bear references not only to God-affirming societies but also to Godless societies, such as Communist, where an effort is made to forge an idealism – even though with materialistic bias.”

A good Muslim leader should, therefore, transform his or her personality into the alchemy of pure gold through the rigorous discipline of tazkiyah-e-nafs (meaning: purification of the self). In such chemistry, ego has no place but only servitude that matters.

Anyone craving for leadership in a Muslim community (where Muslims comprise the overwhelming majority) should look at the Prophet Muhammad (saws), as his/her role model, teacher and guide, and surely not people like Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab of the yesteryears and Sisi, Assad and Trump of our time.

Sadly, most Muslim leaders of our time are either oblivious of the essence of leadership or imagine that they don’t have any accountability for their misrule and bad deeds, both to the very people that they lead or rule over and to Allah (swt) whim they will have to face on the dreadful Day of Resurrection. They are dead to at least one of those three dimensions of leadership. They surely can’t comprehend what had made Amirul Mumineen Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra), one of the best rulers in Muslim history, to say,

“Should a lost goat die in the Shat al-‘Arab I tend to think that Allah, the Most Exalted, will question me about it on the Day of Judgment.” [Hilyat’ul Awliya wa Tabaqatul Asfiya: Abu Na’im al-Asfahani]

They are also unmindful of Muhammad’s (saws) warning:

“If you wish, I could tell you about leadership and what it is. Firstly, it is blame; secondly, it is regret; and thirdly, it is punishment on the Day of Resurrection – except for one who is just.” [Tabaraani in al-Kabeer; Saheeh al-Jaami’]

Despite such stern warnings, there is no shortage of individuals who would rather lead than be led, even though most of them don’t qualify as leaders.

People are misled and often end up choosing bad leaders when such opportunities for voting do come on their way. And this is not surprising since immorality and unethical mindsets and behaviors are slowly but steadily either eating away the very foundation of the good old values or displacing the old order, creating new norms and confusing too many, esp. those who have not learnt the discipline of tazkiyah to bridle their nafs.

The Prophet (saws) of Islam famously said:

“As you will be, so will you have rulers put over you.” [Baihaqi: Abu Ishaq (RA)]

The reason that the Muslim world has too many tyrants today is because of that very problem: the individuals that make up their society are dead in at least one of the three dimensions: spiritually, morally and intellectually, thus, they end up choosing one of their own as their leaders.

The same verdict goes for the USA and many of the countries that have elected bad rulers in a liberal democracy. It is difficult to surmise that if American voters were a moral majority that they would have elected an immoral and unethical president like!

Muhammad (saws), the Messenger of Allah (swt), said:

“Your best leaders and rulers are those whom you love and who love you (in return), and for whom you pray and who pray for you.  And your worst leaders and rulers will be those whom you hate and who hate you, and whom you curse and who curses you. [Muslim: ‘Auf bin Malik (RA)]

In closing, let me cite a story.

One day, Molla Nasreddin Hodja was going down the street on his donkey’s back. The beast all of a sudden started rushing forward. When asked, “Hey, Molla! where are you going?” – the Molla, pointing to the donkey, replied, “Sorry, I don’t know where I am going; ask the beast.” [See this author’s book –Anecdotes of Molla Nasreddin Hodja for children of all ages – for many such stories.]

Most Muslims of this century are exactly in the same situation as the Molla was. They simply don’t know where their state beasts, the political leaders in the government, are taking them.

Man’s need of guidance is the basis of the teachings of the Prophets (asws) and the philosophy of their mission. Just like gasoline, which needs to be discovered, extracted, refined and then used, the human asset within men also require being discovered, guided, managed and turned to action.

Good leaders promote action but – more importantly – they improve the society by changing the character of the people. Leaders give those under their charge the chance to own the challenge, along with the glory of overcoming it. That is exactly what leadership is all about.

First things first. Leadership starts with tazkiyah-e-nafs. How long will our people wait to have leaders that care about those led or ruled, and that know of their accountability for every act he/she was responsible for on this earth?

Interested readers may like to read this author’s article – A Leadership Primer: Why We Are Failing Miserably(published by The Media Monitors Network and The American Muslim, September 2008), for an in-depth study of the topic. Readers may also like to read the author’s book, Muhammad: The Messenger of Allah – An Exposition of his Life for Curious Western Readers, available from Amazon.com to have a deeper understanding of the Prophet’s (saws) life.

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