“thank you very much for writing this much life changing book”
What Is It and How to Deal with It?
(Bringing Islam to the World One Concept at a Time!
Taking the Qur’an to Every Home and Heart that Needs It --
And which One Does Not?)
A Note on Copyright
No part of this book may be reproduced or used for commercial purposes without the author’s express permission.
In Islamic culture, this is referred to as Ijazah. Its violation is a sin and adherence to it is a source of blessing – Barakah.
In the Western culture – and law – it is called Copyright. There are penalties associated with its violation. It is also part of the overall Intellectual Property Rights that are protected and enforceable internationally.
The same is true of using ideas and quotes from the book – or from any other writing or speech by anyone – for educational or other purposes. This should not be done without crediting the source properly and clearly.
That means any ideas, points or words taken out of a book must be attributed to the author of the book every time they are used in speech or writing – whether it is this book or some other book; whether it is an Islamic book or a non-Islamic book; whether the author is a Muslim or a non-Muslim.
Failure to do this constitutes theft – Sariqah – from an Islamic point of view. At best it is irresponsible behavior, and it betrays a serious lack of proper manners and morals – Adab and Akhlaq.
In English language this is called plagiarism. Students fail courses and are sometimes thrown out of universities and colleges for plagiarizing. Authors and professors get a major black mark against their name – and quite possibly a serious setback to their careers.
The overlap between the Islamic and Western cultural traditions and legal systems – whether on this or any other point – derives from their common origins in the books of Allah and in the teachings and practices of the messengers of Allah from Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus to Muhammad, Sallallahu wa Sallam Alaihim Ajma’een – May Allah bless them all!
Common mooring of Islam with other Faiths of the Book – such as Judaism and Christianity – is one of the central themes of the Qur’an. This commonness of roots is a theme that is introduced right at the beginning of the Qur’an in Surah 2, Al- Baqarah, Ayah 4. It is also a theme the Qur’an returns to over and over again.
As a result, belief in the shared origin of these faiths is a central part of belief in the Qur’an itself. It is also a requirement for receiving guidance from the text and teachings of the Qur’an.
In other words it is part of the requirements of being a Muslim. That means, Muslims could not call themselves believers in Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, unless they also call themselves believers in Prophets Moses and Jesus, Alaihimas Salam – may Allah bless them both.
There is barely another example in the entire human history of one faith conferring such high honors on the major figures of another faith.
Unfortunately, however, it is also something that few Muslims, and fewer non-Muslims, know or fully understand in a practical contemporary sense – beyond a cliché that many may repeat routinely.
The consequences of this ignorance and lack of understanding have been deadly for both parties – Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Not the least at the present time when much of the contemporary world is rocked and sundered by a failure of the Islamic and Western cultures to understand, come to terms and work with one another.
The responsibility for ideas expressed in this book is entirely my own, as I purport to represent or speak for no individual, group, organization, association, institution, country, society, culture, civilization or people.
Truth: More than a Cure for Common Cold
Cultural illiteracy and insensitivity cause not only minor irritations in human relations and encounters, but also serious tragedy and terror on a world scale. So far as humanity is concerned they are worse than the common cold.
For, unlike common cold, cultural conflict is a deadly disease at the heart of which lies ignorance – either real or artificially imposed – and the slavery of the mind that results from it.
A slave mind then gets filled with prejudice, which, if left unchecked ripens into hate – at times pathological hate – that leads to large-scale violence and killings.
Truth, therefore, is central to a proper understanding of one culture by another, of one people by another.
Truth is also central to a proper understanding of human beings of themselves as well as of their role in society and in relation to other societies.
So also is truth central for a fair, just and lasting resolution of issues and problems between peoples, cultures, societies and civilizations.
Thus, no matter how you look at it, truth is key to human life on earth.
On the one hand, it is key to human liberty.
At the same time – and necessarily so – truth is also key to security, stability, peace, harmony and prosperity.
For all people.
And at all times.
This book is part of a long-standing effort by the author to enhance cultural understanding and cooperation in a world troubled by cultural illiteracy, confusion and misunderstanding and home to the strife and violence that result from them.
This book is an effort to offer humanity a cure for this sad state of affairs, which seems to afflict it like a chronic cold if not worse – a serious affliction of the head and the heart that if left unaddressed could produce serious consequences for the patient.
Among the deadly and diabolical consequences produced by this affliction is the entire episode of September 11, 2001, as well as its aftermath.
Underlying this effort is the belief that, if humanity has to enjoy a collective breath of true peace and happiness in this world, facts and truth must inform human thought and discourse and guide human life.
For, truth is freedom and falsehood is bondage – both physical and mental.
Truth is also fundamental to human beings’ spiritual well being – both in this world and the next.
The fact is often one cannot exist without the other – I mean truth and freedom, falsehood and slavery.
Conversely, getting a taste of one would inevitably set human beings on a quest for the other.
That means give people the truth, and they will pursue liberty in all its dimensions.
Liberty of mind.
Liberty of body.
Liberty of thought.
Liberty of speech.
And liberty of action.
By the same token, feed human beings a steady diet of falsehood and soon you will be able to turn them into robotic slaves of both body and mind.
Traders of Truth
That is why those whose main preoccupation is to trade in human liberty – in whatever form – have been throughout history – and always will be – also manufacturers and merchandisers of falsehood.
Given the pursuit and the profession they are in, they need to be.
These are people who often sell truth in small doses, or in large quantities – depending on what they consider to be the best policy or strategy at a given time or on a given issue – but rarely in full measure.
Often, their main concern is, as the Qur’an puts it, with mixing truth with falsehood – and thus covering up the truth.
They, thus, create a new alloy that is often neither full truth nor complete falsehood – but a little bit of both.
They are dealers of mixed truths and often of manufactured facts.
The final result, however, is still the same: hiding truth from the people – from the eyes of those who need it most.
