Webinar Recording: Prophetic Leadership – Leading the Unleadable from the Life of Tufayl bin Amr

This video covers:

  • What leadership is
  • Why it is important and of concern to each and every Muslim
  • How the Prophet (s) increased the leadership capacity of Tufayl bin Amr
  • Leading people who are deemed “unleadable” by others
  • The link between productivity and leadership
  • Creating a legacy for yourself through leadership

This video was made to help give a preview of the type of content that will be covered in The Barakah Effect Seminar on Prophetic Leadership and Productivity taking place in Dallas on April 30, 2016.

Omar UsmanWebinar Recording: Prophetic Leadership – Leading the Unleadable from the Life of Tufayl bin Amr

4 Steps to Put the Ship Back in Leadership


I always keep coming back to a project I wanted to do at the masjid that I was particularly passionate about. I had a formal proposal ready, I had outlined how it would benefit the community and the masjid. The imam of the masjid was on board and excited. I had dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s so to speak.

The only thing missing was the final stamp of approval from the masjid president so we could fundraise a relatively small amount of money to kickstart it.

Not even 2 minutes into the presentation, the president vetoed it. No explanation given. It was perplexing. No matter how hard we tried, we could not get him to agree. Eventually we ended up waiting an entire year for the elections and a new administration before being able to move forward.

Looking back and assessing, it was clear there were multiple breakdowns. Relationships were not properly established — I assumed the Imam would be enough support. Politics were not taken into account. Competing priorities in regards to funds were not taken into account. And most of all, we were not able to showcase the vision of the project in such a way that the president would buy into it.

All of these shortcomings stem from the leadership law known as the Law of Navigation. The solution? Relentlessly going through the process of muhasabah, acting with hikmah, seeking shura, and executing with ihsān.

John Maxwell identifies Navigation as one of the irrefutable laws of leadership. In essence, it states, “Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.”

A leader is not someone who only has a vision, but one that can draw the map for how to get there and inspire people to work together and follow it.

Why are quarterbacks and point guards so integral to their respective teams? They have to move beyond the vision of scoring and make sure the right person gets the ball on each play.

So how do you become a good navigator?

  1. Muhasabah (Reflection)

Begin by taking account of past successes and failures. Successes help us see what we’re capable of. Failures — though we tend to block them out — show us what to avoid going forward.

2. Hikmah (Wisdom)

A good navigator would never set sail directly into a hurricane. Yet, we see it all the time. There’s a false bravado that’s become prevalent now. We want to do whatever we think is right regardless of the environment or conditions.

We might hate that there are organizational politics, but if you don’t understand the landscape, you’ll fail. This doesn’t mean you have to play the politics — just understand them. Things like morale, momentum, and culture matter.

Wisdom means going beyond charting the course. It means understanding the consequence of the course you chart.

Aisha (r) mentioned, “If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks” (Bukharī).

We find the Prophet (s) showing this foresight. He was asked why he wouldn’t rebuild the Ka’bah on the original foundations of Ibrahim (as), and he replied, “Were it not for the fact that your people have recently left disbelief (I would have done so)” (Nasa’ī). In other words, he did not want to rectify one issue by creating a bigger one.

3. Shura (Consultation)

“…whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves” (42:38).

There are numerous examples of the Prophet (s) taking shura from people. One of the most famous is the example Salman al-Farsī giving the suggestion to build a ditch around the city at the Battle of Khandaq.

4. Ihsān (Excellence)

“Balancing optimism and realism, intuition and planning, faith and fact can be very difficult.” — John Maxwell

While difficult, it is precisely this ability that puts a good leader ahead of the pack.

When asked whether a person should take the security measure of tying a camel, or have faith in Allah, the Prophet (s) said to do both — “Tie the camel, and have tawakkul (faith) in Allah.”

Tying the camel means establishing relationships with people. It means creating contingencies. It means getting people on board with your vision.

It means doing everything the best you possibly can within your capacity as a leader, and then having faith in God to deliver the results.

