Quickreads: 3 Tips for Giving Advice

Coming up with creative ways of improving Islamic organizations is the easy part. The hard part is translating those ideas into constructive advice to the Masjid board member or MSA president. Giving advice (naṣīḥah) is an artform. Here are 3 tips from Harvard Business Review on how to give compassionate criticism:

  1. Ask permission. Start by asking “Can I give you some feedback?” This gives the person a moment to prepare and evens out the power dynamic.
  2. Don’t hedge. Be direct and honest. Don’t try to couch the criticism in compliments — that only dilutes it.
  3. Do it often. If you rarely give feedback, then pointing out any unconstructive behavior is going to feel negative. Tell your people what you think — both positive and negative — to build an open and honest culture.

Pay close attention to the third point. If you are not constantly providing positive feedback in addition to your criticism, then you do not have the credibility to criticize.

Omar UsmanQuickreads: 3 Tips for Giving Advice

Conversations About Masjid Leadership: Role of the Masjid


We are pleased to launch this new video series addressing issues of Masjid leadership. The intent behind this series is to provide a frank discussion about issues of concern to our communities. Problems such as leadership, board politics, and youth involvement are not unique to any one Masjid.

Our Muslim community first faced a crisis of survival – when the first wave of immigrants rose to the challenge and established institutions such as Masjids, community centers, and Islamic schools. The new crisis we face is one of relevancy. Our communities are struggling to take the next step to make sure our community infrastructure is ready to meet the demands of the coming generation.

It is with this in mind that we are launching this important series of interviews with Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda. We hope to cover more topics and also involve other speakers as well.

Our first video is entitled, ‘Role of the Masjid’.

This video covers a number of issues, among them:

  • What is the true role and purpose of the masjid? (Refer to this MuslimSI article on an organization’s true purpose)
  • How does a community balance competing objectives with limited resources? Specifically, how to balance between the demands of Islamic schools, Sunday schools, and Friday prayer.
  • How to make women’s prayer space?
  • What is most pressing when embarking on a new masjid project?

Enjoy the first video below. The next video will cover how to find the right imam.

Omar UsmanConversations About Masjid Leadership: Role of the Masjid

Trailer for Our New Video Series: Conversations About Masjid Leadership

Trailer for Our New Video Series: Conversations About Masjid Leadership

We are pleased to announce a new initiative from MuslimSI. We were fortunate enough to get some time with Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda to do a series of videos about Masjid Leadership. We plan on doing multiple videos covering everything from Masjid operations, to board member politics, succession planning, youth involvement and more.

Our first 2 episodes are complete and will be released soon. The first episode is ‘What is the role of the modern masjid?’ and the second episode is ‘How to find the right imam’. We hope that you enjoy the series. Here is a short trailer from these episodes.

Omar UsmanTrailer for Our New Video Series: Conversations About Masjid Leadership

Trendsetting: iPhone App for ICNA Youth Conference

Trendsetting: iPhone App for ICNA Youth Conference

One of the things we like doing here at MuslimSI is highlighting examples of when Muslim organizations show in practice qualities of excellence and success. One innovative thing we came across recently is the first (to our knowledge) companion iPhone app for a conference. Check out the video,

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Omar UsmanTrendsetting: iPhone App for ICNA Youth Conference

Quickreads: Guy Ferguson’s Definition of Leadership

John Maxwell quotes Guy Ferguson in Developing the Leader Within You,

To know how to do a job is the accomplishment of labor;

To be available to tell others is the accomplishment of the teacher;

To inspire others to do better work is the accomplishment of management;

To be able to do all three is the accomplishment of true leaders.

Omar UsmanQuickreads: Guy Ferguson’s Definition of Leadership

Joining a Dawah Organization Level 4 – People Development


The best superstars in the sports world are commonly described as those who make their teammates better. A great leader in an organization is no different. Maxwell says,

A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others

This is the key to establishing loyalty. Maxwell ties the levels together by stating,

Note the progression: at level 2, the follower loves the leader; at level 3, the follower admires the leader; at level 4, the follower is loyal to the leader. Why? You with people’s hearts by helping them grow personally.

Realize that people are your most valuable asset.