The often ill-informed, poorly motivated, naïve, nice, gullible, trusting masses of humanity everywhere, who often lack the means, the resources, the skills, the sophistication and the perseverance needed to go on a relentless hunt for truth.
And they are often quite skilled at it – these mass marketers of mixed truth and alloyed falsehood.
Truth taken in expedient measures and falsehood leavened with sprinkles of reality.
They need to be, given what they are after – the hearts and minds of people, which somehow lie in the way of all that they seek in this world such as wealth, power and land and its resources.
For, that is what the falsehood merchants of this world most lust after. Mixing falsehood with truth is for them the means of attaining their ignoble ends in this world.
Above all, domination and control over the minds and bodies of people – Annaas, as the noble Qur’an refers to human beings in a gender-inclusive way: the masses, the citizens, the voters, the subjects and others everywhere who are the rightful owners of this world and its resources with a title to the same from God Almighty.
It is these people, Annaas – the masses of humanity everywhere – who, in the mind of the makers and marketers of falsehood, need to be defeated; it is they who need to be controlled; and it is their consent, where necessary, that needs to be secured – engineered or manufactured, as some have suggested.
No matter how – using, as it were, whatever means necessary.
It is these people – the broad masses of humanity (Annaas) or its relevant target segments in specific places and times – that need to be hoodwinked and fooled if access to wealth, power and land and its resources is to be secured by the greedy, selfish and unscrupulous elements in this world.
That is why those who are in the business of fooling people using mixed truths and manufactured facts are generally very good at what they do.
And they need to be, given the fact that they are out to fool a lot of people, for as long as they could, for as big a reward as they could secure.
Truth Is Light
In reality, truth is light and falsehood is darkness.
And truth is life-giving.
And falsehood is disaster – and death.
For both the mind and the body – and for the spirit – for individuals as well as for groups and organizations; for societies as well as for cultures and civilizations.
That is because truth is designed by God as a cure for many a human ill – individual, social, societal, cultural, civilizational.
As the Bible puts it, truth is designed to set human beings free.
Falsehood, on the other hand, was the instrument that the devil used to enslave the human race. He used it to get Adam and his mate thrown out of their home in paradise by coaxing and manipulating them into eating of the forbidden tree.
The devil thus caused them to lose their carefree life; their freedom; and their dignity and honor in paradise – in the boundless space of God’s care, love, mercy, compassion and grace.
The devil lied to Adam and Eve to accomplish his goal of depriving them of their home in paradise.
For that is what the devil does – lie.
Because that is what the devil is – a liar, a deceiver, a dissembler and a manufacturer and marketer of falsehood.
And that is what the devil wants – take away from people their homes, lands, properties, possessions, livelihood, dignity, liberty, security and their very well being and true happiness. Right here in this world as well as in the next world.
And he uses unsubstantiated assertions, flawed logic, shoddy evidence as well as outright fabrications and concoctions – falsehood – to achieve his purposes.
Falsehood, thus, is a major weapon in the devil’s arsenal for war against Adam, his family and children.
It was falsehood that led to the fall of man – and woman – from paradise.
Consequently, paradise cannot be regained, to use Milton’s words, without a commitment to truth – the full truth and nothing but truth.
That means nothing will return the fallen human race to paradise – and cause it to regain God’s grace – right here in this world, or in the next world, except a relentless and uncompromising pursuit of truth.
Not truth laced with falsehood, not doctored data, not fudged facts, not dis- or misinformation, not obfuscation in the service of personal or political expediency, but truth – simple, clear, whole and complete truth – and nothing but truth.
Truth Is God
What everyone needs to understand clearly is this: In the final analysis, truth is none other than God Almighty himself.
God is the ultimate truth – the ultimate reality, the irreducible fact beyond which there is nothing.
God Almighty is what the Qur’an calls Al-Haqq – The truth.
Annallaha Huwal Haqq, says the Qur’an in Soorah Al-Hajj, 22, Ayah 62.
Indeed Allah is The Truth (22:62).
And then, referring to the Day of Judgment, Allah says in Soorah Annoor, 24, Ayah 25:
Wa Ya’lamoona Annallaha Huwal
On that day shall they know that it is
indeed God himself who is the clear
and open truth (24:25).
Thus, when we talk about truth and reality – error-free and illusion-free reality – it is God Almighty himself that we are really talking about.
The only true, eternal and independent state of being.
Kullu Shai-in Halikun Illa Wajhah
(Soorah Al-Qasas, 28, Ayah 88).
Everything else other than God
shall perish (28:88).
Truth about Islam and Muslims
Among those that are in urgent need of truth today are Islam and Muslims.
And, of course, Christians and others – and the people of the world in general.
That is the nature of this world: its inhabitants need truth. They always have needed it.
And they always will.
Their life chances and outcomes right here in this world and after their death, in the next world, will be shaped by the role they allow truth to play in their lives.
That is why Allah sent his messengers and prophets to the people of this world – one after another.
Now that no new prophets or messengers are set to come, those who are holders of the torch given to them by the earlier prophets are left with the obligation of bringing truth to a falsehood-filled, truth-deprived world.
The people of the world need it today, as much as they have ever needed it before.
And they need truth from both Muslims and non-Muslims.
And they need truth about both Islam and Muslims and about the rest of the world.
They need truth about the nature of Islam and about the role of Islam and Muslims in today’s world.
Islam and Muslims in the West
Truth is needed right here in the Western part of Allah’s world about Islam and Muslims.
The West has been for centuries home to those who profess allegiance to earlier prophets and messengers of Allah – Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and others in the Bible – may Allah bless them all.
The West is now, for the past some decades – once again – home to increasing numbers of Muslim immigrants, converts and their native-born Muslim offspring.
