Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) made it clear that when Muslims are engaged in some mission as a group, they should have someone as their head or commander. Whenever the Prophet sent out a group on a mission, or an expedition, or an army, he appointed someone as their commander. The criteria he applied in his selection of commanders were basically the person’s ability and also mutual love and respect between him and the group he is commanding. Every time, the Prophet urged the commander to look after those traveling with him, making clear that he was responsible for their welfare. He also urged the group to obey their commander so that their mission would be successful. Should they have divergent aims and follow different methods, they were bound to fail.
All this becomes natural if people would develop their sense of responsibility. The Prophet was keen to instill this sense among Muslims, regardless of their positions. Everyone is accountable for their deeds and the fulfillment of their responsibilities.
The Prophet says: “Everyone of you is a shepherd and will be accountable for his flock. The ruler is a shepherd and will be accountable for his community; a man is a shepherd of his family and will be accountable for them; a woman is a shepherd of her husband’s household and will be accountable for her charge; a slave is a shepherd looking after his master’s property and will be accountable for it: indeed, everyone of you is a shepherd and will be accountable for what is under their care.”
When everyone in a community develops such a sense of responsibility, the affairs of the community will run smoothly and everyone will have what is due to them. Indeed, this helps develop a feeling of love and unity within the community, ensuring its success and prosperity.
The guiding principle in discharging one’s responsibility is seeking Allah’s pleasure. We know that Allah does not allow injustice. In a sacred Hadith, the Prophet quotes Allah as saying: “My servants, I have forbidden Myself injustice and made it forbidden for you. Therefore, be not unjust to anyone.” This must be the rule that governs all relations in society.
Moreover, a person in a position of responsibility must not require his subordinates to do anything that is not permitted by Islam. If he does, then they must not obey him. The Prophet says: “No one may be obeyed in what constitutes disobedience of Allah.” If a commander orders someone to do what is forbidden, that person must disobey the commander. Once the Prophet appointed someone as the head of a small expedition. When they had stopped to rest, the commander ordered that a fire should be lit. He then asked those with him to go through the fire. They said to him: “We have followed Allah’s messenger so that we do not suffer the fire of hell. Are you now asking us to go through this fire. We certainly will not do that.” When they returned to Madinah, they complained to the Prophet. He questioned the commander who said that he simply intended it as a joke and he was not going to allow anyone to go through the fire. The Prophet accepted this as true, but he commended the people who refused to go through the fire. He said: “Had they gone through it, they would not be out of it.” What he meant was that they would have committed suicide and would be punished for it by being thrown in hell on the Day of Judgment.