Omar Usman4 Steps to Put the Ship Back in Leadership

Can We Afford to Wait For the Next Crisis?

fish escape cocept

By Ibrahim Sherman, President and partner of Balanced Leadership Institute; a consulting firm specializing in supporting Muslim nonprofits in matters of organizational development, leadership, and financial management.

Our community responds to crisis.  After 9/11 we all began to communicate to the media, but since there was no communication plans and programs they soon diminished as the crisis passed.  After the documentary “Unmosqued” came out there was much discussion about including our youth and some token positions were created. Since there was no real strategy to embrace the youth into our organizations – and while we still hear lots of discussion – meaningful, genuine changes have not taken place.

The recent attacks in California combined with the election season has flamed an increase in Islamophobia.  In response we are currently discussing outreach programs.  But these are also likely to be temporary band aids that allow us to go back to our old ways once the urgency has passed. There is crisis coming that will affect all of us and have a much greater impact on our community than any of these that cannot be dealt with using token, time limited, or superficial actions.  I am speaking about the massive wave of change in the culture of the Muslims in America.

Our Muslim children are culturally American.  Some are the African American Muslim who have, and enjoy living within, a fully developed culture. However, the Muslim Children of recent immigrant heritage are in a different position. They are discovering, and defining what it is to be an American Muslim. Their faith is Islam but their culture is American, and that combination is being defined by them and can’t be defined by their immigrant parents. For example, Muslim children of Egyptian heritage raised in the US have more in common with the Muslim children of Pakistani heritage raised in the US, than they do with Egyptians back home; and both will have more in common with non-Muslim children in the US than with Muslims in other countries.

Continuing to be focused on preventing our children from making this shift rather than preparing them for it is positioning our children to choose between their culture and their faith.  There are some positive things happening.  The rise in outreach programs spearheaded by our youth is one. Another is the growing number of Imams who were raised in the US who can help us understand how Islam fits in the American culture and not how to avoid it.  The real point here is that the change is inevitable and it will be massive over the next decade.  Sadly, many of our Islamic organizations have not felt the need to realistically prepare.

Our leadership in many cases is in denial. Organizational change to prepare our institutions to manage this shift requires a much higher level of professionalism and strategic thinking.  Most organizations are failing to see the need for a fundamental change, and are likely to be oblivious to the tsunami that is quickly approaching our communities.

There are many things that we must do, but it begins with professionalizing our organizations.  We must develop welcoming organizations where everyone’s views can be genuinely expressed.  We must be forward thinking and operate in ways in sync with how organizations operate in America.

Further, it is important to begin real changes now.  We can’t expect to make a few reactionary changes as problems arise and everything will be OK.  Substantial and deliberate change must be an immediate goal. Our institutions must be rebuilt to accommodate our children’s needs by developing a welcoming culture and professional programs, not to pacify the home sickness of immigrants by building ornate but hollow structures. The goal needs to be to change the culture of your organization and once you begin to make changes it will take three to five years before it becomes absorbed into how we do things, and is integral in the culture of our organizations. Once we have done this our community will have a vehicle for embracing Islam and being part of the larger community in which we live.

We must start the change now!

GuestsCan We Afford to Wait For the Next Crisis?

How The Most Talented Person In Your Organization Can Be Its Downfall

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The biggest strength and biggest weakness of an Islamic organization is usually the same thing – a talented personality.

This comes in many different shapes and sizes. It’s the person who…

…opens the masjid every day.

…brings snacks to Sunday School.

…fixes the microphone for the khutbah every Friday.

…updates the prayer times on the masjid website.

…puts the announcements on the screen in the lobby.

…is the ‘face of the franchise’ in making dawah.

If you do something for so long, so well, that no one else has to worry about it, then the organization will organize around you.

But wait, how is that a bad thing? 

We dream of having individuals so capable that we can assign them a task and then forget about it. There’s a huge relief in knowing someone capable and dependable is taking care of it.

It’s only a bad thing if we are concerned about the long term health of our organizations.

Here’s how it becomes a vulnerability. When we do something well for a long time, we become indispensable.  No one else worries about it. Sometimes we do things for so long, what we contribute to the organization becomes habitual – i.e. we don’t even consciously notice what we’re doing sometimes.

