3 Prophetic Leadership Lessons from the CEO of AlBaik

What does it sound like when the CEO of a company operates from an Islamic framework?

I was surprised to hear Rami Abu Ghazaleh, CEO of AlBaik (yes, that AlBaik), share his approach to running his company.

There are quite a few gems in this video, and I will highlight three of them here.

1. It's Never About You

Typically, we expect a CEO to lionize their own narrative. They'll share the difficulties they faced, highlight their underlying passion and resilience, and then (with a token dose of humility) show how they ultimately succeeded.

The CEO is always the hero of his or her story. This level of narcissism serves them well - as I highlighted previously in How Bad Leaders Rise to the Top and Why We Keep Following Them.

We find that the Prophet (s) never made things about himself. Humility was one of his hallmark characteristics. This is shown through his focus on others and dedication to the message.

Rami tells the story of literally everyone else except himself. In a moment when others could justifiably talk about their own accomplishments and hurdles, he turns the spotlight to his parents, his brother, his team, and his customers.

As Islamic organizations try to copy business practices in the name of professionalism, these character traits often get overlooked. I have even seen the website for one major Islamic organization describing its own history by continually mentioning the CEO by name, lionizing his narrative,  and completely neglecting literally everyone else who contributed to its success.

What we build is for others, not ourselves. It is only after understanding this that we can genuinely embrace servant leadership - as the Prophet (s) said, "The leader of a people is their servant."

2. Amanah is Everything

Talking about motivators is popular. People are obsessed with finding their "why" - as the viral Simon Sinek talk popularized, "People don't care about what you do, they care about why you do it."

We strive to do the things we are passionate about. If we don't love it, we don't want to do it.

Rami shares a different passion, and a different motivator - amanah. It is the realization that whatever you are given is a trust from The Creator. This creates purpose far more potent than passion.

Abu Dharr said once asked the Prophet (s) to appoint him to a position of authority. He (saw) put his hand on the shoulder of Abu Dharr and said, "you are weak, and it is a trust, and on the Day of Resurrection it will be a source of humiliation and regret, except for the one who takes it and fulfills all obligations and does all duties required (Muslim).”

Understanding and fulfilling the amanah one is entrusted with is the basis of trust.

3. Abundance Mindset

Rami shares how they refused to raise prices when food costs went up to do right by their customers. They gave employees raises and bonuses when finances were tight, and most others would have done a round of layoffs.

The Prophet (s) said, "None of you will have faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself."

It is easy to say we would want a raise instead of being laid off. It is far more difficult to implement while in a position of leadership.

When people are short-sighted or focused on money, they will inevitably operate from a scarcity mindset.

Trust is built on giving more than you take, and when you do, you will be showered with blessings (barakah) from Allah (swt).


Sadaqah Jariyah: What Humility in Your Work Really Means

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This is the fourth post in the Sadaqah Jariyah series, catch up on the previous installments here.

Have you ever read a long internet comment pontificating about advanced Islamic issues by an unqualified person that ends with something like, "but I'm not a scholar or anything so don't take my word for it"?

The person saying this may genuinely want to portray a sense of humility. Instead, it (rightfully) comes across as false modesty.

Have you ever complimented someone after a khutbah or a speech, only to have them say "No, no, it was actually terrible." Same thing. They are trying to be humble, but all they've accomplished is making the person delivering the compliment feel bad.

The ultimate irony is this - even while being overtly self-deprecating, they're still talking about themselves. That's ego.

The entire point of a sadaqah jariyah is leaving behind something that outlasts you. That means it's not about you. Or as Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda says, "Nobody cares."

There is a monumental challenge with this. The more successful your efforts are (in whatever capacity you contribute), the more ego becomes a factor. It's easy to be humble when you're first getting started. It's much more difficult when you've established a multi-million dollar charity, have taught thousands of students, or attained national recognition in the form of media and speaking invites.

The more successful you become, the more critical it is to get over yourself.

