FED UP with Islamic Organisations

You think the Corporate World is exploitative, judgemental, and egotistical? Try Islamic Organisations.

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HOL’ UP?! No he didn’t just say that… Err yes I did. Oxymoronic right? Juxtaposing the stereotypical corporate tendency to suck every piece of goodness from you and applying that to an Islamic organisational context. Yet this is reality, I know this because  my whole family throughout their lives have worked building the Islamic global and local community. Although Islamic organisations play a role in society, I think ultimately we need to start thinking about khidmah differently.

I was born into a family environment that was ‘plugged in’ to anything Islamic.  On a day-to-day basis for the last twenty or so years I grew up calling some of the Muslim world’s most revered and respected scholars, activists and artists my uncles and aunts. They were at my birthdays, they helped me with essays and some… changed my nappies. Interestingly, I’ve been in a great position to sit, watch and listen as countless Islamic organisations walk in and out of our door. Sit, watch and listen backstage as event organisers do their thing. Sit, watch and listen as the scholars talk away from the crowds and cameras. I’ve seen the harsh reality behind the glitz and glamour of our ‘celebrity scholar’ environment. And it isn’t what you think it is. Ultimately friends, my diagnosis is that there are three types of people in Islamic Organisations that need addressing:

The ‘Big Dog’ Event Organiser – You know who this guy is, you’ve all seen him. There is one of these in every city across the world. The ‘big’ shot with a blackberry in one hand and his perfectly placed tasbih on the other. The Massimo Dutti wearing maverick BUT donning a Tarimi scarf to add a bit of Sufi to his swagger. The ‘I’m-talking-to-you-but-looking-elsewhere-to-see-if-there-is-anyone-else-more-important-I-could-be-socializing-with’ kinda guy. The namedropper, “oh I was with Sheikh x the other day and we were discus—“ BLA BLA BLA. The wife seeker! The guy who loves being ‘the guy to know’, who loves taking charge of a situation/event that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with him. But, loves the attention. The authority gives him relevancy… relevancy gives him security. But it’s his clinging to the celebrity lifestyle that consumes him; he loses sight of the Islamic morals he fights for. Then it gets good to him… He starts to think ‘why am I working for an organisation when I could just… set up my own? Then I’ll be the real big dog…”. Fast-forward and you have what I like to call these shotgun organisations that organise an event or two and then whither away into nothingness due to this ‘top dog’ overestimating his own abilities.

This is where I think our generation has failed. We’re not as dynamic, legit and passionate as our elders were. Whereas the previous generation, what Ziauddin Sardar calls a ‘transition generation’, were united under their assimilation struggle and finding their place in western society we are not. Their hard work has enabled us, the new generation, to wallow in our own comfort. Now, any contemporary community work is to feed egos first and community second. The goodness has been sapped out of it.

The Mureeds – Ok, these pious gangsters are an enigma. I love you. But some things need to be said. When did being part of a tariqah turn into some cool clique no one told me about? It’s like some sick ‘Mean Girls’ high school drama that makes you feel left out if you’re not part of the movement. You feel like a gimp when you sit in and they’re reminiscing amongst themselves “Remember that one time, at Sufi camp…”. ALAS, they traipse into the place with their  flowy thobe, skull cap and shampoo’d glossy beard. Looking like a Shukr Clothing Store catalogue. Yeah they be looking fly! But tassawuf is in the heart brah! Not the cloth.

When did scholars become owned by these guys too? This is a major problem and I see it worldwide. Our scholars are being monopolized by the same group of people instead of exposing them to new environments where there is a greater need. The organisational formula with regards to our scholars is samey and monotonous, it’s the same mureeds, same venues and same mawlids. Our mistake is thinking that this inertia is coming from the scholars themselves, but speak to any one of them and they will tell you they hate it all the same. We need to be more strategic about how we engage with our communities and even non-muslims, inclusive as supposed to exclusive. We’re not in high school.

That being said at times it feels like we are. Like any cut-throat environment it’s all about ‘who you know’. You get access to the Sheikh if you happen to know Faraz, who knows Rashid who’s actually a second cousin of Ahmed who went to Tarim with Yahya who was a roommate of Faisal that bought a camel off Abdallah. But oh hold the phone, if you’re not part of the ‘in’ crowd… I’m afraid you’ll have to sit there and wait outside the room with the ‘normal’ people. Ewww, the normal people. Ok slight exaggeration and I know that’s not exactly what they’re thinking but nonetheless that’s how the rejected person feels like. Like any group he’s been excluded from, it’s all the same.

