Lead the way! My problem with modern day “influencers” and my analysis of Islamic leadership.

Leadership is usually portrayed as something with a title. Loads of people as employees and followers. A mission statement. Resourcefulness.

But actually a leader needs none of this. The greatest leaders started with no real army, no following and no believers. They started on a one-man journey of truth and conviction and people joined them.

I’m not sure if the operative word in the above paragraph stands out to everyone but it is “joined”. Not “followed” but actually “joined”.

So why is joining a leader more important than following them? Well, for one thing that joining represents a much stronger front than following. People who join are critical thinkers who can reason with their leaders. People who follow usually lack this trait. People who join are the ground under their leader’s feet. People who follow can be a liability. Also, when people join a leader, more leaders are formed of their own accord. Leaders are formed this way through the process of osmosis and modeling. When people follow, a leader has to work on them to create someone who can lead after him. Joiners are a much stronger group than the followers. They are also some of the neatest leaders later.

Which brings me to the man who exemplified leadership, even in this death.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a respected man long before he became a Muslim. Long before he invited people to embrace Islam with him he was known as Sadiq (truthful) and Ameen (trustworthy). His integrity was so bright that his first wife Khadijah (RA) proposed to him when he conducted business for her. She was impressed by his honesty and truthfulness.

He didn’t influence people. That wasn’t his way. He inspired people. Influencers have followers. Inspirers have friends and comrades. Influencers lead a flock. Inspirers are shoulder to shoulder with their friends.

So it’s no wonder that he made more friends than followers. And his friends inspired more people. And then out of these friends came a whole line of leaders. This is true leadership.

But Prophet Muhammad’s call to Islam or his various trips to spread Islam aren’t the focus of this blog post. The focus of this blog post is how he was a leader in everyday life and without any effort. How he led his family and friends by example.

The first rule of integrity that Prophet Muhammad’s particular brand of leadership followed was practicing all of what he preached. Everything that he did became part of Sunnah and a doctrine of sorts, as it was in line with Islam, the religion he preached . His life had no antithesis to his message. His kindness, compassion, love for all mankind and forgiveness are legendary. He practiced them first before making them a part of his teachings. Unfortunately, today’s leadership has lost this very important quality of an inspirer. Practicing is placed a long way from preaching. People are expected to budget, cut back on expenses, be frugal, follow laws, work hard but leaders are usually exempt from these requirements to make a society and economy work.

Another important feature of his leadership that stands out to me the most is being a leader ALL THE TIME. Not just when eyes are on us or when the cameras are rolling. But being a leader all the time. Being disciplined in our lives, following the same principles for ourselves that we would like for others and being answerable to ourselves first. Every great leader that history has seen showed that being answerable to ourselves is important to maintain honesty and leadership. It helps maintain trust. It also helps create future leaders the right way. They see that their leader is holding himself accountable first of all and they start holding themselves accountable first of all. This helps the people being accountable all the time. This becomes a universal rule that doesn’t allow anyone to rise above it.

But amazing statesman as he was, Prophet Muhammad’s leadership hasn’t shone the same anywhere as it has shone in the community. And as it has shone in his own grace and decorum when it came to his family.

He preached and practiced love first of all. To his people, his family and his friends. His Sunnah is full of fair treatment of his wives in a polygamous marriage. His wives became some of the most influential Muslim women through his teachings and his direct modeling of Islamic and humanitarian behavior. They worked for the community many decades after his demise. They were Ummahat-ul-Momineen (mothers of all Momins) and a more befitting title was never coined. They continued the work of the the Prophet for decades. That’s how great leaders make great leaders.

When he practiced a family model that could have many wives and still reflected balance and fairness, he didn’t mean for all of us to start that model with the hopes of accomplishing it as it is advised by our religion to be accomplished. When he modeled it he tried to show that, even though it’s permissible in Islam to have more than one wife, it is a very difficult reality to have that type of family and to practice fairness. He advised against having more than one wife if fairness was feared to be compromised. Unfortunately some people have taken the meaning to be “Polygamy is allowed and is permissible and advised in Islam”. My understanding is that polygamy is allowed (and had many reasons for its implementation in those times) but comes with a stipulation. If you can’t be fair and if your existing wife isn’t okay with it, it is not advised. What I’ve understood as the reasoning behind the many wives of our Prophet (PBUH) is the sheer intent to show how much responsibility and accountability a polygamous marriage warrants.

