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Paralysis by Analysis: A Rant on Beating Down Inaction


Death by Diagnosis

For years, I’ve participated in discussions and read countless articles on the state of the Muslim Ummah.  I’ve sat through khutbah after khutbah on how we as Muslims just plain suck, the state of the Ummah sucks, and that we ought to be aware of it.  Sure, no one said, “You suck!” on the minbar because that sort of word choice wouldn’t mesh well with the tone of the topic, but no matter how you cut it, that was the takeaway message.

This is followed by immense suckiness root-cause analysis.  Cultural baggage?  Check.  Corrupt Western-puppet supported regimes?  Check.  Racism / Islamophobia?  Check.  Neo-Zionism?  Check.  Irreligiousity?  Check.  Internal disunity?  Check.  Extremism (liberal/progressive or conservative)?  Check.  Poverty?  Check.  Humanitarian Crises?  Check.  Western Imperialism.  Check.  Genocide?  Check.  Deviant groups off the manhaj?  Check?  Masjid board politics?  Check.  Poor manners and character?  Check.  Secularism?  Check.  All problems listed above tightly coupled with one another for further frustration and complexity?  Check.

The grocery list above is like the Wheel of Fortune’s R S T L N E – if you enter into one of these discussions, be prepared to hear something along these lines every single time.  Might I offer just a bit of naseeha to our brothers and sisters who have continued to diagnose our collective maladies ad infinitum ad nauseum?

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What’s that?  You don’t know?  But you were so awesomely awesome at diagnosing the problem doc!  What’s next?


So, umm, anything else I should know?



Paralysis By Analysis – A Primer

With so many issues to address, it’s easy to fall into paralysis by analysis.  This simply means you’ve got way too many options on the table, so many that you can’t decide which to choose, so you do nothing.  Or, you have so many problems to face and you don’t know where to start so you do what?  Nothing.  Or, you know how to solve a lot of problems, you try to solve them all at once, reality kicks in, you realize you’re only human and can’t solve everything, and end up doing nothing, and what little you do is weak in quality and quantity, if it’s even ever finished.

There are other variations on this, but bottom line, too much in front of you, and either zero or negligible action behind you, or an attempt to solve everything, and still ending up with zero or negligible action behind you.  Starting to sound familiar?

It’s true that the world is a complex place with complex issues and not enough people working on solving them.  Trying to simplify them by stating, “If only we returned to Islam,” or “If only ve had khilafah,” while definitely major problems, is not properly representing the difficulties which exist in our communities.

But just because the world is complex doesn’t mean we need an arcane equation to solve our own place in it.  By we, I mean you, the individual.  You don’t need to wrap your head around every problem, nor do you need our resident problem diagnosers to tell you what to do – you already have the keys within yourself – all you need is a step-by-step guide to get you there.  As it so happens, I have a guide worth $997 which I’m selling for $0 if you act now, and all it’ll take is 4 easy installments of $0 per month (just trust me and read through it, it’ll be worth your time, insha’Allah).

Getting Simplicated to Save the World

1.  Forget Everyone Else – What Do You Really Care About?

It’s sounds selfish, but at the end of the day, ya gotta be you.  There are so many causes out there, and there’s no way you’ll get involved in all of them.  You might not even get involved in any of them – a stay-at-homeschooling mom’s cause might just be raising her kids to be the best, well-balanced Muslims on the block.  Forget all the guilt-tripping, the khateeb fingerpointing, and the moaning and groaning.  Tune it all out and ask yourself, what matters the most to me?  Where can I contribute and make the biggest impact?

An awesome brother I know in Chicago has poured hours of his time into giving a number of daw’ah projects out-of-this-world support by revamping the underlying structure of their websites, the value of which in the IT consulting world would run into tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he’s done it pretty much all for free, and the amount of money and time those orgs have saved as a result of his work can’t even begin to be enumerated.  That’s his cause – looking at promising daw’ah projects and making their IT state-of-the-art for free.  He’s not the imam, or the charismatic student of knowledge, and few know him or what he does, or the impact of his work, but Allah knows, and insha’Allah for everyone impacted, he’s got a huge windfall coming his way.

