An Example of Leadership in Islamic Philanthropy

“Be the leader you wish you had”. “True leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” These quotes sound familiar, right? Most probably you have also been jumping from one leadership seminar to the other and reading dusty books and watching videos to enhance your leadership skills. You too have been probably seeking an answer to the question: What is responsible leadership and how to be one of those leaders?

The following story answers this question and contains a lot of wisdom for leaders in general and leaders in the field of Islamic philanthropy. The honourable Umar (God be pleased with him) – A famous companion and the Caliph after Abu Bakr (RA) – once took an afternoon nap in the shade of a tree. A woman came to him and said: “I am a needy woman and I have children. Umar has sent Muhammad bin Maslamah to our area to collect and distribute Zakat, but he has not given us anything. Could you talk to him on our behalf?” Umar (RA) then called for Muhammed bin Maslamah. Upon arrival, he greeted the Caliph with the following words: “Peace be upon you, O Leader of the believers.” The woman who complained did not know that she complained to Umar himself! A sense of shame overcame her.

Umar (RA) then said to Muhammad: “I have always selected the best Zakat officials! What will be your answer to God when He asks you about this woman’s situation?” Meanwhile, Muhammad’s eyes filled with tears, Umar continued: “When you get back to the area of where this woman lives, give her Sadaqah for the past year and the year before. I am rethinking whether I would send you again (to do this work).” Umar (RA) then gave the woman three camels along with flour and oil and instructed her to sustain herself with it until the Zakat official visits her.

The above story is a beautiful depiction of what responsible leadership towards the less fortunate in a society looks like:

  • Umar (RA) did not make himself known to the lady. The primary focus is that the higher goal is achieved (the well-being of this woman and her children, the development of humankind) and who takes care of that is secondary. It is never about the role, but always about the goal. 
  • Umar (RA) was approachable for all. It is important to create an atmosphere where there is a level playing field between the ‘giver’ and the ‘receiver’. Both the giver and receiver share in each other’s happiness, hope etc.
  • Umar (RA) structurally demonstrated that Zakat should be used to serve faith and the faithful. To empower lives and transform a needy into a prosperous one from a psychological, social, spiritual, and financial perspective. 
  • Umar (RA) emphasised that working in the world of philanthropy comes with immense responsibility. It is important that Zakat officials (workers) are compassionate, have strong bonds with society and above all are committed to the well-being of people. Zakat officials should adopt a mindset that they are serving others. 

By Imad el-Fadili, CEO of NZF in the Netherlands