The following is an article I wrote for the first nationwide Muslim Student magazine, known as Islam Central. I go into details into some of the Islamic tips of Management and Management concepts used widely in the corporate world, that helped me a lot in my time as the head of an Islamic student society. Although geared mainly for students, the lessons adopted here can be shared in a wide range of situations.
A number of people have asked me to write my personal experiences in the ISOC, and how it developed from being a structure-less society filled with politics to a well-structured, project orientated, organic society. Instead of boring you with my experiences, I thought it would be better if I simply wrote down elements of success that worked with ISOC, and that I believe can transpire to all ISOCs across the country.
1. Keep your focus upon Allah
The difference between a successful ISOC and an unsuccessful one is the difference between the one that has a team that solely focuses on how to please Allah (Subahanahu Wa Ta’ala) on campus and not on how to build up the ISOC’s name. When an ISOC team solely focuses on Allah, their vision becomes sharper, their priorities become clearer, and sacrificing time and effort for ISOC becomes second-nature. The call from ISOC, becomes a call from Allah, and you find your body, heart and mind switched on and ready and eager to help ISOC at all times. This is regardless of whether you’re an ISOC member, ISOC committee member or evenISOC president.
2. Five-worth-twenty Rule
The five-worth-20 rule is a tried and tested rule where 5 brothers and sisters can be as good as twenty if they are truly sincere. I’ve seen in my own eyes how an entire Islamic Awareness Week was brought together by 2 brothers and run by 3 brothers and 2 sisters (this was done within 2 weeks!). I know a lot of ISOCs either suffer from over-staffing, or under-staffing, and my message is for those who think they are under-staffed: even if you’re only 2 in the committee, that’s enough to move and shake the University, just be sincere, focus and work hard.
3. Get a structure
Don’t be a structure-less society, it’s inefficient and time-consuming. Get a structure! The type of structure you adapt depends on the ISOC and its history and number of committee members, but do get a structure which your committee members agree with and stick to it. End of the year, you may review it. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll achieved within a structured society.
4. Sincerity & Hard work
An advice I heard personally from Sheikh Bin Bayya, when I visited his home last summer, which truly and utterly made sense and has become a rule which I aim to live by: “Have good, sincere intentions and work hard.” Having sincere intention to help your ISOC without working hard is fooling yourself, and working hard without sincere intention can fall into “riyaa”. Have both and you’ll see the seeds of your efforts grow, and Allah will place barakah in your work.
5. Listen & Obey
Listen & obey to your ISOC President. There’s hikmah and wisdom in prophet Muhammad’s injunction of listening and obeying to our leaders, and it’s one of the elements of successes of any ISOC. Your ISOC President, is your amir, Allah has placed the burden of leading the mini-Ummah at your campus upon his shoulders, ease his work by listening and obeying him. Imagine an ISOC that does not listen to its amir, what a nightmare that would be, and how disunited the Muslims will seem.WARNING: This is not a license for ISOC Presidents to become dictators, (which is my next point) rather this is a tried and tested formula in any successful organization, there should be a voice that is listened and obeyed.
6. Seek & heed advice
This is for ISOC Presidents: seek advice from your committee members. Don’t be a snob in your perceived throne expecting all your decisions and ideas to be treated as divine decree. Ask your committee members, and listen hard to their advice and their reasoning, when they advise you. Many times I was corrected in my presidency whenever I was about to make a decision to the detriment of the society by listening to the advice of sincere brothers and sisters. Also if you have a plan or event in mind, make sure you put a case forward for it, and not just “because I said so!’’.
7. Istikhara, Duha, and the 2 rak’ahs + Wudu at all times
These should be the spiritual tools of any ISOC committee member especially the President. Pray Istikhara prayer whenever you are unsure of a decision. Make sure you start your day with the duha prayer, and of course the 2 rak’ahs before any ISOCevent, meeting or function will make a world of a difference. Also, try to be in Wudu almost all of the time, I occasionally used to instruct my committee members to come to the meeting having their wudhu on, one way to ensure this is to setup a meeting before salaat time and explain that we all need to have wudhu so we can start praying immediately before the meeting starts. Having wudhu has a great effect to lessen the effect of shaytaan on everybody in the team and less feuds/arguments occurring during meetings/events.
8. Don’t forget the sisters
A common feature, particularly of small ISOCs, is that they become an all-boys club, marginalizing the sisters activities (if they hold any at all) and our sisters through their shyness usually keep quiet about it.. that is, until you get a pretty loud one that storms in the mosque and sends you hate mails, or even worse takes you to the union court. Usually when that happens, I’m amazed at the reaction of the brothers: “Where did she come from?” “astaghfirullah” “Didn’t we try to hold such and such event for the sisters and they never turned up, it’s not our fault, it’s theirs!” And the war begins. To the all-boys network, I say: WAKE UP! If sisters organised the brothers only social gathering, will you go? Umm.. mostly not. The truth is, it’s a catch-22 situation: you need sisters to get more sisters involved, but where will you find the sisters who are ready to get more sisters involved..?! That’s another article… but basic message here is get the sisters involved from the beginning, make them feel they are part of a team, and listen to their advice, as most sisters are natural organizers and experts in the fine detail that makes an event run flawlessly, making your lives much easier. Don’t think or treat them as just an extra small branch ofISOC.
