The Leadership Process of Muhammad (s) from Hadith

Posted on November 15, 2006


by Rafik Beekun

The Hadiths are markers of the behavior of Muhammad (s) as he exemplified the Qur’an for the Ummah.  It stands to reason that we can use hadiths to distill the leadership process that Muhammad (s) himself practiced during his lifetime, and which we, as Muslims, are to emulate.  The process described below is not meant to be comprehensive or final; there is much that we have yet to learn in the field of leadership, and Muhammad (s) being divinely inspired did much that we have yet to comprehend.  Nevertheless, several leadership precepts can still be extracted from the Hadiths, and are listed below.  Any feedback would be much appreciated.  Please e-mail your comments to me at or leave your comments on the blog.

Please note that the hadiths quoted here were selected from multiple sources, including hadiths quoted on the wonderful blog site: A Hadeeth Blog. Many of the precepts that apply to a leader often apply to followers too. The precepts below are what current leadership researchers and practitioners (e.g. Kouzes and Posner, 1997; George, 2003; Collins, 2003) are now finally claiming as the critical elements of effective leadership: integrity, humility, authenticity, modesty, positive attitudes, competence, etc. For more information, please see the book Leadership: An Islamic Perspective , and the other books in the bookshelf section of this blog. The article below is based on a chapter in my new book, Islam, Management and Finance forthcoming in 2007 from Altamira Press, Insha Allah.

General Leadership Principle:

1. Do not be in a leaderless group; appoint a leader.

When three men travel together, they should make one of them their leader.
Source: Abu Dawud, on the Authority of Abu Sa’id ‘Al-Khudri

A. Personal attributes a leader should develop in himself/herself:

1. Develop competency in the area in which you are leading others.

Whoever delegates a position to someone whereas he sees someone else as more competent (for the position), verily he has cheated Allah and His Apostle and all the Muslims.
Source: Ibn Taymiyya, Assiyasah Ash-Shar’iyya , 1996

2. Stress virtue and behave with integrity.

  • Virtue is noble behaviour, and sin is that which creates doubt and you do not like people to know about it.
    Source: Nawwas bin Sam’an in Sahih Muslim
  • Those who take bribes and those who give bribes are cursed by God.
    Source: Bukhari and Muslim, on the Authority of ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘As.
  • Greed and faith can never co-exist in the human heart.
    Source: An-Nasa’i, on the Authority of Abu Hurayrah

3. Maintain balance and self-control.

Three things are part of the good morals of a believer. When he is overcome by anger, his anger should not drive him to falsehood. When he is happy, his happiness should not take him beyond the bounds of what is right. When he has power, he should not stake a claim to something which is not his.
Source: At-Tirmidhi, on the Authority of Anas Ibn Malik

4. Be proactive and action-oriented especially when confronting evil.

Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart, for that is the minimum that is desirable from a believer.
Source: An-Nasa’i, on the Authority of Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri.

5. Be modest and self-effacing (i.e. Collins’ Level 5 Leadership)

  • Hayaa (i.e. modesty) is a part of Iman and Iman shall be rewarded with Paradise. Foul talk is a part of neglect [towards God] and neglect [towards God] shall be rewarded with Hellfire.
    Source: Ibn Maajah, no. 4174.
  • Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya (This term “Haya” covers a large number of concepts which are to be taken together; amongst them are self respect. modesty, bashfulness, scruple, etc.) is a part of faith.
    Source: Bukhari, on the authority of Abu Huraira.
  • The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “The dearest and nearest among you to me on the Day of Resurrection will be one who is the best of you in manners; and the most abhorrent among you to me and the farthest of you from me will be the pompous, the garrulous, and Al-Mutafaihiqun.” The Companions asked him: “O Messenger of Allah! We know about the pompous and the garrulous, but we do not know who Al-Mutafaihiqun are.” He replied: “The arrogant people.”
    Source: Jabir in At-Tirmidhi.

6. Keep your word.

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.
Source: Abu Hurairah, in Bukhari and Muslim.

7. Maintain a positive and cheerful attitude.

Do not belittle any good deed, even meeting your brother (Muslim) with a cheerful face.
Source: Abu Dhar in Sahih Muslim.

8. Do not meddle in what does not concern you.

Part of the excellence of one’s Islam is his giving up of that which does not concern him.
Source: Abu Hurayra, At-Tirmidhi.

B. Leader-follower interaction

1. Take responsibility for your followers:

  • Whenever God makes a man responsible for other people, whether in greater or lesser numbers, he will be questioned as to whether he ruled his charges in accordance with God’s decrees or not. And that will not be all. God will question him even about his family members.
    Source: Ibn Hanbal, on the authority of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar.
  • Each one of your is shepherd. And each one of you will be asked about your flock. A ruler also is a shepherd and he will be asked about his flock. And every is a shepherd to his family. And a woman is the custodian of her husband’s house and his children. Thus each one of you is shepherd, and each one will be asked about his flock.
    Source: Bukhari and Muslim, on the Authority of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar

2. Enable your follower by ensuring there is a fit between his/her competencies and the requirements of his/her assignment.

According to A’ishah, the Prophet PBUH never gave others tasks which were beyond their capabilities.

3. Be kind to your followers:

  • It is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than to make a mistake in punishing.
    Source: Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1011
  • If you show kindness to your servant while employing him in some task, this will weigh heavily in your favour on the Day of Judgement. That will be your reward.
    Source: Amr Ibn Harayth

4. Do not not betray the trust of your followers.

When a man tells you something in confidence, you must not betray his trust.
Source: Abu Dawud, on the Authority of Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah.

5. Do not condone or engage in bigotry.

He who preaches bigotry is not one of us. And not being one of us, he may go ahead and fight in the cause of bigotry. He who dies for such a cause is not one of us either.
Source: Abu Dawud, on the Authority of Jubayr Ibn Mut’im

C. Leader interaction with other stakeholders:

1. Do not deceive your (business) partners.

Sa’ib has thus recorded his commendation of the Prophet (s):
In the period of ignorance (i.e. before Islam) when you were my partner in business, you were the finest of all partners. You never deceived me. Neither did you quarrel with me.
Source: Abu Dawud.

2. Step into the reality of your followers, and do not be aloof from the needs of other stakeholders, including the community at large.

None of you (truly) believes, until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.
Source: Bukhari, on the Authority of Anas Ibn Malik.

3. Do not abuse or hurt other Muslims.

Abusing a Muslim is Fusuq (an evil doing) and killing him is Kufr (disbelief).
Source: Bukhari

4. Do not harbor suspicion towards others.

Beware of suspicion, for it is the worst of false tales and don’t look for the other’s faults and don’t spy and don’t hate each other, and don’t desert (cut your relations with) one another. O Allah’s slaves, be brothers!
Source: Bukhari, Vol. 8: No. 717.

D. Follower interaction with a leader:

1. A follower does not support a tyrannical leader.

One who walks with a tyrant, in the full knowledge that he is a tyrant, in order to strengthen him, is such as has already left the fold of Islam.
Source: Al-Bayhaqi, on the Authority of Aus Bin Shurahabil

Posted in: Leadership, Seerah