I live in a community where nothing gets done – EXCEPT – every few years we have a big fight to see who will be the new King of the Masjid (who gets elected to the board).
A few years ago, I began conceptualizing some what-ifs. I knew this setup was wrong, didn’t know any solution. Initially I began thinking in terms of Unifying Principles, like Labor Unions have. Basically, a Constitution for the community, like that of Madina, or like the Bill of Rights. Leave-off the details – just enough rules to allow maximum involvement.
In 2011, Allah ta’ala gave me the opportunity to work about 6 months with the Occupy Wall Street movement. The whole time, I was asking myself “why can’t the Muslims see this?” There were these camps of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people springing up all over the globe. All were founded on basic unifying principles, all implemented a division of labor. They were spontaneous, organic, free-flowing, wide-open, and entirely self-sufficient communities. It was absolutely incredible. In one event, there was a crowd of over 5,000 people who came to a 100% unanimous decision to shut-down Brooklyn Bridge; watching the Assembly come to this decision was spine-tingling. They knew they would get beat-up and arrested. But that’s the power of COMMITMENT when you allow INVOLVEMENT !
Every few years, masajid have the “board battle”. Community members are dissatisfied because nothing is getting done. They start to bicker and make accusations, until everyone decides to have a board election. They boot the old members, bring in the new, and will repeat this cycle indefinitely. Why? It’s not the board members who are the problem: it’s the fact that you have a board. Here are the problems I see with the “Board” setup:
1) I can’t say it’s “against Islam”, because bureaucracies did eventually evolve after Rasulullah’s passing. S.A.W However, the actual Sunnah was to involve everyone in the community through Shura.
2) Board: who gets on? Some guy who WANTS to be chief honcho. That’s NOT Islam !
3) Board: breeds jealousy, rancor, and division.
4) Board: creates an irresponsible mindset within the community. Somehow, 5 guys sitting on the board are “responsible” to conduct all the hundreds of things that a successful community will require. Everyone else is supposed to sit and do nothing because WORK is “someone else’s responsibility”.
5) Board: creates/perpetuates the typical brain-death of the government hand-out society. Why do Muslims do so little? Because they’re USED to accepting whatever their government hands them, good or bad. America has become a brain-dead society as well – complain about the government, never do anything about it. Sheeple !
6) Board: slows and blocks progress. If you have the best idea in the world, you have to wait two weeks to meet one board member, 2 months to meet the entire board, and then they’ll reject your idea because it wasn’t their idea.
Islam begins with “La ilaha” (negation of all else), then is continued with “illa Allah” (bring in the reality). So, start your social order with “NO BOARD“(negation of the broken system), and continue with “Then what“? What’s left is:
- Human beings : not perfect, but capable
- Objectives : goals that are required to fulfill the needs of the human beings in our community, and the Higher Objectives of Islam
- Shared Responsibility : instead of 5 people responsible for 500, maybe you can actually get 100 people working for the 500. Improvement is GOOD !
- Shared Decision Making : instead of the grumbling 495 people who are left out of every decision, they finally get to be a part of it. If goes well, Alhamdulillah. If not, grumble at yourself [there’s NO BOARD now].
Benefits of the Social Revolution
- No more life-time positions to fight over
- No more false social hierarchy
- No more “we’ll do MY projects MY way”
- Increased community involvement
- Increased sense of commitment
- Increased sense of purpose for community members
- The beginnings of an entirely BETTER social order
- …and MORE, insha Allah
So, what’s the new structure ?
ta-da-dat-da-dat-da-daaa WORKING GROUPS !
I’ll draw a picture later to show the difference between a hierarchy and a flat organizational structure. But here’s the verbal description:
Begin with the basic needs of your organization:
- Financial Procurement and Management
- On-going education and information
- Youth Development
- Conflict Resolution
- Planning and Assessment
- The “Dance and Sing to Keep People Happy” need (we used to have drum-circles in Occupy)
Whatever other required functions YOU need. There are no rules here. Just identify the communal need, and take volunteers for that Working Group. Volunteers can join that group cause it interests them, cause they’re good at it, or just cause they want to be a warm body there. All are WELCOME !