Not that Muslims were ever completely out of Europe and the West. Their expulsion from Granada, Spain, in 1492, was but a chapter in the long history of Islam’s and Muslims’ association with the West.
As was their expulsion from other parts of Europe – Hungary, Prague, Vienna.
As were their more recent tribulations in Bosnia, when they were brought to the brink of genocide at the hands of Serb nationalists.
In the same way, the return of Muslims in large numbers to the West in more recent times is merely another chapter – one of the most recent ones – in their checkered and eventful history in the West.
But history at the present time is in a fast-forward mode. Events accelerate at breakneck speed.
Ka Lamhil Basar, as the Qur’an puts it in Soorah Annahl, 16, in Ayah 77, referring to events on the Day of Judgment.
Like the blinking of an eye (16:77).
Muslims were allowed – by God of course, who else? – a few decades to get their act together, as the saying goes.
This meant a number of things, among them the following:
- Get hold of the truth about themselves and Islam and the new environment in which they found themselves in the West.
- Come up with some useful, practical and up-to-date ideas on how to be Muslims – how to practice Islam; what it means to be Muslim – in the Western world – with all its wealth and power and with all its technological, social, economic and political sophistication, access and opportunities. On how to be Muslims in a way that would be beneficial for Muslims as well as non-Muslims.
In some ways, the new Muslims in the West did a remarkable job. They used this God-given opportunity to establish communities, mosques and schools.
In some other ways, they were less successful. Most important of all, they were unable to leave their historical baggage behind.
Many of them were frozen into a mental frame that looked at the West as the enemy of a thousand years, rather than as their home of the present and a God-given opportunity for the future.
Some of their scholars, leaders, busybodies and activists produced all kinds convoluted social models in the name of Islam some of which taught Muslims everything about how to make do in the alien and hostile environment of the West and virtually nothing about their natural obligation to build a permanent home and a future for themselves and their children in their new place of immigration.
As a result, many Muslims lived in the West – and hated the West. Many of them took advantage of the educational, economic and financial opportunities in the West – and cursed the West.
Many young Muslims were fed diets of messages in the name of Islam that over time distanced and alienated them from proper grounding in their native Western environment. Some of these young people went scampering to deserts and mountains back home – wherever that was and whatever it meant – in search of purer and more perfect and nourishing Islamic pastures.
Others – with an eye on the color of money and also with a desire to be of service while the going was good – simply dedicated themselves to tapping into the increasingly deep and rich pockets of the Muslims and the captive market that the Muslim consumers of the West offered.
Halal food, Islamic books, services and conventions and Muslim trinkets thrived. Dead or alive, Muslims were good for business.
Islam became big business.
Yet others saw in the growing wealth of Muslims in the West a boundless opportunity for raising funds for their favorite causes and charities – once again, back home – and exploited it with single-minded concentration.
Jum’ah Khutbahs, as if they were not already stillborn and perfunctory on most Mimbars in most places in the world, were given a final blow by turning them into blatant pleas for dollars, pounds and other hard currency – for any cause or purpose anywhere.
Lost in the midst of all this excitement and flurry of Islamic enterprise was a simple question: What kind of future were the Muslims building for themselves and their children right here in the West – five years, fifteen, fifty, one hundred years from today?
But time and tide wait for no one. Allah turned the wheel of time – as he always does. And all of a sudden the roof came down on the heads of the Muslims in the West.
The environment in the West – and all over the world – changed suddenly to make Muslims the victims of doubt, fear, suspicion and manhunt.
There were no large-scale barbed wired compounds and corrals for the Muslims – at least not yet and certainly not in the traditional sense, but the Muslims were now being herded in increasing numbers into electronic holding pens with electronic fences and monitoring devices – but life for Muslims in the West, or anywhere else, was not to be the same again.
Then on a clear day, out of a blue sky, came thunderbolts of divine wrath targeting Muslim torpor, misdeed and misdirection.
From that moment on, life changed for the Muslims in the West: at the airports; on board the airplanes; at embassy counters during entry and exit applications; at customs and immigration checkpoints; on the road; on college campuses; and practically everywhere else.
Remember Soorah Wal ‘Asr? Remember how in that Soorah Allah evokes the powerful notion of time to warn human beings to get their act together as it were?
All of a sudden – as if Allah had not warned the Muslims along with the non-Muslims – Wal ‘Asr happened to the Muslims in the West.
In any case, the presence of Islam and Muslims in the West, therefore, is not a new one. It is an old, old story.
Many Muslims don’t realize this. But what most Muslims generally don’t ask is, if the story is an old and oft-repeated one, does the ending always have to be the same.
And that is a function of flawed leadership.
For, that is what leadership is all about: the ability, the foresight, the understanding and the skill to ask the right questions at the right time and to offer answers that point the way to success – for Muslims and for others; right here in this world as well as in the next world.
Muslims were, after all, the ones who were sent into this world with the golden key to the ultimate win-win solution to every human problem.
Alas, how easily Muslims tend to misplace that key at every opportunity they get!
From being a potential win-win – win for Muslims and win for non-Muslims – the situation in the West fast turned on its head and became lose-lose for both.
The Qur’an, once again, proved itself right.
A Premium on Truth
Today, in this emerging brave new world of ours, as Huxley once called it, truth is at a premium.
Truth about Islam and Muslims – and about much of the rest of the world.
As a result, there is no nobler goal for anyone to pursue in these troubled times than truth.
For the pursuit of truth is, ultimately, none other than the pursuit of the divine.
Everyone, therefore, needs to turn to truth – beyond political expediency and personal preference – to bring to themselves and to the rest of the world a better understanding of themselves and others.
Part of this general pursuit of truth is the indispensable attempt to promote truth and clarity about Islam and Muslims. In the context of the events of the past several years, this has become a universal imperative in today’s world – whether for card-carrying academics or for the lay public; and whether for Muslims or for non-Muslims.
