Notes On Leadership in Islam

  1. Imam Ali addressing to Uthman said:

"The best man in the sight of Allah is a just ruler, who has been guided by Islam and who guides others - towards it, who keeps up the Holy Prophet's traditions and who exterminates the vile innovations. The worst man in the sight of Allah is a despotic ruler, who himself is misguided and who misguides other, who exterminated the accepted traditions and reintroduces the discarded innovations. I beseech you in the Name of Allah not to be such a leader of this ummah as to be killed by the oppressed, for it has been predicted that a leader of the ummah who will open the gates of everlasting bloodshed and sanguinary feuds, would be killed. He will create doubts among the ummah and will cause widespread disturbances, with the result that people will not be able to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. They will be agitated and confused. Therefore with your age and experience do not be a pet animal to Marwan and do not allow him to drive you wherever he likes." (See Nahjul Balagha - Sermon164)

The last sentence signifies that a leader must have an independent thinking and must not be a tool in the hands of the people surrounding him. The earlier sentences refer to the importance of the spirit of justice which a leader must possess.

  1. Imam Ali's instructions to one of his functionaries whom he had sent to collect zakat.

After giving him certain instructions and advising him to be sincere in his words and deeds, Imam Ali said:

"I order you not to be hostile to them, not to oppress them and not to keep yourself away from them, showing your superiority to them because you are a government officer. They are your brethren in faith and are expected to help you in the collection of dues. Woe be to the person against whom the poor, the destitute, the beggars, the under-privileged, the sufferers and the way-farers complain before Allah! The worst form of treachery is the embezzlement of public funds and the most despicable form of faithlessness is to deceive the Imam." (See Nahjul Balagha - Letter 26)

  1. Imam Ali has said:

"In comparison to enjoining what is right and restraining from what is evil, all virtuous deeds and Jihad in the way of Allah, are no more than a breath in an unfathomable ocean. Enjoining what is right and restraining from what is evil do not bring any one closer to his death nor do they diminish the subsistence of anybody. But what is more valuable than all this is a just word before a cruel ruler."

Hence, internal reform (enjoining what is right and retraining from what is wrong) is more important than waging a holy war against the external infidels, but what is all the more important is the struggle against the deviations of a leader.

However, it may be noted that enjoining what is right is a stage of Jihad, and similarly a just word before a cruel ruler is also a sort of "enjoining right and forbidding wrong."

  1. "Imam Ali expressly says that the view of the Khawarij that the Quran is enough and that there is no need of a government, any administrative machinery and any leader is wrong. The Khawarij used to say that "there is no arbiter and judge except Allah". Imam Ali said:

"Their slogan is right but they draw a wrong conclusion from it. They say that there should be no government except that of Allah. But the people must have a ruler, whether virtuous or wicked, under whose rule both the faithful and the disbeliever may work and enjoy life." (See: Article - 10 on Nahjul Balagha, Murtaza Mutahhary)

The administrative machinery is called government because it maintains internal and external peace and enforces law and order. It is called Imamat because it is headed by a leader who mobilizes the dormant forces and unfolds the hidden capabilities.

In Nahjul Balaghah expression of Wali and Ra'iyyat has been used for the ruler and the subjects. The expression implies that the duty of the ruler is to protect and take care of his subjects. Imam Ali says:

"The greatest claim prescribed by Allah is the claim of the ruler on the subjects and the claim of the subjects on the ruler." (Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 216)

  1. "The requirements of a human being are not confined to food and shelter. The requirements of man are entirely different from those of a pigeon or a deer. Man has a number of psychological needs also which must be attended to. Therefore it is not enough for a government which wants to be normal, popular and tolerable, to meet only the material needs of the people. It is equally necessary to pay attention to their human and spiritual needs also. What is important is how the government looks at the people. Does it regard them as lifeless tools - which are also incidentally to be maintained; or as beasts of burden and milk-giving animals - that require medical care too, or as human beings having equal rights and privileges? In short, are the people for the leader or the leader for the people?" (Article - 5 on Nahjul Balaghah)

In the above mentioned article we have said that the recognition of the rights of the people and abstinence from anything that is detrimental to their authority is the first essential condition of a sound and normal leadership that wants to satisfy the people and gain their confidence.

