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Islamic Principles of Leadership

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Prophetic Lessons:
By Imam Hasan Qasim Okikiola
leadership-skills
Once the vision is developed, effective leaders work to commit themselves to it and then to communicate it to others
Leadership Skills

Planning without implementation is useless.

In some countries, there is no defined concept of long-term planning and solutions to immediate problems.

Others, who do so, are normally faced with the problem of “analysis-paralysis”, spending too much time on fine tuning solutions which lack basic resolutions. The result is simple; there appears to be too much ado about nothing.

Only few nations are implementing their strategies effectively. I, therefore wish to offer some principles of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as highlighted by the scholars in the ongoing situation of our country as a solution to be emulated by all our leaders. They are generally accepted principles that the Prophet Muhammad believed in and worked with, which lead to the successes recorded during and after his life time.

These principles are necessary for effective strategy implementation in the context of our problems including Islamic resolutions.

Leadership can be defined as: “A dynamic relationship based on mutual influence and common purpose between leaders and collaborators in which both are moved to higher levels of motivation and moral development as they effect real, intended change.” (Leadership, 43-4)

At the same time, MacGregor Burns defines leadership as: “Leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations — the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations — of both leaders and followers.” (19)

Both definitions stress the transformational dimension of leadership whereby, both the leader, and the followers enrich each other. Whereas transactional leaders approach followers with an eye to exchanging one thing for another (e.g., jobs for votes, board positions for donations), transformational leaders recognize the needs of potential followers and seek to fulfill their higher-order needs. They strive to engage the follower’s full person in order to engender mutual inspiration and elevation. Prophet Muhammad said:

"If Allah puts anyone in the position of authority over the Muslims’ affairs and he secludes himself (from them), not fulfilling their needs, wants, and poverty, Allah will keep Himself away from him, not fulfilling his need, want, and poverty." (Abu Dawud)

the Prophet was a positive thinker in the full sense of the word. All his activities were result-oriented

On these bases, it is a well-known fact that the Prophet was a supremely successful man in the entire human history. But he was not just a hero, as Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish historian and writer, has called him. According to the Quran, Prophet Muhammad was the best example for all mankind. He has shown us the way of achieving supreme success in this world. By studying the life of the Prophet Muhammad, we can derive those important principles which were followed by the Prophet. Indeed, the Prophet was a positive thinker in the full sense of the word. All his activities were result-oriented. He completely refrained from all such steps as may prove counter-productive. 

First Principle: To Begin from the Possible

This principle is well explained in a saying of Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha. She said:

“Whenever the Prophet had to choose between two options, he always opted for the easier choice.” (Al-Bukhari)

To choose the easiest option means to begin from the possible and one who begins from the possible will surely reach his goal.

Second Principle: To See Advantage in Disadvantage

In the early days of Makkah, there were many problems and difficulties. At that time, a guiding verse in the Quran was revealed. It says:

{With every hardship there is ease, with every hardship there is ease.} (Ash-Sharh 94: 5-6)

This means that if there are some problems, there are also opportunities at the same time. And the way to success is to ignore the problems and avail yourself to the opportunities.

Third Principle: To Change the Place of Action

This principle is derived from the Hijrah. Hijrah was not just a migration from Makkah to Madinah. It was to find a more suitable place for Islamic work, as history proved later on.

Fourth Principle: To Make a Friend out of an Enemy

The Prophet Muhammad was repeatedly subjected to practices of antagonism by the unbelievers. At that time the Quran enjoined him to return good for evil. And then, as the Quran added:

{You will see your greatest enemy has become your closest friend} (Fussilat 41: 34)

It means that a good deed in return of a bad deed has a conquering effect over your enemies. And the life of the Prophet is a historical proof of this principle.

Fifth Principle: To Turn Minus into Plus

After the Battle of Badr, about 70 of the unbelievers were taken as the prisoners of war. They were educated people. The Prophet announced that if any one of them would teach ten Muslim children how to read and write he would be freed. This was the first school in the history of Islam in which all of the students were Muslims, and all of the teachers were from the enemy rank. Here, I shall quote a British oriental who remarked about the Prophet Muhammad: He faced adversity with the determination to writing success out of failure.

Sixth Principle: The Power of Peace is Stronger than the Power of Violence

When Makkah was conquered, the entire Prophet’s direst opponents were brought before him. They were war criminals, in every sense of the word. But the Prophet did not order to kill them. He simply said: “Go, you are free.” The result of this kind of behavior was miraculous. They immediately accepted Islam.

Seventh Principle: Not to Be a Dichotomous Thinker

While ineffectual leaders sit around and react to events, successful leaders’ islamically seek God’s help and challenge the status quo.

In the famous battle of Mu'tah, Khalid ibn al Walid decided to withdraw Muslim forces from the battlefield because he discovered that the enemy was unproportionately outnumbered. When they reached Madinah, some of the Muslims received them by the word “O Furrar (O deserters!)” The Prophet said “No. They are Kurrar (men of advancement).”

Those Madinan people were thinking dichotomously, either fighting or retreating. The Prophet said no. There is also a third option, and that is to avoid war and find a time to strengthen yourselves. Now history tells us that the Muslims, after three years of preparation, advanced again towards the Roman border and this time they had a resounding victory.

Eighth Principle: To Bring the Battle in One’s Own Favorable Field

This principle is derived from the battle of Hudaibiyah. At that time, the unbelievers were determined to engage Muslims in fighting, because obviously they were in an advantageous position. But the Prophet, by accepting their conditions unilaterally, entered into a pact. It was a ten-year peace treaty. Until then, the meeting ground between Muslims and non- Muslims had been on the battlefield. Now the area of conflict became that of ideological debate. Within two years, Islam emerged as victorious because of the simple reason of its ideological superiority.

Ninth Principle: Gradualism Instead of Radicalism

This principle is well-established by a hadith of Prophet Muhammad. Aisha says that the first verses of the Quran were related mostly to heaven and hell. And then after a long time when the people’s hearts had softened, the specific commands to desist from adultery and drinking were revealed in the Quran. This is a clear proof that for social changes, Islam advocates the evolutionary method, rather than the revolutionary method.

Tenth Principle: To Be Pragmatic in Controversial Matters

During the writing of Hudaibiyyah treaty, the Prophet dictated these words: “This is from Muhammad, the Messenger of God.” The Qurayshi delegate raised objections over these words. The Prophet promptly changed the word and ordered to write simply Muhammad, son of Abdullah.

These were the principles through which the Prophet gained that success which has been recognized by historians as the true success.

Challenging the Process

Leadership is an active and dynamic process. While ineffectual leaders sit around and react to events, successful leaders’ islamically seek God’s help and challenge the status quo. In challenging the process, you have to be innovative. At times, you will need to redefine the process in a way that tears down the physical and mental barriers that others have imposed on our nation.

Go on; try, experiment, and fail if need be, but get up and improve

Experiment and take risks while challenging the process with the understanding that you may not always succeed. Each failure, however, can be viewed as a learning opportunity. For example, let’s assume that you are learning how to play soccer. If you stand behind the ball but do not try to kick it, what have you learned? How can you improve your soccer skills?

Similarly, if you have never opened your community’s place of worship up to members of other faith-based communities, how can you learn to work with them? You cannot shout for public help in times of need when you refuse to honor their request for your assistance. Go on; try, experiment, and fail if need be, but get up and improve.

The example of the Prophet being pelted with stones at Taif and coming near defeat at Uhud should serve as a constant reminder of the need to rise above temporary setbacks and to keep on trying with good faith.

While challenging the status quo, you, as a leader will often encounter many challenges. For example, you may be assailed by your fellow faithful more viciously than by members of other faith-based communities. At times, your family may be harassed. You may even be asked to step down as leader. You may pay dearly for seeking to make a positive difference, and may wonder why you are making such sacrifices when no one appreciates them. Before giving up and accepting the status quo, remember the following hadith (saying) of the Prophet narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar:

"He who mixes with people and endures the harm they do is better than he who does not mix with them or endure the harm they do." (Al-Tirmidhi & lbn Majah)

Leadership is about sacrifice and paradigm shifts. Prophet Muhammad challenged the world view of jahiliyyah (ignorant period) and encountered many obstacles. Jesus, Noah, Moses, Lot, Abraham (peace be upon all of them) were beloved by God, but this did not make them immune to suffering. Sayed Qutb and Malcolm X paid with their lives, but never backed out. Muhammad Ali lost his world boxing title, even though his conviction was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Anwar Ibrahim spent years in jail and paid with his reputation and health.

Once the vision is developed, effective leaders work to commit themselves to it and then to communicate it to others

Challenging the status quo is never easy, but reaching the vision outlined by your strategic plan may demand no less of you.  Prophet Muhammad said:

"No fatigue or disease, no sorrow or sadness, no hurt or distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that." (Muslim)

Inspiring a Shared Vision

When challenging the status quo, you need to have a vision of what you want your nation to accomplish. This is your main task. This vision is the source of your country’s mission statement and long-term strategy. In addition, you must involve your followers and increase their commitment to the vision. Engaging in shura (consultation) can help fine-tune the vision. You can also pray salat al-istikhara (prayer of seeking guidance) to ask God to validate the content and direction of the nation’s future direction.

Once the vision is developed, effective leaders work to commit themselves to it and then to communicate it to others so that they can share it and align themselves with it.

The general idea is to share your vision with your country’s members in order to increase their commitment to its implementation. To help others share the vision, explain it to them using simple images or symbols or metaphors that communicate powerfully without clogging.

Conclusively, leadership is about delegating authority, and a central principle of delegation is that authority must be delegated with appropriate resources, i.e. the means to accomplish the task one has been delegated with, enabling others to act, modeling the way, encouraging the heart, and be a listening leader.

 

Works Cited

Burns, James MacGregor. Leadership. New York: Harper & Row, 1978

Rost, Joseph Clarence. Leadership for the Twenty-First Century. New York: Praeger, 1991

Source: Leadership web site, Article titled "Islam: Leadership, Our Nation And Solutions" - http://www.leadership.ng
Related Links:
The Nature of the Islamic Political System
Why is the Muslim Majority so Poor?
Lessons From the Life of the Prophet
Tariq Ramadan on Europe, Islam & Pluralism (Watch)
The Economic Objectives of the Islamic State

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