Leadership Experiences of Undergraduate Muslim Student Leaders: An Exploratory Case Study Wardah Guimba Lecturer, College of Education, Mindanao State University, Philippines E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Che Noraini Hashim Asst. Professor, Institute of Education, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Suhailah Hussien Asst. Professor, Institute of Education, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Mohyani Razikin Asst. Professor, Institute of Education, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Ivie Esteban Senior Lecturer, UCSI University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Abstract Islamic institutions of higher learning are keeping abreast in developing their students for future leadership. However, few empirical investigations have been conducted thus giving impetus to this research.
The main purpose of this study is to explore the leadership experiences and practices of undergraduate student leaders on their involvement as student government (SG) leaders at two Islamic institutions of higher learning in Marawi City, Philippines. Specifically, the objective of this study is to explore the student leaders’ understanding of the concept of leadership. Using the exploratory case study, the data were collected from small group discussions (SGD) consisting of six student leaders. Based on the results of the SGDs, the student participants viewed that their student government (SG) experiences assisted them in gaining self-confidence, interpersonal skills, communication skills, and civic consciousness. Moreover, the student leaders articulated that leadership could be divided into four constructs of themes, namely, defining leadership, motivating factors, constructing identity, and enhancing skills.
Leadership has been defined in many perspectives. In the Islamic perspective, leadership is defined as a “trust (amaanah) – a psychological contract between a leader and his followers where the former will try his best to guide the latter, and protect and treat them justly” (Beekun and Badawi, 1999: vii). Similarly, Al-Attas and Wan Daud (2007) also defined leadership as a trust (amaanah) from where “responsibility” (taklif) and “accountability” (mas’uliyyah) come from. In addition, Altalib (1991) and Chowdbury (2001) as cited by Aabed (2006, 2006:42) viewed leadership as a “process of inspiring and coaching voluntary followers in an effort to fulfill a clear as well as shared vision.” Leadership, then, entails a strong adherence to principles that are geared towards serving the people. Leadership from the Islamic perspective is a moral activity and a process of communication between the equals directed towards the achievement of a goal. The leaders are primarily distinguished from the followers by their knowledge, their commitment to the Islamic principles and possession of superior moral values (Sa’ari & Borhan, 2007).
The Islamic criteria of leadership provide Muslim leaders worldwide with a code of leadership extracted primarily from the Qur’an and the biography of the Prophet Mohammad ( ) and his companions. The Qur’an, Sunnah, and the jurisprudence give a comprehensive code of laws: social, moral, political, administrative, economic, civil, religious, and ethical to guide the Muslim leaders to run Islamic organizations appropriately and effectively (Aabed, 2006). This present study examines the leadership experiences of the undergraduate Muslim student leaders in Marawi City, Philippines. The Muslims in the Philippines are categorized into 13 tribes, one of which is the Meranao tribe to which the student participants in this study are ethnically affiliated. The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands with Mindanao as its second largest island (Abinales & Amoroso, 2005). Marawi City is one of the three cities in Central Mindanao and is located on the northern shore of Lake Lanao. It is also called ‘The Islamic City of Marawi’ and the ‘summer capital’ of the region. As the capital city, it serves as the commercial, educational, cultural, religious and political center of the province of Lanao del Sur.
Thus, among other things of relatively equal significance, Islamic institutions of higher learning in Marawi City offer the best site to do an exploratory study on the dynamism of student leadership and Islamic leadership. Two points can be identified for this dynamism. Firstly, Marawi City is an educational hub in the province of Lanao del Sur in southern Philippines and therefore has potential richness for empirical study. Secondly, Marawi City is an Islamic city where the presence and proliferation of Islamic institutions of higher education within its territorial domain reinforce the values of Islam, both as a religion and a unifying system of educational goals. 1.1. Background of the Study The development of students as leaders remains a central goal for institutions of higher education as evidenced by mission statements and the increased presence of leadership development programmes of college campuses (Astin & Astin, 2000; Mclntire, 1989). Non-Muslim academic scholars have consistently demonstrated that students increase their leadership skills while in college (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).
