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So you're meandering around, just making your way to the front entrance to the masjid minding your own business when some creepy bearded dude stretches his hand out like a robotic supermarket coupon dispenser and silently hands you a palm card flyer as you pass by. Great. It's yet another one of these Islamic event fliers - just take a look at the flashy, fancy, large font, the bright coloring and dexterous graphic design that pops out at you and catches your eye, and of course the dramatic event title with the shaykh's name emboldened beneath, and a picture of him making an epic pose. Someone must've really put in a lot of time and strenuous effort to design this flyer, māshā'Allāh. Good man, good man. So you make sure to walk around the corner where the bearded dude can't see you and promptly throw it in the garbage.
Ah, the simple joy of trying to hand out event flyers outside of a masjid
Come on, you don't have the time nor the conviction to ponder going to some event about a typical Islamic topic that will probably be a re-hash of the same topics you've already heard countless times from hundreds of monotonous khateebs every Friday and from other Islamic events that you halfway slept through. These kinda events just tend to make you say “meh.”
So this, my friends, begs the golden question – what exactly is it that motivates Muslims to attend Islamic events? What makes an Islamic event look attractive (and I don't just mean the lame, “māshā'Allāh this is attractive, I shall go, yallah habibi.” I'm taking about the holy-moly-mega-māshā'Allāh-lower-your-gaze level of Islamic event attractiveness that huge Islamic National Conferences get).
Alḥamdulillāh, from my past experiences as an Islamic youth event organizer and former university MSA President, I can say with a 100% false sense of confidence that I have begun to decode the intricate science of Islamic event attendance. By utilizing a complex series of algorithms, equations, experiments, and data observations all completely made up from my own imagination, I've simplified all of my exaggerated scientific findings into basic pie charts and graphs for your ease of access.
Muslim Matters, I proudly present to you my 5-Step Scientific Guide to Islamic Event Attendance.
1 UNDERSTAND AUDIENCE DEMOGRAPHICS
One of the most important indicators for the attendance levels of an Islamic event is the intended audience. From small bratty kids bubbling with annoying youthful energy and vigor to old masjid uncles who don't really have anything else to do at the time, Muslim events can cater to any sort of audience at any age. So to help breakdown the common garden-variety attendees, I've provided demographic-specific data below:
Kids- they're so adorable and full of potential, māshā'Allāh! But put a whole bunch of them together in a room for more than 15 minutes and you've got yourself a crowd that's louder and wilder than a group of Arab guys watching a soccer game. Sure, as a faithful parent you might be thinking to yourself, “that masjid event next weekend on the inner machinations of advanced usool-ul-hadith sounds perfect for my 6 year old!” but don't fool yourself. You will bring nothing but misery to that poor kid, and his whining and restlessness will earn him death stares from the other attendees. Not a good idea.
You see, due to parents not adhering to age-appropriate attendance factors, the bane of a child's happiness quickly becomes the dreaded Islamic event-the palpable terror and horrid fear that engulfs their eyes and facial expressions when the words “get ready, we're going to an event at the masjid” is said to them is testament to how much they “love” Islamic events. And to sit quietly and behave for hours on end in a boring lecture where some big bearded man is shouting stuff at the audience about things they're too young to even understand nor even bother to care about sounds like a prison for these little kids.
Medical Journals report that a shocking 5 out of 5 kids are afflicted with acute-onset boredom during their childhood
Kids… an effective cure for acute-onset-Islamic-event-induced-boredom is a large IV-dose of purified Nintendo 3DS. Parents, have some sort of portable gaming device handy when your child begins exhibiting early symptoms of anaphylactic boredom after 5 minutes of attending an Islamic event not meant for them. My research also indicates that alternative forms of treatment, such as gritting physical threats through your teeth at your kid when he or she begins to whine or act disruptive works just as effectively, though the psychological side-effects may lead them to strongly dislike attending Islamic events when they begin to reach their teenage years.
Ah, teenagers. It must be difficult finding time to attend Islamic events, what with all that hormonal angst and frequent emotional outbursts of “my parents just don't understand me.” It's okay. I understand. Since most masājid have a big problem with holding on to and reaching out to this age group, they expertly attempt to solve the problem by hosting an entire range of wonderfully non-existent or extremely sparse Islamic events which are vaguely tailored and poorly delivered in an irrelevant manner to this often confused and highly impressionable demographic.
