Leadership: Priorities and Practices

( What did Prophet Muhammad say about leadership? Importance of leadership in Islam )

Leaders of today are all about gaining power and enforcing doctrine. Be it, countries, groups, organisations or masajid, the ugly struggle for power has grasped all spheres of life. Often, a person stands up to fill an essential leadership void in the community, considering themselves best fit for the role. While this effectively fills the position of leadership, it fails to seek, nurture and refine leaders with core values of justice, responsibility and service to others. Campaigning, electioneering and lobbying are often followed by dirty politics, and rivalry. All those involved in the noble bid to provide a good leadership seem to have lost their goal somewhere in the fight for power.

Sadly, this is the dilemma many countries and organisations face. The quest for good leadership often brings out greed and lust for power not only in country politics but also in many organisational groups. Everyone wants a leadership position, and they are prepared to go to any lengths to acquire it.

Interestingly, Islam discourages the practice of seeking leadership. In Islam, leadership is an ‘amanah’ (trust) and a huge responsibility. The early Muslims used to cry, when they were given a position of authority, out of fear of not being able to discharge it properly.

Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) has narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “You people will be keen to have the authority of ruling, which will be a thing of regret for you on the Day of Resurrection.” (Bukhari)

Some unprecedented duties of a leader are:

  • A leader should intend to work in the light of the Quran and ‘Sunnah’.
  • Study of all aspects of Quran should be mandatory for anyone who is assigned a certain position.
  • They should be educated about how perfectly our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) combined the delegation of a leadership role to a subordinate with human compassion, empowering a future leader while simultaneously expressing his love and humility as a leader.
  • A leader should be well acquainted with the vision and mission of the role assigned to them. One must always be aware that the learning process for any person is life-long. It doesn’t stop with one being appointed as the leader. Contrary to popular belief, a successful leader keeps learning through his / her success and failure.
  • A leader should give simple, concise and role-related instructions to those under them. A leader is accountable for all tasks he/she appoints to subordinates.
  • Justice, courage and consultation are foundation characteristics of a leader. Intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability are other effective leadership traits.
  • There should be love and compassion between a leader and his subordinates. He / she is encouraged to collaborate and engage with subordinates / common people with integrity, knowledge, and good judgement. They are also required to be motivating and inspiring.
  • A leader should prepare his / her subordinates to be able to efficiently take on leadership roles in the future, which bring added responsibilities, require the ability to make critical decisions, and need excellent interpersonal skills to win over hearts of people.
  • Some leaders tend to follow autocratic and dictatorial leadership styles, thinking that these cast greater awe over a workforce and thus attain better performance. Clearly, this methodology is in clear contradiction to the style of leadership of our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), who was an exemplary leader. He was humble, mild-mannered, friendly, approachable and easy to talk to. Moreover, he empowered his close companions to be capable enough to carry on his mission after his demise.

“Upon acceptance as the first Caliph after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) famously stated, ‘I have been made your leader, and I am not better than any of you. Support me if I do well and correct me if I do wrong.’ ”

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said that anyone, who seeks leadership, is not fit for it. It is discouraged to seek a leadership position out of greed and desire for power.

Once, two men entered upon the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). One of them said: “O, Allah’s Apostle! Appoint me as governor,” and so did the second. The Prophet said: “We do not assign the authority of ruling to those who ask for it, nor to those who are keen to have it.” (Bukhari)

This is not to say, however, that taking up a leadership role is wrong or discouraged. Indeed, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged his followers to take up a responsibility, when it was entrusted to them. He said: “Whoever is given responsibility of some matter of the Muslims but withdraws himself, while they are in dire need and poverty, Allah will withdraw Himself from him, while he is in dire need and poverty on the Day of Requital.” (Abu Dawood). Hence, leadership can be summarised as a simple matter of sacrificing oneself to please Allah (swt) and a means to serve his creation in the best manner possible.