He was an exceptional leader who displayed great strength of heart and helped lead his people on the straight path. He never considered himself of a higher status than those around him even though he was the final messenger.
Gems from the Seerah: Leadership Qualities of Prophet Muhammed in Battle
The Battle of the Trench, also called the Battle of Khandaq, the Battle of Ahzab, or the Battle of the Confederates, is said to have taken place in Shawwal in 5 AH. After the Muslims’ settling down in Madinah, the Jewish tribes felt a loss of power and social standing. A group of them from the tribes of An-Nadir and Al Wa’ili, therefore, traveled to Makkah to join forces with the Quraysh and assassinate the Prophet (PBUH).
The Quraysh were very open to this as they believed that the Prophet (PBUH) had caused them considerable harm by humiliating them and their false gods. This news was somehow made known to him, who, upon close discussion with his companions, took the advice of Salman Al Farisi to dig a trench around Madinah.
This great feat was accomplished by the Muslims as well as the hypocrites who showed their true colors. During this entire process, the Prophet (PBUH) displayed an array of leadership qualities that stand testament to his being chosen as the final messenger and a guiding force for all of mankind.
Digging the trench required a lot of manpower, and the Prophet did not shy away from physical labor. Along with the other companions, he got involved firsthand in the process and helped lift rocks, and dig the ground to help the trench come to life. He worked so much, that according to Al Bara’ ibn ‘Azib, “his entire belly was covered with dust”.
This contrasts exponentially with leaders the world has seen and continues to see today. Most of them are proficient in giving out orders and throwing in money to get things done, but rarely participate. This shows how humble the Prophet was; he struggled with his people, and understood their pain. This quality also shines through when he openly accepts the suggestion of a companion to dig a trench, which was a novel idea that the Arabs had never used as a war strategy before.
The best way to know how a person feels is to put oneself in their shoes. The Prophet expressed this during the Battle of the Trench when he had not eaten food for a few days and due to the excessive hunger and lack of food, he had tied two stones on his stomach to get him through the labor.
Putting himself in the position of his companions by digging the trench and feeling the hunger with them, he was empathic towards them and this highlighted his humanity. Nowadays, leaders usurp money from the powerless and lower strata of society and stay well-fed while the poor of their countries starve. The Prophet (PBUH) was truly one with his people.
Even in the most adverse of circumstances with an enemy waiting to pounce, and extreme hunger in winter, the Prophet (PBUH) never let his faith in Allah waver. His confidence inspired the companions around him to work even harder, and was what led them to be steadfast in such an unfortunate situation. Allah blessed him with two miracles on this occasion.
It is narrated from Jabir that he said that they were faced with a huge rock in the middle of digging that none of them was able to break, so they went to the Prophet and informed him of it. He approached it with a spade and upon one strike, it crumbled into sand.
Jabir had also seen the stones tied to the Prophet’s stomach due to hunger, so he went to his wife asking for some food. She said she only had some barley and a female goat, which was slaughtered for the Prophet. He took along all the companions and as he went on scooping, the meat did not fall short at all.
On another occasion, a companion was carrying some dates and the Prophet called to him to lay them on a cloth and the others would come over and have their fill as the dates went on increasing.
Not only did the Prophet (PBUH) accept the advice of a companion with regards to building a trench, he successfully designated roles to the companions and divided work among them. This strategy of building trenches was not very common in Arabia in those days, but he accepted it with an open mind.
Even though the enemy army had outnumbered the Muslims by thousands, he took the initiative to keep the spirits of the group high so they would not falter due to their few numbers. He even encouraged his companions to sing and create a rhythm to make their work easier and distract themselves from the toil they were undergoing. It was this consideration that made the companions work with energetic spirits.
These qualities are just a few among the very many that the Prophet (PBUH) exhibited during his lifetime. He was an exceptional leader who displayed great strength of heart and helped lead his people on the straight path. He never considered himself of a higher status than those around him even though he was the final messenger.
He lived and strove like the person next to him, and led by example. He consulted with his companions and asked for their opinions on serious matters, and he went along with it if it had promise for the betterment of the community, even if it clashed against his. He never just sat around and gave orders, but toiled with his whole strength.
He starved with his people, and ate with them. His approach towards them was one of extreme gentleness and mercy, which he showed in everything he did. This softened the hearts of the people toward him.
Moreover, he remained steadfast towards Allah no matter what dire circumstance came in their way. This gave a huge morale boost to the people around him who worked full force to achieve their goals. We see more instances of effective leadership throughout the Prophet (PBUH)’s life, and he always exercised softness when dealing with people and this is what makes him a leader for the whole of humankind until the Day of Judgment.
Mohammed al-Ghazail, Fiqh us-Seerah: Understanding the Life of Prophet Muhammad.
Safiur Rahman Al Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet.