Disclaimer: My writing bellow is one of pure personal experience, and does not represent the views of my community’s board or community in general. Please follow through and read my personal note at the end.
A very personal experience that I wrote in the span of months while serving as a board member. Sometimes removing or adding thoughts as I continued my venture. I finally finished writing before the end of my term:
The Masjid Board – an entity that the community often connects to the shred and center of politics and dispute. In most Masajids around the world, the individuals who are positioned to act as representatives for the community are feared, or otherwise, detested. These reservations are often the result of a difference of various decisions on opinions made in the past, misunderstandings, and holding them overly accountable for a number of actions taken in the Masjid.
Growing up in my community center as a child, those were exactly some of the feelings people held for the Masjid Board. Unfortunately, most Masajids are jam-packed with the fruit of politics. I remember how whenever the word, “politics”, was brought up in a given community, the Masjid board was the first to be held accountable. The question then is, are the Masjid board responsible for much of the politics that exist in the community? And are Masjid boards ultimately failing our Masajids and the greater Muslim community?
So I am often asked, “What is it like to be in a Masjid board (particularly as a youth)?” My answer lies within this post. I hope to write this article to not just narrate my time within the Masjid board, but also in hopes to educate people of what lies behind the other side. I also (God-willingly) wish this article to be read by people who ever considered or are considering running for their board, in light of experiencing a flavor of the main entrée.
I believe in first hand involvement, personal insight, and “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”, before criticism of any sort. If we are put into a certain situation, we make decisions accordingly, as a “Shura” (or consultation between people), and Allah puts baraqah into that decision. I acknowledge that desperate times call for desperate measures, and I certainly do believe in the greater good in people and their conscious decisions. But at the same time, sometimes these Masjid boards do not make the best of decisions.
Growing up as a youth involved in Masjid activities, never would have I imagined myself in the Masjid’s board of directors. I loved doing youth work, but I could never imagine that it would eventually pave my path into becoming a representative of the community. For better or for worse, being on the Masjid board changed my life. Never would I have imagined the things I would experience in the year and a half I was a board member. It was a defining test. Being on the Masjid board made me transition into a new phase of maturity and understanding. I went through some trials, some that were pretty frightening, to ultimately being on the verge of just quiting.
To mention, I was only 20 when I joined my Masjid board. The other members I served with were all at least twice my age. I was a Shura member who was dealing with deciding consequential matters of the community on one hand, and homework, essays, tests, (and being single for that manner), on the other. Being a Shura member meant that the Masjid had to always be in your conscience. Often times, a Shura member comes between sacrificing his or her family and social life, and putting the Masjid foremost.
If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that people are very quick to criticize without doing much efforts themselves. I say, if you are not involved in your community, don’t complain about the community. Either you stand and watch the fire burn, and the people attempting to extinguish it, or you stand aside those people and aide them in obliterating the fire. If we just stand and watch, the fire will eventually consume everyone. If change is necessary, we need to help bring that change, change will not materialize by just dreaming for it. Still, don’t get me wrong, you don’t necessarily need to be within the Shura to spark activism within your community. I’ve met some of the hardest working individuals who have no name or position within their community. Having a title or position is simply that, it’s your devotion that defines you.
With that being said, the reason I decided to join the Masjid board (I was nominated – but that aside), was because essentially, I wanted to explore the other side of the spectrum. The side that people feared. I wanted to determine myself what defines the devotion to one’s community, and I wanted to combat the roots of “politics”, by becoming a part of that stem. Apart from that, I also wanted the often neglected voice of the youth to be heard within the Masjid. Honestly, I really believe that Masajids in America need youth in the Shura, as from my own experiences of being born and raised in this society, we need this perspective to raise a community within this society.
Before joining the Masjid board, I asked for advice from a good friend of mine who had been serving on his own community’s board for the past year, he was close in age and was serving as a youth representative to his board. He asserted that although there was a lot of politics involved, ultimately, it was something that had personally been worthwhile for him. That’s exactly how I feel. No Masjid is deprived of its fair share of politics, but man, do I feel like my time was spent meaningfully. While other people my age have obligations to college, work, and family, I have that and the weight of overseeing consequential matters of the community. Before going into the Masjid board, I was advised of two completely different outcomes, based on people who joined their board in the past. One, that there will be many instances where you will put the Masjid before your family, friends, and yourself, but those were sacrifices you had to be willing to make. And two, you may become less dedicated to the Masjid when in the board, compared to when you were not.
