Shaykh Abu Musab Al-Suri – Important lessons concerning leadership

Decisions and consultation

Cowardliness in taking decisions is much worse than cowardliness in the battlefield, if you see it fit to make a truce but the whole army wants to fight, like in Al-Hudaybiyah, the Prophet (saws) made a truce, while everyone was against it. If the people around the Prophet could change his decision they would have changed it. Likewise the decision to withdrawal, if everyone wants to march forth and fight, but the leader sees that leaving the fronts is necessary, like Khalid ibn Waleed on the day of Yarmuk, he had almost conquered Syria but when the Romans came with a big army he looked at the battlefield and saw it necessary to withdrawal to south Syria, and leave the open field. So he left more then 300 kilometers for the Romans, which he had conquered, and turned into Dar Al-Islam. It was necessary to leave it militarily and turn to the reare and wage war from there. He went to the people of Homs and gave them their Jizyah back because he could no longer provide protection for them, this caused many Christians to convert to Islam. He went back and choose the place of battle, when he choose the battle he conquered the Roman empire until he reached Constantinople. He Roman army was finished. He took back the areas he left and the areas after that.

Was it necessary for Khalid ibn Walid to explain to every Bedouin and every Muslim and every individual that is was necessary for him to withdrawal? Where are the limits of consulting in making decisions? The people should follow the notables (like Ahl Al-Madinah; the Mujahireen and Ansaar), and the notables follow the leaders, and the leaders follow the Amir. As long as you choose the Amir with a sound believe and experience and a history, and not just picked him from the street to destroy your own home. When they picked an Amir from the streets, Abu Abdurahman Amin, from the GIA in Algeria, his profession was a chicken butcher, so he performed the same profession on the Muslims, in the same matter. This has nothing to do with the limits of consulting in making decisions, this has to do with corrupt leadership you chose. Dr. Abu Khalil Mahfudh he grew up with the Islamic movement, he participated in Jihad, he established guerrilla cells in Algeria, he was removed and replaced by Abu Abdurahman Amin, so you payed the price for the choice. So the problem does not lie in the Sharia rules about the limits of consultations in making decisions.

The leader must be brave in taking decisions, whether people like it or not. But if the leader slipped a couple of times in his decisions, he will fall automatically. This was his destiny, many people try to get married, they fail in the first, second, and third try and after that he does not have any household. This was the destined result of his attempt to establish an household. If you choose a leader with the right characteristics of religion and experience and history, you give him this power and he has to be brave in taking decisions.

You could for example not be the general or main leader, but you could be the commander of a certain front, and the communications between you and the leader broke, does this then mean that you do no take any decisions? If the communication was broke it is necessary that the field commander should take over responsibility; if there was a necessity. Because the could cause harm if he does not take a decisions, and most of the times the general leader is to blame, who punishes every field commander who uses secondary power in taking decisions. There are some leaders who kill everyone in their group who takes decisions, he want to decide everything, the field, the kitchen, the football matches, etc. So no one can decide anything because he knows that the leader watches over him if he does so. These issues are very sensitive and detailed concerning movements. If you leave to much power to the branches they would ruin everything, and if the leader decides everything this is a disaster also. Everything has two extremes and a middle path.

We must understand that there is general strategy, which does not change, and that there are detailed tactics, which could change with ease. Imagine a leader in Paris sent soldiers to Milan to execute a certain operations, he gives them the order to go by train. But the commander and the soldiers came to know that the situation has changed, and a certain high ranking diplomat or official came to Milan, which made traveling by train dangerous security-wise, can he then not decide to go by car because this is safer? The leader gave a general strategy but the tactical details could change as long as the commander uses his sound mind, and the general leader should not oppose this. Because Milan did not change, the operation did not change, the goal did not change.

This is from amongst the important disciplines of the movement, you think that the disciplines of the movement only consists of training in the mountains, etc. These military movement lessons we learned and experienced over the past twenty years are necessary for us to share with each other to create a sound movement. Military training is a very small portion of the movement, we want to create a leader who is able to handle things, because if he is not able to he will destroy his own home, and this does not come forth except by disciplines, lessons and experiences.