That also means that if something happens to that person, no one knows what holes will need to be filled.

We throw around words like sadaqah jariyah when fundraising for our masjid construction projects. Donate that extra thousand even if you can’t afford it because you will have a reward that lasts forever. The problem is, we don’t build our human infrastructure with the same sustainability requirements as the concrete slabs and wooden frames.

Identify the pressures, responsibilities, and tasks that you do. Then find a way to share the responsibilities, the decision making, and truly involve others.

When someone is in charge of something, we organize around that person instead of organizing around their role. We might not give the Friday khutbah a second thought because the same person has been in charge of organizing it for a long time. But what if that person is not actually suited for that job? What if they don’t know how to tell a good khateeb from a bad khateeb? In that case, this person becomes a lid on the growth of the organization.

The key then, is to identify the roles. It means identifying the responsibilities, knowledge, and decision making that is required of each role – and truly involve others. Make yourself replaceable.

This is true whether you are at a lower rung, or you are the face of the organization. The personalities who left the greatest legacies in dawah are those who had the ability to multiply. An organization cannot sustain on the basis of one person no matter how talented that one person is.

This doesn’t mean that you stop doing what you’re doing. Not at all. But you cannot lead as if you will be there forever.

When someone refuses to lead and instead clings to their position, this is actually a sign of weakness. What is required is a growth mentality. It means to continue doing the job well, but also looking at how to mentor and groom others. The paradox is, as you do that, you yourself move higher up and become that much more valuable.


Omar UsmanHow The Most Talented Person In Your Organization Can Be Its Downfall

5 Ways to Tell If Your Mosque is Successful or Just Growing

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By Maher Budeir, a partner at Balance Leadership Institute, a firm committed to helping nonprofit reach their potential. You can visit their website at masjidboard.com.

The American Muslim Community is making a shift and is generally moving towards professionalizing the operation of our institutions. More and more, I am hearing the right questions being asked about the desire to run things better and to operate masjid finances, facilities and other services better and with more accountability. More and more institutions are hiring specialists to do facility maintenance, office work, in addition to hiring more paid Sunday school teachers, counselors and youth directors. While many have started this transformation, the majority of the mosques in the US are experiencing growth.  Unfortunately growth, by itself, is often mistaken in many institutions to mean success.

The reality is growth in some cases is one of many indicators of success, but in other cases it is not even that. For most mosques growth comes because of the geographic monopoly most mosques naturally have. Meaning the mere fact that people would go to a specific mosque because it is the one mosque that happens to be within 10 minute or 20 minute drive from their home. Most Muslims in the US may not have the option to choose among different mosques based on quality of services. Only in larger metro areas where multiple mosques exist within a reasonable driving distance do parents have a choice to select the higher quality Sunday school or the Friday sermon that normally delivers more relevant and interesting topic. But, the majority of mosque goers do not have much choice. This dynamic allows many mosques to grow in number of participants and worshippers regardless of the quality of services, or the level of success of the organization.

So, if growth is not the sole accurate indicator of success, what is?

1. Does your Masjid have a good connection to the community?

A well run organization is one where activists, volunteers, and participants are comfortable communicating and sometimes disagreeing within civil norms and in a positive atmosphere. Worshippers should know whom to ask what question, and know why things are done in a certain way.

2. Does your Masjid Provide Quality services?

From the relevant Friday sermon, to the interesting Weekend school format and content, all programs and services must be deliberately designed and thoughtfully developed to suit the users and serve the constituents in the best way possible. Services must be delivered with excellence (Ihsaan) and an attitude of service by all service providers. Whether they are volunteers or paid employees, the commitment and superior customer service must stem from the spiritual and moral commitment to serve our Creator.

3. Does your masjid attract users who may otherwise not be active in the Muslim community?

If items 1 and 2 above are done well, this normally leads to growth in the community. Not just growth in numbers, but growth in the wider circle of participants in the Masjid services and activities from those who otherwise do not participate. Well run institutions are likely to attract the casual visitor to become a regular, and the Muslim who is on the fence to become more comfortable in the community, and feel that they belong.

