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Leadership Crisis In The Contemporary Muslim World

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[bookmark: _Hlk23617257]This paper is a secondary study based on online research on how modernisation has impacted the contemporary Muslim world. The paper explores the various factors that have contributed to the decline in the Muslim Ummah including the inability of the Muslim leaders to handle the challenges brought by modernisation and how this weak leadership has further led to the decline in the Muslim Ummah in the contemporary world. This paper offers solutions on how the leadership crisis and the challenges can be resolved.


The world is rapidly changing and encountering challenges brought by modernisation. Significantly more so for Muslims whose traditional values seem to contrast with those of modernity. Islam focuses on successes in the hereafter whereas modernisation promotes capitalism which focuses on worldly gains.

Education and media are amongst transformational agents used in the modernisation process. However, these agents have been pro-western. The media, unfortunately, have been exploited to disseminate non-Muslim agendas in their desire to dominate and control Islam. Muslims are accused of injustices such as perpetrating violence and terrorism, restricting basic human rights, oppressing women and promoting slavery. Meanwhile, transformation via education has been skillfully executed. Abu-Rabi (1997) observes how Western powers have founded educational and scientific schools in the heart of Islam, further deviating Muslims from their traditions and beliefs. The Muslims are brainwashed to accept anything Western as sacred and a model to be emulated in this life. These western-educated Muslims take high positions in the societies and become leaders or authorities, further exacerbating the dire situation of the Muslim Ummah.

Moaddel (2002) notices that Muslims educated with the western ideologies have been so influenced that they began to formulate alternative methods to Islamic jurisprudence. They reinterpreted the Quran and hadith, fundamentally transformed ijma and qiyas and popularised ijtihad. Human reason competed with prophetic revelation, maslaha turned into utility, shura into a parliamentary democracy, ijma into public opinion, the ideas of natural selection and the survival of the fittest crept into the Islamic views of change, polygamy became a questionable institution, and Islam itself became identical with civilization (Moaddel, 2002, p9). As observed by Karcic (2001), the failure of Muslim leaders in establishing Islamic priorities can be seen in contemporary Muslim societies such as disputes and troubles about women's code of dress in Iran or about political alliances in Malaysia or about allowing the production and distribution of liquor in certain Muslim countries, or about allowing interest, banking, insurance and mortgage in many Islamic countries.

hmad (2014) identifies economic and cultural globalisation, new technologies of communication and information dissemination, the emergence of social media intersecting the boundaries of the private and the public, global warming and environmental decay, introduction of the weapons of mass destruction in warfare as some of the issues presented in the modern world. These are important issues with ethical and moral implications. Hence, he suggested religious leaders not to only respond to these issues but to provide guidance on how to cope with them. However, the problem for the Muslims is the lack of leaders to guide them in a true Islamic fashion in this contemporary world.

Literature review

Monshipouri and Motameni (2000) in their article ‘Globalization, Sacred Beliefs, and Defiance: Is Human Rights Discourse Relevant in the Muslim World?’ note that internationalisation of lifestyles has become the new manifestation of the modernisation process. Modernity is inescapable however Karcic (2001) in his article ‘Applying the Shari’ah in Modern Societies: Main Developments and Issues’ states that modernisation has been mistakenly identified as western modernity. Any society that intended to become modern must become western and there are now many Muslim states currently under governments that accept secular ideology. For Muslims who try to hold onto their Islamic values, they are criticised for failing to embrace the social organisation and lifestyle of the Western modernity. Esposito (2011) in his article ‘The Future of Islam and U.S.—Muslim Relations’ says that Islam has been viewed as incompatible with modernity, democracy, gender equality, and human rights.

Seleny (2006) in her article ‘Tradition, Modernity, and Democracy: The Many Promises of Islam’ elucidates modernisation like a sword that has severed the shared worldview that once tied Muslim rulers and subjects. The Muslims are not as solidarity and as cohesive as they used to be. With modernisation, the community has broken into individualism. The traditional values of joint or extended families and strong community ties are lost. A good example is how industrialisation brought by modernisation has broken familial structures and values. Women go out and work in factories. Muslim women are no exception; no longer carrying their roles of nurturing and educating their children at home whilst letting the men provide for the family as it should be. From the dissolution of the family, this has transcended to a larger scale to dissolution at the societal level. Moaddel (2002) in his article ‘Discursive Pluralism and Islamic Modernism in Egypt’ agrees that the decline of Islam is due to the weakening of solidarity among Muslims.

Not only the family and societal values became progressively lost, but these changes have also brought many negative consequences. This is agreed by Watson (1997) in his article ‘Islam and its challenges in the modern world’. He believes the unrestrained economic growth and development has resulted in consumerism, institutionalized selfishness, ill-gotten wealth, rising expectations, laxity in sexual behaviors, the dissolution of the family, essentially independent electronic media, the influx of foreigners and foreign values, the materialism of modern science and technology and greater amounts of secularism.

