Professionalizing Masjid Leadership Part 2 – How We Make Decisions

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Professionalizing Masjid Leadership

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Guest post by Br. Maher Budeir of the Roswell Community Masjid in Atlanta, GA. 

Leadership models vary from one institution to another. In looking at the challenges we face, we find that most of the challenges may be mitigated by instituting the following four principles: 1) Separation of Powers, 2) How We Make Decisions, 3) Accountability, and 4) Transparency. This series will explore each of those principles. 

2. How We Make Decisions

If you ask any Muslim what the proper decision making process is they will not hesitate to say it is shura “consultative decision making”. Many are quick to quote you the verse from the Quran mentioning shura and giving you that look implying there should be no other way. If we ask about the specifics of making a decision under the consultative process, you will hear a short response lacking of specifics and details. That is because shura is a very difficult and complicated process that relies on tremendous skills and discipline on the part of the leaders on the decision making body, specifically the chair. I have worked several Masjids and other Islamic organization and worked with many if their leaders for over 20 years, but I can honestly say less than a handful have the experience and skill to successfully implement a shura based decision making process. Even those few may not always follow the process every time they should.

A leader must be sharp, open minded, and genuinely interested in finding a creative solution. He must recognize the need to widen the circle of experts to be consulted when sensing that a higher level of expertise is needed. He must resist the urge to make a decision pre-maturely, and have the sense of recognizing the proper timing of making a decision. He must be tuned into the consultation phase, tone and mode. He should skillfully carry out the consultation by creating the delicate balance of encouraging debate and yet diffusing any polarization. The consultative shura model’s major advantage over a traditional democratic voting system is that shura seeks building consensus vs. creating opposing polarized views.

The leader has the responsibility to take the discussion to every corner to explore every possible option and then look for more creative options. Sometimes that can be accomplished by consulting with people who are a little removed from the situation who are not blinded by the details. After brainstorming is complete and all possible solutions are visible to the group, experts must be consulted in selecting the best fit to the specific situation, the solution must be consistent with the value system of the group and the organization’s mission or charter. Eventually, the process will lead to fewer alternate solutions that the whole group can clearly see as possible solutions. The leader must always be thinking about steering the group away from polarized positions, and towards building consensus.

Ahead of this process is the recognition if a decision is really needed. Often, the body in charge of making a decision does not need to get into an elaborate process simply because the decision either: 1) does not belong with this group, and some other entity has the responsibility to make that decision, i.e. the board needs not make decisions on operational matter, 2) a parallel decision has been made in the past and the precedent is set and a direction is established by previous similar decisions. This means the first task for the chair is to determine is a decision by the group is even necessary. As obvious as this may seem, we often see groups get engaged in discussions and spend considerable amount of energy without realizing that the process is not necessary. This often happens because many of us are naturally steered by their problem solving skills. We want to figure out the puzzle and get engaged in finding the answer before we step back and ask: has this been asked before? Or has a similar question come up before? Or are we reinventing the wheel? Can we use “Qiyaas” to apply a solution to a similar problem that was previously solved?

The other aspect that is essential politically for a successful shura process in to be inclusive and to make sure that every member of the group is clearly heard, and to make sure the level of expertise within the group regarding the specific subject is at a level that gives the group the legitimacy to make such decision. This takes specific and systematic communication in a forum where every member is asked to address the issue, regardless of how quite that person normally is, and how low key their personality might be.

At the end of the process, after all members are comfortable with the fact that a reasonable number of relevant experts were consulted, concerns were heard, and every member of the decision making body thoroughly expressed their views, the chair of the governing body must make a decision. Such decision should clearly state:

  1. The reasoning for selected the specific solution over others.
  2. How the selected solution is the most consistent with the organization’s charter or values.
  3. How the solution is in the best interest of the organization and the impacted community. The chair will deliver the decision on behalf of the decision making body and only after all the inconsistencies are sorted out so that the decision and the logic to reaching the decision are fully understood by all concerned.

Of course there are instances where the decision making body does not have all the time to explore all the options and the group is pressed to come up with a decision without the opportunity to consult subject experts, or even the chair having to make an emergency decision without having the time to convenient the full group. This is why selecting a seasoned, steady handed leader is essential. Just like all leadership positions, wisdom, humility and vision are essential in a leader so he can recognize how wide the circle needs to be and how time critical the decision is.

At the end, the shura process certainly puts the leader in a position with a lot of responsibility, and that should be exercised with wisdom and patience so it does not turn into a top down authoritative process.

Series Navigation<< Professionalizing Masjid Leadership Part 1 – Separation of PowersProfessionalizing Masjid Leadership Part 3 – Accountability >>
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