This is a core leadership principle for San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

"For us, it's easy. We're looking for character, but what the hell does that mean? We're looking for people — and I've said it many times — [who] have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly. You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it's about them, or if they understand that they're just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that. A sense of humor is a huge thing with us. You've got to be able to laugh. You've got to be able to take a dig, give a dig — that sort of thing. And [you have to] feel comfortable in your own skin that you don't have all the answers. [We want] people who are participatory. The guys in the film room can tell me what they think of how we played last night if they want to. [Former Assistant GM] Sean Marks would sit in on our coaches' meetings when we're arguing about how to play the pick-and-roll or who we're going to play or who we're going to sit." [Business Insider]

Part of getting over yourself is being open to feedback.

This seems like an obvious point. In practice, some people are prone to hide from feedback when it comes to Islamic work. When criticized even slightly, they will retort with something along the lines of "either get involved or shut up." There might be some truth to this - but our focus here is on humility for the worker.

You have to be open to being edited. The deeper we get in our own work, the harder it is to look at it objectively. We are emotionally invested in our projects, so we take feedback personally.

A person operating from a premise of humility knows how to listen, filter, and respond to feedback. A person working from a premise of ego will dismiss input and cut out people who give it - even if they are from their inner circle.

In reality, we all need feedback. Even Steph Curry has a shooting coach. We have to embrace that process to produce work with ihsan. Without it, you'll never know if you are creating something of meaning.

Some people resist this when it comes to Islamic work. They'll argue that something is fee sabeelillah, and therefore people need to lay off. The opposite is true. You have to be willing to pause and put in extra work to get it right. And you have to be okay with knowing others may have something valuable to add that we didn't think of.

The nature of this type of work means you will be exposed to difficulty in dealing with others and their thoughts about your work. It's a small price to pay to establish something meaningful enough to outlive you.

As the Prophet (s) said, "The believer who mixes with the people and endures their harm has a greater reward than one who does not mix the people nor endures their harm."



The Innovator's Dilemma: Masjid Edition

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This article is the 4th in a series about Masjid leadership in the digital age and draws from the book Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World. To stay up to date on all new articles published here, please join our email list.

Why would we invest in mail-order DVD’s when that would hurt our retail business?

That’s the question Blockbuster asked itself when Netflix appeared on the block.

It’s easy to see in hindsight they should have invested in the ‘new’ business instead of holding on to the existing one. At the moment it appeared to be a rational decision made by super qualified people. They were doing everything right and had no reason to believe Netflix was a real threat.

This is a glimpse into what Clayton Christensen calls the Innovator’s Dilemma (not to be confused with the dilemma of bid'ah). An organization can be doing everything right, and yet, they’ll still lose their stature and leadership.

Do you cater to your existing audience, or adopt a new way of doing things to address future needs instead?

This is the same dilemma facing our local Islamic centers.

Masjids have reached a certain level of success by doing things a particular kind of way. Funds were collected and managed with a goal of establishing institutions - build masjids, full-time Islamic schools, gyms, Sunday schools, hire an imam, and then maybe a youth director.

This model works. And depending on how you see things, the argument can be made that it is currently working and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

Accepting that premise, however, is precisely what opens the institution of the modern masjid up to the threat of disruption. When things are working by your definition, there is no longer an incentive to see how other small organizations are attracting congregants the masjid can’t reach. There’s no incentive to listen to people who feel marginalized by the community. And there is no incentive to invest in the human resources needed to build for the future. From their perspective, the masjid is still overcrowded on Fridays, Sunday school is beyond capacity, and funds are still rolling in. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Changing this model by going from 1 imam to a resident scholar + imam + sister’s religious director + youth director + full-time admin is seen as over a 500% increase in bottom line expense. What’s the ROI (return on investment) for that? [Please refer to Your Masjid is Not a Fortune 500 Company, Nor Should It Be for a more detailed analysis on measure masjid ROI]

The world is changing rapidly. As our community centers have struggled to keep up with this change, we see people shifting to getting their spirituality online, third spaces, or other initiatives outside the masjid space.

Ignoring those changes is a sign of weak leadership. It is a failure to recognize the need to adapt and an inability to articulate a clear vision for the future. What can the masjid provide to provide spiritual guidance? How can it cultivate bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood for community members? How will it attract and engage those who are disconnected (regardless of age)? And how will it continue to do that 20 years from now with all the rapid changes we will experience in society?

This is the lens by which we must critically examine “how things have always been done.” We must find a way to honor the past while simultaneously investing in the future.

