Author: saudni

The Importance of Creating Viable Careers for Imams & Scholars

The title of this article may to some make you think “Duh, imams in masjids are important.” While we claim to know and understand the role and importance of imams and scholarship how many of us would be elated if our sons or daughters said they wanted to pursue careers in Islamic education or Islamic scholarship? Would we encourage them or discourage them due to the inability for them to make a living salary or make ends meet? Deep down each and everyone of us know that there is no job market or career growth for most individuals who seek careers in Islamic scholarship or Islamic education. We tell our children to learn Islam on the side and focus on “real careers” or “real jobs” in engineering, medicine, business, law, IT, etc. We emphasize their university degrees and academic success which is absolutely fine, but if we aren’t encouraging the growth of the job market and demand for religious scholarship where does that leave the spiritual and religious guidance of our community? The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a foundational part of the spiritual and  guidance of the early Muslim community. Today, our imams and scholars take the role of providing religious and spiritual guidance to our community. Yet we haven’t truly supported the growth of the field of religious scholarship in our community.

Our inability to make viable careers for imams is holding our community back from growing or improving— in terms of their religious knowledge and spiritual growth.  We claim to stress the importance of Islam to ourselves, our families and friends and even our non-Muslim neighbors and colleagues yet we don’t support the growth of our communities by supporting our spiritual guides: imams and scholars. Our community is facing immense challenges and the lack of religious guidance is hurting virtually every demographic in our community—the largest neglected demographic being our youth. Masjid boards that don’t emphasize the need for a well-qualified imam or scholar at their masjid are doing a huge disservice to their communities. Some masjids operate on unqualified volunteer teachers  or volunteer khateebs (speakers) for jummah khutbahs (sermons) to teach Islam to the community. Masjid boards need to think twice about how the lack of qualified individuals teaching Islam to a community can negatively impact the growth of a community.  Having multiple individuals who may or may not have the Islamic knowledge can cause entire communities to be misguided and misinformed.

Masjids with no imams or qualified imams are like a doctor’s office not having a doctor, or a farm without a farmer or a flock of sheep without a shepherd. It’s important to ensure that the religious guidance comes from well-qualified imams and that your masjid has an imam who is in-tune with the needs of the community and is relevant to the those needs and demands. Several issues arise with either not having an imam or not having a qualified imam in your masjid: misinformation about Islamic beliefs and practices, spiritual crises and misunderstanding of Islam, the inability for Muslims to get spiritual knowledge and spiritual nourishment from their masjids, and lastly and most importantly the inability to understand how to apply Islam to current issues, current events and personal issues.

We have imams and scholars who dedicate their entire lives to educating themselves about Islam and learning how to teach it and they end up with little to no support or careers in the fields they’ve dedicated their lives to. Imagine for a moment a medical student dedicates a significant part of their life to studying medicine, then specializing and then entering the job market to only find that a job market doesn’t exist and the little job opportunities that do exist are not viable or dead-end job opportunities with little to no career growth and awful pay.

We under pay them, we overwork them, we mistreat them, we put shackles on their wrists by telling them what and what not to do or say, we underappreciate them, and simply marginalize them and devalue them by not allowing them to truly impact the communities they are meant to serve. A good imam if supported with the right infrastructure and resources can do wonders in positively transforming a community into a community of religious conscience. When we devalue and not allow for career growth or a market or even a demand to be created for imams we see the negative impact show itself in a couple of ways:

  1. Ignorant and misguided communities and community members
  2. Spiritual and Islamic educational voids often filled in with volunteers with good intentions maybe, but simply not qualified to teach Islam be it on the pulpit, in a class, or in short lectures
  3. Disengaged and spiritually sick community—especially youth— who don’t have an authentic source of knowledge to answer their questions about Islam and how Islam relates to their lives

Masjids that are lackadaisical, lazy or negligent in having an imam (or hiring a qualified and competent one) at their masjids are slowly but surely destroying and eroding their community. At most the community will come to jummah and Ramadan prayers. A small minority of the community may attend daily prayers. But when our masjids lack any spiritual guidance or education it’s essentially spiritual suicide for a community. A masjid that doesn’t have an imam for too long or a qualified imam can wreak chaos and have a detrimental impact on the community. Having a masjid without an imam is like having a farm with no farmer or a kitchen with no chef or having a flock but no shepherd or having a doctor’s office without a doctor.

