8 Leadership Lessons From A Shepherd’s Life
At the mosque I’m teaching, we held an outdoor lesson in the park. It was titled Green Prophets Of Islam. We looked at Ibn Kathir’s biography (Seerah) of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and more specifically, the various lessons taught from the prophets’ shepherding duties prior to being given prophethood (Risalah).
“All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for [your] flock. An Imam is a shepherd and he is responsible for those in his care. A man is a shepherd in respect of his family and is responsible for those in his care. The woman is a shepherd in respect of her husband’s house and is responsible for those in her care. The servant is a shepherd in respect of his master’s property and is responsible for what is in his care. All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock.”
From Riyad Al-Saliheen of Imam al-Nawawi.
When you work for someone, you are hired to do the job asked of you. In essence, the prophets (Anbiya) were hired by God. They had to report to God. So, a shepherd can’t say ‘oh well, I lost the sheep, they were stupid, it’s their fault’. No, it doesn’t matter if the sheep wander, you, as the leader (Khalif) are responsible.
From this we learn that each of us are held accountable for our ‘flock’. The key lesson is figuring out exactly where our flock is, who we are leading and then looking after them responsibly.
Being a shepherd teaches each prophet to be patient. The flock will fight and squabble, they will play and want to hang about. You can’t say, ‘it’s time to leave’ to a flock of sheep, you have wait for them to finish what they’re doing.
Two of the most patient prophets of Islam are Musa `alayhis-salam and Nuh alayhis-salam, both of whom learnt skills in communicating beautifully with people, and being extraordinarily patient. So, wait. Wait for your flock until they’re ready.
Muslims believe in the unseen; the invisible creations of angels, jinn and unpredictable events. There are unseen dangers which we can’t see and there are obstacles which animals cannot see. Animals need protection from diseases, from attacks, from toxic food and dangers. Only an alert shepherd standing tall can be on top of it all.
By their nature, the prophets are protective of their followers. Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, talked about every danger, even those in the future. He gave us more details than any other prophet. Being on Earth in a position of protection, it is our job to watch out for every form of corruption and prevent it.
If you were to see a blind man walking toward a cliff, what would you do? E-mail him? Would you think of the nicest way to warn him without offending? No, you’d scream and shout. Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s blessings be upon him said he was warning us about Hellfire, “Anthar dhutu-kum an-naar!”
4. Vision and Foresight
Sheep are closer to earth and have limited eyesight. The smallest of obstacles will block their view. Human beings however, have a vantage point of being taller, upright, seeing father than sheep. We are able to give an advantageous warning to our flock by seeing what they don’t see. As the prophets detected dangers they had clearer vision and a longer view. They are the first to notice what is good for their flock and they have a better understanding of which path to take.
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani’s commentary,
“The wisdom behind having the Prophets as shepherds before prophethood is that they may become skilled in herding a flock, as they will be responsible for their respective nations in the future…”
When you’re travelling in the desert you can’t take your car, your bedroom and bags with you. When you travel cross-country, or commute to work, only the greedy will pack everything they own. You take just the essentials. You learn to give up things, sacrifice.
Travelling light is the lifestyle of a shepherd, and by extension, all the prophets. They ate simple food, they became accustomed to different environments and had to deal with the changes. Climates, lack of water, geological and social events, are challenges to which the prophets had to adapt. But they still fulfilled their duties.
This is also summed up beautifully in a hadith of Prophet Muhammad, Allahs’ blessings and peace be upon him, who said,
“If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.” – Al-Albani.
Don’t stop doing good and living consciously, even if Judgement Day arrives.
Living like a nomad will inevitably bring about contemplation. To travel amongst nature with only your duties in mind pulls you out of the artificial world (dunya). You become in sync with the seasons and nature.
The concrete life we’re leading could leave its scars. Thus, its ‘plasticness’ goes against our natural disposition as humans. We are created from a malleable clay and therefore are part of the Earth.
Keeping away from the natural keeps us away from the contemplation of Allah. On your commutes and travels, take the opportunity to contemplate on reality, just as the prophets did. The sun, moon, stars, rivers, plants, animals, rain – they are signs (ayaat) which draw attention to Allah. His creation is a mirror to His ability.
7. Why Sheep/Goats?In the biography (seerah) of Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, we learn he was a shepherd of sheep. Most of the prophets cared for the same, but why sheep?Why sheep? One might wonder why sheep and not the camels since the Arabs raised camels. The reason is simple! Camel is an arrogant and tough animal. You starve it for days and it will not complain. But sheep are small and weak. As a creature, the sheep needs more guidance,cannot treat them with harshness. It cannot direct itself without assistance and easily falls prey to predators. The animal that leaves the flock will be eaten by the wolf, Shaytaan attacks the stray sheep first.
By our clay-like nature, we human beings are always being affected by our surroundings. Our impressionable minds constantly pick up data. Our work moulds us into productive and enthusiastic or lazy and complaining individuals.
A teacher will tend to give advice while a journalist may be critical. Likewise, a shepherd of different animals will develop different traits to deal with them. Since sheep are some of the simpler creature, they require the most mercy. You can’t be harsh or else they will be afraid and won’t listen. See, a shepherd of camels will be dealing with more arrogant creatures therefore softness will not work. So what you do affects your personality. As a Muslim, you should think about the career you want for every profession affects who you are.