Another issue that I commonly faced in the MSA was dealing with the social dynamic of planning events as a group. Whereas the first post in this series was about the sometimes missing spiritual side of event-planning, this post is about another sinking feeling we get in the MSA when members have been treated unfairly or hurt in some way. You may have heard horror stories about the MSA or local masaajid–a dedicated volunteer all of a sudden stops coming around because the leadership treated her poorly or she was abused in some way.
These stories are far too common and it’s quite sad to hear that Muslims would rather avoid working with other Muslims or in Islamic organizations if possible. This can happen when our MSAs develop a tunnel-vision only focused on hosting successful events and developing programming. These events become so much of a priority that they actually end up being more important than the members who make up the MSA. It is always necessary to re-evaluate your MSA’s mission, vision, and goals–not as a ritualistic exercise, but a truly sincere one. MSAs must realize that the MSA is firstly an organization that addresses the spiritual needs (something as simple as having a daily prayer space or hosting Friday prayer) and facilitates brotherhood and sisterhood for Muslim students on campus. Make sure you prioritize the people in your MSA over the programs you are planning. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to sacrifice your programs for the sake of the people in your MSA, but you do need to act with kindness, diplomacy, good character, and awareness when dealing with other MSA members, who by the way are your fellow brothers and sisters in Islam. It says a lot about the character and care of the Prophet peace be upon him, who built a community and accomplished many things with the help of his companions and never lost the love and loyalty of those around him.
These are keys for ensuring your MSA values people over programs:
- “Treat others the way you want to be treated” is entirely wrong. Treat others the way that they want to be treated. Be cognizant of the fact that you are dealing with different personality types when working with different MSA members. Someone might be very similar to you and you can easily figure out how to interact with him. Another person might be very different from you, and you will struggle to figure out how you should interact with her. With some people, you can give them a few parameters to work by and then check in on them. With others, they will ask you to be very involved in the planning process. Some people will cave under pressure, some people will thrive under pressure. Some people want you to give them harsh feedback, and others need you to take a kinder approach. Working together as an MSA demands us to be informed about how to work effectively in a group, and there are plenty of sacred and secular resources that we can tap into to become better as individuals.
- Always be kind and have good manners and character with everyone.
- If you notice a person beginning to struggle with a task, keep the lines of communication open and check in with them. Don’t be afraid to talk to them and see if things are working out or if there is a problem.
- Always be on the look-out for the wellbeing of your MSA members. This includes the spiritual well-being. If a project is keeping an MSA member so busy that he doesn’t have time to pray, then there is a problem with the amount of work he has on his plate.
- Never correct or call out a person in a group of people. If you have something to share with someone, do so privately. This is a common etiquette of giving advice (naseeha).
- Encourage those who might not as easily come forward for planning events to help and assist with organizing, and make sure to diversify the people who get the “spotlight” in the MSA.
The most important thing to keep in mind when prioritizing MSA members instead of the events that the MSA hosts is that the MSA is a group of people coming together and that any programming should simply support the spiritual, social, and professional growth of the MSA and its members. Although it may not seem like it, MSAs weren’t created to host fast-a-thons and Eid dinners. MSAs were created as a social outlet for students with Muslim identities and beliefs. Any organization on a college campus can host a food drive or a weekend camp, but there is only one organization that will look out for the spiritual needs of its Muslim members, and that’s the MSA.