What Does Islam Say About Leadership?

If it is possible to offer one statement that epitomises the concept of leadership in Islam, it must be one made by Abu Bakar, the first person to lead the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (saw). In his first address as Khalifa – or head of the Islamic state – he told his audience “I have been chosen to rule over you, though I am not the best among you. Help me if I am right; correct me if I am wrong. The weak among you will be strong until I have attained for him his due… and the strong among you will be weak until I have made him give what he owes…Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His prophet; if I do not obey them, you owe me no obedience”.

This is a remarkable statement for any leader to make. With it Abu Bakar defines a social contract with his citizens. He sets out the basis and the limits of his authority as well as the duties of his citizens. It’s worth examining this in more detail.

The first point is how Abu Bakar accepts the position of leader with remarkable humility. “I have been chosen to rule over you, though I am not the best among you”. This is no ordinary leader. He carries the title of as-Siddique – the truthful.
Abu Bakar defines the basic principles of leadership. He acknowledges that he is just one of a number of companions of the Prophet, all of whom have worthy qualities.
Being selected as their leader doesn’t make him a better Muslim or a better person, but it confers a heavy responsibility.

Secondly, he defines governance as an on-going relationship between leader and people. Leadership creates duties for the citizens as well as obligations on the leader.
“Help me if I am right; correct me if I am wrong”.
This participatory relationship has important consequences. Citizens are not just the governed. The public are engaged, active participants.
Let us examine the pre-requisites that are necessary in this system.
One requirement is transparency on the part of the leadership. Open government, if you like. The public need to know what their leader is up to.

Another requirement is an informed public. It isn’t sufficient for government to be transparent – a rather passive state of affairs. Someone (or something) needs to keep the public actively informed.
Then there must be a mechanism, or mechanisms, that enable citizens to engage with their ruler – questioning, discussing, expressing their support or opposition. Let’s call it accountability.

The third part of his statement focuses on delivery of social justice, the central concern of Islam.
“The weak among you will be strong until I have attained for him his due… and the strong among you will be weak until I have made him give what he owes.”
A just and cohesive society cannot be maintained in the face of glaring inequalities – whether in economic resources or access to services. For instance zakat is a tax on wealth to help the less fortunate (something Abu Barkar fought to maintain) and the principle of justice requires that all should be equal under the law, regardless of their wealth or status.

The last part of Abu Bakar’s statement sets out the basis and limit of his authority.
“Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His prophet; if I do not obey them, you owe me no obedience”.
Abu Bakar’s authority derives from his implementation of the commands of a higher authority. This is the framework in which the Islamic polity operates. So long as he fulfils his end of the bargain he deserves support and loyalty. If he deviates he can expect to be held to account by his citizens.
Ignore them and in effect he breaks the social compact and citizens are released from their obligation to obey him.

These ideals, although not always implemented throughout history, nonetheless enabled Muslims to establish a fine civilisation.

According to the Prophet Muhammad (saw), leadership in Islam is not reserved for a small elite. Rather, depending upon the situation, every person is the “shepherd” of a flock, and occupies a position of leadership. In most circumstances in life, Muslims are urged to appoint a leader and follow him. “Do not be in a leaderless group; appoint a leader”. Leadership in Islam is considered as an amanah (a trust) and a responsibility. A leader is required to meet his obligations to God, the Supreme Power as well as to discharge his duties towards the people (Makhluq) or his followers to the best of his abilities.

It says to the rulers that the authority vested in them is not their private property but is a trust and that they should discharge the obligations of that trust to the utmost, like upright and honest people, and should carry on government in consultation with the people.
It says to the ruled, the power to choose your rulers has been bestowed upon you as a gift from God and you should, therefore, be careful to invest only such persons with governing authority as fully deserve it, and after vesting this authority in them, you should give them your fullest cooperation and should not rebel against them, for if you do so, you are merely seeking to demolish that which your own hands have built.

Muslims must therefore choose their leader according to the guidelines provided in the Qur’an and sunnah. We, therefore, need to ask what the requirements for leadership in Islam are; who qualifies to be leader; how and by whom he is chosen; and what his duties and responsibilities are.

Emergence of a Leader

When Hazrat ABU ZAR (RA) requested the Holy Prophet (PBUH) for appointment to a public office, the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)said, “public office is a trust, a source of lamentation and remorse on the Day of Judgement”.{Muslim}.
Islam, unlike other systems, 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 has said that he who seeks leadership is not fit to assume it.

The Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: “Do not long for position of authority. If you are granted this position without asking for it you will be helped in discharging its responsibilities, but if you are given it as a result of your requesting for it, you will be left alone as its captive……”. {Agreed Upon Hadith}.
An exception can be made to this injunction when a person sees a situation in which there is a potential crisis or disaster. Should he have the expertise required to help others in this situation, he may seek a specific position so as to provide assistance.
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.

