Leadership and Power : Its Nature and Rightful Holder

The nation is yet under the heat of political maneuverings. Individuals and groups gripped by intense desire to 'serve' the people are totally engulfed in tricks and intrigues and sadly, blatant disregard and utter contradiction of all rules of morality and other positive human values in their quest to rule. All our senses are constantly assaulted by jingles and cajoles by candidates who leave no stone unturned to convince us that they are the best fit for the position of authority.
 
However, subsumed under all the political noise and general confusion are subtle but profound questions to which every rational mind demands answers for. Why is it that people long for political power, and why, when they have achieved it, are they so reluctant to give it up? How come the urge to 'serve' becomes a 'do or die affair'? Why is it that when people are outside the corridors of power, they condemn the powerful for their wrongs but once they themselves are in power, they become no better than their contemptible precursors?
Is it the nature of power to make a 'monkey' out of every man that sought after it? Who should actually and rightfully become the leader and what are the qualities that will stand him out?
 
What is Power?
Literally, power has been used to describe several situations and conditions. It is used to describe the ability, strength, and capacity to do something. And in relation to the exercise of power, it is used to signify the control and influence one has over other people and their actions.
 
However within the framework of politics and political relationships, power is seen as the authority to act or do something according to a law or rule. The man vested with such authority may be described in various terms depending on the sphere of influence of his authority. By whatever terms the one who has the highest authority in the land is described, the institution is one and the same, he is the leader and the one in power.
 
An intrinsic value, nevertheless, is that his power must be used for the good of man and the rule guiding his power must be fair, just and subsumed under the rule of the Creator. By all standards, the aim of political power is the establishment, maintenance and development of those virtues which makes it conducive for human life to be enriched and the prevention and eradication of those evils which are inimical to it.
 
Why Do People Long For Power?
Naturally, every action of man necessarily has a motive behind it. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
 
"Every action is based upon intention. For everyone is what he intended." (Bukhari)
 
In the first place, sometimes, people are driven into quest for power by genuine desire to forge a better way to organize society, or by faith in certain values or ideals, be they impeccable or dubious.
 
Some other times, they are probably motivated by the natural longing every human being has for self-affirmation. Incidentally, there appears to be no easier and more attractive means to achieve that than that offered by political power. In the third place, many people long for political power and are so reluctant to part with it because of the wide range of perks and privileges that are a necessary part of political life.
 
Defining Leadership In Islam
As Muslims, our understanding of the nature of leadership and the power associated with it is based on the revelation from Allaah and the example left by the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam). In him, Allaah has fashioned for leaders a model behaviour. Allaah says about the Prophet (sallaallahu alayhi wa sallam):
 
"And verily you (O Muhammad) are on an exalted standard of character." (Q68[Qalam]:4)
 
In Islaam, leadership is not an exclusive reserve of a small group of elites. Rather, depending on the situation every individual is the shepherd of a flock and occupies a position of leadership in his own right. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
 
"'All of you are guardians and responsible for your wards and the things under your care. The Imam (i.e. ruler) is the guardian of his subjects and is responsible for them and a man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband's house and is responsible for it. A servant is the guardian of his master's belongings and is responsible for them.' (The narrator said:) I thought that he also said, A man is the guardian of his father's property and is responsible for it. All of you are guardians and responsible for your wards and the things under your care." (Bukhari)
 
In most circumstances in life, Muslims are urged to appoint a leader and follow him. For example, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
 
"It is not permissible for a group of three to be in a wilderness except that one of them is appointed leader over them." (Ahmad)
 
According to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), Muslims must appoint a leader during a trip, select a leader to lead the prayer, and choose a leader for other group activities.
 
Political Power In Islaam
In Islaam, all power, political or otherwise is considered a trust. It is a form of an explicit contract or pledge between the one who holds the power (the leader) arid his followers that he will try his best to guide them, to protect them and to treat them fairly and with justice. Hence, the exercise of power in Islam is moderated by integrity and justice.
 
The Roles of the Leader
According to Islaam, the two primary roles of a leader are those of servant-leader and guardian-leader. First, the leader is the servant of his followers. He is to seek their welfare and guide them towards good. The role of the guardian-leader has been aptly described by the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) thus: to encourage the fear and awe of Allaah (taqwa), to promote justice and to protect his community against tyranny and oppression. He said:
 
"A commander (of the Muslims) is a shield for them. They fight behind him and they are protected by (him from tyrants and aggressors). If he enjoins fear of Allaah, the Exalted and Glorious, and dispenses justice, there will be a (great) reward for him; and if he enjoins otherwise, it rebounds on him." (Muslim).
 
