The rock group Van Halen (remember this?) had a provision in their performance contract that called for a bowl of M&M’s backstage – but with all the brown M&M’s removed.
This might sound like the typical ridiculous and illogical request a famous group might make, particularly when it’s said they would cancel a performance if they found a brown M&M – but there’s a lesson to be learned.
David Lee Roth explained it in his autobiography,
Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.
The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . .” This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”
So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening. [Snopes.com]
When it comes to running our masajid, there are a lot of brown M&M type of scenarios. For example, on Friday, is the adhan called out with the proper pronunciation? This can serve as an easy way to tell how much attention is paid to these types of details. What about when a person who regularly leads prayers having bad tajweed? What about a regular khateeb who shaves his beard?
For some, these details might be nit-picking. The reality is that it indicates the level of care and concern of the community and those in charge. We’ve settled for too long with lowering the bar instead of challenging ourselves to raise it.
It’s a lot like clean bathrooms. Everyone has something that represents their brown M&M’s. This is not a case of ignoring the small things for the sake of the big things. The onus is on those of us in charge to pay attention to the details and make sure we get the little things and the big things right.
Let me preface this by saying I’m not a fan of any kind of juma announcements in general. I just don’t think they are an effective means of accomplishing the end goal of informing the community of important events.
The audience has just finished praying and listening to a (hopefully) good khutbah. They make salam and instead of having some quiet time to make dhikr and possibly reflect a little bit on the message, they get interrupted. Someone grabs the mic and it begins – Parking issues, fundraising, other fundraising events in the city, so and so’s second cousin’s brother-in-law’s nephew’s son’s best friend is sick so please make dua, please attend xyz halaqahs, Sunday school registration, and then another reminder about parking.
I remember helping to organize some events, and we thought it was a huge deal to make sure as many masids as possible made juma announcements about it. Here’s the thing I noticed over time: (unscientifically) whether or not they announced it at juma really had no impact on the number of attendees. It’s probably because most people tune the announcements out.
The worst kind of announcement is where the board requests a khateeb to read off a list of announcements at the end of the khutbah. The end of the khutbah should be the pinnacle of that reminder, the call to action and motivation and inspiration – and then you completely deflate it by making a jump-cut transition into telling people not to park at the restaurant across the street… “wa iqamas salah.”
I also feel personally uncomfortable that we have an extended list of sickness/death announcements every week to the point that it has become ritualistic. I’m not trying to be heartless, but it wears on you hearing it week after week.
So what should we do about it?
1) Aggressively sign everyone up to your masjid email list, and also have a website.
Send out the full list of email announcements every Thursday (and please also include who is giving th khutbah that week as part of your announcement). Update the website as well with the announcements so people can access it. Here’s one brilliant idea – the masjid website can have a map of the masjid and you can highlight where to park and not park.
The thing with an email is people can read it at their leisure – i.e. they can actually pay attention to the announcements because they’re not rushing to get back to work or pick their kids up from school. It also gives them a contact to ask questions to and find other relevant information that they normally can’t do easily after juma.
2) Limit sickness/death/dua request announcements to people who are directly part of the community – and announce only on your email list.
I realize some will take issue with this, but where do we draw the line? The door is open to essentially announcing 500 people to make dua for every Friday when it’s left open as it is. How many announcements about this is too many? If you have a limit, how do you say no to someone but not another person? We have to think about the bigger picture implications of these types of decisions.
The other issue, and I’ve dealt with this as a khateeb, is people handing you slips of paper right before juma with more and more dua announcements. Again, not to be heartless, but forcing someone to make a quick half-hearted dua does not serve the purpose well. A sincere dua from yourself would probably go much farther.
Limiting it to people in the community, or even their immediate relatives can be one step. An easier step though, is to utilize your weekly email newsletter as the place for such announcements.
3) No fundraising announcements.
People come to juma for a spiritual boost. Leave the donation box for the website, and even the flyers and forms in the lobby. But let’s stop making it part of the juma ritual. Nothing kills me inside more than staring off into the glimmering shiny wonderment of the extravagant masjid chandelier as the rays of the sun bounce off it during juma, and walking out and being told to donate to keep the lights on.
By the same token, if you spell out the actual fundraising need in your email, the amount needed, and provide a way to donate online, a person can process that information and give. But again, you’re giving it to them in a format where they’re more likely to read and process it – i.e. it’s more effective (and that’s the goal, isn’t it?).
4) Have no juma announcements.