Personal Qualities of a Leader

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. He must not leave the Sunnah of the Prophet and the law in abeyance, so that the community falls into misguidance and peril.”

Based on the foregoing, we can identify some of the following qualities for leadership:

1. Faith and Belief: Faith lays the foundation of greatness and success and nothing happens unless one believes in its happening. One of the greatest qualities commonly shared by all great leaders who ever lived was their strong faith and belief in higher entity, themselves or their ideas. Faith and belief are thus the key qualities which determine the quality of one’s leadership.

2. Knowledge and Hikmah (wisdom, insight): “…Say: ‘Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? ….’” (Qur’an, 39:9)
Leadership is a great responsibility and to fulfil this important duty the leader must continuously acquire knowledge. People are more likely to follow a leader’s directives if they believe that this person knows what he or she is doing. If followers doubt the capabilities of their leader, they will be less enthusiastic in accepting directions from him. A leader with weak or inadequate expertise can bring disaster to an organization whereas a skilled leader may advance and help the same organization. Even if the skilled leader were not a strong Muslim, his shortcomings can be made up through shura or the consultative process of decision making. In numerous ayaat of the noble Qur’an, Allah says that the Prophet (PBUH) was given both knowledge and hikmah (wisdom) (Al-Qur’an 2:129; 62:05); the two are not the same. Almost anyone can acquire knowledge through study and hard work but hikmah (Wisdom) comes only through an inner enlightenment and by seeking sincere guidance from Allah. Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge to a particular situation to bring about the most desirable outcome. Wisdom is excellence of discernment, discretion, intelligence, penetration of ideas, correctness of opinion, quickness of understanding, and clarity of mind which leads to correct actions and decisions.

3. Morality & Taqwa (Fear of Allah): A just ruler is the one who listens to the Words of Allah and makes his followers listen to it, he is the one who seeks the reward of Allah, and makes his subjects seek His reward. He is the one who submits to the will of Allah and makes his subject submit to Him.
As an individual submits to God through Islam, he develops an awe of God. This all-encompassing, inner consciousness of his duty towards Him and this awareness of his accountability towards Him is taqwa. Taqwa will restrain a Muslim leader or follower from behaving unjustly. Whereas taqwa is the fear of God and the feeling of God’s Presence, ihsan is the love of God. This love of God motivates the individual Muslim to work towards attaining God’s Pleasure. For a leader, it is even more important because the power and authority he posseses can easily make him arrogant. Leaders are entrusted with the affairs of the community and if they are immoral they will not serve the cause of their people.

4: Adl (Justice) and Rahmah (compassion): ‘Adl (justice) and Rahmah (compassion) are two other essential characteristics a leader must possess. Justice without compassion leads to tyranny, while compassion without justice creates anarchy. A leader needs to maintain a careful balance keeping the overall good of society in mind (Al-Qur’an 5:08; 4:135; 7:29). “To treat people equally in your presence in your company and in your decisions so that the weak despair not of justice and the strong have no hope of favour”. Justice, therefore, is a fundamental precept of Islam; even more so for a leader because it is part of his responsibility to maintain balance in society. Injustice invariably leads to turmoil and conflict.

5. Courage and Bravery: Followers expect their leaders to remain positive about the future no matter how bad the situation may be. Courage and determination are qualities which every leader must embrace, acquire, and possess. Courage and determination emanate from strong faith and belief and the complete satisfaction of one’s righteousness. Those who lead are expected to set an example by showing courage and taking calculated risks. People must see their leader as someone who is not afraid to face danger. Only by doing so can a leader inspire others to perform great feats.

6. Shura (Mutual Consultation); Shura (mutual consultation) is a Qur’anic command (3:159; 42:38); “And those who respond to their Lord and keep up prayer, and their rule is to take counsel among themselves, and who spend out of what We have given them.” Noble Qur’an (42:38)
There is a wisdom in mutual consultation as decisions taken with mutual consultation are supported by everyone and all concerns of the parties involved are addressed. The Prophet himself regularly consulted his companions on all important matters. It is even more important in the case of Muslim leaders. People can be inspired to make sacrifices only if they feel that their opinion is respected and that the leader does not merely dictate to them. He should encourage honest criticism and advice in regard to his role and functions.From the Islamic point of view however, a leader is required to seek the advice of his followers but is not obliged to act upon it if his own judgement, based on Islamic values, indicates otherwise. The people, however, are obliged to obey him at all times, except when he orders something prohibited in Islam.

7. Decisiveness and Resolution: A leader must be decisive and resolute. He must demonstrate such qualities at all times because a decision delayed may be an opportunity lost. The Prophet himself showed great decisiveness at many critical moments in life. Despite suffering a setback in the Battle of Uhud, he decided to go after the Quraish the following day instead of waiting for them to re-launch their offensive. It was this brilliant thinking and decisiveness on the part of the Prophet that forced the Quraish to abandon their plans to return and attack again.

