This page describes real-life, exemplary Muslim models who have excelled in various situations by the Grace of Allah. Whenever possible, their stories include a reference to a specific ayat in the Qur’an, or hadith or the Seerah of our beloved Prophet (s) or other quintessential principles in Islam. Insha Allah, this page is meant to provide examples that will inspire each of us to aim for ihsan, and to behave with akhlaq at work.
In Focus 1: Cassam Uteem: The People’s President
A few thousand kilometers off the east coast of Madagascar, in the middle of the Indian ocean, lies the island of Mauritius, a beautiful tropical paradise — the country that had as its President for almost ten years, Cassam Uteem.
Surrounded by deep blue lagoons, soft white beaches, and gorgeous coral reefs, Mauritius is about 720 square miles in size, and has a mixed population, numbering about 1.1 million inhabitants with Indians, Muslims, Chinese, Creoles and people of European descent living at peace with one another. Muslims are a minority, comprising about 17% of the population.
Mauritius was a British colony until March 12, 1968 when it became independent. In 1992, Mauritius became a republic.
Like Mauritius’s current Prime Minister, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam, President Uteem’s ancestors came to this island about 133 years ago when the British took over India, and entire families were relocated to other British colonies as indentured labor to work in sugar cane plantations. It was very hard work, but little did they know what their descendants would accomplish in the future.
Initially, a very active social worker, the country’s accession to independence in 1968 marked Cassam Uteem’s own transition to political involvement. He first served as Minister of Social Security, then as Lord Mayor of the capital city of Mauritius, Port Louis, before becoming the Minister of Industry and Industry Technology. In 1992, Cassam Uteem became the first Muslim President of Mauritius, and was reappointed to a second term in office.
In his capacity as a political leader in Parliament, he worked very hard to restore trust and confidence among all segments of the population in Mauritius especially after the disturbances that preceded this country’s independence in 1968. First, instead of focusing on one segment of the population, he emphasized the all-encompassing philosophy of “Unity in Diversity.” Again and again he stressed the theme of national unity, stating the following in one of his passionate pleas on this subject: “Equal opportunity for all, equal access to education, professional training, and meritocracy are the bases of a civil society, an egalitatarian society, and especially a united society.” Second, he led the fight against illegal drugs and substance abuse —an unwelcome side-effect of Mauritius’s improving economic conditions. Third, he worked hard to emphasize education and positive change. Mauritius now has a literacy rate of 82.9 percent. Finally, he fought long and hard for workers’ rights.
President Uteem is a musulman convaincu (a staunch Muslim), and has always been quite involved in activities involving Muslims. For example, he used to broadcast radio programs on Islam. He was instrumental in helping establish the IWF, the Islamic Welfare Foundation — an organization dedicated to helping the poor and needy, and to promoting education through the pooling of zakat donations. He belonged to both the Muslim Youth Federation and contributed significantly to the efforts of the Students’ Islamic Movement. In fact, his activities with respect to Islam have been well received by Mauritians of all faiths.
As president, Br. Uteem was the very symbol of humility and dignity. One incident that particularly inspired him relates to ‘Umar (ra). When ‘Umar (ra went to sign the treaty signaling the capture of Jerusalem, he could hardly be recognized from his small group of attendants. In fact, he went to Jerusalem with his servant. They had one camel on which each of them rode by turn. When ‘Umar (ra) was entering Jerusalem it happened to be the servant’s turn to ride on the camel. Though the servant offered his turn to the khalifah, ‘Umar refused and remarked: “The honor of Islam (i.e., being a Muslim) is enough for all of us.” He entered Jerusalem holding the rope of the camel on which [his servant] was riding.
This example of humility and modesty from Umar (r) has continuously inspired President Uteem. Unlike many other heads of state, he did not live in the Presidential Palace. He only used it for his office, keeping the doors open to everyone, including the poorest sugarcane laborers. When someone wanted to write a book about him, he tried to dissuade the person, and the biographer had to cull facts from Uteem’s writings and speeches. Every letter written to him always received an answer. In the words of his wife, Sister Zohra, he has always been “un homme droit,” a man with principles. Once he helped a student from a poor family. The mother of the student was so pleased that she came to visit him at home. He was away, and she left him a pen as a gift. When he came home, Cassam Uteem was unhappy when he found the pen. He did not want to take it. Why? He is a man who never accepts any reward for helping people.
