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Book on the leadership of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad breaks new ground

We might assume that there’s nothing more that we can learn know about the Prophet Muhammad. His life has been chronicled in meticulous detail, and we certainly know far more about him than about any other founder of a world religion. Yet Professor Joel Hayward, an internationally reputed scholar based in Abu Dhabi, has tackled the leadership of the Prophet from an entirely new vantage point. As a consequence, he has arrived at new and important conclusions about precisely how Muhammad managed to create a vision for a better future and articulate that vision so skillfully and coherently that he convinced the people around him to want it too and then to work, and even to fight defensively, to make it a reality.

In his fifteenth book, Prof Hayward, who teaches at the National Defense College of the United Arab Emirates, adopted a new approach to the Prophet. Although a Muslim himself, he did not start with what he sees as the understandable but flawed logic found in many Islamic books on Muhammad.

Those books say that Muhammad was devout, honest, compassionate, tolerant, patient, fair, decisive and courageous. These traits, their authors insist, are the very things that made Muhammad a great leader. Prof Hayward says he fully agrees with this characterization of Muhammad, but rejects it as the explanation for his success.

“To say that his moral character was what made Muhammad an effective leader makes no sense,” he explains. “We simply cannot continue to claim that, because he was both a very good man and a successful leader, we must conclude that he was a successful leader because he was very good man.”

“That’s unsustainable,” Prof Hayward says. “History reveals that very many deeply imperfect, corrupt or wickedly cruel people — including Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Stalin and Mao Zedong — have been very successful leaders.” In terms of terms of what scholars call “causality,” which means the actual reasons for something happening, Hayward says we have to look elsewhere to explain Muhammad’s effectiveness as a leader. “Let’s be clear,” Hayward points out, “that while it can be true that a good person is a good leader, it can equally be true that a bad person is a good leader. Likewise, it can be true that a good person is a bad leader, and equally true that a bad person is a bad leader. Thus, a leader’s elevated morality does not necessarily cause leadership effectiveness.”

Prof Hayward says that we should not look at Muhammad’s traits or his moral character for the explanation — in other words, at how Muhammad was — but at what he actually did. “I have attempted to analyze his actual leadership ideas, methods, and related behavior,” he explains. “In other words, I have focused on what he thought and did while leading in order to ascertain whether his concepts, actions and habits reveal substantial and meaningful insights into the effectiveness of his leadership.” By this, Prof Hayward means he meticulously investigated what the early Arabic sources reveal about Muhammad’s capacity and aptitude for leadership in order to make a determination as to whether, and to what degree, Muhammad consciously acted in ways that produced positive results, especially the results he actually sought, during his twenty-three years as a leader.

Hayward’s conclusions are clear: Muhammad’s leadership skills in three key areas — strategic thinking, strategic acting and strategic influencing — were untaught and intuitive, yet highly developed and extremely effective. “In addition, he quickly learned how to do something better each time and made mental notes of what did or didn’t work so that he could repeat what succeeded and avoid what worked less well.”

Prof Hayward stuck only to the earliest Arabic sources — including Ibn Hisham’s Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, Al-Waqidi’s Kitab al-Maghazi, Ibn Sa‘d’s Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir and al-Tabari’s Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, as well as those hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) that he deemed sufficiently trustworthy — because, as he says, those sources are far less cluttered with embellishment and exaggeration than later accounts.

Hayward has written previous works on the Prophet and Islam, and has more already in development. Yet he says that this book was for him the most enjoyable he’s ever written, mainly because it placed him in an unusual position. “Yes, I’m a Muslim believer and see Muhammad as my final Prophet, but I’m also a scholar trained in the methodology accepted throughout the academic discipline of history, which demands reliable evidence and a genuinely critical intellectual approach. By critical I naturally don’t mean being negative or oppositional. I merely mean being strictly objective. I had to study Muhammad as though he was not my Prophet; as though he was only any leader from history like, say, Alexander the Great or Charlemagne. To my satisfaction, I can confirm that, having studied his leadership in painstaking detail, I feel even more impressed by him than I had been before I wrote this book.”

Prof Hayward hopes that both Muslims and non-Muslims will enjoy learning about the historical Muhammad. Because this book explains Muhammad’s abilities to see and maximize opportunities and to strategize and prioritize, and elucidates the Prophet’s profound and intuitive understanding of human nature, Hayward also believes that the book will prove illuminating and useful to the audience he mainly intended it for: students of leadership, management, and behavioral psychology.