The Bases of Power
Islam recognizes the existence of power, but suggests an etiquette for its use. A man may have influence on the behaviour of others if he has some kind of power over them. There are five of such bases for the influence we have over other people:
 
Power of Position
This is associated with a person's position in a set up. A Governor of a state or the President of nation is a man of power by virtue of the authority conferred by his positions. Generally, Islaam discourages Muslims from actively seeking positions of authority. Campaigning for a position of power is an indication that one is enamoured with the position for one's own advancement or some other self-serving reasons. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
 
"Do not seek to be a ruler, because if you are given authority for it, then you will be held responsible for it, but if you are given it without asking for it, then you will be helped in it (by Allaah)." (Bukhari)
 
The Power of Reward
When a man has influence on the financial security of others, then he has considerable power over them. When a leader controls the financial dynamics of the followers with regards to their pay, tax and general economic condition, then that authority must be exercised with utmost care and mercy to the followers.
 
Power of Coercion
Amongst the powers a leader may have over his subordinates is the power of force and coercion. It is acknowledged that sometimes for exercise of authority to be fruitful and beneficial to the large majority of people some amount of force and coercion would be necessary.
 
However, Islaam further requires that this power must never be used to coerce or force people into evil. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) emphasized that obedience to a leader is only in what is good and righteous.
 
Once, he sent an army unit (for some campaign) and appointed a man from the Ansar as its commander and ordered them (the soldiers) to obey him. (During the campaign) he became angry with them and said, "Didn't the Prophet order you to obey me?" They said, "Yes." He said, "I order you to collect wood and make a fire and then throw yourselves into it." So they collected wood and made a fire, but when they were about to throw themselves into it they started looking at each other, and some of them said, "We followed the Prophet to escape from the fire. How should we enter it now?" So while they were in that state, the fire extinguished and their commander's anger abated. The event was mentioned to the Prophet and he said, "If they had entered it (the fire) they would never have come out of it, for obedience is required only in what is good." (Bukhari)
 
Expert Power
Leaders who possess valuable expertise and information have expert power with respect to their followers who need this information to perform their task. For example, in a prayer congregation, a person may be chosen to lead the prayers because of his knowledge of Islam.
 
Charismatic Power
A person has charisma when others wish to follow him because they are attracted by his personality. Charismatic leaders, such as Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) and all other Prophets (alayhim salaam), use power for the benefit of mankind, learn from criticism, work to develop their followers into leaders, and rely on moral standards.
 
How To Identify Good Leaders
After discussing the bases of leadership in Islaam, it is apt to enumerate some of the attributes that should point to us who will be a good leader. Sadly everybody jostling for political authority make claims to righteousness. The most incorrigible liar flaunts imaginary record of impeccable truthfulness while the most arrogant person feigns meekness all in the bid to acquire power. The dilemma is that every lizard lies flat, how does one identify the one with belly-ache?
 
Leader Characteristics 
Honesty: The first tell tale of a  good leader is basic honesty.  Leaders are considered honest  to the extent that there is  consistency between word and  deed.' They do what they say they are going to do. In the  Qur'an, the bases for which Prophet Musa (alayhi salaam)  was employed was "strength and  trustworthiness" which was  noticeable in him. It took just a single encounter for the daughter of his master to identify this positive trait in him.
 
Character is like a smoke, it has an uncanny way of giving out people. Similarly, Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) was known as Sadiq (the truthful) and Amin (the trustworthy) amongst his people well before Allaah appointed him as prophet.
 
Competence: In Islaam, leadership is more than an assignment or a job; it is a trust. Even in an assignment or job one requires some expertise to be qualified to be employed. If this is so for a job, then the position of authority is in greater need of competence. A leader must know that he is doing an must have a clear idea of where he wants to lead his people to.
This has nothing to do reading throu gh 'a to do' list we given power nor is it about making bogus promises of good life.
 
The first index of competence is knowledge. When Prophet Sulayman (alayhi salaam) was considering who was fit for the job of bringing the throne of the Queen of Sheba, his preference was for knowledge as an index of competence. "One with whom was knowledge of the Scripture said:
 
'" will bring it to you within the twinkling of an eye!” then when [Sulayman] saw it placed before him, he said: This is by the Grace of my Lord to test me whether am grateful or ungrateful (Q27[Naml]:40)
 
Patience: In the Qur’an, Allaah explicitly identifies patience as one of defining character traits of Muslim leader. Allaah says:
 
“And we made from among them (Children of Isreal), leaders, giving guidance under Our Command, when they were patient and used to believe with certainty in Our Ayat (signs). (Q32[Sajdah]:24)
 
If a man develops patience as a reaction to trials of life in his private life, when he is saddled with the trials of the position of authority, he will handle with patience and large heartedness.
 
Humility: A Muslim leader has to be humble, and must never let his ego get the better of him. When a person is given to arrogance when he is out of power, because of the nature of power, such arrogance is most automatically going to increase when he is in power and this is what produces despots and tyrants. A clear index of humility is a person's preparedness to listen to advice and to consider that other people's idea could be better.
 
In sum, the Islamic model of a leader emphasizes khulq or behaving ethically towards all Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Firmly grounded by his faith in Allaah, and mindful of his role as a trustee, a Muslim ruler is expected to be just, behave righteously, strive towards self improvement, and never break his word. He is to consult with others especially in areas where he is not competent. He is expected to bear adversity patiently, and remain forever humble.
 
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