Of course, everyone thinks they’re investing in the future. There is a gap in how board or shura members see themselves, and how everyone else sees them. This gap occurs when the vision and mission of an organization get lost. Organizations drift away from the future vision and begin to focus on self-preservation. They’ll spend time doing things like rewriting the constitution and by-laws and overemphasizing their structure and procedures.

This is good management practice. The problem with sound management practice is that it is incentivized to preserve the status quo - just with more efficiency.

Focusing on the vision fosters true leadership. It enables strategic decision making to achieve the desired future outcomes.

When that strategic vision can be tied to future outcomes that the community has bought into - that is when you create momentum and practically engage in the practice of community building.


Sadaqah Jariyah: Who's Your Audience?

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This is the third post in the Sadaqah Jariyah series, catch up on the previous installments here.

It was a Friday night masjid program geared toward college students and young professionals. There were multiple speakers from the community, myself included. I was asked to share a few points on what major to pick in college, and some tips about finding a job.

After salah, one of the board members took the mic to make the announcement.

"After the sunnah prayers we will begin the youth program. Since this is for the youth, please, we want all the children age 8-12 to come sit in the front row."


Why would someone see a program for college students and immediately think that 8 year olds should be in the front row?

I've never understood this fascination with turning everything into a youth program. It's trying to score points with the community with hype while completely ignoring the actual content of a program.

When it comes to leaving a sadaqah jariyah, we try to cast our net far and wide. When we promote something - whether it be a class, book, lecture series, fundraising dinner, volunteer opportunity, or anything else - we want it to be for everyone.

At the heart of this is our focus on the wrong measures of success. We assume that more people means more reward. Therefore, this program is for all Muslims. All Muslims can benefit from this thing that I'm sharing.

The problem with this is that it is generic. In an age where everything from our Instagram feeds, Netflix watch next suggestions, and Amazon shopping habits come with super-personalized recommendations - there is no incentive or motivation to take part in something that's made for everyone.

When something is for everyone, it is now seen as a flag for low quality. It indicates that things must have been watered down. More importantly, something that is for everyone will never leverage your unique contribution.

If you want people to pay attention to your work, it needs to be clear who the core audience is. It is perfectly acceptable to have programs tailored toward young working professionals, or young moms, or teenagers, or even the elderly. They will get far more value out of one program that caters to them then they will from attending a multitude of generic ones where they struggle to glean a small nugget that applies to their lives.

Eventually your work may cross over and have a wider reach. It must start out, however, with a specific group in mind.

Sadaqah Jariyah: How To Make Your Dent In the Universe


The Prophet (s) said, "When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: Sadaqah Jariyah (ceaseless charity); a knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (for the deceased)." (Muslim) This is a hadith about legacy and leadership. What is the impact that you leave on the world? What change did you affect that will carry on well after your death? And how do you live your life in such a way that you accumulate good deeds after your death?

I often think about my family heritage. Some great grandfather or grandmother up the chain had to make the life altering decision to become Muslim, and then have it pass down for multiple generations. I don't know the names of those relatives, or even what century they lived in, but they made this impact on the faith of multiple generations.

Does leaving a sadaqah jariyah require a major life event like that? Or some huge project like building a masjid?

As much as this is a hadith about legacy and leadership, it's a hadith about effort.

Are you making a dent in the universe?

Hint: lots of random pokes in many different spots are unlikely to leave much of an impact. And hiding out is surely not going to work at all.
— Seth Godin

The hadith itself teaches us what the dent looks like.

Leaving behind a charity requires significant sacrifice of time and money. That's actually the easy part. For a charity to outlast your life, you must also pay attention to sustainability. Many people are able to commit time and money, but very few are able to build something and then remove themselves from it to allow it to grow.

Leaving behind beneficial knowledge means you attained a high level of proficiency such that you're in a position to impart knowledge to others. Doing this requires a person to persist and excel in a field of study. It requires formulating a unique perspective. The knowledge you leave behind must be something that people value and are influenced by. This is a core tenet of developing your leadership capacity.

The righteous descendant who supplicates for you is perhaps the most challenging. One of the toughest leadership challenges a person faces is leading their family. How do you raise children in such a way that they have the God-consciousness to supplicate regularly throughout their lives? And what type of relationship must you have with your children such that they fondly remember you and miss you after your death? Those are not easy tasks by any stretch of the imagination.