2.  Pick One Cause and One Cause Only

I’ve worked with people who are involved in multiple projects, and I’ve noticed that their personal life (health, family, etc) is suffering to some extent, and that their work performance is characterized by missed deadlines, shoddy quality, stupid excuses, and inevitable burnout.  Yes, I understand you want the reward, and I understand you intend well, but you’re screwing up my project because you’re involved with one hundred others.

If you want to save the world, stop trying to save the world – work one project and make it rock.  Focus on it with a passion AND give the rest of your life (mind, body, family, career / education, etc) its rights.

3.  Be Consistent and Reliable If You Want to be Taken Seriously

Wanna know one complaint I’m tired of hearing?  The one about how, “the masjid board sucks, they don’t come to the masjid, they don’t do this, they don’t do that, they’re hoarding all the power, etc.”

Kids, sit down, and let’s learn a little something about reputation.

Before the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam began calling to Islam, he resided 40 years among the Quraysh as an upstanding member of his community.  During that timeframe, he was known for his kindness to orphans, his honesty in business and trade, his involvement in community affairs (fudool alliance, look it up), and much more before calling people to Islam.  He was known as al-Ameen among his people, and his private life was so amazing, even his adopted son (who was first his slave) refused to return back with his biological father because of how great it was to be with the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam – and that was before prophethood had even descended upon him.

You would think with the miracle of the Qur’aan and other miracles seen during the Makkan era, the Quraysh would already have no excuse to reject the Prophet, but with his well-renowned impeccable character, even the worst of the worst had no excuse to reject him.

With all due respect to our younger da’ees, you’re nowhere near a prophet, nor have most of you spent enough time establishing a rep of any sort.  You’re also not addressing Abu Jahl or Abu Lahab, you’re addressing other Muslims whose work has enriched your lives, whether you agree with all their decisions or not.  Earn their trust.  Volunteer to do something non-threatening, like cleaning the masjid.  Serve the community, perhaps in relative obscurity, and then take advantage of whatever opportunity presents itself to participate meaningfully.  Don’t expect to simply get the keys to masjid because you have a great idea.  Give of yourself relentlessly, and the rest will follow, insha’Allah.  And if it doesn’t, who really cares – you were doing it for the sake of Allah anyway, right?  Right?

The same goes for any other cause – you can talk a great game, have the most baller critiques, but when it comes time to roll up your sleeves and bring your A game to the table, if your contribution is consistent excuses for absence, then sayonara succotash, your pie-in-the-sky ivory tower ideas are not needed.

Final Thoughts

Allah never demands from us more than we are capable of – His expectation is that we do what is within our power, and leave what is outside it to Him.  I don’t believe we’ve yet tapped into our true potential because we’ve been under the delusion that we can do nothing, or that we try to do everything, and end up doing nothing anyway.  Strive to do and be the best you can, and the world will have already begun changing for the better where it always must – with you.

What Are Those Steps Again?

  1. Brainstorm the causes and / or roles that interest you the most.  Ignore what everyone says you should be into.
  2. Pick one cause, focus on it with a passion, and make it rock.  Don’t be guilt-tripped (by yourself or others) into joining one hundred other causes – rest assured, the victory of Islam will come whether you’re there or not.
  3. If you don’t have the reputation or credibility to get the job you want, then work for it and earn the credibility in order that you’ll be trusted, even if it takes years.  If you never get the job, say alhamdulillaah, take the reward you received from Allah, and move on peacefully.

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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.

Siraaj is the Executive Director of MuslimMatters. He's spent over two decades working in dawah organizations, starting with his university MSA and going on to lead efforts with AlMaghrib Institute, MuslimMatters, and AlJumuah magazine. He's very married with wonderful children



  1. abu Rumay-s.a.

    January 20, 2010 at 5:52 AM

    masha`Allah, last three articles by Amatullah, Ibnabeeomar, and yourself is what I call MM’s “shock and awe” regarding these important my british friends would say, “spot on”…

    years back I personally experienced the point about attaining credibility… It went from an being an outsider, to a member, to a teacher, to an organizer over a period of a few years…may Allah accept from all of us solely for His sake and keep our intentions pure (before, during, and after our deeds) ..ameen..

