Trusting in the Group Intellect: A Critical Component of Faith – Part 1

“While the European renaissance was a result of the intellectual power of Al-Islam, the Muslim community struggled under its periods of intellectual repression. I believe after review that the beginning of the decline of the Muslim empire after the 13th century, although attributed to various secondary causes, resulted from a fundamental error committed by many Muslim governments: the rejection of the group intellect as a governing authority in Al-Islam.” Genesis of New American Leadership, p. 95.

When we talk about faith, we normally have the discussion within the context of faith in the Creator. For Muslims and Christians whose native tongue is Arabic, we say faith in Allah (the Most High). But there is another component of faith that is essential to group dynamics and progress at every level of human relations…and it is that the leaders and the followers must have faith in the group intellect.

And when this faith component is absent, the group’s progress will be stifled.

How important is trust in the group intellect? To answer the question, it is helpful to ask first, how important is trust in the individual intellect?

“G-d has not created anything better than Reason, or anything more perfect or more beautiful than Reason. The benefits which Allah gives are on its account, and understanding is by it; and Allah’s displeasure is caused by it; and by it are rewards and punishments. Verily a man has performed prayers, fasts, charity, pilgrimage, and all other good deeds; but he will not be rewarded but in proportion to the sense he employs.” (Prophet Muhammed, pbuh)

Another word for trust is faith. I may say I trust you, or I can say I have faith in you. But trust is a bit more nuanced and goes beyond faith. Trust can be a noun or verb and the fact that it can be turned into an action is the difference I am referring to. If I say I trust you, it means I am willing to demonstrate my faith in you in a tangible way:

1. Allowing your voice to be heard.
2. Allowing you to contribute your knowledge, skills, abilities, and proposed solutions.

And not only allowing you, but trusting that you have the sensitivities, the sincerity, and the capacity to contribute as well or better than me. And unless you demonstrate some flaw in character or competency that endangers the group, I should help create the environment or shared freedom space, as Imam W. Deen Mohammed (ra) phrased it, for you to contribute.

And I should believe in the fruits that will occur from your contribution. I should believe that G-d will bless your contribution to be beneficial. I should have that expectation, just as I have that expectation of my own contributions.

This idea of trust in the group intellect is a theme that occurs throughout the Qur’an and the Life Example and Recorded History of Mohammed the Final Prophet (peace be upon him). The benefits of trusting in the group intellect has also been proven in human history as an advantage in societal development. Groups, organizations, institutions, societies, etc. that do not value trust in the group intellect cannot build long-term sustainable civilizations today. I say today because like the individual soul and intellect that develops over a period of time, the group intellect also develops over a period of time. The collective intellect of man today is not the collective intellect of man a thousand years ago. One thousand years ago, the biggest problem facing the human intellect was literacy.

Now literacy is still an issue in certain places of the globe, but the biggest problem facing the collective intellect today is a voice crying out like sounding clay tempered with the heat of frustration in that those very voices are not being heard. Today the problem facing the collective intellect is how best to structure evolved systems of leadership, governance, and accountability that trust in the group intellect and respect the voice of the common man. It is also the biggest problem in our masajid, the biggest problem in our national Islamic community, in our nation, and in the world.

Consider this for a moment: What was the catalyst of the struggle against the human being and the attempt to bring about the destruction of G-d’s man from the very beginning? In Islamic and biblical theology, the source of the destructive prejudice and unfair discrimination against man began with a creature who felt man did not deserve the leadership role. In the Qur’an, Iblis becomes the satan that challenges G-d’s plan for man and humanity, not on the basis that Iblis did not have faith in G-d.

The satan did not express disbelief in G-d, he expressed by default a disbelief in the Plan of G-d, because of his arrogance that he was better than man. Satan or shaitan was blinded by his own arrogance, in his belief that he was better than man. Remember we have been taught that man means mind. In Islam, Iblis approached the collective Adam and tried to get him to disobey his Lord. Iblis by default was also ignorant of G-d’s plan and by extension the ability and capacity of man to carry out great work. Satan did not believe in man, even though he believed in G-d. Now the odd thing about this conundrum of belief is that one can say he believes in G-d, yet fail to trust in Him with all his heart and soul and faith.

We as believers have to trust that the Word of G-d is true and that G-d, since He created us, knows us better than we know ourselves; and we can know only by His Grace and ultimately, He knows best. In Al-Islam, one of the attributes of the Creator is that He is Al-Mu’min, The Believer. He is the first to believe. Believe in what. Believe in what He has created and in the capacity of what He has created to fulfill its role…to live up to its potential. In Al-Islam, G-d believes in man.