Go 4 weeks at least without any announcements and see if there’s any real change. Yes, there might be some exceptions and emergency situations. But if you establish that the default is no announcements, when you do stand up to make one, people will listen. It won’t be drowned out in the noise of telling people about all the fundraising dinners happening for the next 5 weeks.
The fundamental change in thinking required is to go from what serves the administration best to the ‘user experience’ of the average attendee at juma. What can we do to make their experience the best possible? For me – it’s getting rid of lengthy, unnecessary, and ultimately ineffective juma announcements.
Guest post by Wadud Hasan - From a young age, Wadud has traveled to communities across the US for programs, seminars, conferences, and had been a key leader during the launch of several Mosques and full time schools in the North Dallas area (by His enabling grace). He is currently completing his graduate studies in Leadership and Organizational Performance at the Vanderbilt University Peabody College, a top ranked school of education based in Nashville, Tennessee.
The inspiration for this article comes from an ALIM program he attended with Dr. Sherman Jackson where Dr. Jackson made a comment to the following affect that resonated with him: “The best ideas of how to design our Mosques, and community spaces are yet to emerge.” Wadud wanted to apply the theories and research of Learning Organizations to the American Mosques and reflect on what the future could look like for our Mosques. He welcomes other thinkers to connect with him to further research and/or write on this topic. He can be reached at whcoordinator[at]gmail.com
System Thinking is a discipline for seeing the wholes, seeing interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains, and seeing patterns of change rather than static “snapshots.” In complex systems. Cause and Effect is a not a linear but a circular pattern – an important axiom is that every influence is both cause and effect and nothing is ever influenced in just one direction.
Systems thinking empowers us to address the sense of helplessness when people say: “It is the system. There is nothing we can do about it.” – because Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing the “structures” that underlie complex situations.
The way we try to address problems through short-term solutions without understanding how the whole system works often produces dramatically different effects in the long run. But systems thinkers need to be patient as Time Delay occurs in a system since actions in a complex system do not always have immediate outcome. So a Systems thinker needs to prepare for the delay. Quick solutions without understanding the dynamics of a system can produce Unintended Consequences.
Applying Systems Thinking to the context of American Mosques
Faith based organizations, and places of worship play a tremendous role in shaping today’s youth as productive, contributing citizens of tomorrow. The American Mosques have long preserved the faith, character, and social network of the Muslims in America. While these mosques have acted as nuclei for building productive communities, the newer generations of American Muslims increasingly feel a need to take these Mosques to the next levels as comprehensive community centers as they deem many of our mosques as stagnant in the “developing” stage due to lack of commitment, understanding, vision, and systems thinking.
Systems thinking can reveal the short and long term scope of impact of our Mosques; firstly in the lives of American Muslims and then in the betterment of lives of our extended communities – our neighbors of all faith and cultures. A greater depth in Systems thinking will eventually show how impactful some American Mosques have been in producing even a global impact and what all Mosques can do to reach such a level. American Muslims are able to practice their religion freely in America in a very pluralistic Muslim community often capable of free themselves from cultural biases. This has helped the good bulk of them to become more open in understanding and embracing our differences. This leads to increased tolerance, and greater conversation within the intra-faith and interfaith space.
However, one of the issues that many American Muslim communities are still trying to work through is the unmet needs for more home-grown religious leaders. Many Mosque boards are still first generation immigrants with biases rooted in their cultural origin and often are not very aware of this. Many such boards continue to hire immigrant Imams that cannot present their knowledge within the American context and hence are not able to reach the desired level of success in attracting the youth (pre-teens, teens, college students, and young professionals). While an increased number of communities across the US are becoming more aware of this issue and are starting to hire American born Imams that can make faith relevant to our youth, a large number of growing communities are yet to take the leap.
Systems thinking at American mosques can also generate greater awareness of where we are lacking in service. We need to connect with, cater to, and take care of our elders. We have to dedicate an increased number of programs for them, listen to their wisdom, and help bridge the gap between them and the younger members of the community. Our Mosques also need to pump out programs, events, and social opportunities for the young working adults – counsel them and provide services as they get ready to start a new family, have children, and need new knowledge, skills, and network to be successful in these new roles. Support for new parents, family friendly events, childcare facilities, children’s extra-curricular clubs, and events are direly needed.
Events, sports, academic, and extra-curricular support is another area we can engage in after-school to serve our Pre-teens and Teens. Mosques can especially play an important role in providing such after-school programs in cities where the public schools are failing and children regardless of their faith and background can use extra academic, and extra-curricular support to get ahead in school. Reducing high school dropouts, and developing conscious citizens is a national commitment that many of our resourceful communities and mosques could play an important part in.
