Conferences and Speakers: A Partial Primer

Oct 16, 2004

This is a very important point and we need to pay close attention to it. This is in fact a simple and self-evident matter in Islam. Yet, so many Muslims fail to understand it. Many of us seem to think that Islam, somehow, is a substitute for being a better human being. It is a poor excuse for our lack of manners, style, class and character – in a word Islam. Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, was the best and finest human being ever.

Do understand that your speakers are, in a very human sense, doing you a favor. Many of them are leaving their homes, families and work to come and help you out with your program. Often, they undertake the hardships of long travels to do that.

Non-Muslim speakers get paid, often substantial amounts, for their speeches. Muslim speakers generally don’t. And those that do, get paid only a paltry sum, which is more often than not an insult to their talent, training and contribution. Yet, most of them do what they do because, just like you, they love Allah, and because they want to help you and help the Muslims. So, show them the respect that is clearly their due.

By the way, the Tabligh brothers, Allah bless them, seem to have gotten it right. Showing respect to Muslims – Ikraam Muslim – is an important part of their culture and teachings. What is wrong with other Muslim groups, organizations and others taking a leaf out of the Tabligh teachings and making Ikraam Muslim – showing respect to fellow-Muslims – a cardinal principle of our organizational philosophy, culture and activities? So, I must commend this very noble Islamic principle first of all to myself – and then to you.

And there is nothing wrong in our borrowing things from others. There will be blessings and Barkah in it, if we give those from whom we borrow things credit for their ideas and efforts and thank them for the good work they do. In some cases, we may have to take their permission – not in this case, however, because Ikraam Muslim is a fundamental Islamic requirement with direct roots in the Hadith.

When we appropriate or co-opt things from others without credit or permission, and without offering thanks or giving Dua, then in plain English it is called theft – stealing from others. If you want a more fancy expression for the same thing, try plagiarism. If we are not familiar with the expression intellectual property rights, let us learn it now.

Moral and intellectual dishonesty is a cause for loss of Barakat! It explains part of the trouble some of us modern-day Muslims are in today, doesn’t it? Sometimes, we seem to observe and read so much and learn so little. Not to say all those speeches we ingest. A little poem by Imam Shafi’e (May Allah shower him with his mercy) comes to mind.

Says Imam Shaafi’I – my paraphrase:

I once complained,
To my teacher Waki’,
About the sad state of my memory.

“Guard against sins!”
Said he to me.
“For, a boon from God is memory.
And sinners get no share of God’s bounty.”

Tears fill my eyes as I think and write about this little poem. May Allah bless those scholars of ours who helped and guided us throughout our past! They were some of the most capable, qualified, kind, compassionate, generous, hardworking and honest individuals this world has seen.

And May God Almighty help, guide and protect those of our scholars, thinkers, speakers, leaders and others who are truly and honestly helping us in our own troubled and challenging times and struggling to make Allah’s world a better place for all.

7. Invitation

Take full and complete responsibility for the invitation: for each and every stage and aspect of the entire process. That means – to mention just one step of the process – those responsible for the event at the highest levels should also do the actual invitation and not relegate it to their underlings and junior assistants. 

While it is all right to use speaker’s friends and contacts for introduction and access, it is essential that invitation is extended to them personally at the highest level from the organization soliciting their services. Sometimes, if the program director of a conference makes the initial contact and extends the invitation, it is important that the president of the organization or community then calls to express happiness that the speaker has accepted the invitation and to ask if he or she could do anything to help.

Unfortunately, many of these things are unheard of among Muslims. Sadly, too many of us resort to an old-world ghetto culture when dealing with some of these things, rather than doing things the proper British, European or American way. That is why I am making an effort to educate us on the proper Islamic courtesies and manners of inviting speakers to come and help us out with our program. It is a sad commentary on the Muslim state of affairs, if the right Islamic way of doing things turns out to be the British, European or American way.

8. Logistics

Here are several things you need to worry about if you are going to do things right – Islamically, that is, or even doing them the British, European and American way:

  1. Take full responsibility for the speaker and the visit. From the moment the speaker accepts your invitation he is your guest and therefore your responsibility. Don’t forget honoring the guest is an important part of our Deen.

  2. Keep in continual touch with your speakers – of course, don’t hound them 24 hours, they may have other things to do besides being with you on the phone – to make sure every thing is going well and satisfactorily with the planned trip. Take nothing for granted. Unremitting follow-up is the key to success in program planning and execution.

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