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THE ESSENCE OF A GREAT LEADER: BOOK REVIEW OF “THE LEADERSHIP OF MUHAMMAD” BY JOHN ADAIR

It has always been a well-known secret that in order to achieve their legendary victories, great leaders like Salahuddin Ayyubi, also known as Saladin (1137 –1193), who conquered Jerusalem in 1187 and Mehmed the Fatih (1432 – 1481), the conqueror of Constantinople adopted the leadership etiquettes of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). They both were courageous, brave, generous and humble; neither of them was a dictator nor a tyrant, and they both were charitable and showed humility. After victory, Saladin did not plunder or enslave the enemy soldiers; thus keeping the tradition of the Conquest of Makkah alive.

There is a consensus among the Muslim intellectuals that whoever follows in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in leadership, will reap great rewards. Alas, too many contemporary Muslim leaders are busy hoarding wealth while ruling with tyranny. Rulers from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt as well as other Muslim countries have siphoned off billions of dollars from the state coffers. Former Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak is allegedly said to be worth 800 billion dollars, this is while many Egyptian citizens are struggling for two daily meals. Sadly, this travesty is all too common across the Muslim lands.

However, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), according to John Adair, the author of The Leadership Of Muhammad (Kogan Page, 2014) considered himself to be the servant of his people. Despite being from a noble family he worked tirelessly throughout his life to help the needy in the Arab society. The “Arabs respected those with ‘courage, honour, magnanimity, extended hospitality to the guest, providing security to the client, granting refuge to the weak, repaying favours and dispensing generosity.” Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) excelled in all these qualities. He was thus honoured with the title of Al-Ameen, the trustworthy one, even before receiving prophethood.

In his childhood days, like many prophets, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a shepherd. As John Adair mentions, shepherds are known to lead their flock from the front, back and sometimes from the middle. To diminish the threat from predators, “the unity or cohesiveness of the flock” is always an important factor for shepherds. A lesson well learned by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from an early age, and later made into a cornerstone for the ummah. A shepherd's job includes looking after the whole flock as well as attending to the needs of an individual sheep when required.

As a teacher, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) not only changed the mind-sets within the Arabian Peninsula but also left an example for the whole world to follow. Despite their initial resistance, it was his message of truth and the global message for humanity which attracted the attention of chiefs of Makkah, chiefs like Umar bin Khattab and Hamza bin Abdul Mutalib.  For example, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) never shied away from hard work and was always “more than ready to share in any work in progress, even domestic chores.” “By sharing in the labours, dangers and hardships of his people, Muhammad exemplified a universal principle of good leadership. It is what – deep down – people expect of their leaders.”

Thus, when his followers saw him working, “none of them wanted the reputation of being the man who took it easy while the Prophet toiled in the sun. Such is the power of example.” However, it was Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) “willingness to listen and to take advice from others (that) also helped him and the Muslim commanders to make wise strategic decisions.” As John Adair says, “there is the authority of position and the authority of knowledge – ‘Authority flows from the one who knows.’

One must keep in mind that John Adair is a very learned writer on leadership, yet does not mention a single incident in the book where the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) showed signs of weakness from his part. In John Adair’s words:

Muhammad was a man with a reputation for integrity. That word, from the Latin integer whole, is especially appropriate for Muhammad. Honesty means a refusal to lie, steal or cheat in any way. Integrity goes a mile beyond honesty: it implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility or pledge.

This integrity extends through the entireness or wholeness of the character. It is found in small matters as well as great, for allegiance to truth is tested as much by small things as by those that are more important.

Leaders who are true, and always speak the truth, create trust. And trust is vital in all human relations, professional and private.”

Truth somehow has become a scarce commodity in the modern Muslim world politics. Thus, we are witnessing the humiliating behaviour of pacified Muslims leaders in the Middle East. Many in the Muslim population wonder when the next Saladin will arrive. The answer is; he is already here. Every Muslim can potentially be a Saladin, if only he changes his character and follows the examples shown by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). For centuries, Muslims world did dominate the fields of knowledge, sciences, medicine and astronomy, they also introduced many innovations and inventions to the world. That is nostalgia now. Then, the ummah was somewhat united under the Khalifa.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had a natural talent for character building; he helped create many leaders like the first Khalifa Abu Bakr and the second Khalifa Umar bin al-Khattab. Characters are built not only by hearing but by seeing. The world is still in awe at the leadership qualities of Umar bin al-Khattab, who was a student of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In John Adair’s words, “No one is born wise; a leader becomes wise – acquires practical wisdom – through natural aptitude, practice and reflection.” One of the key concepts of leadership taught by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was humility, while arrogance and arrogant people were despised.

“Because of their exaggerated sense of self, arrogant people take upon themselves more power or authority than is rightly theirs. By contrast, humble people know their limitations: they know what they know, and they know what they do not know; they know what they can do or be, and they know what they cannot do or be. As a consequence, they are not unwilling to heed advice, even when it is unsolicited, or to ask for and accept help.”

It is ironic that I am writing this article in the same month that an arrogant and insouciant US president announced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. One is then compelled to ask; who is to blame for the current quagmire that the Muslim world finds itself in? Who did more injustice during the last few centuries; the West by their colonialism of Muslim lands or the Muslims by not delivering the message of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and not highlighting the leadership qualities of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to the Western public? The tragedy is that the message was not delivered and now Muslims are paying the price for this failure.

John Adair has written a remarkable and riveting book on the topic that he is a famed expert in, leadership. He has done a brilliant job by highlighting the extraordinary leadership qualities of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and in my view, what is so wrong with the current global Muslim leadership. John Adair has very cleverly redefined what the role of a true leader is or should be in the contemporary world. The book is insightful, thought-provoking and easy to read. I would recommend the book to any reader in the field of politics, business or in any position of leadership. I felt, for convenience, the book should also have been printed as a pocketbook, but c'est la vie. It is definitely an ideal book for personal development in leadership skills and for restoring the mind.

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