Leader as Physician of the Heart 
                                                                              - By Dr. Syeda Saiyidain Hameed

The car was passing through the dark, low hills of the Western Ghats. The sun had set by the time we hit the curving road. My colleague Reyaz Ahmed and I were travelling with Shri Prahalad Tipanya from Malwa, who carries Kabir in his life and voice. I was carrying with me my copy of the Quran.

When I received the invitation from Disom - The Leadership School for its inaugural ceremony on the day of Sufi Basant, and a face-to-face workshop on Understanding Islam with its maiden cohort, I said yes without letting second thoughts change my mind. There were many doubters and detractors. ‘At your age!’ ‘What about risk to others in your home!’ In response, my one thought, as a believing and practising Muslim, was that the cause itself will be my protection. As the Sufi said to his interlocutor, ‘I will do my work, let Him do His’.

That night, I set my eyes on the participants, who had been handpicked from hundreds of applicants from across the country. There were a total of 24 — from Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha, Gujarat , Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu — women and men and non-binary, young and younger. Later that night, we studied our pre assessment forms which they had already filled. We needed a baseline for the exposition. Most of the participants had confessed to their lack of knowledge about the basic tenets of Islam. With one or two exceptions, no one had even read any excerpts from the Quran or any book on Muslims and Islam. Their conclusions, understandings and interpretations were derived from friends, family and media. Almost 70 per cent came from a mixed neighborhood. The remaining had lived in ‘Hindu only’ areas. Almost 70 per cent said their parents did not have Muslims friends. Most of them, however, had Muslim friends themselves. Some even mentioned their Muslim friends as their role models. As we read further, the stereotypes came alive — anti-gender, violent, intolerant, hardliners. When asked to name three great personalities among Muslims, 40 per cent wrote A. P. J Abdul Kalam. A few mentioned Muslim film stars or sportspersons. The odd ones named world renowned Sufis. A couple wrote Maulana Azad and names of women rulers.

Three days later, in the post assessment forms, the narrative had changed. With two exceptions, all of them wrote that the workshop had given them a basic level of understanding, cleared their doubts, broken myths and demolished (to an extent) their take on Islamophobia in current sociopolitics. In retrospect, I wish we had asked them at the end who they now consider their top role models among Muslims! The most visible shift in the post-assessment forms concerned gender. Many participants acknowledged that it was patriarchy which led to a distorted view of the status of women in Islam.

As I reflect on those days at Disom, some images flash past as snapshots of India’s future leaders. Abdul Khalifa from Mangalore celebrating Basant with his peers; Sejal Rathwa of Chhotaudepur in her splendid traditional attire; Nevish who still has some unanswered questions for me about non-binary identities and Islam; and core team member Allama Amit Tirkey, a title he acquired impromptu during the workshop when he spoke about why Allama Iqbal could well become his role model.

I had read a couplet about leadership, which, for me, describes contemporary leadership, cutting across party lines in India, seen all through South Asia:

Sar-e-mimbar voh khwabon ke mahal tameer kartey hain

Ilaaj e dil nahin karte faqat taqreer kartey hain

From the platform, they build castles in the air;

They don't heal hearts, they only declaim!

The Disom cohort, I hope and pray, will be among those who will change this narrative. May they live by Amir Khusrau’s description of Nizamuddin Aulia, whose efforts to bring happiness to the human heart won for him the title ‘Tabeeb e Dil’ or ‘Physician of the Heart’?

Dil ba dast awar ke Hajj e Akbarast

Az hazaran Kaaba yak dil behtarast

Bringing solace to the human heart is the biggest Haj;

One heart is better than a thousand Kaabas.