He was kind to his wives and even though most of his wives were childless, he didn’t treat them any differently. History is full of anecdotes of the Prophet’s very close and romantic relationships with his wives. He was an example to emulate.

To his community he was a community worker. He worked against societal taboos. He married the divorced wife of his adopted son to break a societal taboo. He also instructed and acted on his extraordinary compassion to orphaned children. He advocated for these kids and warned of consequences if the community didn’t protect the rights of these kids who didn’t have parents to protect theirs. He especially instructed to protect their honor and inheritance. Sadly, this has become the most vulnerable population of today’s society. The guardianship that he entrusted in us for widows and orphans regarding their honor and inheritance is a sham in modern day society. These are the people who are taken advantage of first of all. When we show them kindness, it is with a type of privileged benevolence that we wouldn’t ever want for our own. When we do community learning programs for underprivileged kids, we don’t think of their future like we would of our own. We think of the here and now. How is a child ever in the here and now? A child is always safer when his guardians work to safeguard his future.

Another thing that he showed a lot of respect for was donations and charity. As a leader he held himself accountable for the money that was given to him due to his position. He lived a life of extreme poverty and hardship when he didn’t have to. Besides what Allah would’ve bestowed on him if he had so much as desired for it, he could’ve had anything from the people and kings and emperors of the world when he was in power. He could’ve had everything and he was routinely given gifts and valuable objects including slaves. He had no desire for any. He donated the gifts. He freed the slaves. Which leader in an Islamic prospering nation is embodying this type of accountability and fear of Allah? The fear of being asked how they spent what. When I saw Maryam Nawaz (daughter of ex Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif) going to trial in designer sandals I wondered how she could afford them. Or if she should be wearing them when she is allegedly a financially corrupt woman, with a corrupt father who is being held responsible for bankrupting the country. I was ashamed for them. This isn’t what Islamic leadership is.

But one thing that stands out above everything for me is how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a man of the people. No one, no was beneath him to him. He held everyone in the same regard. He had a love for his companions and addressed his enemies with respect. He wasn’t a coward but he wasn’t an aggressively assertive person either. He was mild by nature, firm in his convictions but overall, a noble leader who learned the most about people by being with the people.

Which brings me to the conclusion of this post. Social media is promoting influencers. These are people who influence others with their way of life, their opinion about things, their stance on geopolitical and socioeconomic issues. These influencers are everywhere. Some of them influence with their clothes and some with their talk. They’re unanimously called influencers regardless of their niche. But I’m not getting influenced by them. Why? Because I don’t see myself in them. And they don’t inspire me. Why? Because they don’t set out to inspire. They try to influence with one-way debates and one-sided discussion of social problems. They aren’t having a dialogue. They’re having a monologue, perched high on their soap box, from a vantage point. They aren’t even sure what their values are usually. And I’m not saying it because I’m not loving them. I’m critical of them but that’s only because they hold themselves above others. I don’t think their values are uniform. Most of them work for brands and labels. These affiliations influence what they preach. See! Islamic leadership had just one look and it was Islam. Whether it was the strict era of Omar bin Khattab or the relatively lenient era of Othman bin Affan, the leadership represented Islam and Islamic ways.

These influencers aren’t just social media based. Modern day politics is also brand-based and kickback-based. Our leaders forward the mission of those who promise them something. This is why many nations, though strong in their practices, are not a part of the influencers because they can’t rise to the surface by popular tactics. This keeps us from seeing where leadership is being practiced in a noble way. To us, leadership has become all about being loud, having a following, having money, having an opinion, brute-like demeanor, clever ideas and a brand that endorses all of this. But if you look at how Islamic leadership was taught, exemplified and preached, it was anything but.

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