  2. Abd- Allah

    January 20, 2010 at 6:35 AM

    JazakumAllah khayr akhi Siraaj for putting things in simple terms, as we sometimes tend to complicate things more than they are in reality.

    I just have one thing to add, and that is even if a person is trying to “save the world,” yet the world doesn’t revolve around him/her, and the world never will. If you are trying to save the world so you can be treated by everyone else as the center of the world, then you better re-evaluate the way you view things [and your intention].

  3. Tanveer

    January 20, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    Jazakallah Khair, good one Siraaj.

    On face truth, I aint gonna deny what you said, its very true. We all could help ourselves, our local community, our global community, and entire world. Only if we believe to help solve the problem by breaking it into simple tasks and participate for the sake of Allah.

    I am curious, what do you suggest to one, when sometimes the person involved in multiple projects is NOT because he wants to, but simply because those multiple projects are required as they are pieces of puzzle and none are showing up to take and execute.

    • Siraaj

      January 20, 2010 at 10:06 AM

      It really depends on:

      1. The rest of your life – is it the best it can be, or is it receiving the bare minimum attention to keep functioning?

      2. The project itself – is your taking ownership of so many areas empowering the weaknesses of others? are you doing something because you want to, or because you have to, and you feel guilty to let go.

      We have a “The problem is out there mentality” – not because we’re muslim, but because we’re human. If we’re activists, then there’s lots of problems to fix “out there”.

      The reality is that when you become a person of integrity, of ethics, of discipline, when you focus on being your very best, that will have more long-term impact on your family and community than the pressing matters of the moment.

      Focus on being a better “you”, and you’ll inevitably influence “me” with your better example, and that will make for a better “us”, insha’Allah.


    • Shahrukh

      January 20, 2010 at 6:10 PM

      As-salaamu Alaikum Tanveer,

      Besides echoing with what Siraaj has recommended, I’d like to say that I’ve been in those situations as well where you’re over committed and in some cases the only one committed.

      In those cases, I ask myself these simple questions to get me through it:
      1. How many people will be affected by your work?
      2. Do you have what it takes to get the work done? This is mostly about your motivation and less about skills.
      3. If not this work, can you dedicate your resource to some other worthy project?

      If your answers are like (1) enough (2) yes (3) no; then I’d say get on with the work and give it your best and know that your reward is ONLY with Allah.

      Insha’Allah may Allah help us all with our endeavors. Ameen.


  4. Nahyan

    January 20, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    Absolutely on the point – fantastic article Siraaj,

    The 3 steps are simple, yet come with great depth.

    Especially the point on reputation, it takes work to get noticed and then get to the top. And as mentioned, this is especially important for the young da’ee to take note of; trust needs to be earned.


    • ahmed

      January 21, 2010 at 8:51 AM

      i agree

  5. BM

    January 20, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    Mashallah!! Jazakullah khair awesome points for us all .


  6. Junaid

    January 20, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    i agree with the previous comments of “spot on”. I’m noticing this in my community where we had a bunch of folks (including me) who were trying to do a thousand things and never surmounted to much. Now mashallah, we’ve started to focus only on feeding the hungry and, alhumdolillah, the project is extremely successful with consistent volunteers, funding, dawah opportunities, etc. So i echo the comment on focus on one thing, but emphasize focus on one thing you are extremely passionate about and can execute on. Inshallah, Allah (swt) will reward us for efforts, both big and small.

  7. mystrugglewithin

    January 20, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    Assuming that a person is well aware of his “One Cause”, this article has the potential to give him the last push to stand up, and roll up his sleeves! The only way for me (and many others) to achieve more without personal experiences (read failures) is by taking these serious taunts, seriously .. lol.

    Jazakallah Khayrum.

  8. Qays

    January 20, 2010 at 2:59 PM


    Useful article indeed. The statement “Before the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam began calling to Islam, he spent forty years establishing his rep in the community.” seems like it could use some revision though.

    Jazakum Allah khayr.


    • Abd- Allah

      January 20, 2010 at 3:05 PM

      True, because he wasn’t planning to become a prophet..

