This Blog Series explores The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Leadership Model of Quranic Moral and Spiritual Values of Excellence, and is based on my Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies research, at ISRA’s Centre for Islamic Studies & Civilisation, Charles Sturt University.
In this second article, we discuss and analyse Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) values based leadership model in terms of the key Quranic moral and spiritual values of excellence he both taught & embodied in his lifetime mission – at an individual level – that produced the greatest transformation in the society, consciousness and moral order of life in the Arabian Peninsula.
Almighty God says in the Holy Quran, “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct)” (Quran, 33:21). This description of him as a virtuous model of the highest human values for all times bestows upon him the rank of a perfect role model for humanity. The universal well known leadership tenet of ‘not just doing things right, but doing the right things’ was perfectly practiced by the Prophet (pbuh) who knew that it was righteous actions based on divinely guided values, not merely words that moved his followers. (Noor, 2015)
Being a living example of one’s teachings fulfils the key success principle of a leader. (Dogan, 2014) In other words, a leader must “exemplify and personify the qualities expected, required and admired” in their sphere of influence, which the Prophet (pbuh) did perfectly (as will be explored in discussion). In leadership, example is everything says Adair (2010) – so in practicing what he preached, his leadership values and example made his guidance easy to follow.
He represented and expressed everything he wanted to teach his community, through his actions, and then translated those actions into words for scribes to record for future generations. How to be humble, trustworthy, in awe of God, how to prostrate from the heart with sincerity, how to bow in prayer, cry at night to God – all these moral and spiritual values and more he did and then taught. (Gulen, 2005)
As a result of educating by example, whatever he preached was immediately accepted by his family and followers in their mind and heart. His behavior was of the highest universally revered standards, beneficial to all who had the opportunity to experience his highly developed intellect and spiritual insights/wisdom, setting the highest example of excellence in all aspects of life – worship, belief and good conduct. (Gulen, 2005)
By following his example, which relinquished old beliefs, customs and thinking patterns, one by one, individuals changed and embraced a higher consciousness, as their inner and exterior lives changed. His modelling behaviour nurtured a new growth and mindset– at both an individual and social level. The result was unprecedented individual and community growth. (Elamin, 2008)
Upon migration to Medina, when the community began to build the first mosque, the Prophet (pbuh) laboured with them, as one of them. Inspired by his presence and example, they sang – a sign of the high spirits he inspired in them. Such is the power of example states Adair (2010). Sharing in their labours, hardships and dangers exemplifies a key principle of good leadership, which not only inspired them to overcome their problems, but confers upon the leader moral authority, winning more than their respect, attracts their love, the “greatest power in the world”. And in accepting his destined share of hardship in the form of suffering, toil, privation, oppression, injury and injustice, bestowed upon the Prophet (pbuh) was something rarely conferred upon a leader – moral authority. (Adair p.1121)
Turning now to delving into the key personal qualities and values of excellence Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) embodied and taught – they were all the natural qualities of a true leader with perfect consistency in his character to the greatest detail. Countless descriptions and stories can be found of his highest leadership qualities.
The qualities we shall explore in this article that he both embodied and taught with excellence include:
1 – The foundational values of faith in God, (Tawhid or strict monotheism in the oneness of God)
Underlying his leadership model of values at each level of society, the Prophetic (pbuh) mission was essentially to preach strict monotheism, Tawhid (divine oneness and unity): the belief that there is no God, but Allah and that Muhammad (pbuh) is His last messenger. His successful leadership & actions emerged by aligning and committing himself to Islamic Tawhid, the Unity of God, with God-Consciousness (taqwah) as the essence and key principle of Islam.
