The Ideal Leadership (Part 1)


Man is a social animal.  He is divinely endowed with gregarious nature to meet socially, to plan and do tasks in groups, to delight in company, to share and enjoy fruits and even to arise against a common enemy.  He even wants to survive, defend, gain and progress. Any group or society, with its diverse needs and talents invariably needs a leader to provide unity of purpose and guidance when needed.  Thus leadership is vital in Religious, Social and Political affairs.

Certain creatures too living in a group have a leader to follow. For example the honey-bee. They instinctively follow their Queen – their leader and establish new colonies. Hence the usual practice of honey producers to pick up the Queen-bee from among the bee-hives in the wild and place it in a selected place in order to manufacture a bee-hive and automatically the bees follow.

Stressing the need of leadership, the Imam Ali ibn Musa ar-Ridha (as) said,

“We do not find any sect from sects nor any creed from creeds (of the world) survive and last long except with a guardian and a chief (to supervise them) in their religious and worldly affairs”

In Islam much stress has been laid on acquisition of Knowledge and acting with with justice and fairplay. The presence of numerous  verses and traditions on these two subjects denote their paramount importance in the progress of mankind. As such it can be rightly said that an ideal leadership mainly rests upon possession of adequate knowledge and quality of acting justly with people. Unless a leader has these two things, he can not be expected to benefit and render service to his people with his leadership.

For the selectors or electors and for the one aspiring to become a leader of any group of people, it is expedient and desirable to know the qualities which befit the position of leadership. The following saying of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) throws light on the duty of a leader:

“Whoever places himself as a leader of the people should commence with educating his own self before educating others. And his teaching should be by his own conduct before teaching by the tongue. The person who teaches and instructs his own self is more entitled to esteem than he who teaches and instructs others”

In other words, one should first be willing to search into his own innerself and endeavour to discard his own defects. To be accepted as a leader, one should be of impeccable character and true to his words. Then and only then his leadership would be effective. He must be a leader by example than by mere words. How important it is for one’s actions to match with his spoken words can be seen from the following Quranic verse:

“O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do” (61:2)


Imam Ali (as) is reported to have said that four qualities are requisite in a leader: Chastity, Good Character, Generosity and intelligence.

Obviously a leader whose private life lacks chastity and decency, whose character and conduct is demoralizing and who is devoid of generosity, wisdom and insight would not command the respect and following of his people. In another saying related by Imam al-Baqir (as) that the Holy Prophet (saw) had said,

“Leadership would not impart benefit except of a person possessing three qualities.

-Such Piety that prevents him from committing sins.

-And Forbearance with which he can control his anger.

-And Authority with which he rules (over people in such a way) till he becomes like a kindly father”

Obviously such a leader with no sufficient piety and fear of Allah which enables one to control his actions is likely to commit such sins and errors that would harm the interests of his people. His impious way of life would debar him from enjoying their respect and confidence.

Besides if a leader lacks forbearance and suffers from fits of outrage and anger, he would commit such actions as to harm others and injure their feelings. This would fail him to attract their support and co-operation. An oppressive ruler who exercises his authority with show of power causes fear to be aroused and prevents his people from enjoying mental peace and security. A true leader needs to appear like a kindly father and not a harsh authoritarian.

Describing some of the traits of the pious and beloved of God, The Holy Qur’an says,

“…..and those who control their anger and are forgiving to men and Allah loves the doers of good” (3:134)


Once there was scarcity of wheat in Madina. The price in the bazaar was mounting upwards every day. People out of panic were busy purchasing more and more in order to hoard the grain. Imam as-Sadiq (as) asked his store-keeper the amount of stock held in the house and he was informed that it was more than sufficient. The stock of wheat held in the house would last for some months to come.

When the Imam learnt of this, he at once gave the instruction to sell the whole stock to the people and then to buy domestic needs on day to day basis from the bazaar. He also gave instructions that wheat and barley be used in equal proportion when baking the daily bread so as to economise the consumption of wheat.

Thus the Imam set an invaluable example of anti-hoarding and displayed the true spirit of leadership by illustration.

Readers are requested to recite suratul-Fatiha for Marhum Ahmed H Sheriff

Released by:
Mulla Mujaheedali Sheriff

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