Posted by: Dawud Israel | June 12, 2010

A DIY Guide to Community Organizing

I haven’t talked much about something very important, and that is community planning and community work in the Muslim community. In North America, the community work has taken a few trajectories, which I’ll run through quickly:

1- Masjid halaqas: small, often workable usually when it is a group that you usually socialize with; very successful if spear-headed by an Imam or if people are regular attendees; problematic when run by amateus who will endlessly return to “the basics” and not move further beyond, very important to search around and know of a consistenly excellent halaqa to attend regularly or even occasionally when you are feeling weak spiritually.

2- Conferences: usually all about high turnouts, famous speakers; false perception of community progress, more as a show and a coming together of various trends and strands in the community.

3- Seminars and classes: Almaghrib classes, some monthly or yearly special classes; very popular, and can go from simple to dawah to Muslims, to actual scholarly issues, to text studies; unfortunately it seems only the few really committed Muslims active in youth groups or volunteering at conferences benefit from this- it seems we are taking more and more out of fewer and fewer practicing Muslims, so we need to find ways to take more and more out of the full breadth of the community and to give the untapped segment a space to participate and contribute.

4- Youth groups: usually take the form of sports nights, crucial to guard youth from influences at this precarious time in their lives; idea is to keep them busy and this will solve everything; only successful if there are strong enduring bonds of brotherhood.

5- MSAs: infamous history, lots of great events come out of this period, lots of Islamic inculcation; the bad-sides are lots of politics, most Muslims who go through the MSA go through a radical phase, that makes Islam difficult and unworkable, seeing things as ‘black-and-white,’ as Islamic understanding grows this goes away, but for some it never goes away. MSAs, before one is in them and after, one should not let them ‘compete’ with masjid events, since in reality, masjid or community events are far more important because they are consistent. Many criticize MSAs as only being for marriage- and I think this is a silly argument, if brothers and sisters won’t find spouses at MSAs, then where do you want them to go? MSAs also need to play this role, and this is a good thing because it completes the blessings of the MSA by giving rise to families.

Running a Youth group

Most people are familiar with these. I remember working my local youth group and having a great deal of difficulty and frustration. The mentality was that a youth group is little more than entertainment, and I was there to entertain them. Looking back I realize the problem was an expectation to see some youth rise up, gather courage and take on bigger challenges. However, this rarely materialized. It was however very clear everyone had good intentions despite involvement, even now with drugs, alcohol and party life. The youth group doubled as a group for socializing with, so what is key in helping these brothers is to make sure they help each other. Peer pressure will often be used against each other, often one will try to make a clean break and the others will criticize them, but it can be used to help each other as a support group. If 2 or 3 take on the promise to quit or make a clean break, then it will be more successful because of mutual support. Working a youth group requires massive amounts of patience. Some things I remember running include: building brotherhood by having one brother fall backwards and have another catch him, wrestling, sports like soccer, football and basketball, itikaaf sleepovers, and the usual Quran readings. What will happen in making success out of these brothers is that to keep them attached to the masjid, so that when things get rocky the masjid remains a place of stability. Over the years, some brothers have gone from being the worst trouble-makers in the group to being Quran teachers, so it’s just a matter of time and requires a great deal of patience.

Dynamics of Sisters

Most events are powered by sisters- sisters are the renewable fuel of Islamic activism, and unfortunately they get neglected. I haven’t run any sisters programs but there are some key concerns. When sisters have their menstrual cycle, they are not allowed to enter the prayer hall- this is important to keep in mind, because although there are many opinions, some that say it is permissible, others say it is not, or simply are uncomfortable. So it is vital to have masjid events outside of the prayer hall so these sisters feel included and accommodated. Another important issue for sisters community work, is there are always petty rivalries or jealousies. The top question that comes up in asking people to come to events, “Who else is coming?” Then the names are listed and if they are few, this person, if he is a guy will decide not to come, because it won’t be as much a social event. But if the names are listed and this person, if she is a sister, will immediately assess if she gets along with them, if she doesn’t like them or not, as if a platter is being laid out for her. So xyz will not attend simply because they don’t want to be near this person, or because they had “beef” in the past, or because they just don’t hang out. With sisters it seems they must love each other in order to take each others company, and nothing short of that. It’s unfortunate, especially how can gossip play into Islamic activities, but it is important because some people simply do not get along and putting them together will sabotage everything.

Future of Community work

Most events in North American communities are more or less sporadic and random, being disconnected from each other. So naturally people don’t take it seriously and think of it as more a social function. But from the perspective of some Muslims, including myself, this is training. We do one event and develop skills in the process, and then use those skills to grow and organically explore newer possibilities. The hope is we will work up to have our own organizations and institutions similar to those found in other minority communities–advocate groups, watchdogs, think-tanks, social welfare groups, Muslim schools and universities, etc. A big overlooked issue is giving announcements that are outside the Muslim community, in the masjid- so for example an announcement about blood donations, or of prominent speakers like Norman Finkelstein visiting, or of Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, or of a new soup kitchen that is opening up and could use some help- this is key for integrating Muslims, to help us find our place. Keeping good relations with masjid neighbors is also, important because if there is a difficulty Muslims are creating for the neighborhood, it may result in the property value of these non-Muslim’s houses going down, and in that way we are doing harm when we should be doing good. In addition, we need to realize that even the small events we do can become huge- just consider how religious talks in small communities or even small gatherings 10 years ago have gone viral through the Internet for the entire ummah to watch. So it is important to understand Islamic work is never in isolation- it will have an effect, and we need to make sure we maximize the khayr of that effect. Keeping this in mind is absolutely crucial- I never understood it until someone much older than me explained the broader vision. If we keep this in mind, then you realize the compulsive attitudes of forcing people to attend events or functions, or forcing them to volunteer and help, then is actually to the detriment because you are pushing them away- the next time they see you, they will avoid you. So it is better to search out people who will help always- and just because I don’t help with one event does not mean I am not busy with other types of work, so one can’t assume- people have their strengths in different areas. Not only that, but it is also important sometimes to step down from a voluntary position, simply so that another brother or sisters gains the experience, learn from it and thereby strengthen their eman by it- if everything relied on you, then when you fail, the entire effort fails. Another concern is how multiple events happen at the same time- an Almaghrib class, an Islamic conference and an online program all on the same weekend. This is a problem, I can’t figure out, but it is going to cost us because it shows how we marginalize Islam to a few days a week.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


  1. […] the rest here:  A DIY Guide to Community Organizing « MUSLIMOLOGY Share and […]

  2. […] this will solve everything; only successful if there are strong … Read the original post:  A DIY Guide to Community Organizing « MUSLIMOLOGY Share […]

  3. Excellent post. “building brotherhood by having one brother fall backwards and have another catch him”… It’s the Trust Game, isn’t it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: