Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was “the only man [we can say leader] in history who was supremely successful on both the secular and religious level”, says Michael Hart in his book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. It was Allah Almighty who appointed Prophet (PBUH) as the leader of the Muslims of Madina and also for the rest of the Muslim Ummah:

“And We made them into leaders to guide people in accordance with Our command, and We inspired them to good works, and to establish Prayers and to give Zakah. They worshipped Us alone” (Quran 21:73).

And His choice, as we know, can never be anything less than extraordinary.

There are many characteristics that make Muhammad (PBUH) a successful leader and many lessons lay in the Prophet’s (PBUH) leadership that is still relevant for Muslims today. Let us elucidate what makes the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) an excellent leader and what we can learn from him. A good leader should:

Be Merciful

In the Holy Quran, Allah Almighty says about Prophet (PBUH):

“And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds” (21:107).

And indeed the Prophet (PBUH) was the epitome of peace and mercy. Whenever he was wronged by anyone, he would forgive them and would refrain from holding grudges. It is narrated by Anas that once a Jewish woman tried to poison the Prophet (PBUH) and upon knowing her deed, he let her go without so much as a punishment (Muslim). This shows that the Prophet (PBUH) was not only merciful and mindful of the Muslims but was also kind to non-Muslims.

Care for the Poor

The Holy Prophet (PBUH) proved himself to be the most kind and charitable leader there was. He preached his Ummah to take care of the poor and needy, to not wrong an orphan and to keep for you (as a leader) only what is necessary for subsistence. The Prophet (PBUH) did not appropriate any wealth while he lived and he instructed his companions to distribute among the poor whatever was left after his death:

"Not even a single Dinar of my property should be distributed (after my death to my inheritors, but whatever I leave excluding the provision for my wives and my servants, should be spent in charity." [Bukhari, “Laws of Inheritance” 33].

This hadith is proof that even in his death he was mindful of and worried about the poor and wanted to help them as much as he could.

Be Just

Allah Almighty clearly states in Surah Al-Ma’un that those who deny rights are to be looked down upon:

Have you seen the one who denies the Recompense? For that is the one who drives away the orphan. And does not encourage the feeding of the poor. So woe to those who pray. [But] who are heedless of their prayer - Those who make show [of their deeds]. And withhold [simple] assistance (Quran 107:1-7).

As a leader, one should not only do anything in their power to make the lives of his people easier but should also offer assistance whenever approached. In addition, a leader should be just in such a way so as to not discriminate against anyone based on gender, race or class status.

Be Trustworthy

The Holy Prophet was known as Sadiq and Ameen and everyone knew that he could be trusted fully. Even those who did not believe in the message of Islam sometimes gave him their assets for safekeeping. For someone, who had so many enemies (based on the opposition of Islam), to be trusted in such a manner is a testament to the kind of person and leader he was.

Ibn `Abbas (RA) reported: “after the verse 'and warn your closest kinsmen' was revealed, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) went out, climbed the hill of Safa and shouted to get their attention. They said, “What's this?” and gathered before him. He addressed them, saying, “If I was to inform you that horsemen were in the valley behind this hill ready to attack you, would you believe me?" They replied, "Yes, for we have never known you to lie”. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Indeed, I am a warner to you of severe punishment” (Bukhari).

It is important for the people to trust in their leader and hence it is a quality that must be present in anyone who aims to be a good leader.

Understands the need of time

A good leader is also one who acts according to the situation and circumstances of those he rules over. The Prophet (PBUH) made sure that he did not burden his companions more than was necessary. The Muslims were weak in Makkah and so neither Allah nor the Prophet asked them for Jihad. But once the Muslims had migrated to Madina, the Prophet (PBUH) knew that their hold had become stronger which is why the Prophet (PBUH), by the permission of Allah guided them towards Jihad for the one true religion.

However, a good leader does not create unnecessary warfare and tries to lessen the damage as much as possible – he did not only care for people on his side but even for the enemy. A good leader is hence compassionate and empathetic as well.

Involve the people in decision-making process

The Prophet (PBUH) took his people and their recommendations seriously. The Battle of Trench is one example of how the Prophet (PBUH) took the suggestions of his companions seriously. It was Salman Farsi’s decision to dig a trench as a strategy against the enemy and although the Prophet (PBUH) could have disagreed, he decided to trust Salman (RA) and the decision proved fruitful. In the Quran the Lord says:

“So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him]” (3:159).

The Prophet (PBUH) was a successful leader because he was patient, kind, just and truthful. These traits not only allowed him to lead better, but they also made him a good humanitarian, which is the most a good leader can hope to be. There is no bigger humanitarian than Muhammad (PBUH) and in him we will always find an example of a great leader.