We see several imams and scholars in our community unaffiliated with masjids due to our masjid boards’ inability to retain imams due to either masjid boards’ mismanaging conflict between the masjid board and the imam, masjid board ego, restrictions on the imam, disrespecting the imam, and the list can go on and on. Imams who typically have bad experiences in masjids tend to tell other of their fellow colleagues not to apply to specific masjids and the impact of even one negative experience by one imam can impact other imams’ views of even being employed at a masjid. We’ve all heard the awful stories of imams clashing with masjid boards and the (most often) the masjid board’s mismanagement of the conflict. This is not to say masjid boards don’t have the right or a legitimate reasons to fire imams, but the point is that hiring and firing of imams should be done in a professional and Islamic manner.

It’s unfortunate, but due to this we’re seeing imams and scholars resort to doing speaking engagements, fundraisers, speaking tours, and workshops just to make ends meet. They aren’t affiliated with masjids and aren’t able to truly impact our communities and guide our communities. At most when you hear a traveling imam or a scholar’s lecture at a conference or event you may get a temporary spiritual high, but it’s just that a temporary spiritual high. Having a full-time well-qualified imam at a masjid they’d be able to increase the spirituality and religious knowledge of a community at a consistent level. Our community is no longer in need of celebrity imams and scholars. We need imams and scholars who’re focusing on changing the lives of Muslims in communities. We need imams and scholars focusing on healing the spiritual sicknesses of the heart that Muslims are facing. We need imams and scholars to focus on teaching Muslims how to apply Islam to their lives and the world in which they live. We need imams and scholars to provide spiritual and religious guidance in times of confusion.

Masjid boards need to ensure that their imams are:

  1. Well-qualified and trained in reputable institutions
  2. Understand their roles and responsibilities (and expectations)
  3. Given clear goals and objective to meet
  4. Given performance reviews on a quarterly basis
  5. Paid a decent salary (Nothing less than $100,000)
  6. Are given bonuses and incentives when objectives and goals are met
  7. Given good benefits (healthcare, pension, etc.)
  8. Given adequate vacation time
  9. Given career growth opportunities (i.e. additional training and certifications)

As long as we fail to invest in our religious leadership and create viable careers in masjids we will see masjids that fail to truly build a community of religious conscience and see any spiritual growth or educational growth in our communities. Masjids without imams or qualified imams are nothing more than musallahs (places of prayer). We can no longer see our communities crumble due to the lack of us investing in religious scholarship. If we end up with youth confused about Islam and individuals leaving Islam all together we have no one to blame but ourselves. We must invest in our religious scholarship and must begin not only investing in legitimate institutions to train well-qualified imams and scholars but begin creating viable career paths and a job market for imams and scholars to contribute to the growth and improvement of our community.

The very future of our community depends on this.

How to Create and Change a Masjid Culture

When we speak of creating and changing masjid culture we aren’t talking about ethnic or racial cultures, but creating an environment and a mode of operation for your masjid based on Islamic values, ethics and morals. Many masjid boards fail to create a culture or environment which promotes Islamic values or values that help in community growth and development. This can be due to a couple of reasons: losing donors, “rocking the boat” too much due to angering a large demographic of the community, and other factors. Unfortunately due to this many masjid boards tend to go with the safe route of keeping a certain status quo and are afraid of “rocking the boat” when it comes to changes at the masjid.

This means creating these cultures below (but are not limited to):

  • Creating a culture of leadership
  • Creating a culture of adherence to Islamic values, ethics and morals
  • Creating a culture of professionalism
  • Creating a culture of learning and education
  • Creating a culture of empowerment
  • Creating a culture of operational and financial transparency
  • Creating a culture of community development
  • Creating a culture of mercy and empathy
  • Creating a culture of community service
  • Creating a culture of interfaith dialogue and activism
  • Creating a culture of inclusiveness

How Do You Create a Masjid Culture?

A masjid’s role in creating a culture is done by creating policies and procedures for both operations and for the community. More than the creation of policies and procedures if implementation and enforcement of policies and procedures. You can write pages and pages of policies and procedures but they mean nothing if they are not enforced by staff, volunteers and board members.

How Do You Change a Masjid Culture?

Changing a masjid culture is a hard task, but is one that is extremely important if we are to see our communities grow and flourish. This means creating policies and procedures as mentioned above, but more importantly enforcing and creating awareness about the policies. The role of the masjid board is to enforce the policies and procedures along with encouraging community members to adhere to the policies and procedures. This can also be supported by reinforced messages in khutbahs and halaqas by imams and scholars to the community. Additionally, creating committees committed to enforcing the cultural shifts can include creating a Women’s Committee, Youth Committee, Welcome Committee, and other committees that create platforms that empowers community members to work on programs, events and projects that promote inclusivity in the masjid. Other committees could include more operational committees that assist with masjid operations like a Facility Management Committee, a Strategy Committee, and an Operations Committee, HR (Human Resources) Committee, and Professional Development Committee, Fundraising & Fund Development Committee and others.