4. Is your Masjid an accepted destination for non-Muslim leaders in the area to seek information about Islam, and to reach out to Muslims?

A successful masjid is one that is well known by the broader community as the place in the area to represent local Muslims. The local government leaders must know your leaders by first name, and leaders in other places of worship must have at least visited the Masjid and made connections with your Masjid leaders. A masjid is part of the larger community and leaders of the larger community should know what happens in their community and what their local Muslims are like. This is easier to achieve in some communities over others, but the Masjid leadership and community must make a genuine effort to give the larger community no excuse to characterize the masjid as an unknown entity.

5. Are your Masjid leaders strong spiritually? Are they representing your community?

The last important sign of a successful Masjid is when the leaders of all aspects are in tune with their personal connection with Allah (SWT), have good overall relationship with His creation. They should not be so overwhelmed with running the Masjid Operations that it consumes their lives and it impacts the balance in the different aspects of their lives.

Lastly, the Masjid leaders must represent the diversity that exists in the community. This means, if you look around during a Friday sermon and see high level of diversity, brothers and sisters of different ethnic background and different age groups, then your Masjid leadership, including the Imam, board members, management team members, and volunteers should have the same level of diversity you see in the community. A diverse leadership team means a broader view, a richer experience, and a welcoming culture.

Developing specific measures to track your Masjid progress is essential. Running our institutions in a reactive manner without measuring progress will keep us in perpetual mediocrity. The above are general guidelines for measuring success. How does your Masjid measure up? How do you plan to bring your institution to measurable success?

Guests5 Ways to Tell If Your Mosque is Successful or Just Growing

The Growing Shift between Mosques and Imams

His dedication has served him well

Guest post by Mobeen Vaid

As Omar Usman recently chronicled, the phenomenon of popular community leaders electing to step down from prominent posts has become a common affair as of late. Though resignations by said individuals are generally worded in polite and delicate terms, the aftermath tends to give way to more critical discussion that takes aim at the problems of our communities and the need for reform. And make no mistake, losing talented individuals, especially those that have served their communities admirably, should serve as cause for concern. But the real reform, if indeed we intend to propose one, along with the concomitant process by which it will take place has to be anchored in a full analysis of the factors at play, and though many have been – and continue to be – debated and discussed, it is my hope in this brief article to add color to that conversation.

It is my contention that these discussions tend to situate themselves in a sort of false binary of Imam vs. the board. This, perhaps more than anything else, is where the problem starts. Over the past decade or so, a common refrain from mosque attendees was its lack of effective governance. If only our mosques could learn from the efficiencies of Fortune 500 companies, things would be different, they said. The truism was in fact acted out on (and continues to be a staple of mosque criticism), as corporatized mosques are fast becoming the new norm. Executive Committees, Boards of Trustees, Directors, and Advisors, Endowment Chairs, the all-too-frequent ‘Founders Committees’ and related positions are now common in larger communities.

The unintended result of the aforementioned structural changes has been a redefinition of the Imam’s role. Whereas in less mature governance models community leaders and/or solitary board members had the ability to operate the community as their own fiefdoms, the restructured model attenuated the role of a solitary individual/leader in the governance of the community. This is not to say that they lost all influence over community governance, but that the governance model was now one that had to be negotiated against a structure in which they were no longer the CEO.

And in reality, this is how corporations work. Individuals are often stuck in jobs they don’t like, forced to fight through bureaucracies that appear unseemly, but may in fact be necessary. Very rarely do individuals have carte blanche authority to make strategic decisions that affect the entire company in a vacuum. Groups need to be persuaded, studies have to be done, and at times, peoples efforts to shift the company in a healthy direction fail. Such is life.

In my view, this is where mosque alternatives lose their luster, at least on purely governance grounds (though they certainly hold merit on others). Although initial efforts will likely demonstrate more pronounced cohesion given the paucity of participants and prevalence of like-minded collaborators, over time they will invariably run into the same governance challenges that mosques face, particularly if they mature in any serious way.