President Uteem believes that the Republic of Mauritius can only grow and prosper by accepting the fact of cultural diversity, and that Mauritians in general and Muslims in particular can only progress by learning about their differences as well as by reinforcing the values that they share in common. He believes in collegial leadership — he wants to see a united Mauritius, not the splintering of Mauritian society.
Indeed the task of nation-building is not yet completed, and his presidency has been animated by the quest to provide what is best for the people of his country: the spread of liberty, the expansion of economic prosperity without the destruction of the environment, justice in the distribution of wealth, and accountability and ethics in both the public and private sectors. For him, multiculturality can only thrive in an open society where the political environment enables full participation and open interaction of all the diverse elements. During his term in office, he has been the president of the people, but at heart he is still the social worker who has assumed the role of president. Finally, his bid to transcend cultural specificity to inhabit the realm of universal ideas reminds us that in so doing, he has behaved exactly as he should as a Muslim living a critical Qur’anic injunction, expressed as li ta’aarafuu (to get to know one another)? — an injunction that Allah has addressed to mankind as a whole, not just to Muslims only. Indeed, Allah says in Surah Hujurat (49:13):
O mankind, we have created you from a single pair of a male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another.
In his determination to take a stand against potential injustice and abuse, he voluntarily resigned after a bill on anti-terrorism was passed by the country’s parliament, which he had opposed. While concerned the bill would give too much power to the police and fearing it would be abused, Uteem did not approve the bill at that time.He then resubmitted the bill with 10 amendments, which were turned down by the parliament. He had only 4 months left to serve his second term in office.
In Focus 2: Abdul Sattar Edhi: Philanthropist to a Nation
Since its founding, the values of the Edhi Foundation in Pakistan have been carefully nurtured by Abdul Sattar Edhi, its founder and president. He focuses on self-help, stating that “Self-help—that’s the best way to get back on your feet.” (Covington, 2004: 33). This message is very much related to the following hadith of the Prophet (s) reported by Anas ibn Malik in Sunan Abu Dawud (no 1637).
A man of the Ansar came to the Prophet (p) and begged from him. He (the Prophet) asked, “Have you nothing in your house?” He replied, “Yes, a piece of cloth, a part of which we wear and a part of which we spread (on the ground), and a wooden bowl from which we drink water.”He said, “Bring them to me.” He then brought these articles to him and he (the Prophet) took them in his hands and asked, “Who will buy these?” A man said, “I shall buy them for one dirham.” He said twice or thrice, “Who will offer more than one dirham?” A man said, “I shall buy them for two dirhams.”He (the Prophet) gave these to him and took the two dirhams and, giving them to the Ansari, he said, “Buy food with one of them and hand it to your family, and buy an ax and bring it to me.” He then brought it to him. The Apostle of Allah (p) fixed a handle on it with his own hands and said, “Go, gather firewood and sell it, and do not let me see you for a fortnight.” The man went away and gathered firewood and sold it. When he had earned ten dirhams, he came to him and bought a garment with some of them and food with the others. The Apostle of Allah (p) then said, “This is better for you than that begging should come as a spot on your face on the Day of Judgment. Begging is right only for three people: one who is in grinding poverty, one who is seriously in debt, or one who is responsible for compensation and finds it difficult to pay.”
The example of self-help is put in practice by Edhi himself; he has consistently refused large sums of money from governmental sources, stating that “Governments set conditions that I cannot accept.” Another example of self-help are the large number of women trained in Edhi nursing homes in Karachi who initially had requested Edhi foundation for charity. Edhi persuaded them to undergo nurse training and to become independent. While undergoing training, they are paid a stipend.
Besides emphasizing self-help, Abdul Sattar Edhi also stresses parsimony and humility. In spite of handling the Edhi Foundation’s budget of $10 million coming primarily from individual Pakistanis, he lives a very simple life. “I myself am the owner of nothing, except a small 10-foot by 10-foot room that my mother left me in the alley where I first began my work, and the two sets of clothing that I wear.” The values of Edhi are derived from Islam, and are the values of the Foundation he has run since 1951.
