Conferences and Speakers: A Partial Primer

 

Conferences and Speakers:
A Partial Primer

February 2001
Revised, October 2004

Still a Draft Copy Needs to be Revised

 

Discusses how and why Muslims should organize conferences, seminars and public get-togethers. Provides instructions on the correct Islamic etiquette and procedures when inviting guest speakers to come and give lectures on these occasions.

A much needed guide on the subject. An insightful and practical treatment of Islam using this particular context. One of a kind and extremely useful. Makes easy and interesting reading.

 

Author’s Note

Dr. Pasha

(Bringing Islam to the World One Concept at a Time!
Taking the Qur'an to Every Home and Heart that Needs It --
And which One Does Not?)

Should we or should we not make this document public, that has been the big question on my mind for quite some time. This is something I started to write months, even years, before September 2001. In one form or another it has remained in private circulation for years.

There is no getting away from the fact that for years and years I was unhappy with the way some of us did certain things in the name of Islam and Muslims. I wanted things done better – more professionally; with greater candour and openness; and with a greater sense of accountability. In a word, more Islamically. Because, Islam to me is the best and finest way of doing things – anything and everything.

The topic of conferences, conventions and speakers has been a big one on my mind for a long time. The horror stories I have seen and heard are too many to recount. The question becomes what do you do about it? Do you keep complaining and griping forever or do you do something practical and useful to fix things, to make things better? I think I have done a bit of both.

I have managed, from time to time, to put down some of my ideas in writing. That is what you are reading right now – a collection of ideas on this topic – conferences and speakers – that I trapped in words whenever the opportunity and the occasion arose.

That is why this is far from a complete or comprehensive manual on the subject. I call it a Partial Primer because there are a number of aspects of this issue that this booklet does not cover. And the reason for it, as always, is the pressure of time and resources. If Allah grants me time and resources, I would like to write a fairly comprehensive guidebook on this subject at some time in the future, or quite possibly revise and update this one.

In the meantime, I hope and pray Allah will make this booklet useful to those who read it. My goal is to make things better for the Muslims – and for the non-Muslims. And to make Islam better understood – and appreciated – by all.

Whatever success Allah grants me in that I am grateful to him for that.

Dr. Pasha

October 2004

 

Contents

  1. The Only Way to Do Things
  2. Purity of Intention: Where it all Begins
  3. But a Convention, Why?
  4. Some Ideas You Can Use
  5. Nothing but the best
  6. Respect
  7. Invitation
  8. Logistics
  9. Full Disclosure
  10. More on Guest Speakers
  11. Speaker’s Work-related Needs
  12. Other Assistance and a Serious Taboo
  13. How to Treat the Audience
  14. How to Treat Non-Muslims
  15. Whatever Happened to Cleanliness?

 

1. The Only Way to Do Things

So, my dear brothers and sisters, you have a program and you want a guest speaker! How nice! How wonderful!

Mashallah! is what we say when we see something good and wonderful happening. We can always say “Wow!” but as anyone can see, Mashallah! has an edge. Mashallah! gives us more.

Islam, as you know, is the best. Best in every way you can think of. Therefore, everything you do in the name of Islam has got to be the best. And you have to work hard to make it so – within your own abilities, circumstances and resources. You don’t have a choice.

What you do, therefore, is either the best – or it is almost not Islam.

This includes the seminars and conferences you organize and the speakers and performers you invite. Here are some ideas on how to go about getting guest speakers for your program the right and proper way, the Islamic way I should say – and, if you ask me, the only way.

I am saying the only way, because the world is a competitive place. In a competitive environment, the things that are successful are often the ones that are the best. They are the things that are really useful. So Islam offers the world the ultimate goodness in everything. It offers the pinnacle of excellence. With regard to everything we do or need, it offers us the right and the best way of doing things. That is why I call it not just the best way but the only way.

It is a different matter that some of us may not have this sense of Islam as the best and the finest practical way of doing things. Or some others among us may think that Islam is the best “religion,” whatever that means, while they see some of the latest corporate developments as being the best in practical terms.

It is also likely that some others among us may know what is and what is not the best and the right way of doing things. But they may reserve their best for their dealings with the world of non-Islam – what they consider to be non-Islam – while giving Islam and the so-called Islamic work their second best.

