If it is possible to offer one statement that encompasses the concept of leadership in Islam, it would be the speech made by Abubakr (R.A), the first khalifa after the death of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In his first address as head of the Islamic state, he told the ummah: “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 Abubakr (R.A) 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 Abubakr (R.A) 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. Abubakr (R.A) 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 ongoing relationship between leader and led. 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 Abubakr (R.A) 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 Abubakr’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”.
Abubakr’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.
These ideals, although not always implemented throughout history, nonetheless enabled Mus-lims to establish a fine civilisation. According to Prophet Muham-mad (pbuh), 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 Abu Zar (RA) requested the Holy Prophet (pbuh) for appointment to a public office, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “public office is a trust, a source of lamentation and remorse on the Day of Judgment.” – 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 (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:
- 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.
- 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 his people whereas a skilled leader may advance and help his people. 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 ayat of the Noble Qur’an, Allah (SWT) 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, intelli-gence, penetration of ideas, correct-ness of opinion, quickness of understanding, and clarity of mind which leads to correct actions and decisions.
(To be continued…)