In Astin’s (1999) view, collegiate involvement in positional leadership roles (i.e., election to a particular office) was the strongest extracurricular predictor of leadership ability (Dugan, 2006). Apparently, it can be argued that despite voluminous studies on student leadership in secular institutions worldwide, the centrality of developing students for future leadership also addresses the presence and effect of crisis in leadership (Khan, 2007; Hargreaves, 2005). According to Ahmed (1999), this crisis is a phenomenon that is globally affecting all Muslims and is manifested in the failure of the contemporary Muslim leaders to emulate the exemplary leadership qualities of the ). In fact, “good leadership is difficult to find among Muslim minority groups Prophet ( throughout the Western world” (Aabed, 2006: 19). Asian countries are likewise similarly situated. Based on a paper presented in a conference on Islamic Perspective on Leadership by Filipino Muslim European Journal of Social Sciences – Volume 20, Number 1 (2011) authors (Lingga, et al., 2008:4), “Muslim nations face a crisis of leadership which affects both themselves and their relationship with other countries.”
They further say that in the Philippines, “there is a gap in leadership as portrayed in by the Qur’an and the actual leadership seen and felt by Muslims down in the community level” (Lingga et al., 2008:4). A clear indication on the pervasiveness of leadership crisis among students in Marawi City is shared by Muslim professors from the Mindanao State University, Marawi City, Philippines. In an interview with Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Matuan (May 12, 2009), they claimed that among the major reasons why Meranao students joined the supreme student government (SSG) were to be popular and famous in their institutions and with their friends and peers. The leadership orientations of current or future Meranao student leaders in supreme student government organizations remain unexplored. This unexplored phenomenon gives the researcher a fertile ground for empirical research. In addition, the examination of the Meranao supreme student government (SSG) leadership experiences and practices is a positive affirmation to the contention that student government is one common means by which students assume a visible leadership role among campus constituents (Dias, 2009). This case study aims to add to the scanty literature on Islamic leadership behaviour.
However, it is limited to Meranao student leaders involved in supreme student government (SSG) in two Islamic institutions of higher learning in Marawi City, Philippines. 1.2. Objectives of the Study This study has the following objectives: 1. to explore the Muslim undergraduate student leaders’ experiences and practices on student leadership in the two Islamic institutions in Marawi City, Philippines, 2. to synthesize their collective concepts on leadership. 1.3. Research Questions This study seeks to answer the following questions: 1. How do the student leaders in the two Islamic institutions in Marawi City, Philippines conceptualize their leadership experiences and practices? 2. What are the collective concepts on leadership of these student leaders? 1.4. Significance of the Study Data gained from this study will provide useful information for student affairs practitioners. As both Golden and Schwartz (1994) and Sandeen (1991) suggested, the relationship between student government and student affairs officers is critical. Therefore, data from this study could enhance communication and assist in programme development. The findings of this study contribute to a greater body of knowledge on creating and supporting a holistic, engaging student experience (Holland-Brown, 2008).
Moreover, the findings serve as guides for policy formulation and implementation by the government subdivisions and units, as far as the conduct of governance of the Muslims in the Philippines is concerned. 1.5. Astin’s Involvement Theory The Student Involvement Theory (SIT) of Astin (1999) is used as a framework of this study. SIT has been cited in many studies (Chebator, 1995; Dugan, 2006; Dias, 2009; Torres, 2008). Central to the idea of SIT is the investment of time, effort, and energy in academics, and of relationships and activities related to the campus. The core issue in SIT is on the amount of time and energy extended by the college students in both curricular and co-curricular programmes in institutions of higher learning. A case study on student development conducted in the Philippines which has relevance to the present study is done by Bernardo (2007). Her study analyzed the student learning process, focusing on affairs that bridge the gap between the academe and the wider society. It revealed that student experience is predominantly framed by the environmental factors internal and external to the European Journal of Social Sciences – Volume 20, Number 1 (2011) organization.