Taqwah encompassed re-evaluation of one’s intentions, actions and beliefs regarding all areas of life. (Elamin, 2008). Threaded through this was what his whole mission, values and teachings was founded on, with the objective of “creating a world of peace, sustainability and prosperity for the sake of God”, and which ultimately facilitated the transformation of Arabian people and society. (Noor, 2015)
2 – Perfect Truthfulness & Integrity
The most esteemed leadership value he taught and embodied in his mission was that of perfect truthfulness and integrity. There are countless verses in the Holy Quran about the foundational value of truthfulness, one such example being: “O you who believe! be careful of (your duty to) Allah and be with the true ones” (Quran, 9:119)
What many western authors find interesting is that well before his role of Prophethood, it is a widely established fact that he was a man known by countless individuals and society for his many personal qualities, of which truthfulness, honesty, integrity, trustworthiness were his most well-known qualities and for which he received titles from the people of Mecca (including friends and foes) of Al-Amin, The Trustworthy and As-Saddiq, The Truthful. (Ahsan, 2010)
A classic illustration occurred three years after he became Prophet (pbuh). He was ordered by God Almighty call people to Islam publicly. He climbed to the top of a mountain when he had managed to get them all to gather and said, “If I told you that behind this mountain is cavalry who wish to attack you, would you believe me? The people declared openly, “We have never heard you lie, even once.” (Al-Bukhari Hadith, 107)
The fact that even after he became a Prophet (pbuh), his enemies would still not accuse him of lying, symbolises how perfectly he modelled the behavior he preached to others, continuously encouraging truthfulness and integrity of character. He once declared: “Three are the signs of a hypocrite: When he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he is trusted, he betrays his trust” His above statement is noteworthy as it defines integrity (the lack of hypocrisy) as a “synthesis of virtues” (Ahsan, 2010, p4)
He taught and embodied truthfulness as the key to happiness in this world and the next
He taught and embodied truthfulness as the key to happiness in this world and the next and that no one can have true peace while living in lies or lying of any shape and form. Lying goes against God’s knowledge, leads to unbelief & hypocrisy, this was his attitude. (Gulen, 2005).
The severity of one lie is highlighted in the following analogy: if a Prophet (pbuh) ever lied, everything connected with Islam would be affected. “All it takes is one lie to call a mission into question”. (Gulen, 2005, p.47). This statement reveals how powerfully destructive people came to view a single lie to be. In modern times, lying has become a disease destroying the security and morality of societies and communities.
True and good leaders gain the trust and confidence of their followers, are willing to follow them and endure any hardships. Dogan (2014) affirms that this was true for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers, as a result of his powerful way of preaching honesty. There can be no confidence without a perfect record of truth, which he owned. The Prophet (pbuh) opposed anything even slightly untruthful and damaging such as “self-destructive habits, addictions and any form of immorality”. (Dogan, 2014, p9).
The Prophet (pbuh) in encouraging people to be truthful & adhere to the highest ethical standards of honesty meant for application in both their personal and work life. He once said, “Always be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. …Never lie, for lying leads to shamefulness and shamefulness leads to Hell…”(Bukhari as cited in Gulen, 2005, p.45)
He was once asked what knowledge of Islam will suffice that one will never need to ask anyone about Islam. He answered: “Say, I believe in God, and then be completely honest in everything’. (Muslim as cited in Gulcur, 2011, p.90) Such was his approach to teaching and embodying this central leadership value.
Not surprisingly, the Prophet (pbuh) had a reputation for integrity which confers an even higher status than that gained by the reputation of honesty because as Adair explains, integrity ‘goes a mile beyond honesty’ as it involves incorruptibility and trustworthiness such that the person is incapable of being false to a promise, pledge responsibility or trust. (Adair, 2010, p895).
According to Noor (2015) , personal integrity was the hallmark of the Prophet’s (pbuh) character, defining it as “my word is my bond” and as the ‘hallmark’ of the spiritual side of his leadership, that he embodied and taught. Personal integrity was reflected in countless of his daily life events but especially in his perfect ability to keep covenants and trust, with God, the community and everyone he interacted with.
3 – Perfect Humility to God
A second key esteemed value he embodied perfectly was the ability to lead his people with perfect humility at all times. (Dogan, 2014). Allah the Exalted mentions the beauty that the value and practice of humility bestows, saying in His Holy Quran, “The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say words of peace” (Quran, Surah Al-Furqan 25:63).