We have said in the above mentioned article that the artificial link that the Church maintains between a belief in God and the rejection of the sovereignty of the people and as a corollary of that, between the sovereignty of the people and the rejection of God, has been an important factor in turning the people away from religion and faith.

The Roman Emperor Kaligola (the first century A.C. or the first century B.C.) used to say that rulers had the same kind of superiority over the people as the shepherd over the sheep. The rulers were like gods and the subjects like the cattle.

Some Western philosophers also believe that the rulers do not hold power for the benefit of their subjects. They think that the rulers have a divine right that is to say that the subjects have been created for the convenience of the rulers.

  1. In the above mentioned article we have said that although the word Ra'iyyat which has been used by Imam Ali, has in Persian lately acquired a disgusting sense, it actually implies the conception that the ruler is for the people, not that the people are for the ruler.

  2. We have also said that it is gathered from the verse:

"Allah commands you that you restore trusts to their owners, and if you judge between people, judge justly." (Surah an-Nisa, 4:58)

The rulers are the custodians of the people. In other words it enunciates the principle: the ruler for the people, not the people for the ruler. The book, Majma' quotes Imam Muhammad Baqir and Imam Ja'far Sadiq to have said that this verse is addressed to the Imams and the next verse:

"Obey Allah and obey the Messenger"

This is addressed to the people. Imam Muhammad Baqir has said:

"One of these two verses belongs to us (our rights) and the other belongs to you (your rights)."

Imam Ali has said:

"It is essential for the Imam to judge according to what Allah has revealed and to restore the trust. If he does that it is incumbent on the people to listen to him, to obey him and to respond whenever they are called." (al-Mizan quoted from Durr al-Manthur)

  1. Imam Ali wrote to his governor in Azerbaijan:

"Your job is not a juicy morsel provided to you. It is only a trust committed to your care. You have been appointed by your superior a shepherd (to look after the flock of people placed under you.) As such you have no right to deal with the people in a despotic manner." (See Nahjul Balagha, Letter 5).

In his circular letter addressed to all tax collectors, Imam Ali says:

"Do justice to the people on your part, and look after their needs patiently, for you are a treasurer of the people, a representative of the Ummah and an ambassador of the Imams". (See Nahjul Balagha, Letter 51)

From what has been said in No. 6 - 9 it is clear that from the viewpoint of Nahjul Balaghah the basis of leadership is that the leader is for the people, not the people for the leader.

Leadership and Management

  1. The sense of leadership is synonymous with that of Imamat. While Hidayat (guidance) means to guide to the goal and management is a sort of maturity.

  2. The phrase financial maturity is generally used with reference to orphans, although it applies to other individuals also. Matrimonial maturity applies to everybody.

  3. Definition of maturity: Competence to take care of and to exploit the existing potentialities. This requires knowledge on the one hand and will-power on the other. Knowledge means the knowledge of the meaning, objective, value and the result of a work and ability to choose it.

  4. Life is an asset. Longevity is an asset. Man has a marvelous and untapped power. His limbs, organs, and physical and spiritual faculties are all assets. History, culture, time, literature, books, technology, arts and civilization also are assets.

  5. Every kind of maturity means some kind of ability of management, but when the word management is used in the sense of man-management, its sense comes closer to that of Imamat.

  6. Man-management and leadership are the art of better mobilization, better organization, better control and better employment of human forces.

It is the power of management that turns weakest nations into the strongest nations. The great world leaders are not those who curb their nation and do not allow it to raise its voice. The best leader is he who mobilize, the individuals forces, motivates them, co-ordinates them and create an ideal for all the people. For an ideal two things are necessary. First the people are made ideal-minded and secondly large groups of them are induced to accept the ideal introduced to them.