In Focus 3. Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Muhammad Yunus is the third of 14 children in his family, five of whom died in infancy. Educated at Dhaka University and at Vanderbilt University, he became the head of the economics department at Chittagong University. He is the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank.
In 1983, Muhammad Yunus established Grameen, a bank devoted to providing the poorest of Bangladesh with minuscule loans. He aimed to help the poor by supporting personal initiative and enterprise by which they could lift themselves out of poverty. It was an idea born on a day in 1976 when he loaned $27 from his own pocket to 42 stool makers living in a tiny village. These women only needed enough to purchase the raw materials for theri trade. Yunus’s small loan helped them break the cycle of poverty for good. His solution to world poverty, founded on the belief that credit is a fundamental human right is simple: loan poor people money on terms that fit their situation, teach them some basic financial principles and they will help themselves.
Yunus’s framework have proven itself, by the Grace of Allah. So far, Grameen Bank has advanced $3.8 billion in loan to 2.4 million families in rural Bangladesh. Nowadays, over 250 institutions in nearly 100 countries operate micro-credit programs based on Grameen’s model, helping to eradicate poverty through micro-lending.
In Focus 4: Franck Ribery: French World-Class Soccer Player
Ribery’s Islam “Noticed” in French worldcup Opener
Since world cup football in summer 2006, here is a article about the French player Ribery who scored one of France’s goal against Spain in the second round. Zidane was one of the best players in the 2006 world cup.
By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent
The 23-year-old Ribery sees his new faith a matter of privacy and dislikes to talk about it in public.
PARIS — French national soccer team player Franck Ribery did not notice that his reversion to Islam would steal the limelight at his country’s opener in Germany World Cup 2006 as the attacking midfielder raised his hands and supplicated to God like a typical Muslim before the kickoff.
The 23-year-old Ribery sees his new faith a matter of privacy and dislikes to talk about it in public with many French knowing nothing about his reversion to Islam.
The Olympique Marseille right-sided winger and midfielder has even been reluctant to tell reporters his reversion story, though it is believed that his Muslim wife, of Moroccan origin, played a pivotal role in his new lease of life.
Some reports hinted at his one-year stay in Turkish Galatasaray in 2005 when he helped the team win the 2005 Turkish Cup.
He rarely speaks about how he found the Muslim faith, urging the paparazzi to let him live in peace. But he recently told the Paris Match magazine that he felt “safe” with Islam. “Islam is my source of strength either in or outside the playground,” he said. “I lead a difficult career and I was determined to find peace of mind, and I finally found Islam.”
Ribery’s reversion to Islam was first leaked by L’Express magazine earlier this year, though the weekly did not mention him by name and said that a national team player was used to frequenting a mosque in southern Marseille.
Thousands of French revert to Islam every year in France, but not all of them declare their new faith outright, fearing discrimination at home or work and a stereotypical view that reverts tilt towards extremism, according to recent studies and surveys.
Last March, sources confirmed that former French soccer coach Philippe Troussier and his wife Dominique had reverted to Islam in the Moroccan capital where they live.
Super striker Anelka, who played for Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester City, eventually had to leave for the Turkish league after increasing harassment.
France is home to some six to seven million Muslims, the largest Muslim minority in Europe.
Steve Bradore of Shehada organization, which caters for Muslim reverts, said that French Muslims must be proud of Ribery.
“He is really a source of pride for us due his unique performance and modesty,” he told IslamOnline.net Saturday, June 17.
Ribery is tipped to succeed playmaker legend and three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane, who said he will quit football at the end of the World Cup. He started his playing career at his home town club US Boulogne and then moved to Alès, Brest and FC Metz in consecutive seasons.
His move to Olympique Marseille has earned him top French player honors for the months of August, October and November 2005. He was selected for the France squad for the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany.
In Focus 5: University Professor Fidelma O’Leary
“As adults we must each own our own beliefs,” said Prof. Fidelma O’Leary, biology, St. Edward’s University, to a packed auditorium in Goldwin Smith on Friday night. Her lecture, “An American Woman’s Jihad,” detailed her spiritual journey as an Irish-American Muslim.
