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Meritocracy: leadership of the most talented


Arshad Gamiet


 Royal Holloway Univ. of London /UK.  11 July 2003


“As-salámu 'alaikum wa rahmatul láhi wa barakátuh!”  [Wait for adhán]


“A-úthu billáhi minash shaytánir rajeem.  Bismilláhir rahmánir raheem.


Al hamdu lillahi nahmaduhu wanasta’eenahu, wanastagh-firuhu, wanatoobu ilayhi, wana’oothu Billaahi min shuroori an-fusinaa, wamin sayyi aati a’maalinaa.


May- Yahdillahu fa huwal muhtad, wa may- yudlill falan tajidaa lahu waliyan murshida. Wa ash-hadu an Laa ilaaha ill-Alláh, wahdahoo laa shareeka lah,


Wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhoo warasooluh”




All Praise is due to Alláh, We praise Him and we seek help from Him. We ask forgiveness from Him. We repent to Him; and we seek refuge in Him from our own evils and our own bad deeds.


Anyone who is guided by Alláh, he is indeed guided; and anyone who has been left astray, will find no one to guide him.


I bear witness that there is no god but Alláh, the Only One without any partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad, sws, is His servant, and His messenger.


  My respected Brothers and Sisters in Islam,


 A few weeks ago, in my last khutbah, we had a brief look at Muslim Spain. We tried to understand why the most beautiful period in European history lasted for 800 years, and what lessons we can learn for today. We found that Spanish Islam lasted as long as it did, because it was, essentially, a just society. It promoted Wisdom, Justice, Taqwa’ or God-consciousness and Courage. It was a society whose core values were summed up in a beautiful inscription above the entrance to the University of Granada: And this is what every student would read on the way to classes in the morning:


 The world is held up by four pillars:


The Wisdom of the Learned;


The Justice of the Great;


The Prayers of the Righteous and


The Valour of the Brave.


 The wise Caliphs of Andalusia were not only concerned with the welfare of Muslims. They were totally committed to uphold justice and to guarantee the welfare of everyone in their dominion, including the Jews and Christians. Indeed Muslim rulers allowed Christians and Jews to set up and operate their own legal system according to the Torah and the Bible. This worked side by side with Shariah law. In Muslim Spain, as elsewhere in the Islamic world, there was passionate love for learning, for scientific enquiry, for mathematics and logic, there was a desire to engage with others in reasoned argument, in debating old and new ideas and philosophies. This led to a flowering of art, of architecture, music, poetry, literature and philosophy. Most importantly, there was a love of Justice, respect for the rights of others, and every citizen could expect to develop and flourish their God-given skills and talents, with no restriction on race or colour or religion or social status. In other words, Islamic civilization promoted meritocracy, a social system based on leadership of the most talented individuals.


 This attitude of valuing individuals on merit, is in accordance with a fundamental principle established by the Holy Qur'án, which says in Sura Al-Imran [3:104]


 “Wal takum minkum ummatuy yad’oona ilal khairi way ya’ muroona bil ma’roof. Wa yan houna anil munkar. Wa ulaa ika humul muflihoon.”


 Let there arise out of you a band of people, who enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong. They are the successful ones.


 And further in verse 109:


 “Kuntum khayra ummatin, ukhrijat lin-naasi, ta’muroona bil ma’roofi wa tanhowna ‘anil munkari, watu’minoona billaah.”


 You are the best of peoples evolved for mankind: Enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.


 Enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong: This is the clear and simple definition of human merit in Islam.


  To further emphasize this important principle of meritocracy, our Holy Prophet Muhammad sws, declared in his famous Sermon on the Mount, that Arabs are not superior to non-Arabs, and non-Arabs are not superior to Arabs. The only distinction recognized by Allah, is good deeds. Just think for a moment, today, 14 centuries later, even in the most developed countries, people still suffer because they have the wrong colour, the wrong religion, the wrong sex or the wrong nationality. And yet, in 7th Century Arabia, in the lifetime of the Prophet, sws, the basic principle of meritocracy was established. And his followers, through successive dynasties, observed this principle over many centuries of Muslim power.


 According to Stanley Lane-Poole, when the Muslims conquered Spain, they approached a town defended by a Visgoth named Theodomir. This town had no soldiers left, all had gone to the battlefield elsewhere. So Theodomir got all the women he could find, gave them helmets, and asked them to tie their long hair round their chins to look like beards. That evening, as the Muslim army approached the town they saw silhouetted against the setting sun, lines of what appeared to be soldiers on the city walls, so they decided it was too dangerous to attack immediately. They would do so next morning. But before the attack Theodomir approached the Muslim camp to negotiate with their leader. He offered to surrender the town without a fight, if the Muslims would allow everyone to go free. The Muslims agreed. But, when the city gates opened, instead of soldiers, long lines of women walked through the gates. The Muslim commander was so amused and impressed with this daring bluff, instead of being angry, he offered Theodomir to be the new Governor of the district. This was how our noble ancestors treated their most talented subjects, even those defeated in battle. This was Meritocracy in action, 1300 years ago.


 During Ottoman times, the Caliphs took young men from captured lands, trained and disciplined them through the best schools and colleges, then promoted them to leading positions in the empire. The Mamluks Sultans of Egypt were in fact slave-soldiers who reached the very top of their society.


 Dear Brothers and Sisters, the history of Islam and Europe has a great deal of interaction, far more than is admitted in western history books. Because of this narrow Eurocentric attitude, the West is largely unaware of the long and pervasive influence of Islam on its own way of life. One leader in the corporate business world who recently took up this topic is Carly Fiorina, the head of the Hewlett Packard corporation. Significantly, she made this speech just 2 weeks after the tragic events of September 11. It is entitled: “In praise of Islamic civilization” and I read only the last portion:


 “There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world.