We do not need a leader who waits for orders in secondary issues, he is just like the one who repeats the Adhaan so that the people who are far away also hear it. We need a leader who can operate independently not just pass orders from a far. And he must not be a slave to the routine, how many were destroyed because of routine. We had many bad experiences with leaders who looked they were capable leaders but they were not. After many mistakes he leaves everything and thinks to himself, I get my monthly income, I am a Muhajir Murabit, whether he performs Jihad or not, he becomes a slave to the routine, gets bored and leaves everything in the end. Others go to extremes in making decisions, believe me I intervened in trivial issues between a man and his wife, because she had moved a table for example, and he is suppose to be a leader in a movement. She does not get to choose anything. You should rely and take care of your wife and children, how many times did we see women take great responsibilities on their shoulders in times of need, because we were forced to move and leave them behind for example. How sad do I get when I see a man slap his son in front of his guests, to show how great his authority is, while he is suppose to be a leader in a movement, and his son is his future who will follow his footsteps. Other leaders must humiliate their soldiers and create fear among them. And the examples are many.

Realism and pragmatism

There are theorist who write about Jihad but they have not one day of experience in Jihad, it is like someone writing about poverty while he is a millionaire, he writes about the suffering of poor people etc, like many poets who write about love but have not loved anyone in their lives. Thats why the Arabs said that no one knows what the thorn is except the one who is stung by it. No one can write or talk about anything except if he lived it, if he jumps to theories without having lived the reality, he will produce theories which are far away from reality. That’s why a leader should know the reality. He should base his theories depending on the reality. In reality a leader will be met with many confrontations which he could not solve if he was a dreamer who builds sandcastles, if he is far away from reality, these confrontations many times will make him flee.  A dreamer who builds reality based on his dreams could have many enthusiastic supporters in the beginning. But such a person does not know people and will depend on cowards who cannot deal with the reality. The position of a leader asks for someone who deals with reality because lack of correspondence with reality is the first cause of lacking the reins over the affairs.

There could be lessons in the lives of those who preceded us, militarily and in leadership, many things could be beneficial, and you could build on them, but someone must always develop these lessons and experiences according to his situation, he must not follow successful predecessors blindly. The past is beneficial in explaining the present and explaining its strategy, so for the future he must combine between the lessons from the past and his experiences from the present. There is nothing more harmful than someone who build the politics of the state based on wisdoms extracted from books. Because books in which we can find experiences and verdicts and the like, especially concerning Sharia politics, gives general principles and verdicts in circumstances which differ a bit from our circumstances, if the situation resembles we take them completely, and if they differ we cannot take them completely and built politics on it in that case.

I will give an example for the public. When we were in London we stood by the brothers in Algeria and supported them, the armed resistance would target the deviated Muslims ideologically in the beginning, they represented the clean Salafi banner which we do not differ about. They would say; this group is deviant so how could we fight against the regime with this group? It began like this. And said we cannot fight together with someone who is deviant and adapts a wrong Aqeedah. They began targeting the innovators ideologically and after that they began to target them physically, while they left the battle of first priority (against the regime). One of the scholars aided them -and this will show that the truth is not extracted from books- he said they were right and they should confront the innovators. He quoted Imam Ahmad who said that the one who targets the innovators is better than the one who prays and fast voluntary, because this will only benefit him, but refuting the innovators will benefit all the Muslims. So look how Imam Ahmad gave preference to refuting the innovators, even above voluntary prayers.

The essence of this fundamental in the books is correct. But I said to him, in order to connect theory with reality, I said to him, in the time of Imam Ahmad there was an Islamic Khilafah, there was Al-Mamoon and Al-Mutassim, and the armies of the Muslims were marching forward, the booty would reach them from everywhere, the economy was running smoothly and was holding everything together, the eloquent poets were doing there thing, etc, etc, so there was a functional civilization. The Ummah wasn’t in any problems, only the innovators of the Jahmiyah and the deviation of Khalq Al-Quran emerged, so refuting them was the first priority of the Ummah, thus Imam Ahmad would of course prioritize the biggest problem of the Ummah and would give it priority above voluntary prayers. So I asked him to count the number of problems we were in at this moment. The first problem is the Jewish and Christian occupation, the governance of the apostates, we are disunited on earth, the hypocrisy of many scholars, and the fear of the righteous scholars, etc. Count with me, the issue of Bosnia, Algeria, etc. And then comes the deviations of innovators on top of that. If we would count our problems before we reach the problem of the innovators it would be in the hundreds or thousands..

