Man should measure his own capacity and his own knowledge when taking on the tremendous task of being a leader.
THERE are people who are able to lead while there are others who are meant to be led.
Leaders are necessary for the smooth running of societies and to move nations and civilisations forward. They are the ones, in the words of American author John Maxwell, who “know the way, go the way and show the way” to others.
In Islam, leaders are expected not only to administer the world but also to take care of the religion. Al-Ghazali, the great thinker of Islam, said the good ordering of religion is very much dependent on the world that is well administered. Hence, good leaders are indispensable.
Leadership is the most basic mechanics that guarantees the well-being of a group or society. It can exist even with the minimum number of people, as reflected in the Prophetic saying that “if any people embark on a journey, one of them must be appointed as a leader”.
Leadership will have a great impact, either good or bad, on a great number of people. Good leadership will surely bring benefit to many people, just as bad leadership will destroy the whole nation.
We read in history of leaders who have built great civilisations due to their good leadership, just as we have also read of those leaders who have ruined the lives of the masses due to their bad leadership.
Leadership deals with power. At whichever level a person is entrusted with leadership, there must be some element of power to enable him to command the followers in order for him to get things done.
It is only with the help of power that leaders can ensure stability and harmony in a society. With power, undesirable things can be avoided and negative ones can be put under control.
With power, too, leaders can be held accountable for their actions and decisions since it is the power that they possess which enables them to make decisions with free choice.
But the problem with power is that it also offers great temptations towards abuse and corruption, if left unchecked. Without proper sense of responsibility and correct knowledge, leaders will easily fall prey to this thunderous sway of power.
Hence, as the saying of British politician Lord Acton goes, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And American poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich adds, “The possession of unlimited power will make a despot of almost any man.”
It is not in the nature of human beings to become corrupt. On the contrary, it is the nature of power that it is so enormous that human beings are not able to bear it without due preparation.
The Quran talks about the great task for human beings. God has offered the responsibility to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but men accepted it with ignorance and injustice: “We did indeed offer the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains. But they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof. But man undertook it. He was indeed unjust and foolish.” (al-Ahzab 33:712)
In commenting on this verse, British-Indian Islamic scholar Abdullah Yusuf Ali says man is called unjust and foolish by the Quran because he failed to measure his own capacity or his own knowledge when he undertook the tremendous task of being the Vicegerent (khalifah) of Allah on earth.
Due to this factor, leadership should be approached with a great sense of trust and humility. It is a trust not only from people, as enshrined in the democratic mantra, but more importantly, it is a trust from God.
Man must be reminded of the origin of power and its evanescent nature. The Quran reminds man about this reality, “Say; ‘O Allah, Lord of Power. You give power to whom You please and You take away power from whom You will. And You exalted whom You will and bring low whom You please. In Your hand is all Good. Verily You have power over all things.” (Ali ‘Imran 3:133)
Al-Ghazali reminded the ruler of his time, Sultan Mustazhiri, of the importance of being humble about power since the real owner of power is God the almighty. He asserted that power is a divine attribute.
In this world, man is endowed with only a tiny speck of this attribute as a trust, yet many are overwhelmed by its influence and fall prey to its deception. Pharaoh, according to al-Ghazali, had fallen under the deceitful influence of power which led him to declare that “I am your Lord, the most high.” (al-Nazi’at 79:24)
The importance of leadership as a trust will be more understandable considering the fact that it deals with the responsibility of taking care of the well-being of a great number of people. Any form of irresponsibility will have an implication for a great number of people.
Furthermore, leadership works within the pyramid system, in which the higher the leadership position, the bigger the implication will be. Any single policy decided by a leader will surely greatly affect the followers and masses as a whole.
That is why corruption at the higher level of leadership is more detrimental to the public, compared to the lower level of leadership.
That is the reason the Prophet says the position of a leader or ruler is very great if he performs well in his leadership. The Prophet says the just leader is the first among seven groups who will be under the shade of Allah on the Day when there is no shade except His shade.
On the other hand, another hadith says, “Any superior who misrules his followers shall go to Hell.”Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran The STAR Home News Opinion IKIM Views 28 July 2015