Early this morning I started seeing tweets and emails about 'Muslim charity squandered money for the poor' and immediately opened the article up. The Toronto Star is reporting that over $600,000 were mismanaged by the organization. This was money intended for the poor, and according to their audit, it was mostly spent on other than the poor (including some personal perks).
My gut reaction upon hearing this news was shock, but not in the sense that you might expect. I was shocked that these types of stories have not been more frequent. On face value, it appears we are looking at the perfect recipe for bringing down an Islamic organization: the intersection of shoddy and shady masjid practices meeting a fishing expedition audit.
Before continuing on to the lessons that we can all learn from this episode, there's a number of things that must be mentioned.
Firstly, the article linked to is only one side of the story, and it mentions that the other side is legally restricted at this time from mentioning theirs. None of us yet know the whole story, so it is unfair to jump to assumptions, especially as it pertains to the veracity of guilt and innocence regarding the claims made. If anything, our deen, and the law, teach us innocent until proven guilty.
Secondly, due to the popularity of this story [earlier today it was on the front page and at the top of the site's most read articles], it is worth taking heed of lessons that can be learned so the same mistakes are not repeated. With that in mind, please remember that what follows is written in a general sense, and is not specific to the context of this story.
One issue facing most Islamic organizations is a lack of implementing appropriate policies and procedures. A number of organizations struggle to even have the right policy on paper, and the vast majority that even make it that far usually cannot implement those policies in practice.
There are always extremely stringent regulations regarding the management of registered non-profit organizations. It requires a high level of transparency. Those who have taken it upon themselves to be in leadership, shura, or board positions at a masjid need to be familiar with these regulations. An example of this is something as simple as meeting minutes. Non-profits are required to keep meeting minutes. If they do not, it provides an easy excuse for someone auditing you to make an issue out of it.
In regard to finances, I am appalled that many organizations do not even take the basic step of having accounting sheets that are double-counted with the appropriate number of witnesses, and physically signed. Most of the time funds are simply thrown together and one person is given the task of counting them. Additionally, the budget and cashflow expenditures are not made public such that each penny can be accounted for. Personally, I have heard horror stories of $1.5 million dollars in a masjid construction project being accounted for “penny by penny” to the community in simply a half page “executive overview.”
These are two examples of shoddy and shady practices that Islamic organizations currently engage in, and in reality, they are a microcosm of other issues. The carelessness and laziness that is exhibited here is equivalent to a person slowly digging his or her own grave. Should someone take issue with the organization, or simply want to give them a hard time, the organization has left itself open to an easy attack.
By definition, an audit is a detailed examination of each and every penny, policy, procedure, and practice. If any of these are out of line, then there are negative consequences. This, of course, can be prevented by following the rules stringently. It is baffling though, how careless organizations are in shooting themselves in the foot in this manner.
Lastly, I want to mention two pieces of advice. The first is for those in leadership over Islamic organizations and the second is for the community in general. For those in leadership, you have a great responsibility on your shoulders. You are accountable for managing the affairs of the community, and laziness and ignorance is not an excuse. If you do not know something, go find out about it, and implement it. Think about your legacy if your (avoidable) missteps are the reason for the downfall of an Islamic organizaiton – if your actions are the reason that someone else's sadaqah jariyah is cut off. That's not a happy place to be in. Remember when you were busy lobbying to get yourself elected to the board of the masjid? This is the responsibility that came with it.
To the community, it is not enough to shift the blame to the leadership. We all play a role, and until the community steps up and holds its leadership accountable, change will not happen until forced. And if it is forced, it will not be pretty, nor good for anyone involved. In fact, in such cases, regardless of who is responsible, it is the average community member [aka innocent bystander] who ends up suffering most.
May Allāh (swt) put barakah in all of our organizations and keep us steadfast on the truth, and give us the guidance to always do things with ihsan and in the most correct manner.