THROUGHOUT history, leaders have played a major role in every religious community. They keep religious teachings alive in the hearts and minds of believers and motivate them to follow the true path. They are linchpins within the religious community.
Islam has also outlined the need for religious leaders. Allah says: “And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful” (3:104).
The above verse clearly defines functions of leadership. These functions necessitate certain inherent qualities like in-depth knowledge and awareness about the dynamics of the world, good and bad trends prevailing in society, commitment to world peace and devotion to the cause of religion etc. They claim no title, reward, remuneration or respect for rendering services, nor do they aspire to any official status. They are the people with Allah’s fear in their hearts, as mentioned in the Quran (35:28); they remain considerate, humble and peace-loving.
A true leader is engaged in the welfare of others.
They possess an insatiable desire of service enabling people to come together for dialogue and to build the foundation of trust and hope in societies. They can be effective and powerful vehicles of peace in fragile situations, if assigned the task.
Many local religious leaders are well-grounded in the traditional sources of knowledge. They spent years to gain competency in the different areas of traditional knowledge like fiqh, hadith and tafseer etc. However, it is in the interest of society that our religious leadership should also be aware of the ‘secular’ trends, including those generated by this age of science and information technology.
Many gadgets and inventions like mobiles, internet and other means of communication are the outcome of scientific and technological research. They are used for the benefit of society, but there are also those elements that use the same technology to promote crimes and negativity in society. Here the true religious leadership has an additional role to play in curbing such negative and harmful activity.
With leadership comes responsibilities. The present-day situation requires religious leaders to be more responsible. They have to guard themselves against demerits like arrogance, myopia and pettiness. They should highlight not just religious values from the pulpit but should also be role models for society. It is their duty to lift communities out of the rut and to focus attention on new knowledge.
They are to provide values-based glue to hold communities together and provide common ground for peacemaking. They can bring sustainable peace in times of turmoil by highlighting the importance of peace-building — a process that prevents the recurrence of violence by addressing root causes.
True and honest religious leaders do not aspire for any political position. In Muslim history, some religious leaders like Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Hanbal were offered political positions by the governments of their time, provided they toed the official line. On their refusal, they were mistreated and punished, but they did not give in.
Unfortunately, along with this true leadership, there exists a false leadership also in every community. People like Abdullah bin Ubayy — who is labelled as the leader of the hypocrites in early Islamic history — are present in every society. They are the black sheep who penetrate the sphere of leadership and consider themselves as self-appointed ‘ambassadors of God’, causing problems by hurling wrong fatwas against those who disagree with them.
Their aim is to mislead people and disturb the peace. The Holy Quran has reprimanded them many a time. The verses 2:11-12 refer to such black sheep when they say: “And when it is said to them: Make not mischief on the earth they say “We are only peacemakers. Verily! They are the ones who make mischief, but they perceive not.”
Many of our present-day society’s problems such as extremism, sectarianism and radicalisation etc are the direct result of the actions of these false leaders.
In contrast to the false, true leaders are people-centric and remain away from the corridors of power. Thousands flock to meet and seek their opinion. They are visited not out of duty and obligation, but out of love, affection and respect. A true leader does not flee in disorder nor avoids common people nor sits idle but is constantly engaged in the welfare of others. His mission demands sterling qualities to serve the public at large to the best of his abilities, even at the cost of his own comfort and interest. Their roles and responsibilities become magnified, particularly in times of crisis.
Muslim history is replete with examples of both types of leadership. Those who had practised the art of deception with a claim of leadership are remembered only with contempt and scorn. Therefore, it is essential that one is incisive in order to differentiate between both sorts of leadership.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2015
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