Literary Reading: Some Guidelines On Being a Good (Jamati) Leader

…Ismaili history provides many admirable examples of the sacrifices made by leaders, which could be a source of inspiration for those who take the trouble to learn from the past

Folio from Hazrat Ali's Nahj al-Balagha (Peaks of Eloquence). Photo: Wikipedia

Habituate your heart to mercy for the subjects and to affection and kindness for them. Do not stand over them like greedy beasts who feel it is enough to devour them, since they are of two kinds, either your brother in religion or one like you in creation. They will commit slips and encounter mistakes. They may act wrongly, wilfully or by neglect. So extend to them your forgiveness and pardon…Hazrat Ali (a.s)

Introduction

It is a matter of great honour and some pride for an individual to be appointed as a jamati (community) leader by the Imam of the Time.

This status of leadership carries with it certain responsibilities and duties which have to be carried out to the best of one’s abilities during the term of office. These are written in the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismali Muslims and in the Guidelines and Rules and Regulations for individual countries. Appointed leaders have to abide by these written rules, regulations and procedures in an Islamic spirit of mutual consultation and cooperation. This is for the benefit and upliftment of the jamat as a whole and for the good of mankind.

The Holy Qur’an says:

“Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular prayers; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation; who spend out of what we bestow on them for sustenance”  (The Holy Qur’an, 42: 38).

In this connection, Hazrat Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah writes in his Memoirs of Aga Khan (page 185):

“Ismailism has survived because it has always been fluid. Rigidity is contrary to our whole way of life and outlook. There have really been no cut-and-dried rules; even the set of regulations known as the Holy Laws are directions as to method and procedure and not detailed orders about results to be obtained.”

This implies that the Constitution, the Guidelines and the Rules and Regulations are not restrictive documents but provide an enabling framework for individual leaders; a framework in which initiative and discretion is used to serve for the betterment of the jamat and mankind, and in keeping with the Imam’s vision and expectations.

Service to others is one of the essential requirements of the Islamic Faith. Ismaili history provides many admirable examples of the sacrifices made by leaders, which could be a source of inspiration for those who take the trouble to learn from the past.

Mawlana Hazar Imam has publicly praised those who serve, give of their time, means and thought for the benefit of the jamat and mankind. Over the centuries our Imams have given hidayah (guidance) on leadership and service to others. These hidayah contain certain ethical codes for leaders which, if cultivated, would make for good leadership.

Inherent ethical codes in the hidayah of Ismaili Imams

In Document of Instruction 53 in Nahj al-Balagha, Hazrat Mawla Murtaza Ali (a.s.) when appointing (Malik) al-Ashtar an-Nakha’i as Governor of Egypt advises:

“Therefore, the best collection with you should be the collection of good deeds. So, control your passions and check your heart from doing what is not lawful for you, because checking the heart means detaining it just half way between what it likes and dislikes.

Habituate your heart to mercy for the subjects and to affection and kindness for them. Do not stand over them like greedy beasts who feel it is enough to devour them, since they are of two kinds, either your brother in religion or one like you in creation. They will commit slips and encounter mistakes. They may act wrongly, wilfully or by neglect. So extend to them your forgiveness and pardon, because you are over them and your responsible Commander (Imam) is over you while Allah is over him who has appointed you. He (Allah) has sought you to manage their affairs and you through them.

Do not set yourself to fight Allah because you have no power before His power and you cannot do without His pardon and mercy…” [1]

In the above hidayah given by our first Imam, we will note that the quality of  taqwa or piety or God-consciousness is given priority for the appointed leader. Humility (tawadu’) is closely related to this piety.

On humility, our fifth Imam Hazrat Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) said:

“Humility embraces every precious and noble rank and high position. If humility had a language which people understood, it would speak about the realities which are hidden in the outcome of affairs. Humility is whatever is undertaken for God and in God, and anything other than that is trickery. Whoever is humble to God, God will honour over many of his bondsmen.” [2]

The other qualities inherent in this advice is the ability to be fair and forgiving. In this connection Hazrat Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah (a.s.) gave the following advice to the leaders:

“Council members are the elder brothers and the Jamat the younger brothers and I give the Council Members the responsibility of the younger brothers, i.e. the jamat.” [3]

This awesome responsibility for the welfare of the jamat may appear daunting indeed to the newly appointed leaders. Initially there may be a certain degree of apprehension, especially for those who are very sincere and yet feel inadequate or may not have had any previous experience as leaders. Such leaders should always take heart and realise that the Imam is always there for advice and guidance, and they should submit their services in humility and seek assistance.