9. Don’t compromise
Ask for the best when dealing with the University – don’t compromise your faith, or your principles just to please the University. State your principles loud and clear, (e.g. having segregated events). Also ask for the best, and you’ll be surprised at what Allah enables at your hand. Never say this is “too much to ask”, just ask. As Prophet Muhammad said, if you ask Allah for Jannah, ask for the Firdaus, the highest part of Jannah.
Always be professional within the team and outside your team. E-mails should be clear, with a clear subject and clear instructions (no more lols, and hahas, and salamzzzz peeps). Meetings should have an agenda that you stick to, a start and end time, and minutes be sent after the meeting. Events should be professionally organised from uniformed ushers down to feedback forms given out to attendees. Be professional, and you’ll avoid 90% of the problems that plagues ISOCs across the country. (For more advice on how to develop a professional working team, please contact me).
11. Thank people
This is one of my favourite. Ever received a thank-you card from a random person? How did you feel? Great wasn’t it? Now imagine if you could be that random person and you send out thank you cards to anyone and everyone who helped, supported, cared for the ISOC in any way or form. This could include the University official who helped to book your venue for last week’s event, or the porters who stayed for the night shift so you can successfully complete your event, or the cleaners who clean your prayer room regularly. Sending a thank you note to these and more, will make a world of a difference and truly improve the image of Islam and Muslims on campus.
12. Tuesday Lunch
Another favourite of mine: Every week, the ISOC President, ISOC External-affairs officer or ISOC’s general secretary should schedule their Tuesday lunch with the President of a society, University or Union official, or even a company representative. The idea is to meet with someone that may benefit the ISOC in one way or another. The power of this method is contacts. Remember, we live in a world of not what you know, rather who you know, and if you could build a positive relation with different people at your University and Union, you’d be surprised at the outcome. Such meetings usually lead to unexpected joint events, (a debate with the atheist society?) a sponsorship opportunity (meet with your local Islamic banking solution, we had Lloyds TSB Islamic banking sponsor our freshers week!) or at least a form of dawah. Be proactive, pay for the lunch, and watch ISOC’s reputation build within Uni and beyond.
13. One-on-One & Feedbacks
This is a management tool from the corporate world and it helps any ISOC president or team leader to build a positive working relationship with his team. It’s a simple 30 minute weekly meeting scheduled in advance either via phone or in person where for 10 minutes you ask for updates from the team member, listen to it and note it down so you won’t forget and for the next 10 minutes you tell them of any updates, and the last 10 minutes is spent to plan for the following week. This ties in beautifully with the weekly review below, and helps to keep everyone updated and on the same page. Now, on an honest basis, I didn’t use the above formula entirely, my one-on-ones were very relaxed in the form of a casual telephone conversation or a breakfast after fajr or a dinner at home but it definitely worked.
Another tool is feedbacks, and the simple rule is: ALWAYS GIVE FEEDBACK. It doesn’t have to be negative, this can also be positive. e.g. you walk in Jummah, and you find everything is in place, and everything is prepared, you give feedback of how wonderful that Jummah went. You hold an event and someone is late to start, you give feedback on that. My only advice regarding giving feedback is to be aware of the mentality and psychology of the person you’re giving feedback to, it’s a science, which can be easily acquired but hard to master, as you may easily offend and demotivate if you aren’t careful.
14. Have a vision
Don’t be a blind ISOC! Have a plan, a vision. Worse ISOC meeting I attended was attending an event meeting with the team leader asking, “so, any ideas?” That to me was a waste of time. The leader needs to set the vision and at the meeting, the vision may be discussed or edited, but not drafted from scratch! The beauty of having the vision is that once the end of the ISOC year comes, you can review it and see how much of it was achieved. One of my favourite ISOC moments, was at the last exec meeting held, where we pulled out a mind-map which we set at the beginning of theISOC Year and we went around it to tick those events/activities which we were able to achieve, and hamdulillah we managed to do even more that what we planned for.
15. Play the brainstorm game
Sometimes you do need ideas for an event, but instead of sitting in a meeting and asking your team member “so, any ideas?” you should be stimulating the idea generating process through a simple game. I call it the everything-goes-even-a-peanut-butter brainstorm game. Simply put, get a flip chart, and ask your team to put forward as many ideas as they can in a space of 10 minutes. They should blurt out the first thing that comes in their mind, could be as random as anything, and in fact, you as the facilitator or team leader should write down all their ideas on the flip chart, regardless of how absurd that is (trust me, I have had some pretty whacky ones!). This team idea generating process is far more productive than sitting around a table and toying with pens waiting for a revelation of a new idea! Also, you never know which of your team will come up with THE idea!
16. Weekly Review Every week
Schedule a 2 hour time with yourself and think carefully, how else can you improve the ISOC? Think of everything, including the prayer room, jummah, up coming events, team relationship, your meetings, your website…etc. Just by reviewing theISOC on a weekly basis, and consciously trying to improve it, will take ISOC through perceived barriers in no time.
17. The ISOC hour
Coupled with the weekly review, have a daily ISOC hour in the morning/evening in which you think what needs to be done for the ISOC that day or in the near days to come. Send out e-mails here, text instructions, plan agendas, as well schedule meetings. This helps to keep you focused, and staying on top of things (at least –ISOC related).