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By Ustaz Muhammad Haniff Hassan
(This article is translated and improved from the original Malay version in Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Nabi Sulaiman & Budaya Organisasi Cemerlang(bah. 1 dan 2), available here. )
Any da`wah organisation that strives towards the development of a Muslim community of excellence must themselves live by the culture of excellence in order to achieve its mission.
There are many references that can be referred to as guidance for organisational excellence. However, the Qur’an is full of divine guidance and models to attain excellence in all aspects of Man’s life and, thus, it must be one of the primary references. One of this guidance is manifested through the story of Prophet Sulaiman a.s in the Qur’an 27:15-44, which touches on Prophet Sulaiman’s power and rule and his dealing with Queen Balqis of Sheba kingdom.
It will not be possible to provide a full exegeses and elucidation on organisational excellence from the verses because of the limited space available for this article. Thus, the focus here will be on key points on culture of excellence in an organisation. Detailed explanations can be found in various tafsirs for those readers who are interested.
In this article, the author wishes to highlight 10 points on organisational excellence as lessons for da’wah organisations.
One: Good resource management that seeks to optimise every followers’ potential, regardless of their status.
This point can be discerned from Prophet Sulaiman a.s ’s ability to garner benefits from resources that Allah has bestowed upon him such as jinn, human, wind and animals (The Qur’an, 27:16-17). Prophet Sulaiman a.s was humble to benefit from even a small bird such as the hoopoe. He did not belittle the information relayed to him by the hoopoe and entrusted the hoopoe to deliver his letter to Balqis, ruler of a kingdom that the hoopoe discovered in its journey and informed Prophet Sulaiman a.s about it, despite its small size (27:27-8).
Thus, a da`wah organisation must strive to be open to the contribution of all levels of society and able to garner the potential of every single person, working or elite class, affiliated to it or not.
Two: Having high discipline in life and work culture.
Virtue of discipline can be discerned in the story of Prophet Sulaiman a.s in the Qur’an.
The Qur’an informs that Prophet Sulaiman a.s organised and put orders to his army, “And [one day] there were assembled before Solomon his hosts of invisible beings, and of men, and of birds; and then they were led forth in orderly ranks.” (27:17).
Prophet Sulaiman a.s also demanded discipline from his subjects and would punish those who broke his rule without valid reasons as exemplified in his dealing with the hoopoe in the following verse, “And [one day] he looked in vain for [a particular one of] the birds; and so he said: How is it that I do not see the hoopoe? Or could he be among the absent? [If so,] I will punish him most severely or will kill him unless he brings me a convincing excuse!” (27:20-1)
The importance of discipline has been recognised by scholars of organisational excellence. An organisation must uphold culture of discipline and orderliness at all levels – discipline and orderliness in organisation, decision making, human relations and others – to achieve excellence.
Three: Having high initiative to achieve mission.
The Qur’an shows that Prophet Sulaiman a.s succeeded in cultivating subjects that were highly proactive in their service of him. This can be seen from the following instances:
- The Hoopoe offered information to Prophet Sulaiman a.s which it gathered from a travel it took on its own accord and, as a result, Prophet Sulaiman a.s succeeded in bringing in Queen Balqis and her people to true religion, made them partners in his prophetic mission and expanded his rule to Sheba (27:22-44).
- `Ifrit, a subject of Sulaiman a.s from amongst the jinn, volunteered to bring Balqis’ throne to Prophet Sulaiman a.s before her arrival to meet him (27:39),
- An Anonymous subject of Prophet Sulaiman a.s took the initiative to offer a better solution (than the one offered by `Ifrit) to Prophet Sulaiman’s order (27:40).
An organisation with members who are high in initiative, ever willing to volunteer their services in order to fulfil a mission that they believe in will surely be better than an organisation whose members are passive and would work only when ordered.
It could also be deduced that the abovementioned virtues of excellence were the result of Prophet Sulaiman’s leadership qualities – open and ever willing to listen to good ideas from any of his subjects, regardless of their status which presents a good lesson for organisational excellence.
Four: Embracing everything that leads to excellence and enliving healthy competition for the sake of it.