But let us not worry about that. Let us just do what we can do – what we need to do. And let us do it to the best of our abilities. The rest of the world will take care of itself. And Allah will take care of his world. He always has.

Therefore, let us right now, you and I, begin and build a new culture of excellence, honor, grace, style, class and dignity in the things we do as Muslims and using the beautiful name of Islam. A culture where we offer and accept nothing but the best in the name of Islam and Muslims! Much the same way as we expect, demand, if only we could, and accept nothing but the best for ourselves and our families! Much as the non-Muslim world around us in the West – at least in theory – would not accept from us manners, conduct, performance, products, output or culture which is not the best from its own point of view.

We are used, in Europe and America, to look for a warranty to go with the products and services we buy. Islam cannot – and it does not – offer humanity less.

How naïve and simple-minded can the Muslims be that they think Islam came from Allah without a warranty! The fact is that Islam came with the best warranty that there is. Most manufacturer warranties are good for six months or for a year or two. Allah’s warranty for his Deen of Islam, and for things Islamic, as well as for his products and services in this world, is a lifetime – a lifetime that in cases may extend to an eternity.

The earth, the sun and the moon functioned for our forefathers and they will continue, if Allah wants, to function for our great grandchildren’s great grandchildren.

So, why should we in the name of God, offer to God and his people and his world anything but the best? And do so in the name of Islam, a most perfect system designed and put in place by God Almighty for the operation and management of his world – for the benefit of his creation?

As the Qur’an puts it:

Innaddeena Indallahil Islam.

Implication # one: Islam is the operating system of the universe, designed and selected to be so by Allah – the maker and master of the worlds.

Implication # two: Therefore, no other system can or will work successfully and optimally in this world.

Wa Manyyabtaghi Ghairal Islami Deenan Fa 
Lanyyuqbala Minhu.

La Tayammamul Khabeetha Minhu Tunfiqoon.

So on to programs and conferences and speakers, Muslims! But where do we begin? How about at the beginning? I like to begin at the beginning. It helps.

And what could be a more beautiful beginning than the one with which Imam Bukhari (May Allah shower his mercy upon him) began his epochal compilation of Hadith.

Imam here means a great scholar who excels among his peers and who, additionally, has made a significant contribution to Islamic learning, education and culture – over and above most other scholars of his time. In this sense, the term is used in Islamic culture exclusively to refer to a great leader, distinguished over and above most other great leaders by scholarship and service to Islam and Muslims.

Imam is one of the highest titles Muslims used to confer on their very best scholars. It is not to be confused with the more recent use of this term for those who have a paid or voluntary position as prayer leaders in a mosque or community. Some examples of such great scholars in Islamic history include Imam Ahmad, Imam Ghazzali and Imam Abu Hanifah.

Muslims in the West these days have cheapened and trivialized this glorious Islamic title and tradition by loosely applying the title Imam to individuals who are paid or volunteer prayer leaders in local mosques and communities.

I mentioned Hadith. But I cannot help wondering what do we really know about Hadith? How many of us even understand Hadith for what it really is, and what its real role is in human affairs and in the running of this world.

I have been thinking about Hadith for quite some time. And will address it at some time in the future, as Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, makes it possible. But let us right now talk about that particular Hadith from Sahih Bukhari.

Innamal A’amaalu Binniyyaat!

What a Hadith this is, and what a wonder! What a marvel indeed! And what an amazing model for thought, research and action, to help guide human beings navigating the turbulent and murky waters of life! Did anyone say psychology? This single, small, sweet and wonderful Hadith may have invented the gamut of modern theories and models in the psychology of human action and motivation.

Innamal A’amaalu Binniyyaat!

Paraphrase:

Actions are from intentions!

That means your actions depend on your intentions! So, on to Niyyah, Muslims!

What could be a better beginning? Or a better end for that matter, if you ask me, than to begin with the question of human motivation.

2. Purity of Intention: Where it all Begins

That means, if you do everything in your power to keep your motives and intentions pure, and clean, Allah will bless your effort – and make it grow and bear fruit. You will get the fruit right here in this world or in the next world. Never leave out the next world in your calculations.

