Selected Notes and Reflections on the Concept of Leadership in Islam

By Dean Macacuna A. Moslem
Assistant Secretary
Office of the President
Malacañang, Manila

(Second of a Series)


Leadership in Islam is given primordial importance because the success or failure of a society depends on the uprightness and sincerity of a leader. Thus, the duty of every citizen carries with it the concomitant right to choose a leader. This right deserves recognition and respect in every civilized society. The right to choose a leader, is invaluable and should not be hampered by any scheme or fraudulent act that will violate its sanctity.

Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam declared that “each of you is a shepherd, and all of you are responsible for your flocks (Bukhari, Muslim) “When three persons go on a journey, let them put one of their numbers in command” (Abu Daud).

The duty and obligation of a Muslim leader is not only tremendous and onerous but taxing and exacting as well.

As one scholar puts it, “The Muslim ruler is saddled with heavy responsibility of giving practical shapes to the commands of the merciful Lord. His attitude towards his people should therefore be humane and sympathetic, and he should in no-way, put unbearable burden upon the people – both Muslims and Christians alike. He must treat them with utmost kindness and sympathy and adopt a strict attitude only in cases of serious crimes and offenses which subvert the moral bases of society.

“A Muslim leader is expected to be just, behave righteously, strive towards self-improvement and never break his word Khulug or behaving ethically towards all, Muslims and non-Muslim alike. He is a trustee, and he is to consult with others, especially in areas where, he is not competent. He is expected to bear adversity, patiently, and remain forever humble. He believes that humanity can only grow and prosper by accepting the fact of cultural diversity, by learning about their differences as well as by reinforcing the values that only share in common. For multi-culture can only thrive in an open civic society with full participation of all. In so doing, Muslims and non-Muslims alike will be implementing a critical Qur’anic injunction “li ta’ aarafu – to get to know one another” O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. (Al-hujurat 49:13)

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “If a man is appointed as the chief of even ten persons, his hands will be tied together round his neck. He will be brought before Allah in such a state on the Day of Judgment. He will either get salvation on account of his good deeds or be ruined on account of his sins. The beginning of leadership is censure its middle is the shame and its end is the insult and punishment on the Day of Judgment”. (AHMAD)

“All Muslims – whether leaders or followers – are urged to keep their promises. Thy also cannot make promises that are un-Islamic in nature.”

“O ye that believe! Betray not the trust of Allah and Messenger, nor misappropriate knowingly things entrusted to you” (A1-Anfal 8:12)

As clearly explained by an eminent Muslim scholar, “holding any position, rank or office is first regarded as a trust and, therefore, constitutes an obligation, and a legal as well as moral responsibility. Therefore, those to be entrusted with such roles could only be citizens who are possessed of unquestionable competence, integrity and virtues. Only a righteous and competent person can shoulder responsibility and his position or office for public welfare. Such a person would be able to dispense justice based on moral value and promote sound administration. He would promote and enhance the well-being of his people by handling their affairs in a manner that is in accordance with public interest. In return, he would earn his people’s obedience, support, loyalty and cooperation. Thus, he would love doing his job because ultimately he would be blessed with joy, happiness, contentment and satisfaction!”

It is also axiomatic, “that leadership in Islam is a trust (Amanah). It represents a psychological contract between a leader and his followers that he will try his best to guide them and to treat them fairly and with justice.” A fortiori, morally depraved leader should not be appointed or elected.

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