An everlasting reward will not come without hard work. The real question to me is not what type of knowledge to leave behind, or how to set up a charity, or what the best parenting techniques are. Rather, the question is how do I build up the capacity within myself to be in a position to make those contributions?

Beyond cultivating characteristics like persistence and focus, there are three specific investments each person should be making.

First is education. Knowledge is a foundation of our faith. Education is less about the letters after your name, and more about your mindset and commitment. Is learning a habit for you? How often are you learning? What types of things are you learning? The more you learn, the more dots you connect, and the more insights you're able to develop that others won't see.

Second is experiences. Every experience we have shapes us in some way. The last time we taught in Sunday school, or worked a minimum wage job at the mall might have been over a decade ago - but the experience still affects us and plays a role in shaping who we are today. Find ways to try different jobs and projects. Volunteer for different activities. Go into things with an open mind and seek to find the benefit in different experiences.

Third is relationships. Family is emphasized heavily in our religion, as is good brotherhood and sisterhood. Relationships also require time and effort. Spend time with your family. Cultivate good friendships. Meet people with genuine curiosity and seek to learn from the experiences of others.

The intersection of these three - your education, experiences, and relationships - will always be unique to you. No one else on earth will have the same combination of these. These are what inform your perspective and build your capacity to lead and influence others.

This is how you leave your dent on the universe. It's not by people remembering your name. It is the small contributions you make that add value to the lives of others. This is the work that puts you on the path to leaving a legacy such that your actions continue to earn reward long after death.

Masjid Inreach vs. Outreach


This article is the 3rd in a series about Masjid leadership in the digital age and draws from the book Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World. To stay up to date on all new articles published here, please join our email list.

“Why in the world would you still have an Urdu khutbah in Toronto? You’re going to lose the next generation” was my question/argument to an Imam I was having dinner with from Canada.

“We have a large percentage of people who don’t speak English that attend the masjid, someone has to serve them” was the reply.

It was at this moment that the light bulb went off. Attracting the crowd that doesn’t come to the masjid, and serving the people who do come to the masjid aren’t at odds with one another - both are important. This may seem simple and obvious, but it is difficult to implement strategically for most communities.

That strategy depends on where your community is in its growth stage.

A new masjid will focus on outreach by default. It has to put effort into attracting new congregants and establishing a base.

Once established, there needs to be a hand-in-hand strategy of deepening the engagement of existing members, while also doing the outreach to increase the number of members.

That in-reach must be intentional. While it will involve things like weekly classes - these programs are a means, and not the goal. Whoever is tasked with the spiritual leadership, or shepherding, of the community must develop a vision for what that development (tarbiyyyah) process looks like over time and how to achieve it. Success for this must be measured on continued incremental progress, and not numbers. We tend to discount activities that don’t draw a large number of people and label them unsuccessful. These smaller, focused, and longer-term efforts are needed to develop new khateebs, teachers, and community leaders from within the masjid itself.

Outreach efforts will be at a larger scale and involve activities that may be less about ‘learning’. This includes more social events, family get togethers, and family night types of programs. These will favor things like enrichment and relationship building more heavily than learning or academics.

Conflict arises when people aren’t able to differentiate the two. People who are more inclined to formal study or academics will inevitably discount outreach efforts as not serious, or “edutainment.” We belittle them, not realizing that outreach efforts are the funnel that produce the people who end up attending the in-reach programs. Likewise, people who are more involved in activism or interfaith efforts will tend to discount in-reach efforts as ineffective because they don’t see immediate numbers or impact. Those in-reach efforts are the long game that is needed to continue community development.

We need to stop looking at these activities as "either/or", and more of a "both/and".

The modern mistake being made with both in-reach and outreach efforts is the over-reliance on social media. These activities, when done correctly, rely heavily on consistent personal interactions and building of relationships. When the modern masjid is expected to serve as a community center, or hub, people must meet to build community.

Social media is taken as a shortcut to achieve this. Some organizations feel that by live-streaming, podcasting, uploading, and being ever present on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat that they are automatically relevant, and doing their part to be accessible. These are great tools when used to serve a larger vision. They are an ineffective and a waste of effort if they only serve the end goal of “being on social media”.