This is, of course, to say nothing of the socio-cultural realities of employee turnover in America. In 2013 turnover among the nation’s private employers (all non-government employees) was 44 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even model companies such as Google suffer from an average employee retention of little more than a year – this, despite the litany of perks offered to its employees. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that people quit jobs, and it was naturally a matter of time before employee retention challenges began to make their way into professions that previously experienced greater stability, such as Imams. Even communities that planned strategically, invested in the religious pedagogy of promising youth that returned to serve as assistant or full imams, and have paid reasonable wages to said leaders have ultimately seen those people leave. This is not unique to the Muslim Community as churches face challenges all the time as it relates to their staff, and turnover can be the result of any number of things. Personality conflicts are not uncommon, employees may feel burnout, or that they simply need a change in their lives. People sometimes get depressed, hit a place of spiritual crisis, experience family problems, or tire of tasks they previously enjoyed. Stuff happens.

People who work at mosques are not exempt from any of these problems, and although it is easy to romanticize stability, sometimes people, and communities, need change.

In addition, as Omar rightly mentioned, leaders raised in the US are well aware of alternatives that they can avail themselves of. The task of community leader, especially in comparison to domestic and/or international celebrity scholar, can seem mundane. The former attends to a fairly consistent group of attendees and has the burden of being judged against that criteria, whereas the latter speaks at conferences, fundraisers, and universities. The former is a thankless task; the latter, excessively flattering. And yet the former is what sustains, what motivates and changes lives at a deeply personal level. There is no doubt a need for both, but one would be remiss if not to mention the essential contribution that local leaders play in performing work that lacks the glamour of the stage.

Being tasked with being the stead of a community of hundreds or thousands is no small responsibility, and we should both appreciate the jobs that our community leaders are presented with and work to assist them to make that job more satisfying. But we should also reform our collective ideas about what those jobs are as well as what we want our communities to be. Are corporatized communities the ideal way forward? What is the balance? Can mosques maintain their serenity when constructed as little more than rec centers with musallahs? Understanding that turnover is inevitable, how do we account for that in our community planning? I present these as questions for consideration.

The above is not exhaustive and it is my hope that it animates an active conversation being played out throughout our communities today. It is worth at least mentioning here that such conversations can have the unintended effect of fomenting availability heuristic, wherein individuals assume the situation to be far worse than it is. Alhamdulillah, our communities still enjoy a level of participation that is proportionately greater than many other faiths in modern America. Though the bad apples tend to get the lions share of attention, we have many vibrant communities that have found a way to make it work. Perhaps, if I can be so bold as to make a suggestion, the path to remediation can begin with us studying those communities and working to help our own local communities gain their own vibrancy.

GuestsThe Growing Shift between Mosques and Imams

Future Talent Shift and the Impending Breakdown of the Masjid

NBA: Finals-San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat
It was July 8, 2010. Unfulfilled for 7 years chasing a dream and vision that the organization he was with could not help make a reality. Clad in a plum gingham print shirt, talking to Jim Grey, LeBron James famously announced he was taking his talents to South Beach.

This incident has always fascinated me. He was the hometown hero. Born and raised in Akron, playing for his local team the Cleveland Cavaliers. He took them to the finals, they should have been on the cusp of a championship. Movie scripts could not be written better. If anyone was emotionally vested in helping this organization, it was LeBron. Yet he realized that Cleveland could not help him reach his potential. So he left for an organization that would.

Cleveland lucked out in finding the talent, but they weren’t able to retain it.

We can talk about the importance of team (and we have), but there’s a reason certain NBA players make $21 million a year, and some make $700k (i.e. 30x less). You can have a world class organization, but without some level of talent, you won’t achieve much. By the same token, you can have amazing talent (Carmelo Anthony), but it will go to waste in a terrible organization (Knicks).

Over the past 20 years, the Muslim community in the US has seen major shifts. There was a stage where we struggled to get basic facilities off the ground. Many places were in survival mode doing whatever they could to establish Juma prayer and Sunday Schools.

