Reframing (tawjih) our understanding of leadership in the Muslim community is a necessary activity if we desire change in our organizational life. The Muslim community across geographical boundaries has supported frames of leadership that have limited its growth and creative potential–emotionally, spiritual, intellectually and materially.
Dogma has justified a practice of leadership characterized as the tyranny of the individual often times replaces the very Prophetic example. Calling on the logic of law and order, Muslims have historically been encouraged to be patient in the face of poor leadership. And although the desire to maintain law and order for the greater good is admirable, this practice has caused us to turn away from understanding what good leadership looks like in all spheres of life.
We are here not to argue for radical change through force, nor by means of pursuing self-interest to the neglect of society, nor to immerse our feelings and thoughts in the current political chaos that the Muslim world is experiencing. Rather, here we argue that the Prophetic model has been marginalized so much that we have failed in the contemporary world to understand what that model means in the mosque, the workplace, home life and education and what it means for our relationship to the world. Consequently, we are in need to reframe our understanding of how the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ should be the source of leadership thought.
Framing and Reframing our Thoughts About Leadership
Framing is a tool that aids us in organizing experiences, interpret them and evaluate them as well as justify them. It is also a sphere of contest wherein ideas and power, and authority, is negotiated. In this sense, framing can be manipulated intentionally to shape the way things are organized, understood, legitimized and can be used to promote certain interests over others or prioritize certain activities over others.
Reframing, by definition is to assess and reorder and in this case transform our concept of leadership. The case made here is that we ought to reform practice and understanding of leadership so that it reflects Prophetic values. This can take place if we reframe our understanding so that we bring about a reform (islah) of leadership thought and practice thereby moving to make our commitment to imitate the Prophet ﷺ seriously.
To this end, the Muslim should prioritize the study of the Prophet’s example ﷺ as embodied in his biography (seerah). The Muslim should also aim to understand what kind of leader the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ lived to be. Then we propose that after imbibing the lessons of the seerah in that respect, that we move to the Qur’an and develop our understanding of leadership further through its study mapping how leadership practices are characterized.
A shift in our organizational thinking, values and practices demands perusing the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, living with it, studying it, reflecting upon it to the point of mastery so that we are in a position to derive and transfer its lessons into structured organizational practices that are institutionalized. The synergy between perusal and transference demands that we come to an insight of what it means to model ourselves after the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and this insight be incarnated in the manner we comport ourselves in. Through this shift perhaps we can achieve a sense of organizational justice rooted in the very teachings of the exemplar of Islam–the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
How the Prophet is a Paragon of Leadership
Outlining and mapping what leadership means Islamically obligates us to develop a keen sense of awareness of and commitment to study the life of the Prophet ﷺ.
Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), says:
“O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger.”
Reframing leadership thought and practice is an initial stage for reforming our practice of leadership so that its central inspiration is Prophetic teaching. This process is a necessary requisite of Islamic revival and civilization building.
Without clarity of vision, and understanding of principled leadership, we have no means or tools to grow as a community. For this reason we argue that we are in need to imbibe the notion that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is by virtue of his person and status a paragon of leadership. With this realization of our faith commitment, we break the cycle of confusion that clouds what sound leadership principles are and what leadership practice ought to look like. Then we can finally move toward the construction of a clear vision of leadership practice that is applicable to all spheres of life and imbued with Prophetic values exemplifying compassion. We must recall here the Qur’anic teaching that the Prophet ﷺ was sent as a manifestation of compassion to all of creation excluding none.
By definition, a paragon is a person or thing that is perfect or excellent in some way and should be considered a model or example to be copied. Our creedal commitment as Muslims adds another layer to the sense embodied in this term paragon so that it dictates that in the case of the Prophet ﷺ; we are obligated to imitate and model our lives after his example. We give him the priority of following and discipleship.
Islam does not obligate us to follow any person to this extent with the exception of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. By understanding and practicing the Qur’anic injunction, which enjoins that we obey the Prophet ﷺ, we will be obliged to understand and practice his teachings. For obedience to the Prophet ﷺ demands that we follow his teachings, and we cannot follow his teachings except by studying them. So study of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is an obligation by virtue of the fact that their practice cannot be realized except through study. And now where do we have an evidence to indicate that we have no guidance in the Prophetic teachings in the area of leadership. In fact the whole of the Prophetic example is a model of sound leadership.
Allah (swt) says:
“Assuredly you have in God’s Messenger an excellent model to follow for whoever looks forward to God and the Last Day, and remembers and mentions God much.”
The Prophet ﷺ left us an example of leadership that invests in the growth of others and of which realizes the good and talents possessed by people and in turn capitalizes on their strengths for the realization of growth and benefit–spiritual and material.
“The Prophetic method of teaching, according to Shah Waliullah: …is to train one particular people and to employ it as a nucleus for the build up of universal principles. In doing so, he accentuates the principles underlying the social life of all mankind and applies them to concrete cases in the light of the specific habits of the people immediately before him.”(Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam)