Tag: Community Development

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.

The Importance of Masjid Board Diversity

Masjid boards commonly (knowingly or unknowingly) are filled with board members of the same ethnic or racial background and typically have the same age board members. More often than not some also lack female representation. Masjid boards with a lack of diversity typically have the most trouble or problems relating to the needs of their community and building trust with the communities and masjids they serve.

Masjid board diversity in both age, ethnicity and gender is extremely important to ensure that all demographics in the community are being served. When either an ethnic or age gap between the board and a community occurs services, programs, and events typically miss out on significant demographics of the community. Typically what happens when a board has one ethnic or cultural group on it is that they only serve their ethnic/cultural group in terms of programs, events and services. This is not to say that a dominant culture or ethnic group at a masjid is a bad thing. A diverse masjid board has a much better pulse of the needs of the community than a masjid board that is dominated by one ethnic or cultural group. Many of our masjids are 2nd or 3rd generation Muslims who if not given a space, voice or opportunity at the masjid will eventually stop attending the masjid altogether.

Thus, a masjid board should work to reflect the diversity within its community and focus on having diversity in age, gender, culture, and ethnicity on the board.  To ensure this actually happens masjid boards should write this rule into the constitution and by-laws of the masjid. The Muslim American community is by far one of the most diverse in the US and it becomes incumbent upon masjids to ensure their masjid boards reflect the change in our demographics in our communities. If we don’t we risk losing out on building masjids and building communities that serve the needs of all demographics.

Understanding Your Community

In order to serve your community effectively it’s important to understand what your community’s demographics are. This includes knowing your community’s ages, marital statuses, family sizes, ethnicities, races, and even educational levels. If a masjid board or leadership only caters to one demographic over another it alienates and discourages other demographics from even attending. An example of this is if a masjid decides to only have Urdu halaqas for the Indian and Pakistani demographic of the community or this may include having khutbahs (sermons) only in Arabic.

Likewise if programs, classes and events are only geared towards families over youth or single un-married Muslims, new Muslims and university students then it creates an unwelcoming environment for 90% of your community. Thus, it becomes an extremely important task by the masjid board and leadership to ensure that its programs, events, classes and overall services are catering to as many demographics as possible without neglecting or alienating any particular demographic. This process won’t be a perfect one, but an intentional and strategic effort needs to be made.

One thing masjids need to avoid is having one predominant culture or ethnic group take over the way a masjid is run and what type of programs, classes and events are conducted in your masjid. Many times we may see masjids that are strictly one ethnicity or culture in the way they operate the masjid. This may for some masjids be an achille’s heal to creating a diverse, warm, welcoming and inclusive environment for Muslims of other ethnicities. Unfortunately for most masjids they lack a warm and welcoming environment when the congregants are composed of one culture or ethnicity.

While it’s ok to cater to a community’s ethnic or cultural group that may make up a majority of your community it’s important to also remind the larger ethnic/cultural group to be inclusive of other groups. Just as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) paired the Ansaar and Muhajir together we must do the same with the various diverse ethnic and cultural groups we have in our communities to encourage cooperation and appreciation or different groups in your community.

Masjid boards and leadership should create surveys to understand who their community is and tailor their programs, services and events around those demographics to truly be an effective, warm, inclusive, and professional masjid. Not only will this show that the masjid board and leadership cares about its community but will build up the community’s confidence and trust with the masjid board and leadership. It will also show that the masjid board and leadership truly cares for the well-being of the community rather than simply sticking to the normal status quo. When deliberate and strategic steps are taken to ensure all demographics are taken care of it’ll help sustain and grow your community.

14 Questions We Need to Ask Before Building a Masjid

Many times we get eager and excited to build a masjid. We get excited when the cement foundation is placed and see the walls go up and the roof and get super excited when the masjid is complete. However, prior to even building a masjid the community and the masjid board needs to ask itself a couple of tough questions which if asked prior to the first brick being laid down will help the masjid prosper longer and grow much faster.

1) Why Are we Building a Masjid?

To some this is probably a simple or unnecessary question, but at a very fundamental level it will help keep the community and the masjid board focused for many years to come. It also helps orient the intentions of the community and masjid board to be for the sake of Allah instead of for egos or recognition. A part of this step would be to develop a mission and vision statement for the masjid. These two statements will help the masjid keep focused in achieving its goals.

2)  Are Our Constitution and By-Laws Solid?

Having a strong and clear constitution along with by-laws that are clear and easy to understand can help avoid several problems in the near future for your masjid. Some (if not all) masjids have some pretty awful constitutions and by-laws that are extremely narrow-sighted and short-sighted and limit the ability for the community to grow, function or operate properly.

A well-written constitution and by-laws will take into account the expansion and growth of the masjid and truly understand how to operate the masjid efficiently and effectively. A strong constitution and by-laws are the foundation on which a masjid is built. If the foundation is faulty the operations and execution of services and programs will suffer immensely over time and the masjid will never truly be able to realize its full potential.

 3) Can the Community Afford the Masjid?

Building a masjid is obviously a major expense for the entire community. It’s not easy to gain the funds necessary to build a masjid. Thus, it’s important to see if the community is able to afford the intiail costs of building a masjid.

4) What Facilities in the Masjid are Critical for its Operations?

Sometimes in our efforts to build a masjid we build huge beautiful structures and facilities, but often build masjids that don’t necessarily meet the needs of the community. Building a musallah (prayer area) is an obvious feature of a masjid, but our communities with the way they are developing need a lot more than a simple musallah. We need gyms, babysitting rooms, meeting rooms, conference rooms, classrooms, and other facilities critical to the operations of a functioning masjid.

Thus, it becomes important prior to laying the first brick to know the needs of the community and meet those needs while keeping in mind future expansion and growth of your community.

5) Are We Leaving Space for the Masjid Facility to Expand?

Many masjids make the mistake of not leaving enough space land-wise to expand their facility or plan for their community to grow. Thus, in the blueprints or planning of the masjid facility it’s important to plan for the future growth and expansion of your masjid and community. In 5-10 years your community may grow, but will the infrastructure of your masjid grow with it? If not, then you need to begin planning how to accommodate the needs of the community as it grows.

6) How Will the Masjid Operational Costs be Maintained?

Many masjids make the mistake of building huge facilities which the community can more often than not afford to maintain. It’s embarrassing to see masjid fundraisers year after year begging the community to donate or the masjid operations will grind to a halt. Begging year after year for masjid operational costs isn’t just embarrassing and unsustainable, but makes the community lose its confidence in the masjid board and leadership to make smart financial decisions for the community and also make community members question how the donations and funds are being allocated and spent.

7) What is the Long Term Financial Sustainability Plan for the Masjid?

This brings us to the next question: how do you plan to financially sustain the masjid? Masjids in this day and age should not be operating on a fundraising model of depending on donations from the community. There needs to be long-term planning where masjid funds are being spent or invested in opportunities to generate revenue for the masjid operations and expenses. This may include but not be limited to investing in buying rental or commercial properties that can be rented out to gain revenue for the masjid or building an endowment which funds  masjid operations and expenses. Continuously begging and demanding funds from one’s community builds donor fatigue and frustration long-term when the donors don’t see progress.

8) What is the Community Demographic the Masjid will be Serving?

Knowing your community demographics is so important not just in helping you understand what facilities to have in your masjid but also help you develop programs and services that meet the needs of your community. It makes no sense to build a gym when the majority of your community is elderly Muslims in their 60’s or 70’s. Likewise it makes no sense to create programs and services targeting families when the majority of your congregation and community is high school or university students.

Understanding and knowing your community demographics and their needs is critical to building a masjid that is effective in meeting the needs of the community. Conduct surveys or studies on your community to simply understand who you are serving and what their needs are. Getting community input and feedback is critical to becoming an effective masjid. Demographic studies should be conducted every two years to keep pulse about how your community is growing or changing.

9) What will the Role of the Masjid Be?

Masjids have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Every masjid should identify its strengths and play towards it. Strengths may include location of the masjid or certain resources within your community you could use. For example, if your masjid is located in the middle of a city —perhaps your operations, programs and services may need to be different than one located in the suburbs. As for internal resources in your community perhaps you have a lot of doctors who may be able to provide a free healthcare clinic in your city/community.

10) What Services and Programs Will You Provide and How?

The basic obvious services a masjid needs to provide are: prayer, marriage services, zakat collection and distribution, Islamic classes, and funeral services. Beyond this the masjid leadership and community need to figure out what services or programs are needed to serve the community. This would require a survey to be conducted to figure out what the community needs.

11) What is the 5 Year Plan for the Masjid?

A 5 year plan for your masjid can assist and give you a roadmap of where you want your masjid and community to be. Simply keeping a status quo for 10-20+ years makes your community members lose faith and confidence in the masjid board’s ability to make decisions for the betterment and growth of the masjid and community.

12) What are Critical Staff (And Skills) Are Needed to Run the Masjid?

Many masjids simply think an imam is the only position truly needed full time to be a masjid employee, but honestly if we truly understood the needs of the community we would realize that masjids need upwards of 10-15 full-time employees to fully function and be effective. Simply having one imam at a masjid expecting  them to do everything from the adhaan (call to prayer), khutbahs (sermons ), cleaning and maintaining the masjid, conducting classes, and other responsibilities is simply not fair to the imam nor is it sustainable or effective.

There are so many critical services that masjids need to provide. We need to understand the needs of the local communities in which our masjids are built to provide critical services. Full-time staff with the necessary skills need to be hired who are given good salaries, benefits, and incentives to perform at a high-level and truly work towards meeting the needs of the community. High turnover can kill the progress of a masjid’s operations—thus hiring the right employees/staff is important and keeping them happy is critical to keeping operations smooth and consistent.

13) How do we Plan to Build a Community?

This is probably one of the most important of the questions in this list. We can build a beautiful masjid, but having the masjid empty 90% of the year except for Ramadan and jummahs then what’s the purpose of building the masjid in the first place? Our goal should be to have the masjid that is busy with programs and events throughout the week. There should be proactive efforts to build a community  that is inclusive, warm, welcoming and compassionate to all Muslims.
We may invest in beautiful masjid architecture, but do we invest in our communities? Do we invest in full-time staff to help build communities? Do we invest in full-time staff to connect the hearts of the Muslims to the masjid or do we feel that building beautiful masjids with soft carpets and expensive chandeliers are sufficient for our community?

14) Who are Our Neighbors and How Can we Work with Them?

While it’s important to build a community from within it’s also to understand the community that surrounds your masjid as well. If your masjid exists and is built and none of your neighbors know you exist then that’s problematic. Muslims should be known as community-changers and beneficial citizens to the communities in which they live. Your neighbors close to your masjid should be proud and happy that a masjid is being built in their vicinity because they know tha masjids are great resources that produce Muslims who contribute to the communities in which they live.