“Exceptional Daring is Essential, My own experience”


Allah loves, when one of you is doing something, that he [or she]

does it in the most excellent manner. – Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

 Famous risk takers of our generation today, like Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, made their mark in the history of information technology very tremendously. They have changed the course of the world wide web (www).

ImageSome of us are curios, what is their motivation? What is their secret formula in succeeding in life? What makes them more effective in their own chosen path in life?

This was my introduction in my lecture in MA class of Mam Beth Actub in Ateneo de Davao University last year. I was assigned to share my experiences in doing extra ordinary things which was related to the book of Chris Lowney which is entitled Heroic Leadership. In this book, it has a chapter that described the history of the Jesuits as risk takers.

The complete title of the chapter of the book is “Exceptional Daring Was Essential” How the End of Risk Taking Almost Ended the Jesuits.  I started my lecture by giving reflection of this particular chapter. My first take of this reading is that it is aimed at bankers and corporate business managers, thus, it is more for a company or business world. However, the principles and basic tenets may go beyond its primary purpose.

In an article I read in the internet it says something about the author and the book, and I would like to share it with you as the first part of my discussion:

Chris Lowney was a Jesuit for seven years when he discerned that his life’s path led in a different direction, but this was a period that, as can easily be seen from his book, filled Lowney with a deep respect and an abiding love for the Society of Jesus.

Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-year-old Company that Changed the World is an intriguing, beautifully-crafted book that captivates from the very start. It is full of insight into the business world, but with enormous love for, and understanding of, the Jesuits.  Drawing from real-life examples of leaders such as Atilla the Hun and Machiavelli’s Prince, the travesty of true leadership is so obvious that one is left wondering why anybody could have missed the obvious: that leadership is found in the exercise of four unique values: self-awareness, ingenuity, love and heroism.

The entire book is concerned with demonstrating four principal Jesuit contributions to true leadership:

  1. We’re all leaders, and we’re leading all the time, well or poorly.
  2. Leadership springs from within. It’s about” who I am as much as what I do”.
  3. Leadership is not an act. It is my life, a way of living.
  4. I never complete the task of becoming a leader. It’s an ongoing process. 

The four points was explicitly discussed and it gave us an inspiration to give our best, to give more, and to do it in excellent manner. After giving the key messages of the book, I then tried to relate it into the Islamic perspective vis a vis in relation to the on-going Government of the Philippines – Moro Islamic Liberation Front Framework of Bangsamoro Agreement. It was an ambitious discussion to be delivered within an hour. But, somehow it went beyond what I expected.

To relate a principle or a model of leadership in Islam, we look back to the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). His leadership styles describes the first two points of Chris Lowney.

Brief History of the life of Muhammad

In the book of Karen Armstrong, the life of Prophet Muhammad was narrated as follows and I quote:

Muhammad (son of Abdullah) is known as “Prophet Muhammad” among believers in the religion of Islam. According to Islamic teachings, he was the last prophet, or messenger of God, who received revelation.

Quraysh was the tribe that took care of the sacred Ka’bah, or house of worship, and gave water and food to pilgrims who visited it. Quraysh traced its ancestry to Abraham and his son Ishmael, and believed they founded Makkah and built the Ka’bah.  Muhammad’s father died before he was born and his mother died when he was a child. Muhammad lived with his grandfather, and later his uncle, Abu Talib. Abu Talib was generous but not wealthy, and taught Muhammad to trade on their caravan journeys to Syria. A wealthy Makkan widow named Khadijah employed Muhammad to sell her goods in Syria. She was so pleased with his work that she asked him to marry her. For twenty-five years, Khadijah and Muhammad were happily married.

Muhammad was did not like the idol- worship of the Makkans or the unjust way the rich treated the poor, even members of their own tribe. He often spent time in thought and prayer in a cave outside Makkah.  There on the Mountain of Light (Jabal al-Nur), Muhammad first experienced the call to prophethood. Muhammad described how the Angel Gabriel awoke him and told him to read. Muhammad replied that he could not read. Gabriel then said, “Read (or recite) in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging clot.” (Qur’an, 95:1-2) These were the first verses of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.

Muhammad was about forty years old then. The experience frightened him, and he hurried home, shivering, to his wife, who wrapped him in a blanket. Khadijah reassured him that his search for truth would not lead him astray.  Her cousin Waraqah, a man of faith who knew the Christian holy books, reassured them that Muhammad’s call to prophethood was true. He also warned them that his own tribe would reject him.