All these services need to be provided in right proportions and should be developed strategically in phases to build capacity and to keep everyone engaged. Paid and full time religious leadership and support staff play a key role in making sure that our Mosques are meeting all these needs of our communities and do not become stagnant organizations. Many great Imams – who are youth centered and yet have the ability to connect with the adults in the community, are not able to keep up with the increasing demands for all the services people need. And the mosque boards and trustees are failing to activate the principles of Systems thinking to find a solution.
Systems thinking involves critical thinking about the cause and effect of every decision we make. Our communities are continuously talking about the need for raising more funds, and lack of funds is used as an excuse to justify why the only full time employee at the mosque should be the Imam or if you are lucky you also have a full time Office Manager. But the buck stops there! One of the biggest complains of the American Imams is that the majority of their time gets spent on counseling the community members – issues related to marital relations, parenting conflicts, and mental health. The compensation package is another major area of concern – many organizations are lacking in their salary standards and are not able to attract or sustain talents that are maturing beyond the scope of the current organizations. When the Mosques do not mature and evolve along with its talent – they are losing great human capital resources and are not able to replace these voids. Lack of understanding of this cause and effect relationship has made leaders oblivious to the need for creating the infrastructure needed to allow the Imam to carry out their main responsibilities of spiritual leadership, community relations, vision creation, and program development to name a few.
Time Delay, and Unintended Consequences are important concepts of Systems thinking that are playing out in the American mosques. Untrained Mosque leaders do not understand why expanded services are needed often-using lack of funding once again as the excuse. While adding other important personnel such as the full time community counselor, and the youth director are pertinent to the growth and long-term survival of these organizations. Structures training and reflective exercises based on the Systems thinking principles can tremendously help the boards realize how the whole system works over time, and shift their mindset to assume responsibilities they were not ready to accept otherwise: that you have to give a little now to get a lot back in time – that increased services and participation are the keys to eventually bring in the financial support they are always looking for. Consider the following Systems View for example:
Figure 1.1 -Understanding the entire system of cause and effect relationships, the time delays of return on investments in our community, and the harmful unintended consequences of quick fixes based on partial short term systems view can help shift the mindset of the Mosque leaders across the US.
• Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency.
Masjid involvement needs more than good intentions, it needs skills and abilities. The imam needs to be consulted. The biggest barrier to this is a lack of respect for religious scholarship within our communities.
An incident recently occurred online where a particular Islamic scholar’s video went viral. The only problem was it was uploaded to an unauthorized account.
This creates a dilemma on the administrative side – allow the unauthorized content to be published, or take it down?
The truth is this problem should never have occurred in the first place. It’s impossible now to fully control your content. Even with advanced algorithms, copyrighted material gets posted online all the time.
Let’s first cover the ideal way an organization should operate, and then look at how to respond to these situations.
Understand the medium. Things like conferences are mainstream events that are meant for public consumption. They are not the same as a private class. The audience usually consists of thousands of people. It is inevitable that people will post the talk.
An organization’s goal should be to have an online platform so large that it doesn’t matter what anyone else posts. When people come googling the name of your conference or the speaker, an official presence should be the first thing that pops up. Along with that, for these types of public talks, your organization should take the initiative to go ahead and post them before anyone else. Even if you are a little late, it is ok because it’s expected that your official video will be in HD with clear audio – i.e. substantially better quality such that no one will watch the video anywhere else.
In the long run this reinforces your organization’s presence, marketing, and branding. It also lets the audience connect with you more, which is the name of the game in the social media age. It takes a change in understanding what you charge for as well. In the case of a conference, people pay for the experience more than they pay for actual content. Posting the material online won’t hurt your numbers, in fact, it will probably make even more people excited about attending your next event.
I should emphasize that what I’ve written here is specific to Islamic conventions (i.e. not classes or seminars).
How to Respond
I have no problem with an organization sending down a take-down notice if they plan to republish the content later (whether for free or for sale). But you have to keep in mind that it can become a game of cat and mouse where you are constantly looking for people posting your material without permission. If you don’t have a reputation of publishing or selling your material in a timely manner, people who were moved by a certain talk will do what they can to spread it.
In a situation like this it’s important to quickly own your own platform. Let people know that you’re working on releasing it, or when to expect to be able to buy a video. Otherwise, if you work to just keep removing it, others will become that much more motivated to keep spreading it.