The following pages are an attempt to shed a little light – and bring, hopefully, a bit of truth to bear – on the all-important question of leadership from a checkered perspective that includes common sense on the one hand and Islamic teachings and examples on the other hand.
Because, leadership is firmly linked to truth, and dilution of truth these days on a global level is a mark of failing leadership.
That is why the greatest leader – by any definition of that term – that the world has ever known was distinguished from the very beginning, and throughout his life, by an unshakable adherence to truth and integrity.
I am referring here to Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, a greater leader than whom never existed throughout human history, judging by any standard.
Nothing provides a stronger proof of this than the honorific titles of Assadiq and Al-Ameen that the pagan world had conferred upon Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, during his youth at Makkah.
These Arabic expressions mean someone who is true in his speech as well as in his conduct – a man of integrity in every aspect of his life and character.
Whether in speech or in conduct, Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, set the best standards for human beings to follow. For, he was, even before Allah picked him as his messenger to humanity, always honest and truthful, in his word as well as in his deed.
And honest and truthful he remained during all of his tenure on earth as God’s emissary to the humankind.
Islam Is Leadership
For Muslims – or for anyone else – Islam is leadership.
It is leadership over one’s own person and situation; leadership in one’s family; leadership in one’s neighborhood and immediate environment; leadership in the society; and leadership in the broader arena of human life in general.
There isn’t a situation in life where from an Islamic point of view leadership is not an issue.
Every one of you is a shepherd, Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, is reported to have said, each responsible for a flock.
I have never come across a more amazing definition of leadership than this.
According to a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, for Muslims the quorum for leadership is three.
“When three Muslims set out on a task together, let them,” says the noble Hadith, “appoint one of them as a leader.”
That means, from an Islamic point of view, when there are three people together – whoever and wherever they may be – they must choose one of them as their leader.
The specific wording of the Hadith is of critical importance here.
It is highly significant that the Hadith does not say, “Let one of them become the leader.”
So also the Hadith does not say, “Let one of them appoint himself the leader.”
Nor does the Hadith say, “Let one of them assume leadership” or “assume the charge or mantle of leadership.”
The Hadith, on the other hand, clearly states, “Let them appoint one of them as leader.”
The locus of power and action on the question of leadership in this Hadith is clearly the general membership of the group – every one of the three people in the group.
In a broader societal context, this would automatically mean the people – the public, the masses, the citizenry.
It would mean every single member of the community or society.
This is the concept that the Qur’an, on more than 200 occasions, refers to as Annaas – the people.
This was an amazingly powerful, groundbreaking and revolutionary – and gender-neutral – concept that the Qur’an introduced to the world in the seventh century of the Christian era. But the Muslims, alas, threw away this divinely ordained gender-neutral concept of Annaas in the Qur’an – and the way of life that it signaled – and replaced it in their English translations of the noble book with the gendered expression of Mankind.
Mankind, unlike the Qur’anic Annaas, was part of the legacy and lexicon of the Christian West’s male-centered view of the world with its roots in the Bible.
As for this Hadith itself, citizen representation and participatory democracy never had a clearer, crisper or more elegant expression than these divinely articulated words issuing out of the mouth of the man whom Allah had chosen as his messenger to humanity for all times to come.
The self-evident principle embodied in this Hadith is free and informed choice on the part of everyone in this elemental social grouping of three. I am characterizing the choice as informed because each member of a group of three is expected to know the other two quite well.
According to the Hadith, it is from within the group that the leadership emerges; and it is a leadership that is put in place by the other two in the group of their full volition.
This provides a strong foundation for a divinely ordained participatory and democratic culture in Muslim communities and societies.
And it creates a culture of participation in the life of Muslims that ranges from the most elementary and personal to the most complex and political.
The Muslims, however, in less than a half-century from the death of the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, replaced this choice-based participatory electoral system of leadership and government with hereditary monarchy.
The resultant culture of generalized authoritarianism and political oppression has continued to haunt the Muslims right down to the present times, in their private as well as public lives.
Leadership Is Accountability
Also in Islam, leadership is accountability.
In Islam, everyone is a leader in his or her own domain – and therefore accountable for it.
This was the all-encompassing Islamic model of leadership that Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, laid out over 1400 years ago.
Therefore, leadership in Islam is the responsibility – before God and man – to do the right thing; to be the best you can be; to mobilize the best and the most resources you can; to utilize the best available means and work to improve them continually; and to provide, to the best of your ability, the support everyone else in your family, neighborhood, society and the entire world may need.
For those who don’t believe in Islam, leadership is simply the difference between success and failure; between poverty and prosperity; and between life and death.
Leadership is integral to Islam – unbeknownst, alas, like so many other wonderful things to which Islam is home, to many Muslims.
And, of course, to most non-Muslims.
But in Islam, leadership is simply part of being a Muslim. It is part of a Muslim’s everyday life. It is part of every Muslim’s core belief and behavior – at least in theory if not in practice.
But certainly more, also, in practice than most Muslims – or non-Muslims – realize.
And so is the concept, as we indicated earlier, that lies at the heart of leadership – accountability.
It is a concept that is central to Islam on the one hand and to leadership on the other hand.
That is why I said at the beginning of this section that Islam is leadership.
Another way of stating this is to say Islam is accountability.
Muslims are accountable – both before God and his creation – for everything they do in this world, every minute of their earthly existence.
Leadership: A Scale of Fairness and Equality
Another translation of the same basic idea is law and order and a culture and an entire way of life based on laws and principles and not on people and personalities.
That is what Islam is – so little known, alas, by so many people in this world, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
It is also equality of all human beings before the law and the notion of the celebrated blindness of justice.
That means, if you are a leader, you must work to create the best laws and enforce them with an equal hand – upholding the scale of fairness and equality.
