Islamic Studies

Lack of Leadership and the Muslim Personality

By Sr. Nadia Mhatey

Lack of Leadership and the Muslim Personality

Many of us have heard the lamenting voices of Muslims across the world saying that there are no real leaders, there are no Muslim men and women willing to step up to the plate when it comes to responsibilities which need to be shouldered in our communities. This statement can be heard from every level of society: global, national and local. So how did we become a nation searching in every nook and cranny for people to lead us, when we were once led by very intelligent and capable people who were catalysts to helping Muslims fulfill their purpose in this world? This is an issue which can be discussed from many perspectives because it’s cause is not one. The roots of this crisis stem from many directions. These articles will make an attempt to focus on one key aspect, that being the development and maintenance of the Muslim personality.

In order to establish leaders who will be effective in guiding the Muslims towards prosperity, there is one element which is crucial in serving as a prerequisite for this, and that is the development of a Muslim personality. A Muslim personality can be thought of as those attributes and characteristics a believing Muslim should have. It also includes the awareness of the traits a Muslim should possess in light of their ranking in society (as a sibling, parent, son/daughter, student, employer etc) When a person’s traits and characteristics are in line with those of a Muslim character, only then can that person be seen fit to rise up the challenge of leadership, be it in one’s home, university, community, city or country.

Ways of developing the Muslim personality and bringing out the leaders in our children

This notion of raising people who are sound in their Islam and capable of leading and guiding others is one which all parents undoubtedly keep in mind. Every parent, Muslim or non-Muslim, wishes that their child grow up to live their life to its fullest potential, and parents take steps early on to ensure that their children take part in what they are best at so that they may grow in that field. For example, one mother may feel her child is best at building and construction so she may purchase blocks or Legos to occupy her child as well as further develop their interest in it. This example can be extended to every Muslim household where parents wish their child to grow up with a background in Islam and its teachings and go on to do something productive with their lives. It is here during one’s childhood that the foundation of a person’s personality and character are laid out. It is developed solely depending on what qualities the parents choose to nurture and which ones they choose to overlook.

So the question is asked, how much of an impact can parents have on their children’s personalities? We know from science that one’s personality and behavior is influenced by genetics as well as the environment one grows up in. While the genetic factor is not one that can be changed, the environmental factor is. In fact, it is the environment around a person which brings out the qualities and behavior they will come to adopt in their life. This is where parents and family play a pivotal role in the development of a child’s personality.

One way parents can help children filter through all possible behaviors and adopt the ones appropriate for a Muslim is by displaying those behaviors themselves. Children learn what they see best. The following are some qualities which children should see exhibited by their parents:

  • Responsibility
  • Respect for others
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Organization
  • Good planning
  • Implementation of Islamic morals

How to develop these qualities in children:


The quality of being responsible is one that mothers and fathers display on a daily basis. Responsibility and accountability for one’s actions are also key in Islamic teachings. Relating this to the family, the Prophet (saw) has said: “Surely! Everyone of you is a guardian and is responsible for his charges: The Imam (ruler) of the people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects; a man is the guardian of his family (household) and is responsible for his subjects; a woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and of his children and is responsible for them; and the slave of a man is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it. Surely, everyone of you is a guardian and responsible for his charges.” (Sahih Bukhari)

Responsibility is a lesson parents can teach their children in many ways. Put your kids in charge of something one day and hold them accountable for it. This can be done even in daily occurrences such as doing chores or homework. Praise them for getting the job done, reprimand them for not getting it done. Be gentle yet firm, and do not let children skate by without fulfilling their responsibilities. Teach them accountability and point out to them the consequences for doing something compared to not doing it. If teachable moments like this are made use of frequently and consistently, the notion of being responsible for one’s actions will become ingrained into the children early on.

Respect for others

Children need to learn how to respect others indiscriminately, be they older, younger, challenged or simply different in religion or race. Children should learn very early on that every human is worthy of respect. This is another quality which can be learned quickly if parents take care to exhibit it at every opportunity presented. A good leader respects the people he or she is leading, and never considers themselves to be above or better than them.