Now it was G-d Who gave the gift of the intellect to the individual. Didn’t He also give the gift to the group both implied and explicitly?

We are cautioned in Qur’an on two personalities (types) who lived during the time of Jahilliyah or the Period of Ignorance that refers to the devolution of human civilization following the mission of the Christ (peace be upon the noble Messenger and his mother) until the advent of the Revelation of Qur’an. The two persons are Abu Jahl (father of ignorance) and Abu Lahab (father of arrogance); the arch enemies of Al-Islam.

In reality, Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab have been around much longer than the Dark Ages, and they are mentioned in the Qur’an for all times as arch enemies of Al-Islam and the Life Example of Muhammed (pbuh) to warn humanity that if we want darkness, backwardness, and ignorance, and if we wish to be so arrogant as to reject what G-d has given us as a gift, then

1. Deny the right of the group intellect.
2. Lose faith in the group intellect.
3. Don’t trust the group intellect.

And what are some of the actions that typify a loss of faith in the group intellect:

1.Subjugating half of the group intellect by gender and denying them even the right to literacy, much less an education.

2. Subjugating other parts of the group intellect and denying them a voice in the affairs of state based on their color, caste, and religion.

3.Failing to prioritize the allocation of the public treasury to make education affordable at all levels (from pre-school through graduate education) to all citizens.

4. Succeeding to governing leadership by genetic birth right and essentially espousing the de facto declaration that only those who come from my loins are wise and sincere enough to lead.

5. Investing more in prisons than you do in education.

The list above is not all-inclusive. Are there signs in your masjid that the group intellect can’t be trusted? Are there signs in our national Islamic community life that the group intellect can’t be trusted? Are there signs in the international ummah that the group intellect can’t be trusted?

–To be continued.

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

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Transition from Charismatic Personality-Based Leadership: The End of a Messianic Era – Part 4

This is Part 4 of the Series Transition from Charismatic Personality-Based Leadership: The End of a Messianic Era…

Can a charismatic, personality-based leadership (and particularly messianic one) really transition supporters, followers, helpers, etc. to “effective” institutional leadership while the charismatic, messianic-based leader is still alive?

For us as an American Muslim Community, the question is important. Because the answer will allow us to move more expeditiously in establishing model community life through institutional leadership.

I believe in general, it is nearly impossible for institutional leadership to be firmly established while a Messianic leader is amongst the people. Now I have deliberately left some flexibility with my position, because the circumstances present can change the dynamic relationship between a Messianic leader and his or her people.

Let’s take the examples mentioned earlier beginning with the contemporary leadership of Nelson Mandela and former PNA Chairman Yasser Arafat (ra). I think we can learn something particular about ourselves from the Palestinian and South African examples. There are some striking similarities between the Palestinians and their Israeli subjugators and the 16 million South African blacks that were subjugated by the 4 million Afrikaners.

Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat, the former political leaders of the South Africans and Palestinians respectively and as viewed by their own peoples, freedom fighters who rose from armed conflict to become statesman. In both cases, the populations were oppressed and denied full citizenship by an “outside” non-indigenous oppressor. Under such circumstances, it is nearly impossible for stable political institutions to develop among the oppressed. In fact, it is not in the best interest of an oppressive ruling regime to allow political systems and institutional systems of leadership to emerge. The oppressed is therefore forced to rely upon the oppressor’s system of governance. Institutional leadership remains dormant awaiting the right political climate.

History shows that what does emerge in the social-political environment we’re describing is an organic personality-based leadership that cannot be denied. And in the absence of freedom of the group intellect to develop institutional leadership, what becomes de facto institutionalized is personality-based charismatic leadership.

The ruling class seeks to eradicate all forms of leadership threats, but if it has to contend with any leadership, it would rather confront personality-based leadership, because the very nature of personality-based leadership is in the long term unsustainable and extant with the lifespan of the charismatic leader.

What can survive the death of a charismatic leader in the environment we are describing and that can be the seed for the future institutional life of a people and that bridges the  charismatic leader with long term institutional leadership—it’s called the movement.

-To be continued

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

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Transition from Charismatic Personality-Based Leadership: The End of a Messianic Era – Part 3

This is Part 3 of the Series Transition from Charismatic Personality-Based Leadership: The End of a Messianic Era…

I pray all of you had a wonderful weekend. The rain cleared up here in North Florida, and we’re back to being the Sunshine State.

