Like many in the community, I was startled after receiving WhatsApp messages announcing grievances between members of the Masjid Omar community and Al-Farooq Masjid management. It’s been nearly 15 years since I served on Al-Farooq’s Board, and so I was disconnected from the goings-on with “masjid politics”. I may have been startled, but I was not surprised. The external and internal pressures American mosque communities endure are immense. The institutions are typically managed by baby-boomer volunteers [sincerely convinced they are safeguarding the masjid from evil influences] who work on a shoestring budget with little to no formal nonprofit governance training as they try hard to address the rapidly changing needs of a younger, American-born constituency.
But watching the social media posts and getting calls from individuals on both “sides”, I noticed something different that made me hopeful. While there may have been a few jabs made, no one wanted the organization to go down in flames; and I consistently heard the desired outcome for Unity with a capital “U”. With this same aspiration, I humbly offer the following advice to the newly formed Al-Farooq (Atlanta Mosque) Board members.
1. Agree on a core set of organizational beliefs. I am not talking here about the standard ahlus sunnah wal jama'ah phraseology. During these past few weeks, I heard the need for more transparency, more inclusiveness, more coherency. Do yourselves a favor and define these organizational beliefs before you dive into the work. Revisit them often to recalibrate when you notice things veering off track.
2. Remind yourself often why you stepped up for this role. While there are commonalities within all purpose-driven nonprofit work, faith-based work is unique. To thwart ego from creeping in, get outside your comfort zone and stay connected to community members you don’t know, especially the disadvantaged and those whose needs are not being met.
3. Set three realistic goals for the next year. Two of these goals should be aimed at building trust and reconciliation. For example, seek formal governance training, or as a way to build transparency, your board meetings should be open to the community (except when confidentiality is warranted). And the third goal can be more forward-thinking, such as adding a program, generating a strategic plan, or hiring a competent and empowered executive director to manage the daily affairs of the organization (the ROI will be well worth it).
Community work is not for the faint-hearted, but it is incredibly rewarding. In this watershed moment, we are rooting for all of you who have volunteered to serve our community. We pray you recognize the potential the Al-Farooq organization has to bring together the tapestry of diversity & talent within our community to benefit all of Atlanta.
Ehab Jaleel Executive Director, Amana Academy Charter School