The researcher agrees with Bernardo that educators must forego a mechanistic (controlled) view of the educational process in order to develop the college students for effective leadership. However, Bernardo’s study did not cover the scope of student government nor the leadership experiences and practices of Muslim student leaders which the present study tries to address. Supreme student government (SSG) is one of the extracurricular programmes provided by the Islamic institutions of higher learning in Marawi City, Philippines to engage and involve the students in campus activities. The rationale behind selecting supreme student government (SSG) as a benchmark in the exploration of Meranao student leadership in the study lies in the fact that among other student activities within Islamic institutions in Marawi City the supreme student government (SSG) is the most active and organized.
2. Research Methodology
2.1. Research Design The cross-case design was applied in this research. The data of the cross-case were derived from the small group discussions (SGDs) of the Meranao student leaders representing the two Islamic institutions. Since each group was unique in terms of their leadership experiences and practices, there was a need to synthesize the data as a case study of Muslim undergraduate student leaders. 2.2. Pilot Interview Before the actual small group discussion (SGD) took place, the researcher did a pilot interview to one of the former student leaders in one of the target Islamic institutions. This pilot interview was aimed to assist the researcher in ensuring that the semi-structured questions formulated were clear and relevant to the objectives of the study. This also helped the researcher in determining the level of difficulty of the questions and the duration of the interview. Accordingly, some interview questions were modified and rephrased. One such modification was on the question of motivation. It was suggested that instead of asking, “what motivated you to pursue your current position of leadership?” it was more preferable to ask, “why did you join the student government?” 2.3. Participants There were six Muslim student leaders selected as key informants for the small-group discussions (SGDs).
In identifying the key informants, student leaders who were either in their third or final year and who occupied the most important posts in their student government such as the president, vice president, secretary or the treasurer were given priority. Students were assigned the following pseudonyms: P1, P2, P3, M1, M2, and M3. Pseudonyms correspond to distinct letters taken from the acronyms of the institutions (e.g., P is for JPI). 2.3.1. Jamiatul Philippine Al-Islamiah (JPI) The JPI SSG president (P1), treasurer (P2) and secretary (P3) were the participants in the small group discussion (SGD) conducted on May 4, 2009 at the Guidance Office, JPI, Marawi City, Philippines. At the time of the SGD, all the three student leaders were in their third year in college pursuing Bachelor of Secondary Education (BSED). P1 (male) was 23 years old, P2 (female) was 20 years old, and P3 (female) was 20 years old. 2.3.2. Jamiatu Muslim Mindanao (JMM) The three student leaders (M1, M2, and M3) from JMM who joined the small group discussion (SGD) were all fourth year pursuing Bachelor of Secondary Education (BSED).
M1 was 22 years old male president of the SSG Arabic department; M2 was 23 years old female president of the SSG English department and M3 was 23 years old female vice president of SSG English department. The SGD was on May 5, 2009 at the SSG office of the Arabic department, JMM, Marawi City, Philippines. 2.4. Data Collection Procedure Qualitative data in this study were collected through small group discussions (SGDs) which were conducted from March 2009 to May 2009. They were arranged by specific appointments, and the time was determined by the students themselves. One month before the actual SGDs, the researcher sent consent letters to the president or chairman of each of the two Islamic institutions as well as the target participants. The researcher used an open-ended interview guide and in some occasions departed from the guide to ask follow-up questions or explored unanticipated but relevant issues brought up by the participants.
The researcher assured them that their responses will be kept with utmost confidentiality so that they will be more relaxed and honest in their answers. The SGDs were recorded using the MP3 device and later transcribed. While the SGD was going on, the researcher took down notes to annotate the discussion. 2.5. Data Analysis Procedure The analysis of the data from the small group discussions (SGDs) utilized what Patton (1990) refers to as cross-case analysis, where answers to similar questions from different participants are grouped together to help identify emerging themes or patterns. In combination, the comparative pattern analysis, described by Guba (1978) that identifies categories and themes and then analyzes the data by seeking themes the data best fits, was employed to analyze the information derived from the interviews.