So naturally, attending Islamic events for typical teenagers is almost always about socializing and hanging out- so if their close friends are all going, well then they better tag along too for that sole reason, otherwise they'll be geeky losers and they'll be ugly and no one will like them. So take note, Islamic event organizers! As long as your event is considered “cool” by the youngsters and features prominent leading youth scholars and upstanding moral role-models for young Muslim teens like Lil Wayne or the cast members of Jersey Shore as guest speakers, you'll pretty much capture the coveted teenager demographic at your Islamic event.
College students are perhaps the most coveted demographic for Islamic event attendance, since they represent the very lifeline of college MSAs, and are at a highly malleable stage in their lives where they take great effort to expand their horizons and “discover themselves” by exploring majors based on careers they're forced to go into by their parents, such as becoming doctors, or engineers, or doctors, or maybe even doctors.
MSA events aren't just social gatherings that give Muslim students a break from coursework, college stress, and typical ridiculous hormonal drama- they serve as the golden gateway to matrimony, since they offer an opportunity for creepers and stalkers to freely scan a crowd for potential spouses, under the guise of “look how halalified I am, attending an MSA event and sunnahtizing myself against haramification!” But for the few non-creepers and non-stalkers who aren't marriage-obsessed in college, MSA events offer an essential element that truly appeals to poor, starving, nutrient-deprived college students… …the allure of free food.
Alleged footage of MSA Students following the end of an MSA event
Recent research findings indicate that free MSA event food is able to sustain a typical college student for an average period of 2 days, and if an event attendee is lucky enough to steal extra helpings or take leftovers back to his or her dorm, they'll be able to sustain themselves for a few days longer until they're left scouring desperately for the next MSA event, or preying upon younger freshmen foolish enough to sign up for campus meal plans.
Unlike their younger counterparts, Muslim adults are much easier to figure out when it comes to gauging their event attendance. If there's no attendance fee required, if the food is free, if the venue is close, and if it's featuring a really engaging well-known speaker whose particular views they personally agree with, you can almost always count on them to attend an Islamic event when its convenient for them and they're in the mood to leave their house. Convenience is the name of the game!
The rarest Islamic event attendee of all is the non-Muslim. Unlike most of the other Muslim demographics displayed above, the non-Muslim attendee typically has genuine reasons for coming, whether it be through the encouragement of a Muslim best friend, or through their own curiosity to find out more about Islam. Due to the rarity of their appearances, they often receive awkward stares and are subjected to uncomfortable gawking by the rest of the Muslim attendees. Most of the time they're mistaken for the AV-Tech repairman, food deliveryman, or the building janitor.
Generally, Muslims do find it rather odd that non-Muslims take such great interest in the actual Islamic lecture- it's almost shocking that their primary intention isn't to eat food and completely forget what the entire lecture was about 5 minutes after they leave the event, which in some regards can be considered insulting to the event organizers who place such heavy emphasis on the food aspect of their event logistics. My imaginary research data is still in the process of analyzing these elusive creatures, and I'm hoping to discover more about these attendees as data continues to be compiled, inshā'Allāh. But without a doubt this demographic seems to be the best one so far, though its a shame that they don't come often at all.
2 ALWAYS SERVE FREE FOOD
Of all the logistical aspects of an event to consider, this is the golden rule of all Islamic event organizing. You can plan an event with no point, no structure, no program, no invited guest speaker, and put in almost no effort- but so long as you market your event as having good food served for free, you'll attract hordes of Muslims.
Just picture it this way- an event with no food served feels like a difficult endurance test of patience that offers no special tangible reward at the end for having survived an entire Islamic lecture. What is there to look forward to at the end of a lecture or discussion?! Spiritual development, stronger īmān, increased Islamic knowledge, and a powerful take-home lesson on how you can apply what you've learned to better yourself, your family, and your community? Hahaha! That's a good one. Of course not. Who actually does that?! It's all about the delicious free food, baby.
See, it's proven by my own citation-less research. Ask any typical Muslim you know- when it comes to motivating our community to attend Islamic events, I've basically discovered that serving free food seems to be the gold standard.
3 DON'T CHARGE ANY MONEY
It's no mystery- Muslims are frugal people. We don't like spending money, unless it's on food or on ridiculously expensive weddings to try and impress people who will probably complain about it anyway. And if there's one thing we consider a great bargain, it's free attendance at Islamic events.
I mean come on. Think about it. Paying $10 to fall asleep listening to a guest speaker whose lectures I can just ignore on Youtube for free?! What are you, nuts?! No thanks, bro. I'd rather spend my money on something more immediately gratifying, like a couple of candy bars from a vending machine, or paying to download an iPhone app that prays Fajr for me.