Imams were brought in from wherever possible and were expected to lead and guide the community. In general, they often grew with the community. They would be there when a kid finished reading Qur’an for the first time (ameen ceremony), and most likely for their high school graduation as well. It was a spiritual pillar of support. For me, from the age of 7 until 15, our masjid had a total of 2 imams [and I only cut it off at age 15 because we moved to another city]. Now, it is not uncommon for a masjid to go through 3 or 4 imams in that same span of time (and that includes periods without an imam at all).

So what’s changed?

Communities are essentially Islamic organizations. You have talent, and this is what attracts the people. But you also have an administration that has to provide support. You can have a great superstar, but they will not perform to potential without a great coach, general manager, front office, scouts, assistant coaches, trainers, and so on. The talent is only one part, but there is a whole system that is required to make it work.

Put it another way – imagine if Barry Sanders ran behind the Cowboys’ offensive line in the 90’s.

How do we define the “talent” in our communities? Obviously there is the imam, but there are more – resident scholars, youth directors, khateebs, sisters coordinators, Qur’an teachers, and Sunday School teachers just to name a few.

The nature of organizations has changed as well. The masjid is no longer the only organizational type. We now have humanitarian organizations, third spaces, educational institutions, and a host of online outlets. Each of these organizations are magnets that attract (or compete for) different types of talent.

The masjid has for the most part been a fairly static institution. Many have tried to expand the masjid with Islamic schools and gyms, but the purpose of the masjid beyond a prayer space always opens up a debate. In this case, direction must come from one of two places – the talent, or the organization.

What happens when the two are in conflict? The community, in general, looks to the imam for guidance and vision. What can this community accomplish? What should it do? What is the best way of achieving that? What is the organization’s role in shaping or supporting the vision?

This year the Philadelphia 76’ers are tanking. This means they are losing games on purpose to improve their ability to get good young players and be successful in the future. That is an organizational strategy. In 2007, Kobe Bryant famously ripped on Andrew Bynum and building for the future when the Lakers could have had Jason Kidd.

And in 2011, the NBA owners ‘locked out’ the players due to an inability to reach an agreement on how to divide revenues in their negotiations over the Collective Bargaining Agreement – leading to a work stoppage and a shortened season. Players during that time were said to be exploring the possibility of creating another league to compete with the NBA.

When an organization starts going in a different direction, they often do so at the expense of their most talented players – who want to leave for winning situations (talent attracts talent).

Every couple of weeks on Facebook, I see a new announcement about an Imam leaving his local masjid. Although these messages are diplomatically worded, they make clear that the root is a fundamental disagreement in vision with the administration.

This was more difficult to do before because Imams didn’t have many options. If there’s only one league you can play in, then you’re stuck. Now there are other types of organizations to join – and even the option of becoming your own personal institution.

In other words, masjids no longer hold the same leverage they once did. This means having to adapt. The cheese has moved.

Change comes naturally. By definition, talented people are usually in a growth mindset. They’ve been trained to continue learning and growing and trying to reach their potential. There is a season in one’s career where teaching Sunday School is the best use of a person’s talent. There is also a season where they grow out of it and need to use their time for something more valuable. A doctor is well qualified to teach life science to middle schoolers, but it’s not the best use of their time – they need to be taking care of patients.

When an organization can’t (or refuses) to keep up, conflict occurs. The crisis has been well chronicled.

The landscape we see now is reflective of what is mentioned above. People are losing their attachment to the masjid. Fights are becoming commonplace.

Organizations will always complain that they can’t find dedicated people. There is no shortage of dedicated people. They’re simply finding other outlets.

People are pouring their energy into private institutions, third spaces, and online ventures – not because they don’t want to help the masjid, but because they feel marginalized. This is not something that will happen in the future, it’s already happening. More and more imams are leaving the masjid (in terms of full time occupation) and devoting themselves to other ventures. Talent attracts talent. People with other skills and motivation to help the community are going with them. And just to connect the dots, financial resources are usually the next to follow in this exodus.

We dream of the masjid being a community center, but without someone to lead the community, and without servicing the needs of the community – the institution will break down. It will become a place where you go for Juma and taraweeh. But for anything meaningful outside of the ritual acts of worship, you’ll have to go elsewhere (as many already are).

