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Concept of leadership as defined in Islam

Dr Bilal.A.Bhat
[ March 17, 2017 ]

There was no moral code, no punishment for adultery, nor any moral sanction against it, practically no faith on Allah, life after death, no feeling of responsibility for one’s actions when Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) was born Mohammad (S.A.W) in the year 570 of the Christian era, in Makka Arab. He (S.A.W) was an orphan from his birth, who lost even his mother when six years old.

He came of the noblest family of Arabia, the Quraish, who were held in highest esteem, being guardians of the Sacred House at Makka, the Ka’ba, the spiritual centre of the whole of Arabia. The Arabs belonged to one race and spoke one language, yet they were the most disunited people. Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) was not taught reading and writing like the rest of his countrymen. He (S.A.W) tended sheep for some time, leading generally a reserved life and like the company of those men whose moral greatness was admitted by all. It was in his youth that, on account of his pure and unsoiled character and his love for truth and honesty, he won from his compatriots the title of al-Amin, or the Faithful. His bitterest opponents were challenged to point out a single black spot on his character during the forty years that years that he had passed among them before he received the Divine call (Quran, 10:16). The Holy Quran (68:4) says that he was the possessor of sublime morals. Almighty Allah describes the Prophet’s character in the noble Qur’an as uswatun hasana (the most beautiful pattern of conduct, Quran, 33:21), who "was sent to bring humanity out of darkness into light" (Quran, 65:11). After the hijra (migration) from Makkah to Madinah, he established the Islamic state and became its ruler. The Prophet (S.A.W) thus combined in his person the authority of the Messenger, head of state, and commander of the army. The Seerah, therefore, offers an important lesson in leadership, an essential pre-requisite for transforming any society into an Islamic state. It is a well-known fact that the Prophet (S.A.W) was the supremely successful man in the entire human history. He (S.A.W) was a positive thinker in the full sense of the world. He always followed positive methods to achieve his goal. All his activities were result-oriented. Whenever He (S.A.W) had to choose between two options, he always opted for the easier choice (Al-Bukhari). With the end of the Prophet’s mission on earth, Prophetic history as well as Prophetic leadership also came to an end (Quran, 33:40). Muslims are enjoined to establish justice amongst all, no discrimination, whatsoever, is to be made between man and woman; or between believer and non-believer; or between white and black. The key concepts for leadership are legitimacy, authority and power. The Islamic concept of legitimacy needs further elucidation because it differs fundamentally from other systems. In Islam, there are two types of legitimacy: divine and popular. While most other systems consider popular legitimacy (that is, the will of the majority) as the only determining criterion. Leadership in Islam must have both divine as well as popular legitimacy; without the first, it cannot have validity; without the second, it remains unfulfilled. The Holy Qur’an tells us that only a few Prophets became rulers: Yusuf (A.S), Daud (A.S), Sulaiman (A.S) and Muhammad (S.A.W). The mission of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), was the most successful because he achieved control over a territory where the laws of Islam were fully implemented. We must now turn to the requirements for leadership in Islam in a more general sense, and the qualities a person must possess to become a leader as well as the tasks he must perform. The Qur’an highlights an important aspect of Islam’s concept of leadership. After successfully completing a number of tests, Prophet Ibrahim (A.S) is given the glad tidings that he has been appointed Imam (leader) of all the people. "What about my progeny?" asks Ibrahim (A.S). "My covenant does not include the zhalimeen (oppressors)", comes the divine reply (Quran, 2:124). An important point emerges from this dialogue: an oppressor is not fit to be leader of the Muslims, regardless of what other qualities he may possess. Implicit in this ayah are two other points about leadership: to be legitimate, it must have divine sanction, and Islam rejects the concept of hereditary leadership; each person must qualify for it on merit. Humanity collectively is Allah’s khalifah (vicegerent or representative) on earth (Quran, 2:30; 6:166; 38:26). This immediately imposes certain constraints on him; he is not free to act as he chooses, nor must he submit to the wishes of any group, be it a majority or an influential minority; he must act only to implement Allah’s laws on earth. There is thus a fundamental difference between the Islamic concept of leadership and that of other systems, where aspirants to high office often say and do what the people want irrespective of their merit. The Prophetic hadith that even if three Muslims are on a journey, they must choose one as leader, emphasizes the importance of leadership. Whenever the Prophet (S.A.W) left Madinah, he would appoint someone to lead in his absence. Leader and a ruler are often used interchangeably although they are not the same. A leader has certain inherent qualities quite independent of any office he may hold. These include both qualities of personal character (taqwa) and the ability to motivate others towards the realisation of specific goals or objectives. Inherent in this is also the assumption that his leadership is accepted by the people; he has not imposed himself by physical force or other coercive means. Similarly, his authority is not dependent on any office he may hold. The ruler’s authority, on the other hand, is linked directly to his office; without it, he may be powerless and therefore quite ineffective.