After a while, Muhammad experienced more revelations. These new verses told Muhammad to preach to his family. Members of Muhammad’s household and immediate family accepted Islam, including his wife Khadijah, the first Muslim woman. Later, he gathered members of his tribe and warned them to believe in one God and turn away from worshipping idols and unjust behaviour. All rejected him except for his young cousin Ali, son of Abu Talib. The earliest Muslims were mostly poor people, slaves and women. Some important Makkans joined him, but most powerful leaders of the Quraysh rejected him. His growing influence among the members of Makkan society threatened their prestige and power. They bribed him with offers of wealth and power, but he refused to give up. Quraysh persecuted the Muslims and finally banished them to a dry valley and forbid anyone to trade with them. This was a deadly boycott in a town without farming. Khadijah and Abu Talib both died during the boycott. Muhammad sent a small group of Muslims to Ethiopia to seek asylum, or protection from persecution, which was granted by its Christian king, the Negus. . Quraysh feared that Muhammad’s preaching against the idols would reach their visitors during the pilgrimage, causing people stop visiting the Ka’bah.

For this discussion, let us just focus on that point in the life of the prophet. It was not that easy to fight the status quo. It was not that easy to change the mindset of the people. But because of justice and recognition of human dignity in each and every people of Mecca, regardless of age, sex, and economic status, Muhammad chose to preach Islam and deliver the message of Islam to his people. The most powerful leaders of the Quraysh rejected him. His growing influence among the members of Makkan society threatened their prestige and power. They bribed him with offers of wealth and power, but he refused to give up. But he remained true of his destiny and strived hard to do what is right.

If we try to understand the key points of Prophet Muhammad’s life, his guiding principles is best described in this Hadith[1]:

“Whosoever sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.” Hadith in al- Bukhari

The life of Prophet Muhamad and this Hadith inspired me to become what I am now. Allow me to share with you what I have gone through in the past few years of my life.

Leadership is not an act. It is my life, a way of living

We may ask ourselves, how do we apply the basic teachings of the Prophet of Islam? How do we relate this in the idea of “risk taking”?

Prophet Muhammad fought for his ideals and principles. In the process, the very first people who went against him was his own clan —  one of the ruling and most powerful clans in Mecca. Hecould have chosen a life of ease, comfort and power; but he chose to lead a revolution to help his people from a period of jaheeliya or ignorance.


Exceptionally Daring Experiences

Few years after college, I was given the opportunity to work with the United Nations Multi Donor  programme (UNMDP) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). I was a United Nations Volunteer (UNV) for five years. As part of this program, I facilitated and conducted training sessions for former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) combatants to become community organizers and peace and development advocates. One of my tasks in terms of peace and developmental work was the conceptualization and organization of the KADTABANGA (Helping One Another) Peace and Development Advocates Foundation. Kadtabanga is a group of former MNLF combatants who are now peace and development advocates and leaders in their respective communities in Central Mindanao.

In 2006, I was given the chance to work in the provincial government of Sultan Kudarat. As a board member, I was the Chairperson, Committee on Education, Arts and Culture where I worked on the promotion and development of Education and the preservation, enrichment and evolution of Muslim Arts and Culture. I worked closely with our people and helped them organize themselves into cooperatives and civil society organizations that acquired recognition with the Local Development Councils at the municipal levels.

But in 2007, due to some reasons beyond my understanding, my clan in my maternal side requested me not to run in public office. According to my relatives, “I was shaking the status quo by providing projects and programs that empower our people”. They thought that by doing so, this will stop me from doing what I love to do, helping our poor masses.

In 2008, I founded Aksyon Mindanaw.  Aksyon Mindanaw is a conglomeration of different socio-civic organizations, NGOs, and youth groups that works at the community level in terms of (1) conflict resolution (peace process), (2) community organization and development through the integration of CSOs plans and programs with the LGU development councils (sustainability measures), and (3) environmental awareness plus climate change response/advocacy. This has widen my network and political activities in Mindanao.

As my network and allies developed, I also had some oppositions from various sectors that do not agree in our advocacy work, especially when I work towards anti-corruption initiatives in the government.

Empowering the poor masses, for me, is the essence of democracy. I always believed that to strengthen the democratic processes ofin our society, we need people to understand what democracy is and at the same time, taking our culture into consideration to define our identities. These two need not be incompatible.