Being on social media doesn’t automatically mean your impact is multiplied. There must be an actual vision and goal of the work being promoted. The pre-requisite to that is high capacity leadership already in place - meaning not everyone is going to be able to do this. An online presence must be strategic and not a dumping ground. What is the purpose of posting every khutbah? Or live streaming every class?

For many communities, social media is a great tool to do in-reach (NOT outreach) by letting community members stay up to date on local activities. And for a few, this online presence will translate into national or international impact because the work being done is already of such high quality that it attracts that regular audience from other locations.

Recognize what stage your community is in, develop a vision to grow it, and execute strategically on that vision.

See also: Don’t Let The Youth Run Your Social Media


How to Break Through When Community Building At the Masjid Level Stagnates


This article is the 2nd in a series about Masjid leadership in the digital age and draws from the book Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World. To stay up to date on all new articles published here, please join our email list.

John Maxwell’s Law of the Lid states than an organization will never outgrow the capacity of its leadership. If you have low capacity leaders, you’ll be stuck with a low capacity organization (and talented members stuck there will eventually leave). If you have high capacity leaders, you'll have a high capacity organization (and attract talented members).

“Leadership ability is always the lid on personal and organizational effectiveness. If a person’s leadership is strong, the organization’s lid is high. But if it’s not, then the organization is limited. That’s why in times of trouble, organizations naturally look for new leadership. … When a church is floundering, it searches for a new senior pastor. … The relationship between leadership and effectiveness is perhaps most evident in sports where results are immediate and obvious. Within professional sports organizations, the talent not he team is rarely the issue. Just about every team has highly talented players. Leadership is the issue. It starts with a team’s owner and continues with the coaches and some key players. When talented teams don’t win, examine the leadership.” -John Maxwell

It is common to see communities go through an establishment phase with the building of infrastructure and institutions. Once built though, many struggle to attract new congregation members. Maxwell says, "a stagnant church leader stunts the growth of the church."

Sports provides a unique insight into this phenomenon. A head coach of a team can develop young players and take them from a losing record to a deep playoff run. The first time this happens, it is a huge accomplishment. If this happens 2 or 3 times in a row without breaking through to a championship or conference title, then it starts to feel like the team has hit a wall. The coach took the team from bad to good, but someone else with a different skill-set is needed to take the team from good to great. For NBA nerds, look at the Warriors transition from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr, and what the Raptors are now attempting after firing Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey.

Expectations change at different stages of an organizations life-cycle. As the title of the famous Marshall Goldsmith book says - what got you here won’t get you there.

The leadership challenge for the masjid is figuring out how to articulate a vision for the future while also getting new community members engaged with that vision.

At a basic level, this starts with open conversations. Dialogue is required to understand what people are looking for from the institution of the masjid. Yes, the ultimate purpose of a providing a place to pray will never change. When funds are raised under the banner of building a community, however, then a different set of expectations will come. What does community building look like? What does being part of a community feel like in practice? What worked to build the community in the past won't work to build the community of the future.

Without this open dialogue and connection, organizations will become progressively insular and lose their vitality. Bridging the generational divide (as outlined in the previous post) will mean changing approach on how things may have traditionally been done. Ultimately, it boils down to adaptability.

Is our organizational structure flexible enough to bypass some of the bureaucratic red tape that has accumulated over time? Are project specific ad hoc groups more successful than standing committees? Are we willing to experiment and find out via trial and error? How do we involve people in ways that fit their personal interests and skills?

When things have been done a certain way for a long time, or the same group of people have been in leadership for a long time, a particular culture embeds itself. Maintaining status quo will often take precedence over engaging newcomers. It becomes harder for people to get involved and thus develop relationships with community members.

Leadership will always say they want to grow, but the actions indicate wanting to keep things the way they are. This is natural, as sometimes there is a loss of intimacy in community relationships. People will be nostalgic for the good old days when it was a small group of families praying in an apartment. That's natural. Keeping an organization alive and thriving requires a shift in mindset to stewardship for the future.