“Islam [is] a development of the faith that I already had… Islam worked for me and I was completely at peace with my religion. [But it was] a long journey filled with jihad [and] a struggle to surrender my will to the will of God,” said O’Leary, who was raised as a strict Catholic in Ireland before converting to Islam and moving to the United States.
“I was raised in a culture where thinking about religion was taboo. I was a teenager, so naturally I rebelled: I started thinking,” she added. She started to have questions about the religious beliefs and practices she was raised on and she began to study religion.
O’Leary became a “person of faith, searching” for an answer. When she came across the Qur’an, she “fully related to it.”
The transition to Islam was one filled with obstacles for O’Leary. She refers to the rift between herself and her family caused by her religious beliefs as her “first jihad and first painful struggle as a Muslim.”
O’Leary was also featured in the 2003 National Geographic documentary film Inside Mecca, which followed three Muslims from three different continents on their Hajj, their pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. A screening of the film preceded the lecture.
When describing the thought process behind making the documentary, O’Leary said, “at first I didn’t want to do it because I thought it would take from my Hajj. Then I realized that they wanted to gently demolish that stereotype of what a Muslim woman is. I was also really tired of [watching] people who weren’t Muslim get on TV and tell me what it meant to be Muslim and I thought, we need to represent ourselves.”
In terms of her views on other religions, O’Leary said, “there’s beauty in all religions. Islam is a very inclusive path. It never claims exclusive access to God or to paradise.”
Source: Cornell Sun
In Focus 6: MuslimGear: a business started by youths to serve Allah
How youths, who take pride in being Muslims, have started a business that promotes cool Islamic clothing and helps the youth at the same time.
In Focus 7: Hakeem Olajuwon: Champion Basketball Player
Listed at 7 ft (2.13 m), Hakeem is generally considered one of the five greatest centers to ever play the game of basketball. Hakeem was an MVP (most valuable player) on the Houston Rockets basketball team in the 1993-1994 season. He became the first player in NBA history to accumulate both 2,000 blocked shots and 2,000 steals in a career. He is the only player in the NBA history to have won MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season (1994)
Before he became the star of the team, he was a very good player but had a very bad temper. He would regularly fight with other players and swear, for instance. Although he was a good player, his team went nowhere. But suddenly, in the mid-1990s, that changed, and the Rockets became a winning team instead of one with a couple of good players but no coordination. This culminated in their success in the 1994 and 1995 NBA championships.
Hakeem used to be a non-practicing Muslim. He was once asked him how the transformation to Islam affected his character.
“Before I started practicing my faith, I used to completely rely on myself. When I had done my best, I would be extremely frustrated if I didn’t win. It would irritate and anger me. And that was causing me to be bad to others by fighting and swearing,” he explained. “But when I started practicing my faith, I learned that results are not my property. I started doing my best but then I left success and failure to my Creator. Now I was not irritated by failure and was not overinflated by success. That caused me to calm down and improve my behavior towards others on my team and we became a team.”
Hakeem used to fast during the whole month of Ramadan, even during basketball season.
Sources: Abdul Malik Mujahid. Tawakkul. http://www.soundvision.com; Wikipedia;
In Focus 8: Ustaz Khurram Murad-Da’i in the West
Source: This section is excerpted from the book Leadership: An Islamic Perspective co-authored by Jamal Badawi and myself.
Khurram Murad (1932–1996) was the former vice-president of Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan, the former director of the Islamic Foundation, UK, and a Qur’anic scholar. A professional civil engineer, he was actively involved in the Islamic movement since 1948. Later he served as the President of Islami Jamiat Talaba, Pakistan, and became a member of the Central Executive of Jama’at Islami, Pakistan. A prolific writer, his works include: Way to the Qur’an, Sacrifice: The making of a Muslim, Da’wah among Non-Muslims in the West, Muslim Youth in the West, and translations of Maududi’s works such as Let Us Be Muslims and Witnesses unto Mankind: The Purpose and Duty of the Muslim Ummah.
