Leadership Qualities of the Prophet Muhammed: Zac Matthews

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Zac Matthews is the founding director and instructor of Australia’s Deen Academy. The Sydney based organisation regularly produces papers and seminars/webinars on topics relating to faith, ethics, society and community engagement. A teacher and trainer in the Islamic Sciences for more than two decades, Br Matthews speaks to Mspiration about  five key leadership qualities The Prophet PBUH excercised during his life.


Prophetic Leadership is about using contemporary leadership theory and methodology and connecting it to the example of the Prophet Muhammed PBUH. This is basically what I am trying to do through Deen Academy with the seminars and courses that we run. We want to utilise the rich prophetic model of leadership because we sincerely believe the Prophet PBUH is the best example in all aspects of life. It is really important as Muslims to derive as much benefit out of that 23-year-period of Prophethood and use that in our application of leadership and to also share that rich heritage with the the wider society.

More than the battlefield

Sometimes Muslims only look at the leadership role of the Prophet in his capacity as head of state or a missionary leader but overlook the other important roles. If we look at the biographies and historical accounts of the prophet PBUH there seems to be an over emphasis on the role he played as commander in the battles that took place during his reign. That skews people’s impressions of the type of leadership roles Prophet Muhammad PBUH played. If you actually add up his role as commander in battle in terms of time, it only adds up to two to three months in total. The Prophet PBUH played a wide variety of key leadership roles. At the age of 40 he was commissioned by Allah SWT as a messenger but prior to that he was working his way to get a leadership position of his tribe. Before that was a trader and lead business caravans, a second job he undertook after being a shepherd. Also, we can’t forget that in terms of marriage he led and managed a household and family.

#1 Prophetic Leadership Quality: Ethics

This ethical dimension is unfortunately absent when it comes to corporate or political leadership today. The prophet’s demonstrations of ethics is directly linked to his faith and connection with The Divine. Truth and trust is critical to any kind of leadership, whether it is business or as a husband or as a mother or a business partner. It is the starting point and plays a key role in all spectrums of leadership. Even before being commissioned as a prophet, Muhammad PBUH was known as Al Sadiq Al Amin: the truthful and trustworthy. That highlights to us that he was an ethical individual that stood up for high values. He became one of the key trustees in Mecca and people would leave their valuable possessions with him.

The Prophet PBUH also used his ethics in his domestic and internal affairs. One incident was when one of his wives Aisha RAA was giving some physical descriptions about a lady, the Prophet PBUH reminded her that it does not befit our values, ethics and judgement to talk disparagingly about other people. The words of Aisha actually were on the face of it not that significant but you can see the Prophet’s PBUH deep sensitivity to maintaining a high level of values. Even in the language that we use, the prophet PBUH wanted us to refrain from looking down on others and accept all their differences.

#2 Prophetic Leadership Quality: Loyalty

One of the definitions of leadership is to have people follow you. It is to take people from Point A to Point B, to show them a vision and inspire them to come with you. We saw that in the life of the Prophet PBUH when he was commissioned by Allah SWT, through the angel Gabriel, to be the messenger. The prophet went home to his wife Khadija RAA and because of their relationship, which was already based on trust and honesty, there was no doubt in her mind that what the Prophet described was true and that it wasn’t a dream. Also when the prophet went to Abu Bakr RAA it was the same-thing. Abu Bakr without hesitation was inspired to follow him because he trusted him deeply.

Whether it is leadership at work, at home or community activism, the challenge is how do you inspire loyalty. One of the important criteria for loyalty is that you need to give loyalty first before you receive it. If you give loyalty to your spouse, friend or employer you will receive that in return.

Again, let’s think practically. Look at your work place, are you being loyal to it? Are you committed to the cause because ones of the definitionS of loyalty is commitment and solidarity. Are you certain of the vision of that particular enterprise and are you giving everything of yourself to that particular position? That is what loyalty is and that is what the Prophet PBUH demonstrated. If we can take that particular aspect of his life and apply it at home and workplaces we will see that we are enacting qualities of prophetic leadership.

