Humility – Leadership Lesson from Prophetic Leadership

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Humility is when a person does not see himself as being better or above other people because of frivolous reasons like social standing, education, citizenship, or even the colour of his skin.

Humility, modesty, and forbearance are virtues that are essential for Muslims. Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He) has revealed that we should be humble towards one another and we should not boast to one another.

‘Iyad ibn Himar reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), said, “Verily, Allah has revealed to me that you must be humble towards one another, so that no one oppresses another or boasts to another.”

Source: Sahih Muslim 2865 Grade Sahih (authentic)

Humility means avoiding the destructive sin of arrogance and haughtiness. Arrogance is an evil deed in which a person praises himself instead of Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He), or he considers himself superior to others, or he rejects the truth because it comes from a person he considers lesser than himself.

“(O Prophet Muhammad) give good news to the humble, whose hearts tremble with awe at the mention of God, who endure adversity with patience, who establish regular prayer, and who spend in charity out of what we have given them.” 

(Quran Chapter Al-Hajj 22:34-35) Saheeh International https://quran.com/22/34-35 

In English, the word “humility” comes from the Latin root word which means “ground.”

Humility, or being humble, means that one is modest, submissive and respectful, not proud and arrogant. You lower yourself to the ground, not elevate yourself above others. In our prayers as Muslims, we prostrate ourselves to the ground, demonstrating humility before Allah the exalted one. Muslims constantly strive to remember and practice this Islamic virtue of humility and put them into practice throughout their daily lives as reminded in the Quran:

“Call upon your Lord in humility and privately; indeed, He does not like transgressors.”

(Quran Chapter Al-Araf 7:55) Saheeh International https://quran.com/7/55 

“Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become humbly submissive at the remembrance of Allah and what has come down of the truth? And let them not be like those who were given the Scripture before, and a long period passed over them, so their hearts hardened, and many of them are defiantly disobedient.”

(Quran Chapter Al-Hadid 57:16) Saheeh International https://quran.com/57/16 

𝐇𝐮𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲 – 𝐎𝐧𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐊𝐞𝐲 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩 𝐓𝐫𝐚𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐭 𝐌𝐮𝐡𝐚𝐦𝐦𝐚𝐝 (p.b.u.h)

Humility comes from knowing about Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He) and recognising His greatness, venerating Him, loving Him and being in awe of Him; and it comes from knowing about oneself and one’s own faults, and weaknesses. Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He) gives this characteristic to those who struggle to become close to Him through deeds of piety and righteousness.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) truly submitted to Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He); his character was one of complete humility and based on sincere trust in Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He) He was a model of kindness and humbleness. The characteristics displayed by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were the exact opposite of pride and arrogance. Every aspect of his life reflected humbleness, even his walking, talking, sitting or eating.

Every believer aspires to make the Prophet (peace be upon him) a role model. Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He) says in Holy Quran:

”There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.”

(Quran Chapter Al-Ahzab 33:21) Saheeh International https://quran.com/33/21.

The above verse speaks about those who hope for the mercy of Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He). Muslims strive to make Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) their role model by emulating the Prophet (peace be upon him) not just by obeying the Islamic laws, but also by striving to inculcate the virtues of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in our lives.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) had demonstrated that being a Prophet himself that receive guidance and revelation from God, he still maintained his humility towards others. His consultative nature of seeking views from his companions demonstrates his humility. This can be witnessed in many of his life stories.

One of the many episodes that highlight this aspect of his humility can be drawn in the Battle of Uhud. Before the military mission to safeguard Medina from being attacked, the Prophet (peace be upon him) had sought the views of his companions, in planning the military strategy. He was inclined to stay in Medina and attack the enemies when they reach Medinan soil. Nevertheless, many of his companions had a different strategy which calls for them to go out at the border instead. Given that the majority are in favour of that strategy that is different from him, the Prophet s.a.w decided to go along with his companions’ recommended strategy instead of his own.