“Use a perfectly balanced scale!”
says the Qur’an (Surah Al-Isra’, 17, Ayah 35; Surah Ashu’ara’, 26, Ayah 182).
Elsewhere – in Soorah Arrahmaan, 55, Ayah 8 – the Qur’an places the question of justice, equality, fairness, balance and nonpartisanship in a broader cosmic context.
Here a paraphrase:
He then raised the sky and put down the scale, so that you will not commit
excesses and transgressions against the scale (55:8).
Those with eyes to see can see what a sad transcript the whole of human history is of human transgressions against the scale of justice, fairness and equality created by God.
It is a history of leadership in most instances gone astray.
Islam came to precisely address this lopsided situation in human affairs.
It came to give the long-suffering humanity – denied justice and deprived of equality – a new lease of life.
And a new hope of liberty.
This, therefore, is what Islam is. And this, also, is what leadership at bottom is.
And what applies to leadership also applies to its foil or counterpart – discipline; obedience; respect for authority and for law and order; and, above all, a peaceful, reasoned and negotiated approach to problem solving and conflict resolution.
In fact, a Muslim, by definition, is both a leader and a follower – perhaps more so than in any other system of thought, belief and behavior.
And in either situation – whether as a leader or a follower – goodwill, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, peace, reason, tact, wisdom, the better and the nobler way, are his tools of trade.
Therefore, talking about leadership, anywhere and in any context, is in effect talking about Islam and Muslims.
This is another one of those fading frontiers that Muslims, sadly, are far from crossing. But cross this frontier they must, for, few other peoples of the world are challenged today as seriously, and with more serious or disastrous consequences, than are the Muslims.
Muslims have trouble with the leadership question mostly because many Muslims don’t have a clear understanding of Islam itself – of what it is to be a Muslim at a given time and in a given place.
Riding a Train Called Islam
Most Muslims go through Islam as if they were riding a train.
Often they have no clear idea where the train is headed or even what their own destination is. Nor do they really know why and how they got on the train in the first place.
Many of them even lack proper documents for travel – a valid passport, a visa or a ticket. Many of them are there just because that is where they found themselves – on a train called Islam.
Going who knows where.
It just happens that this thing on which many Muslims find themselves is indeed a train called Islam – and a fast-paced one. And like all high-speed trains in motion, this hyperfast train also is hurtling along at breakneck speed – into the future.
A future few Muslims fully comprehend and fewer still are equipped to deal with.
Islam’s Space-Time Coordinates
This is what I call Islam’s space-time coordinates – and the space-time coordinates of individual Muslims as well as of Muslim groups, organizations and societies.
This is the supreme challenge of being Muslim – understanding and practicing Islam successfully in the environment in which Muslims, as individuals, groups and societies, find themselves.
That means, Islam as it manifests itself in its adherents and in a society at a certain point of time, in a given physical and geographical area, and in a certain cultural environment.
This environment – reality at every time and place – is a dynamic thing. It is always in flux.
Living organisms – humans are at the top of that list and Muslims are right at the heart of the human race – must understand, accommodate, even anticipate and cope with their changing environment if they have to be successful.
That is the law of this world – the law of nature and of nature’s God, as Thomas Jefferson would put it.
And it is Sunnatullah, as the Qur’an puts it in Soorah Al-Isra’, 17, Ayah 77.
This does not mean that Muslims change their Deen – the way of life that Allah chose for them and for everyone else.
What it means for Muslims is studying their environment carefully and scientifically; understanding it as clearly and fully as possible; and mastering the skills, techniques and technologies – physical, social, cultural, political, financial, economic, legal, electronic, other – needed to master the environment and optimize its use.
Nor should the Muslims forget the historical context – how Islam and Muslims are juxtaposed at a given time and place to all other peoples and cultures around them at that particular point in human history.
People and societies so juxtaposed have mutual obligations and rights, according to Islam.
Without an adequate understanding and harnessing of one’s environment, human beings compromise their power to act rationally. Instead of being the masters of the environment, they become its slaves and victims.
In other words, they simply lose the power to be Muslims – effective, successful, real Muslims.
Much of Islam then becomes a cliché and Muslims end up being either fatalistic robots or rebels without focus or direction with little to guide their steps or fuel their fire except a generalized disgruntlement with the world – the environment.
Many of them at that point seek a quick escape to the next world instead of living their lives to the full on this earthly abode, of which Allah made them the masters and vicegerents – a life full of compassion and benefit to all the denizens of this world, human as well as nonhuman.
A proper grasp of one’s space-time coordinates, therefore, is a critical requirement for living a successful life on earth in any truly meaningful sense of that expression.
It is also a critical requirement if anyone has to become a successful practitioner of Islam.
Good and great leaders, Muslim or otherwise – and successful people in general – have a great sense of their environment and of the times in which they live.
Leadership without a proper grasp of space-time coordinates is generally a formula for failure. And it does not matter whether that leadership is Muslim or non-Muslim.
Leadership Crisis in the Modern World
The modern world is a leadership world. For, there is a general leadership crisis – and paucity of good leadership – in the world today – among both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Everywhere, people are paying a heavy price for leadership that is flawed, tainted or inadequate, either by design or default.
Islam and Muslims are among the foremost and major victims of flawed leadership.
This is ironic because Islamic teachings provide all the leadership ideas and methods anyone would ever want. But sometimes Muslims are among the last to know about some of these things – which again comes down to the question of leadership.
In general, Muslims have not been able to produce the kind of leadership that will transform Muslim groups, organizations and societies into models of political, economic, cultural, social and technological success. Even though numerous Muslim individuals have attained great personal success in these areas.
Yet, Muslim history is full of examples of great leaders who had a major impact not only locally but also globally, not only on their own people, but also on others.
Nor are the non-Muslims immune to the problems of flawed or tainted leadership.