Continuing upon the sports analogy, the MVP (Most Valuable Player) is usually not the best player in the league. The award is mostly given to the best player on the best team. The individual success is not achieved without a strong supporting cast. Leading a successful organization means that you must seek out people to help you. You must recruit them, and work with them. At this stage, you have already served the previous levels through acts such as volunteering. You have shown that you are able to achieve results. Now is the time that you begin teaching others how to do it and mentoring them. Develop them to be able to do what you can do.

Many Islamic organizations suffer because those in leadership positions do not want to give them up. They do not develop or train others to replace them. This creates a severe gap in succession planning and the organization suffers greatly any time there is a transition from one person to another. Mentoring and empowering others allows the vision and objective of the organization to be communicated down and carried out smoothly. This is a practical way of making sure the individual does not become greater than the cause.

This attitude will actually further solidify your reputation as a strong and positive leader with other leaders flourishing around you.

One negative consequence to watch out for is to make sure that you do not become comfortable with the good group of people around you. You must not only be on the look out for other leaders, but you have to make sure that you connect at a personal level with everyone. A good example of this is an imām or community leader that always goes out of his way to meet new community members. Never consider yourself above the level of the common person no matter how high your leadership level.

Be a model for others to follow.

What qualities attracted you to your first teachers and mentors? Emulate those behaviors and be a role model to others. It is especially the case in Islamic organizations that you will receive additional scrutiny in a leadership position. Make sure you are setting a good example.

Expose key leaders to growth opportunities.

Leadership at this level is indicated by having a loyal team. The way to retain and reward that team is by caring about them. One way of doing this is by taking the initiative to look for opportunities that will benefit them. Take the initiative to help them grow whether that is professionally, personally, or spiritually.

Be able to attract other winners/producers to the common goal.

A good leader also needs a good cause. A popular and successful MSA president can only go so far if the MSA itself is not servicing the needs of Muslim students. Stay focused on the goal and use it as the recruiting tool to find other top performers to be involved .

Surround yourself with an inner core that complements your leadership.

One of the most difficult challenges of leadership in Islamic organizations is the inability to find people who can give you good advice. Some people will see the success and overlook any points of constructive criticism. Others will be extremely negative no matter what you do. Sustaining success means having a close group of people who complement you. This does not just mean that they complement your skills within the organization. It also entails having people who can give you constructive advice. They can freely point out issues that need to be corrected without you taking offense. More importantly, as a leader, you have to take the initiative of making sure that you establish an environment where such discussion can flow freely.

Omar UsmanJoining a Dawah Organization Level 4 – People Development

Quickreads: Example of Islamic Marketing Done Right

Quickreads:  Example of Islamic Marketing Done Right

Take 2 minutes out to watch this video below. It is often easy to find examples of cheesy or unprofessional marketing for Islamic organizations, but this is an example of a video not only done right, but done well. It is simple, professional, and communicates a clear message. These components are no accident, and it is obvious that they stem from a clarity in purpose of the project itself.

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Omar UsmanQuickreads: Example of Islamic Marketing Done Right

Quickreads: Innovative Ways of Getting Your Word Out

Check out Seth Godin’s article, The paperback choice and my video dilemma. He details the struggle to figure out how to release video accompanying his most successful book to date [amazon_link id=”1591844096″ target=”_blank” ](Linchpin)[/amazon_link]. The first thought was to sell it for $300, but he eventually decided to release it for free to anyone who purchased the book – relying on an honor system for verification.

Questions to ask yourself: Is your cause bigger than yourself or your bottom line? What kind of creative ways is your organization willing to use to get its message out?

Omar UsmanQuickreads: Innovative Ways of Getting Your Word Out

Joining a Dawah Organization: Level 3 – Production/Results


The first two levels focused primarily on things that must be done in order to lay the foundation for success. This first was a focus on yourself, and the second was focus on your establishment of good relationships with others.

Level 3 is when you finally start to taste the success of your efforts. It is also when things get fun. There is momentum and problems are easily solved. Maxwell says that in Level 2, people came together just for the sake of getting together, but in Level 3, people get together to accomplish a purpose.