That means if your motives are pure, there will be Barakat in what you are doing and a great deal of good will come out of. But how? How do we get our intentions and motives to be pure and unadulterated, being the kind of imperfect and flawed humans that all of us are?

Here is a test or recipe, if you will, for a pure – and to the extent humanly possible – perfect Niyyah:

Do it – whatever it is that you are doing – for no other reason or purpose than to seek Allah’s pleasure, love, mercy and grace.

That means, go beyond the lure of money, power, position, prestige, name, fame and blind group loyalty – things that are so powerful in the lives of so many of us – and do things only to please Allah, your maker, owner and master. But at the same time, don’t reduce this most sublime concept of pursuing the goal of divine grace and Allah’s pleasure to some kind of an exotic pseudo-spiritual mumbo jumbo or use it as a ticket to excuse yourself from accountability in this world – before your fellow human beings, regardless of whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims.

Here is a three-point process that can help you to get a fuller and a socially and Islamically healthier perspective on this:

  1. Do the Right Thing.

  2. Do it Right.

  3. Do it for the Right Reasons.

Let me explain what I mean.

First of all, make sure that what you are doing is the right thing – that it is lawful and Halaal; it is good; it is according to the law of the land; it is in keeping with the rules and procedures of the place in which you live and work; it does not rob, hurt, cheat, insult or attack anyone; and in the doing of it you are not cutting all sorts of corners and trampling underfoot the legitimate feelings, sensitivities, interests and concerns of all sorts of people. Chanting the name of Islam is not a license for social mayhem and adventurism.

Next, make sure you do it right – whatever it is that you are doing.

That you do it correctly, properly, according to procedure and in the way it should be done.

It also means whenever you do something don’t do a half-hearted, perfunctory, lackadaisical job. Don’t try to cheat or cut corners – and worst of all use the name of Islam and Muslims for doing it. Put your heart – and your mind – in what you are doing and make sure it is done right – and properly – and in the best possible manner.

In one word, that is what Islam really is. It is the way of doing the right thing and doing it right – that means doing it the right way. Islam is in fact about doing the best things in the best possible manner and with the best possible motives and intentions.

That is because Islam is a system designed by the master of the universe for the running and management of the universe. That includes human beings and their lives and affairs. Therefore, nothing but the best has any role or room in such a system – or in activities and endeavors undertaken in its name.

How I wish Muslims knew this! There was a time when they did. It used to be self-evident to them. That is why Islam spread so quickly throughout the globe: because it offered people the better alternative – a better, fuller and more fulfilling and successful way to live their lives.

Third, make sure you do whatever you are doing for the right reasons – whatever those reasons maybe. Don’t have hidden agendas and secret plans. Don’t try to fool, trick, deceive or manipulate people. Always practice transparency and full disclosure – because half truths are often full-blown lies. Don’t forget there are two ways of lying: through speech and through silence.

Don’t take advantage of people’s naiveté and vulnerability – or of their trust in you, which they gave you because they saw you using the name of Allah and his Deen Islam. Islam is an open, civilized system that is built on candor, disclosure and trust. Keep it that way or leave it alone and do something else.

There is no room for charlatanism in the name of Islam and Muslim. Nor is there such a thing as Islamic charlatanism or trickery. All charlatanism, trickery and exploitation and all manner of deceiving and taking advantage of the naive, the trusting and the gullible is anathema to all that Islam stands for. It is precisely this kind of sick and pagan culture (Jahiliyyah) that Islam came to cleanse the world of.

There are all kinds of avenues open for devious and unscrupulous people like that. Shaitan never runs out of options and he never tires of trying to make those avenues and options attractive to them.

As the Qur’an says:

Fa-Zayyana Lahumush-Shaitaanu A’maalahum.

Paraphrase:

And Satan made their actions appear beautiful and attractive to them.

Therefore, it is extremely important that we do our best to bring everything we do under the rubric of seeking Allah’s pleasure and do so the right way.

If you need help, recite frequently the famous commitment of Ibrahim, Alaihis-Salam in the Qur’an:

Inna Salaatee, wa Nusukee, wa Mahyaaya, wa MamaateeLillahi Rabbil Aalameen.