Khatami (1997) in his address on ‘The Islamic world and modern challenges’ during the Islamic Summit Conference in Tehran, believed the Islamic Ummah has failed to properly utilize the fruits of civilization because of passivity and lack of unity in recent centuries. Khatami (1997) further said that for various reason, Muslims have ceased to ask and this absence of questions have led to the absence of thought which in turn leads to inevitable passivity and subjugation to others. Similarly, Abu-Rabi (1997) in his article ‘Facing modernity: Ideological Origins of Islamic Revivalism’ reports that stagnation of the Muslim Ummah has been blamed for the decline of the Muslim world. He based this conclusion from the writings of prominent modern Muslim thinkers of their times such as the Egyptian Muhammad 'Abduh, the Indian Ahmad Khan, and the Iranian Jamal ai-Din al-Afghani. Additionally, Ahmad (2014) in his presentation ‘The role of religious leaders in the modern world’ states that Muslim religious leaders have lagged behind other religious leaders in addressing the contemporary issues and formulating policy positions from an Islamic perspective.

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Watson (1997) questioned if Islam can be united under a modern society in an increasingly secular world whilst keeping its strong moral code. The moral questions include how the new technologies should be used, what controls should be placed on them and who should be responsible for the implementation of the regulations. Watson (1997) believes these moral questions should be dealt with by knowledgeable Muslim leaders and not secular authorities. So, what do Muslim leaders need to do to unite and guide the Muslim Ummah to face the challenges brought by modernity?

[bookmark: _Hlk23942659]Firstly, they should guide the Muslim Ummah through education and changing the current mindsets. This includes instilling in the Muslim Ummah on the importance of Islamic knowledge, building their Iman and taqwa so they will be practicing Islam in the best manner and able to overcome the temptations offered by modernity which may seemingly be easier to adopt. Currently, the mindset of the Muslim community is inadequately prepared to face the challenges of modernisation. Hassan (2005, p46) has identified a comprehensive list of weaknesses displayed by Malaysian Muslim leaders and besides such weaknesses, he has proposed a comprehensive list of new mindsets they should adopt to be successful in this twenty-first century. The list includes having a Ummatic unity to replace partisan political rivalry, fanatism and hatred, a love of knowledge and wisdom to replace love of pop culture and entertainment, quality consciousness to replace quantity orientation and mediocrity culture, trustworthy and responsible Khilafah to replace feudalistic attitudes, taqwa in all actions, to replace materialistic, utilitarian and egocentric tendencies and an obligation to be strong comprehensively, to replace the culture of being contented with mediocre standards or achievements. This list can be applied across to Muslim leaders in any parts of the world as such weaknesses are being displayed globally in other Muslim nations too. This list also shows how the negative behaviours on Muslim leaders have been detrimental to the Muslim Ummah.

Having the right mindset will not be adequate if one does not possess the right knowledge. A balanced, comprehensive and universal education particularly for the younger generation is vital for the success and strength of a community and a nation. Muslims leaders need to be versed in both Islamic and worldly knowledge. Secular knowledge is necessary in the contemporary world. Ahmad (2014) believes that it is imperative that our madrasas and institutions of higher Islamic learning to incorporate a well-informed study of current world issues in their curriculum so that their graduates, in their future careers as religious and community leaders, can deal with them effectively from the perspective of an Islamic worldview.

Secondly, Muslim leaders should also use modern technologies and resources to their advantage in spreading the correct message of Islam and to unite the Muslim Ummah. This is supported by Khatami (1997), who believed that Muslims will only succeed in moving forward if they possess the capacity to utilize the positive scientific, technological, and social accomplishments of Western civilization. Shura or mutual consultation is important in Islam. Muslim leaders all over the world could consult each other easily with the use of technology.

Thirdly, Muslim leaders must remember his role as Allah's khalifah on earth (Quran 2:30; 6:166; 38:26). Leadership in Islam is an Amanah. Leaders with Iman and taqwa will carry this responsibility to the best of their abilities and within Allah's laws, knowing how they will be liable before Allah on the Day of Judgement. He will lead with knowledge, wisdom, and justice, whilst displaying compassion and patience. He will be humble and unlike most arrogant modern-day rulers who proclaim their virtues and the great feats they will perform when they assume power (Bangash, 2000). He will be clear and true to the mission. He will inspire his followers to work together towards common goals. This is a notable challenge as not all Muslim leaders are working in the true manner of Islam. Under the western influences, most assume unchallenging stances even when they know the situations are wrong. Under the threats of rising Islamophobia, most prefer to be low-keys. Not many Muslim leaders are at the forefront of leading the Muslim Ummah to fight for what is right.