Leadership Failure: Some Examples
The scandals that have rocked a predominantly non-Muslim Wall Street in the United States, so persistently over the past few years, are a glaring example of leadership failure – economic, social, religious as well as political.
Examples include Savings and Loans bailouts of the past and the energy giant Enron and the communication giant WorldCom crises of the present (2001-2002).
They are joint manifestations of corporate corruption and greed on the one hand and regulatory ineptitude, oversight failure and political expediency on the other hand. They are at bottom failures of the nation’s moral fiber.
They are all problems of the failure of leadership at all levels.
Regardless of their specific cause – or combination of causes – the fact is that these leadership failures have ruined countless lives and families.
So also, problems of pollution, environmental degradation, inadequate healthcare, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, violence, discrimination and police brutality are all traceable, at least in part, to problematic leadership at one level or another.
And so were the attempted genocide, some years ago, of Bosnian Muslims and mass rapes of Bosnian women in organized rape camps as instruments of war at the hands of Serbian war criminals – leadership failures on the part of the United Nations, NATO, the mass media and their affiliate or parent nations and societies.
Similarly, an essential failure of political, cultural and moral leadership locally and globally lies at the heart of the persistent massacres of Indian Muslims by Hindu mobs in India. These massacres, largely ignored by the various echelons and varieties of world leadership, take the form of repetitive pogroms that border on genocide.
Failure of Muslims in many parts of the world to break out of a culture of poverty, ignorance and corruption is also indicative of a generalized leadership failure at a number of levels on the part of the Muslims – at the level of government as well as at the level of cultural, business, communication and religious organizations and elites.
Muslim leadership in the West – Europe, America and the Caribbean – and elsewhere has plodded to keep pace with a world that spun around them with whirlwind speed. Little wonder it could not stop, forestall or foresee a global catastrophe of the nature and dimensions of Nine Eleven.
The result was that American, Western as well as the global Muslim communities – the Muslim Ummah as a whole – were taken by complete surprise and crushed by the consequences.
But then no one else – not all the successful and highly sophisticated Western sources and agencies – had any clear idea as to what was really going on or what was about to happen.
Some Muslim groups and organizations, however, have attempted to rise to the occasion and provide leadership to the Muslims at this rather difficult time. The Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the United States and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) in the United Kingdom deserve recognition in this regard.
CAIR in particular is giving indications of having a good grasp of its environment in the United States and the role of Islam in that environment. It is doing some of the things the Muslims should have done – and some individual Muslims did – long time ago.
But much work remains to be done. A broader vision for Islam and Muslims in the West is yet to be articulated.
My twin concepts of the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah, first advanced in early 1990s, and of The Golden Triangle of Islam in the West, presented to the Muslim community in the late 1990s, are still to take hold of the consciousness of the broader Muslim community in the West.
One of the major limiting factors with regard to these ideas is their lack of exposure to large Muslim populations nationally and internationally.
To me these are all problems associated with leadership at different levels.
Hopefully, this book will act as a wakeup call to both Muslims and non-Muslims, both at home and abroad, on the subject of leadership.
Hopefully, the book’s contents as well as its somewhat direct and unconventional writing style, would help a wide circle of readership, inclusive of both Muslims and non-Muslims, to better analyze, evaluate and understand the leadership in its midst and thus, maybe, work to raise its standard – both in terms of performance and accountability.
Qur’an and Hadith: Wisdom and Action
For Muslims, no matter which way they turn, there is no escaping the Qur’an and the Hadith.
Nor, for that matter, have the non-Muslims that option available to them without paying a dear price for its exercise.
For, Qur’an and Hadith, being directly from God, are guaranteed – and shown to be so in practice – to work to improve the lives of humans – all humans, everywhere and in every age.
Other models and methods, on the other hand, are products of trial and error. That means, by their very nature they carry on their back a significant error component.
They are also generally speaking creatures of their time and place – of their space-time coordinates.
Thus, while humanity may solve some of its problems some of the time using its own wits and brains – generally at enormous social, political, economic, cultural and moral cost – Qur’an and Hadith added to the working of the human thought, science and initiative are guaranteed to solve all human problems – for Muslims as well as for non-Muslims – all the time.
The cost of accepting and implementing Qur’an and Hadith is minimal compared to the cost of experimenting with alternative trial-and-error-based models and methods.
The trouble is, non-Muslims shun Qur’an and Hadith as something that belongs exclusively to the Muslims. Muslims in general have done nothing to dispel this notion.
Generally, Muslim efforts to point out the relevance and applicability of Qur’an and Hadith to specific Western or other non-Muslim contexts and environments today are conspicuous either by their absence and flimsiness or by the inadequacy of their approach and language.
Where is an English translation of the Qur’an that a high-school student can enjoy and thrill reading?
Or where is the book on the life and teachings of the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, that a 10th grader in America can pick up and would not put down until finished?
Muslims themselves, on the other hand, often refuse to apply God-given faculties of analysis and understanding to their interpretation and practice – as the Qur’an so clearly and repeatedly requires them to do – and thus turn them into clichés and mysteries.
Whereas if the Muslims had truly and properly applied their faculties of reason and analysis – with the light of divine blessing and guidance pouring down on them from above – they would have readily seen that the Qur’an is where all the wisdom is.
And so would the non-Muslims.
They – both Muslim and non-Muslim – would also have seen that the Hadith is where all the action is. For, there was not a single teaching of the Qur’an that Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, did not model in his own life.
And there was not a single human situation – with timeless and universal validity – that he did not illumine and resolve using the divine guidance contained in the Qur’an.
Consequently, there is not a leadership role or situation in the world – in any walk of life – in which the Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, is not a shining and attainable example and role model.
Ideas advanced in this book are gleaned from a wide range of sources, both modern and ancient, including the Qur’an and the Hadith – that offer the living miracle of being both modern and ancient at the same time.