3. Analysis and Discussion of Findings
3.1. Defining Leadership Some definitions given by the students interviewed do converge in some ways. Their points of view were defined by their status as elected leaders, socio-cultural affinities and religious affiliations to Islam. Most of the students were quick in responding when asked to define or describe what leadership meant. The theme “defining leadership” has seven subthemes. These are: relationship building; leaderfollower synchrony; public service; role model; trust; responsibility and proactive. (1.1) Relationship Building One definition given by a male student participant carries a contextual meaning of leadership. Code switching in Tagalog and English, also called “Taglish”, P1 said: Leadership is the ability to blend and mingle well with people and to have a good relationship with them. In my position as president, I realized that it is in the way I deal with the students and the school officials that carry more weight. My friends were telling me that I have the skills in forming good relationships to almost everyone – children, adults, teenagers, and old people. Here in Marawi City, a leader should really be good in building and maintaining positive relationships with people. A leader is not so much judged by his/her intelligence but by how strong he/she can build and maintain positive relationships with people. This definition by P1 has several contextual implications in the Philippine Muslim society and culture. It highlights the sacred status given to relationship building of all Filipino Muslims and the prestige and honor attached to it.
Thus, the student government involvement of the student leaders in their respective Islamic institutions is in essence a micro relationship building and an act of continuing the genealogical importance in their cultural tradition. Likewise, this definition is in agreement with the ideas of Rost (1993), Nik Ahmad Hisham (1998) and Dugan (2006) that the essence of leadership is not the leader but the relationship existing between the leader and the followers as well as to other human individuals (El-Meligi, 2005). The theme relationship building was also mentioned by Brown (2001:3) when he said: “leadership involves inspiration, motivation, aspiration, relationship building, and creative change.” Additionally, building relationship is identified by Fullan (2001) as one of the five components of effective leadership. (1.2). Public Service The same participant (M1) has another way of looking at leadership: Leadership also for me is public service. The welfare of the people will always be the priority before anything else.
If there’s something good for the people take it and give it to them. However, if there’s something bad take it and find a solution to solve it. In that way, the people will voluntarily help you out in solving the problems. This statement is in line with servant leadership developed by Greenleaf (1977). According to Greenleaf (1977) as cited by Black (2007:1) “servant leaders put peoples’ needs, interests, and aspirations above their own.” Islam also echoes similar idea. Beekun and Badawi (1999) claimed that servant leadership is one of the cornerstones of Islamic leadership. (1.3). Role Model To be a role model is what leadership is all about. This is the gist of M2’s definition that: Leadership is to model a good attitude and behavior. Whatever is the action of the leader the followers will do the same and so it’s difficult to make mistakes. The leader is observed by the followers all the time. They are watching the leader’s every move. When the leader tries to impose some rules and he/she doesn’t practice them the followers will not comply either. These words of M2 indicate how decisive is the influence of the leader to the followers which is consistent with the most popular expression: “Follow the leader.”
The leader must not only serve as an excellent example for all his followers but he must also be extra-careful and mindful in all his actuations, publicly or privately, because he is closely looked upon by his followers to imitate. He must therefore emulate his people to all good acts and deeds. His words and his actions must be consistent at all times. A best example of this role (Sacranie, 2003:1) is what Abu Bakr Siddique, proclaimed during his inaugural address as first Caliph of Islam, thus: People! Behold me charged with cares of Government I am not the Best among you; I need all your advice and all your help. If I do well, support me; if I mistake, counsel me. To the truth to a person commissioned to rule is faithful allegiance; to conceal it is treason. In my sight, the powerful and the weak are alike, and to both Prophet, obey; if I neglect the laws of God and Prophet, I have no more right to your obedience!