Is It Possible?

The short answer is yes. However, when it comes to changing a masjid culture it takes speed, strategy and precision. Moving too slowly to change a masjid culture can allow for groups to form around issues and create unnecessary divisions in the community over the masjid cultural shift. A masjid board also needs to be strong enough (not in an arrogant way) to adhere to positive and Islamic changes to masjid culture. Wavering in committing to a masjid cultural shift can derail efforts and eventually cause more problems than necessary for the community. As was mentioned previously masjid boards need to avoid falling into being influence in their decision-making when it comes to making decisions for the community. This is particularly important that this doesn’t happen when it comes to pushing to change and create a masjid culture. Having high-income donors derail the masjid cultural shift by disagreeing with the masjid cultural changes is detrimental to community growth and development. Masjid boards need to avoid that influence at all costs when it comes to creating and changing their masjid culture.

Lastly, a masjid board also needs to empower community members to be change agents and leaders in leading the charge in changing a masjid culture. It requires an entire community at a masjid to change a culture. Empower the right community members and you’ll see your community grow and flourish.

High Turnover, Transition & Capturing Institutional Knowledge

One of the Achilles heals of most masjids is their inability to keep consistency in operations either due to not keeping staff for more than a couple of years, board members transitioning from their board roles and a lack of documentation of critical information like processes, procedures and workflows. The three points we’re going to discuss are: high turnover (of staff), transition and capturing institutional knowledge.

1. High Turnover

It’s unfortunate but masjids haven’t made career paths for Muslims passionate about serving the community. Masjid employees and staff are paid unsustainable salaries with no benefits and are often overworked, underpaid and underappreciated. At most we see masjids hire individuals who have been with the masjid for more than a decade and are stuck knowing all of the information regarding how the masjid is run and know the history of the masjid. This unfortunately makes these individuals seemingly irreplaceable due to how critical they are to the basic operations of the masjid. This not only suffocates the growth of the masjid, but also stagnates creativity and negatively impacts the overall quality of services to the community.

Individuals who do end up working in masjids unfortunately don’t find long-term sustainable careers where they feel they are adequately compensated for their skills and experience. If we’re to truly to see our communities to grow we need to begin investing and compensating masjid employees and staff adequately with livable salaries with benefits and provide job security for them. Most individuals don’t find any job stability, job security, or professional growth in masjids jobs and you’ll typically see most move on to jobs that are salaried with benefits in corporate environments. Not only do we lose talent, but we lose the opportunity to take our masjids to the next level.

2. Transition

Many masjids hold back their growth by not documenting critical information like masjid board meeting minutes, strategic documents, operational documents, policies, procedures and workflows and other important operational information. This alone can hinder a masjid from continuing due to the fact that new staff and new board members will not have anything to build off of and thus reinvent the wheel when it comes to creating policies, procedures, workflows and decisions for the masjid. Constantly reinventing the wheel essentially is like setting the reset button year after year and set back the community and masjid from growing due to the lack of documentation and record keeping.

In order to solve this problem it’s important to have record keeping and documentation of virtually everything that is critical to the operations of the masjid. Additionally, this information needs to be adequately handed off to new staff and board members either through a training, workshop or presentation. On-boarding and orientation is critical to both staff and board members and should be a standard practice in all masjids to ensure that masjids continue to grow and not constantly reinvent the wheel year after year.

3. Capturing Institutional Knowledge

To solve the above problem capturing institutional knowledge is critical. This means documenting and keeping a general history, timeline landmarks of the masjid. Both staff and board members should be aware of the masjid history, timeline and landmarks to ensure that they understand the trajectory of the masjid and what worked and what did not work in the past. Knowing the history, timeline and landmarks of a masjid allows both staff and board members make much better decisions for the community and allows the quality of services to improve due to understanding the best practices and weaknesses from the past.

The Importance of Strategic Planning

In any journey we need a GPS, directions and/or a map to reach our destination. Likewise, masjids need strategic plans.

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is a plan that may be 3,5 or a 10 year plan that lays a roadmap for how a masjid intends to grow. A strategic plan outlines everything from the expansion of a masjid, the growth of staff, and the overall objectives/goals of a masjid as a whole Having this information in place allows for masjid boards and leadership to make strategic and intentional decisions to move the masjid growth in a certain direction.