  1. Management is required more by man than it is required by the animals. A flock of sheep can be managed by an illiterate shepherd who knows the pastures and watering places, can prevent the sheep from being scattered and protects them from being attacked by a wolf. If any sheep falls sick, he should be able to give it some treatment. But the sheep have no mysterious spiritual world. They neither have any restless forces stored within them nor do they have any complex morals to learn. They are not the vicegerents of Allah or the manifestations of His Names and Attributes, nor have they been "created of the best stature." That is the reason why the sheep require a shepherd while man needs a leader, and that leader must be more superior to other men than a shepherd is to the sheep.

  2. The difference between Prophethood and Imamat is that the first is guidance and the second is leadership. The first is conveying, intimating, apprising and showing the right path. The second is directing by going in front and mobilizing the available forces and organizing them. Some Prophets were guides as well as leaders like Ibrahim, Musa, 'Isa and the last Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on them). Some others were only guides, but the Imams are only leaders. They are guided by the guidance given by the last Prophet.

  3. Difference between the concept of leadership in the modern world and in the terminology of Islam.

  4. Three important points about men:

  5. Men are great treasures. "They discover for them mental treasures."

  6. Instinct is not enough for human being.

  7. The laws of man's spirit are so complex that a leader cannot be successful without knowing the laws governing human life.

The knowledge of these laws is the key of dominating the hearts of the people. Often it is necessary to remove the complexes, fetters and shackles.

"He will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear."(Surah al-A'raf, 7:15).

The Holy Prophet's man-management in his family; among his companions and in connection with preparing the troops. He knew how to manage and conduct man.

The Holy Prophet's inspiring instructions, regarding preaching and management, to Mu'az bin Jabal:

"Make things easy; do not make them difficult; win the hearts of the people by telling them pleasing things; do not scare them away; and when you offer prayers with them, your prayers should be such as suit the weakest of them."

The incident of Imam Ali and 'Asim bin Ziyad. Imam Ali's extraordinary austerity was a part of his administration.

  1. The essential qualities of a leader are: Initiative, creative power of organization, power of attracting people and gaining their love and faith. (Refer to No. 15)

  2. The Holy Prophet's leadership astonished Abu Sufyan. The story of three different persons at Tabuk - The story of Abuzhar.

  3. The Holy Prophet has said that if three persons travel together, they should make one of them their leader. This shows the importance which Islam attaches to man-management. Addressing the Holy Prophet, Allah has said if he does not specify who would be the Leader, he would not have conveyed Allah's Message.

  4. Imam Husayn's life is a superb example of leadership.

  5. Qualities of a Leader:

(a) Initiative; (b) Sympathy - Story of Imam Ali and 'Asim ibn Ziyad - public life, (c) Power of organization, (d) Ability of selecting the right man for the right job, (e) Ability of gaining the love and loyalty of the people, (f) Ability of convincing people of the importance and necessity of achieving his objective. (g) Understanding the prevailing conditions. . . . . "Brackish water and choking morsel." (h) Faith and confidence in the objective, (i) Faith and confidence in the success - No wavering - Self confidence (The Holy Prophet and full faith in his mission. Imam Husayn also was confident of the result of what he was doing. (j) Correct choice of an action. (k) Correct choice, (k) Quick choice, (1) Firmness, (m) Determination No wavering in the choice of any step nor in the choice of the goal itself, (n) Boldness and no fear of the consequences, (o) Foresight, (p) Advance planning of the measures to be taken in case of failure, (q) Magnanimity and broad-mindedness. "Broad-mindedness is essential for leadership." (r) Courage of accepting defeat, (s) Appropriate distribution of work and human force, (t) Will-power and a personality strong enough to inspire and influence other people. A power of delivering the message in a convincing way goes along with such a personality. That was the reason why the pagans thought that the Holy Prophet possessed some mysterious magical power.

Imam Ali addressing to Ibn Abbas said:

"This Caliphate is more trivial to me than an old shoe unless I restore a right or redress a wrong." (Nahjul Balagha, Sermon - 33)

"The greatest right prescribed by Allah in that which the ruler can claim on the ruled and that which the ruled can claim on the ruler. It is an obligation prescribed by Allah which each of them owes to the other. This system has been set for the development of love between them and for the glory of their religion. The ruled will not be good unless the rulers are sound, and the rulers will not be good unless the ruled are honest." (Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 216)

The real position of a ruler is that of a trustee.