In this leadership quality, the Prophet (pbuh) satisfied the criteria of what a leader must possess – embodying genuine humility, whereby not a single report exists of him seeking leadership or authority, but rather he was naturally led by society into this position due to his humility and expertise. (Mir, 2010) The following hadith statement of his highlights one of the ways his exemplary teachings effected individuals: “Verily, Allah has revealed to me that you must be humble towards one another, so that no one wrongs another or boasts to another”. (Hadith: Muslim 2865)
There are too many countless examples of his humility in hadith literature to mention here but perhaps, an illustrious example was how this world leader exhibited humility can be understood in the sublime event, narrated by Adair (2010), who describes how the Prophet (pbuh) would lower himself, spreading his cloak, sitting at the same level with others on the ground in humility.
4 – Unconditional Mercy to all
Perhaps the greatest leadership value he was and is still (globally) most known for was that of unconditional mercy towards all of God’s creation – mankind, animals and the environment. In the Holy Quran, the Prophet (pbuh) was praised by Almighty God for his qualities of mercy and forgiveness, as a special gift bestowed upon him. “O Prophet, it was thanks to Allah’s mercy that you were gentle to them. Had you been rough, hard-hearted, they would surely have scattered away from you” (Ahsan, p19)
The Prophet (pbuh) responded to insults, negativity, words and actions against him with mercy and kindness.
Another powerful aspect of this quality can be illustrated in how the Prophet (pbuh) responded to insults, negativity, words and actions against him with mercy and kindness. His akhlaq was unsurpassed by anything the Arabs had ever seen.
During a critical time in his mission in Mecca, the Prophet (pbuh) Muhammad was inflicted with countless forms of suffering, which forced him to emigrate to Madinah, not to mention the waging of war on him for several years. But when he conquered Mecca (without bloodshed) years later, he asked the opponents and community there of non-Muslims who were anxiously awaiting his decision: “How do you expect me to treat you?” They unanimously replied: “You are a noble one, the son of a noble one.” To which he replied: “You may go free! No reproach this day shall be on you; may God forgive you.” (Al Bukhari Hadith) Such was the powerful way he embodied and taught through example this value of mercy.
The effect of this trait on his followers was immense, Armstrong highlights this in her statement that “It was not violence and self-assertion, but the spirit of mercy, courtesy, and tranquillity that would cause the ummah to grow” (Armstrong, 2006, p. 190).
Thousands of hadith narrations can be found that demonstrate this illustrious quality he had. Anas ibn Malik, who was in the Prophet’s company and service for many years, said “I served the Messenger for ten years. He never once showed impatience with me, never reproved me for neglecting to do something, nor ever asked me why I had done something I was not supposed to do.“(Gulcur, 2009, p7) Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (pbuh) was once advised by him, “O Aisha, be gentle. For wherever gentleness is found, its presence beautifies, but wherever gentleness is absent, its absence is ugly.“(Gulcur, 2009, p7)
5 – Abstinence
Abstinence is another powerful leadership value, but one that few in history have been able to live up to. Yet in the Prophet’s life, these was not a single case where he benefited himself or family monetarily or in any type of worldly comforts. During his whole life, simple living was his norm, always with great personal sacrifices being made. His family including himself often spent the day without food, and he often fasted in days other than the compulsory month of fasting.
As a Muslim leader he never hesitated to put everything at stake for the collective greater good of the people. He perfectly demonstrated countless times how their welfare and well-being always took precedence over his needs and comfort. (Mir, 2010) His advice in this narration perfectly illustrates this point: “None of you truly believes, until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” (Muslim Hadith, 45)
6 – Altruistic Service
According to Noor, the leadership value that led to the success of the Prophetic mission stems from the altruistic service and character he displayed. With this quality, Noor believes that the Prophet (pbuh) was able to change the mindset of the new community from “self-centredness to sincere concern for the wellbeing of others”. (Noor, p13)
In modern day literature, true leadership is defined as arising when someone’s key motivation is a deep desire to serve others. This servant leadership approach is commonly understood as having a long-term, transformational effect on people and in thereby creating positive change. Practiced by the Prophet (pbuh) almost 1,500 years ago is evident simply by this powerful statement of his that, “The leader of the nation is their servant.” (Mir p.2) And that indeed he both used as his key title and practice.