One look at the offers made by `Ifrit and the anonymous person in order to fulfill Prophet Sulaiman’s requests highlights only a small difference in the time taken for delivery; one that would brought Queen Balqis’ throne before Prophet Sulaiman a.s could complete his rise from his seat and the other before his eye could blink (24:39-40). The actual time difference between the two were only few seconds. In fact, the first solution offered by `Ifrit was excellent enough and sufficient to project Prophet Sulaiman’s power and greatness.
Credit should be given to Prophet Sulaiman a.s for his success in cultivating a culture of excellence and healthy competition to the extent that even a small time and quality difference did not hamper the anonymous person to rival `Ifrit’s solution.
One should also taken notice of the fact that Prophet Sulaiman a.s opted for the most excellent idea despite the small difference in outcome in order to promote a culture of excellence among his subjects and in his organisation.
An organisation that seeks excellence must live with an organisational culture that is constantly seeking to produce the best outcomes only. Its members must not be contented with greatness that they have achieved but continue to climb to a new level of greatness.
Five: Giving high value to knowledge and people of knowledge.
Islam values knowledge because it regards knowledge as a pillar of progress and excellence. To be an excellent organisation, it must be built on the premise of love for knowledge and respect for people of knowledge and experts.
Prophet Sulaiman’s organisation is rich with knowledge-based practices. It recognises information and knowledge brought by a small bird like the hoopoe. It encourages the generation of ideas that compete with each other for excellence. It is filled with members who hold great knowledge such as `Ifrit and its anonymous rival (27:39-40), not ignorant nobles who seek only to please their master or those whose position is secured through cronyism. It practices consultation in order to seek best opinions for a problem.
In fact, Prophet Sulaiman a.s himself is an excellent example of a leader who wielded power and attained greatness because of his mastery of various disciplines of knowledge that allowed him to manipulate nature, garner animal’s potentials and control over jinn (27:17). With knowledge, Prophet Sulaiman a.s was able to reign over Queen Balqis and her kingdom.
Sixth: Information and knowledge sharing.
Good information and knowledge management is critical in today’s context is critical for an organisation to attain excellence because everything is geared towards knowledge-based. Thus, terminology such as knowledge-based economy is widely used and evidence (based)-practices are regularly sought for.
One important manifestation of knowledge management is ability and openness to share information and knowledge and this can be seen in Prophet Sulaiman a.s ’s organisational practice.
The Hoopoe was free to share information with its master, Prophet Sulaiman a.s , on Queen Balqis and her kingdom without demand (27:22-6). `Ifrit and the anonymous person were quick to offer their ideas and ability to bring to Prophet Sulaiman a.s Queen Balqis’ throne upon request (27:28:40).
When Prophet Sulaiman a.s wanted Queen Balqis’ throne be brought to him, he neither instructed them to execute his ideas nor proposed to them his idea for comment and improvement. Instead, he opened the door for ideas and suggestions to his subjects with an open question, “[When Solomon learned that the Queen of Sheba was coming,] he said [to his council]: “O you nobles! Which of you can bring me her throne ere she [Balqis] and her followers come unto me in willing surrender to God?”” (27:38). This highlights Prophet Sulaiman a.s ’s style of leadership and openness to knowledge sharing.
Seven: Practicing syura (consultation) in decision making.
Islam values consultation and enjoins Muslim to practice it when making important decisions. In view of its importance in Islam, consultation or syura must be a fundamental practice in organisations in order to achieve excellence. In the case of Prophet Sulaiman a.s , he exemplified it by consulting his subjects with regards to Queen Balqis’ throne (27:38).
This can also be seen from the practice of Prophet Muhammad who always consulted his Companions on important issues such as;
- where to establish his army’s camp before the Battle of Badr
- what to do with prisoners of war after the Battle of Badr
- whether to confront the enemy from outside or inside Medina before the Battle of Uhud
- how to call people for prayers at the mosque.
The Qur’an describes Prophet Sulaiman a.s as a magnanimous ruler. When passing by a valley with his army and upon hearing an ant’s warning to its’ colony to run away so as not to be trampled, Prophet Sulaiman a.s took necessary measures to avoid causing destruction to the colony (27:18-9). Prophet Sulaiman a.s also took the information relayed to him by the hoopoe seriously (27:22-6). Prophet Sulaiman a.s did not ignore or belittle both the ant and hoopoe despite their small size.
