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Managing Perception: Umar’s Way

A couple of days ago I made a video and alluded to the first principle of leadership – trustworthiness. In the short, two and a half minute video, I mentioned the importance of trustworthiness, its components and how it is manifested within the leader. However, there is an integral part to trustworthiness that I did not mention – the perception of being trustworthy.

There is a difference between being trustworthy and being perceived as trustworthy. It is important to understand that the leader can be dishonest but perceived as trustworthy due to the circumstances and vice versa. A true leader will truly be honest, sincere and take measure to ensure that the perception of honesty is also guarded.

During the time of the second caliph, Saidina Umar Al Khattab r.a., the expansion and spread of Islam reached deep into Persia and Rome. As such, the exchange of thought and philosophy between these civilizations and Islam began. Muslims found themselves in unfamiliar cultures and intertwined exposures to people of other denominations.

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Ibn Shibh narrated that Umar appointed Mujasha’ Ibn Mas’ood in charge of some work, and he heard that his wife (Mujasha’s wife) kept buying new furnishings. Umar wrote to him and said, “From the slave of Allah, The Commander of the Faithful, to Mujasha’ Ibn Mas’ood. Peace be upon you. I have heard that Al-Khudayra’ keeps buying new furnishings. When this letter of mine reaches you, I urge you not to put it down until you have torn down her wall hangings.”

The letter reached him while he was with a few people. He looked at the letter, upset and shaking, clasping it, he said, “Get up!” So they got up, still oblivious to the reason, took them to his house and invited them in. He said, “Let each one of you take what is nearest to him in this direction and tear it down!”. So they all tore it down and threw it on the ground, the letter was still in his hand; he had not put it down yet.

Mujasha’ was appointed as a viceroy representing Islam and the Caliph, in a foreign land because he was trustworthy. In this case, the wall hangings was bought by his wife and probably with her own money. However, this would be a cause for the people to talk and therefore, rumours of corruption by the government.

In another affair, The Governor of Iraq, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas built a gate surrounding his house as it was too close to the market and the gate helped to block the noise. Soon after, people referred to his house as the Palace of Sa’d. This news reached Umar r.a., who summarily despatched Muhammad bin Maslamah to burn down the gate. Mind you, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas is one of the sahabah who was promised Jannah and a beloved uncle of the Prophet s.a.w.

As a muslim leader, Umar r.a. ensures that each of his appointed governors were trustworthy, and that any perception of corruption is removed promptly. It is not just a matter of taking measures to avoid corruption, but it is also integral to ensure that the leaders are free from being perceived as corrupt – whether in wealth or in manners.

We see these type of cases resounding throughout the History of the Khulafa Ur Rasyidin. These caliphs believed that they represented Islam in every aspect of their lives and they had the duty, not only to uphold the best behaviour, but to ensure that the perception of Islam is never tarnished due to their deeds. Truly exemplary leadership.

A true standard of leadership – trustworthy, inside and out. But what can we learn from this?

  1. In the case of a business entity, appointing a leader that is corrupt or perceived as corrupt must be avoided.
  2. In selecting political parties to lead a nation, selecting a party that has been proven to have corruption cases or even ongoing corruption cases must be avoided
  3. On an individual basis, the individual must avoid situation which give rise to his trustworthiness to be compromise. For example, making an allegation that is later proven to be false.

 

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