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90/10 Rule for Masjids?


word_work_on_the_dices.jpgRenowned marketing expert Seth Godin wrote a simple article regarding the 90/10 rule of recruiting workers for an organization,

Most hiring managers don’t understand organizations that go to extraordinary lengths to find and retain amazing people. And from their point of view, they’re completely correct. Pay market wage, run a classified, process the resumes. Done.

It only takes 10% as much effort to hire someone in the bottom 90% of the class.

And it takes the other 90% to find and cajole and retain the top 10%.

Most hiring, especially in a down market, is handled as a mostly bureaucratic task. Find people who fit in, do a rudimentary background check to eliminate problems, try not to break any hiring laws…

If your organization can thrive with ordinary folks, then the marketing you’re doing right now to fill the ranks might even be overkill. You’ve got plenty of resumes. No need to pretend you’re doing anything much more than bottom fishing, though. That plaque for employee of the month? You can sell it on eBay.

On the other hand, organizations that work best with extraordinary talent are almost certainly not investing enough in finding and developing it. If marketing works so well that you spend a fortune on it, why aren’t you marketing your jobs? If talent is so important that you are betting the company on it, why aren’t you actually investing in finding and retaining that talent?

This got me to thinking about the ‘talent’ brought in to run our community masaajid. The lower 90% is often fighting to grab positions in the various boards or committees, and then disappearing a few months afterwards.

There’s  no doubt in my mind that there is a top 10% in every community that is underutilized when it comes to our local organizations. How often do we find the brother with real life accounting and finance experience actually handling masjid finances. Or the brother with 20 years of management experience actually handling those types of issues? I have even seen brothers who run their own construction and contracting businesses ignored from the masjid construction committee in favor of people whose construction experience does not extend past making a 6 inch tower out of Legos. Take a look through almost any masjid website, and it’s quite obvious the random “computer guy” got tagged with the project even though he didn’t know anything about actual web design, often ignoring many youngsters with plenty of experiene in this field.

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What’s the solution? I’m not sure there’s anything readily available that will fix things overnight, but there’s some ‘out of the box’ solutions that could always work.

First, pay the “volunteers” so that you don’t get a “volunteer” effort anymore, and hold them accountable. Even if it is something nominal like $100/month. This strategy is actually successful in Sunday Schools (despite their problems they got this one right).

Second, stop holding elections and random appointments for each task. Just because one person fills a certain seat in the organizational chart of the masjid does not mean he is automatically qualified to fulfill all the tasks and responsibilities that come up.

Recruit people based on skill. Post job openings in your masjid and in the newsletter. Interview people when they apply. Change the mentality of people with their approach to masjid work. Let them know that not every Tom, Dick, or Abdullah is going to be in charge of your next open house. The Masjid shura will interview people to see who has the most relevant work experience and skill set to do that project, and there’s a good chance Tom, Dick, and Abdullah will not get the job.

Outsource masjid responsibilities. You might be in a situation where the only person who even wanted to be treasurer was a doctor with no finance experience. Find an outside accountant. Pay them. Get it done right.

Professionalism is a concept long lost on the way we handle our organizations, despite the fact that we uphold this concept in our daily lives. We need 100% of the people to help out in the community, but that 100% needs to identify what talent they want to contribute. The committee of 3, or 5, or 10 – whatever your masjid may be – needs to be filled with the top 10%, and it’s going to take 90% more work to find them.

What are your suggestions for getting the top 10% out of the woodworks?

See also: Muslim Bubble – Rethinking the Importance of Structure

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at



  1. MR

    November 6, 2008 at 1:23 PM

    The old generation is dying. The new will take over. This is the way.

  2. ibnabeeomar

    November 6, 2008 at 1:26 PM

    MR – it’s really sad that this is what it’s come to. i have heard this expressed from a number of people about masjids – “we just have to wait for them to die out”

    its a very pessimistic and cynical viewpoint, i wish there was a way to make them realize how they have alienated the younger generation to this extent.

  3. AnonyMouse

    November 6, 2008 at 2:32 PM

    This is something that’s been on my mind for a while, mostly with regard to galvanizing the youth and women to become more active in the community.

    The first thing to do, as you stated, is identify where the talent is. Then encourage that talent, and foster it. And, of course, make the whole idea of being involved a lot more attractive to them.

