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Published in the 1-15 Jan 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Quest for community leaders

By M H Lakdawala

"Muslim community lacks leadership", the statement is part of many an article, analysis and the volumes written on the plight of the Muslim community.

Why the Muslim community does not have leaders or leadership in spite of having a slew of Islamic organisations. A few of the organisations or movements like Jamaat-e Islami, Tabligi Jamaat, Ulema Council, Milli Council; Students organisations like Students Islamic Organisation; Foundations like Islamic Research Foundation etc have networks at an All India level and membership in the thousands. They all have a well-structured organizational setup and proper training system in place. 

If Islamic organisations have to develop potential leaders they must encourage individual creativity and reasoning. Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) always  encouraged individuality and laid emphasis on individuals.

These organisations are today, more than ever, trying to Ďdevelopí leaders. They are aware that in the coming years, the most critical and strategic resource will be not technology, not even managerial talent, but leadership. 

They seem to leave no stone unturned. But still success is eluding them. The result is still, only a feeling of some disappointment. Why are no leaders emerging despite all our efforts, they ask? 

The answer is simple: because leaders cannot be moulded. People can only be born leaders. And organisations do precious little to help people in self-development. 

Leaders live life as if they were play, acting different roles. In this great drama, they need to understand the roles they are playing, and enact them convincingly. 

They have to take stock of a situation, write the script impromptu, decide on their role, and the way they must play the role, all on the spur of the movement. Life is thus play-acting in a continuous manner with no rehearsals, no retakes. Islamic organizations and movements have failed to develop leadership because they do not provide enough flexibility nor opportunity to individuals to grow and develop into potential leaders. 

Islamic organizations and movements need to reengineer their organizational structure if they want to facilitate the emergence of new leadership:

Individual focus rather than organizational orientation
Traditional methods of leadership training and education followed by these Islamic organisations give limited scope for honing leadership qualities. Even taking a cursory look at the training structure or program of these Islamic organisations revealed that emphasis is placed on technical knowledge rather than encouraging interpretation and analysis.

Develop new literature
Most of the literature circulated by these Islamic organisations is outdated. Its ages since one read some original indigenous literature. Literature is an interpretation of human nature by the writer, just as a painting is an interpretation of reality by an artist. 

Great pieces of literature present the complexity of human relations, to enable the reader to interpret and come to his or her own conclusions. Itís this interpretation that is the key to personal growth. So how does the study of literature help in preparing for the role as leaders? We believe that it helps leaders learn to interpret life ó their own, that of others. 

A serious study of great works of literature broadens oneís viewpoint and helps in self-development. It helps in attaining greater breadth and capacity to respect othersí opinions, and ability to put things in perspective and see a holistic picture. 

It also helps in attaining the versatility that allows one to switch from one subject to another and deal concurrently with many subjects. And finally, it gives greater ability to perceive, conceptually interpret and judge. 
Ironically most of the Islamic organisations neglect research in literature. In fact, itís the last priority.

Ability to arouse and sustain emotions
Most of the Islamic organisations are the victims of modern urban culture which squeeze emotions out of the worker. The essence of leadership is not merely setting goals, measuring performance, and giving rewards. I think itís really about creating a charged atmosphere; one of excitement and inspiration where followers rise to heights they never dreamt they were capable of. 

Itís to connect emotionally with people, and get people emotionally connected to one another. Itís to get people to work not for rewards, but for causes, these causes being seen as valuable ends in themselves. Organisations stress on taking decisions Ďcoollyí and without getting emotionally involved. 

But can any truly important decisions be taken without emotional involvement? Can there be leadership without emotions? Emotions arenít an undesirable side effect; they are the main driving force in taking good decisions. Once this point is grasped, itís easy to see why training programmes based on the traditional methodologies fail. 

Even Islamic organisations try to apply techniques based on logic, techniques that demand use of head over heart, techniques that are consequentialist and instrumentalist in their approach. These techniques are valuable in training and developing managers, but they fail when applied to leadership training because they fail to address the core issue of how to arouse and sustain emotions.

Possible dreams 
Leadership is about living, not living through, not only for the leader, but also the followers. 

Do not always lead life as it is; lead it also as it should be. After Gandhi was thrown out from a train on that fateful night at Pieter-Maritzberg in South Africa, he decided to fight the giants of evil ó racism, discrimination, oppression and exploitation, much against the advice of the "practical" Indians there. 

If Islamic organisations have to develop potential leaders they must encourage individual creativity and reasoning. Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) always encouraged individuality and laid emphasis on individuals.

When Harzat Maaz bin Jabal was assigned the duty to go to Yemen to preach Islam, he was instructed to use his mind to resolve the matters after consulting the Quran and the Sunnah. Dr. Allama Iqbal, in his book entitled "The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam," stresses the need for rational analysis through Ijtehad as well as the need for those called upon to do this analysis to be men of piety, knowledge and truth.

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