But donning a thobe and wearing a turban doesn’t make you pious my brotherrrrrr. Adaab does. Isn’t that the first thing we learn? Like turning up in numbers to a post-event dinner uninvited, be it a house or a restaurant. It has to stop. It puts people in difficult situations. Either an organisation is paying a bill it cannot afford, or someones house is unfairly overrun with people. While this takes place  the countless volunteers and the helpers (unpaid, of course) who are the logistical backbone of the event are back at the venue hall cleaning up our kebabish takeaway bags. What about their dinner? What about their time with the scholars? So now one man is picking up a tab for £500, which could have been spent on a plane ticket to bring another scholar to benefit from. Which could have been spent paying for the travel stipends for our well-deserved volunteers. Yet, it is examples like this that show the vast chasm that lies between knowledge and hikmah.

The Scholars – Our leaders, the bastions of morality and knowledge. The people we look up to guide us through the tumultuous times. Our leaders are indeed invaluable but let me just say it plain and clear, they’re just men/women. They make mistakes. Lapses in judgement. Distasteful comments. This is where the heartbreak is, whereas majority of people leave an event and go home feeling inspired, I’ve seen life as it continues backstage and felt the heartbreak in witnessing that the same leaders are making the same mistakes we all do.

It isn’t pious men conducting their inter-organisational relationships with lutf (kindness), akhlaaq (morality) and responsibility. It’s a cut throat dog eat dog world all clambering for a piece of the accolade pie. This corporate-esque environment pitting Islamic organisations against each other is forcing our scholars and leaders to conduct themselves in a way that contradicts all their on-stage teachings. What use is it then? I couldn’t help but ask myself as a youngster, if the organisations that are promoting prophetic character, ihsaan and adaab are not themselves practising it behind the scenes, what is the point advertising it on stage?

I read somewhere ‘Never meet your heroes’. At that age it was meaningless. Yet, over the last few years it makes complete sense and shattered my childish admiration for people I held in such high regards. But, whose fault is that? It’s no ones but my own. I myself raised them to that faultless pedigree in my selfish pursuit of an authoritative figure to provide my life with guidance and support. Yet, I ignored their intrinsic humanity and thus fallibility. Now I’m older, a little less naïve but I love them nonetheless. Why? Because now I love them for their flaws, and observing how they battle themselves against it. The late Sheikh Ramadan Al-Bhutti (Allah have mercy on him) said he doesn’t let people kiss his hand, when asked why he replied with a trembling voice “They don’t know what resides in my nufs”, tears pouring down his face, “when they all crowd to kiss my hand every attempt to do so is a constant reminder of my deficiencies as a human being”. That kind of character is worth admiring.

So… next time you go to that Islamic event organised by a seemingly innocent Islamic organisation, know that it’s not all at pious, polite and cordial. It is in fact backbiting, two-faced and exploitative as our organisations seek to get one up on each other. As I’ve said, I believe it be the cause of ego, cults and poor leadership. But don’t confuse my comments to be a criticism on them as people, because that would be wrong. I genuinely believe they all have incredible intentions and are very good people; the problem is they are all fighting for the same funding, same scholars, same topics and same audience. Thus, like any capitalistic product market the competitive economic environment is causing our leaders to play the capitalist game. An organisation cannot operate with integrity towards other organisations when they have salaries of their own to pay. Ultimately, it boils down to economics first and ideals second.

So my conclusion is that Islamic organisations are dead, alive in the sense they are everywhere, but dead morally. Organisations are too vulnerable financially and socially. My question to you then, is how about we start thinking about doing things different? Wrestle ourselves away from Islamic organisation structure and start thinking about khidmah differently.

I don’t want to go to another event that regurgitates hadith and sunnah without seeing it implemented and practised in the wider community. We need follow through, a community that doesn’t just listen but acts. I want to see and feel Islam, not just hear it from someone on a stage…

Who knows? Inshallah khair. We have some ideas… But people make ideas happen. So as Steve Jobs puts it:

“Calling all the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do”.

Where are ya’ll? Let’s make it happen.