    Financial incentives are good to start with; but perhaps there can be other ways of attrating the elite 10%: for youth still in high school, for example, their contributions can actually be included as credit for school (in B.C. we have a graduation requirement program which requires work experience/ volunteer hours, so I used my Islamic centre for that); for others, there must be some way of including their “extra-curricular” activities in a way that can be useful in a professional way (resumes, college applications, whatever).

    I also think that it’s incredibly important for the older generation and the younger ones to reach out to each other and form a bond – of true Islamic brotherhood and mentorship. Hasn’t it been proven throughout time that apprenticeships are one of the greatest ways of preparing the future leaders for the responsibility of taking over? Our masjid elders have a lot of experience and wisdom under their belt; our youth have huge potential and an already impressive skill set. The two MUST be brought together and have their own individual strengths merged to be bigger and better than ever, for the benefit of this whole Ummah!

  4. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    November 6, 2008 at 2:37 PM

    innalhamdolillah. mashaAllah, a good article. it was not about age, but since the comments have been…

    people do have to get older. and that’s a good thing. when intractable people contemplate mortality, they often become tractable.

    but people are also tractable in other scenarios. the people who run our masajid are tractable to the people who fund our masajid. maybe not so much to the $5, $10, $20 contributors — even the check-o-matics, may Allah reward all of them. but definitely to the $50,000+ crowd.

    so people who want to influence the masajid might need to (1) be rich themselves, (2) build-up a waqf (maybe using a grassroots fundraising) that allows them to throw weight around, or (3) be able to influence people or institutions of means.

    (3) and (1) my dad recently met a 38-year old brother mashaAllah who owns something like 20 gas stations. my dad‘s mashaAllah convinced him to take the next Al Maghrib class in Houston. no exaggeration. my dad‘s mashaAllah going to keep in touch with him. my dad is an example of the third scenario — he’s not so young, alhamdolillah, but by Allah he’s got initiative and foresight. so he can wield more influence than his own means, mashaAllah.

    obviously the businessman in this scenario is (1). he’s an aggressive personality, alhamdolillah, and he may or may not choose to leverage his own influence. Allah subhanahu wata ala gave him wealth, mashaAllah, and so it is his responsibility to spend it well. using a carrot to effect change in a masjid? why not?

    scenario (2) may seem more challenging but then so is raising any large amount of funds from other people’s money. if anything, (2) requires more discipline, more careful planning, and so should be more able to dictate terms — because the terms are more well thought out.

    one of the local masajid here in Houston was built by an Anglo-Lebanese waqf. the waqf has actually built or paid for masajid and other projects in multiple communities around the world. in the case of Houston, they initially intended just to build the project and leave. but politics led the waqf to retain a financial stake in the masjid. what’s impressive is how much cooperation the masjid gets from local donors who help pay the bills, and how little those donors influence the masjid. it’s almost as though the waqf for (2) and (3).

    i guess from one perspective my post turned into one about money.

    but all three comments are really about one thing: what we think needs to happen before the ideas in the article can get implemented.


  5. H

    November 6, 2008 at 3:41 PM

    Only 4 posts for such an important topic.

    I think this is one of the problems with the ummah that we dont see these “small” matters as important ones. If our masaajid are not run well, are not run effectively then how can we as an ummah progress.

    I agree that the “volunteers” should be paid, I would go so far as saying we need some full time, properly paid positions in the masaajid because we need to bring the cream of the crop to run our masaajid. Of course the imam comes first on the list.

    I remember a talk by a speaker who was mentioning that for so long the muslim ummah has unfortunately sent the less intellectual people to go and study and become imams. The “brainy” muslims would go and become doctors, lawyers etc, the slightly less intelligent would go and do some other work in the secular fields and those who weren’t that bright at all would be sent to madrassahs to become imams. Now you can see why this happens, in a hypothetical situation where a brother is very bright and wants to go and become an imam but is put off by the salary he will get compared to if he became a doctor etc and earnt 5, 10 times as much. You even see this today with the shuyookh we learn from, how many have studied at madinah etc and are extremely intelligent but yet have to work in other jobs because the position of imam in most masjids is just not enough to support a family well.

