By Maher Budier and Ibrahim Sherman AtlantaMuslim.com
Muslim organizations in America have worked hard over the past few decades to establish themselves and create stable institutions. They have gone from praying in rented houses to congregating in wonderful buildings, from attending the most basic Sunday schools to educating students with advanced teachers and textbooks, from avoiding interfaith activities to engaging in interfaith dialogue across the country.
These are great accomplishments, especially in the face of numerous obstacles Muslims have faced in post-9/11 America.
Despite such tremendous achievements, we have failed to foster diversity and inclusivity within our leadership teams.
Many of today’s mosques are rooted in ethnic similarity, frequently designated as specific to one race or culture. Moreover, leadership of these organizations is systematically dominated by older males. Such past mismanagement of our ethnic diversity and youth involvement has divided us into numerous smaller communities.
However, a new demand has arisen calling on us to address diversity. This demand dwarfs any movement that we have seen. Leading the demand are the young men and young women of our communities. These young individuals will soon overwhelm the Muslim population in the United States. Like it or not, our children are American Muslims.
The new generation does not share our prior ethnic differences. The children of Egyptian and Pakistani immigrants have a common American culture that differs from that of their parents.
Attempting to maintain our past ethnic barriers will only serve to drive young adults away from the wonderful organizations that we have worked so hard to build. The older generation’s work was critical and well done; however, we must understand that it was only the beginning.
The next generation, which incorporates all ethnicities as well as many women and converts, is the future of Islam in America. Resistance to this fact is destructive. The generational divide and poor management of ethnic diversity in institutional leadership teams, committees, and boards therefore represents today’s greatest threat to our communities.
We must make a choice: we either continue to divide our institutions, form leadership bodies from specific ethnic groups and alienate the next generation or choose to actively remove old barriers. Furthermore, we may choose to prevent new barriers from forming by genuinely embracing and seeking diversity in our institutions.
This does not mean that we passively open the masjid to anyone. But it does mean that we deliberately seek to install volunteers, staff, committee members, directors, and trustees who represent as wide a range of age, gender, and ethnic groups as possible.
Empowering various circles in our community via legitimate involvement is our only hope for building institutions with which our children will identify with and hold as important.
Editor’s note: The Balanced Leadership Institute aims to help Muslim institutions excel and become top performing organizations. Its mission is to provide Muslim organizations with the tools and training needed to apply cutting edge business practices in their faith-based organizations. For more information, visit www.masjidboard.com. The views expressed by the authors are solely their own.