management

One Big Reason That Islamic Work is Stressful

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There are different kinds of stress when it comes to Islamic work. One kind is good, but exhausting. It is the sheer excitement of working on a project you feel passionate about. It keeps you up at night, it's all you can think about during the day, and all you can focus on is getting it done. That's stressful, but it usually brings about a positive result. There's another kind of stress we deal with that's not quite so happy. It's the type that completely demoralizes you. it is the kind that makes you question why you ever got involved in the first place.

Phil Cooke writes:

Stress happens because our lives are out of sync with what we’re doing for a living. That’s when trade-offs and sacrifices seem the most acute, because our job seems so unmoored from who we are and what we’re born to accomplish with our lives. But when we find that over-arching purpose, the jobs we express that purpose through suddenly have meaning. They don’t seem disconnected from our lives – in fact, we often see our lives reflected through that very work.

That’s why great athletes, entrepreneurs, leaders, artists, and innovators don’t see it as a conflict between “work” and “life,” because it’s all a single expression of someone who has discovered their ultimate purpose.

Islamic work, by definition, involves numerous trade-offs. We sacrifice time that could be spent working, with our families, pursuing hobbies, entertaining ourselves, investing in ourselves, or simply resting.

The negative stress usually results from becoming disconnected with the true purpose of the work.

A volunteer might join an organization that helps provide educational programs. This is a mission they can identify with and are passionate about. But if all their efforts become limited to simply collecting tuitions and chasing payments, they will easily lose sight of the bigger purpose. This is because they no longer see their contribution as actually being directly linked to the initial purpose that attracted them to the organization. Instead of feeling like someone who is facilitating learning for others, they feel like a bill collector. This is where burnout creeps in, and volunteer turnover begins.

Another issue at play here is having a holistic life view when it comes to Islamic work. A person cannot have spent their entire life keeping their children from the masjid, keeping their children from "being religious," staying away from any kind of Islamic class at the masjid - and at the same time serve on the masjid board and take decision making responsibilities for the community's spiritual well-being onto their shoulders. This work they are seeking is diametrically opposed to the reality of their personal life.

This is not only a violation of trust to the community, but it will bring harm to them.

All good efforts will require trade-offs and cause stress. Make sure that you are working for a better purpose for the right reasons. Make sure that what you are working on reflects the rest of your life and the sacrifices will be easier to make.

Leading Volunteers: Unity and Gossip

It goes without saying that most Islamic organizations suffer from a lack of unity.

There are 3 main causes of disunity within Islamic organizations:

  1. Poor Communication
  2. Gossip (highlighted due to its prevalence in our communities)
  3. Lack of a Shared Purpose [Video: Role of the Masjid]

Communication is an easy indicator of unity. When people don't know what's going on, strife will set in.

The lack of communication creates an environment that nurtures gossip. People are not involved because of a paycheck or something else that ties them down. When they don't feel part of the process, they will talk. Unresolved disagreements also play a role. When leadership is unaware of disagreements, or leadership tries to simply avoid confrontation, then there is a communication breakdown. Gossip then usually becomes the outlet by which people release that pressure and frustration.

This does not mean that frustration is a bad thing - actually, it shows that people care. But there is a line between frustration and gossip. Confrontation can (and should) be dealt with quickly. Wounds can be patched up and people can make up and move forward on a unified front.

Gossip occurs when a negative issue is discussed with someone who cannot help solve the problem. It is, hands down, one of the most destructive things that any organization or community can face. For example, a board member should not be raising complaints about the imam with the masjid treasurer.

Anas related that the Prophet (saw) said, "Do you know what calumny is? .. [It is] conveying the words of some people to others in order to create mischief between them. [Adab al-Mufrad]

Unity can never be achieved when people speak ill of each other. It creates negative feelings in the heart, and an environment of distrust and animosity. When teammates in sports fight with each other, it makes it difficult for them to perform well together on the field. Gossip in an Islamic organization is the same principle, but with much worse consequences.

We should seriously consider implementing decisive consequences for gossip. How quickly would our organizations change if there was immediate termination for gossip? Board member found gossiping about the masjid president? Immediately kicked out.

It's true, you will lose volunteers that are hard to find in the first place - but I would contend that losing a volunteer is better than having a volunteer that spreads something as destructive as gossip.

A team must be cohesive. They must share a purpose, and have the autonomy (and dignity) to do their work. In football, when the ball is snapped, all 11 people on the team know exactly what they need to be doing. Every receiver knows which route to run. Every lineman knows who to block and in which direction. They don't even need to talk to each other, they know what to do. Even when the play breaks down, and something unexpected happens, it does not shake them. A lineman, whose only duty is to block, may suddenly recover a fumble and be in possession of the ball. He has never gotten the ball in a game before, but because the team shares the same purpose (move the ball down the field), he knows to start running the other way. His teammates know that they need to run and block for him.

In the above example, the unexpected happened. Someone ended up being forced into something they're not used to. Did they need to hold a board meeting to figure out what to do? Did they need to call time out and exchange 25 emails to develop  a new policy and procedure for what happens when the lineman is forced to recover a fumble? Did they stop and have a fight and yell at the guy who fumbled the ball?

No. They had a shared vision. They had a shared purpose. Their communication before the game was so good, that they didn't even need to speak. They simply saw what happened, and every individual knew exactly what their response to the situation should be.

That's unity.