If Someone Handed You $5 Million, What Would You Build For the Community? Not What You Think.


Someone posed this question to me recently (seriously, not hypothetically). Let’s say there’s a benefactor who has given you a blank check to build something of use for the community – what would you build?

The thinking was why not build a better version of the Bayyinah or Qalam Campus, or a super amazing youth center?

This question presupposes that by simply having the funds, you can shortcut the headache and have an amazing facility. It’s true – you will have an amazing facility, but that might be it.

I’m fortunate, alhamdulillah, to have had an insider’s view (from an administrative capacity) of the launch of both institutions as they transitioned to full time campuses. As I reflected on the question, I realized one of the most important lessons about the process. As cliche as it sounds – it’s the journey, not the destination.

Those programs succeeded in large part on sweat equity. Hustling and grinding. Traveling to dozens (if not over a hundred) Islamic centers and teaching courses, making connections, developing students, and establishing relationships. People see the finished product and think that with some money it can be recreated. The truth is, the final product is a culmination of years of hard work. It’s that work and those relationships which enable the success of establishing something. I’m fairly positive if you hit rewind, and handed those institutions $5 million about 8 years ago – they would have a fantastic facility and full-time staff. But this money is not able to buy results. It is not able to buy credibility. It is not able to buy a reputation.

You can build a fancy youth center, but unless there is a community that they feel a part of, the structure will not make a difference. The greatest masjid stories are those that started out with 5 guys praying juma in the living room of a 2 bedroom apartment. Not the stories of empty multi-million dollar facilities.

In many ways, how you get there is more important than where you go. Once you arrive, it’s quickly on to the next thing. You have to have traction to make that jump.

We can all dream about what kind of institutions we’d build if we had unlimited capital, but the reality is “build it and they will come” is a proven failure. Show people you care, serve them, and whatever you need built will happen by the grace and blessing of Allah (swt).

Omar UsmanIf Someone Handed You $5 Million, What Would You Build For the Community? Not What You Think.

4 Free Resources Your Masjid Website Needs


JazakAllahu khayr to Mark Harrod for compiling this list to share with the MuslimSI audience.

1) Lifetime Website Hosting

Dreamhost offers 501(c)3 non-profits like masjids and Islamic organizations free lifetime hosting (usually $3 to $9 per month) and a complimentary domain name. Here are instructions:


2) Donation Management Software

Giftworks offers 501(c)3 non-profits a free Windows-based software that can help a masjid manage donations, volunteers, and communicate better with donors:


3) Vertical Response

Vertical Response gives email marketing that is free for non profits up to 10,000 emails per month:

4) Free Masjid Website

With an option of 20 templates to choose from, Ummah Designs offers to implement one of its websites for any masjid in the US or Canada:


Omar Usman4 Free Resources Your Masjid Website Needs

10 Ways To Fix Your Terrible Masjid Website


Most masjid websites are terrible. This is how you make them better.

1. Story

No one cares that your organization was started in 1973 and services 500 families from XYZ counties. It also doesn’t really matter how big your Sunday school is, or how you have a “vibrant” youth presence.

Tell the story of your community. Talk about how back in 1982, 5 uncles got together and needed a place to pray Juma so they used some guy’s living room. Chronicle how that slowly grew into the congregation you have now. Tell the stories about the people who have come through your masjid – Imams who helped work with the kids, how a random brother or sister one time donated $10k to keep the masjid from being shut down.

Communities must create a sense of belonging. Draw people in with the history and story of your community.

2. Have important information

In no particular order, the following bits of information should be easily accessible:

  • Directions. Actual directions. Anyone can look up your address on Google Maps. Your website should tell us “The GPS will get you to the Exxon gas station, but we’re actually on the 2nd floor of the brown building behind the gas station.”
  • Updated iqamah times.
  • Updated juma times (what time khutbah starts, what time salah is).
  • Who the Khateeb is every Friday (why is this so hard? Asking a masjid to put this on their website is like asking a 5 year old not to leave toys on the floor).
  • Office/visitation hours.

3. Photographs.

This is not an excuse to further publicize those 7-year-away expansion plan blueprints and architectural mock-ups. Put actual photographs of your facility. A few smiling people might help as well.

4. Social Media Integration / Contact

Don’t have it for the sake of having it. Don’t have a Facebook page if no one responds to messages. Don’t tell people to follow you on Twitter if your last update was 900 days ago and no one checks it.

Create a way for people to contact you easily with questions. You don’t need to leave a phone number – no one is going to call you anyways. Have an email that you actually check and respond in a timely manner.

5. Imam Info

Who is your imam? Let us know a little bit about him. Also introduce us to the rest of the staff. Who are they, what do they do?