Initiate and accept responsibility for growth.

Make yourself the example for attaining results. All actions at this are oriented around accomplishing a purpose. Maxwell gives the example of  how Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces orders a sandwich and holds everything when told that he cannot order toast.

Develop and follow a statement of purpose.

Continued success means staying focused on your goals. Your purpose defines the scope of what you do. More importantly, it also defines what you do not do. Sustaining success at this level means to continue hammering away your goals. A big temptation will be to overextend yourself into other areas, but this can create propensity for a downfall. Your organization is successful at this stage because there are certain things you do well. These are the things that you get the highest return on, so continue to do them.

Make your job description and energy an integral part of the statement of purpose.

Having a clear sense of purpose is not enough. Everything you do should not only be geared around making the desired success a reality, but it should be done with a high level of energy and enthusiasm. Your energy also affects others positively and encourages them to work hard as well. This is especially true in Islamic organizations where a lot of the effort comes from volunteers. One of the key motivators is being able to rally behind someone that is dedicated and energetic. Leadership demands that you be that person others can look to and take an example from. 

Develop accountability for results, beginning with yourself.

Success does not mean the absence of failure. There are times where you will fall short of your goal. There will be times where you fail to such a degree that things are worse then when you started. When such failures arise it is important to not pass the blame off to someone else. Leadership and success require you to take accountability for what you do. It is only after doing this that you can hold others accountable for their actions as well. It is also important to note that it is okay to fail. It is okay to fall short. No successful person or organization ever succeeded without tasting some degree of failure first. The trick is to make sure you are constantly working and trying. If you fear failure or remain inactive, then success is impossible.

Make the difficult decisions that will make a difference.

The more successful you become, the more difficulty you will encounter as well. Even though this level is the good times, difficult choices will present themselves. Sometimes it may be selecting one project over another. It could be balancing long term versus short term goals. It may involve careful delegation of tasks to the appropriate people. Other difficult decisions might be deciding whether to turn away certain organizations or individuals from helping you.

This level is about seeing results. People will see your success, and they will help you and work with you to attain even greater success.

Level 4 will look at ‘people development’.

Omar UsmanJoining a Dawah Organization: Level 3 – Production/Results

What Is Your Organization’s True Purpose Or Objective, And How Do You Measure It?


In 1961 John F. Kennedy made a famous call to, “put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.” Chip and Dan Heath comment in Made to Stick,

Had [JFK] been a CEO, he would have said, “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.” Fortunately, JFK was more intuitive than a modern-day CEO; he knew that opaque, abstract missions don’t captivate and inspire people. The moon mission … was a brilliant and beautiful idea – a single idea that motivated the actions of millions of people for a decade.

Chip and Dan Heath also give the example of Southwest Airlines having the objective of being the lowest-fare airline around. This objective drives their strategy and makes it easy to decide issues that come up. Should their flights serve peanuts? If it increases costs such that they will no longer be the lowest-fare airline, then no.

Inc. Magazine asks,

Does your company “aim to be a leader of quality products, customer service, and innovation for tomorrow?” So do thousands of others. Sure, this statement sounds nice, but it means very little to your customers—and employees. An intelligible mission statement is essential to clarify the intentions of your business. Traditionally, mission statements are a blend of realism and optimism—two terms generally at odds with one another—and striking a balance between the two is the ultimate key to writing a great mission statement.

A cursory look across Islamic organizations reveals that many times they operate under vague objectives. Many communities face conflicts because there are disagreements over which direction to go in – directions that could seemingly be avoided if a common goal was in place beforehand.

Take a masjid for example. What is the mission of the masjid? Is it to provide a place for Juma and 5 daily prayers? Is it primarily a location for Sunday school that happens to double as a musalla? Is it to educate the community? To ‘make dawah’? Is it to be a community center?

Until these questions are settled, it will be impossible to move forward without conflict. If the masjid’s objective is to be a place for juma and prayer, then the entire purpose of its existence would preclude removing parking spaces needed at Juma in order to build extra classrooms for Sunday School. The reason that this issue is a fight within communities is because the community does not know what the masjid there really is. If the community was established primarily to have Sunday School for its children though, then its mission would dictate they build classrooms and look for an additional satellite location to offset the Friday crowd. These objectives must be clearly defined and communicated.

