Leadership and Islam
Originally Published in Patheos on May 29th, 2017
There is no doubt that in every institution be it religious or secular, leadership plays a vital role in its progress. That is why every town, city or nation has to have people who lead. Even in the animal kingdom, there is a well observed role of leadership. When camels move in the desert, it is observed that a dominant male leads and the rest follow in whichever direction it goes.
The leader of any organization plays an important role in shaping the behavior or culture of that organization. The integrity of the leader is always vital in this regard. When the ethics of the leader are compromised the organization, be it religious or secular, begins to weaken. This is a universal rule which applies to any organization with no exception.
Just as a lack of proper leadership brings about weakening of a secular organization so does lack of leadership in a faith group bring about waywardness of its adherents who go in any direction like flocks without a shepherd. In the absence of leadership in matters of faith, the faithful get disorganized and disoriented. So can a true faith which claims to be from God be without leadership?
Leadership is essential in Islam. That is why in the daily congregational prayers, there has to be a leader in the form of an Imam. This is so important that without an Imam, there can be no congregational prayers among a group of Muslims. The need for an Imam symbolizes unification and discipline without which Islam cannot be practiced properly. If individual congregations need an Imam to unify them, can anyone deny that the Muslim community as a whole does not require a central Imam, who will be the leader of all the Imams to bring all of them together as a whole body?
Islam, during the time of Prophet Muhammad was firmly united under his leadership and the followers looked up to him for direction in all matters. The community of Muslims at that time was a solid block and was reformed under its divinely appointed leader. After the demise of Prophet Muhammad, the leadership fell into the hands of his successors (Khalifas) who steered the affairs of the community to continue the reformation of the followers.
Muhammad had a prophecy that after the rightly guided Khilafat which followed him, the leadership of the Muslim community will pass through periods where it will be led by corrupt monarchs and tyrannical despotism as long as God wills. Then after such dark periods, Khilafat will emerge again (Musnad Ahmad). This statement of Muhammad (called Hadith) finds root in the Quran, which is believed to be the direct words of God. In the Quran God promises those who believe and do good works that He will make them successors (khalifas) on the earth as He made successors from among those before them [24:56]. Will God fail on His promise while believers continue to live on the earth?
Many Muslims feel that there is a need for a central leadership in the form of khilafat as promised by God in the Quran which has also been recorded in the sayings of Muhammad. This has led some people, both past and present to establish this form of central leadership with their own might. Such past attempts generally failed and are forgotten about and the current so called “khilafat” by ISIS which has been forced on the people is on the brink of collapse.
The true Khilafat which has been established by God Himself is the Khilafat of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. This Khilafat was established 109 years ago on May 27th 1908, after the demise of a humble servant of God, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, who claimed to be the reformer of the later days awaited by Islam and all other faiths. He claimed that he had been appointed by God to bring mankind back to the worship of the One God and stated that he fulfills the prophecy made in the Quran and in the sayings of Prophet Muhammad.
After the demise of Ahmad, Khilafat (successorship) was established as the central authority to guide the Muslim Community just as it happened after the demise of Prophet Muhammad. Although some Muslims have rejected this Khilafat, just like prophets of God were rejected by some people in the past, many Muslims and non-Muslims have not heard of or had any contact with this divinely established central leadership in Islam.
Through the leadership of the current Khalifa, Mirza Masroor Ahmad who is the fifth successor to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, followers of this community live the true exemplary life as taught in the Quran in whichever country they find themselves. The people of this community engage in activities which promote the welfare of other people as enshrined in the Quran. They live by the moto of the community which is “love for all, hatred for none” and reject any form or shape of terrorism which is against the true teachings of Islam.