Over the weekend, I thought about the major categories of subject matter we might discuss. We have flexibility. Your input can affect the subject matter and categories. But for now, I’ve set 8 major categories as follows:

1) Leadership
2) Stewardship & Governance
3) Strategic Planning
4) Shuraa
5) Organization & Structure
6) Fund Raising & Financial Administration
7) Governing Documents
8) References

Posts will be archived under these categories for easy reference. The above categories are also among the most common areas that nonprofits are seeking guidance.

I’ve also decided to publish pieces when necessary, in more than one category at a time to allow us to deal with issues simultaneously. Besides, rarely do leaders have the luxury of dealing with one matter at a time. Publishing in various categories simultaneously might help us deal with issues as they present in real life—not as stand alone concepts but as part of a multi-dimensional leadership and management strategy.

Now that we’ve handled the administrative issues, I now return to our transition discussion with Part 2 continuing from last week.

The discussion we are currently having has bearing at both our national level of identity and local level. Leaders and administrators must be asking the question:

a) Are we building offices of leadership with a greater emphasis on institutionalizing the offices and their responsibilities and authorities or are we building offices around personalities?

b) The question must be asked not only for the Office of the Imam, but for every person leading a concern. Ask, how did the current office holder assume his or her position of leadership?

Compare the leaders and their offices with the PBL vs. ISTL Table (from last week’s post). Organizational leaders should be honest with themselves and their constituents and ask: Are we preparing the organization for perpetual institutional leadership responsibility?

An even more fundamental feature present in every successful organization is a plan for Succession of Leadership. If you don’t have one, you don’t have institutional leadership. You have personality-based leadership. And one of the worse political and operational crises for an organization is to be forced out of personality-based leadership because of unplanned circumstances.

One of the other major characteristics of personality based leadership vs. institutional leadership focuses on acceptance of the current leader’s mortality and for planning purposes, the organization’s immortality or more properly perpetuity. When I say acceptance, I don’t just mean an intellectual acceptance. Yes we all know we must live here. But even in our personal lives, have we gone beyond intellectual acceptance? Have we made administrative preparation and put our affairs in order as we (Muslims) are supposed to do according to Al-Qur’an?

So the acceptance that I am referring to at the organizational level means that the acceptance goes to the next level–a level of action which reflects that the organization knows it must plan ahead for new leadership. The two key components of a succession plan are:

1) Training and development; and
2) Executive Order Assumption of Authority by Office of Leadership

The first component, training and development (together) is a long term “natural” structural component of a successful organization and it relies upon an organizational having a “total learning environment” along with a critical respect for youth development all the way from toddler through college and early adulthood. Successful organizations are incubators of leadership. Such organizations are naturally attuned to rising stars and can help groom new leadership by pairing, at an appropriate age, apprentices with established leaders–from the Office of Imam to all other offices of leadership. If you’re leading an office and you don’t have a person half your age assisting you and learning from you, then you’re already well behind the leadership succession power curve.

The second level of succession preparedness deals with the issue of sudden executive leadership loss. Let’s take for example a hyper scenario where all of your executive leadership is attending a convention or conference and travel together on the same transport and an accident occurs in which all of them are lost. Who’s in charge of your masjid?

Now I have spoken a lot about the Office of Imam as though it were the senior or most significant office of leadership in a masjid. That’s because in most of our organizations, it is likely that governing documents filed with the state may name the Imam as the President for purposes of an organizational filing. In our organizational culture, many still have the Imam as the “chief executive” of the organization. I believe it is time to re-examine this structure in light of 33 years of the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed. Now this is where it would serve our purpose to have a simultaneous posting. So, I have posted another discussion (essay) in Organization and Structure titled: The Case for Expanding Shuraa Practically as a Mercy to the Office of Imam, Other Leadership and the General Body of a Masjid.

We are entering into more complex discussion with the introduction of Organization and Structure while still dealing with succession of leadership. The reason why I want to “merge” these topics now is because truly preparing the organization for succession means not having too broad a span of control on one office holder, namely the Imam. I believe historically, we have given too much span of control to one person. Now I’m not saying such span was not appropriate for the times, but I am saying that as an organization evolves and as knowledge becomes more dispersed throughout the organization, the organization is best served by decentralizing the responsibility and the requisite authority to get tasks accomplished. We have historically placed too much emphasis on a single office of leadership as a result of mainly four (4) factors:

1) Overdependence on personality in lieu of institutional leadership.
2) Cultural and organizational leadership models left over from 1975-85 transition.
3) Other religious (Christian) and socio-ethnic influence.
4) Mis-correlation of the office of imam with the Office of the Prophet.