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21 thoughts on “FED UP with Islamic Organisations

  1. No different from working in the corporate world. All ego! And mainly men patting themselves on the backs.
    We need to step back as Muslim community and touch base with our core beliefs. Forget all the big platform talks with streaming camera- the same lectures said over and over again, each scholar trying to out do the other (by either shouting the loudest or plucking out obscure examples to frighten us). Lets see Islam in action.
    The scholar should work with a group of Muslims in the community to set up a scheme which are based on the principles his particular talk e.g. ‘ helping addicts’ or ‘deprived children’. You can talk until the chickens come home to roost but a simple practical example is all that’s needed. Record it and post online for others to follow as a template and then move on to the next community problem. Every year return to the community for a follow up and to address any issues, use this as a chance to teach through troubleshooting and working in small task forces. Record again the exchanges and post on line for others to follow suite i.e lessons learnt. It is much better than the current scenario of having halls filled with people sat around talking and watching others talk about being ‘Muslim’ ! Islam is action. Get up and work, there is lots to do and many ways the scholars good help iron out issues in the community by advising correctly . We should learn from the Christians, they are fantastic at helping others and organising relief work in prisons, hostels, or for addicts and poor people.

    Tired of the talks, conferences and large retreats in 5 start hotels !

    • Salaams,
      Nice piece, interesting thoughts and observations. You seem to be fortunate to have witnessed and been at the forefront of Islamic/scholarly influence; however my observation is that you missed the crux of the problem that you are wanting to fix, “the Islamic organization structure”. The issue, in my view is that those that are part of management committees are there by default not because they have the right skills to be there leading that project or service. Those individuals may be passionate about the topic or service but may not be the right person. The leadership is “morally dead” which has a knock on effect on the organization.
      In the corporate world the leadership is selected for their potential and if not successful replaced. This doesn’t happen in Islamic organizations.
      You mentioned Khidmah- “service”-
      Clearly with a facebook and twitter page is “thehonestypolicy786” going to be the next new organisation, what is your position going to be on there, CEO. I would urge you and implore you, if you want to improve and build on the work of those you admired and those who changed your nappies. Look at your skills and see what position you could take, then build a team of people who will challenge you and make you better. That would be the first step to khidmah. Have integrity and morals, set benchmarks learn and develop. Being the CEO is not an entitlement it is a privilege to lead others. Being part of a “management committee” is a responsibility and not a VIP pass to events and functions.
      Or are you just sowing the seeds to feed your ego. Your are clearly in your twenties, maybe it is your ego creeping in and now you want to be the big shot, massimo dutti, blackberry carrying, shawl wearing, name dropping wife seeker.

      “God praises those who do good acts in order to benefit their fellow creatures,”

    • Layla this is fantastic! Can I follow you or be your friend on facebook? Haha. But this is the exact kind of thinking we want to propagate. Thank you for these words.

  2. I am an old cynic but this blog is giving me some hope in the young generation. Layla – fully agree with you!

  3. This is the world we live in!! And i don’t think Islamic organisations in the West are going to change their ways any time soon – there’s no (capital) impetus to do so and, sadly, appeals to morality and adab are rarely effective in the long run with such organisations.
    ‘Mainly men patting themselves on the back…..’ – predictably, there’s always a miserable feminist who has to have the last word on how evil men are.

    • Thank you for your insight comment. But I do think we can change it. I wouldn’t have written this otherwise. Ultimately, it’s whether the community itself is ready fo change, and whether or not it can put its money where its mouth is. We have some ideas, but they’re only a step in the right direction. We’ll see inshallah.

    • Dear Mr. Ali,
      Combine power, men and religion and you get this lethal concoction that drives the celebrity Islam we have today.You should be happy when a ‘sister’ calls you out on it or anyone for that matter!

      Perhaps, it’s the years of having the Mosque door slammed in my face that has turned me into a ‘miserable feminist’…and undoubtedly turned you into a male chauvinist for reducing my comments down to my gender.