    Over here in England the “committees” of the masjids have a philosophy of “build it and they will come”. They just want to make these HUGE masjids which are empty apart from on jummah. My local masjid barely fills 2 rows for regular prayers yet they raised funding for a second floor!! So now there are approximately 200 rows!! Now if they used this money instead to hire a quality imam or teacher or speaker then this would have naturally brought more people to the masjid through their dawah efforts and from the increased attendance they could have raised more money if a second floor was needed.

    There are many other issues with our masjids unfortunately but inshaAllah these problems will be overcome

  6. Omer

    November 6, 2008 at 3:59 PM

    Pay them proper alaries and stop trying to undercut them! Masjids really need to find creative ways to fund themselves so they can pay these people.

  7. br sdot

    November 6, 2008 at 5:46 PM

    I think theres enough people in the colleges and who have recently graduated who are working who can run a masjid better than the older generation. But will they get an opportunity or chance? Also where are these brothers and sisters organizing to lets face it “take over the masjid”? Some of our Imams are MashaAllah the nicest people and most pious and knowledgable no doubt, but will they be approached by any of the youth (12 to 30)…probably not. We need Imams that can identify with the youth and understand their issues that they see everyday and will see everyday. There needs to be a huge overhaul in how our masjids are ran, what its goals and initatives our, etc. The masjids these days are not really keeping young muslims on the straight path…the masjid needs to attract young muslims from going astray and getting them on the straight path. Most of the youth that go to the masjid are the ones whose parents regularly attend or who have forced them to attend so MashaAllah they are doing well but what about those whose parents are too busy or do not understand the importance or are not practicing much themselves? We need someone to come up w/ a blue print on how a masjid should be ran and what its goals need to be etc if we leave it to each and every masjid then as you can see the results are not so good.

  8. Dawud Israel

    November 6, 2008 at 8:55 PM

    Good job ibnabeeomar with this post! And brownie points for mentioning Seth Godin (he’s awesome eh?)
    You need more posts like this around here.

    I like the suggestions but I would disagree on this suggestion:
    “First, pay the “volunteers” so that you don’t get a “volunteer” effort anymore, and hold them accountable. Even if it is something nominal like $100/month. This strategy is actually successful in Sunday Schools (despite their problems they got this one right).”

    –>My mosque has done this…and same crappy results. Yes, people do a little better…but it’s still the same untalented people! And the corrupt uncles just get more money into their pockets…

    I would add another point, which is that Muslim youth that are passionate about Islam need to run for election in their mosque. The best masjids in Toronto–are the ones run by the youth, maybe 1 or 2–which everyone (even the non-practicing Muslims) knows–even though there are about 90 masjids in Toronto.

    Lastly, one thing, I do at my blog when I recruit brothers and sisters is find their passion and work with those talents and aspirations. You make the person the resource for the rest of the community.

    Anyways, I’ve written two posts on this same area at my blog you can check them out:

    And yes, I do talk about other factors, because one problem does lead into another, so prepare yourself for that!

  9. AbdulNasir Jangda

    November 6, 2008 at 9:02 PM

    Why do I get the feeling that a meeting last night has something to do with this ;)

    Br. Dawud makes a good point that the youth have to get involved, albeit in a non-political way such as program development, activities coordination, or just by attending.

    I know someone will say, “what if the uncles don’t let you get involved?” Well they can’t stop you from attending. So InshaAllah start with that.

  10. SaqibSaab

    November 6, 2008 at 9:19 PM

    These are some awesome ideas, but at my masjid the divide between youth and (much) older board members is SO huge, I don’t even know where or how these could ever be implemented in the next, oh, say, about 15 years!

    But yeah, pay them, don’t pay them, but be professional! Interview, make it a big deal to work for the masjid.

    And regarding the random IT brothers doing the masjid sites, haha, so common. Except of course which you showed me, Omar. Best masjid website ev4r!

  11. Siraaj

    November 7, 2008 at 12:31 AM

    And regarding the random IT brothers doing the masjid sites, haha, so common. Except of course which you showed me, Omar. Best masjid website ev4r!

    Very well done – they’re using the Revolution 2 blog template, very clean design.