6. Multimedia

Have some audio or video recordings from programs that take place at your masjid if possible.

7. Donate

Have a link to let people donate money to your masjid. Yes, some people actually want to give without having their arm twisted – make it easy for them.

8. Email List

Let people sign up for an email list to get announcements. Make sure to actually post announcements on your site – they’re much more effective here than on the microphone after Juma.

9. Give the people what they want

If your masjid regularly handles funerals – have the pertinent information there.

If no one registers their kids for Sunday school on the website, then take the forms down.

Information about upcoming classes and programs? Put it on there (and keep it current).

Don’t use your website to pontificate about sister’s activities and youth programs – especially if you don’t really have any. Even if you do, don’t post a pretentious write up about them.

This is not rocket science.

10. Get rid of everything else. 

Seriously. If something on your site does not fulfill a need, get rid of it.

If you’d like a minimal out of the box solution to having a masjid newsletter for weekly announcements, managing your email list, and putting a donate button on your website – email me at omar (at) 1ayah.com for a quote.

Omar Usman10 Ways To Fix Your Terrible Masjid Website

The Unconscious Incompetent Board Member


There are 4 stages to learning in any field:

1) Unconscious Incompetence

You don’t know what you don’t know.

This is the equivalent of someone that wakes up one day and says, “I love eating biryani, therefore I should open up a Pakistani restaurant.” This person needs a heavy dose of reality. They don’t know anything about food, cooking, much less running a business or retailing.

2) Conscious Incompetence

Painfully aware of what you don’t know.

This person loves biryani so they decide to dabble in it. They ask their mom how to cook it and quickly realize they don’t even know how to make rice or how to work an oven. The concept of a restaurant is painfully far away.

3) Conscious Competence

Able to do it, but need practice.

This person already knows how to cook, and they’ve worked in a restaurant so they know what is required to make it run. Putting in a little bit of time, and some targeted study they should be able to open and run their own restaurant.

4) Unconscious Competence

You can do it in your sleep.

This person is a master biryani chef, has successfully opened 3 gourmet biryani houses, and now has a multi-million dollar biryani food truck that he drives around for fun. He’s made every mistake you can make and knows his stuff inside-out.

Everyone goes through this journey. You shouldn’t feel guilty for being at stage 1 of something – we’ve all been there. We all are there. No one can be a stage 4 expert in everything.

The true trap is being at stage 1, but thinking you are in stage 3 or 4. This is because you have no idea what else is out here.

Think of a person who does not know Arabic, cannot recite Surah Fatihah properly, has never studied Islam formally beyond a Sunday School level, does not even know what “usūl al-fiqh” means (much less that it is an entire academic subject of study) – but wants an entire community to follow his ‘educated fatwa’ about moon-sighting. Or his opinion on how to conduct an Islamic funeral. Or any host of other issues.

The trap comes because many of those who volunteer their time are successful. Yes, you read that right. They are at stage 4 of their respective professions – medicine, IT, retail businesses, and so on. This creates a trap where a person feels they have the necessary skills to serve a community administratively not realizing that they don’t know what they don’t know. They will agree that there should be a board training program for example, but feel that they don’t need it – just the incompetent people around them.

A person serving the masjid needs baseline levels of knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah. How much tafsīr and sīrah study have they done? How can someone be expected to uphold a constitution or masjid charter that has written into it “follow precepts of the Quran and Sunnah”?

How about strategic planning? Conflict resolution? Management? Operations management? Facilities maintenance? Bookkeeping, payroll, accounting? Event planning? Fundraising? Project management? Construction? Educational administration?

The idea is not to say that we need board members to be in stage 4 of all these arenas – they’re all independent areas of study. But we do need people to at least graduate to stage 2. This way a board member doesn’t need to be an expert on those things – but more importantly, they know when they hit the point that an expert does need to be brought in, and who that expert is.

Omar UsmanThe Unconscious Incompetent Board Member

Why Do So Many Masajid Have Problems with Sustainable Funding?

Guest post by Dr. Jerry Hionis


To be expeditious and answer the above question immediately: many masājid have funding problems because they present themselves as a charity case instead of a worthwhile investment. What proceeds, insha’Allah, is a greater explanation of this statement.


Most are aware that there is a crisis within the Muslim community — and in many other religious communities as well — when in comes to the financial stability of the masjid. We have all heard the crazy stories of (or even experienced) “hostage fundraising” during Ramadhan or seen the decay of a once beautiful masjid due to neglect. In truth, the question of how a masjid functions financially has two sides: (i) how are funds collected; and, (ii) how are funds spent? I cannot honestly approach the latter question because it is way too case specific and I would hate to pigeon whole the entire community based upon the bad practices by a subset, however large it may be, of masājid. Therefore, we can analyze this problem by pursuing the former question: how does a masjid collect funds?

