As in the past few years, this Ramadan comes at a time when the world is facing a catastrophic leadership deficiency, and nowhere is that catastrophe more evident than in the Middle East. This resource rich, predominantly Muslim region has produced some of the worst tyrants that the world has ever known- Bashar Assad, Saddam Hussein, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Muammar Gaddafi, etc.
Ramadan is the Islamic holy season in which the faithful diligently tries to maximize his or her spiritual benefit by seeking purification of the soul, enhancement of one’s moral vision, and boosting one’s conscience.
It is a time in which the faithful works hard to restrain all of material and flesh temptations by turning inward and increasing his or her level of worship, altruism, and reflection. However, Ramadan is not only about the individual’s relationship with God, but also about his or her relationship with other creatures on earth; especially human-beings, regardless of their beliefs.
Dysfunctionality of the World Order
Never before in recorded history has the world—more specifically the Islamic world—simultaneously experienced so many national and transnational challenges of economic, social, ecological, political, and spiritual nature.
The actual and the perceptual order of things have been turned upside down. In a number of countries, the role of the state is being redefined and its power is dramatically diminishing. The role of the younger generations and grievance-driven actors, or disenfranchised communities, has been systematically increasing; thus, setting the stage for reform, as well as, power-vacuum, insecurity, and ultimately, chaos.
While the elements that created such daunting conditions are many, chief among them is leadership deficiency.
Many Muslim nations are in a functionally broken or a deplorable state of existence. Some, like Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are already junglified. According to UNICEF, over 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian aid. Others, such as Egypt, Lebanon, Nigeria and Mali are perfectly placed on the conveyor belt while periodically projecting artificial agency or state authority. Meanwhile, economic predators continue to enhance their exploitation strategies into fine arts.
The Perilous Protection
Some monarchies and emirates have entrusted all their own personal security and that of their respective nations into the hands of mercenaries. Countries such as United Arab Emirates have cultivated deeply rooted business relationships with the likes of the ever-elusive, infamous Blackwater.
Ironic as it may seem, UAE became the center where private security companies gravitate towards or the global trade fair where international mercenaries showcase their lethal services.
Unfortunately, times have profoundly changed from the day when Marzabaan the Persian emissary arrived at Medina and could not find a royal palace in the city; when the emissary was lead to Umar—the Second Caliph—taking a nap under a shady tree in the outskirt of the city; the day when the wise emissary was compelled to make this famous observation: “You assumed authority over them, you served them justly, you felt safe among them, and earned to sleep (exposed and without guards).”
Unfortunately, today, most of the so-called Muslim leaders are known as dictators, kleptocrats, and absolute monarchs. Most of them lack trustworthiness to earn public confidence. They lack the vision to lead and the fairness and empathy to care for the least represented of their fellow citizens. But, make no mistake; the real power still rests with the people. Rulers need justice more than their subjects.
Nature of the Deficiency
Throughout the world today, leaders who are morally anchored, who have the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions and the compassion to listen to the needs of those in whose affairs are entrusted upon them are in short supply.
Needed are: Leaders who command profound trust from their people, and are agents for positive change; Leaders who possess broader vision who don’t selfishly position themselves in the center of their ‘national interest’ strategies; Leaders who are driven by causes that transcend the self, clan, region interests; Leaders who recognize that their status, or vested authority, is a time-constrained privilege, not a right; Leadership that protects the rights of others and ensure that no grievance is left unaddressed.
At all levels—social, economic, and political—these dire times demand transformational leaders who could inspire visions that transcend time and space, who have the capacity to translate those visions into viable strategies, transformative values, and actions, who could cultivate the right minds and institutions that would sustain those vision for posterity.
With fires of sectarianism, extremism and intergenerational rivalries raging across the Middle East, needed are leaders who could challenge boundaries of unjust conformity and intellectual confinements; leaders who would not be frightened by new ideas simply because they challenge status quo.
The Metaphor of the Double-decked Ship
In this month of reflection, it is worth remembering the many examples of bad endings of all bad leaders. History is peppered with such example.
Warning against the abuse of privilege, Prophet Muhammad used the two-decked ship parable in which the morally pompous people were housed in the upper deck and the laity in the lower deck. Whenever the lower deck people needed water, they had to go to the upper deck who gave them a hard time on each occasion. This went on for a while till one day, out of frustration, one of the lower deck people decided to bust a hole in the ship in order to access the water beneath. It wasn’t long before they all perished.
Transformational leaders are trend watcher. They are always vigilant of any seemingly small problem with the potential to develop into a major crisis.
Counsel to the Leaders
There is no good leadership without good ethics – the two go hand in hand. Ethics is as a code of conduct or values that distinguish right from wrong, the moral from the immoral, virtuous from the vile in governing the lives of individuals, groups, and societies. In Islam it is known as khuluq. “Deal with people in the best and the most ethical way,” said Prophet Muhammad.
As you reflect and attempt to refine your leadership qualities, you may consider these:
First, know your advisors as well as they know you, especially those in charge of your national security engineering.
Second, always keep in mind that anyone who would kill others for money or greed would have no moral obligation to compromise you and your nation for the right price.
Third, never assess your political crisis based solely on current events. If you are not into history, at least, try to rewind your memory database to recall how events came to be in the first place.
Fourth, keep your passions in check; never become enamored with the seat of power- it is the only way to spare yourself, people, and country’s immanent destruction.
Fifth, the best protection that a leader could have is the authentic confidence of the people. Always listen to the people to know what might matter to them the most, and who among them might be disenfranchised, deprived or aggrieved.
The alternative is a roller coaster ride into a perpetual state of chaos, exploitation, and suicidal extremism.