  12. Faiez

    November 7, 2008 at 12:52 AM

    Asalaamu alaikum

    Well written article. One thing I’d like to say about youth stepping up is that youth don’t step up. I, being a ‘youth’ (22yo), don’t see many young practicing brothers taking an active role in their community masaajid sometimes when there is a opening to do work.

    Also, from an uncle perspective(atleast this is what an uncle told me), sometimes us young people want to have responsibility but don’t want to show responsibility. For example, instead of starting off with a leadership position, start off with some sort of “janitorial” position where your doing work that is only for the sake of pleasing Allah. Eventually the smaller tasks you take in your masjid will start give you some say in how things are run and will lead you to make friends with alot of “uncles”. Remember that uncles were young at one time, so don’t be afraid to joke around with them, they can be really cool at times.

    Uncles, and rightfully so at times, are looking for responsibility more so than anything else. If you can show them responsibility and that you won’t run the masjid into the ground then they will be open to the idea of having you help out in bigger projects in the masjid. Also, don’t threaten their power. Show them that what your doing will make their life easier and make them look better in the eyes of the community.

    I’ve worked with 2 masaajid my whole life.

    Masjid One: Big community, I grew up here. They wouldn’t let young people into the gym OR have halaqaat in the masjid (wth?). So what I did (and not to brag but to hope someone will learn from this experience) was to make friends with the people who can make things happen in the masjid and showed them that our group of friends could take responsibility. It took a while (years at times) to gain privelages but eventually we reached a point where the Hafiz saab would just tell me, lock the doors when you leave and he would leave us alone (and I was like 17 at the time) in the masjid (really big masjid). This would have been absolutely impossible years back when we were just pimply faced teenagers hoping for hand-me-downs. You gotta get in and get your hands dirty.

    Masjid Two: A lot more youth friendly and the president of the masjid is really chill. Takes advice from everyone and is a very strong leader masha’Allah (May Allah increase him in this. Ameen.). So no real problems here, but there are youth he doesn’t trust in the masjid, and I see why he doesn’t. Because they goof off and run away from work.

    Any ways, I wrote so much that ended up boring myself. Moral of the story: Obstacles are victories in disguise. Always find ways to work with what you got. And if someone tells you that you can’t, do what Abdullah ibn azZubair would do: Do it and prove them wrong.

    And that is why Siraaj should move to Naperville. The End.

    Asalaamu alaikum

  13. A'ishah M.R. Hils

    November 7, 2008 at 5:05 AM

    Subhan’Allah, this should be a rule for ALL Islamic organizations and businesses. I know that I’ve often been frustrated when trying to offer services in areas where I have experience because of the disorganization and the amount that my offers are ignored, even when they are needed. This is just in my limited experience since my conversion. I really hope that Islamic businesses and organizations will begin using and maximizing their resources and the many talented people in our Ummah. Everyone who wants to contribute should be able to, but the rate at which bad managing alienates our really experienced members is discouraging. I really appreciate you bringing this issue to light.

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  15. Ahmed

    November 7, 2008 at 6:11 PM

    I’m glad I’m not alone in this issue. It is rather morbid to wait for someone’s death to say it’s time to takeover. But the comments have been right. This is what we have been reduced to in our community. One brother recently suggested that it is a non-ending cycle. The older generation will select like minded younger people and train them to be their replacement. So it will be a never ending cycle. I am trying to not be that cynical. As a community we really need to be more inclusive, no to ageism, racism, and any other ism that plagues us. We need more posts like this and to get people involved. Otherwise, we will see an exodus from our mosques.

    Finally, I’ll say this: some of the most talented people in our community are not involved in any of our organizations. This is a major mistake on our part if we let it continue.

  16. Ahmed

    November 7, 2008 at 6:13 PM

    One more thing, Allah knows best, I am not trying to cause fitnah but people should start questioning their local organizations where money is going. There is very little transparency in our community and that must change. Money is mismanaged and spent on frivolous things. I know of one instance where money that was donated for a particular charitable cause was never use for it.

  17. sammerai

    November 7, 2008 at 10:43 PM

    Salaam alaikum. MashaAllah this is a very important topic. Along the same lines as Anonymouse, high school and even college students could compete for scholarships through the masajid. An annual two or three to the most qualified and most active students would help as well as let youth know that the Masajid support their high education. The competition itself can be a catalyst for increased activity: who can come up with the best event, activity, video, whatever. This in turn, creates a cycle of contribution and responsibility.