Now what?

Masjids and imams breaking up isn’t just a sad love story. The exodus has started. It should be a wake up call. Organizations need to refocus and realign. Take the role of being a representative for the community seriously – see what they need, find the leadership to lead it, and create the support structure to sustain it.

I’m happy that we’re developing organizations and institutions that will serve the community, and providing outlets for people to develop and grow. However, it comes at the trade-off of that happening in the masjid and the masjid no longer being the point of attachment for the hearts of the community.

The checks and balances in our community are out of whack. An administration should not be able to drive out people the community loves. They can only do this when there is apathy in the community. Although, it must be said that even when people care, constitutions and procedures get amended to formally marginalize those who do.

There is no straight answer to the question: Now what?

We need to marginalize the influence of those who want to build jannah on earth through the Masjid and shift to building our akhirah.

In short, we all need to do a better job of serving our communities and supporting those who serve our communities.

Omar UsmanFuture Talent Shift and the Impending Breakdown of the Masjid

Your Masjid is Not a Fortune 500 Company, Nor Should It Be


Being professional doesn’t mean being corporate.

This is a myth being perpetuated in our community – one that I fell for myself.

Inherently, it cannot be the case. Islamic work, by definition, is non-profit. Corporate work, by definition, is for maximization of profit.

Before continuing, one objection must be addressed, and that is the existence of “for-profit” Muslim enterprises or institutions. In these cases, the nature of the work dictates the underlying values of an organization. A Muslim business that sells lotas, for example, would be for maximization of profit. It is difficult to envision a scenario where they might go around donating lotas, distributing free lotas to increase lota awareness, or ask the community for good-faith contributions to help fund lota research and development.

An Islamic organization may choose to utilize a “for profit” status in terms of legal and tax filings – but if the nature of the work is community oriented, the general mode of business is still in the non-profit arena. This would include things like educational services, counseling services, or even in some case humanitarian ones. In other words, the bottom line is the proliferation of a service as opposed to maximization of profit.

It is easy to look at corporate models as an ideal. There are clearly defined hierarchies. There are analytical metrics to quantitatively judge performance and success. Investors must see direct returns.

Nonprofit work is messier. Results cannot necessarily be measured every quarter – it might take 25 years to see results. Investors may not see returns until the next life.

This is why universities offer different courses of study for an MBA, or a Master’s in Non-Profit Management. They’re just different. Here are a few ways they are different that are important for Muslims in administration capacities to understand:

1) Human Capital vs. Commoditization 

Human capital is the lifeblood of community work. There is nothing that can replace a good imam, youth director, or teacher. Community leaders are highly sought after due to the value they provide to their congregations.

The corporate mindset is to commoditize the Islamic worker. This is where boards begin to demand things like “must deliver 50/52 khutbahs a year, must hold programs with at least X number of people in attendance,” and so on. It shifts the focus from the human element of interaction to creating a system where everyone is replaceable if certain metrics are not met.

The most unfortunate consequence is that this type of commoditization is passed off as succession planning or sustainability. Community work cannot be measured on these types of metrics. How do you quantify the value of a person growing up for 15 years under the spiritual guidance of their local imam, going to him for issues when confused or faced with difficulty, and growing up as a strong confident Muslim? It’s difficult, and that’s why lazy (or corporate) boards fall back on metrics like “must be there for Isha salah 5 minutes before iqamah 363/365 days a year.” This is what creates inflexibility of community leaders being able to attend programs such as MSA and interfaith talks – in order to meet corporate style requirements.

A community leader or teacher that provides counsel, direction, and education cannot simply be considered another employee (which is what the corporate mindset dictates).

2) Competition

The corporate mindset is entrenched in competition. Everything is focused on talking points like market share. The underlying attitude is that of a scarcity mentality. If another Islamic center opens up within 10 miles, fundraising dollars will be lost. If our Imam employee speaks on another platform, teaches for another organization, or even helps anyone else – he is violating his loyalty to our organization or institution.

Institutes will focus on how to draw students away from one program and funnel them into theirs (in order to maximize revenues, not benefit).

