The Story of Musa and Harun – Effective Leadership

Go You to Pharaoh, for he had indeed transgressed all bounds; (Musa) said: O my Lord! Expand me my breast; Ease my task for me; And remove the impediment from my speech. So they may understand what I say: And give me a Minister from my family, Harun, my brother; Add to my strength through him, And make him share my task: That we may celebrate Your praise without stint, And remember You without stint: For You are He that ever regards us. (Allah) said: Granted is your prayer, O Musa! (Ta Ha, 20:24-36)

The Qur’an relates the story of the Prophets Musa (AS) and Harun (AS) in several different Surahs, including Surah Ta Ha from verse 24 to verse 36. In each instance, the story highlights one or more aspects of their role and actions as appropriate to the Qur’anic message at that point. When we bring together this revealed knowledge about the two prophets, we discover the full story including key principles of communication, teamwork and delegation – all vital elements of effective leadership.

1. Command to Musa (AS):

In Surah Ta Ha, Allah SWT commanded Musa (AS) to confront Pharaoh, the powerful and oppressive king of the time, saying: Go You to Pharaoh, For he has indeed transgressed all bounds. (Ta Ha, 20:24)

At this stage, Allah’s command was directed to Musa (AS) alone as an individual. Musa (AS) recognized this to be a great challenge and a formidable task to accomplish. His response to this assignment provides many lessons in leadership. These form the roots of important contemporary concepts related to teamwork and cooperation.

2. Leadership Lessons in Musa’s (AS) Response:

2.1 Asking for Allah’s Help In response to Allah’s command,

Musa (AS) first asked for Allah’s help to enhance his capabilities and enable him to succeed in completing the assigned task. His plea for help represents the hallmark of a Muslim leader, full of humility and dependent on His Lord for everything.

(Musa) said: ‘O my Lord! Expand me my breast; Ease my task for me;’ (Ta Ha, 20:25-26)

2.2 Recognizing One’s Limitations

Next, he took an inventory of the skills required for the job, assessed his own skills, and recognized his limitations. It is critical for the success of a mission to understand what skills are needed and to identify one’s own strengths and weaknesses in the context of what is needed. Confident leaders do not shy away from confronting their limitations.

Immediately, Musa (AS) recognized that his communication skills were not very effective. He asked Allah SWT to remove the difficulty he had in speaking effectively.

And remove the impediment from my speech (Ta Ha,20:27)

Elsewhere, the Qur’an refers to Musa’s (AS) request as follows: My breast will be straitened. And my speech may not go (smoothly): so send unto me Harun… (Al Shu’ara, 26:13)

In stating his requests to Allah SWT, Musa (AS) reveals his pragmatic approach and his ability to assess potential problems. Again, he shows an awareness of his own limitations – an exemplary quality for a good leader. With the difficulties and limitations in mind, he proposes a solution: form a team to do the job, with the teammate complementing the leader’s skills.

2.3 Focusing on Effective Communication

Musa (AS) made the request to remove the impediment from his speech for a reason which illustrates a profound principle in fact, the essence – of communication, His reason was: So they may understand what I say: (Ta Ha, 20:28)

He did not ask for removing the impediment in his speech so that he could speak better or more impressively. Instead he asked for Allah to remove the impediment from his speech so that those who listened to him could understand him. This is the core of communication, that the receiver of the message should understand the message as it was intended to be understood. Communication takes place, not when the sender sends the message but when the receiver ascribes meaning to it. To communicate with desired results, one should not become too absorbed in one’s own abilities as speaker or presenter, but should focus on the interpretation and understanding of the message by the intended receiver or receivers. One should direct attention to improvement in one’s communicating ability towards a clear understanding of the message one intends to convey.

This principle can be extended to other areas of human activity. Any work should be judged not by how well we did it, but how well it benefited those affected by it. In other words, all our actions should be result oriented, and one should, of course, intend the result to be beneficial. The Prophet (SAW) is reported to have said: People are dependents of Allah; the closest to Him are the most useful to His dependents (Sahih Muslim)

One may also note here the characteristics of the audience. Allah SWT ordered Musa (AS) to go to Pharaoh because he had transgressed all bounds, and at the same time specified a way of dealing with this ruler.

But speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear (Allah). (Ta Ha, 20:44)

The lesson here is that both the content of our communication and its medium, i.e. the manner of its delivery, should fit the receiver of the message. Further, sometimes the right way to deal with a harsh and unrepentant receiver is not in a like manner but in quite the opposite manner, speaking to him mildly as in this case. The essence of communication is getting a message across, not getting even.

2.4 Working as a Team

Musa (AS) also understood the need of teamwork. He recognized that he needed to complement his own abilities in order to succeed.

And give me a Minister from my family, Harun, my brother (Ta Ha, 20:29-30)

Leaders who are unsure of themselves often recruit such teammates who are less qualified than themselves in order to avoid being challenged in areas of their own weaknesses. Effective leaders, however, are confident of themselves and focus their efforts on accomplishing the mission. Hence, they seek people who will complement them competently in areas where they perceive themselves to be weak or lacking. Musa (AS) asked for someone he knew to be capable, his own brother Harun, for a reason to be discussed later.

Musa (AS) wished to recruit his brother as a team member in order to strengthen his own abilities and efforts, and to enhance his own skills

Add to my strength through him: (Ta Ha, 20:31)

For the team to be effective, Musa (AS) expected his teammate to participate in carrying out the task, and not be a mere bystander.

And make him share my task: (Ta Ha, 20:32)

The Qur’an brings to our attention one important reason why Musa (AS) asked Allah SWT to assign Harun (AS) to help him.

And my brother Harun – he is more eloquent in speech than I: so send him with me as a helper, to confirm (and strengthen) me: For I fear they may accuse me of falsehood (Al Qasas, 28:34)

An effective team is characterized by teammates whose skills complement those of the leader as well as of other members of the team. As we saw earlier, Musa (AS) feared that his speech may not be adequate for the task at hand; so he asked for someone he considered to be better in that particular area.

This is the mark of an effective leader. Further, Musa (AS) asserted that the purpose of forming a team was not merely to reduce one’s workload, but to get help and strength from one another Such a team is directed to a purpose and to meet a challenge, which, in this case, carried the risk of being accused of promoting falsehoods.

2.5 Mission Orientation

A team should have a mission towards which it directs all its efforts. The success of the team is dependent upon the clarity of that mission and upon the degree to which all members are committed to accomplishing it. Musa (AS) clarified his team’s mission.

That we may celebrate Your praise without stint, And remember You without stint: For You are He that ever regards us (Ta Ha, 20:33-5) One must note the relationship between tasbih (praise) and zikr (remembrance) on the one hand and community building on the other. The mission to which Musa (AS) and Harun (AS) were directed was the release of the Israelites from the clutches of the Pharaoh. To them that mission encompassed the praise and remembrance of Allah (SWT), for all actions carried out to establish His Will would amount to His praise and remembrance. Praising Allah (SWT) and remembering Him establish the moral bearing that crystallizes our mission and moves us to accomplish it.

2.6 Legitimacy of the Request

Allah (SWT) established the legitimacy of Musa’s (AS) request – and approach – by granting what he had requested. (Allah) said: Granted is your prayer, O Musa! (Ta Ha, 20:36)

The Qur’an also refers to the acceptance of Musa’s (AS) request elsewhere.

(Before this), We sent Musa the Book, and appointed his brother Harun with him as Minister (Al Furqan, 25:35)

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