Things are not as simple and clear as they seem to be. Allah says in the Qur’an, “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). The verse clearly shows that human mind and approach is very limited to understand the Allah’s planning.
The Quran speaks of the prophets as being the greatest human beings of all time. All the prophets sent by Allah chose the pastoral occupation. But it is not clear and mentioned why this occupation is chosen for all the prophets; it is just a preparation for high responsibility or something else! A mystery!!!
Narrated by Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: We were with Allah’s Apostle picking the fruits of the ‘Arak trees, and Allah’s Apostle 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”. Volume 4, Book 55, Number 618
Shepherding makes an individual socially responsible and teaches the art of caring and loving. The secret behind adoption of this occupation by prophets is not mentioned in hadith but it is clear that there must be a big task or refinement of the personality behind this work. All the prophets were given very tough task to guide their people with great responsibility. Surely, there was the need of some training for all these prophets though they were born with special traits given by Allah Almighty. They had to spend their childhood and youth in different situations to learn different aspects for which Allah prepared them. As i have mentioned already that it can be a mystery but simply it looks as if shepherding leads towards the art of leading, guiding, organizing, controlling and pondering etc.
Good shepherding teaches many skills; taking care of the flock, having patience, gathering and protecting etc. Moreover, surrounding environment affects a lot in forming personalities and such environment facilitates the shepherds to think and meditate. The entire universe and its Natural environment create a connection with the Lord. The moon, stars, sun, rain, trees, mountains etc, all the Nature not only emphasizes the reality of the Divine order but also a good source of observing and exploring the Truth which makes the beliefs more strong.
All the prophets as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Jesus, Muhammad (peace be to them all) worked as shepherds. Prophet Muhammad worked as a shepherd when he would take the sheep to help his uncle Abu Talib and herded them for the people of Makkah.
Allah has sent all his prophets for the guidance and surely all the prophets were good shepherds without any discrimination. Prophets were responsible for their respective nations. They were not to say that they can’t guide and bear the hardships in their ways without the will and permission of Allah. They had to face the great task with wisdom and high patience. So they fulfilled their responsibility with all the skills and the best characteristics of the greatest leader.
The concept behind this pastoral occupation comes closer to responsibility or spiritual guidance. Either it is Judaism, Christianity or Islam, the concept of shepherds is present in all the divine religions and their literature. The image of Jesus as a humble shepherd is shown in Christian literature. Different writers of different religions include and provoke the concept of shepherds with spirituality in their writings. Ashfaq Ahmed was a writer, intellectual and spiritualist from Pakistan who wrote ‘Gadrya” and in his “Man chaley ka sauda”, he beautifully describes a spiritual seeker as a shepherd. Similarly, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is clearly a novel about spiritual growth and this internationally popular short fable reveals the spiritual quest with spiritual journey of a shepherd boy.
A shepherd understands the needs of his flock, guides them, and directs them towards the best way. Abdullah bin Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master and he is responsible for it. Surely, every one of you is a shepherd and responsible for his flock.” Source: Sahih Bukhari 6719, Sahih Muslim 1829
A good shepherd who guides and controls his flock and bears the hardships in leading them would surely be a good leader. Similarly, our leaders should have all those qualities of good shepherds to lead the nation. Everyone should go for self-analyses and then try to fit himself in that role. In fact, we are held accountable for our ‘flock’. We should keep in mind what and who is in our ‘flock’ and then look after them responsibly.
Everything happens with the will of Allah and He alone knows the best. He knows how He prepares His creation for a specific work. He is the best planner. We all should spend our lives simply and keeping in mind the responsibilities as we will be accountable to our every action and duty.