It can be concluded that the students interviewed all had a strong sense of what it meant to be a leader, yet had differing views of what leadership meant to them. Most of them defined leadership through the lens of their own leadership experiences and practices. (2). Constructing Identity Three subthemes emerged from the interviews when the student participants were asked how they describe themselves as Muslim student leaders. These themes are: ideal leadership traits; MeranaoMuslim dichotomy; and leadership style. Students interviewed in this study tend to create identity through their student government involvement and the prevailing culture within their respective school campuses.
European Journal of Social Sciences – Volume 20, Number 1 (2011) (2.1) Meranao-Muslim Dichotomy Three of the student participants have ambivalent answers when asked to describe themselves as Muslim student leaders. The ambivalence stems from the moral conflict between what they think is right and proper and what they actually practice. It took several follow-up questions before decisive answers were obtained. The initial ambivalence can be gleaned from the words of P1: I would rather prefer to call myself a Meranao student leader instead of a Muslim student leader because I don’t want to tarnish the true meaning of the word “Muslim.” I know I have good relationships with people and I am kind to everyone but to me a true believing Muslim is someone who religiously do the five daily prayers and subscribe to other commandments of Allah. And so because of my failure to offer my daily prayers I feel it’s inappropriate for me to call myself a good Muslim. I guess I will be more comfortable addressing myself as a Meranao student leader because the term “Meranao” signifies a group of people who profess the religion Islam and not the other way around.
This means that I am only a student leader who professes Islam and still open to commit sins. The insistence of P1 of calling himself as a Meranao student leader instead of a Muslim student leader is reflective of his understanding of Islam. It also shows the difficulty of Muslims to be citizens of a Muslim minority country. Practicing Islam in a secular country like the Philippines poses greater challenges. Thus, P1’s responses are reflections of the realities of many Muslim leaders in the Philippines that while they classify themselves as Muslims yet they cannot perform all the requirements of Islam. It is not the perceived rigidity of Islam that made them not true Muslims but more on the temptations of prevailing un-Islamic practices. (2.2) Leadership Style A male student president described himself through his leadership style: I’d like to describe myself through my leadership style which I emulate from how the third caliph of Islam had led the Ummah during his time. Caliph Uthman’s leadership style is between that of Abu Bakr and Umar. He was not as lenient as Abu Bakr but not as strict as Umar. In short, he was moderate.
Leadership is a matter of adjustment and a leader should have the skill to adjust to different people in different situations (M1) What can be taken from M1’s words is the idea that there is no “fit all” leadership style and what is desirable is to combine several, compatible leadership styles. Also, leadership style must be flexible to suit the nature and type of leadership, followership and the circumstantial situations. (3) Enhancing Skills The students clearly have made sense of their leadership experiences as learning opportunities. They are aware of the skills that they have gained and believed that they had personally benefited from their leadership experiences. Two themes are identified from the interviews with the student leaders.
These are: treasurer’s quest and refining innate skills. The students interviewed believed that they were acquiring valuable organizational and interpersonal skills in their roles as leaders. Majority of the students mentioned gaining self-confidence when they joined their campus student government. M1 said: I gained self-confidence, communication skill and interpersonal skills. The experiences and the exposures I got from my active involvement with SG have helped me a lot in my academic and personal life. Before, I couldn’t bear to stand in front of the class and speak but now I can. My communication skills have improved and I can now join meetings and gatherings and speak my views. Mingling with different students requires a lot of courage and skills. So aside from gaining self-confidence I also improved my communication skills and my interpersonal skills. It was very difficult at first but Alhamdulillah with patience and perseverance I earned them gradually (M2) Astin’s (1999) involvement theory echoes in the interview responses of the student participants concerning the skills that they acquired or enhanced as a result of their involvement and participation in the student government (SG).