7 – Gratitude to God
One of the next most important values taught by the Prophet (pbuh) focused on the importance of showing God gratitude and due praise. The Quran declares to this end, “And as for your Lord’s blessing and bounty, declare it” (93:11). For this value, his key goal was for every person to develop a level of thankfulness that should characterize their condition. (Armstrong, 2006)
A beautiful example of the nature of his effective manner in guiding people towards this value comes through this statement of his, “One who eats and gives thanks will have the reward of one who fasts purely for the sake of God. One who gives thanks and enjoys good health will have the same reward of one who practices patience in their illness. One who is conferred with graces and gives thanks will have the same reward of a person who is deprived and satisfied.” (Al-Kafi, Volume 2, p. 94)
Countless hadith narrations have him discussing how gratefulness has immeasurable rewards for an individual’s well-being, peace, happiness and success in the next life. He constantly taught about the value of appreciating what one has before it is lost and that when difficulties arise, patience was key and thankfulness in all conditions is one of the most loved virtues by God, the Exalted.
8 – Accountability to God
Closely connected to this, the next key value taught was to never forget that all humanity will have to account for everything they have enjoyed in this life: “Then you shall be questioned that day concerning every good you enjoy”, says the Quran (102:8). This principle was instilled so deeply in the hearts of his followers and could be witnessed in every part of their lives. (Gulen, 2005).
He repeatedly emphasised that each person had a personal accountability not to tribal laws but to God’s divine laws, this shook the very foundations of every dimension of life. For example, acts of charity for the purpose of status promotion were now negated, in its place, pure intention for God was now paramount. (Elamin, 2008)
9 – Respect For Human Rights
The final key leadership value for exploration in this chapter is that of respect. This value that the Prophet (pbuh) preached, founded on the primary belief that no human being was more important than another was revolutionary for the Arab society.
Regardless of differences in ethnicity, cultural, tribe, political affiliation, gender etc, treating others with the utmost respect and love was now paramount to the new religious outlook. As a result, Arab society began to value people and ethics in such a way that it led to a completely new version of morality and where the worth of women, men, servant and slaves were now equal. (Elamin 2008).
The worth of women, men, servant and slaves was now equal
This opened up an atmosphere where sincere love for each other was nurtured and achieved by the new Muslims. With this great respect to differences modelled through his actions and guidance, the Prophet (pbuh) facilitated for the new Muslims the ability to live peacefully together. (Dogan, 2015)
By cultivating a respect for others as individuals with rights, the new morality that ensued began replacing one by one all the old collective tribal customs, many of which were inhumane (Armstrong, 2006). As a result, society witnessed the abolishment of racism and discrimination in all shapes and forms through this protection and fostering of human rights.
It’s interesting to note that not only after, but before his Prophethood and throughout his life, he championed this cause of human rights and respect for all. His final sermon is a great example here that embodied a very strong lesson for the new Muslims, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action”, he stated. “Even if a black Abyssinian Muslim were to rule over Muslims, he should be obeyed”. Here, both his powerful words and actions, 1500 years ago imprinted in the new Muslims that superiority is not from blood, birth or colour but from taqwa, morality and piety. (Dogan, 2015)
With respect to all humanity now established as a rule, gender discrimination wasn’t an exception. His protecting of women’s rights meant women started to experience honour and respect through the new Islamic teachings. Rights that had been previously denied were put into practice – including by the Prophet (pbuh) himself.
A statement of his embodiment of this virtue; “The most perfect believers are the best in character, and the best of you are those who are kindest to their wives”. (Dogan, p8 2014) Not only this, but though the Prophet (pbuh) was guided by God, he consulted matters with his wives to show how this principle could be practiced and to role model the treatment of one’s spouse. Considering the unequal way women used to be treated, this was a major transformation in society.
Written by Cynthia Aisha Meguid
Well-Being – Teacher, Educator, Consultant & Coach
This blog article is based on my Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies Research, at ISRA’s Centre for Islamic Studies & Civilisation, Charles Sturt University, Australia.
Continue reading Part 3: The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Leadership Model of Quranic Moral and Spiritual Values of Excellence – at the Collective Level