Qur’an is the book Muslims believe to be a direct revelation from God to Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi was Sallam (May God Almighty shower his blessings upon him!).
Hadith is the record of Prophet Muhammad’s (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) words, deeds and times.
To Muslims – and in the eyes of many non-Muslims – Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam (God Almighty bless him!), was the greatest and most successful leader the world has ever seen. His whole life is a practical tutorial on innovative and successful leadership ideas, techniques, approaches and outcomes.
It is, therefore, only natural and proper that a book on leadership should draw heavily upon his teachings and personal example.
Use of Urdu Expressions
Urdu expressions are used in this book to tag leadership styles and types. It is in recognition of the fact that Urdu language and culture are highly evocative and full of expression, irony, elegance and wit.
For example, the richness and depth of meaning that the word Gadha conveys when applied to ineptitude and incompetence are in a class of their own.
Literally, the word Gadha means donkey. But in common usage it typifies a certain level of incompetence and ineptitude, possibly benign in nature but quite destructive, nevertheless, in its impact and outcome, that provoke a rich mix of censure, condemnation, pity and derision in the user.
The word Himar in Arabic, also meaning donkey and often used for similar purposes, comes only second to the Urdu Gadha in sheer impact and richness of connotation.
The English word idiot could also be serviceable for the same purposes – but, in my view, only next to the Urdu Gadha and quite possibly next to the Arabic Himar.
Idiot, however, has proved its resilience as an effective marketing tool for certain educational and technical products such as a guidebook for idiots or dummies or an idiot-proof product or method – including possibly calculus or physics.
The Urdu word Chore is even harder to replace in any other language. The English equivalent thief or the Arabic counterpart Liss take only a second place as literary replacements to the Urdu Chore – and a distant one at that.
The word crook, however, does an adequate job in English of capturing the core meaning of Urdu Chore.
The expression Gadha, as it is used in this book, refers to the qualities of the head such as lack of intelligence, foresight and smartness.
The word Chore, on the other hand, refers to the qualities of the heart and character, such as duplicity, corruption and lack of integrity.
The Arabic expression Kha-in has basically a similar connotation. It is an omnibus term that could be used to refer to someone who is generally untrustworthy and duplicitous and whose character is seriously flawed on a broad index of integrity and honesty.
However, from the point of view of developing a common sense-based typology of leadership, the two models Gadha and Chore often, though not always, present themselves as two ends of a fulcrum.
This does not mean there is necessarily an inverse relationship between the two leadership types in all cases. Nor does it mean that a leader could only be one of the two, either a crook or an idiot.
But generally speaking, people – those whom the leadership purports to lead – find themselves having to choose between two alternative explanations of disastrous results.
Was it stupidity that caused this debacle – any injurious or negative outcome – they ask themselves and each other, or was it corruption?
For example, when bad things happen to a group, organization, community, nation or society, the question often becomes one of choice between explanations: Is this the result of leadership being Gadha (inept and idiotic) or its being Chore (crooked and corrupt)?
This means, did leadership simply bungle up due to ineptitude and incompetence, or did it deliberately set out to pursue actions and policies that were to its own personal benefit and that were at the same time to the detriment of those it purports to lead?
Often the answers are not easy to find.
Naturally, the best or ideal leadership is one that combines the finest qualities of both head and heart. That is smart, honest as well as hardworking.
But such a happy combination is not always easy to find.
It goes without saying that where all these qualities come together, the followers stand to benefit tremendously. And where they don’t, the followers stand to lose.
The world suffers because of leaders that lack one or the other of these qualities – leaders who are either Gadha or Chore – or Sust (lazy). Or those who pretend to be Shahenshah.
Hopefully, clarifying some of these ideas in this book would help readers to better understand their leadership and work to improve their leadership situations.
What Really is Leadership?
Literature search, anyone? Well, that is what this section is.
You can go find your own books, journal articles or conference papers. Your own set of references, so to speak.
I have culled ideas from several sources to offer a synopsis of leadership ideas and models.
So, what is leadership anyway?
Who are the leaders?
Are leaders born or are they made through proper parenting, education and training?
Is leadership an omnibus trait – a one-size-fits-all kind – or are their different leadership types depending on tasks and situations?
Which leader should we support?
What type of leaders should we try to be when we ourselves are in a position to provide leadership?
Is leadership a talent?
Is it part of a person’s innate character?
Is it what is called a personality trait of some kind? Is it a personality type?
Is leadership something you are born with, something you inherit? Is it all in the genes? Does it all come from our ancestors?
Or is it a matter of training and education, of teaching and learning, of access and opportunity?
Who knows how many Jack Welches (General Electric’s former CEO and an acknowledged leader in his field), Winston Churchills, Abraham Lincolns and Bill Gates (the Microsoft mogul) may be lying hidden in the ghettoes, shantytowns and poverty-stricken villages of the world?
And then do leaders create their own avenues and opportunities or are they simply individuals who ride the crest of access to glory?
Is leadership a set of ideas, approaches, styles and skills anyone can learn?
Is leadership simply a matter of knowledge and understanding – a way of thinking and acting, of doing things a certain way, of getting along with others, of getting others to do what one wants?
Is it ultimately having the means, the resources, the access and the power – personal, social, political, economic, organizational, communication power, otherwise – of being able to influence and bend others to your will?
Of being able to be heard and of being able to prevail?
Of being able to mobilize others to the adoption and pursuit of goals and delivery of results preferred by you?
Is leadership task-specific? Is it role-based? Is it limited to specific situations?
Are there different leaders for different tasks, purposes and roles, or is it one single person who does it all? Embodies everything in himself?
In other words, are leaders born or are they made by the times, training, resources, opportunity and access that come their way?
Or is it a combination of all these things?