    • Are you kidding me? With men leading Islamic and non-Islamic societies, our colourful history of abuse of women for our own status, rape, and other forms of exploitation, you are seriously trying to fault this group for calling out men for the violence we’re responsible for? Saying that that statement is from a “miserable feminist” sounds a lot like Israeli/Western attempts to de-legitimize efforts to address the power asymmetry between Palestinians and Israelis by labelling anyone antisemetic who criticizes Israel. In the same way that many Westerners/Israelis have trouble seeing truth, most of us men have absolutely no clue the level of violence men have brought to women historically and the way in which men today continue to benefit from this power imbalance, including the “men patting themselves on the back” referenced in this article. A man need not directly engage in rape, physical abuse and slavery of women in order to continue benefiting from this horrible legacy. Please check your privilege my brother.
      -A “miserable feminist” (and damn proud to be one)

  4. Someone who actually put it out there for the world to see!!!
    Loved every bit of this article. Brilliant, engaging, honest and in-your-face. As it should be.
    Its not just Islamic org. Its Islamic anything that suffers from this. Look at Tariqah groups. You go. Do Zikir. Gossip. Eat. Sleep. Repeat every week.
    The problem isnt Islam. Or Tariqahs. The root of the entire problem is you. And me. And everyone of us who calls ourselves Muslim.

    To succeed in both worlds – we need two wings. One for Niyyah and the other for A3mal.
    Intention and Action.

    Back then – people flapped both wings in the same direction with equal effort. They set the right intentions and stay true to it. And every action they did – affirmed the intentions and brought it to a different level. So they soared. And flew . And reached amazing heights.

    Such were their success that we benefit from those muslims now even though they have passed on.

    But now – yea have 2 wings alright. Though our intentions may be right and flapping .. the wing of the a3mal is barely moving in the right direction. You’re lucky if its moving at all!!

    That leaves you with a whole community of flappers not even off the ground since we are all over each other.

    If our generation dont start uniting and moving forward together – the next generation has nothing to begin with. Worse still, if they have to clean up after our mess.

    Let’s collaborate and really do something. Bi izdnillah.

  5. Noor Mastura Salams. Just wanted to add that it wasn’t perfect in previous generations either. If it was we wouldn’t the issues we face today. But I like your point: “To succeed in both worlds – we need two wings. One for Niyyah and the other for Amal. Intention and Action.”

  6. Dominos Pizza has a better call to action than these organizations you speak of.

    Be like me and give up…
    These are the times…

    Nothing better than a tactical retreat: learn basic fiqh and then wait for trumpets to sound..

    • There are little things we can do – small actions we can take .. to make a difference.
      You dont need a full fledge organisation to make a difference.

      A time will come when fear and cowardice will overtake men. But this is not the day.
      😉

      Check out the following initiative for things you CAN do without an org.

      You just need intention – and action, serving the same purpose.

      http://www.facebook.com/SERVEice

  7. Salaams. Many of us have spoken about this issue for for years. I really wished the author would have spoken about how many of these organizations only go places that already have high visibility. Talking about feeding starving kids and setting up water systems and the like….bravo for the work, but there are places that are not “popular” that need the help. There are places in Latin America begging for materials from “Traditional”, Classical works and want “traditional” Scholars of Ahul Sunna to come to help them learn, but because they lack the money to pay for the books or cannot give an honorarium to the Scholar they get over looked or its because there is only a few Muslims and not enough to actually be bothered with.

    There are many people that have come to remote places to develop the Muslim communities with little to no financial assistance. They have left their repective countries for the sake of dawah. Many are not asking for much more than more manpower, but money is what it always comes down to and the people there are poor and cannot always do put anything into the pot to help things grow in the masjid or the greater community. Life is hard, and things go ignored, and the “Islamic” Orgs are too self absorbed to see whats going on out here and what are the needs of the people. They make a lot of promises but never come through for many.

    Lastly, People love lectures and hate to read, let alone take a class and do not like to have to work or fight themselves for change inwardly. Outwardly is easier and so ther people are external beings and as long as it remains that way then not much is going to change.

  8. I’m so agreed to this. Sharing in my fb now.

    “Our communities suffer from an unhealthy competition, viewing another’s failure as our own success. We should all hope and pray for the success of any activity that is good in nature and beneficial to the aims and purposes of sacred law. Islamic work through diverse organisation should never be the basis
    for negating the bonds brotherhood and sisterhood established between us by Islam. When that happens, we are no longer doing Islamic work but engaged in Politics.” – Shyakh Hamza Yusuf & Imam Zaid Shakir (Agenda to Change OUR Condition)

  9. Jazakallahu Khairan for this article. You raise many valid points which are currently being brushed under the carpet by Muslim Organisations, namely charities and dawah orgs. The bigger question here is about responsibility, trust and accountability which are all being abused by those whom the Muslim community has entrusted with their donations.

