Facing The Ka'aba

January 17, 2019

Leadership and its challenges

*A cross section of Imams and leaders of Nawair-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, during the commissioning of its National Central Mosque in Abeokuta, Ogun State, recently.

Alhamdulillah, nahmaduhu wa nasta’inuhu wa nastahdiihi wanastaghfiruhu. Wa na’uzubillahi min shururi anfusina, wa minsayyi’aati ‘a’maalina. Man yahdihillahi fala mudhillallah, waman yudhlil, fala haadiyalah.  Wa nash-hadu alla ilaha illallahu wahdahu la sharika lah, wa nash-hadu anna Muhmmadan ‘abduhu wa Rasuluhu.

Leadership is “a dynamic relationship based on mutual influence and common purpose between leaders and followers in which both are moved to higher levels of motivation and moral development as they affect real, intended change.” (Rost, 1991).

At the same time, Burns [1978] 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.” Both definitions stress the transformational dimension of leadership whereby you, as the leader, and your followers enrich each other. Transformational leaders recognise 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. The transformational dimension is very much a part of the Islamic paradigm of leadership, which stresses the reciprocal enrichment of the leaders and the followers. In fact, Islam demands that you, as a leader, pay attention to your followers’ needs.  In a hadith (no. 2942) reported in Sunah Abu Dawud by Abu Maryam al-Azdi, the Prophet (s) 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 economic well-being, Allah will keep Himself away from him, not fulfilling his need, want, and economic well-being.

*A cross section of Imams and leaders of Nawair-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, during the commissioning of its National Central Mosque in Abeokuta, Ogun State, recently.

Although you may act in accordance with Islamic precepts and enjoin the good, do not make yourself inaccessible. Indeed, leaders of Islamic organisations are sometimes perceived as aloof and/or unapproachable once they attain power. In contrast to those high-profile leaders who thrive on personality cults, Islamic leaders should have a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professionalism. The degree of humility and access shown by a leader are critical to the effective implementation of an Islamic organisation’s strategy. One of the best integrative models of effective leadership is inextricably connected with transformational leadership, and innovation. There are five basic principles that you, as a leader, can adopt. We will now discuss them in the context of strategy implementation.


  1. Challenging the Process Leadership is an active and dynamic process. The leader challenges the system, rethinks and tries to be innovative. He brings new ideas while ineffectual leaders sit around and react to events. Successful Muslim leaders seek Allah’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 the Muslim community. In doing that, you have to be careful not to overstep Islamic boundaries. While challenging the process, search for opportunities both inside and outside your group. Look for ways to change or improve the status quo. These new opportunities may include innovative services or activities or re-organisation. To achieve this, consult with all manner of people, regardless of whether or not they belong to your group or not. Even if you do not always agree with them, make it a point to listen to your most demanding critics. The most effective Islamic leader is the one who uses shura and Ijtihad as part of his decision-making process. Employing this process enables your followers to provide critical insights since they are often the ones closest to the problem areas and know what does and does not work.
  2. 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. The example of the Prophet (s.a.w) 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. Leadership is about sacrifice, determination, courage and innovation to positively change the situation. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) challenged the worldview of jahiliyyah and encountered many obstacles. Jesus, Noah, Moses, Lot, Abraham (peace be upon all of them) were beloved by Allah, but this did not make them immune to suffering. Challenging the status quo is never easy, but reaching the vision outlined in your strategic plan may demand no less of you.
  3. Inspiring a Shared Vision: When challenging the status quo, you need to have a vision of what you want to accomplish. This is your main task. This vision is the source of your society’s mission statement and long-term strategy. In addition, you must involve your followers and increase their commitment to the vision. 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 followers in order to increase their commitment to its implementation.

To help others share the vision, explain it to them and if possible, dramatise it.

  1. Enabling others to act: Followers do not succeed (or fail) by themselves. They need servant-leaders, namely: leaders who are not so preoccupied with their self-serving ambitions that they cannot place other people’s interests above their own. If a person is using an Islamic organisation for self-promotion rather than to enable others to lead, he/she can cause serious damage. In a hadith reported in Al-Tirmidhi (hadith no. 1345), Prophet Muhammad (s) said: “Two hungry wolves let loose among sheep are not more destructive to them than a man’s greed for property and self-aggrandizement are to his faith.” Note that the followers can also be a “hungry wolf’ in sheep’s clothing. As a Muslim leader, you need to have the right intention (niyyah). Are you truly leading this organisation, or just holding on desperately to a leadership position because you are just there? Focus on how to coordinate others around you to achieve the common goal. But if you are the type who is just there to fill a space, then step down; there are so many other opportunities to do good work for the cause of Allah. You will learn how good your followers are only when you give them the freedom to succeed and become a servant-leader.
  2. Be a Team player: Besides fostering collaboration, you have to strengthen others through empowerment and delegation. That is why our empowerment progamme should be part of what we should consider in developing members and finding new ones. Delegate powers; the more power you share with your followers, the more power you have and the more you have, the more the chances of success. In strengthening others, you are placing yourself in their shoes and stepping into their reality. Consequently, any demand that you make of them is a demand that you make of the whole group or organisation.
  3. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) was a leader who joined others in doing what he asked them to do. At this point, we need to ask ourselves as Muslims: ‘What offices am I holding, what responsibilities do I have and if I have those responsibilities, am I, first and foremost, qualified to take on those tasks or do I have the wherewithal to discharge the duties expected of that position? If you are, Alhamdulillah. If you are not, see how to make amends now. We all know that the individual selected to head one position or the other in an Islamic organisation as ours, should have knowledge, taqwa, assertive qualities and traits necessary for leadership in general. In addition,  he or she must be responsible for ensuring the proper, efficient, successful operation of the group, as a whole, according to Islamic laws and principles. Believers are commanded to obey Allah SWT, the Prophet, and those who are in authority, whether he is a leader of an Islamic society, a leader of a group who makes daw’ah, or the head of a family. (Quran 4:58-59)