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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

 Book Review:  Rozhan Othman’s  Strategic Leadership of Muhammad, s.a.w.

M. Bakri Musa


Ilham Books, Kuala Lumpur, 2024. Indexed with references, 197 pp RM60.00


I have tremendous respect for Syed Naquib Al Attas as a scholar. However, I am less enamored with his “Islamization of Knowledge” fad that he had initiated in the 1970s. Thus imagine my joy on reading in the very first few pages of Rozhan Othman’s Strategic Leadership of Muhammads.a.w., this:


       “I am ... reluctant to attach the prefix “Islamic” to management and leadership.... [B]oth … fall within the realm of mu`amalat [worldly activities in contrast to spiritual ibadat] and are thus governed by the maxim ... [that] everything is permissible unless there is clear evidence prohibiting it…. The use of the term “Islamic” to certain versions of management and leadership implies that other forms … are not …. This is erroneous and misleading.”


            All knowledge comes from Allah. That He chose to dispense the concept of zero to a Hindu, insights on gravity to an Englishman, or secrets of the polio virus to a Jew is not for us to question but to learn and leverage them to benefit mankind. That is Islamic.


            There is a glut of books on the Prophet’s leadership. Most, as with the voluminous ancient texts, are heavy on the prophet’s mythical if not superhuman capabilities as to almost deify him. In relating the Prophet’s many victories, they invariably invoke Allah being on his side. Rozhan Othman’s rendition is a pleasant departure. He uses established management principles and leadership insights to analyze the prophet’s tactics and strategies, off and on the battlefields. Thus:


          “The relationship between effort and outcome is a part of the universal rule of Allah. We cannot neglect the necessary efforts and yet expect to gain the desired outcomes …. Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w., was also subjected to this rule ….”


            Over two-thirds of the book deals with the prophet’s military leadership, the rest his leading the first Muslim community in Medina. To me, the latter best demonstrated the prophet’s leadership genius. His Medina Compact was an exemplary blueprint for state leadership and operational management, bar none. Indeed, sculpted in the US Supreme Court lobby is a depiction of the Prophet, s.a.w. as one of the “great lawgivers of history.”


            Ancient Medina offers many relevant lessons, more so for Malaysia. It was diverse with Muslims, Christians, Jews, and pagans all in one valley and often (far too often) at odds with one another. Sounds familiar? For another, they embraced a pendatang (muhajirunimmigrant) rather than an ansar (native) to be their leader! Hope for non-Malays?


            In first building a mosque and a marketplace in Medina, the Prophet, s.a.w, recognized that once people begin trading or otherwise engaged in commercial interactions with one another, peace would likely ensue. Traders and entrepreneurs view others less as “them versus us” or native versus pendatang, rather more as potential clients, customers, and partners. That prompts a far different response and very positive perspective as well as attitude.


            There is a fundamental difference between leadership on the battlefield versus during peacetime. The former is a zero-sum endeavor; only one side can win. Rarely, a stalemate with both sides cutting their losses. Not so with peacetime leadership or in commerce. IBM does not have to collapse for Apple to succeed. As such, state and business leaders have much to learn from the Prophet’s leadership at Medina.


            The Prophet, s.a.w., did not depend entirely on wahyu (revelations) to guide him, as much traditional accounts would have it. He listened to his wise subordinates. That was another of his attributes–choosing smart people to be around him. Following the victorious Battle of Khaybar (described in some detail in the book) the Prophet, s.a.w., adopted the suggestion of his chief lieutenant Omar in letting the vanquished owners continue operating their fertile fields. Thus was born the concept of waqaf. As Benedikt Koehler intimated in his Early Islam and the Birth of Capitalism (2014), later Europeans would develop waqaf into modern trusts and limited liability corporations.


            Rozhan is both scholar and later, practitioner in his discipline. A product of modern American liberal education, he holds a doctorate in his field from the University College, Dublin. He once led the Malaysian Muslim Study Group in America.


            This book should be distributed and read widely, in particular among the political and religious establishments. At RM$60 it is affordable, what with the recent civil service pay hikes. Nonetheless, publishers should try reducing the price of books. Having a soft cover, as this one, is a solution; reducing page numbers without compromising content and readability, another. Having a two-column index and references in smaller fonts without double spacing would achieve this.


            Rozihan Othman’s perceptive observations are a refreshing take on an already widely covered topic.


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