Oh leadership: Read Haroun Al-Rashid’s letter to Nicephorus

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WHEN there is determination to make a decision, all obstacles will fade away if the leader is aware of the capabilities of his country and his people, and if he is able to accept risks – internal or external – and transform them into opportunities to impose the prestige of the state.

A testimony to this is the fifth Abbasid Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid, who faced the most powerful international powers in the ninth century AD at that time, which was the Roman Empire.

Al-Rashid turned its threats to the Muslim State into opportunities to defeat it, and prevent the repeated attacks and occupation of some areas adjacent to the borders, and its expansion to the shores of the Mediterranean that day.

In the year 782, a truce was concluded with the Roman Queen Irene for payment of an annual tribute to the Abbasids. She continued to pay the tribute until her death.

When Nicephorus succeeded her in the year 802, he sent a letter to Haroun Al-Rashid, asking him to return the tribute paid by the former queen. He wrote, “From Nicephorus I, the King of the Romans, to Haroun, the King of the Arabs.

The weak and faint-hearted Irene had submitted to pay you tribute. She ought to have made you pay tribute to her. Return to me all that she paid you, otherwise the matter would have to be settled by the sword.”

When Haroun read the letter, he became furious. He then sent his famous message immortalized in history. Behind Nicephorus’ letter, he wrote, “From Haroun Al-Rashid, the Commander of the Faithful, to Nicephorus, the Roman dog, I have read your letter. You shall not hear, but you shall SEE my reply.”

In the year 803, Al-Rashid headed his army to Heraclea, a city on the shores of the Black Sea, where the battle of Krasos took place. In this battle, Nicephorus was defeated, and he was forced to pay tribute just as his predecessor did.

One year later, the Byzantine emperor once again thought of refraining from paying tribute to the Abbasid caliph. Al-Rashid returned and waged a new war with the Byzantines, in which 40,000 of their soldiers were killed. They were forced to pay 30,000 gold coins annually, and set free all of the Muslim prisoners who had fallen under the grip of Byzantines.

This would not have happened if Al-Rashid had followed the advice of the state advisors, especially since the internal situation in the Caliphate was not conducive to that confrontation, in their perception. However, the leader’s faith in his people and the ability of his army prompted him to take such a decision.

In this regard, Al-Rashid’s message was not only directed at the Romans, but indirectly at the Muslims as well. That level of firmness in confronting the enemies requires a unified effort, especially with the security and political unrest in the state, and the events that the caliphate witnessed at the time. Getting out of such a situation was possible only by imposing the prestige of the state without provoking strife in it.

Today, with the change of the political scene in a group of countries in the Gulf region and the Arab world, as well as the revolution of media and social communication, the weakness in confronting governments, and harming the symbols and leaders of countries, the local and external conditions are intertwined, and countries are facing risks on two fierce lines – external and internal – as a result of dependence on the advisors and the personal tendencies of the officials who are terrified of losing their interests due to which they opt for opinions that do not commensurate with the interest of the state.

Over the past 100 years, the leaders of some countries in the region have been able to work to fortify them, despite many internal and external threats, due to the national zeal that was raging at that time. In light of the struggle between the superpowers, it was imperative for them to face the dangers with sophistication, firmness and confrontation. For this reason, they were able to build countries, some of which today have become great powers economically, politically and developmentally, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, what some leaders consolidated from the pillars of a strong state at that time was wasted by relying on advisors and not addressing local conflicts and sectarian and tribal blocs, until they were almost lost through weakness in confronting transient unrest, and not benefiting from past lessons. There are many examples in this regard.

There is no doubt that the prestige of the state happens only by imposing the decision from a man of decision. Without it, it opens its doors to risks both internally and externally, as is the case in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and other countries where the leadership has lost the compass in the right direction.

By Ahmed Al-Jarallah

Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times

This news has been read 21903 times!

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