[Chapter 30] A Note on Leadership

Dec 21, 2010

Chapter 30
Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology

A Note on Leadership

There are some things I want to say on the question of leadership, albeit not in great detail. My book – if it gets published – on that subject throws considerable light on the leadership question.

What I want to say here is that leadership is critical for the success of any group, organization, nation or society. Muslims are no exception to this general rule of nature – if you want to call it that – whether you look at Muslims in smaller organizations, associations, communities and Jama’ats; or at wider national levels; or at even bigger global level. Good leadership is critical for Muslims to succeed in their goals of life.

These goals in the context of the West – for the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah – are essentially a fruitful life as citizen participants with family and friends in their respective societies as well as a life that is geared, at the same time, to guarantee them success in the hereafter. Success in this life and success in the next life – these are the goals of Muslims everywhere.

Attainment of these goals is to a large degree tied to the kind of leadership the Muslims are able to generate and sustain in their midst. That means, all other things being equal, Muslims will reap success in both worlds if their leadership is good. On the other hand, if the leadership is bad, Muslims will pay a price for bad leadership in terms of their worldly as well as other worldly success.

I am sure you want to ask me what I mean by good leadership. I am also sure you want to ask me all the nice questions people ask on this subject such as, purely as an example, is leadership a trait or a skill and if it is something general or specific. I am afraid I do not have the time or resources to address those questions here.

All I would say here is that Islam is leadership. And it is both – acquired as well as inherited; general as well as specific; top-down as well as bottom-up; centralized as well as de-centralized; and horizontal as well as vertical. But in all cases it is open, responsive, people-based, responsible, accessible, accountable and time- and space-sensitive. And it is the servant of the people it purports to lead. All forms of traditional and feudal mindsets such as Zamindari, Shahenshai and tribal chiefdom to which so many of us may be so deeply attuned are foreign to the concept of leadership in Islam.

As Muslims this should be self-evident to us, should it not? Why should I devote an entire chapter to tell you about leadership when you have spent all your life studying the life of a man called Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, greater or nobler or better or more successful than whom the world never saw a leader?

As someone said:

Anchey Khuban Hama Daarand, Tu Tanha Daari.

Le me paraphrase that.

Whatever great qualities everyone else has, you have them all. What commentary does one need or dare to add to that?


There are times when leadership makes certain decisions in situations of high tension and crisis. There are occasions when some of these decisions do not appear to have been well thought out. It is quite likely that our authoritarian ethnic subcultures coupled with mistaken notions of Sam’ and Ta’ah, and the profound deference we pay our top leadership, discourage serious debate on alternatives and foster an environment of quiescence and ready acceptance of decisions handed down from above. I have been fighting this tendency – not very successfully, I must say – for the past so many decades.

Again, I cannot go in more depth into this issue at this time. But let me identify some examples that may be illustrative of what I am hinting at here – examples of Islamic leadership making decisions that on hindsight appear to be problematic and flawed. Of course, make no mistake that I have no solid evidence or information with regard to exactly what transpired in each of these incidents. Also, hindsight is hindsight. If these decisions were arrived at after careful and serious debate and after proper questioning and criticism – as probably they were – then all we can say is Qaddarallah and Yaf’alullahu Ma Yurid: That was Allah’s decision; he does as he pleases.

If somehow this was a result of sloppy thinking and lack of analysis and debate then we need a culture change on this issue of leadership decision-making. Again, this is a huge topic and I am merely dropping some hints and moving on. Maybe someday my book on leadership will become available and it will help to open up some new avenues for the treatment of issues pertaining to leadership.

One of the latest among Islamic leaders to fall into the trap of other worldly utopianism – or naivete – is Erbakan of Turkey, who, the moment he became Prime Minister, made a beeline for Libya to hobnob with Moammar Al-Qaddhafi. It was not long before the Turkish military did to him exactly what was expected of it. Real leadership with a proper worldly focus would have worried more about assuaging the fears of the military and about not in any way ruffling the feathers of America, than about running off at the first opportunity to Libya.

When the Iranian revolution succeeded in driving out the Shah, I suggested to the leadership through whatever channels I had at that time to establish a ministry of Sunni affairs. But things like that don’t make sense to Islamic idealists totally focused on paradise. Besides, a revolution is not an ideal environment to do things right. The Iranians had bigger things to worry about such as the Americans. But don’t you see, the two things are not all that different?

Even as the Algerians went to the polls, the Islamic leadership appears to have been ill-prepared to face the possibility, not of failure – Muslims are generally well-prepared for that, at least emotionally – but of success. No one seems to have asked the question – of course, I have no means of verifying that – what happens if we win, what will the world do to us in the event of our success at the polls?

Hasanul Banna, may Allah give him Jannah, was shot dead in a public place. It happens all the time, and sometimes there is really nothing anyone can do to prevent that from happening – Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Malcolm X, and others. Yet, I would like to know what kind of security detail he had assigned to guard and protect him.

How did Turabi manage to get beaten up to near-pulp in an airport in Canada? Did anyone in leadership role even worry that Turabi needed protection? Or is it un-Islamic to think about that? Who was responsible for his safety? Who dropped the ball?

What about now? Does anyone care what happens to those who are providing leadership to Muslims in U.K., Europe and America – whether it is organizational leadership or leadership of ideas and direction? Or are Muslims supposed to cruise entirely on prayer and hope?

Did you ever ask why Maududi, may Allah give him Jannah, may have lost the elections in Pakistan – in 1971, was it? It wasn’t just because Bhutto could lie and cheat and the Jama’at couldn’t, as it was claimed. There were other more real and empirical reasons that made a significant contribution to Bhutto’s victory and to the defeat of the Jama’at – reasons of strategy, tactics and tools; reasons that have to do with professional electioneering procedures, approaches and methods; reasons that require hard-headed professional analysis.

Taliban is one issue I had decided not to think too seriously about – right from the time when they rolled into town in their Pakistan military-supplied jeeps. But what was the urgency for them to go after the Bamiyan Buddhas? I am not saying if they had left the Buddhas alone, the world would have left them alone. All I am saying is that the Buddhas had stood there for centuries; another century would not have brought down the house of Islam in this world.

Did they ever think that those statues might be objects of religious interest to the Buddhists? Since when did Islam get into the business of wrecking other people’s gods and temples? Please don’t quote me what Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, did to the idols at Ka’abah. If you are even thinking of quoting me that incident, you don’t seem to understand the issues involved. So, let us leave it at that.

A potential crisis – one of many – of indeterminate proportions may be brewing in the leadership of the ruling Justice and Development party in Turkey. The crisis may center on the dual leadership of the party between Prime Minister Gul and party leader Erdogan. How well they both ride out this crisis and how well the rank and file parliament deputies handle this situation will have a significant impact on the future of the party.

Lack of smartness in politics and decision-making is not limited to Islamic leaders. Even non-Muslims with a streak of idealism don’t seem to be immune. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is a case in point – at the time of writing in December of 2002. Isn’t it bad enough for his political health that he is the leftist president of a major oil-producing nation in a post-Soviet world, or that he is a friend of Fidel Castro of Cuba who has been thumbing his nose at the U.S. for over four decades? What happens to his common sense when he openly embraces Saddam Hussein as a friend – that too at a time when the United States has got its major military might poised at the gates of Iraq, looking for an opportune moment to go in?

Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology

© 2003 Syed Husain Pasha

Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional 
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at] 
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.

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