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Written by Louay Safi   
Oct 09, 2005 at 05:36 AM
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Visionary Leadership*
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As a general quality, patience is manifested in one’s endurance in the face of pain and suffering or constant annoyance. The term itself signifies, more often than not, calm endurance in the face of pain and suffering caused by such natural disasters as diseases, famines, floods, or earthquakes, all of which lead to a loss of life and property. As such, patience is manifested in the believer’s calm endurance of the trials of life:

Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. (Qur’an 2: 155)

However, when the source of pain and suffering is human instead of divine, the Qur’anic terms for conveying the meaning of calm endurance are resolve (‘azm) and forbearance (hilm). Resolve denotes perseverance when confronted with superior human power. A resolute person, therefore, continues to pursue higher objectives despite the strong opposition of those who have the power to inflict pain and suffering. This was the kind of patience with which prophets persisted in their mission of transforming their communities from the state of corruption to that of truth:

Therefore patiently persevere, as did the resolute among the prophets, and be in no haste with them (the unbelievers). (Qur’an 46:35)

Forbearance, on the other hand, refers to one’s ability to endure annoyance and irritation even when one has the upper hand over those responsible for producing them:

For Abraham was, without doubt, forbearing, compassionate, and given to look to Allah. (Qur’an 11:75)

And as the hadith stresses:

The strong among you is not the one who can verpower others, but the one who can control himself in the moment of anger. (Muslim)

Resolve and forbearance are important qualities for effective leadership. The former is essential for overcoming adversaries, and the latter for maintaining unity and solidarity between leaders and followers.

Wisdom (hikmah): Leaders are expected to be knowledgeable and well informed. They are not to be functioning members of their communities alone, but to acquire the necessary specialized knowledge and insight in the areas in which they exercise leadership. Those who assume leadership responsibilities in political, economic, intellectual, legal, educational, or military fields of endeavor must acquire the necessary specialized knowledge and expertise. A leader of a commercial firm, for example, should have a general knowledge about his or her social and political environments, but he or she also must have mastery over the specifics of their trade. It was Yusuf’s (Joseph’s) knowledge that gave him the confidence to step forward and ask Pharaoh to appoint him as treasurer of the realm:

[Yusuf] said: Set me over the storehouses of the land: I will indeed guard them, as one that knows. (Qur’an 1255)

Ultimately, however, it is not one’s scope of pure knowledge (‘ilm) that matters in the exercise of leadership, but one’s ability to apply the knowledge obtained to practical situation--one’s wisdom (hikmah).

While ‘ilm and hikmah are closely interrelated, they have slightly different connotations. The term “knowledge” denotes the various ideas one receives about the nature of reality, whereas the terms “wisdom” or “judgment” (hukm) signify the way by which knowledge is brought to bear on action (fi’l). More specifically, as is evident in Surah al Isri’ and Surah Luqman, wisdom consists in those principles that guide actions. In al Isra’, for instance, wisdom is used in reference to such precepts as “fulfill every engagement” or “pursue not that of which you have no knowledge.’’ It is for this reason that wisdom receives special emphasis in the Qur’an, where it is made abundantly clear that wisdom is a source of blessing and goodness to those who possess it:

He grants wisdom to whom He pleases, and he to whom wisdom is granted receives indeed a benefit overwhelming. But none will grasp the message but men of understanding. (Qur’an 2:269)

It is also emphasized that wisdom has been an essential quality of prophets:

O Yahya, take hold of the book with might: and We gave him wisdom even as a youth. (Qur’an 19:12)

When he [Musa] reached full age, and was firmly established (in life), We bestowed on him wisdom and knowledge: for thus We reward those who do good. (Qur’an 28:14)

And We strengthened his [Dawud’s] kingdom, and gave him wisdom and sound judgment in speech and decision. (Qur’an 38:20)

In short, leaders must be intellectual and perceptive, capable of analyzing the overall situation, establishing priorities for action, and developing strategies for their implementation.


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