Out of all the qualities of an Imam, the most important qualities are two: justice and guidance. These two are the main objectives for which the Prophets have been raised, so that the people may set up justice. The Holy Prophet has been described as a preacher calling to Allah and an illuminating lamp. From the viewpoint of justice an Imam is a protector and trustee; and from the viewpoint of guidance he is a leader and chief. From both the angles he is a model and an example. His personality is a perfect manifestation of justice as well as a perfect manifestation of progress, maturity and sound leadership.

The most pertinent question in regard to Imamat is what need it satisfies. As Prophethood is the product of a definite need, so is Imamat.

Four assignments of the Holy Prophet: Religious authority, political leadership, dispensation of justice and supervision of the condition and its idea.

The Quranic verse saying that the example of the Holy Prophet is to be followed.

The truth about infallibility and its connection with perfect faith. Hadith of Thaqalayn and its relation to infallibility. The verse, "Your master is only Allah" and its connection with infallibility.

Different uses of the word, "Imam" in connection with religious authority and political leadership - the rightful Imam and the false and despotic Imam.

Rational proof of Imamat and Wilayat in the sense of having power to take independent action - Wilayat a part of the cosmic laws. A Comparative study of the arguments advanced by such scholastic theologians as Allamah Hilli and Shaykh Mufid and the argument of Allamah Tabatabai which we have reproduced in the Khilafat and Wilayat, p. 380.

The Shi'ah discusses the question of Wilayat and Imamat from three angles: religious authority, political leadership and a belief in the perfect man and master of the time.

The question of the master of the time and the question of the friend of Allah - Ascribing administration to someone other than Allah - Ascribing failure to someone other than Allah - Ascribing revelation or bounties to someone other than Allah - There is no question of man's discretion - Meaning of the verse, "for myself I have no power to benefit."

The Qur'an and man - What is the position of man according to the Qur'an? He is before whom the angels prostrated, themselves.

The discussion of 'Divine favour' (Lutf) and the 'more appropriate' - Through this discussion the existence of an infallible Imam is proved - The discussion of the real position of man - Imamat in the sense of spiritual guardianship shows man's importance, and hence its discussion is the discussion of man.

Man in fact has two lives, one external and the other spiritual. Both the lives are actual. It is not that man's spiritual life is something unreal or phenomenal.

Difference between Prophethood and Wilayat (The Khilafat and Wilayat, P. 379 and See, Master and Mastership).

The Holy Quran has given the reason why the Prophets have always been the human beings. The gist of the matter is that the Prophets besides being a medium of conveyance of the Divine message are a medium of imparting knowledge also. Man can receive knowledge from a non-human being but he can neither love him, nor can he emulate him.

"How comes it that religion has made history, brought a culture into existence, trained innumerable men and many generations as it wanted, but it has not been able over history to bring into existence a single ideal city? The sociologists say and the historians admit that since Plato's time till today and even during Mesopotamian civilization, not a single ideal city of this type has ever existed. The reason is that an ideal city is that in which there should not be a Divine Leader (Imam)" (Ummah and Imam p. 100)

The question is why an ideal city as conceived by the philosophers does not have an Imam. Actually it is a drawback of the school of philosophers. Their school has no spiritual basis. It has only rational basis.

The difference between the religious ideology and other ideologies is not exclusively that of having and not having an Imam. Further, such a model should be looked for among the companions and the followers of the Holy Prophet, not in the exceptional personality of an Imam or the Prophet. If it is possible for everybody to become an Imam, then why one individual only? If it is not possible, then an Imam cannot be an example for others. Anyhow, he can be a supreme model.

It appears that the thesis of the book "Ummah and Imamah" has been drawn from A Preface to Leadership. The only difference is that the Ummah and Imamah is a book that is committed to the support of a religious theory, whereas the book, A Preface to Leadership has no such commitment and is exclusively based on psychological aspects. It expressly says that Imam, especially the Hidden Imam meets the spiritual requirement of man, who needs a leader.