Flexibility is the Key to Success

January 15th, 2014 @   -  No Comments

Islam, the last straight path defined by Allah for His servants on earth, is characterized by both rigid pillars that can’t be violated and a great deal of flexibility and sophistication, making it valid for every time and place. Islam is rigid when it comes to its goals, objectives and ethical values, and flexible when it comes to the means and methods.

The Prophet (PBUH) warned against rigidity in the practice of religion. He said, “Woe to those who are rigid” (Muslim). He also said, “Abstain from what I had forbidden, and fulfill the duties I had enjoined as best as you can (shunning rigidity) for the nations before you perished because of their (excessive rigidity and) hair-splitting interpretations of religion” (Muslim).

We live in an age of constant and rapid change, and we increasingly deal with people from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions. As Muslims, we need to deal with everyone around us based on our Islamic ethics. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion as to how we should interpret these ethics and values, especially while dealing with those who do not share them. There are so many schools of thought and interpretations, which sometimes confuse the average person.

As leaders, how do we ensure that we are adhering to the true teachings of Islam while being flexible enough to accommodate the customs and values of any other people we deal with inside and outside the organization?

I suggest we consider the following rules:

Make the Quran your first reference

In the Quran, Allah laid for us all the major pillars of our religion and the boundaries that we cannot cross. Allah says, “…and We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things, a Guide, a Mercy, and  Glad Tidings to Muslims” (Quran 16:089).  This verse clearly states that the Quran addresses all the issues to be faced by Muslims in all places at all times.

Refer to the Sunnah as a source of explanation of the Quran

When Aisha (RAA) was asked about the character of the Prophet (PBUH), she explained that his character was the Quran. Although there are people who attribute all sorts of things to our Prophet (PBUH), he did nothing, that can be substantiated, that is in contradiction with the teachings of the Quran. Therefore, anything attributed to the Prophet (PBUH), which somehow contradicts the teachings of the Quran should be disregarded.

Do not compromise on the explicit teachings of the Quran

Allah set certain rules or boundaries for us that are in our best interest whether we happen to understand the wisdom behind them or not. We need to adhere to these teachings without compromise. For example, justice is clearly prescribed for us in the Quran and the Sunnah. Nobody is therefore allowed to say that we can be unjust under certain circumstances.

Be flexible with everything else

Apart from those boundaries that Allah has given us in the Quran and the Prophet (PBUH) has elaborated on in his tradition, we can be very flexible in other matters.

The Prophet (PBUH) was the best example in dealing with life’s issues in a flexible way. He recognized people’s differences, and gave those around him the space to do things their own way whenever possible. For example, when he decided to send Mu’ath bin Jabal to Yemen, he asked him, “How will you judge when the occasion of deciding a case arises?” Mu’ath replied, “I shall judge in accordance with Allah’s Book.” He asked, “(What will you do) if you do not find any guidance in Allah’s Book?” Mu’ath replied, “(I shall act) in accordance with the Sunnah of the Apostle of Allah.” He asked, “(What will you do) if you do not find any guidance in the Sunnah of the Apostle of Allah and in Allah’s Book?” Mu’ath replied, “I shall do my best to form an opinion and I shall spare no effort.” The Prophet (PBUH) then patted him on the breast and said, “Praise be to Allah who has helped the messenger of the Apostle of Allah to find something which pleases the Apostle of Allah.”  

He also recognized that people might have different interpretations of things. When he sent a group of people to Banu Quraidhah, he told them that no one should pray ‘Asr before they get there. For some of them, ‘Asr became due on the way. One group interpreted what the Prophet (PBUH) said literally and decided not to pray until they got there. Another group decided to pray interpreting the Prophet’s (PBUH) words to mean they should hurry to reach their destination. When this reached the Prophet (PBUH), he did not rebuke any of them.

When studying the basic principles of Shari’ah, one finds great flexibility in dealing with worldly issues. As a leader, how flexible are you in allowing the people around you to do things the way they want? Just think how much more you can get out of them when you allow them to bring out the best of what they have.

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