Examples of this kind abound everywhere in the world today. In nature, there is a hierarchy based on power. The dictum ‘might is right’ applies in the jungle, but human beings also frequently resort to it. Islam, on the other hand, regulates power so that it does not lead to injustice in society. Allah sent a chain of Prophets with revelations to transform humanity from a state of jahiliyya to one of Islam (submission to His will). Allah says in the noble Qur’an: "I have not created the jinn and ins (human beings) except to worship Me" (Quran, 51:56). Human beings must therefore live according to the laws of Allah. This can best be done in the framework of the Islamic state, the natural habitat of Muslims. If the Islamic state does not exist, it becomes the duty of Muslims to strive to establish one. Since every Muslim is part of the Islamic movement, it is the duty of the leader to guide it to establish the Islamic state. The role of the leader is not only to demonstrate his own qualities but also to bring out the best in those whom he leads. This is best demonstrated by how the noble Messenger of Allah transformed the society in Arabia. Steeped in jahiliyya, the people were brought into the light of Islam (Quran, 65:11); they were inspired and motivated by the Prophet to reject the established order and struggle to create the Islamic state. Once the state came into existence, the companions were prepared to defend it with their wealth and with their lives (Quran, 61:11). A leader must be kind, compassionate and forgiving towards those whom he leads. If he is harsh with them, they will abandon him. He must also consult them but once a decision has been made then commands that no weakness be shown and the policy be pursued with single-mindedness of purpose, determination and courage. A good example of this occurred before the battle of Uhud. When leaders of the Ansar realized that the decision to go out of the city to fight was contrary to the wishes of the Prophet, they wanted to reverse it. The Prophet (S.A.W), however, felt that once it was decided, they must abide by it. He also reminded them that they must obey the Prophet, only then will Allah grant them victory. This episode emphasizes the importance of the leader being resolute and the people being obedient to him. Qualities of mercy and forgiveness by the leader are stressed in other ayaat of the Qur’an (9:128; 15:88). Islam discourages the practice of seeking leadership; if a person desires it for power and glory rather than serving the people by implementing the divine laws, he is not fit to occupy it. In a well-known hadith, the noble Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) has said that he who seeks leadership is not fit to assume it. If seeking leadership is discouraged, it may be asked: what is the mechanism whereby a person is identified or chosen for leadership? The answer lies in the tasks a person performs that propel him into a leadership position. Hazrat Ali (R.A), the fourth Khalifah, in discussing the qualities of a leader, said: O People! You know that it is not fitting that one who is greedy and parsimonious should attain rule and authority over the honour, lives and incomes of the Muslims, and the laws and ordinances enforced among them, and also leadership of them. Furthermore, he should not be ignorant and unaware of the law, lest in his ignorance he misleads the people. He must not be unjust and harsh, causing people to cease all traffic and dealings with him because of his oppressiveness. Nor must he fear states, so that he seeks the friendship of some and treats others with enmity. He must refrain from accepting bribes when he sits in judgement, so that the rights of men are trampled underfoot and the claimant does not receive his due. It is clear that if the leader and guide is knowledgeable and pious, neither goal would be lost not will there be any deviation. If the leader is worthy and people are obedient, problems are solved, if a needle is sharp of and a thread is also attached to it, any fabric can be sewn by it, but if the needle is blunt or thread becomes detached, even the closest fabric won’t be stitched. If people are disobedient, the leader’s task won’t be advanced just like the thread that doesn’t follow the needle, no matter how hard the needle tries to thread the fabric. The movement and the penetration of the needle in to different fabrics will depend upon the thread following the needle. A skilled driver is able to drive a vehicle even if the vehicle is damaged in some way. In this way, the prophets were able to build the best of communities even in the most difficult circumstances. However, if the leader is unqualified, even if under the best of conditions, those conditions and opportunities will be wastes, just like if the best supercar goes under the control an amateur driver, it will be driven in to the gorge! It is important we must raise voice against corruption and corrupt leader or self styled leaders or muftis otherwise corrupt will destroy the peaceful atmosphere of the world. We can not treat Prophet Noah (A.S) and his son equally so have every right to reject futwas of self styled leaders/scholars as they are based on corruption. Holy Prophet (S.A.W) said: "The best jihad is to say what is true before an unjust Imam". Similarly the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) is reported to have said "Three persons cause damage to religion: an unjust Imam, an ignorant pietist and an immoral scholar". On the top of all these the Qur'an itself mentions the Imams who invite the people to Hell. There is no doubt that the word "Imam" is applied mostly to the just and virtuous leaders. A good Muslim leader never leave the Sunnah of the Prophet (S.A.W) and the law in abeyance, so that the community falls into misguidance and peril. In the constitution (Sahifat al-Madinah) the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) legislated for a multi-regions society based on tolerance, equality and justice, many centuries before such an idea existed anywhere in the world. Islam organizes responsibility by making every one responsible both for himself and others, therefore, a shepherd is responsible for his flocks, a father for his children and a governor for his subjects. Each have their responsibilities arranged according to their position in society as the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) says: All are custodians and are responsible for their charges (Bukhari).We Muslims are the custodian of Allah’s last and final Message, we are responsible to invite towards what is good and help others to abstain from what is bad. The problems we face today in the muslim world is mainly due to corrupt leadership. A study of the Seerah from the power perspective can help Muslims to understand the nature of oppression and darkness that surrounds them today and help them to overcome it.
--------(The author a teacher at S K University of Agriculture Sciences & Technology –SKUAST Srinagar writes on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”.)