You see, being a part of the Masjid board puts a big responsibility upon your shoulders. It’s not because of an esteemed title that you receive, but because the community has entrusted you with the responsibility of guarding the values and ideals of that community. Once that commitment is made, and if that obligation is neglected, not only is your vow broken with the people, but more importantly, it is broken with Allah.
Just like any position within the community, being a Masjid board member can also affect your sincerity. On one hand, I was put on spotlight at times, sometimes for things that I didn’t necessarily put much effort into, and I began harvesting pride. People began treating me with an excess of admiration. Pride corrupted my sincerity. Other times, I was treated with the cold shoulder. I felt like, at times, that people had a feeling of distaste for me simply because I was part of the Masjid board. And I was scorned and despised by people. When I had pride, I started stepping on others. I might have taken advantage over the fact that I was on the Masjid board, and they were not. And other times, I was stepped on by others. I wanted to give up. This is what I’ve experienced from not only within the Shura, but with other roles throughout life. I couldn’t let myself step on others, and I couldn’t let myself be stepped on. My sincerity was hurt by both. I had to be true to myself. I needed to form thick skin, but not too thick. I had to foster confidence, but not arrogance. Who was I? What was my purpose as a board member? As a board member I had to put my ego aside and look at the bigger picture.
There were some tough decisions that we had to make at times, decisions that might cause uproar within the community. But often times those decisions were made through consulting, and analyzing, and contemplating with the other Shura members, it was a decision that was made through much thought and effort. Pondering every side of the subject, these decisions were prepared, and then produced. If there was a decision that didn’t feel just to me, it was my obligation to speak up, no matter if I was in the minority. But my job was only to speak, it wasn’t to spark a heated argument and convince others to follow my way, because the ultimate decision was not mine to make, it was ours.
One common misconception people have is that once you’re in a board, you have the capacity to make anything happen. I had a similar perception. I had all of these ideas circulating in my mind, some of them came true, and others did not. It should be understood and known that the very essence of the Shura is to consult, and then transform ideas into a cohesive decision. My idea is the other’s idea, and the other’s idea is my idea. The ideas that were transliterated into the community cannot be translated as “this person’s idea”, but rather as an idea engineered by an entity. The hardest part of this is to not only accept a decision that doesn’t reflect your personal opinion, but to execute it, attest for it, and fight for it, and that is when your true test of sincerity and serenity is tested.
The most difficult part of being part of a Masjid board is to remain as a team. Teams often break, they fight, contest, and are torn apart, but it’s the ones that choose to stay together despite the bitterness and hostility that truly distinguish themselves from the others. The ones that refuse to back down and abandon their responsibility to serve the greater good, understand what it means to work for a Masjid. To let go of your ego, to compromise your self-importance, for the genuineness of the community, is admirable. You see, being part of a Masjid means that you’re not working for yourself, but you’re working for a greater, and much bigger purpose. Your community is what’s essential for you, not whether you like the people you’re working with. And so, it’s crucial that you make sure your team serves as a shining model for the community, because if your team falls apart, it’s fragmented pieces will trickle down into the community. Your team must be united for the sake of the community.
My journey as a board member was a bumpy one. But, Alhumdullilah, from the bottom of my heart, I can say that it was a worthwhile journey. One that led me into a voyage of personal growth and maturity as a young adult. The Masjid board had it’s ups and downs, but ultimately, I was led to a new awakening, one that would consume me, and drift me away into the vast ocean of concealed waters. I no longer wish to rerun for the board, because now, I want to simply remain a shadow of what I used to be. I wish to work in the hidden, the dark areas that people often forget. When you’re out in broad daylight for so long, you desire to retreat into the shade. Every person has a role to play within their community, and you do not necessarily need to be nicely decorated to be involved. The unseen, the ones working in the darkness to benefit the daylight, are often the ones that help beam brightness within the community. This is the new path I pray I can partake on.
I pray to Allah swt that he keeps my intentions clean and helps me go down a new fond path, full of serenity and peace, one that can benefit the community.
Personal Note: Due to the piece above being written purely for personal experience, I did not specifically mention, or imply to mention, any of my team members or community. This was also done due to confidentiality reasons. However, I did want to point out that I personally and wholeheartedly, loved the team that I had worked with, and I do believe that we, as a group, were able to make a difference through the help of Allah swt. May Allah swt accept all of our efforts.