What if the masjid’s mission is to ‘educate the children’ in its community? The natural reaction is to build an Islamic school as part of the masjid. But how do you measure your success at reaching this objective? Is the simple existence of the school enough? If the Islamic school utilizes 80% of the community’s financial and human resources, but services between only 5% and 10% of its children, has it failed in meeting that objective? I strongly believe that it has failed in that scenario and a new strategy should be found to ‘educate the children’. This could include revamping the business model so that 75% can be accommodated, or doing alternate programs such as after-school programs. The problem we face is that “education” is not a specific goal, and we have nothing in place to measure it. This is why communities often times feel that the pinnacle is simply the establishment of the institution. This is also, perhaps, why many are blinded to any criticisms directed at these institutions. They feel that there is no other way to fill the ‘need’ that exists, and this is the only way of doing it. I should note that this is not meant to discredit Islamic schools in any way, but it is necessary that we are critical amongst ourselves to ensure that they are truly fulfilling their purpose in the best way possible.

One question that is a consequence of this discussion is what the true role of the masjid is as well. If the school takes 80% of a masjid’s resources, then would it make sense to make the school a separate entity altogether? If the masjid is meant to serve the community, what steps are taken to ensure that it is? How do we assess if educational needs are being met with the halaqahs? Is there a target attendance or curriculum that can be used to gauge if and when changes need to be made?   l .;k

Masjids often have varying goals. Some are there to provide a place to pray, some want to enrich their community, some are focused on dawah to non-Muslims, some want to educate their community, and so on. The Sunday School example above provides a bit of a core conflict that can take place, but many of these examples are usually found existing side by side inside one organization. They are usually headed up by different committees. The same questions apply.

An empty (vague) goal for a masjid would be something like, “Be a positive representation of Muslims in our city.” A more concrete goal would be to develop positive relationships in the community by volunteering for social services, hosting joint events with other organizations, and so on. Essentially, it is to take that goal one step further and explain (briefly) how it is to be done.

If a committee has a goal of making dawah, then how do they measure it? What is the real goal? One committee may have an idea to pass out flyers or brochures about Islam. This is a good idea, but needs to go one step further. To consider it a success, they may say, the goal is to hand deliver at least 80% of the brochures printed. It could be to set up a table and have a conversation with at least 1 out of every 10 people that came. If the objective is met, the bar can be raised for the next event. If it was not, then they can critically assess what needs to be redone in order to make the next event a success. Another example for a masjid may be not just to hold Islam 101 courses, but to hold at least 4 of them in one year with at least 25 people in attendance for each. This makes it concrete, and it also enables people to gauge how they have done. If a committee is organized just to “make dawah” then none of this critical evaluation would ever take place.

One of the hot-button issues in our time is the empty slogan of ‘youth involvement’ in nearly every single community. How is youth involvement truly gauged? Board members get elected on the promise of involving the youth – but how is a community to gauge whether that was successful or not? Is it to have at least two people under the age of 23 involved in the board? Is it hiring a youth director? Is it having bi-monthly programs geared towards different age groups (elementary school, high school, etc.)? It could be building a gym and hosting events. It could even be a goal of having an increase in the number of youth at the daily prayers. In all of these examples, ‘youth involvement’ is simply not enough. There is no way to hold anyone accountable for meeting or not meeting that goal.

Remember the contrast between empty goals and concrete goals. There is being the ‘voice of Muslims’, ‘representing Muslim students’, ‘educating Muslims’, ‘youth outreach’, ‘dawah’, and ‘being the best aerospace company in the world’. It is another thing to, “put a man on the moon and bring him back safely in this decade.” One sounds nice, gets people positions, and provides feel good rhetoric. The other provides targeted action, results, and accountability. One keeps communities stuck in a rut, and the other provides the tools for critical self-evaluation and progress.

We’d like to hear your thoughts. What are some examples of good objectives for Muslim organizations? And how can they be measured?

Omar UsmanWhat Is Your Organization’s True Purpose Or Objective, And How Do You Measure It?