Now there’s a term we have to define—span of control. Simply put, if you give one person too much span of control over organizational outcomes, people, decisions, etc. then we have overburdened him. We have to have realistic span of controls for an office holder. Now in the beginning of an organization’s life cycle, the span of control will be centralized in one person or just a few persons for many reasons including:

1) Size of the organization.
2) Gross organizational knowledge. Remember, the less primary knowledge dispersed throughout the organization the more dependence on one person.
3) Organizational infancy with a corresponding narrower agenda and operational objectives.

So span of control is a leadership and management term that refers to the extent or scope to which one person is personally responsible for people, resources, tasks and desired outcomes. Now one can have a wide span of control over persons, so long as those persons have a reasonable span of control over their management responsibilities. One person can have a wider span of control over people than over tasks or desired outcomes. I like to make the distinction that one leads people and manages things; that’s what I have been taught and that concept has worked well for me. Thus the span of control will differ greatly when one is functioning as a leader than as a manager. Again, we lead people and we manage things…the difference is in the skill sets required for leadership and management.

Hopefully with my post in Organization and Structure, I can bring up to date a diagram, Exhibit A-1: Masjid Organizational Structure Model, that appears in Appendix I of Genesis. I am grateful many communities have benefitted from the model. I still believe it has its importance. But the day I finished the schematic was the day it became outdated. Well not exactly, but the point I am trying to make is that organizations are just that, organs and organic; they are organs for us as a community and society. Organizations are organic entities composed of people, for the benefit of people or the Creation, and managed by people. Organizations change over time and management structures have to change to continue serving the organization. Organizations are living, breathing, organic things and if you have systems and documents that have aged and you have not reviewed them to see their current applicability or capability to advance the organization into the future, then the leadership has failed in that regard.

I previously mentioned the span of control for the Office of Imam has been too broad for most of us, especially in the 21st century. One of the philosophical constraints in updating and adapting structure and organization for succession of leadership has been our perception of just what the Office of Imam is. While that in depth discussion is for a later topic, I will reiterate what I mentioned recently on American Muslim 360: The Office of Imam in America is just one component of the Office of the Prophet’s (s) leadership. The Office of Imam is not the successor to the Office of the Prophet (s). If we think about it, even the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs were not successors to the Office of the Prophet(s); they were successors to several components of the Office of the Prophet’s leadership. We too often are demanding from our Imams what the early community needed from the Prophet (s). The Office of the Prophet was a multi-dimensional, multi-level leadership involving vast religious, governmental, military, administrative, diplomatic, and a host of other responsibilities. No Imam that I am aware of in American is functioning in his office in that capacity. Furthermore, our perceptions or misperceptions (as followers) are responsible for us too often unfairly laying “guilt trips” on our Imams on a host of issues such as compensation, shuraa, and 24-hour availability.

Now what do you think can happen to an individual whose leading a group of people who thinks he is the only one in the Office of the Prophet’s leadership? Mind you now, in actuality he is in only one of the offices of leadership established and demonstrated in the Prophet’s personal and public life.

In reality, the group intellect together best represents the Office of Prophet Mohammed as a leader. That means every one directly charged and not directly charged with responsibility in a masjid form the office of Muhammed’s (s) leadership. If we apply such understanding combined with the knowledge that each of us has a role to play, then we would have more realistic expectations of what one man is capable of; and that one man would have greater respect for the group intellect and his own limitations and what he himself is capable of. Then the political contract can be more successfully executed between a community and all its leaders.

Again, I invite you to see this week’s post in Organization and Structure. In brief, the discussion is on Shuraa and Structure and I propose we must fundamentally rethink the structural design of our institutions, namely we should begin looking at separating religious duties, obligations, and functions from the day to day and strategic administrative obligations. When I say separate these functions, I don’t mean separate them as in the mosque or masjid from the state or spiritual from the secular; I mean separation in terms of span of control. It’s time to free the office of Imam for bigger tasks. It is also time to allow the institution to grow, to prepare for succession of leadership and a host of other administrative internal and external community obligations. Based on the maturity of your organization, it may be time to replace the system of the Imam as the sole chief executive with a system of an imam and a president of your institution.

Now last week, we asked a question that for us goes to the central issue of our transition from personality-based leadership to institutional leadership and hence has a bearing on the way forward: Can a charismatic, personality-based leadership (and particularly messianic one) really transition supporters, followers, helpers, etc. to “effective” institutional leadership while still alive?

I would really like to hear your answer to this question. I mentioned three individuals last week in the context of answering the question: Washington (as in George), Mandela (as in Nelson), and Arafat (as in Yasser). So I’m going to let my comments go for another week and hope to hear from you.

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

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