I wrote this for OnIslam.net.
Lessons in Followership from the Companions – 3
Good followers are naturally good workers. They are committed and excellence and detail oriented (ihsan). They continuously learn from the leader and from elsewhere, regularly sharpening the saw.
While supporting the leader, a follower does not neglect his own needs. He takes the time to nurture himself, by paying attention to his salah, his personal obligations, and so on. He doesn’t let his community work detract from his personal obligations. Taking from the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he monitors the state of balance in his activities.
Good followership is characterized by good character. Good followers tolerate inconvenience for the sake of the bigger picture – whatever that may be. They learn to give and take – sometimes taking only criticism in return for hard work – all for the sake of the vision.
“… and whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves…”
[Surah Ash-Shuraa, 42:38]
When decisions are made, they are done through genuine consultation – wherever there is room for different views to be aired and, most importantly, for those views to be given reasonable consideration. Minds are not made up before the consultation and the so-called consultation session does not become a ground to defend the decision that has already been made.
Once a decision is made after unanimous or majority agreement, there is no allowance to override that decision. A classic example of the dangers that arise from overthrowing the leader’s instruction is the result of the Battle of Uhud, when a few of the Muslim soldiers decided that it would be alright to drop their guard – against instruction.
Intelligent followers recognize that conflict occurs when Satan is in the room, not necessarily because of valid shortcomings.
During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) there were many types of people in the community. Although the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them all) were generally a strong and morally upright force, there were in that same society some weak Muslims and hypocrites. The latter would spill out their critical remarks, not when the gathering was open for discussion, but afterwards. They would speak in the absence of the leader and try to create rifts or stir up doubts about what was discussed in the gatherings. This type of najwa (private conversation; negative connotation) has no room in the life of an effective follower.
“No good is there in much of their private conversation, except for those who enjoin charity or that which is right or conciliation between people…”
[Surah An-Nisa, 4:114]
“Have you not considered those who were forbidden from private conversation, then they return to that which they were forbidden and converse among themselves about sin and aggression and disobedience to the Messenger?…”
[Surah Mujaadilah, 58:8]
In social life, followership is often of a voluntary nature. We attach ourselves to social organisations in order to make a contribution, usually for the sake of Allah. There is the danger, however, of getting our intentions corrupt. While continuing to be a follower, we also take an interest in the titles that are bestowed on us within the organisation. There is competition to get to the most coveted title in the team structure – perhaps with good intention, but fuelled by najwa knowingly or unknowingly. A sincere follower, taking the example of the Sahabah, finds comfort in the title bestowed on him by Allah – the title of Abdullah or Amatullah, regardless of where he sits on the madrasah committee.
Likewise we may apply this to the legislative structures in society. The aim of anyone entering public service should be service, and thus it should continue to be. Fulfilling the role of follower effectively is great service to begin with, if we are sincere.
As my teacher said, “To become a leader, first you have to follow.” Najwa amongst the followership leads to destruction of the leadership. So what is the guidance to prevent this type of destruction?
“O you who have believed, when you are told, “Space yourselves” in assemblies, then make space; Allah will make space for you. And when you are told, “Arise,” then arise; Allah will raise those who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge, by degrees. And Allah is Acquainted with what you do.”
[Surah Mujaadilah, 58:11]
Imagine the scene of a gathering of the Sahabah during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). When the hypocrites and weak Muslims are spread in the gathering and sitting in different places, there is virtually no opportunity for them to stir up trouble. Would any troublemaker dare try their tricks when seated within a hand span of an intellectual giant like Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), for instance? The troublemakers only draw their strength when they are in a group, all seated together and egging each other on with their disturbing whispers.
This is guidance for dealing with such types of people and nipping trouble in the bud. Whether in a gathering or in assigning tasks, we spread the troublemakers out and weaken their effect.