The core principle for Islamic work is – “And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.

The moment another Islamic organization, school, or masjid is seen as competition – you’ve lost the plot.

Complement one another, help one another – the end goal should be the same.

3) Revenues and Barakah

There is no concept of sacrifice in the corporate arena. Every dollar spent must show a calculated return. Even investing in an employee’s education comes with an expected return – otherwise they wouldn’t stay in business.

Islamic nonprofit work requires having some level of reliance in Allah (swt) [tawakkul]This is not to say finances should not be watched – but it means that not every financial decision can be quantified with such a quantifiable return on investment in the financial sense. How do you value the return on $20 spent on lunch with a young member of the community who is struggling with their faith?

Yes, there are corporate equivalents. Ultimately, they are all tied to some kind of return. A budget allocated to entertaining prospective clients still comes with an expectation of a larger return via sales. Dawah work doesn’t have such a tight lead generation and conversion metric that a consultant can throw on an Excel spreadsheet. What if a $100 Islamic class changes someone’s life?

How do you value a khateeb that inspires just one person to return to practicing their faith after 3 years of regular talks – slowly chipping away? If performance is judged solely on tuitions collected and revenues generated – instead of lives touched, value added, or impact made – then we’ve again lost the bigger picture.

Corporate financial math ignores the key multiplier coefficient of barakah.

Corporate thinking has its place – in business. There are many great corporations and lessons to be learned from them (every organization can learn a thing or two from Apple, Google, and even sports franchises). These lessons cannot permeate their way into the management of Islamic organizations to such an extent that they trump our Islamic values, the respect we give our teachers, the human element of Islamic work, and the ultimate end goal of what we are trying to achieve.


Omar UsmanYour Masjid is Not a Fortune 500 Company, Nor Should It Be

Don’t Let The Youth Run Your Social Media

I will look after you and I will look

Here’s how it goes.

Masjid organization wants to be relevant.

They see that all the kids are on that Facebook thing. And a few of them are even on that Tweeter thing.

Well if that’s what the kids are doing, that’s what we need to do to be relevant.

Turns out most of these kids show up to events they hear about on Facebook. Fantastic. Now we know how to reach them.

So what’s the solution? Just get one of these kids to manage the masjid social media accounts because they’re experts! First foolproof solution to anything in the history of running a masjid.

Unfortunately, the same logic also justifies the following conclusions: I own a car, therefore I can be a mechanic. I use Netflix all day, they should just hire me because I’m an expert.  And with all the money I’ve spent on Apple products, they should just let me replace Tim Cook.

Being an avid user of something does not an expert make. Nor does being 18 automatically make someone hip and relevant. Do kids still say “hip” nowadays?

Your masjid’s social media is an important communication tool. The vocabulary, tone, and photos all reflect the culture of the masjid. The way that the social media manager replies to comments becomes indicative of what kind of people run the masjid.

It’s okay to let someone young manage these outlets for you. Just make sure that they properly understand:

  • How to manage social media to build engagement
  • What type of message(s) should be conveyed from the Masjid platform
  • The appropriate decorum or replying to comments and questions
  • What type of content to share on which social media platforms
  • Technical details of how to promote events, set up campaigns or ads, and how to properly share different types of media
  • An understanding of how to move people to an intended action (e.g. attending an event, donating, or just signing up for the email newsletter)
  • Good writing skills
  • Ability to read and understand analytics data to see what works and what doesn’t
  • Creative enough to properly maintain and update cover photos and profile photos, and do basic editing of event photos uploaded to page

Almost sounds like a job description. This is not something irrelevant you can pawn off. The masjid’s online presence is often the first impression people get of a community. A website that hasn’t been updated since Ramadan 2003, or low quality YouTube recordings of weekly khutbahs (that stopped 3 years ago), and unanswered posts on the Facebook page all scream that this is a community that just doesn’t care.

Find someone qualified to handle your digital presence. In fact – “Director of First Impressions” is not a bad job title. Find someone qualified and empower them. And if your community is big enough, consider making it a paid position and invest in someone talented.

Omar UsmanDon’t Let The Youth Run Your Social Media