8. Eloquence & Great Communicator: A leader must be eloquent and articulate. This is required to communicate the purpose of the mission clearly and to inspire people to follow it. The Qur’an itself is the most eloquent document; it appeals both to the mind and the heart. The Prophet (PBUH) articulated the message of Islam in a way that was immediately accepted by a small group of people in Makkah. Even the Quraish acknowledged that his message had merit but they opposed it because they viewed it as undermining their personal interests. Communication is an extremely important quality which must be learned, practiced and mastered by every leader of a flock.

9. Commitment and Spirit of Sacrifice: First, the leader is the servant of his followers. A just ruler is like a kind shepherd who looks for the best pastures for his flock and steers them away from areas of danger and protects them from harms. He is to seek their welfare and guide them towards good. He must treat his responsibilities as a sacred trust and discharge them with that spirit.If the leader is seen to be making personal sacrifices, then the followers will make even greater sacrifices.
The Prophet, for instance, never did anything to benefit himself or his family. Often he and his family went without food for days on end. An Islamic leader and those in positions of authority make sacrifices so that the downtrodden would have more.

10. Sabr (Patience): Sabr (patience) is another quality essential for a leader. Indeed, like all other believers, a leader can expect to be tested, and he will need to endure. Impatience will simply drive his followers away. He is expected to bear adversity patiently, and remain forever humble. In the face of immense persecution in Makkah, the Prophet not only showed great patience himself but he also counselled his followers to do likewise. An outstanding example of the Prophet’s sabr was demonstrated following his suffering at the hands of the people of Ta’if in the tenth year of his mission in Makkah. When the chiefs of Ta’if set the hooligans of the town upon him, instead of seeking revenge, the Prophet prayed for their guidance.

11. Trust: This concept of trust stresses the idea of responsibility towards organizational stakeholders, and holds true whether those entrusting something to Muslims are themselves non-Muslims.
“O you that believe! betray not the trust of God and the apostle nor misappropriate knowingly things entrusted to you”
As a core value, trust fits within the overall Islamic etiquette governing social relationships. Trust is explicitly linked to leadership in the Qur’an.
Once an individual has accepted to be the leader of a group or organization, he has become their trustee. Consequently, any managerial decision must be balanced with respect to this trust.

12. Humility: A Muslim leader is to be humble, and must never let his ego get the better of him. Umar, the second Caliph, lived in a simple house. He had no bodyguards for his personal security, and walked the streets of Madinah without any escort.

Some Responsibilities Of Islamic Leadership

a) Search for Leaderships: Those who already have the responsibilities of leadership must look for people more suitable for their position.
b) Self-development: Should try to increase / improve the qualities of leadership in himself.
c) Area-development: Should try to organize the area he is responsible for.
d) Leadership-development: Should try to develop more people for Islamic leadership.
e) Establish Bait-ul-Maal: Should strengthen finance of the organization.
f) Community-Development: Should help out in the community with proper planning.
g) Establish Unity: Should have good relation with all Islamic personalities of his locality (i.e. Should try to unite Muslims.)

Rights of the Leader:

a) Obedience: At all times, the leader must be obeyed. Ibn Umar reported God’s messenger (saw) as saying, ‘Hearing and obeying are the duty of a Muslim, both regarding what he likes and what he dislikes.’ Muslims must obey the ruler as long as he does not order them to do something forbidden in Islam. Allah (I) says: (O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the messenger (PBUH), and those of you (Muslims) who are in authority.) [4:59]
The Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: It is obligatory upon a Muslim that he should listen (to the ruler) and obey whether he likes it or not except when he is ordered to do a sinful thing, in such case there is no obligation to listen or to obey. {Agreed Upon Hadith}.

b) They must give sincere advice to the ruler, in a good and kind manner, by guiding him and his people to beneficial things, and to remind him of the needs of his subjects. Allah (I) instructed Moses and his brother Aaron upon sending them to Pharaoh to preach the true Religion to him:
(And speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear (Allah).) [20:44]
The Prophet (r) said: “‘The Religion is sincerity.’ We said ‘To whom?’ He said ‘To Allah, and His Book, and His Messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk.” [Muslim]

c) The Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: Fulfil the covenant of allegiance which is sworn first. Conceed to them their due rights and ask Allah for that which is due to you. Allah will call them to account in respect of the subjects whom He had entrusted them. {Bukhari and Muslim}.

d) To support him in times of adversity and crises and not to revolt against him or forsake him, even if one was from a group who does not pledge allegiance to him. The Prophet (r) said: “Whoever comes to you while you are all united under a single leader and wishes to disrupt the unity and solidarity (of the Muslims), kill him.” [Muslim]

e) The Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: The best of your rulers are those whom you love and who love you, who invoke Allah’s blessing upon you and you invoke His blessings upon them. The worst of your rulers are those whom you hate and who hate you and whom you curse and who curse you. It was asked (by those who were present): Should not we overthrow them with the help of sword. He said: No, as long as they establish prayer among you. {Muslim}.

