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Leadership & Islamic Values

Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?

If you are one of those who are trying to change the world but wonder where to start, probably answering this question is a good idea.

Go down deep inside yourself, beyond your university degree, career title, and the 2-3 letters that may exist on your business card (whether you have an MBA, PhD, MD, or even a BS)!

The question above was quoted from Gareth Jones’s famous book “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? What It Takes to be an authentic leader”. The author is the HR director at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is clearly a world leader in its domain.

I was asked this question in a leadership seminar held by Oaktree institute, and Br. Mohamed Almathil helped me go through several iterations of self-discovery and reflection on the best way to improve myself, serve my community, and leave a legacy.

When this question is discussed in the non-profit world and particularly for Muslim leaders, I believe that 5 follow-up questions need to be addressed:

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1)  Is the question a form of arrogance? 

Our Islamic literature is filled with guidance on ways to keep our ego in check. One should always keep a humble attitude and be constantly aware of their weaknesses. HOWEVER, this should not prevent us from clearly defining our strengths and even sharing them with others when a credibility check is required. We read in the Qur’an how Prophet Yusuf presented his credentials to the king of Egypt:

{Put me in charge of the nation’s storehouses: I shall manage them prudently and carefully} (Yusuf 12:55)

Prophet Yusuf understood that he is the right person at the right time to lead Egypt and save the country and the entire region from the famine that was about to occur. Sometimes there is no time for superficial gestures of humility that some Muslim activists have developed over the years:

–  “I am the faqir Ila Allah so and so”,  (The needy to Allah’s mercy);

–  “Before I give a speech and advice others I have to work on my weaknesses”;

–  “I am the least among you in knowledge and taqwa (piety).”

I am not saying these statements are wrong, but sometimes using them as an excuse to shy away from leadership is simply inappropriate!

Of course, the balance is not easy, and many people fall into one of the two extremes: arrogance on one end which causes an ego problem, and ignorance on the other end, which may leads to self-deprecation which can be confused with humbleness.

 2) What are other ways for leaders to establish credibility?

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) used a much smarter approach to establish his credibility in the early days of his mission; he stood on the top of the mountain and asked the masses among Quraish:

If I were to tell you that an army is about to attack you from behind this mountain, would you believe me?

They said: “we have not seen anything but the truth coming from you”

At that point, and after getting the word out of them, he clearly announced that he is a messenger from God, warning them from a severe punishment if they don’t believe in him.

3) How does this affect my life plans and hence my legacy?

Answering the WHY should help you identify the HOW, by identifying your strengths and what makes you special and unique.

You may be a gifted teacher with an interesting style, a business person with super creative ideas, or simply a person with amazing social skills and a beautiful smile.

Regardless, you need to capitalize on your skills and talents and move from good to great, from mediocrity to exceptional qualities.

4)  Are there any methods to help me identify my niche and my interests?  

For many activists, being involved in so many different capacities and activities (Saturday schools, youth groups, MSAs, fundraising) dilutes their specialties and creates a jack of all-trades, master of none. Although this point requires a longer discussion, I will only mention few suggestions:

a- Strength-finder 2.0: researchers were able to identify 34 human strengths, after compiling a huge amount of HR data, and create a test to help individuals determine their top five strengths. The cost of the basic test is $15, but believe me it is money worth spent!

b- 16 personalities: For those who want a free version of a less-accurate test, the website test gives a general idea of who you are, and what motivates you and what are the best capacities and ways to serve the community.

5) Does the world really need me in that capacity?

I always asked myself this question. There are lots of other scholars, writers, activists, and youth mentors who are serving the community on the global scale (like world renowned speakers and authors) and on the local scale (such as your local Imams and activists).

You may have different feelings, such as laziness (since already another person is doing that job), or you may feel that you are under-qualified (you are not like so and so in their knowledge)… To address this point, I leave you with a beautiful reflection from Ustath Nouman Ali Khan in his commentary on Surah Yassin:

a- The Surah narrates the story of three messengers who were sent to a community. The story then highlights the efforts of an individual who came all the way from a far place:

{And there came from the farthest end of the city a man, running. He said, “O my people, follow the messengers.} (Yasin 36:20)

The man is clearly not a messenger, just a normal man. However it was amazing how Allah shifted the whole discussion towards him, due to his passion for this message and eagerness to leave a legacy behind. You may not be THE SCHOLAR of your community, but there are many different ways and capacities to serve and excel!

b- The same Surah tells us how each of the sun and the moon has a dedicated path to follow, none of them interfere with or affect the other’s orbit.

{It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They all float, each in an orbit.} (Yasin 36: 40)

The scholars have their roles to fulfil. The prophets have their roles to fulfil! Me and you and each one of us have their unique skills and talents that they need to discover first, and then put to action.

The whole world is waiting for you and your amazing touch and fingerprints, so please take a moment to reflect, research, and eventually ask yourself: Why in the world should people be led by me?!

About Dr. Mohannad Hakeem
Dr. Mohannad Hakeem is an educator, activist, and author who has studied traditionally under multiple scholars in the Muslim world for the past 20 years. He is originally from Lebanon and currently resides in Dearborn, MI, USA, where he has helped establish multiple community initiatives and organizations, with a focus on youth empowerment and education. His most recent book, "The 40 Hadith on Community Service," draws inspiration from the Quran and the Sunnah to provide young Muslims with an "algorithm" for success and excellence in both the worldly life and the afterlife. In his professional career, Dr. Hakeem earned a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. In this role, he has taught several students, conducted research, and authored 80+ patents and technical papers.