Before we examine this problem, it first needs to be understood what the masjid, at least to the economist, is exactly. The field of economics classifies goods and services into four categories — private, club, common and public — in regards to two essential characteristics: excludability and rivalry. Excludability refers to whether or not the access to consume a specific good is restricted, usually through some explicit or implicit cost, while rivalry is defined when the consumption of a good by one person decreases the quantity that can be consumed by others. The below table illustrates these four types of goods in respect to excludability and rivalry.

Rivalrous Non-Rivalrous
Excludable Private


Non-Excludable Common



A private good is the standard type of product that we interact with: if I want to eat a candy bar, for example, a price needs paid to obtain it for consumption and if I am eating the candy bar, no one else can eat it at the same time. A club good also requires a cost for access to consumption but unlike its private counterpart, it is also non-rivalrous; that is, multiple people can consume the good at the same time where one can consume the good without decreasing the consumption possibilities of another. A private golf course or a beach requiring a purchased “beach badge” are classic examples of club goods. Private and club goods are not too problematic because their excludable nature leads to the creation of a market and an associated (equilibrium) price.

Fundamental distribution problems become present when excludability is not present. A good is labeled common when its access is open to all (i.e., not associated cost/price) yet one’s consumption does negatively affect another’s. This leads to what is known as the “Tragedy of the Commons”: free and open access to a finite good will lead to an unsustainable supply and its eventual exhaustion. Overfishing and overhunting are the most often example brought up to explain this problem. The natural solution to this problem is to turn common good into club or private one by issuing consumption rights (such as fishing and hunting licenses) and, hence, creating a market.

Such a solution, unfortunately, does not always apply to the case of public goods where anyone has access and can partake in the consumption of while not decreasing the possible consumption of another; i.e., the theory of mathematics or national defense. Public goods are problematic for economists because it leads to the infamous “Free-Rider Problem”: one can obtain benefit from a public good without incurring any of the cost to produce it. In other words, the wealthier and/or those who value the good the most will contribute to its funding while others will essentially “free ride”.

While many solutions have been posited to help convert public goods into private or club ones (the Vickrey-Clarke-Groves auction mechanism is one of the more popular), most are based upon limiting the access and benefit of a public good by instituting a value-reveling mechanism. This is where the masjid, being an unrestricted house of worship, becomes a special type of public good. Because praying and attending special services like jum’ah and tarāwīh prayers are open to any and all (assuming they are Muslim, of course), methods such as mandatory masjid membership or door fees are eliminated. Masājid, being left with few options, apply the three easiest to implement: the after-jum’ah donation box, the incessant reminder to donate and the delaying of communal services until a specific level of donations are met. All three are meant to inflict upon the masjid attender with the same social cost as your average street beggar: shame. Shame does have its place and is an acceptable mode of eliciting behavior, but it does not seem to be working very well and we can do better.

How many times have we stepped into a masjid — even one that we consider to be “my masjid” or “my community” — and feel as if we are guests in someone else’s house (and know, that “someone else” I am referring to is not Allah s.w.t)? How times have we heard the age-old complaints about that shadowy figure known as the “Masjid Board” or the “REAL leader of the Masjid Board”? How many times have we seen that every decision needs to be OK-ed by a few select “Masjid Elites”? This infantization is a direct result of the community taking the backseat and expecting someone else to deal with the masjid. This is not to say masājid are devoid of the existential bureaucratic problems of transparency, aggressive personalities and control. Of course these problems exist. Masjid organization and governance is run by humans and will always be subject to flaws both great and small. All that being said, let us be clear and honest: if we expect a small handful of individuals to pay for the masjid, then we should not be shocked when a small handful of individuals are making the decisions.

My recommendation then is for masājid to change their strategy away from panhandling and toward suppliers of an indispensible resource to the community. To help illustrate this idea, I offer an anecdotal story from my upbringing. Being the product of two Greek Americans (one an immigrant and the other the child of immigrants), I was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church. For better or for worse, we were there all the time: school, Sunday school, Greek Orthodox Youth Association (GOYA) meetings, Art programs/competitions, Greek dancing lessons and, believe it or not, basketball teams and tournaments . . . oh yeah, and church services. It became part of our identity. For much of its history, the majority of congregation members at my family’s church were blue-collar immigrants: pizza shop and diner owners, painters, carpenters, plumbers, masons and so on. True, there were a few doctors, accountants, lawyers and engineers and many donated money to the church . . . but both those with greater and fewer means offered other services, including their time. Church needed to be repainted? Done. Church needed new carpets or tile? Done. Church needed food? Done. Church needed electrical or HVAC work? Done. This community support did more than maintain the daily upkeep to the church. It helped increase a sort of job or investor recognition. Congregation members did not feel as if they were attending a church that was owned or financed by a handful of individuals. Everyone who donated and volunteered their services felt the a sort of ownership of the church/community.