  18. coolguymuslim

    November 8, 2008 at 12:24 AM

    assalamu alaikum,

    my 4 cents:

    1: Make the imam the ameer of the community, not the doctor uncle who donates the most money. Whatever the Imam says should be good enough for the rest of the community. The board should always be behind the Imam and not force him to follow them.

    2: Make a youth group and allow them to have their own committees so that they can be groomed to take over the masjid soon. Allow the youth group to have representation on the board of trustees.

    3: Make all finances transparent. One masjid I was a part of would post where every cent was going on the bullitin board to the point where everyone even knew how much the Imam was making a month (this may be a lil far), but it helps trust grow within the community.

    4: Have representatives from one masjid be board members or liasons to other community masajid. Too often, masjids in the same vicinity have soo much drama and competition between them. One person who steps forward and agrees to act as a liason who in reality end this problem by maybe assigning a simple draft as “We will always prefer Eid together, etc”

  19. LearningArabic

    November 8, 2008 at 1:19 AM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Its quite unfortunate to hear about the problems that many of you are facing in your masajid. Alhamdulillah, our masajid is wonderful and the youth are very active. I think it is very important for the youth to remain active, but at the same time, they must receive proper religious instruction and guidance from the imam. I have also seen some masajid where the youth are heavily involved, but they turn the masjid into a party zone.

    If anything, we should set up some sort of system of checks and balances between the youth and the uncles to insure that one group does not go to any extreme. Also, the Imam needs to do their part to insure that there is always an open line of communication. Constructive criticism, and I emphasize the word “constructive,” should be encouraged so that the masjid is always seeking ways to consistently improve.

  20. ibnabeeomar

    November 10, 2008 at 12:02 PM

    another new post from seth godin kind of along the same lines:

    Doing 4% less does not get you 4% less.

    Doing 4% less may very well get you 95% less.

    That’s because almost good enough gets you nowhere. No sales, no votes, no customers. The sad lie of mediocrity is the mistaken belief that partial effort yields partial results. In fact, the results are usually totally out of proportion to the incremental effort.

    Big organizations have the most trouble with this, because they don’t notice the correlation. It’s hidden by their momentum and layers of bureaucracy. So a mediocre phone rep or a mediocre chef may not appear to be doing as much damage as they actually are.

    The flip side of this is that when you are at the top, the best in the world, the industry leader, a tiny increase in effort and quality can translate into huge gains. For a while, anyway.

  21. Arshada

    November 11, 2008 at 8:23 PM

    as salaam alikuim

    I think this US election gives some insightful lessons for our Muslim communities. This is one of them.

    In US national elections, they have been trying to get young voters to get involved for years. They weren’t able until this year. Whatever they found in Barack Obama, and not McCain, got them to care. Though it is debatable of what Obama did differently then the previous Democrate nominees, for the first time, a nominee went to where the youth are. In our current times, the internet & mobile devices.

    Masjid need to realize that youth wont come if you put together some random pizza party and put up a random black-white flyer outside the masjid. You have to go where they are.

    Solution: If you are running for Masjid elections, connect with the youth on the issues they care about and go where they are.


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  23. Mujahid

    January 25, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    As Salam Alaikum,

    Many Muslims may dissagree with my stance, but when it comes to voting within a non-Islamic country, I really don’t see the point. It is easy to inovate witin this age we live and stray away from true Islamic teaching. I have heard Muslims say that voting for Obama was like votng for the lesser evil; that he has the Muslim’s best interest in mind. But have people lost touch with the reality of Sunna. We are to migrate to an Islamic land and support that government. Oh, yes, many Islamic countries are aweful when it comes to dictatorships and human rights. Yet if the Islamic community as a whole would band together and quit bickerig amongst one another over racial and cultural issues, then maybe we could get somewhere. We Muslims get upset at other countries for steriotyping us as “radicals” and “terrorist,” but we treat our own kind (neglecting race and creede) even worse. As an American born citizen, I can not become a citizen of most Ilamic countries. But yet I could become a citizen of most kafr ones. There must be a change in our hearts, fo the last days are upon us. Inshalah, we will be ready for that Great Day of Judgement. For now, we Muslims are not setting the bar too high.

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