Guest Post by Siraaj Muhammad
Volunteers tend to flock to quality initiatives that have been established and successful, and the role the volunteer plays is clear (and desired). And likely overlaps with “their” cause or interests – for some, that’s a soup kitchen, for others, it’s spreading religious knowledge, and still others, it’s youth programs.
Part of the problem is that masjid boards (that I’ve seen anyway, can’t speak for all) don’t directly engage community members. They don’t know them, and so they don’t know their strengths, and they don’t have a vision of something bigger beyond infrastructure expansion, so they don’t see the potential value of someone in a project later down the pipeline.
Then you add in there the comfort and familiarity of aligning or working with people of the same ethnicity and complicate that with gender politics, and you have all sorts of Unmosqued running around the interwebs talking about disenfranchisement. While those problems exist, a big big big big big big problem underlying all of that is business and project leadership / management incompetence, starting with vision and going into expansion nirvana.
As an example, women’s prayer halls are complained about often. If you came from a country where women weren’t allowed in the masjid, you built something in the 80s or 90s with a token space and thought you were being overaccommodating. You don’t know what you’re doing, you build an institution, and 20 years later when the community is established, people retroactively complain about sexism because their progressive professor filled their head with nonsense about male / female power dynamics.
But 20 – 30 years ago, your stakeholders were a limited set of community members and the women were nowhere near educated as they are now, nor were they demanding such spaces (whether for cultural reasons, “I’m not that religious and I don’t care reasons”, or whatever), and you, the unconscious incompetent, did what you could, and these were the seeds of our first communities. They weren’t perfect, but they got the job done. Fast forward to today, the immigrant blueprint for community building hasn’t really changed overly much.
Before we can solve these problems, I think it’s more important to first define what the role of the masjid should be in a community – large, small, and so on. Then you can define what’s needed, who’s needed, and then some. It’s like our problem with the imam, we want him to be everything to everyone at minimum wage with no health care fii sabeelillah. That was fine and dandy when you’re bootstrapping your startup masjid in 1983, but we need an American Muslim Community Blueprint 2.0 – what services should a masjid provide? How does it accommodate it’s men, women, and children? How does it reliably fund itself without endless marathon donations? What models exist in other 501c3 communities that have worked and how do we adapt that to our needs?
Lots to be done, but I’m more for obliterating the tweaks and hacks to the status quo, and more in favor of sweeping re-architecture of the masjid community blueprint and socializing it with new communities.