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Rebuilding Community Trust: Consulting Tools to Drive Mosque Growth and Efficiency

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 A Study on the Islamic Center of Nashville

An edited version originally published in the Islamic Horizon Jan/Feb 2015 issue

Yusuf Islam also known as the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Cat Stevens, who came to perform in Nashville in the late 70s, was an inspiration behind Music City’s first Islamic center— the Islamic Center of Nashville (ICN), the. After meeting with the city’s then small Muslim community who used to do their Friday prayers at Vanderbilt University, he donated the seed money for the mosque.

ICN later became a space where the young and diverse Muslim community grew over the past three decades. In 1989, old house purchased in 1979 was demolished and replaced it with a purpose-built mosque.

The community witnessed an influx of Kurdish and Somali Muslim refugee community throughout the 90s. In 1995, ICN purchased a 10.6-acre lot in Bellevue—bout 10 miles from its original site—intending to build an Islamic school, community center and grander mosque. A significant Muslim residential community evolved around the site in anticipation. .

Nashville International Academy, a fully accredited Pre-K through Grade 7 Islamic School is located at the site;the original plan of building the mosque never materialized due to changes in the center’s strategic priorities and its funding base. ICN is now moving forward along with plans for a gymnasium..

Nashville Muslims are a well-represented ethnically diverse community. Greater Nashville is home to more than 35,000 Muslims and five major mosques, and over 40 nationalities.As the community grew, many of the former ICN members established their own community centers around town and ICN has gone through a period of reinventing its role to serve the greater Nashville community.

Current Challenges at ICN

ICN has some 280 voting members, while some 600 people attend Jumuah prayers, and some 4,400 people attend the Eid prayers. The leadership is concerned that some smaller communities have larger daily congregation for the five daily prayers, especially Isha. Many community related conversations, educational lectures, socializing and networking happens in the evenings at most thriving mosques in the United States and ICN would like to see an improvement in this area. Ramadan is peak time for ICN as the mosque gets close to 200 people at Iftaar every day. However, the momentum is lost post-Ramadan. While some drop in the attendance is quite normal in most communities but ICN’s drop level within a month of Ramadan needs a follow up on how to strategically engage the community in an enhanced way..

Some current ICN challenges:

  1. Spiritual Leadership and Community Engagement: The turnover of the last several imams, and the current void of spiritual leadership and educational programs warrant a search for a dynamic imam who can serve as the symbol of the new ICN.
  2. The Bellevue land development vs. the renovation of the current mosque: While the school is running, Bellevue residents still await a new masjid. Some believe that affluent funders who can afford to live close to the original 12th south property have sidelined the project. Many others feel the need to renovate the original and existing 12th south facility as the city’s oldest and main Islamic center. They also feel that a lot of resources have already been poured into a part of town that is not as centrally located as the main center. This original centrally located 12th south property serves as a strategic location for public outreach.
  3. Expanding the donor base and securing adequate additional funding has always been a top priority. However, the mosque board needs to outline strategies on how much is needed on various projects or how to secure the funding needed to take the community to the next level.
  4. Youth Development & Engagement: In 2013, a few influential second generation Muslims, born and raised in Nashville, understanding the importance of connecting to the youth, encouraged ICN to hire a youth director. While many appreciate the youth work, others are concerned about financial limitations, as the mosque also needs a full time office/operations manager, and a full time imam.
  5. Women Involvement: Many of the founders understand the importance of fully engaging women in masjid affairs. Now a constitutional provision mandates at least one female member in the executive and trustees boards. However, many within the ICN leadership recognize that the women’s voice in future planning and community leadership is still inadequate.
  6. Coordination and Relationship with other Masjid Communities: ICN is the city’s mother organization from which many of the other mosques have evolved. Over time the ties with the other mosques have weakened and no major coordinated projects, other than the Eid prayers held in various locations (which are coordinated by only two of the four major mosques) have been initiated lately.
  7. Supporting the sizable neighboring Muslim student population: The area’s universities — Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb, and TSU have sizable Muslim student populations. Recently,a few key ICN members met with Vanderbilt’s chaplain’s office and the religious affairs committee to share the needs of the Muslims students and discuss potential collaboration to improve Vanderbilt Muslim Life on campus. The university encouraged ICN to sponsor a chaplain who will be provided a formal office and recognition. While no formal discussion has taken place at the board level, ICN sponsorship is crucial for Vanderbilt Muslim Life in serving the needs of some 500 Muslim students there.