During his stay in the West, Murad expressed great concern about the assimilation of new converts into the Islamic society. In fact, it was at his prodding that Yusuf Islam (the recording artist formerly known as Cat Stevens) started making cassettes and CD’s on Seerah of the Holy Prophet (saw). Another leading Muslim in the West, Ahmad Von Denffer worked with him at the Islamic Foundation, Leicester, from 1978 to 1984. In working with new converts, Murad was a great reservoir of patience, and always returned and referred to the Holy Qur’an for guidance. Simultaneously, he strove to bring cordiality among Muslim organizations. He worked very hard at mobilizing the Muslim youth, and urged them to break out of the cocoon of the self, and to become engaged as da’is.
Murad’s thinking on what Muslims and Muslim leaders must do in the West crystallized around one visionary theme: the contextualization of the Islamic movement, and is summarized below:
• Leaders of the Islamic movement must not be constrained by “historical” Islam. There is a difference between the Islam of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and the Islam of historical development. Historical Islam carries with it “[burdens] of misgiving and misunderstanding, of misperception and misrepresentation, of mistrust and hostility, of images, both false and true, which seem to have become permanently lodged in hearts and minds.” Murad suggests that Muslims should not allow themselves to be shackled by these aspects of their history. Indeed, Muslim leaders need not apologize for activities undertaken under the name of Islam since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and the four Rightly Guided Caliphs. If need be, they should repudiate whatever in their past that is against the Qur’an and Sunnah. This would be in the spirit of true istighfar.
O you who believe! stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts) lest you swerve and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. (Nisaa, 4:135)
• Local Muslims must be involved. “[The] ultimate objective of the Islamic Movement shall not be realized until the struggle is made by the locals. For it is only they that have the power to change the society into an Islamic society.”
• Communicate using the same frame of reference as the target audience. Emulating the example of previous prophets, leaders must communicate in the same language as their followers or those whom they are doing da’wah to. Invite non-Muslims to something that they accept or something which follows from what they accept: worshipping the One God only:
Say: “O people of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah.” If then they turn back say: “Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah’s will).” (Al ‘Imran, 3:64)
Besides using a common frame of reference, Murad suggests that we use terminology that is more likely to strike a sympathetic cord in non-Muslims. Instead of calling for a ban on alcohol, Muslims may first seek to have harmful drugs such as heroin, cocaine, etc. banned. Later on, Muslims may work toward circumscribing alcohol.
• Focus on contemporary issues. The teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet (saw) must be related to contemporary issues in a language that the addressee can understand. Murad’s rationale is that “we can only make contemporary man hear and understand the Message of Allah through the words that he knows, in a language that he is familiar with.” Thus, the Prophet Nuh’s (as) message focused on the issue of caste and class differences; the Prophet Hud (as) took on imperialism; the Prophet Lut (as) confronted permissiveness, and the Prophet Musa (as) challenged tyranny. Murad insists, therefore, that the message of Islam should be made relevant to the concerns of the day: abortion, drugs, the environment, nuclear proliferation, etc.
In Focus 9: Sami Yusuf–Glorifying Islam
Source: Time Magazine
The concert hall is charged with anticipation. The 5,000 Arabs in the audience break into deafening cheers, stomp their feet, clap their hands and chant “Sa-mi! Sa-mi!” until at last the lights go down. The orchestra swells and Sami Yusuf, 26, emerges through billows of smoke, dressed in a chic black suit and white open-collar shirt. Catching sight of him, the crowd goes crazy, screaming and whistling as though Elvis just entered the building. But when Yusuf begins to sing, it’s clear he’s not quite like other rock stars. “Peace and salutations upon you, O Messenger of God,” he croons. And for all the palpable excitement in the audience, an unspoken decorum is observed. The heartfelt cheering and singing never spills over into co-ed dancing in the aisles — after all, that could be considered a violation of Islamic law. […]
A British citizen born in Iran to Azeri parents, Yusuf spent most of his life in London. Like his music, he is a fusion of East and West. A devotee of Bach, Chopin, U2, and Sting, Yusuf studied Middle Eastern and classical music with his composer father and instructors at the Royal Academy in London. He feels it is a Muslim duty to speak out against oppression no matter the religion of the victims. His songs have criticized Muslim rebels for the Beslan massacre of schoolchildren in Chechnya and France’s government for banning headscarves in public schools. […]
Here is an Islamic Nasheed from Sami Yusuf:
Islamic nasheed from Sami Yusuf