Pir Hasan Kabirdin has expressed this submission of service very beautifully in the fourth verse of his venti ginan Eji Aash Tamari Shri Ho Qayam Sami thus:

Eji karun sreva Tamari Shri ho Qayam Sami,
To mune sarave buddh aave Ya Shah:
Sohi vachan mara mukh ma(n) hethi kadho
Jo Saheb Tuj bhave

Translation:

O Ever living Lord! I humbly offer my services to You,
So bless me with all the wisdom (that I may need)
Only let those words be said by me,
Which are liked by Thee. O Lord!

When one sincerely serves for the welfare of others, then that is the best way to improve oneself and the result is sure and certain. This is what Hazrat Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah (a.s.) stated  in a message delivered in Rangoon, Burma, on the day of Navruz (the Persian New Year) in 1954:

“Labour for the welfare of others is the best way of improving oneself because the result is sure and certain. If you work for yourself only, you will never be happy. That is not a new idea but it is of course the experience of thousands of years of history.”

Leaders must be good role models

Mawlana Hazar Imam has not only built upon the Institutions set up by his beloved grandfather, but also founded others to serve the ever increasing needs of the Jamats around the world. These needs and challenges are complex and demand sophisticated leadership composed of qualified people with professional, managerial, modern business and industrial expertise. He keeps in touch with the leaders, assists, guides and prepares them in advance of the changes to come.

As a result, appointed leaders have to come on stream, be committed, credible and become exemplary role models for the young. Leaders should also be concerned for a better future for the Jamat, and play an active role in transforming the vision of the Imam into reality.

______________

This reading is adapted from Leadership Ethics by Sadrudin K. Hassam printed in Ilm, Volume 13, Number 1, July 1990 (Ilm was published by the Shia Imami Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the United Kingdom).

_______________

References:

1. Nahjul Balagha by Imam Ali Ibn Abu Talib, New York, pages 534-535

2. The Lantern of the Path by Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq, Element Books, page 50

3. Gawhare Rehemat, Ismailia Association for Pakistan, Part 2, page 51

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6 thoughts on “Literary Reading: Some Guidelines On Being a Good (Jamati) Leader

  1. Wonderful and thought-provoking piece on Leadership. Just this past weekend, I finally got to reading “The Ismaili” and the entire issue’s focus is on Leadership. In particular I would like to bring attention to the first article by Karim H. Karim on Leadership – It was succinct, pragmatic, accurate and insightful. A must read.

  2. Thank you for doing such a wonderful seva.

    My interest was intrigued by quotations from Quran and the farmans.

    This reminds me to be humble in life and serve others.

    Keep up the good work!!!

  3. I have read only some of the ‘sermons’, for a better word, of Hazrat Imam Ali in Nahjul Balaghah translated in English. These and the Ginans give me a deep spiritual impetus and inspiration to live on. If one is not a a leader in Ismaili jamat or in a Muslim or any other community, one can still be a good human being doing esoteric ‘sreva’. Imam Ali ‘par excellence’ a mentor and is the gate of Islam. He took it a step further from its founder, the Prophet, (pbuh Peace Be Upon Him) who had to bring social reforms against violent opposition from his own ‘tribe’ of Qureshis. Forgive my limited skill in conveying these thoughts.

  4. Just to suggest a correction:

    In the Ginan Verse quoted:
    “Karun Sreva Tamari Shriho”
    The meaning of the word “Sreva” is not service, but it is ‘Worship”. Now if that word in the ginan was “Seva”, that would mean service.

    • Thank you for your feedback.

      In checking a Gujarati dictionary, I could not find the word sreva . The term may have been introduced in the local vernacular, representing seva.

      Seva has two meanings. One is service or caring and the other is pure worship - that is worship without any expectations. Thus sreva, in this case, refers to service. I shall try and reach the author of the article. He may be able to shed further light on this term.

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