The Way Forward for ICN

Last year, ICN elected its new board. However, before moving forward, they need to first understand the community’s frustrations, needs, wants, and expectations.

Many premier nonprofit and religious institutions engages third party consultants on organizational strategy, an alternative consulting model where all the stakeholders are engaged in a consulting engagement known as the Whole System Discovery (WSD). Following this model, a masjid can assign a temporary and neutral volunteer committee with the desired skillset as the “third party consultant”.One of the major drawbacks of this model is that the actual community stakeholders cannot always be as objective as third party consultants, hence the forums can be a bit chaotic and the process can take a little longer in the beginning. However, this method makes sense for many American mosques to secure a greater community buy-in and the benefits will outweigh the challenges in the long run.

Following is a list of rationale why this method makes the perfect sense for a community like ICN:

  1. Leadership Transition: An oft-repeated mistake in American mosques is the lack of procedure when transitioning leadership. Much of the previous leadership’s work is lost due to lack of an efficient system of knowledge sharing — hence, the face-to-face transition becomes paramount. Many new board members, coming into leadership being frustrated about a specific area of concern and are not always objective about setting priorities for the community. Therefore, objectivity will be crucial for a community like ICN and the entire community should be consulted to build trust, understand the public pulse, and to set priorities for the community accordingly.
  2. Trust: Five years ago, a dispute over an imam, led some key members to build another mosque in the suburbs. Also, and no election was held during this period (until last summer) due to a lengthy constitution review. These incidents have certainly contributed to polarization and doubts in the general membership. The Whole System Discovery will help rebuild trust by hearing all members out and empathizing with their concerns.
  3. Buy-In: The community votes the new board, and their agreement is paramount in making major decisions that can propel the organization forward. Involving them from the very beginning, therefore, guarantees a greater level of buy-in on critical decisions.
  4. Building on Positive Energy: A more involved community will help create enthusiasm necessary to harnessing all the talents and dedication of its resourceful membership pool.

While everyone may not attend all feedback and brainstorming sessions, ICN can use the WSD principle that everyone does not have to at these events as long as a large sample of all members can be present. The new board will have to strive to ensure representation from all key segments of the community (i.e. mosque attendees, community leaders, seniors, women, young professionals, preteens, adolescents, emerging adults, school parents/staff, all ethnic groups, nonprofits, various school of thoughts, focus groups, converts, new Americans) to harness the maximum benefit out of the Whole System process.

Executing the Whole System Discovery (WSD) process at ICN

Differences in status, power, title, and function disappear during the process. The leadership joins these proceedings as a full participant, and assigns a non-elected community member or the neutral committee as moderator.

There has to be complete transparency. The boards have to prepare a good analysis of the financials and other important data to be presented to the community.

Employees and elected officials have to be prepared to answer all questions. While this is not a forum for complaints, it is an event where all have questions, and all have answers.

The leadership and moderator agree in advance on how to redirect repeated and distracting noise to listen to and gather all genuine and constructive feedback.

Any non-participating past, or present leaders, employees, or community members surrender their right to complain or be heard.

The Executive Board can assign and rely on the neutral independent committee to analyze and triangulate all the feedback data to understand the whole picture.

Set strategic priorities. Grab the low hanging fruits immediately (i.e. issues that are important but easy to fix).

Keep the community in the loop at every step of the way.

Create project committees and empower them committees for the approving process (i.e. approving budget).

Share minutes from committee and board meetings on an ongoing basis.