Unfortunately, most majids either don’t have a strategic plan and if they do they aren’t adhering to it as closely as they should. A strategic plan can help guide masjid board decisions in terms of how to use funds effectively and how to make decisions that help in meeting the strategic plan goals. In order to create a strategic plan it is often better to get a professional strategic planner to conduct an intensive strategic planning session to guide masjid boards through the process and help them layout a solid roadmap that meets the needs, objectives and goals of the community.

Having a strategic plan to share with community members also helps in boosting confidence in the masjid board and leadership while providing transparency in the direction the masjid board is taking the community. Strategic plans can also be altered based on new developments, but the general direction should be followed strictly with each masjid board that serves the community. Deviating too much from a strategic plan renders it useless and ineffective.

A great place to start getting a strategic plan for your masjid is the Whitestone Foundation.

The Importance of a Good Organizational Structure

An unclear chain of command and organizational structure can frustrate and hinder a masjid from functioning effectively. A good organizational structure doesn’t simply mean knowing the hierarchy and chain of command, but also clearly delineating roles, responsibilities and expectations of each and every member of the board and staff.

If a board member is unable to attend to his or her duties as a board member then there should be a mechanism within the constitution and by-laws to politely resign without ill-feelings between the masjid board and board member. Masjid board members should understand that they were chosen and elected by the community to best represent the community, perform at high ethical and professional level, and make decision for the betterment of the community and masjid.

Organizational structure for staff includes knowing who their superiors are, what their roles and responsibilities are, and what their expectations are (ideally have KPIs – key performance indicators – reviewed on a quarterly basis). Having a good and easy-to-understand organizational structure at a board level and a staff level can avoid a lot of headache, potential gridlock, confusion, and frustration in the future.

For both board members and staff an on-boarding training or orientation workshop should be conducted to get both board and staff on the same page to ensure that they understand the organizational structure, chain of command, roles and responsibilities, expectations, programs and services that the masjid provides, and the mission and vision of the masjid. Ideally every board position and staff position should have a position manual updated on a yearly basis to ensure that processes, procedure and employee rights, roles and responsibilities are up-to-date.

11 Qualities of a Good Chairman/Chairwoman

A good chairman/chairwoman can steer a masjid board and the entire masjid in a direction in a positive direction and provide much needed stability and space for growth for a masjid and the masjid board. Here are a few good qualities a masjid chairman/chairwoman should have to be effective in leading a community.

1) Knowing His/Her Role

A good chairman knows his/her role on a masjid board. This includes knowing when and when not to exert his/her influence or authority and when and when not to troubleshoot problems. The worst chairmen/chairwomen either are too involved and micromanage or are too hands-off in their approach to managing a board and a community. There has to be a balance between the two extremes for a chairman/chairwoman to be effective.

2) Be a Source of Inspiration & An Example

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

John Quincy Adams

As a chairman/chairwoman of a board and the community  community members look to them for guidance and solving the problems facing the community. As a chairman/chairwoman they need set a good example for the board and the community. This means showing up on time to meetings, delivering on promises and deliverables and ensuring they are living up to professional and Islamic morals, ethics and values in all of their actions and interactions with both board members and the community.  As a part of a chairman/chairwoman’s inspirational leadership they should create a culture and an environment where both board members and community members feel inspired to do more and work harder for the community.

3) Showing Initiative, Innovation & Leadership

This quality is pretty obvious, but sometimes ineffective chairmen/chairwomen simply don’t take initiative or exhibit leadership in times of confusion or disarray on a masjid board or masjid operations. A hands-off approach to managing a board can cause unnecessary chaos and confusion. The buck needs to stop somewhere and a good leader in times of confusion is able to navigate a board and a community out of the storm, stabilize situations and bring order in times of confusion, conflict and disarray.

In terms of showing initiative, chairmen/chairwomen need to set a good example by putting in work on the ground and also spearheading and empowering new initiatives/projects/programs to help the masjid board and the community grow positively. A good chairman/chairwoman should be innovative and not afraid of going against the grain when it comes to coming up with better and more efficient ways to run and operate a masjid. Too many chairmen/chairwomen stick to the status quo and are not bold enough to make drastic and much-needed changes for a masjid and its community to grow. Innovation is a much needed skill in chairmen/chairwomen. Each and every masjid will need its own unique solutions to its problems/challenges.

