Parallel - Leaders at Work
Updated: Oct 31, 2018
At Dar Nafisa Academy, we endeavour to inspire our youth to be proactive leaders in society. After all, Islam places so much emphasis on social justice, contributing to the community and setting the moral standard. Between workshops and encouraging personal projects, we also make a study of the past and present. In this essay, Maryam - one of our Graduands - contrasts the characteristics of four great leaders: Prophet Yusuf and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them), Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela. While our parliament exhibits a tragically comedic leadership shuffle and policy kerfuffle, Maryam identifies a little bit of what they're missing, or what they need.
Ever tried typing ‘quotes about leadership’ in Google’s search engine before? When swiping from one quote to the next, almost every quote holds a similar message. They do not instruct leaders to ensure that those below them know their rightful place. They do not encourage leaders to keep an iron-tight grip on their position. What these hundreds of quotes have in common is they acknowledge that exceptional leaders become ‘exceptional’ by eliminating social barriers when necessary, and not eliminating individuals who seem like a threat to his or her position as a leader.
Obviously, determination and persistence are aspects that leaders need to make an powerful change in society. These characteristics are seen in the four leaders that will be discussed in this piece: Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and the Prophets Yusuf and Muhammad (peace be upon them). Because leaders are role models in morals and not just justice, these four icons also had to make a difficult choice: to forgive their enemies. Additionally, humble beginnings were a common theme shared between these four leaders, and from it stemmed many positive qualities, which simply outlining would lengthen this writing piece by another page.
Earning a high rank in society is usually never easy, and fulfilling the role is even harder, which is why, in spite of the hardships great leaders from both past and present endured, they were patient and headstrong. In the course of every leader’s journey, there are always challenges and trials waiting down the road to be tackled, one of them being temptation. Tempting options have a vast number of forms, and they do not have to be material. There is the temptation to abandon your resolve and simply give up. There’s the temptation to discard morals and retaliate against violence with more violence. When temptation gnaws at an individual, it tests the patience of that individual, bringing with it the promise of a conclusion that provides an easy way out of your situation, to destroy the rocky pathway ahead that ruins your shoes and cuts your feet. All you need to do is toss away your ambition, which only devours your time, effort, and probably chunks of your future. Easy, right?
It wasn’t, however, for the Prophets, and two aforementioned figures, who, after months and years of struggle, are now acknowledged as true legends who greatly impacted society.
Prophet Yusuf was thrown into a well by his own brothers, captured and sold as a slave, and caught the eye of a woman whose husband was of high social ranking. This woman and her female acquaintances had even attempted to seduce him.
Prophet Muhammad was bribed with riches and beautiful women to abandon his faith and embrace idol-worshipping – and after a horrific persecution, who would reject this offer?
Instead of surrendering to material pleasures, both Prophets clung tightly to their faith and rejected temptation.
Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela fought to spread a message – just like the Prophets. In the process, Malcom X’s life was put at risk several times by the Black Legion and his old mentor, Elijah Muhammad, while Nelson Mandela spent approximately twenty-seven years in prison for his defiance. Maybe both legendary leaders and Prophets would not have had to endure what they endured if they had simply kept their heads low and didn’t attract any unwanted attention. But if they did, would Islam have another unforgettable idol to exemplify it? Would the unjust policies of old South Africa have changed without a man like Nelson Mandela?
Temptation is like the annoying version of an overprotective mother, promising you rewards if you abandon the rocky road you trudge, if you stop reeling in hardships onto yourself for something so pointless. It should be clear that determination was one of the weapons all four leaders wielded during the most harshest episodes of their lives.
Even the kindest human beings find forgiveness the hardest form of any human endeavour. Prophet Yusuf, Prophet Muhammad, Nelson Mandela, and Malcom X had their entire micro-communities and their leaders against them. All four icons suffered physically and mentally.
If your jealous siblings tossed you into a well to die, could you forgive them?
If your relatives persecuted you for trying to do good, would you forgive them?
If you lived in a society where you were oppressed and spared justice because of your skin colour, could you forgive the opposing colour?
If you discovered your senior, whom you looked up to, was a liar and a hypocrite, could you forgive him, even if he tried having you assassinated multiple times?
In Surah Al-A’raf, verse 199, Allah says:
“Show forgiveness, enjoy what is good, and ignore the ignorant.”
There’s a definite possibility not all four leaders read the Qu’ran, and stating that they completely forgave their enemies before passing on is known as an assumption. However, Prophet Yusuf did not send away his brothers when they sought him for help. Prophet Muhammad did not have his oppressive relatives punished when he rose into power. Nelson Mandela did not have whites in South Africa persecuted when he became president. And Malcolm X did not send assassins after his old mentor (Elijah Muhammad) when he discovered his mentor was trying to kill him. In spite of their suffering, none of these leaders took revenge on their tormentors. Instead, they promoted nothing but peace while they were still in power.
This final, noticeable characteristic isn’t exactly a ‘quality’, but more of a common factor shared between all the four leaders: a humble beginning. Though Yusuf’s father was a Prophet too, he wasn’t of high social rank in his community. Prophet Muhammad was the son of a widow, and before becoming a prophet, worked as a humble merchant. Seeing as Nelson Mandela was raised in a society that followed racist policies, it’s safe to assume he couldn’t have had the best of childhoods. Malcolm X’s father was already a target of the Black Region, and after his death, Malcolm and his siblings were placed in foster care as their mother was deemed unfit. Malcolm may have grown up in a comfortable home with kind parents, but he was long robbed of the opportunity to live an ordinary life with his biological parents.
This ‘factor’ may have sown some humility in our idols, and led them to maintain positive values. Maybe their early hardships were the reason these genuine legends chose to rise above them in the first place.
The Prophets and these two figures proved to be influential role models till today, due to the major changes they made upon society. The Prophets shared a similar goal – to spread the message of Islam – but their astounding qualities have not been overlooked. Meanwhile, thousands of years into the future, Nelson Mandela fights to change his unjust society, while Malcolm X became a Muslim and founded an organisation, preaching Islam to all races instead of just his own. Today’s leaders have the opportunity to follow their example and address the problems in their nation/society/community that are waiting to be addressed. Poverty, crime, injustice in court are only three in a vast number, and adolescent suicidal rates aren’t going to decrease any time soon.
Making a positive and powerful change should come before making a name for yourself.
Determination, forgiveness, and the qualities that rose from our icons’ humble beginnings were probably the main contributors to our leaders’ success, and what divides them from today’s current leaders.
“Great leaders don’t blame the tools they are given. They work to sharpen them.”
– Simon Sinek