Monday, April 18, 2011

Female Leadership: The Queen of Sheba

I have spent much time ruminating about the intricacies and challenges that come along with being a leader and being female. By "leader" I do not necessarily mean the leader of an entire nation. Rather, I mean it in more of a subjective manner - a position of influence and authority regardless of how small the scope.

For a large period of my life I was lead to believe that women are inherently inadequate leaders. Perhaps it was the idea that women were overly emotional and had fewer "logical thinking" skills as men. Sometimes these things were actually said out loud (i.e. "women are ____" and you could fill in the blank with every possible generalization to be made about women). And sometimes it wasn't said, but implied through people's actions.

Needless to say, I have always had a problem with these ideas. Being in various positions of leadership over the years (and finding that - by the will of God - I was able to contribute positively in those positions), I couldn't for the life of me understand how some people could sincerely believe that females had very little to offer in this realm.

I still struggle with the barriers that are put up to discourage females from active participation in (real, influential) decision-making. I see in the eyes of females so much passion and willingness to contribute to the betterment of our community, and yet their skills are taken for granted. And it's only a matter of time until those females become tired of the dismissive attitudes they're exposed to in their own communities and move on to other places that will accept and value their abilities. That saddens me.

I was listening to Surat An-Naml, and the story of the Queen of Sheba caught my attention. I've been thinking about these verses quite a bit:

(The queen) said: "Ye chiefs! here is delivered to me - a letter worthy of respect. "It is from Solomon, and is (as follows): 'In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful: "'Be ye not arrogant against me, but come to me in submission (to the true Religion).'" She said: "Ye chiefs! advise me in (this) my affair: no affair have I decided except in your presence." They said: "We are endued with strength, and given to vehement war: but the command is with thee; so consider what thou wilt command." She said: "Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and make the noblest of its people its meanest thus do they behave. But I am going to send him a present, and (wait) to see with what (answer) return (my) ambassadors." (Surat An-Naml: 29-35)

I love these verses - they teach me so much about the difference between male and female leadership and the value that a female leader could potentially have. The Queen of Sheba asks her advisors for their opinion regarding Prophet Sulaiman's letter that calls them to worship the One God. Her advisors say they are strong and willing to fight. She disagrees with their take on the situation saying "Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and make the noblest of its people its meanest thus do they behave..." She eventually decides to handle matters with Prophet Sulaiman very differently than the advised violence of war.

What I take from this is simple: the story illustrates the potentially different leadership qualities that males vs. females possess. That is, the Queen of Sheba was concerned for the well-being of her people and land such that she did not want to instigate unnecessary war. How novel that idea is! She demonstrated a level of wisdom and foresight that would be admirable in any leader - male or female. She brought to the table a different skill-set that set her apart from other leaders, and that made her nation strong and meaningful enough to be mentioned in the Qur'an as a parable for us, the readers.

I do believe that men and women are inherently different beings, each with their strengths and weaknesses. I also believe that there is a reason that God created two different beings - and that is, that they compliment one another. Perhaps leadership styles are different amongst men and women, but those differences are precisely what make a strong community! Gathering both men and women to decide on the direction the community needs to head in will yield a balanced and positive outcome. When women are pigeonholed and only "allowed" to participate in ways that are deemed adequately "feminine"...well, everyone loses, and our community becomes imbalanced and unable to progress properly.


Sajda said...

Hear, Hear!
Spot on post.

(and cool, my word verification thingie was DISCO)

Hania said...

This is great, I totally agree.