Islamic Wisdom: The Role of Religious Leaders and Faith Communities

Raja Muhammad Mustansar Javaid
12 min readApr 22, 2022


Faith leaders are people of all genders who are recognized by their faith community, both formally and informally, as playing authoritative and influential leadership roles within faith institutions to guide, inspire or lead others.

Photo by Mohd Danish Hussain on Unsplash

It is often said that Islam has no religious authority. The truth is, the figures having this role are numerous. This is also demonstrated by the many terms that are used to define the religious experts (Ulamas, imams &, etc.).

The main purpose of this story will hopefully provide the reader with an appreciation of the nature, complexity, and importance and help to understand and explores the concept and principles of Islamic leadership which generates qualities. These qualities differentiate Islamic leadership from other leadership concepts.

The fundamental sources of Islamic leadership and guidance for the Muslim leaders are Al-Qur’an and Hadith. The sub-topics related to Islamic leadership elaborate on all attributes (traits, skills, power, authority) needed by the leaders.

Faith has a unique place in our lives, particularly relating to how to treat others as we would like to be treated. In times of great anxiety, faith can be a significant source of comfort and community resilience. Religious leaders are an influential part of most communities. The religious leaders have traditionally been people who, as part of the clerisy, religious mosque or church, or government, performed a prominent role within their community or nation.

Photo by Shiza Nazir on Unsplash

Religious leaders and faith communities are the largest and best-organized civil institutions in the world, claiming the allegiance of billions of believers and bridging the divides of race, class, and nationality. More than any other civil society representatives, religious leaders have the experience of establishing and working with international partnerships. Their expertise can greatly benefit the global breastfeeding effort.

Religious leaders are often the most respected figures in their communities. Different religions have their own religious leaders who play a powerful role in shaping attitudes, opinions, and behaviors because their members trust them. Community members and political leaders listen to religious leaders. Especially at the family and community level, religious leaders have the power to raise awareness and influence attitudes, behaviors, and practices. They can shape social values in line with faith-based teachings.

At these levels, religious leaders can:

  1. Motivate and educate followers to adopt other healthy behaviors that are compatible with religious teachings.
  2. To intentionally use the commonality of the religious Holy Texts of religious communities to impact change within political and religious systems and to actively distribute the work of The Common Word and the Charter of Compassion
  3. To affirm and speak out, sustain and support access to religious freedom of expression and practice everywhere in the world.
  4. Religious leaders equipped with courage and vision play a unique role in bringing people together around the universal values of our common humanity.
  5. They are influential in guiding cultural and social norms and practices.

Islamic Religious Leaders:

Islamic Religious leaders have become influential in many Muslim communities. Islam is a religion that governs all matters including leadership. Leadership is an important subject that had been used to disseminate the Islamic teaching or da’wah and is the most significant instrument for the realization of an ideal society that is based on justice and compassion.

Both elements are interrelated and as the main reference in leadership. Leaders must enforce and promote justice continuously as it is been instructed in verse of Al-Qur’an:

“Indeed Allah commands you to deliver the trusts to their [rightful] owners, and, when you judge between people, to judge with fairness. Excellent indeed is what Allah advises you. Indeed Allah is all-hearing, all-seeing.” (An-Nisa’ 4:58)

1. Alim:

(ʿĀlim). Ulama (/ˈuːləˌmɑː/; Arabic: علماء ʿUlamāʾ, singular عالِم Scholar) religious sciences. The term ulama literally means those who possess knowledge (ilm ), particularly of Islam.

The ulama emerged as the first interpreters of the Qurʾan and transmitters of hadith, the words, and deeds of the prophet Muhammad.

These scholars also became the first to outline and elaborate on the basic principles of Islamic law (shariʿa).

They regulated instruction at all levels and were instrumental in the process of training Islamic scholars in madrasas (residential colleges), which were established by the eleventh century. These medieval institutions developed a rigorous curriculum centered around instruction in the law, training future jurists, theologians, and state functionaries.