Rights of the Followers:

“O you believers! Obey God (the Qur’an) and Obey the Messenger (theSunnah) and those of you who are in charge of affairs (ulil al-‘amr). If you have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to God and to the Messenger” (Qur’an 4:58-59)

a) Justice: This is achieved by giving everyone their due right. A ruler is required to be just, such that he protects others’ rights, performs his duties, distributes responsibilities, and implements rules and decisions. All should stand as equals before him… no individual or group should be favored above others. The Prophet (r) said: “Indeed the most beloved person to Allah and the closest one to be seated to Him on the Day of Requital will be a just ruler. And indeed the most detestable person on the Day of Requital and the most severe of them in punishment will be a tyrannical ruler.” [at-Tirmidhi]
He must not oppress, deceive, or behave treacherously towards the masses. The Prophet (r) said: “No slave is given responsibility over some people and dies in a state in which he is treacherous to them, except that Allah forbids him from Paradise.” [Muslim]

b) He must consult them regarding all affairs pertaining to their political, social and economic interests. He must allow them to voice their views, and he must accept such views if they prove to be in the best interest of the public. Allah (I) says: (And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh hearted, they would have broken away from you; so pass over (their faults), and ask (Allah’s)Forgiveness for them; and consult them in the affairs.) [3:159]
The Messenger of Allah (r) encamped behind the wells before the Battle of Badr, so one of his Companions (Al-Hubab ibn al-Mundhir) asked him: “Has Allah inspired you to choose this spot, or is it strategy of war?” The Prophet replied: “It is the strategy of war.” Upon that, Al-Hubab said to the Prophet: “Let us go and encamp after the wells in order to prevent the enemy from them (from drinking).” So the Prophet (r) took his advice.

c) His laws and constitution should be in accordance to Islamic Law. There is no room for him to judge according to his imperfect whims or desires. ‘Umar ibn ul-Khattaab, the second Caliph of Islam, said toAbu Maryam as-Salooli who killed his brother, Zaid ibn ul-Khattaab: “By Allah, I will not like you until the earth likes blood!” He replied, “Will this [hatred] deprive me of my rights?” ‘Umar said,“No.” He then said: “Then there is no harm, for only women are displeased if they are not liked.”

d) He should not withdraw himself from the masses or lock his doors before them, nor should he belittle them or assign mediators between him and the public; who allow some people to enter and prevent others. The Prophet (r) 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]

e) He should be merciful to his subjects and not burden them with unbearable tasks or restrict their way of living. The Prophet (r) said: “O Allah, whoever takes command of something of my nation and makes things hard for them, then make things hard for him, and whoever takes command of something of myUmmah (Nation)and is gentle with them, then be gentle with him.” [Muslim]. ‘Umar ibn ul-Khattaab explained the greatness of this matter in his words: “By Allah, if a mule were to fall in Iraq, I would fear that Allah would ask me why I did not level the road for it.”

f) Accountability To People: “Keep a close watch on me. Help me, if I am keeping right, if I go wrong, put me right. Follow me till I am obeying Allah and do not pay any heed to me, if I defy Allah”. Abubakr (R.A)

g) The Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: If Allah appointed anyone of you rules over a people and he died when he was still treacherous to his people, Allah would forbid his entry into Paradise. {Bukhari and Muslim}.

h) The Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: He who does not look after his subjects with goodwill sincerity will be deprived of the fragrance of Paradise.

i) The Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: A ruler who having control over the affairs of the Muslims, doesnot strive diligently for their betterment and does not serve them sincerely, will not enter Paradise with them.

Leadership is a great quality and every group be it a of 3 people, organization, family, a company, or a country needs able and good leaders. The principle of amanah (trust or Trusteeship) is an important concept of Islamic leadership. It is a psychological contract between a leader and his followers in which the former will try his best to guide, protect and to treat the latter with justice. On the global scene there is a need for good leaders too as today the world is mired by international conflicts, wars and mutual suspicions which if not corrected can demolish the whole world. The Islamic Leadership Model and the principles associated with it offer a leadership alternative which can open the door of excellence and achievement. The principles are gleaned from the Quran the words of the Mighty Wise, the practice and sayings of Prophet Muhammad, the character and deeds of the Caliphs and other great Muslim leaders who with meager means and enormous hurdles reached the zenith of excellence.


source: Uganda Muslim Brothers and Sisters

About theCall

“Invite to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious..”
This entry was posted in Our Challenges, Qur'an and Hadith, The Prophet (saw) and Companions (ra) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s