Therefore, to quote Lenin, What is to be done? Below are three action points that I believe are a good foundation to help create sustainable funding for any masjid, big or small:


  1. Increase the value of the community’s investment: What is your community getting out of the masjid? Does the masjid offer five-daily prayers, jum’ah, tarāwīh, part-time Qur’an memorization and beginner’s Arabic classes? That’s great . . . but so does almost every other masjid that you are competing (in a halal way, of course) against. With the every increasing secularization of our youth and mounting pressures to apostate, the masjid should be an important component to each member’s life. The masjid should be the first place one goes to in looking for a solution to one’s spiritual, cultural and worldly problems. Again, my parents constantly donated both money and time to their church because they saw it as an irreplaceable need in their children’s lives. Some recommended classes and activities are:
    1. Youth directors and programs that are both relevant and up-to-date: We complain about the disinterest of the youth, but what are we really doing to stop it? The lack of consistency, dedication and, in general, imagination by many communities over these types of programs is picked up by the youth. If you are not interested and excited, neither will they. The most effective programs have people — whether paid (preferred) or volunteering — who are specifically dedicated to this mission. If we want our children to be friends with and one day marry Muslims, then they have to want to be around them!
    2. Social activities — for both the youth and adults: Does the community really know each other? I can attest that as social as one can be, it is almost impossible to know who everyone in the masjid is . . . especially when social activity is frowned upon. Without going so far as to start requiring nametags, it is great to have programs dedicated for the direct purpose of the community getting to know others outside of their immediate families and ethnic enclaves.
    3. Business “meet-and-greets” for entrepreneurs within the congregation: Religious circles are one of the greatest assets to a new entrepreneur. This is not meant to be a way for the masjid to discover whom they can pressure into securing free services from (Side note: while donating one’s service is recommended, masājid should always offer to pay first. Period. End of story.). Instead, these programs can help create both professional and social networks that extend the community outside of jum’ah prayers.
    4. Convert inclusion programs beyond giving shahadah: With an increasing number of people embracing Islam, masājid should be increasing their efforts to interact with new converts. An inclusive and diverse congregation should be the aim of every masjid.
    5. Social Services: There comes a time when everyone needs help: domestic abuse, divorce, marital issues, financial woes, spiritual crises and so on. These problems should not be left for the Imam to deal with alone. Again, empathy, networking and understanding who is in your community are the essential components needed for a functional Ummah.


  1. Create an organized stewardship program: I know it can be hard to believe but people tend to lean towards organization. Random fundraising is interpreted as unimportant and tends to fall on deaf ears. Consistent fundraising is interpreted as annoying and a signal that people are wasting money. Instead, set up a couple times across the (Gregorian) calendar where everyone knows there will be a fundraising drive; for example, the end of August and the beginning of January. No, this does not mean Ramadhan. Ramadhan fundraising should be the surplus a masjid puts away for special projects and expansions. These bi-yearly fundraising drives should be to sustain the basic expenses of the masjid. In addition, make donating to the masjid easy by creating monthly or yearly stewardship/donation pledges. Given that most wish not to be hassled consistently about such donations, direct withdraw is the preferred method. Never forget the old adage: “out of sight, out of mind”. The less one is bothered about such transactions, the less they are willing to stop paying.


  1. Embrace the Internet: Since most do not carry cash on them as frequently as before, the donation box outside of the musallā is ineffective. We have so many IT professionals and tech savvy youth in our congregations yet the majority of masjid websites are atrocious and look like they were created (and last updated) before the new millennium. Therefore, use the Internet to one’s advantage. This is a great way to get the youth involved! Forms, copies in triplicate, filing and all other manner of paperwork are viewed as being the work of Shaytan. Online sign-ups and email confirmation make the experience of donating easier and, hence, more enjoyable. This is the key: donating, especially to the masjid, should be an enjoyable experience!


The above steps are not easy to implement. But while there is a temptation to write these off as being too “costly”, remember that there is room for everyone in the community to participate. I personally have heard some brothers and sisters claim they are too busy to volunteer to do X, Y or Z at the masjid but are willing to write a check. I also know that there are brothers and sisters who would love to be active but feel impotent about their role because they have little to give financially. Instead of just blanketed asking for someone to create/head a specific program or project, try reaching out to individuals and ask what they would like to do for the masjid. I truly believe people would be surprised what others are willing to offer if only given the chance.