In the Battle of Khandaq, the Prophet (peace be upon him) had sought the view of a Persian by the name of Salman Al-Farsi, who was formerly a slave and recently freed. He had suggested for them to dig trenches around Medina to prevent the enemies from moving over to attack Medina. The Prophet (peace be upon him) agreed with Salman’s initiative, as that was the war strategy adopted by the Persian.

Clearly, these two episodes showed how the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) maintained his humility through being open to learn from others by listening to their views and allow them to share their knowledge. He opened his mind for others to share their knowledge, and for him to learn new things from other people. This is what I would call today’s leader who demonstrates “disruptive mindset” and the leadership competency of “disruptive mental agility”! (Bawany, 2020)

𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐦𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩 𝐏𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐨𝐟 ‘𝐇𝐮𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲’

Humility can be defined simply as the act of being humble which could be viewed as well, from a psychological perspective, the opposite of narcissism. Humble leaders demonstrate authenticity, empathy and are committed to everything they do. Why is humility so important when it comes to effective leadership? My team and I have observed from the extensive engagement of coaching senior leaders, for one thing, humble leaders engage their stakeholders by reducing the power distances between themselves and others. For another, despite being in leadership positions, humble leaders are upfront and acknowledge their mistakes and weaknesses. As a result, this “humanised” them in the eyes of others and enhance trust-based partnership with their teams and stakeholders.

Another trait of humble leaders is that they are predisposed towards asking others for advice and feedback and be prepared to accept the team’s ideas or advice, as we have seen earlier with Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). They practice transparency by sharing information and be prepared to accept criticisms. This would lead to the development of high-performance teams where humble team leader foster trust and mutual respect while empowering their team members to be their best. The outcome will be that of enhanced innovation and team creativity, employee engagement, productivity and organizational performance.

Recognizing humility in leadership can be challenging to do at times, especially when looking in from the outside. Now, what about among today’s modern business leaders? Because humble leaders promote team success and performance, they are less likely to be publicized as great leaders. Even so, look for great companies, and the chances you’ll find humility and leadership exemplified by those in authority increases substantially.

In many of the executive coaching engagements we have delivered over the past 25 years, we have observed one of the consistent derailers of CEOs and c-Suite leaders is when they become overly confident and develop blind spots. Furthermore, as leaders become ever more isolated at the top of their organisation, they run the risk of relying too heavily on their own judgments and decision-making abilities rather than listening to others and failed to keep their ego in check.

In our research published in the book, Leadership in Disruptive Times (2020), we identified empathy as one of the disruptive leadership competencies that leaders need to develop and demonstrate effectively to avoid overconfidence. We acknowledge that it can be difficult for leaders to strike the balance between showing strong leadership whilst connecting with colleagues and employees authentically. Leaders often want to provide reassurance through their vision and guidance, but can overlook how important it is to demonstrate their vulnerability. Empathy emerged as a key theme in our discussions with leaders and has proved to be critical in leading and engaging their teams in today’s increasingly disruptive and digital-driven workplace.

Autocratic and dictatorial leadership is outdated and counterproductive as we found that by focusing too much on control and end goals, and not enough on their people, many of these leaders are making it more difficult to achieve their own desired outcomes. Through executive coaching and other leadership development intervention, the key, then, is to help people feel purposeful, motivated, and energized so they can bring their best selves to work.

One of the best ways is to adopt the humble mindset of a servant leader. Servant leaders view their key role as serving employees as they explore and grow, providing tangible and emotional support as they do so. They actively seek the ideas and unique contributions of the employees that they serve. This is how servant leaders create a culture of learning and an atmosphere that encourages followers to become the very best they can. Servant leadership will be the next topic in this 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩 𝐋𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐒𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐋𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐭 𝐌𝐮𝐡𝐚𝐦𝐦𝐚𝐝 (𝐩𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐞 𝐛𝐞 𝐮𝐩𝐨𝐧 𝐡𝐢𝐦).