Loyalty is also critical when it comes to family. Loyalty means I got your back under all circumstances. I ask parents what type of relationship do they have with their kids. I ask parents tough questions: Do you love your kids unconditionally? Now, the natural response is normally yes I do. So I follow it up with what will you do with your child if they violate one of the most important rules of the house, even the issue of leaving Islam (and we ask Allah SWT to protect us from that). It is a confronting question. Some parents said it is a travesty, and others said in that situation they will kick them out of the home. That is not unconditional love. You need to love that child regardless. Allah SWT talks about this in the Quran. If you become Muslim and your parents decide not to believe then you still need to maintain that relationship. Loyalty when it comes to family is important but many people don’t understand that and you have many sad cases where kids are kicked out of home and they never have an opportunity to reconnect with their parents. I try to tell parents to be there for their kids no matter what the circumstance. Kids often go through difficult and traumatic circumstances and they need their parents but some parents often choose the rules over the love for their kids.

#3 Prophetic Leadership Quality: Vision

Allah SWT gave Muhammad PBUH the mission of prophethood at the age of 40. While Allah SWT set him the vision, the prophet needed time to understand it, interpret it and translate it practically on the ground. With leadership that is one of the great difficulties we have, we study the theory and principles but we can’t translate it practically. You need vision to do that, to have the foresight to look ahead at all the steps that could be involved or the possibilities in terms of obstacles and difficulties that could be encountered. Vision allows for the leader to predict, pre-empt and to almost plot out different possible scenarios. You can do that for your business and personal life.

One of the best examples of the prophet’s vision was the treaty of Hudaibiah in the sixth year of the hijra. The prophet was negotiating with Quraish to do Umrah. Quraish were not happy with allowing them through as they would loose face since they were still in open conflict with Prophet Muhammad PBUH. Now in this instance you can see the Prophet PBUH used his vision to scan all the options. He asked himself if I can’t get Mecca what can I do? He found an opportunity through adversity. So he signed a peace treaty. He said if you can’t let us go to Mecca give us an opportunity to commit to a ten year peace. They had to return back to Medina and some of the companions were very upset; they had tunnel vision. The Prophet Muhammad PBUH saw the big picture and gained a supreme advantage from this opportunity.

For our personal lives we need to have a life plan. We need to document it. Do an analysis of your life and ask yourself where are you right now and learn from where you came from. Use that information to plot a path for the future. What I normally suggest to people is to plan in three time periods: have goals set for one year, five years and ten years. This is especially important when seeking a partner, you need to know if both of your life plans are compatible. There is no point in getting involved further if both of you have conflicting visions as marriage is a partnership. You and your partner need to have compatible missions and visions in life. I recommend brothers and sisters to go through all those things and put all your cards on the table. Be clear about what is important to you both and what you want to do in your life if Allah SWT give you the ability to do so.

#4 Prophetic Leadership Quality: Strategy

The Prophet PBUH was very strategic in the exercise of his leaderships. He used strategy in delegation, in selecting and giving tasks to the most appropriate person suitable for that task. He chose Amr Ibn Aas RAA to be a commander of an army having only been Muslim for four to six months. The prophet PBUH saw his skills and courage in the Battle of Uhud alongside Khalid Ibn Waleed and he knew his value and worth. Now take this back to a modern business model: you don’t need seniority, length of time and service to be appointed to a position. Age is also not a criteria. The Prophet PBUH focused specifically on capability.

#5 Prophetic Leadership Quality: Transformative Leadership

There are two schools of leadership discussed today. Transactional leadership mainly involves holding a getting the task done mind-set while transformative leadership – which is still task oriented – aims at cultivating human potential. The prophet PBUH was about being transformative. He knew he had a task which is to convey the message of Islam but he utilised that task to transform people’s lives. In a hadith he said I was sent to refine people’s moral character in this process. The prophet PBUH was not a transactional leader where he was a boss standing over people ensuring everything was done to the standard required. Instead he was there as a coach and mentor. He helped, assisted and trained people to grow and develop.

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