For nearly a half-century, both Al-Farooq and Omar ibn Abdul Aziz have served a foundational role of being a space for our 5 daily prayers, the Friday sermons, provided programs in the Qur’anic and Islamic sciences, and facilitating weddings and funerals. A few years ago, Masjid Omar hired Imam Abdullah Jaber, a respected and deeply connected leader with reach across Atlanta. His presence was a breath of fresh air, and proved that Masjid Omar was committed to investing in its most valuable asset: its people. Men, women and youth alike felt a strong sense of community and leadership with Imam Abdullah at the helm.
Behind the scenes for many years, members of the community have raised concerns about a variety of issues - from the barriers to youth and women’s involvement, to a lack of transparent leadership, to an uncertainty of which causes their donations were supporting. Community members have reached out through email, letters, by phone, and physical meetings to address their concerns, but the leadership has in many ways remained silent or unresponsive to these concerns. The leadership however, was looking to address their own concerns. Imam Abdullah was informed that he was violating the Shariah and his English sermons before the khutbahs (Friday sermons) are no longer permitted. When Imam Abdullah asked about his breaking the shariah, he was also met with silence. This trivial concern of the board wasn’t even the final straw though. Years worth of frustrated sentiments and a lack of trust in leadership finally erupted this past month, when several community members were made aware (privately) that Imam Abdullah Jaber was told to ‘halt’ all of his activities at Masjid Omar and immediately relocate to Al-Farooq without any prior notice. This unilateral decision came from the chair, who without a public shura (council) and without the rest of the AlFarooq management being aware. The community stood up at jummuah and a member publicly called out the actions of Masjid leadership. Had it not been for this public announcement, the rest of the community would have remained in the dark about this decision.
A Turning Point
A week went by and signatures were collected for a petition demanding change (800+ have now signed), a town hall was decided on, and leadership was forced to reverse its decision regarding Imam Abdullah’s transfer. In a way, the community’s needs were heard. But it begs us all to ask a number of questions: Who makes these decisions? What are these decisions based off of? Which board member decided to threaten legal prosecution and arrest if the community met at the masjid to resolve concerns? Why did it take such public outcry and pressure to reverse this decision? Are these decisions really in the best interests of the community? Hundreds filled into a packed room (the community members had to rent a hall because the Al-Farooq management threatened to prosecute the community for holding a meeting) that Saturday afternoon. All of us watched a gripping drama unfold between five men on a stage and a long line of brothers and sisters with unanswered questions. The spectacle was as theatrical at times, as it was raw and honest and connecting. Two things were clear that day. One- the community was dissatisfied with the leadership, and two- it was only with the community showing up and putting pressure on leadership that the decision of relocating Abdullah Jaber was reversed.
Another point that was evident was that these concerns were really an Atlanta wide issue, not isolated to the Masjid Omar community. Many that routinely attend AlFarooq masjid also expressed disappointment. Imam Abdullah’s issue was just a fuse that lit the building frustration. To quell this problem, a few community members were offered a director’s position by the AlFarooq management - this further reiterates the need for a leadership change.
Additionally, the committees that were functioning were suddenly “suspended” by the Al-Farooq management after no more than 5 hours after the general assembly where the management stated they fully supported the committees (Education, Communication, Youth, Outreach, Social Welfare, Facilities, Recreation and Wellness). These committees were supported by 48 members, who found themselves locked out of their website, keys were taken away, social media access denied, scheduled programs for children cancelled, etc
So, what does the community really want? To be honest, the demands are fair and what would be expected of any functioning non-profit:
A new leadership board, a clear set of rules, reconstitution of the By-laws, financial transparency, and accountability, inclusivity
Why This Matters
This is personal. It hits home. An entire generation has been taught at this masjid, we’ve been shaped by it, we’ve become better because of it, and now we’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure this masjid is a home for the everyone, a safe space for women, and a place for transparency, and an organization that invests in people over buildings. Now is our chance. Come out tomorrow for a critical General Assembly to discuss Next Steps for the Masjid Al-Farooq & Masjid Omar Community.