Growth requires accepting a new phase in the life of a community. The vision must progress from a small group of leaders to being distributed amongst a larger group of members. This engages people, increases diversity, and introduces new talents to the organization. That increase in leadership capacity, in turn, raises the lid on what the institution can achieve.

The process for doing this is not clear cut. It starts with dialogue - actually listening to what people want. Once that is identified, the organizational structure that exists must be rethought in a manner that will enable more engagement. In some cases this means existing leadership may have to accept that they helped make the masjid good, but someone else may be needed to make it great. Find a way to usher them in and help the community reach a new stage of growth.

The next post in this series will discuss how a masjid should focus its inreach and outreach efforts in the social media age. Please make sure to subscribe to the email list so you don’t miss any updates. 

People Don't Like Their Local Masjid Anymore Because of The iPhone


This article is the 1st in a series about Masjid leadership in the digital age and draws from the book Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World. To stay up to date on all new articles published here, please join our email list.

Who is the masjid president? Who is chairman of the board? How many board members? How do we stagger terms? What about a board of trustees, or executive committee? Should we hire an imam? This is what we tend to focus on in our communities.

While these questions may be important, they ignore a much more important one. How does the structure help or hurt the vision and mission of the masjid?

Many communities were established with specific objectives in mind. The physical structure was established as a place to build community through Friday prayer, Sunday school, and other activities. This vision is reflected even in the physical layouts of purpose-built Islamic centers.

The combination of these vital activities and close physical proximity were the ingredients of community building. Through this, people developed an affinity for their "local masjid". The local masjid was the platform through which all community events happened and bonds were built.

Governance structures to protect this model were introduced. Constitutions were carefully crafted to ensure no outside party could come in and take over or disrupt the local community that had been built.

Instead, the iPhone has now done that job. It was a major domino in a series of events that resulted in the socially networked age we live in - with all of its positive and negative consequences.

Over the past few years, we have seen things change dramatically. More specifically, our expectations of what the masjid provides the community have changed.

With this, our religious experiences are no longer connected to the physical community. We can connect ourselves to seemingly any community in the world. If the local masjid is not catering to our needs, we can find viable alternatives online.

At a deeper level, the technology empowered people to be active participants - to have their voices be heard. Prior to this, if there was friction in the local masjid, you had to tough it out and fight it. This is the attitude we see with elders. They lionize the idea of toughing it out and fighting no matter what. This makes sense, because they had no other option.

Now, however, we have options - and new expectations.

If we're free to participate in online communities, why does the local community shut us out?

I'm free to pursue education, activism, or other projects with people I'm digitally connected to. Why am I not able to do the same in the local masjid?

I'm connected now to new causes and issues affecting Muslims around the globe. Why is my local Muslim community oblivious to them?

The intersection of these points is where we see a generational divide. The "irrelevant uncles" versus the "inexperienced youth". The masjid is an ideal and unique forum for multi-generational interaction that essentially gets wasted due to this conflict.

And when conflict happens, people double down and get defensive. For the youth, that means leaving the local community and going to other communities (whether online or offline) where they can freely participate and contribute meaningfully. For the elders, it means doubling down on preserving the institutions they built.

Preservation mode is a death knell. Preservation is not the purpose of a masjid or of building a community. Preservation mode does not allow an organization to adapt and react to the changes happening in society (and it's changing ever more rapidly than before).

Commitment to the local community has been replaced with a commitment to purpose.

This premise creates a completely different set of questions the masjid must focus on than the ones at the top of this post.

How can the masjid create a community in which diverse points of view are expressed without fear of reprisal? What work is the masjid doing to improve society, the community, and the individual lives of congregation members? How does the masjid foster the building of relationships? How does the masjid balance the needs of the local community while still being connected to national and global causes? How can individual congregation members be empowered to contribute meaningfully?

When the focus is on achieving these goals, then the structure can be corrected. What kind of physical space should be designed to enable these outcomes? What is the best governance structure to enable these outcomes?

These things must be changed. When people come to volunteer, but are stuck in a framework of preservation, they are made to feel as if they have no voice. The elders, although saying they welcome change and involvement, are signaling (whether intentionally or not) that they want to continue things the way they are.

Major changes are needed quickly. Preserving the 'way things are' at this stage will render the local masjid completely irrelevant.

The next post in this series will explore strategies communities can use to adapt to this new landscape. Please make sure to subscribe to the email list so you don't miss any updates.

Practically Implementing Prophetic Optimism


When Ibrahim (as) famously left Hajar (as) with their baby son in the desert, she asked him if Allah commanded him to leave them. He said yes, so she said that she trusted Allah would take care of them. Her response to the situation illuminated a middle path between two extremes we commonly see.

One extreme is pessimism. A person may simply give up and lose hope. After scanning the horizon and seeing no food, water, or any sign of civilization, it would be easy to sit down and do nothing. People with a negative mindset will focus on all the things wrong in this situation - there's no food, we'll probably die here - and overwhelm themselves with hopelessness.

The other extreme is naive optimism. It is sitting there doing nothing while telling yourself everything will work out. Or perhaps to simply "envision" a better situation and hope it will arrive.

Hajar demonstrated what optimism looks like.

The action of her heart was to trust Allah and have faith that He would make a way out. The action of her limbs was to do everything in her control to remedy the situation. No food? Then she will run back and forth between mountains looking for something to give her child.

She set a precedent that embodies the prophetic tradition, "tie your camel, and then trust in Allah."

When it comes to the sunnah of the Prophet (s) we rarely talk about mindsets. The sunnah of optimism provides a playbook for dealing with the major and minor difficulties in our lives.

It's amazing to think that he was tested more than anyone else, and yet, his default demeanor was always smiling.

True optimism provides the resolve to deal with difficulty.

When we look back at the most difficult moments of our lives, we actually cherish them. Those hardships, failures, and scars are what made us into who we are today. They made us stronger and provided lessons so invaluable we'd never trade them for anything.

This is easy in hindsight, but harder to do in the moment - "Patience is at the first strike of calamity."

The prophetic example shows us how to cultivate a mindset of optimism.

He (saw) warned against giving up on people. "Whoever says the people are destroyed, he is the most destroyed amongst them (Muslim)." And Allah (swt) says in the Qur'an, "Do not lose heart or despair, and you will be superior if you are [true] believers (3:139)."

Despair is easy to feel almost by default. Every time we turn on our phones we are bombarded with headlines, photos, and videos of injustices that make it seem as if the world is going down the tubes. The lens of the believer necessitates understanding that our faith in Allah means knowing Allah is the source of all that is good, and He will never decree something in which the evil outweighs the good - even if that good is reserved for the akhirah.

The Prophet (s), even in the most dire circumstances, would look for excuses to be optimistic. When the Muslims set out for umrah, and were blocked by the Quraysh, the situation was tense. Negotiators kept coming but no agreement could be reached. Finally, the Quraysh sent Suhayl b. Amr, and the Prophet (s) took this as a good sign. The name Suhayl has a connotation of ease, and so the Prophet (s) announced to his companions that this was a good sign. Eventually, the treaty of Hudaybiyah was agreed upon - a victory in and of itself, even if it was unclear at the time as to how.

He even engineered the environment around him to be one that instills optimism. When he met someone from a place called the 'Valley of Misguidance', he renamed it the 'Valley of Guidance'. This shows us that the way we refer to things even has a subconscious effect on us. What is the subconscious effect, for example, of referring to one's spouse as "the old ball and chain" over and over again? When his (saw) grandson was born, Ali (ra) named him Harb (war). The Prophet (s) changed his name to Hasan (good).

He encouraged his companions to always be of those spreading good to others. He instructed them, "give glad tidings, and do not scare people away. Make things easy, do not make things difficult."

The most important optimism is the optimism in Allah. The Prophet (s) relates to us that Allah said, "I am as my servant expects me and I am with him as he remembers me." If you believe that Allah intends to make your life difficult, or that He is vengeful toward you (audhubillah), then that is what you will get. If you believe that Allah loves His creation, and intends what is best for them, and wants to forgive them - then you will find Allah (swt) as such.

When we inevitably encounter difficulty in our lives, we must tackle those problems head on and work our hardest to deal with them. We remind ourselves in those moments, that ultimately things will work out for the best, because we know that what Allah decrees for us is good and He will give us the strength and ability to make it through what we are dealing with.

"Our Lord, and burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear. And pardon us; and forgive us; and have mercy upon us (2:186)."