    I have worked with Islamic orgs in the UK and abroad for over 6 years and found that once you scratch under the surface of the bright lights of promises of ‘changing people’s lives’, you inevitabley end up in the ‘we need to make enough money to keep going’ ethos, which totally destroys the initial good will.

    Many of the charities in the UK operate like this which keep producing new campaigns (or at times creating ’causes’) that will yield them funds and opportunities to fundraise. They then fly in the big names (“sheikhs” who can sell tickets) to run events around the country in masjids or hired halls to fully commercialise the event by selling tickets and running fundraisers.

    You get the gist of what I’m saying. Transparency is never there though they claim it to be (anyone can cook Charity commission forms and reports!) and they always say look at our CC report online. We’ll the CC report doesn’t break it all down!

    I have seen many people in these Islamic orgs taking home pay packets that Fat Cats in the City would be proud of. And for what?!

    Today you can’t touch anything ‘Islamic’ without it coming for a price. I fear for the day you need to get a pre-paid card to enter the masjid for your salah…

  10. Salaam to all,

    Excellent piece ! it was a pleasure reading it thanks a lot for highighting this issue.
    I totally resonated with your article because lately personally I am beyond fed up with islamic organisations and soon they wil make me despise anything “islamic” 😦

    Honestly, I think there is a serious problem with the current paradigms in our communities these days, so much so that the brightest muslim minds are leaving the islamic organisations and even their communities and the deen itself! I am actually part of a group of friends who cannot relate anymore to our communities because of the low level of consciousness we encounter in our masajiids, seminars, conferences, circles or any type of congregational event, gathering or organisation. It is sooooo sad to witness the judgemental, bottled-up and obscanturist atmosphere that reigns supreme in these institutions nowadays, that we tend to stay away from there: as a result of this sad situation, 2 of my closest friends are now agnostics and others are rethinking their ‘belonging’ to muslim communities. Personnally, I am still a muslim but I just do not and CANNOT relate to most of my fellow muslims and their institutions anymore, period!

    I am particularly disgusted of how the intellectual community is persecuted and anything rational ( and displaying critical thinking) is dismissed as westernized / colonized thinking instead of just acknowledging the differences of thought and sensibilities in people. Why are muslim rationalists, philosophers and intellectuals in general treated as some kind of paria sect to avoid at all cost??? Seriously I feel like we are living in the Dark Ages , so much ignorance, close-mindedness and dogmatism 😦
    The only reason why I am still a muslim to this day is because of the Truth that stlll shines, (however dimly )at the core of the teachings of the Quran, and the undeniable truthful master that the Prophet of Islam was, peace and blessings be upon him.

    So yes I am ( beyond) fed up with so-called islamic orgs and communities.. cannot wait for the winds of change that are now blowing to upgrade the level in our communities, because we are suffocating as things are right now!

  11. Yeah it is quite shocking for our generation when you start to realize that you have your own eyes and ears and intellect to comprehend with, that visiting the very core of what the deen is essentially, that something has gone horribly wrong.

    The level dislocation from the time were living in and the romanticism that has washed the faces of our community leaders with inebriated tag words to keep the engines of a broken world turning, have seriously undermined the very future of our community. And that is by undermining the youth.

    But nevertheless, Allah has created all of life , And LIFE is determined to stick it right up the jackson. Forever pushing forward. You cant tell a baby not to come out of its mother, tell it go back in, wait it out for 6 months more and then come out. You Cant! Its all happening and its all happening now!!!

    Thank you Honesty Policy! you have my full support

  12. Haha, I liked this a lot. More of this please. Spot on about the Big Dog Organiser and the Mureed Inc. Having met a lot of these people supposedly close to the scholars, was surprised to see how unremarkable people they actually were, often quite awful in the case with some Mureeds.
    I think you let the scholars off a tad lightly though. You gave an excellent example of the late Shaykh Ramadan al-Bouti, that was a leader worth following. No doubt the scholars we know and love in the West did incredible work in the past. But they are largely irrelevant now, even the superstar scholars, except to their starstruck fans of course.

  13. Hello,

    Please can you call 08448814523 so we can ask you for permission to use your Happy video on ITV New’s website?

    Thank you

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