I wrote this for OnIslam.net.
Lessons in Followership from the Companions – 2
Abu Nu’aym quotes Abdullah ibn Umar as saying, “Whoever desires to follow a straight path should follow the path of those who passed away -the Companions of Muhammad. They are the best of his Ummah, the purest in heart, the deepest in knowledge, and the furthest from any false display of piety. They are a community whom God chose for His Prophet’s company and His religion’s conveyance. Try to be like them in conduct and follow their way. They are the Companions of Muhammad. I swear by God, the Master of the Ka’bah, that they were on true guidance.”
So what quality lessons can we learn from this noble generation with regard to excellence in followership?
This attribute is particularly important during times of tribulation where it is extremely easy for negative emotions to flair and for negative qualities to rear their heads.
The battle of Badr could be described as a test of confidence for the Muslims – considering the gap in numbers between the two armies. At this time, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sought the advice of his followers.
The Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them all) were no cowards. Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) was the first to speak up and assure the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) of their unwavering support. Likewise did Umar (may Allah be pleased with him).
Al-Miqdad ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Oh Messenger of Allah, proceed where Allah directs you to, for we are with you. We will not say as the Children of Israel said to Moses (peace be upon him), ‘Go you and your Lord and fight and we will stay here.’ We shall say, ‘Go you and your Lord and fight and we will fight along with you.’ By Allah, if you were to take us to Bark Al-Ghimad, we will still fight resolutely with you against its defenders until you gained it.“
It is poignant to note the words ‘you gained it’ rather than ‘we gained it’ – in respect to the leader.
Sa‘d ibn Muadh (may Allah be pleased with him) from the Ansar said, “Oh Prophet of Allah, we believe in you and we bear witness to what you have vouchsafed to us and we declare in unequivocal terms that what you have brought is the truth. We give you our firm pledge of obedience and sacrifice. We will obey you most willingly in whatever you command us, and by Allah, Who has sent you with the truth, if you were to ask us to plunge into the sea, we will do that most readily and not a man of us will stay behind. We do not grudge the idea of encounter with the enemy. We are experienced in war and we are trustworthy in combat. We hope that Allah will show you through our hands those deeds of valor which will please your eyes. Kindly lead us to the battlefield in the Name of Allah.“
Sa’d (may Allah be pleased with him) also suggested that a structure be built for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) so that it may protect the leader in any event and also to serve as the headquarters for the Muslim soldiers. Such was their concern for the leader, that they would ensure his protection first. In modern times, on the contrary, it’s not unusual for the leader to be the first one to be attacked in the event of a crisis, while the followers shrug off the blame.
The companions accepted and defended Islam in the severest circumstances. For the sake of God they forsook everything they had – their homes, native lands, belongings – and emigrated. Without loyalty, a follower is a severe drain on motivation, time, and energy.
2. Sincere Advice, with Respect to the Leader
Just as a follower is obliged to respect and follower the instructions from the leader, he or she is also obliged to do so only when the instructions are sound, ethical, and correct. It is important, however, to be able to distinguish between a swollen ego and sound judgment.
Again at the time of the battle of Badr, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stopped at a spring of Badr.
Upon seeing this, Al-Hubab ibn Mundhir (may Allah be pleased with him) asked, “Has Allah inspired you to choose this very spot or is it stratagem of war and the product of consultation?” The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) replied, “It is stratagem of war and consultation.“
Al-Hubab then said, “This place is not good. Let us encamp on the nearest water well and make a basin or reservoir full of water, then destroy all the other wells so that they will be deprived of the water.” The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) approved of this plan and the Muslims executed it.
Note his courtesy in verifying the source of the decision before expressing his counter-opinion and his choice of words in asking the question. His respect did not prevent him from serving his sincere advice, albeit in a respectful manner. He was neither of the sheep or yes-people nor of the troublemakers.
When stating an opinion, we treat it as an act of worship and set our intention accordingly. We are not offended if the opinion or piece of advice is not accepted, nor do we remain silent without proffering any opinions in fear of backlash.
“…they strive in the cause of Allah and do not fear the blame of a critic….”
[Surah Ma’idah, 5:54]
We are also conscious that when our advice is accepted, we become responsible for its outcome and therefore we ask for Allah’s guidance before voicing our thoughts.
Success is about performance and achieving the goal rather than achieving recognition. This is where sincerity towards the greater goal matters. This is how smart leaders measure their followers too.