If Imam Ahmad would be present at this present day in age, would you imagine him saying “Stop the battles because we have a problem with the innovators.” So the problem of these brothers with good intentions was that they took a sentence from the books and placed it on a reality which is totally different from it, totally different. With that being said, the fact that it is very dangerous in politics to build on just theoretical wisdoms from books, does not mean that we leave the revealed texts and fundamentals, but these revelations and fundamentals are placed by the scholars in their relevant reality (Fiqhul Waaqi, Qiyas, etc). And if they are not seen by the scholar or students than this would not be such a problem, but it is very dangerous when they are not seen by the leader himself, who plans strategies based on books about military and politics, or verdicts by scholars, or war experiences, using the experience from Algeria in Morocco for example. You can not build on them, you must take these history lessons and experiences and place them on your specific situation with new verdicts, this is being realistic and pragmatic.

The art of possibilities

Do not march forwards relying purely on bravery and heroism, picking up weapons, marching forward, and thinking that this is Tawaqul, like it happened with a small armed group in Lebanon who were very short lived. We in Shaam tried to advise them and share our experiences with them but they wanted to discover everything themselves, eventually all of them were killed, may Allah have mercy upon them. A good intention and sticking to the Sunnah will make you accepted by Allah the Almighty, through your deeds inshaAllah, but we should not forget the laws (Sunnan) of predestination (physical laws), we should study the capabilities of our enemy and should prepare the needs. You should rely on Allah and trust that you are aided by Angels, but if you are able you should prepare your power like Allah ordered in the Quran. Calculating capabilities and preparations is the essence of being realistic.

Like Napoleon said, bravery is beneficial in every operation but it is not enough to successfully complete the operation. Bravery pushes you to make a start, but it is not enough to complete the operation, you need enough soldiers, the right strategy and concrete deeds to complete the operation. Without bravery the coward does not start anything even though he has the capability, but the crisis within all the Jihadi movements we experienced is not a lack of bravery. We see this lack of bravery, to confront the apostates, within the political awakening movements, they do not want to enter the physical battle in the first place (focuses merely on politics and theory), and they are still waiting for “the right moment” to confront the apostates (regimes), without any strategy or preparations whatsoever for this coming confrontation. This is their problem, a problem on the level of intention and lack of bravery to enter the battle. But if bravery is present do not think this is enough for the battle, after trusting in Allah the battle needs realism.

There are good ideas and strategies but they cannot be implemented in a certain period of time or certain environments; the correct leaders knows what is possible and what is impossible. This is the essence of politics. Politics is the art of possibilities. Because it is very easy to plan the strategic destruction of America and Russia on paper and the liberation of our countries. Yesterday a brother came to me and asked me why we do not intensify our efforts in trying to unite the Arabs, he starter planning all of this, how the experienced elders and older generation should unite with each other, and do such and such, why are there no educational institutes, etc.

These are very good ideas, they are correct, every wise person with a good intention would ask this. But if we look at the art of possibilities we will see that it is very hard to unite between A. B. and C. over a certain issue. Then you will start studying the possibilities and will see that the road is very long. If these idea’s are successful we would not need all these studies, we would have established our Islamic country and solved our problems. But we give all these lessons, beginning with the military training camp and ending with these theoretic lessons, because we did not reach our goals yet. And we didn’t reach our goals because we did not stick to the laws (of predestination), and did not yet completely take the correct pathways. We do not need dreamy strategies filled with hopes and theoretical analysis.


– This is a global translation of his first en second lesson about leadership. To be continued inshaAllah.

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