$10 to attend?! What do I look like, a stereotypical billionaire oil company tycoon?
It's proven by my own imaginary research that the more expensive your admission fee is, the fewer people will attend. So as an Islamic event organizer, the best way to collect revenue from your attendees to break even for the event costs is to first invite everyone in the room under the guise that the event is “free,” then wait until you reach a decent turnout- and then slam all the exits shut and lock them so no one can escape. Once you've trapped all your guests, have the speaker start a surprise fundraising event- because everyone knows that the least enjoyable Islamic events of all are uncomfortable guilt-trip inducing surprise fundraisers.
4 MAKE THE EVENT TOPIC & SPEAKER APPEALING
One of the biggest factors that dictate Islamic event attendance is the topic and speaker of the event itself. In some cases this factor may be just as powerful as the sultry allure of delicious food or the wonderfully inviting notion of not having to pay for anything, if not stronger. In most cases, the speaker and topic will typically either make or break your event attendance, so it's quite a critical component of Islamic event attendance.
So to provide an example of this, let's take a pop quiz:
Are you guys ready?
You're probably really confident about the answer you picked. The correct answer is A, because you gotta admit- that event would be pretty hilarious. If you picked B, you're probably never going to get married, and if you picked C, you seriously have no life.
Yeah yeah, I know I know. This is pretty much your reaction to the pop quiz results. Deal with it.
But anyways, what about all of you who picked D? You folks are still on the right track. For some odd reason, love and marriage seems to be the #1 most popular Islamic topic ever, which either means that we as a community need to get a grip on our hormones, or that we as a community have made the Islamic process of marriage and properly pursuing love itself something so ridiculously difficult to accomplish for the youth that we need a million redundant lectures a year re-explaining how it all happens and why we should encourage it properly. But that's a topic for a whole other conversation.
But anyways, the best-attended Islamic events are those that directly appeal to what the vast majority of Muslims within a broad age range are dealing with, and to have a well-known celebrity speaker delivering it is icing on the cake. But it's a shame when even the most popular Islamic topics are marred by monotone anesthesia-inducing speakers, or butchered by fiery controversial speakers whose original message tends to get completely lost by all the juicy controversy that attendees love to focus on. Basically the rule of thumb when it comes to Speakers and their relevant attendance levels is the following:
To this day, after centuries of scientific analysis, the reason why Brothers' attendance levels are almost always universally lower than Sisters' attendance levels still remain an utter mystery. Perhaps it may be due to an obvious lack of attraction to the speakers? It's not like our communities emphasize sister scholars and speakers- to the contrary, we tend to have them vastly overshadowed by an overwhelmingly dominant presence of male speakers. So I guess that can't be it… I'm at a complete loss. Maybe sisters in general just like going to Islamic events more than guys do? Or perhaps it's more plausible that they may have secret pedicure salons, shopping bazaars, and foot massage parlors on their side of the divider that the men are completely unaware of.
As a male Islamic event attendee, I can speak from personal experience that there is often nothing on the brothers' side of the room, aside from beard hairs sticking out of the carpet and a familiar smell of wet socks from the wuḍūʼ stations. It's my personal hypothesis that this may be a contributing factor as to why brothers have consistently lower turnout than sisters. Perhaps we may need to construct relaxing therapeutic beard spas on our side of the room to ensure better attendance…?
5 TRY TO PURIFY YOUR INTENTIONS
Whether you attend an Islamic event to please your parents, engorge on food to save on paying for dinner, hang out with friends, scope out suitable prospects on the other side of the divider, drool at the speaker, or to just give a good excuse to get out of your house- ultimately all of these events are intended for the ultimate purpose of reminding you of your Lord and your eventual goal in life. Regardless of whatever motivation or lack thereof that you muster up to build an intention to attend, it's vital that you always strive to make your primary intention for the sake of Allāh (swt).
Having free events with great food and a wonderful, inspiring speaker are all gifts from Allāh (swt), and the gathering of Muslims at these events may very well be blessed tremendously and graced by the presence of angels. Your attendance at Islamic events shouldn't be deprived of such incredible rewards by negating it with trivial intentions. Above all else, you should do your level best to purify your intentions, and make time to show respect and gratitude for all the hard work and dedication put in to organize these events.
So the next time you get handed an event flyer- don't let your gut reaction be to just chuck it out or crumple it into your pocket to use as scrap paper- make an honest attempt to look it over with an open mind and assess if you're free and able to go. You never know- there might be a truckload of blessings being delivered there, so set your niyyah to barakah-mode and enjoy yourself for the sake of Allāh !