This is a quality which is not easily grasped by many people, even adults. Parents should coach their children into first of all recognizing situations where patience needs to be adopted in place of anger. Helping children become familiar with feelings of anger and frustration is the first step to knowing when patience is needed. Questions such as “How did that make you feel?” and “Can you explain to me what you’re feeling right now?” are good conversation starters and will help kids begin to analyze their feelings. This also provides parents with a good outlook into what way the child can deal with those feelings, in order to help them find a solution.


Like responsibility, this is a quality which parents can exhibit for their children on a daily basis. Kindness towards ones family members, neighbors, pets etc will be become embedded into children when they see it done over and over again, to the extent where they feel this is the natural way of dealing with others. Indeed the Prophet (saw) said, “If gentleness is found in anything, it beautifies it, and when taken out from anything it damages it.” (Sunan AbuDawud) Children can also be shown the beauty of kindness by talking with them about it. Conversation about parents actions and the reasoning behind them can help children understand the motivation behind it. For example, “Why did you think we went to see Mrs. ______ when she wasn’t feeling well?” or “How can we help Mr. _____ if he’s not able to drive to the store?”, are questions which can get kids to start thinking of acts of kindness on their own.

Organization & Good Planning

These are qualities which are essential for a good leader to have and they are skills which improve with more time and experience. However, parents can still lay the foundation for good organization in their children early. Let the kids decide what ingredients they will need to make their favorite dish, or how much pizza they will need to order for the whole family. Giving children chances to take the lead in the house and asking their opinion will do so much to raise their self-esteem and confidence in their ability to achieve all of the above mentioned qualities.

Implementation of Islamic Morals

All of the qualities mentioned above are ideals and morals which every Muslim, young and old, should strive to implement in their day-to-day lives. For children, they are best learned and stored when they are put in action by the people around them. With this being done correctly, our children will begin to put these behaviors into practice and hopefully store them as mechanisms for dealing with every aspect of their lives.

Coming Up:

– Lack of Leadership in Youth – HS and College Students
– Steps to developing a Muslim personality

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  • Assalaamo alaikum, thankyou for your thoughts, here are some of mine on types of leadership.

    1. Up the Garden Path.
    2. Into The Garden.
    3. Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear. One step, two step and tickly under there!

    1. Up the Garden Path. This is where people are talked down to as subjects/little children rather than with, as equals/mature, sane adults. Do this, do that and see you next year at the annual conference. No personal contact except maybe a rushed Q&A session at the end of the event. Leadership by Remote Control or telepathy, as feed back is only really welcomed and acted upon if praise is glowing and the audience is the already dedicated fan club.

    2. Into The Garden. People who implement the actions, thoughts and principals they call you towards or remind you of or encourage you to either learn about or revive in your life. They love Q&A sessions and often perceive communal/societal issues well ahead of the masses. Nice to be with, non egotistical, learned and merciful. Rare but unmistakable upon finding. Energetic, hardworking and sincere. Buy some spiritual glue when you find them!

    3. Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear. One step, two step and tickly under there! Generally know a little Arabic or have memorised certain khutbahs, talk-starts(i.e nahmaduhu…), hadith, Quran and their ideology or methodology, if they have one. More repititive than a scratch DJ on narcotics. Same thing all the time, again and again. No sociological perceptiveness or willingness to look at or into their local or national environ but forever banging on about Islam/Muslims of another time, place, understanding, quality, minhaj, creed ….or whatever.

    Leadership must have a vocal local yokel. That is, we need to see a proof of sincerity. Are people leading us or are they ordering people about whilst reclining on their chaise lounges? As we wish to enter The Garden we need to see our leaders enacting Leadership qualities that Lead us into The Garden, not Up the Garden Path or round and round the garden. like a teddy bear……..

    The Lack of Leadership may be a corollary of Not Wanting to be Led. Nostalgically romanticising on past Muslim leaders or futuristically fantasising on the young/youth who are the future by default anyway does not help us right now, today, in the heat of the moment. We, who are adult, are putting off our role by assigning it to the past or throwing it on our children who may or may not pick it up. Be upright and decline/refuse Leadership and you may well be the leader we need. After all, what else did Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali do. They acted as Muslims should and never craved for Leadership, yet they are still revered as Rightly Guided Leaders. These great people were adults who led adults (and children) by example and most importantly by serving them. As soon as The Messenger died ( Allah bestow peace on him, his family and companions) they had to (had to!) have leaders who continued on from where The Messenger (saw) left off. I really hope we rise to that challenge.