Being a great ruler and prophet did not make Prophet Sulaiman a.s dismissive towards `Ifrit, a jinn who is known for its evil nature, from sitting in his consultative council and to listen to `Ifrit’s suggestion (27:39). He did not execute `Ifrit’s suggestion because there was a better idea (27:40), not because it was from a jinn.
His magnanimity can also be seen in the following instance: “Thereupon [Solomon] smiled joyously at her words, and said: “O my Sustainer! Inspire me so that I may forever be grateful for those blessings of Thine with which Thou hast graced me and my parents, and that I may do what is right [in a manner] that will please Thee; and include me, by Thy grace, among Thy righteous servants!” (27:19) and “And when he saw it truly before him, he exclaimed: “This is [an outcome] of my Sustainer’s bounty, to test me as to whether I am grateful or ungrateful! However, he who is grateful [to God] is but grateful for his own good; and he who is ungrateful [should know that], verily, my Sustainer is self-sufficient, most generous in giving!” (27:40). He did not attribute his success to his own effort. He dedicated it to God and to his parents.
An organisation that strives for excellence must make magnanimity as its ethos and ensure that its members live with it. An excellent organisation is an organisation with a “big heart”, not an organisation for “big people” only and,worse, if it does not show care to the small, weak and meek.
Nine: Rational and strategic thinking.
Prophet Sulaiman a.s organisational excellence is also attributed to his rational mind. His anger towards the hoopoe for disappearing without permission did not stop him from listening to information brought by the bird. He chose to forgive the hoopoe as a reward for the valuable information that the bird provided, rather than imposing punishment for its mistake (27:20-7). His rational mind can also be seen from his consultation with his subjects. He considered ideas based on merit, not based on person (27:38-40). He did not mindlessly attack Queen Balqis’s kingdom, although he was more superior and was confident of defeating her (27:37). Instead, he carefully devised a plan to win over Queen Balqis without resorting to destructive war (27:38). His rational mind made him open to anything that is good, regardless whether it came from a small or evil personnel. Being rational made him capable to put things at its right place. His move was based on strategic consideration, not out of impulse and emotion.
Thus, an excellent organisation is an organisation that acts and thinks rationally and strategically based on the right information and knowledge. This character must be cultivated as a deep-rooted culture within its leaders and members. To excel, an organisation must stay far away from behaving in an emotional manner instead of acting based on a herd mentality or pure enthusiasm.
Ten: Favouring a peaceful and harmonious solution to conflict.
When receiving Queen Balqis’ delegation, Prophet Sulaiman a.s said, “Go thou back unto them [that have sent thee]! For, [God says:] ‘We shall most certainly come upon them with forces which they will never be able to withstand, and shall most certainly cause them to be driven from that [land of theirs], despicable and humbled!’ ” (27:37)
Although Prophet Sulaiman a.s was capable of waging war against Queen Balqis’s kingdom and defeating her army militarily, he chose a non-military solution instead (27:38). This highlights his greatness and wisdom as a ruler and general and the noble character he possessed. At a time where the use of military power to attain hegemonic power was a norm and the display of military might was necessary in order to assert authority as how Queen Balqis herself stated to her council, “Said she: “Verily, whenever kings enter a country they corrupt it, and turn the noblest of its people into the most abject. And this is the way they [always] behave?” (27:34), it was not easy for a great ruler not to act based on the power that the had while at the same time contenting himself with a non-violent and aggressive victory. Nevertheless, Prophet Sulaiman a.s chose the latter approach in order to avoid destruction and because it represents the true spirit of the religion (Islam) that he was tasked to propagate.
Thus, an excellent organisation is one that will always strive for a non-violent, destructive or conflictual solution to a problem it faces when in conflict with others.
It is hoped that this article provides a platform for da’wah organisations to start reflecting on their practices and to humbly seek to improve their intrinsic dynamics so that their excellence can be an illuminating example to other organisations in an increasingly competitive world where self-entitlement and aggrandisement is becoming an increasing norm.