By Mohamedarif M Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)
For any group, sect or organisation to prosper, the presence of a leadership with acumen and aptitude is prerequisite. When looking at the numbers after a day’s bell on a busy trading floor, the person most significantly credited for changes at the helm as well as in the market, is none other than a CEO. When we talk of national leadership, we incessantly ascribe to the merits and the demerits of the people at the top, and most likely, the President or the Prime Minister.
In modern day leadership, there is tremendous and sometimes acceptable confusion regarding the two polar issues of leadership and politics. In some quarters, it is widely believed that without wielding political power, one is not able to yield gains at the leadership front. So, for the “greater good”, many contemporary leaders deem certain very antagonistic actions appropriate.
Dr. John Maxwell’s Leadership101: What Every Leader Needs to Know focuses on essential and time-tested qualities necessary for true leadership—influence, integrity, attitude, vision, problem solving, and self-discipline. Towards the end of his book, soon after listing some of the most remarkable qualities for a leader, he jumps to the core of the mission – Becoming a Person of Influence. And whereas this chapter does indeed pass off as a vital fighting tool, it really underlines the motivation behind modern or western ethos of leadership. It teaches about how one should exert himself or herself over others, and most crucially how to ensure that one STAYS in power. And to verify this statement, one is at liberty to choose from thousands of books written on the subject, which all crystallize towards encouraging an individual to stay ahead. For this is an essential part of life today, stay ahead of the competition or you can be erased.
It is, therefore, often the case that when one meets with such a leader who is fighting tooth and nail, like in party or partisan politics, to stay on the seat, that there exists an understandable awe of the persona behind such tremendous power, wealth and influence. The basic human desire to be like them, when one can get what they want is immense.
But apart from the many discourses that we tend to hear from global authorities in the curriculum of leadership or by way of reading “How to become a successful leader..” type of books, what is of essence here is to understand the role of a leader within an Islamic context and society. The role Model for Shia Muslims in leadership philosophy is but of course, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (AS). The fact that his tenure was perhaps tainted with so much unfair controversy as well as the fact that he emerged at a time of political turmoil and transition, makes him the most resilient leader of his time. The records of his performance speak volumes about how he did not consider leadership as being in places of position but in places of reflection. And even when he did not occupy worldly caliphate, he did in fact possess the ability to lead in many matters.
Sayyed Nadeem Kazmi, in an article published in Al-Noor Vol. 3, No 33, writes of this great personality: “ Imam Ali (AS) greatly emphasized the responsibility of leadership and the virtues of just and benevolent rule. His advice to his officers and the governors of the various provinces that made up the Islamic realm at the time are documents that deserve devotional study and practical application…. He emphasized all those qualities of leadership that are today sneered at and purposely avoided. For Imam Ali (AS), real politick was just a slogan. He was convinced that good actions bore good results, and the basis of the loyalty of his subjects was the extent to which their rights were guaranteed by law and the actions of the administrators over them.”
Naturally, the lessons that this versatile personality taught us are not to be learnt by those who feel they are indispensable, or those who may think that they are the organisation or the institution or the nation. Undoubtedly, the reader must have come across various leaders, at any level of society, who just wouldn’t throw in the towel. Whose self-imposition on society was tantamount to oppression and eventually disintegration.
These lessons are also not for those who subscribe to any of the 12 different schools of political philosophy, for whether it is one extreme – despotism or another – democracy, each one constantly articulates the teaching of how to maintain steady power. Imam Ali (AS)’s lessons are not for those who value the seat, but for those who endear the opportunity to serve. Yet, even such high profile descriptions of service have hitherto been hijacked by the generation of men and women who talk of democracy, loudly and clearly.