In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we explored three common types of leadership crises that many Muslim-led voluntary groups or associations may encounter, as well as looking at five ways to tackle them.
As Mosque Affairs coordinator for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), I’ve met with leaders of Muslim-led voluntary organisations such as mosques, charities and Muslim youth groups across the UK from Aberdeen to Plymouth, and from Wales to Yorkshire; and no matter where you are in the country, the patterns that lead to a leadership crisis are usually very similar.
As Muslims, we are fortunate to have the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as one of the most inspirational leaders in all of human history. In 7th century Arabia, it was Muhammad (pbuh) who united Arab tribes who were previously one of the most dis-united. As such, Part 3 explores five leadership lessons from the life of Muhammad (pbuh) for those involved in running a voluntary group or association today.
This article is inspired by the late Nabeel Al-Azami’s recently published book “Muhammad (s): 11 Leadership Qualities that Changed the World”.
Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for your own flock.”
This is a truly empowering hadith, for it reminds us that in whatever field of life we are in, whether it’s in our families, workplaces, volunteering or anywhere else, we each have a responsibility to other members of our group. This does not mean we have to be the “leader” in the group (note the hadith doesn’t say the responsibility is only for the leader), rather everyone has an element of responsibility.
In the context of a voluntary group or association, our flock may be our fellow volunteers, committee members or colleagues. Are we coasting along and expecting others to do the heavy lifting, or are we actively involved, asking challenging questions, motivating others, and consciously inputting to strengthen the group’s future?
2) Clarity in decision-making
Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said, “When travelling on a journey, even if there are only three of you, make one a leader.”
Often in our voluntary group or associations we may shy away from leadership, preferring to be modest and say, “I prefer working behind the scenes.” Whilst humbleness certainly has its place, Muhammad (pbuh) implored us to also be decisive and clear about lines of authority and responsibility for decision-making.
3) Empowering youth
Muhammad (pbuh) placed an immense emphasis on young people and entrusting them with responsibility. In one instance ahead of a military battle, he appointed a 19-year old man, Usāma bin Zayd ibn Hāritha, as a commander because of his ability and leadership skills, and gave him authority over older and much more experienced companions.
Some companions complained because of his young age but Muhammad (pbuh) replied that he was chosen because he was a capable commander.
In our voluntary groups or associations, do we give capable youth as young as 19 the opportunity to lead and show their worth, or would we shrug them away as too young?
Do we enable knowledge transfer and training to take place from the experienced to the inexperienced volunteers? And if you are an older and more experienced volunteer at your voluntary group or association, are you able to work together with and pass on your wisdom and experience to the next generation?
4) Diplomacy and political awareness
Muhammad (pbuh) had to be highly aware of the landscape, personalities and inter-tribal politics of his time, if he was ever to get anything done and make a positive change to his society. There is perhaps no better example of this than the incident of replacing the Black Stone (al-Hajar-ul-Aswad) on the Ka’aba during a rebuild.
Each quarter of the Ka’aba was being re-built by one leading family of Quraish – the biggest and most prominent tribe of Mecca, and so each family of Quraish felt the honour of replacing the Black Stone belonging to them. But when disagreements broke about which family would have this honour, Muhammad (pbuh) was asked to resolve the dispute.
Muhammad (pbuh) put his robe on the floor, took the sacred Black Stone and put it in the centre of the robe. He then asked the chief of each family to take one corner of the robe and lift it together. When the robe with the Black Stone was lifted to a reasonable height, Muhammad (pbuh) took the Black Stone and put it in its proper place by his own hands. None of the families felt insulted and each had their share of the privilege and honour. In one simple yet highly diplomatic act, Muhammad (pbuh) had solved the dispute.
In the context of our voluntary groups or associations, do we overlook the etiquettes and diplomacy of working in partnership with others? Or are we aware of how to interact and collaborate with others diplomatically – whether individuals or organisations – based on principles, and in ways that help build trust and confidence?
When dealing with people who had wronged him, it is reported about Muhammd (pbuh) that “…he would not respond to an evil deed with an evil deed, but rather he would pardon and overlook.”
Forgiveness is often very difficult, especially when we feel extremely hurt, let down or wronged by someone’s actions.
In the context of our voluntary groups or associations, disagreements and conflict are normal and part of a healthy and functioning committee. However, when the energy behind a specific disagreement cannot be channelled in a positive way towards a solution – often aggravated by individuals not being able to forgive each other – the group or association either dies, becomes dysfunctional, or splits.
If you have been let us down or wronged by a colleague in your team or committee, are you able to forgive them and still continue to work with them?
Voluntary groups and associations provide a wonderful and rewarding opportunity for volunteers to put the teachings and examples of Muhammad (pbuh) into practical action, and in doing so strengthen their leadership abilities in other aspects of life too.
There are many more aspects of Muhammad’s (pbuh) life relating to leadership that can be explored, but these five points are only a snapshot.