In conclusion, the only way to create a sustainable revenue source for the masjid is to present it as a sound investment to the congregation so as to elicit a consistent line of funding. The big checks and special fundraising drives are great for special projects like building the “new masjid”, but such project and investment decisions should be made with the future depreciation and general upkeep costs in mind. This is where sustainable funding becomes essential. Utility bills, loan/interest payments, Imam and administration salaries and benefits, organizational/education budgets, janitorial services and general masjid upkeep costs should not be the subject of last minute aggressive fundraising. Insha’Allah, we can do better.



Omar UsmanWhy Do So Many Masajid Have Problems with Sustainable Funding?

Shifting Our Communities From Survival Mode to Strategic Mode


By Maher Budeir, founder and trainer at Balanced Leadership Institute, Inc.  A firm dedicated to training Muslim nonprofit board members and leaders.  www.masjidboard.com.

How do we get our communities to be more strategic?

We, as Muslim communities, have been performing in a survival mode.   We are reactive.  We focus on tangible programs and buildings.  We look at here and now, and if we are really good we look at one year out.  We think about education options after we already have kids.  Then we look at elementary schools because our kids are that age.  Even though one can argue that if we are able to build a single school it should be a middle or high school as those years are the most difficult for our kids to manage.  But we do not look at the big picture and we do not look far ahead.  Similarly, we expect our masjid board to deal with what happens in the masjid this week and next month.  In response, our organizations have been focused on operations rather than strategy and long term direction.  The average masjid board focuses on how to expand the building to accommodate worshippers as the Friday services attendance grows rather than focussing on the next generation who is in most cases absent from the masjid altogether, and many are barely hanging on to their faith.  We define our institutions by what we have within the four walls rather than the impact on individual lives and the influence on the larger community.

So, how do we transform ourselves to become better strategists?  How do we develop our institutions to become the best run institutions with the balance of excellence in operations and foresight in strategic development?  There are many ingredients that are necessary to advance the development of our Masjids and our schools.

At the operational level

Upgrading our skills and competencies.  Our organizations must be run by professionals who specialize in their individual fields.  Managers and directors must be experts in leadership principles and have strong people skills.  Technology professionals must manage the technology systems, professional accountants must manage our financial matters, and our facilities must be designed, built, and maintained by professional architects, engineers, and facility specialists.  And we do not need a million dollar budget to do that.  Most mid-size or larger communities would have many well qualified professionals within their congregations.  We need to open up our Masjid leadership culture and make it welcoming, so we can reach those resources within the community. Having a handful of people control all management and processes in an organization can stifle the organization and keep skills and talents in the community out of reach. It is the responsibility of masjid leaders to create the welcoming culture and the professional expectation to facilitate reaching the next layers of professional Muslims.  Professionalizing the operations is the responsibility of the executive committee/management team/operation team.  The organization’s board or trustees are part of setting expectations and creating the sense and structure for accountability.

At the strategic level

Systematically assessing our organizational structure, looking at each component of the organization and assessing its current status.  By that I mean the five components:

  1. Governance
  2. Management
  3. Programs
  4. Resources
  5. Systems

These are the main components of each organization.  A mature, high functioning organization needs to have each of these components well developed.  In reality, most Islamic institutions are developed in a need focused basis and the development is driven by needs of specific individuals, expecting certain services and certain events, and if the community is fortunate enough, some visionary individuals come along and randomly insert some visionary ideas during the establishment of the organization. The result is that some components like programs and maybe management may develop well ahead of others, like governance and systems.  Most institutions in their first 10 years of operation are in the survival mode. Pouring all of their energy and resources into establishing basic needs, a facility, hiring basic staff and starting enough programs to validate the need for services.   Rarely, is it that we find a young Muslim organization going through a genuine development of a vision, mission, and guiding principles before starting operations or even in its first few years of operations.  Having a strategic plan in place that is agreed upon by stakeholders in the first five years is almost unheard of among Masjids.  The governing entity (board of trustees or board of directors) is the entity that should evaluate the overall structure of the organization, work on developing a mission and purpose statement, guiding principles, and a strategic plan. This requires specialized expertise and skill sets that are different than what is needed on the executive team. Both are places of leadership but the executive team is about action and execution of plans.  The board is about setting standards , establishing strategic goals,  and measuring progress.  Most Muslim organizations have not distinguished between the two entities.  Most have not been structured to have this separation between governance and execution.  A small organization can definitely survive without separating the two.  Even a good size masjid can survive with one board assuming governance and management.  Some even argue that a masjid has survived  and functioned fine for 20 or 30 years with one entity assuming the governance and management functions.

