Narrated by Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: We were with Allah’s Apostle picking the fruits of the ‘Arak trees, and Allah’s Apostle (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) said, “Pick the black fruit, for it is the best.” The companions asked, “"Were you a shepherd?” He replied, “There was no prophet who was not a shepherd” (Sahih Bukhari, Chapter ‘Prophets’, Volume 4, Book 55, Hadith 618)
From this hadith we learn that every Prophet was a Shepherd. Let us try to ponder over the wisdom of Allah the Exalted in making every Prophet a Shepherd. In order to perform any task, training is very much necessary. Thus Allah the Exalted gave the Prophets training before putting the huge responsibility of being a Prophet on their shoulders.
The Bible speaks about Moses, David and Jesus (peace be to them all) working as prophets. Both Moses and David had worked as shepherds, and the implication is that some of the qualities and skills learnt there are transferable to the leadership of people and ultimately to the nation.
David guided the human flock entrusted to him by God ‘with skilful hand’. It is not difficult to believe that, during his young age, Jesus also had the care of the family’s and neighbours’ sheep and goats among the hills of Galilee. The Greek word for ‘good’ in the saying attributed to Jesus, ‘I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:14) informs his teaching on leadership. Good shepherd-leaders master the skills of leadership; they know their business. They are no hirelings who will run away at the first hint of danger; if need be, they will lay down their lives for the sheep entrusted to them. That’s not all, even today we can see the pictures (imaginary though) of Jesus dressed as a Shepherd and we can also see Him holding a lamp with sheep in the background.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) worked as a shepherd at the age of 8 because he wanted to help his uncle Abu Talib since he wasn’t rich and had a big family with many children. As a young boy, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) earned his living as a shepherd, a role he was later to speak about with fondness. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) would take the sheep and cattle of his relatives and those of the people of Makkah to the surrounding deserts to graze. He gave his uncle the wages he received in return.
Indeed, during this period, He acquired many superior human characteristics such as generosity, good temper, magnanimity, good behaviour towards neighbours, tolerance, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and avoidance of vices. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) grew up to become a fine young man. He became known for his excellent manners, and because of the honesty in his conduct and dealings he was referred to as Al-Sadiq (The Truthful One) and Al-Ameen (The Trustworthy One).
From being shepherds, the Prophets learnt the art of leadership. Leadership is done from the front. In the human context a human leader may not always, on a physical journey, be the person out in front, just as the shepherd sometimes works behind the moving flock. But spiritually a leader is the one who leads from the front. In leadership, example is everything. As the Moorish proverb says, “When the shepherd is corrupt, so is his flock.”
From being a shepherd, one learns the art of patience. The sheep do not remain at one place; they go wherever they like and just follow the path of other sheep. In order to control them and keep them in a group, one needs high level of patience. Being a Shepherd develops one’s skill of patience day by day.
From being a shepherd, one learns the art of organising and controlling. Apart from leading the flock to pasture and water across the wilderness, shepherds have to keep the flock together and care for each individual sheep or lamb. They will know the sheep by name, and the sheep in turn will know the shepherd’s voice. From being a shepherd, one learns the art of building unity. A good shepherd develops three important interactive circles that are present in all human work groups at all times in history; they are to achieve a common task, to be held together as a working unity and the needs that individuals bring into the group by virtue of being individually embodied persons.
Being a shepherd makes an individual socially responsible and learns the art of caring and loving. A good shepherd is interested in the welfare of people, not in fleecing them. While being a shepherd one spends most of his time with the sheep, and while spending time with them it makes the individual more caring and more responsible toward the beings around him. From being a shepherd one learns the skill of leaderships, the skill of patience, the skill of organising, the skill of empathy, the skill of controlling, the skill of interpersonal relations, the skill of building unity and also makes them physically strong, all of which are very much necessary to do justice to the huge responsibility given to the Prophets.
Being a Shepherd makes one physically strong. Being a Shepherd one has to walk, run and always be on his toes to ensure that all the sheep stay in a group and don’t get lost. During this course of action, performing physical activities that require considerable use of arms and legs and moving your whole body, such as climbing, lifting, balancing, walking, stooping, and handling of materials.
Being a Shepherd helped Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to learn the art of Parent Ego. Parent Ego contains the attitudes and behaviour incorporated from external sources, primarily parents. Outwardly, it often is expressed towards others in prejudicial, critical, and nurturing behaviour. Inwardly, it is experienced as old Parental messages which continue to influence the inner Child. Developing this Parent Ego helped Him develop skills like being responsible, caring and nurturing other beings.
Every Prophet was a Daiee, and the most important quality of a Daiee is the skill of being patient, which the Prophets developed while organising the sheep. Every Prophet was a Leader, and the most important quality of a Leader is the skill of empathy, which the Prophets developed while spending time with the sheep who could not speak or who could not express their feelings. Allah sends Prophets for a very important and crucial task, with a big role and a huge responsibility. And in order to perform the task, they also require certain skills. Thus Allah the Exalted put Prophets in various situations in their childhood and their youth in order to teach them various skills. When a person has experience of leading, organising and controlling animals performing all these activities with people become much easier.
Things aren’t always as they seem. The Mother of Prophet Musa was told to throw her son in the river; Prophet Yusuf was left for dead in a well, Maryam delivered a child alone, Aisha was accused of a terrible sin, Prophet Yunus was swallowed by a whale, Prophet Ibrahim was thrown in the fire, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) lost the love of his life Khadijah. Yet look at how it turned out for them in the end.
Let us try to understand the application of this scenario in our lives. Allah the Exalted takes us through various situations and different conditions, but we do not understand the wisdom behind it but rather would feel bad or even curse the situation we might be in. We just need to understand that everything happens with the will of Allah and He alone knows best. We need to live our lives as simple as a shepherd and we need to act like leaders in our individual and collective lives. Allah says in the Qur’ān,
“And it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and that you love a thing which is bad for you. And Allah knows and you do not know.” (2:216).
Allah the Exalted also says in the Qur’ān,
“Allah is the best of planners” (8:30).
We should just lead our lives happily without any worry. And just remember, “Allah has a plan for you”.
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