By Nihal Khan
I will not hold back any longer. As I exercised my right to vote in my local masjid's board elections which could shift the direction of our community, I witnessed the rights of my brothers violated in our community. I witnessed corruption seeping out of the 'negligence' of certain individuals who feel they are competent enough to run our masjid (mosque), yet cannot manage simple tasks which pertain to the equal treatment of our Muslim brothers and sisters in the masjid.
As we held Darul Islah's bi-annual election in voting for nine individuals who will run the community for the next two years here in Teaneck, New Jersey, I witnessed two individuals have their right to vote taken away even though they had submitted member/voter forms six months in advance and had paid their membership six months prior to today's election. I saw two individuals who had the tawfiq to work in their community to make a difference be handled with such negligence that anyone who works in any non-profit organization would see to be a crime. These two young men are considered leaders and movers within the youth community here. So what exactly happened? Myself and a member of the board of trustees personally witnessed these two individuals sign membership forms, attach their fees to it, AND hand them in to be approved to a responsible individual. Their money was received and deposited, but yet the 'responsible' individuals 'lost' their forms. Earlier today I spoke to other members of the community leadership who would thoroughly investigate what happened to their forms. I trust them, but that does not change the fact that two people were usurped of their right to have a voice. If this same occurrence were to happen among voter registration forms as it did a few months ago in some locations, something of this nature would be investigated as a potential felony. Maybe it was a mistake? Maybe their forms just 'happened' to disappear? Or maybe it was a deliberate act to shun the voices of people who have the potential to rise up and make a difference? Maybe it was the carelessness of people who claim to speak for the community and made an honest mistake? Maybe it was an intentional act where the mind turned away yet the heart knew what the person was doing? However it happened, the rights of two people were violated, and they were not allowed to vote and participate in the future of their community. As the famous American writer John Steinbeck said, "Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts... perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” So maybe it's not really about having power, it's about seeing that power go from one's hands to another's.
As we finished a beautiful, emotional, and awe-inspiring seminar yesterday night at the masjid, where within two weeks of advertising brought in 50+ people to sit in the masjid for seven hours, I came to a realization: certain individuals who may sit in an executive committee and claim to 'run the daily affairs of the masjid' actually DO NOT represent our community or masjid at all. Many of them are not familiar with how other masajid (mosques) run and operate, what the Muslim community needs, nor what problems we are facing. It's simply become a competition of keeping up with the Jones', except now it's all about who can climb a higher seat of power.
I am done seeing corruption, lying, cheating, deceit, and constant building and rubbing of egos become the norm among the leadership of Muslim communities when it comes to moving ahead and getting things done. I am done watching the minority cater to themselves at the expense of the majority. I am done watching individuals who are repeat offenders of not following regular processes and protocols in getting things done in the masjid and using the excuse of "I had a good intention" or "It was simpler" or "I did it so you could do such-and-such" to circumvent it all. I am done seeing women treated like second class citizens in the masjid. I am DONE watching good people who may be going through problems run far away from the masjid because of pseudo-leaders who have turned the masjid into a museum for 'good people' rather than a hospital for the broken. I am done watching the Imam silenced and his opinion not respected when it comes to running the community. I am done watching respected guest speakers and scholars be repeatedly disrespected and insulted and have nothing done by the community leadership. I am done watching people oppress my community year in and year out. Why do I say oppress? Because when someone ascends a position of leadership, they have a responsibility in executing it diligently. When they do not do so simply because they are incompetent, and they chose to remain in that seat of responsibility, they are indeed oppressing the community at large.
Many of our masajid here in the United States were once upon a time churches or synagogues for other faiths besides ours. Did we ever think about what lead those churches and synagogues to shut down? Did we ever fathom what factors could have possibly lead to their demise? How could a structure which was built for the purpose of worshiping in the Christian or Jewish community just be sold like it's another cheap commodity? I'll say this much. These are two old religious groups in our country and they have lost many of their houses of worship by simply not instating the concept of succession; and we, as the Muslim community are following into the same hole it sometimes seems like. Yes, it is not a comfortable idea to comprehend, but perhaps it will wake us up as to taking care of the condition of our communities! As a newer established religious community, did we ever think that we could possibly be on the brink of having deserted Islamic centers in thirty years? Do we think that by suppressing the young, the talented, and even women of our community will let our masajid thrive in the future? Sorry to say, but our community is beyond the idea of "Let's buy a ton of money, buy the building, put an Imam in it from overseas, and call it a mosque." You can feed a three year old baby food and put diapers on him, but you cannot do the same to a thirty year old. The same is to be said about our mosques, needs change when communities grow!
Brothers and sisters, take charge of your communities and hold your leaders accountable. Ask what they are doing to help the community push forward. If their goal is to ‘make sure the community simply does not go under’ then they should be rebuked. It’s time we set our standards higher for Allah, his Prophet (SAW), his legacy, and the community at large. If you are a leader and cannot fulfill a role, step down and let someone else do it. Everyone who has a responsibility is to be held accountable at the end of the day. Once we begin to fix our masajid, we will see all else in the Muslim community fall into place. Once we start investing in people and not buildings, we'll see our communities become exponential voices in society. As Shaykh Ali Gomaa' says "الإنسان قبل البنان - Put priority in people before buildings." Instead of watching the community leadership flock to politicians for a kodak moment, we'll see our time and resources spent more efficiently. Once we fix our masajid, then we'll see rectification in our communities.
I end with a quote from Imam Zaid Shakir taken from his book “Scattered Pictures.” This is a short, yet very good reflection on the condition of our community:
"Many of our youth are also blocked from any effective involvement in the affairs of the mosque, even if they are highly motivated religiously. They gain the impression that they have to wait for the "uncles" to die before they can have any say in the running of the mosque. As the years turn into decades and the same fossilized leadership remains in place, most of the young Muslims eventually get on with their lives. Unfortunately, the role of the mosque in their lives, if they do remain Islamically active, is minimal. Others, who may not be as religiously committed, drift away from the mosque because there are no viable classes or programs to stimulate them or keep them interested. Sponsorship of youth activities such as team sports, camping, ping pong, and pool are seen as being beyond the scope of acceptable mosque activities." -Quote taken from "Scattered Pictures", pages 107-108.
May Allah preserve our hearts, rectify our condition, and help us reach our full potential. May He let our mosques be true places of rectification and coming back to Allah.