The purpose here is not to deal with these rather technical aspects of the leadership question. It is not to address the complex personality, educational and opportunity-based or situational mechanisms that go into the making of leaders.
Libraries and the Internet are full of books and articles and research and theory pieces – literature as it is sometimes called – both good and bad, on the subject.
The purpose here is not to rehash and recycle that wisdom – even though much of it is quite invaluable for a proper understanding of the subject. And even though I have myself reviewed a fair selection of it to be able to make the observations I make in this book.
The goal here is to go beyond those models, methods, taxonomies, typologies and findings to present some thoughts on how to understand better the working of the existing leadership in our own practical, everyday life – and quite simply how to hold that leadership accountable.
The central focus of this book is how, by holding its feet to the fire, as the saying goes, we can get the most out of the leadership we may have.
Or maybe replace it with a better and superior leadership if the present leadership is unwilling to change and unable to deliver.
The focus here, therefore, is on how to identify the nature of leadership by its performance and by its results – an old but tested Biblical formula of judging a tree by its fruit.
And on how to help people understand this clearly so that they will be able to improve their own lives and circumstances by being able to deal with their leadership more effectively.
So what is leadership?
Is it a, b, c, d or all of the above?
My answer? I don’t care!
And you know why.
Because, like most social phenomena, most likely, it is a hodgepodge of all of the above and we would find it to be so if we could look beyond the prisms of foundation grants and university tenure and promotion and corporate sponsorship considerations.
That means there probably is an element of truth in all of the above concepts and models.
Trying to map and measure and make sense of social reality – modulated as it is by personal and social agendas and constraints – is a little bit like the seven blind men who went to “see” an elephant and brought back a wealth of data on the subject but were unable to piece it all together for lack of “sight.”
So are we unable to piece all the shards and shreds of truth and insight on the leadership question and create a larger and more comprehensive picture of leadership for our own lack of “vision.”
That is, for our lack of larger and more integrative understanding – an overarching theoretical umbrella or framework of some kind.
For lack of a grand theory of leadership as it were.
The seven blind men lacked sight, we lack vision.
As a result, elephant to them was a broom, a tree trunk or a giant barrel depending on which blind man one talked to.
To us leadership is this, that or something else, depending on which theorist we talk to or which book we read.
Leadership is Destiny
But here is a most important truth about leadership.
Regardless of whether leadership is a personality trait or a set of skills, whether it is a one-size-fits-all type or a separate leader for separate tasks, the fact is that human beings – individuals, groups, organizations, communities, nations and peoples – need leadership.
Without leadership, they are lost. Without leadership they cannot exist or operate effectively.
As a result, it is fair to say that for a group, organization, community, nation, society or people, leadership is often destiny.
Decisions made and actions taken by people in positions of power, authority and leadership – including the decisions they do not make and the actions they fail to take – can as easily destroy a family unit or local group or a corporation as they can jeopardize the security of a nation or the welfare of a people or a society.
On the other hand, decisions and actions by the leadership can result in joy and success, peace and prosperity for the people.
Good leadership, thus, can bring success and progress, while bad leadership can lead to disaster, destruction, disgrace, even death.
For example, the decision by President Saddam Hussein of Iraq to invade Kuwait and then take on the military might of the United States and its allies precipitated the Gulf War in 1991 and resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Earlier, Mr. Hussein’s decision, encouraged and supported by other world leaders and powers, to invade Iran resulted in the death and maiming of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Iranian soldiers and civilians.
On the other hand, the decision by American revolutionaries over two centuries earlier, to break away from the British resulted in the formation of the United States and the rising of a new major power in the world. While the decision by Abraham Lincoln to stand up to the secessionists in the South, saved the Union (United States) from breaking up, though not without a bloody Civil War that resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Americans.
Leadership, large or small, can, thus, have a decisive role in matters of life and death for individuals, groups, organizations and societies.
While good leadership could help to produce the most wonderful results, bad leadership is like a bad marriage.
Unless fixed in time, it can destroy everything: home, children, marriage partners and the marriage itself.
Leadership, therefore, is often destiny, whether it is for an individual, group, organization, nation or society.
Holding Leadership Accountable
It is important to watch, monitor, scrutinize, analyze and evaluate leadership on a systematic, persistent and continuing basis.
And to hold leadership accountable.
To hold it accountable for its words as well as for its deeds.
For its ideas and utterances as well as for its actions and performance.
For its decisions and accomplishments.
For its methods, results, products and outputs.
For its successes and failures.
For its insights and errors.
This is particularly true in the case of Muslims.
For, Islam is an accountability-based system at every step and in every aspect of human life, both individual and collective.
“Whoever sees something wrong happening, that person should set it right by hand,” says the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam.
“Should that not be possible, that person must speak out against that wrong.”
“And should even that not be possible, that person then must resent that wrong in his or her own heart. Someone who believes in God cannot do anything less.”
The fundamental concept of public responsibility could hardly be stated in a more clear, forceful or sweeping manner.
Leadership needs to be held accountable for what it does and does not do.
For what it accomplished and did not accomplish.
Why did it do or not do, accomplish or failed to accomplish, whatever it is said to have done or not done?
And how exactly did it go about it all?
How do we know?
Using what sources of information?
What are the credentials of those sources?
And what is their credibility?
How were these methods and operations arrived at? The methods and operations the leadership used?
Who decided on them?
Using what procedures of debate, discussion, choice, vote, election, consultation and participation?
Using what particular methods of what is referred to in Islamic culture as Shoora?
And what in the West is generally referred to as the democratic process?
Here are some thoughts and pointers on how to do precisely that – on how to hold leadership accountable.
That is what this book is about: teaching ourselves how to hold leadership accountable.
Even the litany of excuses and the rhetoric of rationalizations remain the same.
Time after time.
Day after day.
In case after case.
In situation after situation.
END OF LEADERSHIP PART ONE
© 2003 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.