What is our standard?

However, the question we need to ask is: “Is survival the goal”?  Are we striving towards existence and towards providing services week in and week out?  Or are we committed to run the masjid as the best functioning organization? Shouldn’t the house of Allah be the leading example of how a high functioning organization should run? Shouldn’t our masjid incorporate the highest standards of running a non profit and demonstrate that incorporating Islamic principles can only enhance and elevate the level of performance? Shouldn’t the masjid ensure that each generation is more involved in the larger community, better committed to serving Allah (SWT), better educated about their faith, and better capable to represent Islam in their community than the previous generation?  If a masjid has survived for 20 years having one do-it-all board, imagine how much better it could have done if it had a more mature,better defined, and more professional organization from day one.  How many more youth could have been saved and not been abandoned? How may converts could have had better guidance and companionship in their journey? How many families could have been counseled better, how may young adults could have become more interested is pursuing islamic studies professionally? How many non Muslims could have been positively impacted by an well functioning organization that promotes positive values?

Even in the business environment, a business can start small with a businessman who wears many hats.  He/she may manage the business, strategize for the best business plan, and do the books, and many other things.  However, as a business grows, the smart business owner realizes that he is better off seeking professional help to do the accounting.  Eventually, the business person may realize that he/she needs to hire a manager so that he/she can free his/her time to do what he/she does best, such as developing the business, or working on partnerships, or changing the business strategy to start franchising.  The businessman will always own the vision and keep an eye on what the future holds, while the hired manager takes care of daily operations.

How are we measuring success? This is the deen of Allah (SWT), and the Prophet’s message of doing good and spreading goodwill and excellence (Ihsan).  Just serving is not our criteria.  Our organizations must be the best run, highest performing nonprofits.  They must set new standards of professionalism, efficiency, and excellence.

In summary,

  1. There has to be a commitment on the leadership of our Muslim organization stemming from the Islamic teaching of doing what we do with excellence (Ihsan)
  2. Leaders must recognize that it takes two sets of skills and for most mid size to larger communities separating governance and management will help focus and effectiveness at the operational front as well as the strategic front.
  3. Opening up the organizations’ culture is essential for reaching the professional talent and skills in the community.
  4. To get professional results, the organization must seek specialized and trained professionals.
  5. Trustees and board members must understand the essential components of the organization and have a good sense of the level of development of each component.
  6.  Seek professional training and services in areas where we do not have experts.
  7. Do not be shy to examine other social nonprofit, faith-based or otherwise, organizations, benchmark their experiences, and learn from their results.  It is much easier to find a well functioning model and then overlay the Islamic aspects to it, than to start from the ground level.
  8. Network and benchmark other mosques around the country that are already well developed and talk to them and seek their advice.  In this age of connectivity, one can easily connect and follow successful organizations to learn from their experience.
Omar UsmanShifting Our Communities From Survival Mode to Strategic Mode

Youth Directors – What Will It Take For Us To Realize…?

Roots Program

This was originally posted on AbdelRahman Murphy’s Tumblr. You can see more of his work at the Roots Program website.

“I have to stop pretending.”

He said that, as he looked up at me, sipping his water.

Like many of the counseling sessions that I do, this one happened at a restaurant – neutral atmosphere, not threatening, lots of life around us. Unlike many of them though, this session was grounded in reasonability and clarity – not thoughts clouded by emotions or trauma (that’s not to say that emotions are always clouding, but sometimes they can lead to irrationality).

This definitely was not the first person I’ve counseled re: their apostasy (probably seen at least 100 at this point in my service), but it was definitely the most impactful. I usually don’t find any benefit in trying to persuade, convince, or negotiate faith. I just like the person to tell me their story, who they are. This lunch lasted for about 2 hours.

Here are some excerpts from that conversation, with a man who was born Muslim, and 29 years later, is calm, cool, and collected leaving the faith.

On his religious practice.

“I prayed five times a day for the last 20+ years. Even when I moved away from home, I kept up with it, reciting Quran that I didn’t understand, simply out of fear. I was raised in fear – that if I didn’t pray, I’d go to hell. That if I did this or didn’t do that, I’d go to hell. It was constantly being pushed through fear. I was also always told that my friends, and certain family members who weren’t Muslim were kuffaar and they were going to hell. That was a significant portion of my life that I was told that.”

On his relationship with his dad

“I love and respect my dad. He’s a wonderful guy. Stoic, not really emotional – I can probably count on my one hand how many times he’s verbalized that he loved me, but I guess I always knew that he did. Though it would’ve been nice to hear him say it more. This tension I’ve been feeling about my religion was hurting my relationship with him, though. Even though I never told him, and I was still going through the motions of prayer whenever I was here, I felt guilty on the inside, and that made me not want to be around him – the fear of angering and disappointing him kept me from visiting home and seeing him for an entire year.”