𝐄𝐦𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐞 𝐇𝐮𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲

That is what we aim to achieve and we aim to accomplish. That was the humility of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). A lot of times arrogance is nothing more than our insecurities; we’re masking our insecurities. That is not a solution to anything. But being humble remedies the problem and makes a person secure in who they are. It gives them confidence, endears them to people, and allows them to learn from other people.

So let’s embrace humility.

Humble people are those slaves of Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He) who deserve and receive His Mercy, who will be blessed by Him, whom His mercy will be showered upon abundantly.

May Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He) make us from amongst those people. Aamiin Aamiin Aamiin Ya Rabbal Al-Aamin 🤲.

𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐜𝐥𝐮𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧: 𝐒𝐮𝐩𝐩𝐥𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 (𝐃𝐮𝐚) 𝐨𝐧 𝐒𝐞𝐞𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐊𝐧𝐨𝐰𝐥𝐞𝐝𝐠𝐞

In the Holy Quran Allah (Glorious and Exalted Is He) says,

They said, “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.”

(Quran Chapter Al-Baqarah 2:32) Saheeh International https://quran.com/2/32   

‘O Allah, I seek refuge in you from the kind of knowledge which does not give benefit, from the heart in which there is no fear, from the soul which does not become satisfied and Dua which is not accepted.’ Aamiin Aamiin Aamiin Ya Rabbal Al-Aamiin 🤲. 

Sattar Bawany

𝐁𝐢𝐛𝐥𝐢𝐨𝐠𝐫𝐚𝐩𝐡𝐲 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩 𝐋𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐒𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐭 𝐌𝐮𝐡𝐚𝐦𝐦𝐚𝐝 (𝐩𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐞 𝐛𝐞 𝐮𝐩𝐨𝐧 𝐡𝐢𝐦)

Abu al-Fiḍā ‘Imād Ad-Din Ismā‘īl ibn ‘Umar ibn Kathīr al-Qurashī Al-Damishqī (701-774/1302-1373). The Life of the Prophet Muhammad: Al-Sîrah alNabawiyya. Translated by Trevor Le Gassick. Reviewed by Ahmad Fareed and Muneer Fareed. Reading, UK: Garnet Publishing Limited, 1998-1999. 4 vols. 1960 pp.

Abū Ghuddah, ʻAbd al-Fattāḥ. Prophet Muhammad the Teacher and His Teaching Methodologies. Karachi: Zam Zam Publishers, 2003

Muhammad Ibn Ishâq, (d. 151/768). Ibn Ishaq’s The Life of Muhammad. Translated by Alfred Guillaume. London: Oxford University Press, 1955. Reprinted Karachi, 1967, 1978. 815 pp.

Muhammad Sa‘id Ramadan al-Buti, Jurisprudence in Muhammad’s Biography: Scientific and Systematic Studies of Lessons, Principles and Constitution. Translated and abridged by Ali Rustum. 1st ed. Damascus: Dar al-Ma’arifah, 1988. 165 pp.

Muhammad al-Ghazali (1335-1416/1917-1996). Fiqh-us-Seerah: Understanding the Life of Prophet Muhammad. 2nd ed. Saudi Arabia: International Islamic Publishing House (IIPH). 514 pp.

Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri (b. 1361/1942). Ar-Raheeq al-Makhtûm (The Sealed Nectar): Biography of the Noble Prophet. 1st edition. Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 1416/1996. 503 pp.

John Adair. The Leadership of Muhammad. Kogan Page, 2010. 148 pp ISBN 9780749460761

Sattar Bawany. Leadership in Disruptive Times. Business Expert Press (BEP) Inc. New York, NY, 314 pp. July 2020 ISBN 9781952538360. Details available at https://www.disruptiveleadership.institute/book/ and Sample Chapter available as a download from https://www.businessexpertpress.com/books/leadership-in-disruptive-times/

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