4) Keeping Board Members Accountable

A good chairman/chairwoman holds their board members accountable and to a high standard of professionalism and Islamic standard of ethics, morals and values. This means starting meetings on time and ending them on time. Ensuring board members are following through on assigned tasks and keeping them accountable for tasks/projects/assignments not followed through on. A masjid board with a lack of accountability internally makes it much weaker and extremely inefficient. A good chairman/chairwoman will ensure that all board members (including themselves) are held accountable for any missed assignments/tasks or even behavioral issues/miscues that impact the board dynamics or community.

5) Ensuring Deadlines Are Met (on Anything)

A good chairman/chairwoman will ensure that deadlines are met on all tasks and projects as much as possible. This may include ensuring board members are following through on assigned tasks, contractors are meeting their agreements/contracts, bills are paid on time, and ensuring that all promises to the community in terms of delivering on construction, hiring of staff, and/or changes to masjid operations are actually met and communicated to the community effectively.

6) Providing Direction

A good chairman/chairwoman would be able to provide direction to his/her board and community. One of the worst things for a chairman to do is to simply stick to the status quo of what previous chairmen/chairwomen have set in place. There is always room for improvement in operations and masjid board efficiency. A weak chairman/chairwoman will not provide direction and stagnate the growth of a masjid and its community. A good chairman/chairwoman will provide direction and also communicate that direction not just to his/her board members but the community as well.

7) Delegating Authority, Not Tasks

A good chairman/chairwoman delegates authority, not tasks. This means empowering your board members to make decisions based on their expertise and taking ownership over key focus areas and tasks. When a chairman/chairwoman empowers his/her board members with authority then tasks and assignments get accomplished in a much more organized and efficent manner. Micromanaging board members is by far the worst and least sustainable methods of running a board. Empowerment of board members creates leaders and allows boards to function much more effectively.

8) Keeping A Board Focused & On Track

It’s inevitable for a board to have diverse opinions and points of view and personalities, but a good chairman/chairwoman is able to create a balanced board that is able to avoid clashes, roadblocks and gridlock when it comes to decision-making. As a part of keeping a board focused and on track a good chairman/chairwoman would be able to resolve conflicts and clashes on views in a productive and amicable manner. The buck needs to stop somewhere and a chairman/chairwoman has to act as an arbitrator, referee or judge in order to keep a board running smoothly.

9) Ability to Build a Team

A good chairman/chairwoman is one who is able to build an environment and a feeling of team spirit on a board.  When a board fully feels like they have to have each others’ backs and be supportive of each other real change happens. When trust, respect and mutual love, compassion and empathy is built at a board level board members become far more effective in terms of performing at a higher level, having a higher morale, and the comfortability to provide innovative and unique ideas to improve the board and the community as a whole. A good chairman/chairwoman would be able to create this environment and team spirit for a board. This means understanding how to balance different personalities, temperaments, views and opinions in an amicable and productive manner while encouraging healthy dialogue, discussion and exchanges of ideas.

10) Manage Multiple Projects & Tasks

A chairman/chairwoman should be able to keep organized and manage multiple tasks. There are several project management tools available online to help keep one organized and on track. Investing in technology can save a masjid thousands of dollars and also take a masjid’s operations and the community to the next level far more quickly.

11) Be Accessible to the Community

Some chairmen/chairwomen are virtually impossible to contact or even get time to talk to. The lack of accessibility knowingly or unknowingly creates and fosters a feeling of mistrust between the community and the masjid board in general. When community members feel they can’t even get their voices heard by the community leader then their trust and confidence in the masjid board plummets. This is not to say that the chairman/chairwoman needs to entertain every request or concern, but be able to triage or delegate requests and/or concerns to the appropriate parties or resources within a masjid organizational structure.

 

The Importance of A Good, Well-Written Constitution & By-Laws

A good, well-written and easy-to-understand constitution and by-laws can assist a masjid board in ensuring that their operations run smoothly for years to come. Unfortunately, the common problem most masjids face is their constitutions are by-laws are not clear, or are not adhereed to by the masjid board or simply don’t meet the needs of the community and the masjid’s operations.The constitution and by-laws of a masjid should be revisited every 5 years to ensure that the documents makes sense and take into account the growth and changes your community undergoes.

If a constitution and by-laws are unclear to the masjid board and the community then it may be time to revisit your constitution and by-laws to ensure the documents are meeting the needs of your community. Revisiting and revising the two documents can help in ensuring that there are no loop-holes that could be abused potentially by board members and also improve transparency of the masjid board operations overall.

A masjid’ constitution and its by-laws should be easily accessible to community members who request the documents. Deliberately hiding the constitution and by-laws increases the community’s mistrust and decreases confidence in masjid boards. Thus, ensure your constitution and by-laws are easily accessible and readily available for review or revision.