This system of higher education was the first in a series of successful attempts to link the ulama to political authority in the Islamic world. Members of the ulama might also participate in Islamic mysticism as members even leaders of organized Sufi fraternities.

In its narrow sense, it refers to scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence. In the broader sense, it refers to those who have studied a broad range of essentially Islamic disciplines for several years, for example, the hadith and the muhaddith.

They represent the Ijmah, or Islamic consensus of the Ummah on religious issues; this does not mean that there can be no disputes far from it but they should be aware of what counts as the main consensual opinion, of other dissenting views and their objections.

The ulama is often defined as a class when in fact the socioeconomic status of their membership remained quite varied. Lawyers and judges were key members of the ulama ; their legal skills were critical to the regulation of Islamic society in social and commercial matters such as wills, marriage, and trade.

The ulama also included theologians, prayer leaders, and teachers, many of whom continued to participate in the economy as traders or artisans.

Book Recommended: The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change

By Muhammad Qasim Zaman

This book offers the first sustained comparative perspective on the `ulama and their increasingly crucial religious and political activism. It shows how issues of religious authority are debated in contemporary Islam, how Islamic law and tradition are continuously negotiated in a rapidly changing world, and how the `ulama both react to and shape larger Islamic social trends. Introducing previously unexamined facets of religious and political thought in modern Islam, it clarifies the complex processes of religious change unfolding in the contemporary Muslim world and goes a long way toward explaining their vast social and political ramifications.

2. Allamah:

Allamah is an honorary and prestigious title carried by only the very highest scholars of Islamic thought, jurisprudence, and philosophy. It is used as an honorific in Sunni Islam as well as in Shia Islam. Allamah is a leader of the Islamic faith.

3. Almami:

Almami (Arabic: المامي; Also: Almamy, Almani, Almany) is a title of West African Muslim rulers, used especially in the conquest states of the 19th century. Similar to Amir al-Mu’minin (Arabic أمير المؤمنين), usually translated “Commander of the Faithful” or “Emperor of the Believers”. In the Arabic world, Amir al-Mu’minin is similar to Caliphs and to other independent sovereign Muslim rulers that claim legitimacy from a community of Muslims. It has been claimed as the title of rulers in Muslim countries and empires and is still used for some Muslim leaders.

4. Caliph:

The term “caliph” (Khalifah in Arabic) is generally regarded to mean “successor of the prophet Muhammad,” while “caliphate” (Khilafah in Arabic) denotes the office of the political leader of the Muslim community (ummah) or state, particularly during the period from 632 to 1258.

Although the caliph was not considered to possess spiritual authority as Muhammad had, the caliph presided over a state governed under Islamic law (Sharia) whose territories constituted the “abode of Islam” (Dar al-Islam). Thus, the caliph served as the symbol of the supremacy of the Sharia, as commander of the faithful (amir al-muʾminin) in his capacity to both defend and expand these lands and as leader of prayers (Imam), thereby clothing the caliphate with religious meaning.

Sunni Islam holds that Muhammad left no instructions regarding his successor, who was to be elected, with the decision of the community regarded as infallible. Accordingly, following Muhammad’s death, Abu Bakir was elected based on his close association with the Prophet, his piety, and his leadership ability.

The Shiʿa Islamic tradition, on the other hand, asserts that the community-made a grievous error in electing Abu Bakr rather than Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, ʿAli ibn Abi Talib, whom they believe was chosen by the Prophet. These partisans of ʿAli consider Abu Bakr’s succession to be illegitimate, claiming that infallibility was limited to the Prophet’s family through ʿAli, ʿAli’s sons through his marriage with the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, and their descendants. Thus, Shiʿite Islam rejected the Sunni notion of rightly guided (Rashidun) caliphs, a term used for the first four caliphs, acknowledging instead the rightful succession of ʿAli and his descendants.