      • Siraaj

        January 20, 2010 at 3:32 PM

        Good call guys, I’ve amended that portion with the following:

        Before the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam began calling to Islam, he resided 40 years among the Quraysh as an upstanding member of his community. During that timeframe, he was known for his kindness to orphans, his honesty in business and trade, his involvement in community affairs (fudool alliance, look it up), and much more before calling people to Islam.”


  9. PakistaniMD

    January 20, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    I agree with a lot that you have said (“Internal disunity? Check. Extremism (liberal/progressive or conservative)? Check. Poverty? Check. “), but some of the other statements are far more controversial to deal with. You say in your final analysis:

    “Pick one cause, focus on it with a passion, and make it rock.”

    This is a good statement for the more community-orientated tasks/omens that plague us, but how do you suggest we solve the other, more difficult tasks (extremism, secularism, and complete lack of unity)? Some of the issues you outlined are “slippery slopes”, tasks that are important and in need of remediation. Yet how is that supposed be done when they are so ingrained and deep throughout the WORLD!?

    • Siraaj

      January 20, 2010 at 5:50 PM

      The short answer is that you need to be the “you” that you can be, and that means focusing relentlessly on improving yourself first and foremost, and then your family and close associates, the same way the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam began his own mission.

      By focusing on yourself and what is within your reach, the ripple effect of that over time will impact the world. It may be slow going, and you may never see the results of it in your lifetime. There will be people who effect the change necessary to solve these problems – it may be you, or it may be someone influenced by your example. You may have nothing to do with the solution. Regardless, it doesn’t matter – put your best foot forward in all areas in life as much as humanly possible, give justice to each part, and watch the benefits pour in.


  10. Yus from the Nati

    January 20, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    Wow. jazakAllahukhair. This has all been great Naseehah for me.

    “don’t talk about it be about it” as they say.

  11. Sayf

    January 20, 2010 at 6:06 PM

    Well done, hit the nail on the head! = D} (consider drawing beards on your smiley faces too)
    JazakAllah Khair

  12. Abdullah Brown

    January 20, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    MM rocks

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  14. Abu'ubaida

    January 20, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    Jazakhallah khair for the article

    May Allah (swt) help us and guide us. Ameen.

  15. Maha

    January 20, 2010 at 11:03 PM

    Jazak Allah khayr. Comforting message!

    Wait, now I’m confused though when you say: “put your best foot forward in all areas in life as much as humanly possible, give justice to each part, and watch the benefits pour in.”

    do you mean just be the best you can be all throughout? wasn’t it all about focusing your best efforts on ONE area, not all?

    also, just so I have things clear here, is this the gist of your advise?

    1. first, focus on personal self-improvement: how to improve your character, spirituality, etc.
    2. then, focus on perfecting relations with your immediate family members.
    3. now, you can pick a cause you truly believe in & will devote to all your life. start working on this cause in baby steps.
    4. develop the cause into larger-scale steps to the best of your ability.

    • Sayf

      January 21, 2010 at 12:03 AM

      I think when he says “all areas in life” he’s referring to the single cause and all the other non-cause responsibilities that are a part of a healthy life, which can’t be neglected, and that make a huge impact on our society i.e. family/raising children, being an integral asset to the community, an employee/worker of character and morals etc etc. = D}

      • Siraaj Muhammad

        January 21, 2010 at 12:36 AM

        Exactly, jazakallah khayr – your life is made up of numerous components, such as your health, your family, your finances, your education, your community / daw’ah work, and so on – give each their due, as salman al farisi so astutely taught abu ad-darda when the latter attempted to overextend himself in ‘ibaadah to the neglect of his wife and health.

        With respect to “causes”, pick one. What’s a “cause”? Up to you – as I mentioned above, a homeschooling mother might make it her cause to raise upstanding, intelligent children – isn’t that an amazing daw’ah cause right there? Sure, there’s usually no big fundraiser or to-do for something like that, but as ‘Umar (ra), we may not know what someone has done in Allah’s Cause, but Allah does, so pick your cause, and run with it (but please, just one).