Seeking a leadership position is discouraged in Islam (Sahih Muslim 1652c). This is radically different from the present situation, where even Muslim candidates run campaigns to win the leadership positions. When the starting point of such leadership is already against the teachings of Islam, it is not surprising to observe Muslim leaders failing to lead the Ummah once they are in positions.

Fourthly, Muslim leaders should learn from the past when Islam was a formidable force leading the world. The Prophet's Seerah offers valuable lessons in leadership. The Prophet (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) was not only the messenger but he was the head of state and commander of the army. To fully follow the example of the Prophet (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam), Muslims should refer to the Seerah which contains the best and most comprehensive guide (Bangash, 2000). Amongst the leadership qualities demonstrated by the Prophet (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) are honesty, loyalty, cooperativeness, supportiveness, courageousness, broad-mindedness and being visionary (Shareef, 2014). Bangash (2000) believes the lack of understanding of the power perspective in the Seerah literature by Muslim scholars and intellectuals has led to the Muslims losing their political power which resulted in being dominated by non-Muslims. Studying the Seerah from the power perspective can help Muslims understand the nature of oppression and darkness that surrounds them today to help them to overcome it and make Islam dominant again.

Fifthly, Muslim leaders will be more likely to be successful when they work together and help each other as brothers, relying on cohesion and solidarity, wisdom and reason to move successfully forward (Khatami, 1997). They should strive, through effective and continual participation at regional and global levels to promote peace and security and project the correct image of Islam. Additionally, Muslim leaders should not constrain themselves to work only within themselves but they should also work with non-Muslim leaders on issues and causes that are common to all religions such as helping the poor and the disadvantaged, eliminating poverty, fighting crimes and drug addiction among the youth, strengthening the institution of family, fighting domestic violence, protecting our physical environment from pollution, creating political space for policies that promote social justice for all, and fighting together against ethnic, linguistic, religious and sectarian biases, prejudices, discriminations and conflicts (Ahmad, 2014).

Finally, it is worth remembering that the core Islamic values should be protected and not compromised. Success will come through the combination of hard work, application of relevant knowledge and ethical norms and not through short cuts, patronage corruption or immoral exploitation or manipulation (Hassan, 2005, p47). For Moaddel ( 2002), the solution is a return to the fundamentals of Islam. The Muslims must realize that their strength in the past was due to their adherence to Islam and their unity as an Ummah.


The decline of Muslim Ummah and weak leadership in the contemporary world come from multiple factors. Disunity, the breakdown of family and social values, lack of knowledgeable Muslim leaders with the correct mindset and Islamic values, the wrongful image of Islam portrayed by the western agendas and the rise of Islamophobia are amongst the challenges faced by the Muslim Ummah. Moreover, most Muslims including the leaders have succumbed to the pressures of western modernity under the exploited use of media and education. The Quran, Sunnah, and the Seerah should be utilised as the main sources but Muslim leaders should also possess secular knowledge to successfully lead the Ummah in the face of modernisation.


  1. Abu-Rabi, I. (1997). Facing modernity: Ideological origins of Islamic Revivalism. Harvard International Review, 19 (2), 12-13. Retrieved from
  2. Ahmad, M. (2014). The role of religious leaders in the modern world. Retrieved from
  3. Bangash, Z. (2000). The concepts of leader and leadership in Islam. Retrieved from
  4. Esposito, J. L. (2011). The Future of Islam and U.S.—Muslim Relations. Political Science Quarterly, 126(3), 365-401. Retrieved from
  5. Hassan, M.K. (2005). Challenges of Globalization: Setting the Muslim Mindset in Malaysia. Policy Perspectives, 2(1), 33-54. Retrieved from
  6. Karcic, F. (2001). Applying the Sharī'ah in modern societies: Main developments and issues. Islamic Studies, 40(2), 207-226. Retrieved from
  7. Khatami, M. (1997). The Islamic World and modern challenges. Retrieved from
  8. Moaddel, M. (2002). Discursive pluralism and Islamic Modernism in Egypt. Arab Studies Quarterly, 24(1), 1-29. Retrieved from
  9. Monshipouri, M. and Motameni, R. (2000). Globalization, sacred beliefs, and defiance: Is Human Rights Discourse Relevant in the Muslim World? Journal of Church and State, 42(4), 709-736. Retrieved from
  10. Sahih Muslim 1652c. In-book reference: Book 33, Hadith 15. USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 20, Hadith 4487.
  11. Shareef, A.P. (2014) Examples for qualities of a good a leader from Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Retrieved from
  12. Seleny, A. (2006). Tradition, Modernity, and Democracy: The Many Promises of Islam. Perspectives on Politics, 4(3), 481-494. Retrieved from
  13. Watson, I. B. (1997). Islam and its challenges in the modern world. Retrieved from
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