The Rashidun Caliphate (632–661) was followed by the Umayyad Caliphate (661–750) established by Muʿawiya in Damascus, Syria. The dynastic succession established by Muʿawiya lasted until a rival clan of the Qurash tribe, the Abbasids, successfully revolted.

The Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258) established a dynasty with its capital in Baghdad, though its control over the state was severely reduced during its last three centuries by rival secular rulers, including the Buyids and Seljuks along with the Fatamid Caliphate (909–1171) in Egypt and the Umayyad Caliphate (929–1031) of Spain.

The Ottoman conquest of the Mamluk state led to the establishment of the Ottoman Caliphate (1517–1924).

5. Imam:

Imam is an Arabic word meaning “Leader”. The ruler of a country might be called the Imam, for example. The term, however, has important connotations in the Islamic tradition especially in Shia belief. In Sunni belief, the term is used for the founding scholars of the four Sunni madhhabs, or schools of religious jurisprudence (fiqh).

It is commonly used to refer to the official that leads the prayers at the mosques. Meanwhile, in Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia, those who lead any prayers in any places such as at home, are also called imam.

6. Grand Imam:

The “Grand Imam” or “Imam of imams” (Arabic: الإمام الأكبر) of the Al-Azhar Mosque and Al-Azhar University is a prestigious Sunni Islam title and a prominent official title in Egypt. It is considered by Muslims in some countries to indicate the highest authority in Sunni Islam for Islamic jurisprudence, The grand Imam holds a great influence on followers of the theological Ash’ari and Maturidi traditions worldwide, while the defenders of the Athari and Salafi ideologies find their leaders in the Arabian Peninsula. The concept of Imam has its origins in the Quran. Ibrahim was promoted as Imam after his successful sacrifice. Every person at the day of judgement will also be called by his Imam. And there is an Imam e Mubeen who encompasses the whole universe as per the teachings of the Quran. Noble Imperial Sheik is the title for the Grand Imam of Al Hakika Mizaan Mizaani Sufi Order.

7. Ghazi:

A ghazi (Arabic: غازي, Arabic pronunciation: [ɣaːziː], plural ġuzāt) was an individual who participated in ghazw (غزو, ġazw), meaning military expeditions or raiding. The latter term was applied in early Islamic literature to expeditions led by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and later taken up by Turkic military leaders to describe their wars of conquest.

In the context of the wars between Russia and the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus, starting as early as the late 18th century’s Sheikh Mansur’s resistance to Russian expansion, the word usually appears in the form gazavat (газават).

8. Grand Mufti:

The Grand Mufti (also called Chief Mufti, State Mufti and Supreme Mufti) is the head of regional muftis, Islamic jurisconsults, of a state. The office originated in the early modern era in the Ottoman empire and has been later adopted in a number of modern countries.

Muftis are Islamic jurists qualified to issue a nonbinding opinion (fatwa) on a point of Islamic law (sharia). In the 15th century, muftis of the Ottoman empire, who had acted as independent scholars in earlier times, began to be integrated into a hierarchical bureaucracy of religious institutions and scholars. By the end of the 16th century, the government-appointed mufti of Istanbul came to be recognized under the title Shaykh al-Islam (Turkish: şeyhülislam) as the Grand Mufti in charge of this hierarchy. The Ottoman Grand Mufti performed a number of functions, including advising the sultan on religious matters, legitimizing government policies, and appointing judges. After the dissolution the Ottoman Empire the office of the Grand Mufti has been adopted in a number of countries across the Muslim world, often serving the role of providing religious support for government policies.[2] The Grand Mufti is generally an individual appointed by the state, although the office has collective or elective character in some modern countries.

9. Muezzin:

Muezzin (the word is pronounced this way in Turkish, Urdu, etc.; in Arabic, it is muathi [mu-a-thin] مؤذن [mʊʔæðːɪn]) is any person at the mosque who makes the adhan, or athan (call to prayer) for the Friday prayer service and the five daily prayers, or salat. Some mosques have specific places for the adhan to be made from, such as a minaret or a designated area in the mosque. Major mosques usually have a person who is called the “servant of the mosque”. He usually is the person who performs the athan. In the case of small mosques, the imam of the mosque would perform the athan.