On leaving Islam emotionally vs. rationally

“I grew up as the only Muslim in my school. I was used to people asking me about Islam, the mockery and insults that occasionally came with it. If I was leaving Islam emotionally, I would’ve done it then. My entire life, I didn’t feel any pressure to leave from my peers, I only felt pressure to stay from the Muslim community. The push to dogmatically believe because “that’s just the way it is” was a stronger repellant than being made fun of as the only Muslim in my high school.”

On his Islamic educational experience

“My religious educational experience growing up was done at Sunday school. But you can’t really learn Arabic for a few hours one day a week. You can’t really learn your religion like that. I didn’t need Muslim classes one day a week, I needed Muslim friends and socializing during days of the week and weekends. I can’t really say that I sought out Muslims when I went to college, because I never really hung out with Muslims before I went to college.”

On his current long-term girlfriend

“She’s a Christian, we’re in a long-term relationship. You know, when you get to my age and start thinking about getting married and having a family, thoughts about religion come up, especially when you’re marrying someone who doesn’t share your faith. What will the kids be? Who chooses? I’ve always felt that because I didn’t know my religion that well, I didn’t have a right to suggest that they be Muslim. And how was I supposed to meet a Muslim girl, anyway? We were always taught that girls were haram, the classrooms were always in separate rooms, if a girl was Muslim we were taught to avoid her and not look or talk to her – so yeah, I meet wonderful non-Muslim women and now my girlfriend is Christian.”

On his siblings

“Yeah, I have brothers and sisters, and they went through the same process that I’m going through. This…discovery.”

As we finished our food and conversation, we both got up to leave and were walking out. We shook hands, I thanked him for taking time to meet with me, and he looked at me with an extremely sincere and serious look and said, “hey man…I wanted to say something: I may not be Muslim anymore, but I think if you were here in 95 when I was growing up, I still would be. I’m not Muslim anymore, but I’m happy the youth who are living here now have someone like you.”

While someone may see that as reassuring, it was the most painful thing I’ve ever heard. The reality of our community is that we are preoccupied with things, meanwhile our people are leaving. I couldn’t help but walk away thinking, “what will it take for us to realize…?”

Omar UsmanYouth Directors – What Will It Take For Us To Realize…?

So, You Think You Need To Build That Gym?


Guest Post from Maher Budeir from Balanced Leadership Institute, a nonprofit board training firm.

This article was partially inspired by a speech delivered by Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda delivered at the Second Annual ISNA Masjid Forum, which was held in Dearborn, MI, on May 10, 2014.

The Good News

We hear it in many mosques all over the US these days. Every community is realizing that serving the youth requires different resources and methodology than what it took to serve their parents. We are realizing that the youth will quickly find other ways to grow and other places to hang out if they are not served within our community.

This is an important step and level of thinking for the community. Even the more “traditional” Mosques are coming to this realization. It is unfortunate that it took a couple of decades for our community to finally get to this place. The good news is that we are there, and the majority of the mosques, if not all, recognize the need to allocate some resources specifically to meet this need of serving the youth adequately so that they may voluntarily continue their involvement and engagement in the community even through their most difficult years of development.

The Not So Good News

Let’s face it, when it comes to community development our community has not proven to be very sophisticated. Like what my friend Ibrahim often says, “we seem to define success by square footage.”So naturally, when the question about incorporating the youth comes up most communities resort to the seemingly easy answer: let’s build a gymnasium. Youth like basketball. They will have a place to hang out. What we do not consider is: human beings are most impacted by social interaction. A gymnasium may attract a few teenagers for a while but without proper guidance that strategy may fire back. Without the appropriate human resources a gym does not do much good. Without a youth specialist who understands the youth needs at different phases of development, and understands the different needs of each gender, the youth will not going hang out for long. Our unsophisticated, knee-jerk reaction to try to answer the call for serving the youth, ignores that human beings are social beings. What they need in their early adulthood is someone to steward their socialization and development. Someone to be the role model and to be the listening ear. Someone to give them a slight nudge to redirect them on the right path, rather than the normally confrontational clash that they likely face at home. What we need to invest in is highly skilled young Muslim leaders who are professionally trained to provide guidance. They need the big sister and big brother who was in their place a few years ago, and have managed to avoid pitfalls and survive the generational devide that may exist between them and their parents. They need someone to teach them the life skills to help them overcome the challenges of being a young adult in this materialistic world full of temptations and challenges.