In my desire to learn more about democracy, I eventually joined the Centrist Democratic Movement (CDM). I was the Southern Mindanao Regional Chair and I was part of the team that formulated the CDM values and principles some three years ago. Through the help of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a German-based foundation, i had chance to visit Germany on a study tour of the Parliament and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Party in Germany in 2011 and 2012.

It was a risk on my part doing all these advocacy and volunteering work. One of my unforgettable experiences in development work and anti corruption initiative was when we organized Peoples’ Action Against Corruption (PAAC). People’s Action Against Corruption is an initiative of CSO, NGO, academe, and young politicians of Davao City to safeguard the revenue collection of the Bureau of Customs in Sasa Wharf, Davao City.

In 2010, a meeting was conducted at Ateneo de Davao University, where at least 10 major organizations in Davao convened and discussed the issue of corruption and smuggling in Sasa Wharf. These organizations are Aksyon Mindanaw, Youth Against Hunger, Luntiang Kabataan, Centrist Democratic Movement – Southern Mindanao, Ehem!, Office of Councilour April Dayap, SK Federation and the SK Federation Vice President of Davao City,  Al – Sabar, and League of Student Organization of Davao City. In 2011, we were able to oust the Customs Collector in Davao City because of the alleged graft and corruption practices.

Working in a Catholic Jesuit University

            I was introduced to the Jesuit community back in 2000, in a seminar organized by UNDP regarding indigenous peoples of Mindanao. My first Jesuit friend was Father Albert Alejo (who is called “Paring Bert” by his close circle of friends). Paring Bert taught me the beauty of looking at the problems in Mindanao from the point of view of an anthropologist. He encouraged me to study my people: the Iranuns.

            Paring Bert encouraged me to write about the Iranun people. Because of doing my research, I was one of the pioneer advocates of the Iranun identity and Iranun community recognition. I was able to write a paper on “The Struggle of the Iranun for Peace and Cultural Independence: From a Religion-Based Political Movement to a Culture-Based Political Movement”, that I presented in Malaysia and Indonesia in 2008 simply strengthens the foundation and realization of a true Iranun identity/community. However, by doing this I begun to question the “moro” identity being espoused by the MNLFs and MILFs. But this work opened the eyes of the people from the academe, NGOs and government institutions to look beyond the moro lenses. This gave a holistic view of the Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao.

            In 2011, Fr. Joel Tabora SJ, Ateneo president, invited me to join the university and set up an Islamic institute that focuses on research and formation on Islamic identities and dialogue that establishes its link with the Southeast Asian communities.

            Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia is one of the new institutes within ADDU. Al Qalam plays a significant role in providing space for “voices” on all sides of the issue and to encourage an environment of inclusivity among  Muslims, Christians and Lumads in Mindanao. With the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro (FAB), the institute continues to engage the youth, the future leaders of Mindanao, as active participants in the crafting of the Final Peace Agreement. With what we have worked so far, we seek to further encourage our people to have a better outlook for the future of the peoples in Mindanao, with integrity and moral claim against corruption, and to fully realize themselves and their roles as stakeholders and citizens of this country.

            Some people may be wondering, what am I doing in a Catholic Jesuit university? My answer is always the same. Back in 2007, an open letter from Islamic religious leaders was sent to the Christian religious leaders that calls for peace between Muslims and Christians to work hand im hand for common ground and understanding. This letter is now popularly known as the “Common Word”.

            A Common Word between Us and You” is a follow up to a shorter letter, sent in 2006, in response to Pope Benedict XVI‘s lecture at the University of Regensburg on 12 September 2006. This lecture, on the subject of faith and reason, had focused mainly on Christianity and what Pope Benedict called the tendency in the modern world to “exclude the question of God” from reason. Islam features in a part of the lecture. The Pope quoted a Byzantine Emperor’s strong criticism of Muhammad‘s teachings. Pope Benedict clarified that this was not his own personal opinion, describing the quotation as being of a “startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded.”[i]

            Having Al Qalam within Ateneo is a strong point of interfaith dialogue in action. This is a daring move with noble intentions of bridging the gap between the Muslims and Christians in Mindanao and the rest of the country.

I never complete the task of becoming a leader. It’s an ongoing process.

            The last principle of Lowney says it all. We can never complete the task of becoming a leader. It is an on-going process. As long as we live, we are bound to face the challenges in life. Our leadership need not to be in complex or grandeur manner. Even in our home, we can be a leader by serving as an example for our family.

[1] A ḥadīth (plural: hadithhadiths, or aḥādīth) is a saying or an act or tacit approval or disapproval ascribed either validly or invalidly by Prophet Muhammad.


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