Building on the newly generated community energy, all new ICN projects should be executed with a high level of transparency and community engagement. This usually is a huge challenge for most communities. While many community leaders do not know how to efficiently gather actionable community feedback, the few that do still struggle to keep the community engaged throughout the community projects’ lifecycle. In the absence of communication and support building, community members, when approached for donations for these projects, often express skepticism. To avoid this major pitfall, ICN can employ the RACI model framework to ensure all stakeholders are properly engaged throughout every project lifecycle. The RACI matrix describes the level of participation and authority for all stakeholders, can help the community assign a manager or a committee for each project and keep track of all aspects of the process. This is what RACI stands for:

R               =               Execution responsibility. Stakeholder responsible for getting the work done, not necessarily a decision maker but drives the group to make timely decisions.

A               =               Approval authority. Final approval on accepting the outcome of this activity. Makes decisions.

C               =               Must be consulted. As work is performed this stakeholder contributes information. While he does not make decisions, but is asked for input prior to decisions.

I                =               Informed after a decision is made. Wants to stay updated on progress of this activity.

Wadud Hasan is a founding member of several non-profits in Dallas. Hestudies Leadership & Organizational Performance at Vanderbilt University and loves to support organizations on their strategy and growth. Contact: wadud.hassan@vanderbilt.edu

 

Wadud Hassan, M. Ed. Strategy & Analytics Consultant | Startup CEO | Entrepreneurship Mentor |Seasoned Education Leader | Human Capital & Leadership Development Researcher | Founder at www.ENSHERA.com - helping develop intelligent and data-driven schools, non-profits and small businesses

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#Islam

What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.

Reem Shaikh

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The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.

In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.

It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.

Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”

The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.

The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.

While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.

First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.

Web MD

The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.

This view is shaped by  the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..

“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”

Forty Days:

The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.

This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…

“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”

Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.

Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.

No Excuse Required:

The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.

Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.

Only Under Extreme Risks:

The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.

Other Views:

As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.

Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.

For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.

The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.

This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.

Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:

((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)

Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.

Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.

As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.

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#Current Affairs

Faith Community Stands With Peace And Justice Leader Imam Omar Suleiman During Right Wing Attacks

Hena Zuberi

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In a follow up to the right-wing media platforms attack on Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists, as well as criticism of Israel policies, Faith Forward Dallas issued a statement.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanksgiving Square – Faith Leaders United for Peace and Justice is a Texas-based interfaith organization that has worked on many initiatives with Imam Omar Suleiman.

The statement reads:

“Imam Omar Suleiman a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice!!!!!

Time after time in our city, in the United States and around the world, Imam Omar Suleiman has been a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice. When others seek to divide, he calls for unity. Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square works to unite faith leaders for justice and compassion. Imam Suleiman has been a trusted leader among us. In the wake of his beautiful prayer to open the House of Representatives on May 9, he has received threats of violence and words of vilification when instead he should have our praise and prayers. We call upon people of good will everywhere to tone down the rhetoric, to replace hate with love, and to build bridges toward the common good.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square”

Commenters on the Faith Forward Dallas statement have left comments of support.

The group has invited locals and other leaders to endorse and share the statement. “Endorsed! I love and fully you Imam Omar Suleiman!” wrote Karen Weldes Fry, Spiritual Director at Center of Spiritual Learning in Dallas (CSLDallas), commenting on the statement.

Some commentators do not understand the manufactured controversy.  Heather Mustain writes, “What people are writing is so vile. They obviously didn’t even listen to his prayer!” Imam  Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives on May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas, TX.

“I’m grateful for the faith leaders with whom I’ve built relationships with and served with for years that have shown full support throughout this process. Together we’ve stood with one another in solidarity in the face of bigotry, and in the support of others in any form of pain. We will not let these dark forces divide us,” said Imam Omar Suleiman in response to the outpouring of love from the people he has worked with on the ground, building on peace, love, and justice.

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#Current Affairs

#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives

Zeba Khan

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Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.

Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.

News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The  ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.

Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.

The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.

“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”

MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.

You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar

JazakAllahuKheiran


A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Walk Into a Church in Dallas

At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source: DMagazine.com


Muslim congregation writes letters of support to Dallas Jewish Community

The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News


Historic action: Muslims and Jews for Dreamers

“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Bend The Arc


Through Dialogue, Interfaith Leaders Hope North Texans Will Better Understand Each Other

“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Kera News

 


Conversations at The Carter Center: Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights 

Source: The Carter Center


Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred

My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN

 

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