The Facts

The fact is building a gymnasium will likely consume $2 to %5 million in funds, 1 to 2 years of time, and consume so much energy from the community. Our communities can’t afford to waste the time or the money. Our investments should be directed towards skilled and talented young professionals who can guide our youth. This investment will, in turn, encourage the bright young people to be in those professions. We need our brightest students to specialize in sociology, psychology, counseling, and leadership. We need them to advance their Islamic knowledge and strengthen their foundation so they can become the leaders to lift our youth and empower them. In terms of facilities, if you live in any large metro area or even a nice smaller city chances are you have already paid for basketball courts to be built. You should also have football fields, tennis courts and community rooms. You have paid for them through your property and local taxes. In return you can use the facilities at the park down the street or the school around the corner. Our taxes are funding these places, so why should we be paying for facilities again when the fund raiser for the gym comes around. In this time and age, we need to work smarter. We need to be creative. Our centers are not defined by walls anymore. It is the people and action, the companionship, and the interaction that defines community. All of which does not need to be within the 4 walls of the mosque or community center. The youth we are trying to serve are well adapted to working and communicating virtually, they are comfortable redefining what is a community center. It is the parents’ generation that needs to breakdown the walls and widen its horizons. We need to become more strategic and more intelligent about where we invest, what results are we looking for, and what is the most effective way to get us there. We can not try to solve the youth engagement question in the same way we would have solved it in the 1970’s.

The bottom line. Getting the youth engaged is not about square footage. There is no silver bullet that will solve the problem overnight. There is no amount of money we can through at the problem to make it instantaneously disappear. Like every challenge that faces our community, methodical, scientifically based problem solving, and professional implementation are all necessary ingredients:

1. Make the strategic commitment to seek and hire the best talent, male and female, you can find to guide the youth and nurture their development. Be prepared to compensate these leaders well.

2. If you believe you do not have the funds to hire and adequately compensate these leaders, think again. Just remember how the same community that would have rallies to raise the millions needed for the gym. That community should definitely be able to fund a couple of positions instead. The cost of a gymnasium can pay full compensation for three professionals for more than ten years.

3. Realize that we can engage the youth by connecting with them and teaching them life skills. A skilled youth director will know how to create the connection and how to work on life skills through the Islamic lens.

4. Make use of the local facilities you already have in your community. Not only you will save on having to build facilities, but it also provides the youth with the opportunity to go out in the community as a group and learn how to properly engage with the larger community.

5. Parental education about the norms of youth development, and about communication is essential. Engage a professional family specialist to help.

6. Listen to the youth themselves. We under estimate their capability. Usually, young adults have an incredible combination of creativity and competitiveness. If facilitated well, it can yield some amazing ideas.

7. Pause ones or twice a year and evaluate the outcome. Do a methodical assessment of results and make the necessary adjustments. Youth development is an ongoing process.

Omar UsmanSo, You Think You Need To Build That Gym?

Create a Welcoming Masjid With A Tasleem Squad


Dr. Ihsan Bagby gave a presentation at the ISNA Masjid Forum this past weekend and mentioned a term that stuck with me – Tasleem Squad. We all acknowledge the need for our masajid to be more welcoming, but how do we tangibly go about doing this? Here are a few suggestions.

Have a ‘Tasleem Squad’ at your masjid that welcomes people into the masjid at busy times like juma with a smile. Greet them, hold the door open for them. Brighten up the environment. They can also help answer basic questions like – Where is the wudu area? Where is the sister’s entrance? Where do I put my shoes? Someone stole my shoes, can you help me?

It is important to have people who look like the people. Dr. Bagby mentioned that a particular masjid may have, for example, a high Gambian population. If this is the case, make sure that you have a Gambian on the Tasleem Squad. Yes – we are all brothers and sisters, but make the initial impression as easy on the people as possible. Let them be comforted and put at ease by someone they can identify with, especially if they’re not a regular in the community.

The Tasleem Squad should also engage the people and help them connect with the masjid. It can be as simple as getting them signed up for the masjid email list.

Another way to  make sure your masjid is welcoming is by simply having good signage. Put up signs about parking, entrances, shoes, and so on. Those are the obvious ones. Some less obvious ones are to put up a sign that gives the office hours, contact information, and things of that nature.

The most overlooked opportunity to make your Masjid welcoming? Put up a welcome sign.


Put something nice and aesthetically pleasing in the entry that says “Welcome to X Masjid.” The little things can have a big impact.

Omar UsmanCreate a Welcoming Masjid With A Tasleem Squad

What Brown M&M’s Have to Do with Your Masjid’s Adhan


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.


Omar UsmanWhat Brown M&M’s Have to Do with Your Masjid’s Adhan