 It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins.


 One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilization’s commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between.


 And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration.


 Its writers created thousands of stories. Stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love, when others before them were too steeped in fear to think of such things.


 When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others.


 While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.


 Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership.


 And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population–that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions.


 This kind of enlightened leadership — leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage — led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.


 In dark and serious times like this, we must affirm our commitment to building societies and institutions that aspire to this kind of greatness. More than ever, we must focus on the importance of leadership– bold acts of leadership and decidedly personal acts of leadership.


The full text of this speech can be found at the Hewlett-Packard website at:


It was delivered on 26 September 2001 in Minneapolis, Minnesota at a conference whose theme was: "TECHNOLOGY, BUSINESS AND OUR WAY OF LIFE: WHAT'S NEXT"


 Dear Brothers and Sisters, this speech by the CEO of a big multinational corporation was urging its audience to recognise the fine qualities of leadership by merit, which underpinned the success of Muslim civilization. She urges her audience to raise their own ambitions to the noble spirit of Islamic civilisation.


May Alláh, swt, help us Muslims once again establish those same values in our own hearts. May we Muslims rediscover the successful formula that made our noble and illustrious ancestors  the leaders of the most morally advanced empire in History.


“Alhamdu lillahi Rabbil ‘Aalameen. Was-salaatu was-salaamu alaa Khairil mursaleen. Muhammadin-nabeey-yil Ummiy-yee, wa-‘alaa aalihee, wasah-bihee, aj-ma’een.


All praise is due to Alláh, the Lord of all the Worlds; may the greetings and peace be upon the best messenger, Muhammad, the unlettered prophet; and upon his family and upon all of his companions.


Ammaa ba’ad:


Innalláha wa malaaikata yusallúna alan nabi. Yá ay yuhal latheena ámanu sallú alayhi wasalli mú tas leema.


Behold, Alláh and his angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O you who believe! Ask for blessings on him, and salute him with a worthy greeting.


 Allahumma salli alá Muhammad, wa ala áli Muhammad, kama salayta ala Ibrahim, wa ala ali Ibrahim. Allahumma barik ala Muhammad, wa alaa áli Muhammad, kama barakta ala Ibrahim, wa ala ali ibrahim. Fil ála meen, innaka hameedun majeed.”


O Alláh! Send your greetings upon Muhammad and his family,  just as you sent your greetings on Ibraheem, and his family. O Alláh, send you blessings on Muhammad and his family, just as you blessed Ibraheem and his family. In both worlds, you are praiseworthy and exalted.


Second Khutbah:



Sub’ hanallahi wal hamdu lillah, wala hawla wala quwwata illah billah yu althi yual theem. 


Dear Brothers and Sisters


It is always interesting and refreshing to hear what some influential people have to say about our faith.  One writer was Thomas Carlyle who wrote this, 84 years ago, in his book,   (On Heroes and Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History, London, 1918).


 "… These Arabs, the man Muhammad, and that one century.  It is as if a spark had fallen, one spark on a world of what seemed black unnoticeable sand, but lo, the sand proves explosive powder, blazes heaven high from Delhi to Grenada: I said: the Great Man was always as lightning out of heaven; the rest of the men waited on him like fuel, and then they too would flame … How one man single-handedly could weld warring tribes and wandering boudouins into a most powerful and civilised nation in less then twenty years….".


These words of admiration and inspiration, are from people on the outside, looking in. Hopefully we Muslims on the inside will be sufficiently inspired to shape our own lives in the mould of our noble ancestors.


We can make a start, step by small step, reshaping our lives and building our character like those first Muslims did, so that they we, too, can become ‘like fuel, waiting to flame.’ One significant step we can take, is to treat those over whom we have some authority, our employees, our workers, with justice and respect. We should pay them and promote them according to their merit. We should not favour our family or friends or even other Muslims above our most talented workers. This is Islám, meritocracy, in action.


At times like this, when the Ummah appears weak and divided, the Golden Age of Islamic civilisation seems very far away, and many historians regard it as simply that. History. Something that happened before, and probably won’t happen again. But Muslims and Believers should think differently. 


For most of our history, for 13 out of 14 centuries, Islám had political power and military muscle. It is only for the last 80 years since the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate that we have no political or military influence as a global nation, the Ummah.


We know that the forward march of Islám has not stopped. It has merely paused. It remains to us, Muslims and Believers, to work hard so that we can become a part of the process to move things forward. That is all that Alláh expects from us. Individually we can only do so much. But collectively, we can do much more than the sum of our numbers. We simply have to discover which part of Allah’s master plan is the bit where we fit in. Then, we must get up get up and do it.


O Alláh, please help us to develop the talents and skills you have given us. Help us to manage the resources of money, time and opportunity that you have placed in our trust, to bring benefit beyond our families and our selves to humankind as a whole. O Alláh, let us be part of a huge collective effort to raise the Ummah to that high status we enjoyed under your beloved Prophet Muhammad sws and his illustrious Companions.


"Rabbana atina fid-dunya hasanatan wa fil 'akhirati hasanatan waqina 'adhaban-nar."


"Our Lord! grant us good in this world and good in the hereafter, and save us from the chastisement of the fire." (2:201)


"Rabbi 'j'alni muqima's-Salati wa min Thurriyati, Rabbana wa taqqabal du'a', Rabbana'ghfirli wa li walidayya walil-Mu'minina yawma yaqumul-Hisab."


"O my Lord! make me one who establishes regular Prayer, and also (raise such) among my offspring. O our Lord! and accept Thou my prayer."


"O our Lord! cover (us) with Thy Forgiveness - me, my parents, and (all) Believers, on the Day that the Reckoning will be established!" (14:40-41)


Aqeemus Salaah!


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