Monday, January 14, 2008

Leadership in the Muslim community

Salaam and Peace to you all:

I have frequently been part of discussions about leadership of the Muslim community. This morning, as I listened to the radio, the show mentioned the leadership of the African Americans in the context of the recent election issues. For a second I was not sure that American Muslims have any leadership to speak about.

To me, a leader is the one who knows about the community, has a strategy and long term goals, senses where the heart and the mind of the community is, then takes the lead in making things happen to bring their community a bit closed to where the communities goals are. Leader should also feel accountable and be accountable to their communities when they fail. They must have a vision for their communities, and may try to effect cultural changes in their communities that may lead to the overall success in the long run. For the Muslim community some of these cultural changes may include: political activism, awareness of individual's civil rights, voting, civic activities participation, and awareness and responsiveness to Muslim community at large with some sense of unity and common destiny.

For the Muslims of America, there is a couple of organizations that have achieved some national status: ISNA (Islamic society of North America) and CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) are the ones that come to my mind, and while both have done a lot for the community, CAIR seems to be the only one that have achieved some change in the status of Muslims in the US. Whether at the national level, or the local level, and even when CAIR chapters are run by less than a handful of volunteers, they managed to have an impact on the status of Muslims in the US. CAIR has been considered a formidable advocate and representative of American Muslims to the extend that it has been in the cross hair of many anti-Muslim organizations and a primary target for their slander and hostility - an indirect proof of CAIR's effectiveness, and rising significance.

Despite their small numbers, CAIR volunteers seem a lot more effective than most other Muslim organizations which may be attributed to a well defined mission with clear goals (defending civil rights of Muslims together with educating the public about Islam whenever possible). They also have generally be very independent in setting their goals and mode of operation from the more traditional control figures. Their goals, however, do not require ongoing communication with the Muslim community at large on regular basis. CAIR is an effective advocacy group but, by my earlier definition of leadership, may no be a leadership organization.

While it may be untrue in some places, the presence of ISNA was not much felt in two American Muslims communities that I lived in. ISNA did not seem to be any noticeable presence or control, and is rarely a factor in deciding anything within an American Muslim community. There presence in the media is a lot more limited, compared with CAIR despite wider membership and more abundant resources. For me, ISNA never came across as a leadership organization that impacted me or my community significantly.

What about local leadership:, imams, Shura Council members, Mosque Boards chairpersons, not only in St. Louis, but across the US? Should I/we be expecting leadership in its big sense from them? Are they even capable of representing Muslims in their communities? or are they just managing the Mosques and the religious education activities? Should we even look up to them for leadership in the larger sense of the word?

These are questions for which I have some answers based on my personal experiences. And, to put it nicely, the picture does not look very rosy to me. But, with my limited experience, it is not fair to generalize. Any one out their with more thoughts, or more experience with the Muslim community leadership?



  1. Salaam, interesting points.

    Although I was never a member of the MSA, I do think they have played a positive role in the lives of younger Muslims.

    One thing that I think ISNA could do to help local mosques is to conduct training seminars for Majlis leaders and imams. I know they have an imam training but I just get the sense that you are right - many of the local communities are focusing on paying the bills and keeping the lights on. While these are important, there doesn't seem to be many "big picture" idea people which I think we need more of.

    Allah knows best.


  2. The structure of ISNA, make it the most suitable body to lead the Muslim communities. However, there is something lacking in that structure formula, that makes it incapable of doing so. I beleive that we -Muslims- are waiting impatiently for a leader -organization, or a person-.
    A major factor leading us to this situation, that we did not find the right structure, and/or that Muslims -mostly the immigrant population- have a whole lot of diversity, political ad intellectual. I am not sure why this very thing as diversity was a great stregnth to Islam in the past, while it is, or could be, the reason for our division.
    The other issue is CAIR. It can be a good leader, but it has to be part of a big organizational leadership structure because Cair's scope is rather limited to few facets of the Muslims' life here.