Myth: “When We Get a Leader…”

by Tahira Rifath

When Muslim communities fall apart and their own government wrecks states. We often hear statements such as, “If only the ummah had sincere rulers…” or “another Umar Ibn Al Kattab (may Allah be please with him) is what we need”.


A misapprehension that our ummah has is that we believe, leaders suddenly appear from nowhere and make our ummah great. Salahuddin Al Ayyubi was great because he came from a society, which instilled the values he needed in him. He was surrounded by teachers, absorbed Islam, and an ethic of tireless work for the ummah. Compare this to our own society. From early age we are assaulted by contradictory messages from parents, teachers, TV, advertising, and peer pressure. We have no role models, or poor ones who are reluctant to step up. How will we create leaders then, our own Salahuddins? Leaders are not created in a vacuum; they grow organically and it takes an entire community to grow them. Until we have this community with the right character to raise leaders, we will stay in the state we are in.

Our condition is apparent just looking around us today. Islamic knowledge is at an all-time low in our ummah – we do not even feel the necessity to study matters of our religion in depth, but expect others to provide for us. We only turn our thoughts to Allah in times of calamities, as now, expecting to be saved. Will we return to how we were after the trials have ended? There is no shortage of people sharing the blame. But you can do nothing to change the way the Saudi government spend their oil money, and it is futile to focus your anger on that. If you cannot even get up to pray fajr in its correct time, how can you still feel an entitlement for Allah to bring change to the ummah.

The rulers come from the people. When the people are good, their rulers will be good. When the people are righteous, the rulers will be righteous. But when the people are selfish, vain, and ignorant, and have wandered so far from the path that their creator has given them they can expect nothing more than a ruler who mirrors them perfectly. When we stray and abandon Islam, failing to apply it properly for a hundred years, we reap what we sow in the form of our rulers. To sum this up, the great scholar, Sulaymaan ibn Mahraan, said, “If the people become corrupt, they will have the worst leaders.”

In History
There was only one leader in the first Muslim community. Later, only four companions of the prophet (peace be upon him) became the rightly-guided khalifas. 1500 others did not. Think about that, and how their names live on today regardless of them never having held such a title. We don’t only remember what the leaders did.

Two of the most famous and crucial battles in Islamic history were not decided by leadership at all. Who won the battle of the ditch, and saved Medina from destruction? It was one man’s idea, which was carried out by the entire community. And on the other side of the coin, who lost the battle of Uhud? It was lost because of the archers forgetting their responsibility to remain in their positions, even though they were a small number. They let the entire ummah down; they were not ready to do what was required. Both battles had the same leadership, but no amount of it would win the day if the entire community wasn’t mobilized and active.

The last generation which worshipped the concept of a heroic leader ended up with Gaddafi and Mubarak. With the Arab spring, the age of the self-proclaimed heroes with a body covered in medals is over. Each person contributes to our success, and each person is a cog in the machine. If you fall for the “when we get a leader…” myth, we’ll be here a long time.

“…إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ…”

“…Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…”

(Qur’an 13:11)

So what is it that we can do? Well, you don’t need a great leader in order to tell you some of the things our ummah currently lacks. Focus on:

Tarbiya (development and training of people in various aspects) The collective character of Muslims today is in an appalling state. We cannot succeed as a community when feelings of nationalism and supremacy fill us with arrogance and tear us apart. Worse yet, we cannot even disagree without taking offense or hurting our brothers and sisters in Islam these days. We have lost even the most basic etiquettes of interaction with each other, and modern technology threatens to make that worse. Sheikh AbdulAziz bin Baaz said, “The believer should not oppress his brother, or act unjustly towards him if he differs with him over a opinion from the issues of Ijtihaad, in which the proofs may not be clear or issues in which there may be differing interpretations of the text. He may have an excuse, so you must advise him and love the khair (goodness) for him and do not allow the differing to induce and prompt aggression and discord between you. Do not enable the enemy to take advantage of you and your brother.” Allah also warns us to watch what we say to our brothers in the Quran:

وَقُلْ لِعِبَادِي يَقُولُوا الَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ ۚ إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ يَنْزَغُ بَيْنَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ كَانَ لِلْإِنْسَانِ عَدُوًّا مُبِينًا

“And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces [dissension] among them. Indeed Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.”

(Qur’an 17:53)

True Muslims would know how important following the etiquette of social interaction is as Muhammad ibn Sireen also said, “They [the previous scholars] used to learn manners just as they use to learn knowledge.” Which brings me to my next point…

Knowledge – we lack it, but we need it. All kinds of knowledge are beneficial, whether religious or not, but we have an obligation to understand our deen and be comfortable with it. Knowledge is not power; contrary to the popular saying, it is only potential power. Without action it is nothing. Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdadi says, “Don’t have knowledge without acting and don’t act without knowledge.”  Sufyaan Ath-Thawri also says, “Knowledge knocks on the door of action. If it receives a reply, it stays, otherwise it departs.” The companions of the prophet (peace be upon him) would learn only a few verses of the Qur’an at a time, and they would return to learn more only after having implemented them in their lives. As Imam Ash-Shafi’ee says, “All humans are dead except those who have knowledge. And all those who have knowledge are asleep, except those who do good deeds. And those who do good deeds are deceived, except those who are sincere. And those who are sincere are always in a state of worry.”

Think globally and act locally – we can very rarely directly influence what is happening on the other side of the globe, but we can always change our local communities. Is YOUR local masjid well looked-after? Does it act as a beacon, encouraging even non-practicing Muslims to join their community? Does it provide an Islamic education for all who need it? How about serving the poor, teaching non-Muslims about Islam, providing a good example, and all of the countless causes you could be serving? Don’t just complain about issues, or you will be like those that Al-Hasan Al-Basree saw disputing and said about them, “These ones have become tired of worship. Speaking has become easy for them, and their piety has diminished, and that is why they talk.” So get involved.

Do not give up- because there are so many things wrong with us that sooner or later you will want to. Even Ibn Taymiyyah felt unsatisfied with his efforts that he told his students, “Verily, I constantly renew my Islam until this very day, as up to now, I do not consider myself to have ever been a good Muslim.” But no matter how small, every effort you make will be rewarded, and everyone makes a difference. So no matter how hard it is, and no matter what difficulties you face, never give up. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal once said, “Occupy yourself with every good deed and hasten to do it before something prevents you from doing so.”


An important dua for us to remember:

“.اللهم أجعلنا ممن نصر هذا الدين”

Oh Allah, make us amongst those who give Your religion victory.

And last of all, remember your priorities and correct your ultimate intention. We are travellers in this world; and we shall leave it someday, and everything we thought was so important will become dust. Take care of your relationship with Allah first and foremost, and He will take care of everything else.

I’d like to leave you with one last quote of Al Fudayl ibn ‘Iyaad:

“If you can be unknown, be so; it doesn’t matter if you are not known and doesn’t matter if you are not praised. It doesn’t matter if you are blameworthy according to people, if you are praiseworthy with Allah the Mighty and Majestic.”

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