The consensus therefore among the students interviewed in this study (with M1 and M2’s words as benchmarks) was that their leadership experiences in their student government have positive and significant impact in their lives. (3.1). Treasurer’s Quest The skills gained by a female student treasurer are embedded in how she described her own leadership experience: Before I became our SSG treasurer I thought collecting money was easy. But when I got the post I could hardly believe that it was very difficult. I was shocked. Like for instance the case when I collected the SSG fees during the enrolment I had to make sure the number of students who paid tallied with the amount of money I collected. Well, handling quite a lot of money of the students is an amanah (trust) which requires greater responsibility from me. It was really scary (P2) The financial responsibility experienced by P2 is one of the practical experiences mentioned by Chiles & Pruitt (1985) in Dias (2009) as a positive benefit for student government involvement.
Positive benefit to student leaders may include the technical know how on income budgeting and wise spending. (3.2). Refining Innate Skills Two of the student participants admitted having the necessary skills required for their leadership positions. What they emphasized however is refining these innate skills that they have: Through joining the SSG I was able to enrich my interpersonal skills. SSG has given me the proper venue to develop my interpersonal skills because being the SG president I have the opportunity to communicate with many students who have diverse concerns and personalities. It is a really tough job but it was worth my time. I also develop problem solving skills, decision making skills, negotiation skills and even how to handle problems under pressure. I guess I would never have gained these skills had I not joined the SSG. It was really a blessing from Allah (P1).
Even before I joined SSG I already have self-confidence. I think its heredity; I probably got it from my grandfather. What I did get from my involvement with SSG is the skill to control my emotion and being open to the ideas of others. Before I hardly consider the ideas of others, I only believe in my own. All in all what I gained from SSG was something profound (M3). Every person is born with some inherent qualities which are waiting for development or encouragement for optimum utility. In the case of the three student participants (F3, P1 and M3) their involvement in the SSG helped in the enhancement of their innate skills such as self-confidence, interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, decision making skills, negotiation skills and handling problems under pressure. Thus, these skills by P1 and M3 are living testimonies to man’s innate or inherent leadership qualities.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The cross case of the qualitative data analysis has shed light on how the student leaders conceptualize their leadership experiences and practices in the supreme student government (SSG). The student leaders in the study have personal definitions of leadership and identified characteristics of a leader. They likewise have well-developed and divergent definitions of leadership. When asked about their motivations in joining the SSG, two distinct factors emerged. One is to express a profound sense of positive reform while others have motivations that are tainted with the lack of proper understanding of the attached responsibilities of leadership as if it was only for popularity and adventurism. The feeling of ambivalence is evident with some of the student leaders interviewed in this study when asked to describe themselves as Muslim student leaders. Two plausible explanations can be deduced; one is the moral conflict between what they think is right and proper and what they actually practice, and the second one is that practicing Islam in a secular country like the Philippines poses greater challenges. It is difficult for the Muslims to live and practice strictly the Islamic principles in a heterogeneous secular society like the Philippines.
It is likewise challenging for the Islamic institutions operating in secular environment to effectively implement their academic and co-curricular programmes. Results from the small group discussions (SGDs) affirmed the observations of Astin and Astin (1999) that institutions of higher learning give little attention and support to student development programmes. The experiences of M3 and M2 provide a basis for these observations. Accordingly, they could not initiate reforms and fully implement their plans due to restrictions and limited freedom imposed upon them by the school. In some instances, they get limited support (especially financial) or at other times, none at all. Thus, by implications, the two Islamic institutions covered in this study need to review their policies concerning the support they give for the development of their students. Recommendations for Further Research This study explored the undergraduate Muslim student leadership practices and experiences.
The researcher’s recommendations for future research are as follows: 3. To conduct a longitudinal study with the six student participants for the next 10 years to examine their individual life experiences. The goal of the research would be to determine what, if any significant changes in the participants’ lives could be attributed to their leadership experiences as SSG members. 4. To conduct an ethnographic study on Meranao student leadership that included observations, interviews, examination of artifacts and documentation. This study will showcase fertile areas on Meranao culture, religion and society that shaped the worldviews of the Meranao student leaders. Findings of this ethnographic study may provide some answers in the ongoing conflicts between the Philippine Government and the active members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as well as the Abu Sayyaf groups.
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