The Holy Prophet (PBUH) had a many splendoured personality. Tomes have been written on his personality traits (Uswa-i-Husna) and it has been impressed on the faithful, not only to follow the Holy Quran but also closely observe the traditions (sunnah) of the Holy Prophet.
One element that stands out in his leadership qualities is his accessibility to not only his followers but also to anyone seeking his advice and counsel. This approachability came to the fore, when he started conducted the business of the state from the Masjid-i-Nabvi (Masjid of the Prophet) in the city state of Medina.
This paper argues that modern leaders should be accessible to the masses in the true tradition of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Keywords: Leadership, accessibility, state of Medina
Qualities of a Leader
A leader symbolises the hopes and aspiration of a nation and its people. The common man expects to see the leader in the heroic mould. The person they chose or anoint as the leader, on the basis of an acceptable criteria such as elections based on adult franchise, is expected to be wise and enlightened. The leader is also be expected to possess the traits of boldness, honesty, truthfulness, resilience and steadfastness. A leader should be benevolent leader and mindful of the pains and privations the citizens of a country are likely suffer because of decisions made by him or on his behalf by the functionaries of the government. Therefore, due diligence must be done, before a decision is arrived at and that it must always be in the interest of the common people. In fact, every act of statesmanship should be guided by the principle of the ‘welfare of the people’ taking precedence over every other thing. In any given society, a leader is supposed to be a role model and source of inspiration and guidance. As the head of a nation, country or an organization, the leader is expected to possess the highest qualities of head and heart. A person, who becomes a leader on the basis of merit should be wise and professionally sound. A leader must be wise and sagacious. The leader should be imbued with a sense of justice and impartiality, and should have a balanced and pleasing personality. The leader should lead from the front. He should have the courage of convictions and should not pass the buck. The leader should be accountable at all times to the people. A charismatic leader cannot afford to be either be rude, arrogant or churlish to his people. He should endear himself to his people by being accommodative and flexible. The leader must be tolerant and forbearing. He should be magnanimous and forgiving. It does not behove his office to rebuff a petitioner, no more how trivial the complaint. Patience and tolerance is a necessary virtue of leadership. The Holy Prophet was blessed with all these qualities and many more. After all he was the perfect (kamil) human being.
While, discussing the personality of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), his biographers and the chroniclers of Uswa Husna (his noble traits) often highlight the nobility of his spirit, his extreme kindness, peerless generosity and utter humility. He was an embodiment of mercy and was given the title of Rahmatul Lilalameen (Blessing for the all the worlds/all times). Despite the fact that he was the chosen one, he would not make any decision in isolation. Before he took any strategic judgement, he would invite discussion and debate on the issue. Shura (taking people into confidence) was an essential element of his form of leadership. He would hear everyone out and take the decision on its merit. In this short essay, I want to bring across to the reader and our leaders and potential leaders, the element of accessibility in the Holy Prophet’s method of governance.
Leadership under siege
The Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) life can be conveniently divided into two phases. The first phase of his life, the one he spent in the city of Makkah (spelled Mecca in western texts) and second other one that he lived in Medina. The Makkan phase was one of intense struggle. The Prophet (PBUH) was born into a society that had fallen prey to all sorts of ills and evils. The age is known as one of darkness (Jahilya).
The Prophet (PBUH) was orphaned at a very young age. He was not literate in the worldly sense and his life was one of poverty, simplicity and piety. His character traits were shaped by the desert, which he roamed as a shepherd tending his flock. After his marriage to Khadija (May Allah be pleased with her) – a woman of independent means he was relieved of his worries of the daily grins. He would increasingly repair to the cave of Hira, above Makka to mediate and seek the truth. It was during one of his sojourns to the cave that at the age of forty, the divine message was revealed to him. After having understood the purpose of the holy revelation, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) began the difficult journey of spreading the word of Allah among the tribes of Arabia. It was an epic journey but ultimately His message would spread across the world. The first opposition that the Prophet (PBUH) had to experience was from his own kinsmen, the tribe of Qureish – who were the guardians of the Ka’aba. Although his detractors accepted his piety and acknowledged his qualities of being a trustworthy person by bestowing on him the titles of Sadiq (truthful) and Ameen (trustworthy), they were not willing to accept his message of the oneness of Allah and to lead a life prescribed by Islam. They were, perhaps worried that he would snatch away the mantle of leadership from them. They used various tactic to detract him from his course. At first they tried to lure him with worldly riches and beautiful women and when he could not be persuaded to leave the true path, they tried to weaken his resolve by banishing him and his immediate family to the narrow valley of Shaab Abi Talib. The harsh conditions that he and his family had to endure did not subdue him. In the tenth year of his Prophet-hood, he was able to come out of the place of banishment but in the same year, he lost his uncle Abu Talib, who had supported him through thick and thin and shortly thereafter he lost his supportive wife and sheet anchor Khadija (May Allah be pleased with her). For the Prophet (PBUH) this was the Year of the Sorrow. But he was not deterred. He resolved to spread his message outside Makkah and visited the neighbouring town of Taif. The people of Taif pelted him with stones and he was left bloody and downcast. This brutal treatment would have discouraged any ordinary man but Muhammad (PBUH) was not an ordinary man. He was the last Prophet that Allah Almighty would send to mankind and the one who would deliver His final message for all times to come. Despite, ill treatment at the hands of his tribesmen and the people of Taif, he did not curse them. He only prayed to Allah for His help and support and these trying times.
In the thirteenth year after having received the divine message, the Prophet decided to migrate to the city of Yathrib (later Madina or the city of the Prophet PBUH). This marks the beginning of the Islamic year or the Al Hijra. There were two reasons for this movement. The people of Yathrib wanted him to come to their city to preach the religion of Islam and the people of the Qureish were about to kill him. In his perilous flight to Yathrib, the Prophet (PBUH) was accompanied by his trusted friend Abu Bakar (May Allah be pleased with him) and his cousin and son in law Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) slept in his bed. After having evaded his pursuer, the Prophet (PBUH) reached Yathrib (henceforth Madina) and was accepted as the undisputed leader of the Ansar (hosts) and the Muhajir (the immigrants) and the sundry tribes living there including the Jews. His headquarter in Madina was where his camel chose to rest. The faithful constructed Masjid-i-Nabvi (Masjid of the Prophet PBUH) at the place, where it still stands, and that’s where the Prophet (PBUH) lies buried (Waheeduddin, 1964).
Leadership in the State of Medina
The Masjid of the Prophet became the centre for all his activities. He lived inside the precincts of the masjid in a simple hujra (abode) and also conducted his business of the state from this place. The Masjid of the Prophet was a simple place. It was bereft of any fineries or formal trappings of a court. The only furniture was the pulpit from where he would deliver his Friday sermon or make any other important announcement. The Masjid was of course a place of worship, where congregational prayers were offered five times a day. But above all it was a meeting place, where all matters concerning the welfare of the citizens of Medina and the affairs of the state were discussed. The Prophet (PBUH) would sit on the floor, while he conferred with his companions on personal matters and those of the state. He heard the supplicants from the same position and received foreign delegations from the same position. It was from the floor of the Masjid that the commonwealth of Medina was created. This was social contract among the various groups living here and this included the Jews and sundry non-believers. This was a conscious effort to goodwill among all the citizens of the state irrespective of their faiths (Abadi, 1957). Many living in Medina were loyal citizens, particularly the loyalties of the Jews and the group known as the Munafiqeen (the duplicitous) were suspect but the Prophet handled them with due caution and gave them the benefit of doubt, where he could do so.
As the undisputed leader of the state of Medina, the Prophet performed a number of tasks. He was judge and jury, statesman and the commander in chief, friend and host, all rolled into to one. Above all he was accessible and accountable to the people. The Bedouin, who would visit the Prophet (PBUH) were at times rowdy and raucous. The Prophet would be upset by their loudness but would tolerate them as far as possible. Once Ibn Umm Maktoom, a poor blind man interrupted the Prophet, while he was explaining the message of Islam to a few dignitaries of the Qureish. Unaware that the Prophet (PBUH) was busy, the blind man insisted that he teach him a few verses of the holy Quran. The Prophet was not pleased and he frowned. A verse was revealed criticizing the Prophet’s (PBUH) behaviour. Clearly, the Prophet (PBUH) was not above reproach, where his dealings with the common man was concerned (Shamis), 1979).
The Modern Leader
The modern leader is isolated. In the Westminster style of democracy that exists in our country, the candidate visits the constituency at the time of the election. On the campaign trail the potential leader makes tall promises but this is all face time that the voters get. Once in office, the ‘representatives of the people’ are surrounded by staff and security and a common man can hardly get past the ‘minders’ of the people. The citizens curses himself/herself for being so naïve to have elected an indifferent person. The cycle keeps on repeating itself, while the leader remains ensconced in his/her ivory towers.
There is a lot of talk about converting our country into the state of Medina. It is a very noble aspiration but this would only possible if our leaders make themselves accessible and accountable. Moghul emperor Jahangir installed a chain in his court that anybody could ring and demand justice. In these days when security of the leader takes priority over the needs of the people, there is a need to create an environment, where the leader becomes accessible to his/her people, when they need him or her and not when the desperately ring the bell and return disappointed.
Faqir, Sayed Waheeduddin. Mohsin-i-Azam aur Mohsineen. Lahore: Line Art Press. 1964.
Akbarabadi, Seemab. Seerat-i-Nabvi. Karachi: Taj Press. 1957.
Qutab, Sayyid. In the Shade of the Quran. Vol. 30. Translated by M. Adil Salahi and Ashur A. Shamis. London: MWH London Publishers. 1979