Decision Making within the Working Group
In Occupy, we worked on Consensus. Some made a rule for 100% consensus before action was taken. You’d be amazed that anything ever got done, but it did. In Dallas, we selected 80%. Among Muslims, you have a MUCH BETTER OPTION ! Appoint someone to be the “Amir” or “Faisal”(decision-maker), and set a term-limit of ONE MONTH (or whatever works), or even just for that particular meeting. At the end of his term, he gathers everyone’s opinions, helps unite the hearts on his decision, and passes the heavy responsibility to someone he/she decides. If you want to know more about Shura – how it’s conducted, what it’s guiding principles are, what are its’ etiquettes – talk to a local Tableegh brother. They do it everyday.
Ideas that people have for implementation must be:
- Clearly thought-out, including the Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why of its implementation
- Clearly documented
- Discussed with others before group presentation to flesh-out the idea BEFORE presenting it for a group decision
- Everyone within the working group must receive a documented copy of the proposal several days or 1 week prior to the Shura in which it will be decided.
- During the Shura, the proposal is presented and discussed in a Shura manner. The proposal may be adopted by the Faisal, modified by the Group, Rejected, or be given a Deferment for whatever reason.
- Once the decision is made, the decision is handed over to Documentation to keep the record, and Communications to let everyone know.
- ONCE THE DECISION IS MADE, MUSLIMS ACCEPT THE DECISION WITH HUMBLENESS NOT GRUMBLENESS. This is EXTREMELY important. Allah ta’ala has made Shura a part of Deen. He has made Unity a part of Deen. He has made acceptance of decisions a part of Deen. He has the Results of the Decision ENTIRELY IN HIS HAND. Acceptance of the Results is a required part of Iman. Grumbling is disobedience, conspiring and back-biting are major sins, and blaming is tantamount to Kufr. This has to be talked about and reminded very often.
Decision Making Beyond the Individual Groups
This is when it gets interesting. When decisions are made for the entire community, we had what was called General Assembly. During the camps, we had a daily GA. After the camps were broken-up by the government, we had weekly GA. You determine the needs of your community/project.
Proposals are made using the same procedure as for the Working Groups. You also select a Faisal for the GA beforehand, and keep them rotating. Every few GA’s, select a new Faisal.
This is where the Masjid gets “managed”. Who do we bring as an Imam? The GA decides(although for that one, you may switch to Consensus instead of Faisal’s decision). Who pays the bills? The GA (whole community) pays the bills. Who does What, When, Where, and How – the GA decides.
There’s no reason a young person can’t be a part of this. They can either be a part of their own group, organizing their own activities and responsibilities, or if they want, they can join the adults for as much as they can tolerate. By their later teens, though, they really must be involved in this.
I did NOT say it’s easy !
I said it’s beneficial. Since we were children, we’ve always been told what to do by someone – parents, teacher, cop, tax-man, board. Accepting communal responsibility is big, but it’s rewarding. Learning the mechanics of this type of change is big, but it’s rewarding. Don’t expect that decision making is easier or more efficient – it isn’t. That’s not the objective. The objective is INVOLVEMENT, and that’s Sunnah. It builds commitment. The meetings are part of the job of shaping a new society. IT MUST BE DONE. Don’t go at it from the old world-view – “hurry up and gimme a decision, I gotta go”. That’s part of what needs to be laid to rest. This is about community, and it is an exercise in patience.
You should adopt an attitude of enjoyment, and make sure others are actually enjoying being a part of it. The initial burdens of actual brain activity and having to “deal with my fellow Muslim” should become normalized over time as community members adapt their habits and psychology.
It helps to look forward 1 year and imagine the potential for change. Then imagine another 10 years, when a generation of youth has been raised on this method ! They have an entirely different concept of themselves, responsibility, cooperation, and what functional society looks like. This is how community becomes the center of life ! This is how the entire concept of Dictator dies ! This is how things get done, insha Allah.
If you have a new community, a new masjid, a predominately young community, or a predominately Western community, you should start doing things this way. Don’t ever have that first board election ! If you’re in an existing community with a board, then simply use this method/structure for your smaller projects. Once the concept and application takes root, and the culture is changed, you can implement it full-scale, insha Allah.
If you need help:
I haven’t laid out all the details. You discover most of the details as you begin this change. But if you have questions, or your own input, let me know.