By Mohamed AbuTaleb
The MSA was one of my first exposures to activism, leadership, and community organization – and some of the experiences I had there would not be repeated for a decade after. But life looks different as the years pass, and looking back, our 18, 20, and 22 year olds carry a heavy load that many seniors would crumble under. Here’s a few mistakes to avoid from your older brother that I wish someone told me when I was entrusted with the reins of our MSA:
- Spiritual Laziness – With the demands of activism, the meetings, emails, and late conference calls (do you all still do those?) it’s easy to take away from your extra nafl worship or worse, encroach on the obligatory fardh. Remember that when the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) was given extra responsibility by Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), he was commanded to pray more and more, not less. As an activist you should hold yourself to a higher spiritual standard than those you lead.
- Untouchable Ego – Chances are, you wouldn’t be in your position if you weren’t ambitious, accomplished, and diligent. But that doesn’t make you or me perfect. Select a group of friends where you’re just you – not president, treasurer, or activist – and choose friends who aren’t afraid to be your mirror and give you some tough love when you need it. I could tell you by name who these people were (and are) in my life, and point to several occasions when they really let me have it (lovingly) when others weren’t courageous enough to give me the advice I needed. Pick good mentors and teachers as well – if you’re the best person you know, then I don’t know how you plan on improving.
- Lowering the Guard with the Opposite Gender – A midnight chat message for that upcoming da`wah (outreach) event. A 10 pm phone call to plan for tomorrow’s meeting. Text messages back and forth. Your responsibilities will open the door for sustained and substantial interactions with the opposite gender, whether you seek them or they come to you. Be conscious of Allah (swt), and also surround yourself with practices that promote the right conduct – including promoting the right behavior when others don’t share your same standards. Know what time at night you stop replying to messages and taking calls. Meet in groups and in public places, and avoid isolation. When you have to email someone one-one-one, cc somebody else who’s related to one of you – they probably won’t read it, but since they might you’ll both think about the language more carefully. Tips like these help box out the shaytan (Satan), so that it’s not always so tough on you and others to do the right thing. The decisions and seriousness you approach this with will directly impact the quality and happiness of your future marriage and the spouse Allah (swt) blesses you with.
- Academic Mediocrity – You are in a period of investment, and it’s called school for a reason. What you take for granted now will be much tougher to attain later – being surrounded by scholarship, freedom of thought, diverse perspectives, and so much more that makes the college experience. Work hard in your classes and don’t be like me and take until junior year to learn how useful office hours are. Remember that Allah (swt) loves those who practice ihsaan (excellence), and that whoever takes a path seeking knowledge, Allah (swt) makes easy for him or her a path to heaven through it.
- Becoming a Night Owl. The five prayers give a natural structure to the day, and this ummah (community) is blessed in the time of the early morning hours. Make a sincere intention to wake up for fajr (the dawn prayer) and stay up, and discipline yourself to structure your day. To do that, you have to sleep at a reasonable hour. Don’t start or end your day with emails or texts. Don’t touch your phone, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever for the first hour – start with spiritual breakfast (prayer/dhikr [remembrance]), exercise, and physical activity. Remember that to give back to others, you must first be healthy and whole yourself.
I ask Allah (swt) to grant you sincerity, patience, and fulfillment in carrying the trust and responsibility of MSA leadership. I pray that it is a means of growth and development for you and those you serve, and a joy on the day you meet Allah (swt).
Mohamed AbuTaleb serves as the Imam of the Islamic Association of Raleigh. He is a lifelong student of the Quran and Islamic studies and also shares a love of science and reason, having completed his Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in electrical engineering from MIT along with degrees in physics and mathematics from the University of Maryland. Mohamed has traveled the United States extensively as a lecturer, trainer, and educator. His style focuses on enabling audiences to couple transformative understanding with relevance to daily life, and to cut across labels and divisions through scholarship and dialogue. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube or on his website.