        • your brother

          January 21, 2010 at 8:36 AM

          i always felt multitasking ( as in parallel computing) is not any man’s (or any woman’s) cup of tea. spot on, one thing at a time. jazak Allaah khayr for putting it plain and simple.

          a next question for the wannabe ones, to decide between those causes, that one has to florish till the end? not many could be polymaths, those who could, will well be able to do more than one job and ihsaan’ify it. how do we select from those jobs, which is your own.


          • Siraaj

            January 21, 2010 at 10:17 AM

            Pray istikhara and choose the one that excites you the most without looking back.


  16. Hasan

    January 21, 2010 at 1:59 AM

    Muslims launch bus billboards for peace

    One of Britain’s oldest established Muslim communities has launched a national doorstep and publicity campaign on London’s buses featuring Islamic principles of peace, which is aimed at countering extremism.

    • Amad

      January 21, 2010 at 2:13 AM

      You should have said “Muslims wannabe” communities as by a consensus of Muslim mainstream, Ahmadiyyah followers are not Muslims.

      It is a slick technique to promote a neutral issue and get attention to their organization as being somehow representative of Muslims, when in fact they are not even accepted as such by the Muslims.

      Instead of launching a campaign of countering extremism, maybe they should have launched a campaign to reject their false prophet, the dajjal Mirza Ghulam Ahmed.

      • Hasan

        January 21, 2010 at 11:57 AM

        “You should have said “Muslims wannabe””

        Of course, who would be both Muslims and peaceful. Right?

        Obviously they have not understood Islam well, or they would have been blowing up everyone else too, like the rest.

        • Amad

          January 21, 2010 at 12:23 PM

          Hasan, your completely nonsensical comment either means that you are a follower of the ahmadi cult or you cannot comprehend English properly.

          Which one would be more accurate?

          I still remember meeting this ahmadi guy who runs a bookstore in philadelphia that sells 100% salafi books because it is good business for them (everyone BEWARE the Islamic Place or something like that near UPenn)– forget the fact that every book in their screamed against their cult… and when confronted why all Muslims have united against them, his answer was a perfect example of Hasan’s perverted logic… “yes, the fact that all 72 sects are against us means that we, the 73rd one, must be right as their unity is proof of their falsehood”. If you are scratching your head wondering what the h**? Exactly.

          Tangent closed. Hasan, please troll elsewhere.

          • mystrugglewithin

            January 21, 2010 at 8:53 PM

            Amad, just a reminder: “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom (hikmah) and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best.” (Surah An-Nahl 16:125)

            jak, ws.

  17. Ibn Muhammad as-Sudani

    January 21, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    I have recently come across muslimmatters and by Allah it is indeed a pearl. MashaAllah some inspiring material on here.

    Brother Siraaj, JazakAllahuKhair. The last few weeks I have been thinking on similar lines. The Muslim community has become a reactive and emotional one, who only stir themselves at injustices when they are informed to do so by news anchors.

    On being confronted with the realities of the Ummah at large – we continue to raise our hands to the sky and plead with Allah or put some change into the box on the way out from Jumu’ah prayers. Its a sad fact but its the truth, Why can’t we be more pragmatic with our passion and channel it to those who are weaker or less priviliged than ourselves right on the very streets we live our daily lives on.

    No amount of Da’wah leaflets/brochures will be able to compare to the positive contributions we can make to those who need it.

    thanks again and may messages such as this one spread to all.

  18. Ibn Masood

    January 22, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    Awesome article mashaAllah… gave me increase clarity bro… jazakAllahu khayran!!

  19. Holly Garza

    January 23, 2010 at 5:56 PM

    MashaAllah Brother Siraaj, JazakAllahuKhair for sharing this very good points and tips

  20. NS

    January 23, 2010 at 7:07 PM

    Great thoughts. One way that I’ve handled the situation is by getting involved with a large Muslim organization that is active in multiple areas. I myself focus on one area only [the “one cause”] and hence be effective & efficient, but through the organization I am able to coordinate with others in different areas. This helps to cross pollinate different areas of work, increasing benefit from lessons learned, new strategies tried, different age groups/target populations/products, etc and avoid being a lone ranger. But to be effective, you need the overall organization to be professional and organized, otherwise you’d end up in the same place as trying to spread yourself thin.

  21. Rabiya

    January 24, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    JazakAllah khayr akhi.

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