10. Mujtahid:

Mujtahids are interpreters of the Qur’an and Hadith, the Islamic scriptures. These were traditionally Muftis who used interpretation (ijtihad) to clarify Islamic law, but in many modern secular contexts, Islamic law is no longer the law of the land. In that case, the traditional Mufti may well be replaced by a university or madrasa professor who informally functions as adviser to the local Muslim community in religious matters such as inheritance, divorce, etc.

11. Kyai:

Kyai or Kiai is a title originally used in Javanese culture. Only a male person is called with this appellation. His wife is called “nyai”. In early modern times it is mainly used for the headmaster of an Islamic Boarding School (in Indonesia known as pondok pesantren). However, nowadays it is common in Indonesia to call any elderly preacher from any cultural background with this title.

Due to animistic belief of ancient Javanese people, the title “Kyai” is also used to call almost all persons and things venerated. Therefore, it is also common too for kris, weapons, gamelan, trees and certain venerated cattles.

Titles used only by Shia Muslims:

12. Ayatollah:

Ayatollah (Arabic: آية الله; Persian: آیت‌الله) is a prestigious title given to major Shia clergymen. Ayatollah means “sign of God”; those who carry it are considered experts in Islamic studies.

13. Grand Ayatollah:

Only a few of the most important ayatollah of one of the ayatollahs refer to him in many situations and ask him to publish his Juristic book in which he answers the vast majority of daily Muslim affairs. The book is called Resalah, which is usually a reinvention of the book Al-Urwatu l-Wuthqah, according to their knowledge of the most authentic Islamic sources and their application to current life.

Final Thoughts:

Faith plays a central role in shaping notions of gender and relationships. Faith-based organizations, faith leaders, and religious texts have often been a key factor in reinforcing damaging gendered social norms at the local, national and global levels. However, they have also shown that they can play a vital role in challenging and changing damaging, inequitable beliefs.

The moral purpose must be at the core of the work undertaken to implement nation-building, end conflicts between nations, and prove humanitarian assistance for all whose lives are negatively impacted by war, poverty, illiteracy, human rights violations, natural disasters, and religious extremism.

Moral purpose is at the very core of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Religious leaders must reaffirm this truth and exercise their leadership, and engage in partnership with diplomatic initiatives, to bring about a cessation of violence against our common humanity, to work to confront and end religious extremism in all its forms, the domination of one religion over another and the domination of one nation over another.

In the end, The information in this story expectedly will give an understanding of the importance of the Islamic leadership concept and can be useful.

Finally, I pray to Allah to benefit those who read this article and others, grant me truthfulness in what I say and do, preserve my thoughts and my pen from deviation and guide me in all my affairs.

And all praise and thanks are due to Allah, without Whose help and guidance nothing can be accomplished. May Allah bless you with happiness, success, guidance, health, and knowledge. May Almighty Allah give us the strength to follow the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and make us part of the group who is among the most righteous! Ameen.

Be patient with yourself. And Keep learning!!

Verily good deeds do away with evil deeds.

Always start your day by renewing your intention that everything you do for yourself and your community, whether it be your acts of worship or daily chores. It all has to be merely for the sake of Allah (SWT) and also, I ask Allah (SWT) to make my work dedicated only to him and forgiveness from Allah (SWT), if I have got anything wrong. It is He who is the Hearing, the knowing.

I will be calmer, I will spread love as long as I can, I will live a spiritual life, I will do what I please no matter what and I will prove my theories.

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Raja Muhammad Mustansar Javaid

"Versatile Wordsmith | IT Solutions Strategist | Motorcycle Voyager | Multilingual Enthusiast". I’m so deep even the ocean gets jealous