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Prophet Muhammad: The Humble Leader

Humility: The Essence of Greatness

My experience in human resources has led me to study various aspects of the human personality, including the theoretical frameworks that define the characteristics of effective leaders.

Research has established that the most effective of leaders are those who consider themselves to be catalysts and servants to their followers, and whose leadership styles are to support and to advocate.

These leaders believe in their people and communicate that belief to them; they are visible and accessible; they empower, increase participation, support, and share their knowledge (Bolman and Deal 1991).

Who is the Perfect Leader?

“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”

As I read this description, I realized that effective leaders are those who work for their people. They are humble, and neither flaunt their status nor exploit their power.

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It is hard to come by such individuals in real life, and you rarely come across the perfect combination of humility, knowledge, and charisma that is required of the perfect leaders.

I sat back looking out into the garden and tried to identify an individual who fitted this role. I thought for a while and then slowly smiled to myself; and I had found the perfect leader!

I thought of a man who rose to be the initiator of a new way of life that today has about 1.8 billion adherents spread across the world, a man who at the height of his success maintained the humility displayed in his youth.

His wisdom, he asserted, was never his own but rather was divine revelation; at the height of his success, he proclaimed, “I am but an ordinary man.”

Introducing Muhammad

Let me introduce you to Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the Prophet of Islam.

Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, a French political philosopher and social critic, said, “To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”

This reminded me of the building of the first mosque in Madinah: The Prophet had recently completed a tiring and stressful journey, but when he saw his people enthusiastically laying bricks for the mosque, he insisted he would join them; thus laying the foundations of a society in which nobody’s status was too high and no work was too menial.

Through his actions that day, he taught his people enduring lessons on equality, companionship, and respect:

Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most righteous of you (Al-Hujurat 49:13).

Sharing Chores and Errands

The Prophet ate with his people, he shared the same bread and drank from the same flask. When his people went hungry, he starved too.

He lived with his Companions as one of them and their problems were his own: He laughed with them when they were happy, and he cried with them when they were sad.

On the battlefield, he was always with his soldiers, and at home he helped his wives with their chores.

He could have had luxury yet he slept on a crude straw mat and prayed on the bare earth.

The Prophet was once traveling with a group of people and it was time to rest and cook food. As work was divided and everybody was assigned a task, the Prophet insisted he would contribute too and began to collect firewood.

His Companions argued that there was no need for the Prophet to work; after all, he was the Prophet of God, how could they let him collect firewood!

But he remained adamant saying that since he was part of the traveling party, he too would participate in the work to be done, for he hated to be privileged (Al-Mubarakpuri, 1979).

Truth & Honesty

For most of his followers, the high status of the Prophet is unquestionable. While he lived, he was considered even by his detractors to be a man of truth and honesty.

The genuineness of the message he bought was authenticated by the millions who accepted the new faith he preached with such great passion, willing to sacrifice all they had for their religion and for the man who led them to it.

He was their leader not just in all spheres of life in this world but in the life of the hereafter too, a man of religion, a general, a father, an elder brother, a husband, a friend, and also a Prophet of God.

He could have used this passion that his followers had for him in whatever manner he pleased. And he could have had luxury and deserved it too.

Yet he slept on a crude straw mat that left his back marked, he prayed on the bare earth which left his forehead stained, and he wore clothes that had torn many times over and that he himself had mended. (Al-Bukhari).

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