    Assalaamo alaikum.

  • As-salamu ‘alaykum,

    Jazak’Allah khair sister Nadia for this much needed discussion on this topic.
    I wanted to take this opportunity to tell the readers and yourself about something related to this:

    An-Nahdah Institute will be offering ONLINE public presentations (free) on an on-going basis. The discussions will cover a wide range of subjects that are pertinent to the Muslim Ummah.
    The first topic in this serious will be on- Building the Islamic Personality: Using Islam to construct the perfect personality (June 8th)

    for the detailed schedule:

    Insha’Allah it will be beneficial to all.


  • Assalamu alaykum,

    Brother Ijaz, I really enjoyed reading your comment. Indeed dwelling on the ideals seen in leadership in the past is not something which will help us today, although our leaders should look to them for inspiration in their roles. And I also agree with your comments towards the end, namely the need for people to step up in roles of leadership needed to be filled if they are qualified to do so. The fact that the Sahaba were looking to appoint a khalifa even before the Prophet (saw) was buried says it all. I hope to write more on this inshallah, including points on how Muslims need not be afraid to do three things when it comes to leadership 1) stand up 2) speak out, or 3) step aside. Jazakumullah khayr for everyone’s comment, they have really been beneficial.

  • Assalaamo alaikum,

    Thank you Sister Nadia. My wife and I both enjoyed and benefitted from your piece, maashaa Allah. Keep up the the good, good work please.

    Maa salaamah.

  • AS

    Excellent post and good demonstration of intellectual leadership, mashAllah! It is weird but being the East and in the West I sense this crisis of absence of real leadership at lest at the spiritual and fiqhi levels more in the West. It seems that when a leader steps up in the West we want a savior and if he falls from grace well he is cast into hell forever. People can not make mistakes it seems bad decisions I mean (not moral obscenities).

    Or the leader is boxed into an ideological corner either by his self or by the community. Honestly, this is still very strange to me being an ex-Catholic and being in this Deen for sometime now it still boggles my mind!

    We Sunnis seem so disoriented at times and it appears that a semblance of order comes from groups for people and then the groups become toxic and people feel discontent. What happened to personal development of the individual, the family and the community? Is it that all boundaries are collapsed we are all equal yet all different? This to some degree is a bit of anarchy. People skills is what we need and to work to serve either as followers or as leaders it does not matter what role you play at this point the issue is play the role correctly and with excellence off with mediocrity.
    Allamah Yusuf Qaradawi (h) made an interesting point some years back about leadership he said (to the effect):

    (i) Muslims need to learn to rotate power not hold on to it.
    (ii) Muslims need to learn that the leader is like the Imam in the Communal Salah if he makes a mistake the group corrects him but the group must follow him as he leads and in what he is right.

    Another issue that seems important is that we also need to define what good following this is part and parcel of the inquiry into what is good leadership. There are many situations where we can witness wherein the people take out the leader in a bloodless Coup through character assassination, flagrant disrespect and being overly critical.

    We rarely speak about how “raw” we can be to those in power in our communities. I mean look at the average Imam and what is expected of him he has to clean the crap stinking toilets laced with urine on the floor because people did not follow his advice on the Sunnah of going to the bathroom. Then his phone rings all day and night about people who have pronounced a divorce but did not attend his classes on marriage. Not to mention that he has no real power in the masjid beside being a figure head. We treat our Imams like commodities and then we wonder why they flee upon the first offer of a better opportunity. For goodness sake I know an Imam, a man of character who was threatened to leave the community at gun point! Leaders as is said over and over again are a reflection of the people. I hope that we can also understand power and people subject to power through out these posts after all what is change in ideas of power without a change in the character of the people?

  • I really like this article 🙂 jazakallah khair for this article, ill pass it along in the sisters halaqa.

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