Mohamedarif M Suleman
Imam Husain (AS)’s decisive sacrifice that we commemorate each year in different ways is loaded with multiple messages. It should be our concrete belief that Kerbala was indeed a tutorial for humankind on various fronts. The front that particularly interests some is the leadership angle to the whole epic battle.
Living in an age of big leadership talk and enormous hype about “How to lead…”, etc, we infrequently remember the style of leadership demonstrated by this valiant soldier, this glorious Imam (AS) and his small but loyal and dedicated battalion.
Before we analyze in brief the one pertinent lesson that we should be looking at microscopically, let us think of the words that we tend to associate when we talk about leadership. For once, the names of good leaders come into mind, then some traits of objectivity, stealthy management, visionary planning and the ability to stay calm and composed in adversities tentatively storm our thoughts. We also tend to associate leadership with survival. In other words, when leaders persistently survive attacks on their throne, we think of such leaders as robust and stable leaders. In like manner, each one of us might then have a whole list of criteria on what they associate leadership with.
In fact, due to the element of charisma that we forge on the heads of “good” leaders, the world today is faced with a dire dilemma of what is good leadership and who is a good leader. Subsequently, in the face of democracy, a Western propaganda of politics, it is virtually unbearable to think about rational and visionary leadership for every Tom, Dick and Harry, which people in Kenya have translated as “every Njuguna, Njoroge and Kamau”, is being dubbed a leader in their field. Not that this is a bad thing to happen, only that it has robbed of our ability to discern between right and wrong, and what emerges as truth nowadays is what is popularly accepted by people (demo in the democracy).
Some radical examples come to my mind as I venture into this sensitive subject. Both relate to countries that are touted as missionaries of democracy and the biggest democracy respectively. In the US, animals seem to enjoy equal rights with human beings or unless I have failed to understand these public outcries that were recently shown on TV of a bygone court case in which an enraged father of a 10-month old baby, who was mauled by a pet dog, decided to bash “man’s best friend” to death. The public was divided on whether the man should be chastised or let to walk free. In the ensuing confusion, perhaps lost to the minds was the damning frustration that the man had for having almost lost his son.
The other case is that of India, a haven of sexual exploitation and promiscuous violence. In the midst of alarming rates of violence against women, newscasters and networks are abuzz with sympathy for women without understanding the fundamentals of the problem. Whereas the whole country is being piloted into a new found under-dressing liberation and aggressiveness into the so-called fast lane of media and fashion industries, one wonders if you need professors of science, or making use of the old adage “you need to be a rocket scientist” to understand that these things are breeding restlessness and anxiety in people who now want it whichever way. In the previous instance, animal training experts had vehemently defended the dog for having been frustrated on account of domestication and noosed. In the latter case, the animal temptation of man in view of the open culture has not been understood.
But should we be so naïve as to believe that no one understands the real problem? The truth may be uglier than we wish it to be. For it is in the incessant existence of such problems that politics can survive. Leaders today, themselves flaunting laws and leading selfish lives, must not be expected to troubleshoot these issues at all. And in the melee, leaders will try the balancing act ever so more for fear of losing their positions. Because now, it is the people who decide. On grave matters such as same-sex marriages, leaders of today are not scared of the Church as they used to be, they are scared of the powerful electorate. For them, leadership is the chair; it is their position, their place.
Imam Husain (AS)’s message of leadership was quite apart from what we popularly envisage nowadays. He taught that a leader should be fearless in pursuit of the truth. He should be ready to give up his all in order to secure truth. He taught us that it is not the crown that makes the queen, for if that was the case, would Yazid not have been the paramour of many a historians today?
And one addendum, when we lead we must not be “caught with our pants down”, borrowing another of the many weird sayings. A Muslim leader must not openly flirt with matters that are firm in faith, and then rationalize his actions in public. On the day of judgment, he will be called on to account for he dissuaded people from the right vide his actions. On account of his social eminence, people followed him like a flock…