By: Ismael Mukhtar
In December 2011, I accepted a task I ruled out as a possibility for a long time; I became President of the oldest local Muslim organization, Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA)! Ironically, this time I accepted what I had consistently declined in the past when I was much younger, healthier and conditions in MIA were more favorable. Two things compelled me to accept the task. First, the relentless pressure from many members of the community and second the dire straits the MIA was in. Given my professional background in management and my lengthy volunteer involvement in MIA, I accepted, hoping to make a difference and bring back some normalcy and order. From the outset it was crystal clear to me that the task was daunting; MIA was facing it worst crisis in its history. The expectations from my executive team and I were high. Even the Winnipeg Free Press, for the first time took interest in MIA elections and published an article titled “Islamic association head vows to heal divisions”! It was clear to me that I was venturing into a difficult terrain, with all possible outcomes. Nevertheless, I made my istikharah (seeking guidance prayer) and took the task, fully prepared for all possibilities.
I was fortunate to be part of a team of an executive full of talents and expertise. We worked as a team, we collectively made decisions, we tackled many difficult issues, we agreed and disagreed as brothers and worked together consistently. When I accepted the task of President, I wasn’t sure if I made the right choice. However, now looking back at the two years I spent in the MIA executive, I feel happy that I accepted the task. It isn’t up to me to judge how well the performance of our executive team was; I will leave that judgment to community members; however, I can certainly say, that by the grace of Allah, the MIA we left behind is far better than the MIA we took over in 2011. Working in MIA gave me an opportunity to work with an amazing group of volunteers, from across section of the community and see firsthand the generosity and the positive attitude of many members of the community. I believe there is a lot of good in our community; we need to tap into it and unravel it. Being a leader has it challenges and demands. Here are some of my reflections on being a leader:
Trying to please everyone is noble and great; but in reality, it isn’t always attainable. As the Arabic saying goes pleasure of people is a goal unachievable. There are many situations where decisions have to be made; these decisions might be pleasing to many but not necessarily pleasing to all. This becomes even more difficult in a community where there is great diversity and diversions. A leader who doesn’t make a genuine attempt to find alternatives that please everyone, isn’t a good leader; on the same token, a leader who hesitates to make the right decision for fear of angering some isn’t a good leader. It is a difficult act of balance that requires tact, courage, and creative thinking. In the end no matter how careful and how thorough you are as a leader, the fact remains, you can’t please everyone, every time.
When you are at the helm, everything funnels to you. You see the community with its various segments, issues, needs, prospects, and limitations. This view might not be readily available for all. Many times, provincial views conflicts with global views. Provincial views are stand-alone views, where a single issue or need becomes the central focus. Global view on the other hand looks at the bigger picture and sees provincial needs within a broader context. The challenge for a leader is to foster a global view and to show everyone that yes, your project or your activity or your program is good, your issue is important, but remember that your project is one of many projects, your issue is one of many other issues and your view is one among other views. Many times, big ideas, long-term strategic initiatives are undermined by provincial views. The difficulty facing a leader is to cultivate a broader understanding that encompasses all. An understanding that isn’t limited to immediate future, but distant future; not focused on quick fixes, but lasting solutions; not fixated on what is good for me, but what is good for us.
Violation of Quran and Sunnah:
Quran and Sunnah are the two primary sources of reference. No Muslim organization or individual should entertain the idea of acting in ways contrary to these sources. Mistakes are human, but intentional violation would be least expected from a Muslim. Occasionally, as a leader you are told that you are violating Quran and Sunnah because of not preventing certain things or making certain decisions. Sometimes these presumed violations are a by-product of failure to consider certain important scholarly considerations. The Quranic or hadith text could be Qatee (absolute) or Zanee (subjective). If a text is Zanee it opens the window for a legitimate variety of scholarly interpretations and opinions. At the practical level, when it comes to application of textual ruling there are considerations of gradualism (tadaruj) and weighing harm and benefit (al-muazana bayna almaslaha wa almafsada). Failing to consider all of these considerations and simply presenting one’s own view as an absolute, where non-adherence to it becomes tantamount to non-adherence to Quran and Sunnah is erroneous. Even though, occurrences of this nature are few; in a Muslim community a leader can’t escape the rantings/criticism of such short-sighted critics. Even Caliph Omar Ibn Abdul-Aziz had to face similar criticism from his young inexperienced son, Abdul Malik!
Patience, patience, and patience:
If an ordinary person needs one dose of patience, a leader needs 100 doses of patience. The task of a good leader isn’t just maintaining the status quo but effecting positive change and looking for better alternatives. People generally tend to resist change. A leader needs to give people time to absorb change incrementally and be patient with them and not be hasty or display signs of frustration. Furthermore, a leader needs to be patient with people. People are different. Some are friendly, some are hostile; some are gentle, some are harsh; some are approachable, some are unapproachable; some are quiet, some are vocal etc. A leader meets all of these types of people and deals with them. The only way a leader can deal with this variety of human traits is through patience and openness. As well, a leader could sometimes be the object of personal attacks and false rumors. To deal with this and more, a leader needs a great deal of patience, fortitude, and moral strength. The more sincere a leader is to the cause, the greater his patience and endurance will be.
Train future leaders:
MIA has grown significantly and functions in a complex world. To achieve its objectives, MIA needs competent leaders, leaders with vision, character, and know-how. As such, succession planning and training for future leaders becomes pivotal. The days where you learn to lead on the job are gone. MIA leaders must have knowledge of the community’s history, understanding of the MIA constitutional and legal framework, understanding of the basic Islamic values, personal integrity, and proven record of running organizations. Young people should be groomed from now and be prepared to step in when their time to lead sets in.
Elected MIA executives are volunteers who have other work, family, and personal commitments. Given the expectations placed on them and given the growing complexity of MIA’s operations, they need adequate staffing support. Like many large organizations, MIA needs an executive director who can deal with day-to-day operational issues. This will not only minimize the stress on the executives, but it will free their time to focus on strategic initiatives, long-term growth and development and greater engagement with the larger society.
To those who were supportive of my team and I, thank you. To those who were critical, thank you as well. No leader can succeed without having both supporters and critics. I am optimistic that MIA is heading on the right course, I pray for the success of its current and future leaders. May our community with all of its facets and entities succeed and be a beacon of unity, compassion, and cooperation.
(Reproduced from Manitoba Muslim Magazine, April 2014)