3. But a Convention, Why?

Having done all that, at some point stop and ask yourself, why it is that you want a convention?

Or a conference? Or a seminar? Or a camp? Or a get-together? Or just about any other fancy things like that? If I were you that is the first thing I would worry about. That is where I would start: why I want what I want.

And that, to me, would be the most important thing about the whole project. For, lack of a clear vision or understanding of why you are doing what you are doing, would leave you – and your participants and attendees – confused and directionless.

It will keep you – the organizers – from doing your best and producing the best possible program. And it will keep them – the participants – from getting the most and the best out of your program. Over the past three decades, I have seen many an Islamic conference and convention turn into what you may call Islamic parties, or fetes or Melas in which the overriding goal for the organizers seemed to be raising money and for a lot of the participants having a good time. I am not saying these are bad things. All I am saying is that organizers need to be clear in their motives and intentions.

In these gatherings, young Muslim men and women by the hundreds and thousands wander about the halls and corridors of expensive hotels and convention centers without any clear sense of purpose or direction.

These are often national, ethnic, linguistic and regional groups, which simply do not bother to break out of their particular groupings and try to reach out to other Muslims from other groups.

For the most part, no one talks to them; they talk to no one other than themselves. No one trains them into anything. No one mobilizes or organizes them for anything. And no one gives them any direction or guidance for the future. Many of these wandering souls often don’t even say Assalamu Alaikum except to their own kind.

Speeches on Islam fill the air – sometimes some of them without much sense or purpose. Most participants return home without asking themselves what they were doing there or how they spent their time or what they got out of their experience that cost them a thousand dollars and three days of their life.

Here are some reasons why people seem to have conventions, conferences, seminars or whatever else you call them:

  1. If you are a formal organization of some kind, your constitution or bylaws may mandate holding a conference of some kind periodically. They may say things like 'you will hold a regional conference every six months’ or 'you will hold an annual conference every year.’

  2. You may want a convention or conference because everyone else is having one. So, your motive is if everyone else is doing it why not you?

  3. For lack of anything else to do. That means you have some energy and some time on your hands. You don’t know what else to do. So a convention or conference looks as good as anything else.

  4. To get a share of the limelight. Muslims, after all, are people like everyone else. And people – most people – crave a bit of limelight – a spot of publicity and prominence from time to time.

    Everyone else seems to be getting all these big-name Muslims coming down to them from all kinds of places. There are large gatherings, powerful talks, and even more powerful talks, and so on. There is hustle and bustle and all that blood rushing to the head. So why can’t you get your piece of that action, a day or two in the spotlight?

  5. The lure of money. If handled right, these gatherings of Muslims can bring in a bit of money. And what is wrong with money, right? With good planning and a carefully selected panel of celebrity speakers, you could make enough money to run whatever you are running quite comfortably for the whole year.

    Islam, as we all know, has turned out to be big business. Part of Allah’s blessings on his people, would you say? There is money in Halaal meat. And there is money in book, audio, video and Islamic trinket sales. And naturally there is money in conventions and conferences.

    All of these things should remind us of the continuation of the intention Hadith in Bukhari cited earlier: If a person leaves home to emigrate (Hijrah), the question is why. If it is for worldly reasons or for marriage, then that is exactly what that Hijrah is for – for marrying a woman. So also, if a conference or convention is for name, fame, money and other similar things, then, that is precisely what we should expect from it – name, money, fame. And nothing more!

    Therefore, I suggest, you set your goals quite early in the game – and set them right. That means before you do anything else ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. That means set your conference or convention or program goals quite clearly in advance. These goals will then guide your steps and direct your activities throughout the convention.

    We have already talked about the purity of intention or motive, have we not – doing the convention or conference purely to please Allah? Not for money; not for name; not for fame; not for advancing organizational purposes and agendas; but purely to make Allah Almighty be pleased with what we are doing.

    But where do we go from there? What practical purposes or reasons can we use for our conferences or conventions?

    Here are some ideas. Read on.

4. Some Ideas You Can Use

Assuming you are holding a conference, convention or camp purely for the pleasure of Allah, here are some ideas you can use to help you to set your goals:

a) Education and Information.

That means you hold your conference to educate and inform the Muslims, or whatever other group you may have in mind, about Islam and Muslim affairs and issues – and about the world.

If this is your goal, it goes without saying that you would take pains to tailor all your activities to the attainment of that goal. You will then select the right programs, call the right speakers, make sure that your participants do indeed learn what you want them to learn.

And that is an interesting question in itself: What is it that you really want your participants to learn? I once came away from a convention speech with the impression that if all of us, let us say, wore turbans, that will somehow make us better people and will, at the same time, make this world a better place. I am not saying it may not happen but I would like to know how. So, what exactly is it that we are trying to teach the knowledge-hungry, eager, trusting, unsuspecting and deprived Muslim masses in the name of Islam?

But is that generally what Muslim conferences and conventions do uniformly and single-mindedly? One thing that has struck me about Muslim conventions and conferences is the adroitness with which almost all of them avoid any meaningful contact with the reality of Muslims. They generally seem to avoid issues of practical concern to the Muslims. For example, when was it you last attended a convention or conference on the state of education in the Muslim world and what to do about it? I was trying to raise that issue 30 years ago, but no one listened.

b) Motivation and Energization.

All of us need help with motivation from time to time. We need to be reminded of some wonderful things about us and moved to a higher level of consciousness, excitement and enthusiasm. And Islam is a great motivating force – the best there is. The right kind of speakers can make an audience quite excited and enthusiastic. They can put fire in our belly and make us burn with a desire to do things.

In my mind, learning, motivation and excitement go hand in hand. They work together. And the best programs are those which combine both aspects – the learning as well as the motivational aspects. But a question worth asking is what are our speakers motivating us about? And it could be a slippery slope.

Unless we are careful – few of us generally are! – this may become an exercise in glib generalities and clichés like how good and wonderful the Muslims are and how bad and terrible the “kaafirs” are. Or some slick and simplistic analysis of how all the troubles of the Muslims are the result of colonialism or imperialism or this “Kaafir” group or that.

That is not to say colonialism and imperialism have not hurt the Muslims in the past, or to say some non-Muslim groups do not wish the Muslims ill at present. But the way to deal with Muslim troubles – whether real or imaginary – is not to blame it all on the Kaafirs or to turn around and make turbans the compulsory wear, even though turbans may have been an honored headgear through much of Muslim history. The way out is to engage in serious and systematic analysis and research and pursue solutions following a path of reason, observation and science.

c) Mobilization and Organization.

It is not enough to get the people excited and then to leave them alone. What is important is to give them a specific course of action to follow. That is, to give them a clear direction. Clearly, this is harder to accomplish than the first two goals. But with careful program planning and speaker selection, you can have excellent results in this area as well.

In some ways, organization is one step beyond mobilization. Here you are actually recruiting the participants to membership in specific groups and organizations, both formal and informal. You are also, at the same time, giving them direction and leadership and teaching them the skills needed to make the organization effective. That is why in some ways, this could be harder than all other goals.

You need specialized training on how to put together programs that would accomplish this goal. In fact, we need training for all the other goals as well. Obviously, putting together a really good conference or convention requires a great deal of hard work and specialized knowledge, training and skills.

Now do you see? What type of convention you organize, whom you invite as speakers, what type of programs you put together, and what kind of participants you will attract, will all depend on what your goals are.

Should I tell you another interesting thing? Your goals themselves will ultimately depend on who you really are as a person? That means your own background and commitments will determine the type of goals you come up with for your conventions and conferences.

And all this stuff is packed in that little Hadith in Bukhari: Actions are the products of intentions. What the Hadith seems to be saying is what you sow is what you will reap. That means what you want – and work for – is what you are likely to get. Nothing more, nothing less, which by the way is also the Qur’an:

Laisa Lil Insaani Illa Ma Sa’a.

If some of our conferences and conventions are not accomplishing what they are supposed to that is because no one worked out the answers to some of these questions. Or, maybe, just did not care enough for them. Or, maybe, what these conferences ended up producing is what their organizers intended them to produce all along.

5. Nothing but the best

All this boils down to one simple thing: Islam is the best; offers nothing but the best; and deserves nothing but the best. That is because Allah is the best; he loves the best; and accepts nothing but the best. So select, as much as you can, the best speakers you possibly can.

Elsewhere I will have an opportunity, should that be Allah’s will, to elaborate on this point. But suffice it to say here that you must select knowledgeable people who are also effective speakers, and who, depending on the goals of your conference or convention, can do the following:

  1. Be able to have a good rapport with the audience.

  2. Be effective and interesting as speakers.

  3. Provide solid knowledge and information.

  4. Provide understanding and clarity.

  5. Provide motivation and enthusiasm.

  6. Create a positive impact on the audience.

  7. Provide clear direction and guidance.

  8. Be overall supportive of the nature, goals and purposes of the occasion.

With regard to each one of these categories, it is your job to make sure you find the best people you can. There aren’t too many of them around. So, go looking for them carefully and diligently.

But once you have found these people, what do you do with them? Here is some of what you should be concerned with about how to deal with your star speakers – and in my view with everyone else, Muslim or non-Muslim, guest speaker or just plain participant.

6. Respect

It is obvious that people like this are not plentiful in any community. They may be even harder to find among Muslims. So, approach those few we have in the Muslim community with great regard and respect. They are some of our best treasure. Make them feel that they are special and provide for them the support structure that would enable them to give you – and the Muslims and the world – their best.

Tell them you want them to come because you really care for what they have to say – not because you could not find anyone else to fill the slot. Tell them you value their contribution. It is both a very human and a very Islamic thing to do. 

That means, Islam is simply the upper limit of humanity or “humanness” – the quality of being the best human being one can be. That means, if you fall short from a human point of view, it is not likely you will come out ahead from an Islamic point of view.

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.

  1. This means, for example, it is not the speaker’s job to call you to let you know that the tickets never arrived. It is your job to call and make sure that they did. And that everything is as agreed on earlier between you and the speaker.

  2. And then there is the question of who is going to receive him? Where? Be very clear as regards where he is going to be taken from that place? Don’t send the underlings, go yourself. Your top leaders also must be part of the team that goes to receive your guest.

  3. Where is he going to eat, stay, rest, and all that?

  4. Who is going to take him to the airport at the end of the program? When? How?

  5. Have all the arrangements been made? Have all concerned individuals been informed and are they all fully on board?

  6. If he is coming from a foreign country, what about visa and other arrangements? And what address and phone numbers should he give the immigration authorities at the airport? What if he runs into trouble at the airport with customs and immigration officials? Who will help him?

  7. All these – and many other details like these – need to be carefully worked out beforehand and meticulously put into practice. Don’t forget often it is the details that make or break a program.

  8. Make sure you provide the speaker with as much detailed information as you can about every aspect of his trip including the program.

These are simple things, but they are extremely important. Let me put it quite clearly: Much of modern-day corporate culture takes its cue from Islam – though not consciously and with proper acknowledgment – when it comes to interpersonal and professional courtesies and etiquette. If we don’t learn these things from one – Islam – we have got to learn them from the other – Western corporate culture.

9. Full Disclosure

I have something personal to say on this subject. This piece was written several months before September 11, 2001 and before all the doomsday scenario that broke loose in its aftermath.

Here I am, warning and begging the Muslims for things like full disclosure – and I have been doing that for a long, long time before that – and yet not too many people seemed to take my calls and warnings seriously. Those were lonely times! You felt some of the things some of us seemed to be doing weren’t right; you made whatever noise you could in your own limited way; you demanded full disclosure at every opportunity you got; and yet no one seemed to care or pay any serious attention to what you were saying.

What many Muslims don’t seem to understand is that Islam is an information system based on the principle of full disclosure. So, right at the outset, you must make sure to tell the speaker everything you can about your activities and affiliation. And here is some of that material:

  1. What group, organization or community is putting the event together for which you are inviting this speaker? With whose support and participation is it being done?

  2. What is the nature of the program?

  3. Who else is on the program?

  4. Where is the money coming from?

  5. Who are the participants? Their likely size, number, age, gender, education, occupational background, interest level?

  6. Where and in what setting is the program taking place? What type of hall? What seating arrangements? What type of podium or stage? What technology is being used?

  7. Who will run the sessions?

  8. Will there be questions?

  9. Will the program be audio - and/or videotaped? If so, what happens to the tapes? You know those tapes don’t belong to the people, group, organization or community doing the program but to the speaker. So you have got to make it very clear to the speaker that any material coming out of that program is his alone, and that nothing from it will be used without his express permission. And that tapes will be made available to him at the end of the meeting or immediately thereafter.

  10. It is important that you avoid involvement with groups, organizations and individuals considered to have a "terrorist" connection by your government or by other governments.

  11. It is equally important that you let the speaker know about anything that may compromise him in any way.

Islamic work in the West – Islam anywhere or at anytime – is not a secretive, manipulative, underhanded operation. It is not trickery or coercion. It is not covert deals and deception. It is open as the sky and bright as daylight. Allah’s message is a shining light – Noorun Mubeen! And it is Noorun Alaa Noor – light upon light!

Our job as Muslims is to convey that light to the maximum number of people with as much faithfulness and fidelity as possible. Thereafter, it is their job to decide what to do with it. This right and power to make their own decision is a blessing given to all human beings by their creator and no one has a right to encroach upon it.

At all times we must be mindful that any attempt to convey the message of Islam, no matter at what level it is undertaken, must be done in the best possible manner, as the Qur’an puts it – Billatee hiya Ahsan (16:125).

10. More on Guest Speakers

Remember what I said earlier about the speaker being your guest and about the place of guests in Muslim culture? Let us revisit that subject for a bit more. Let us not forget that this person has come to you at your invitation, practically dropping everything he was doing. Now how you treat him becomes a measure of your Iman. At least that is what the Hadith says: You cannot be a believer unless you respect and honor your guest.

So here are some questions you need to worry about on this issue:

  1. What arrangements are we making for the guest to stay? To wash? To make Wudu? To shower? To eat and drink?

  2. Who would get him a glass of cold drink or a cup of hot tea or coffee when he needs it in a hurry?

  3. Who will assist him to move about? To go from place to place? To pick him up and escort him to and from the speech venue?

  4. What arrangements are being made for him to rest? To be able to prepare for his session? To have privacy when he needs it?

  5. Having travelled hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of miles, your guest may be tired, hungry, thirsty, sleepy. Or he may have a headache – or leg cramps. Be in touch with him. Ask him if he is ok or if he needs any thing. Show solicitation and do so at the highest level. That means at the level of the top management of the organization.

  6. Tell him how nice it is to have him. Thank him for his troubles. Oh yes, it is all right to thank people in Islam. The Islamic formula in fact is: If you don’t know how to thank people, you can forget about thanking Allah.

Islam is a beautiful system, Muslims! It is beautiful to behold, beautiful to believe, beautiful to talk and write about, and beautiful to put into practice.

It is just that some of us have strayed so far from it we can barely recognize it. This brings us a full circle, as it were, in our new state of Post-Islam (the new Jahiliyyah) to return to our former state of Pre-Islam (the old Jahiliyyah).

So, let us turn it around: one little thing at a time. And let us join hands with all those who are making the effort in this direction in an open, lawful, peaceful and democratic way – Billatee Hiya Ahsan and Kalimat Sawaa’.

All this is routine stuff. Good Muslims always knew it. Modern corporate culture thrives on some of it. It is some of us new breed of Muslims in the West who somehow seem to have forgotten it. Many of us seem to be neither here nor there. We seem to have forgotten the better parts of our old Muslim culture and failed to learn some of the better things of the new Western culture in which we now find ourselves.

However, good planning requires that you go beyond the routine, and think about the likely as well as the not so likely. But that is higher level planning. And I am talking here about the simple things.

Subhanallah! I am beginning to sound like a surrogate for corporate America. But in some ways that is what Islam is: the best that there could be. And corporate America right now seems to have some of the best of what it takes for success in this world.

There is however a larger issue. If corporate America has borrowed it from Islam – it would be nice if corporate America owns up to it – it is because the world at the highest level cannot work without some of these things. As a matter of fact, there are those at the highest level in corporate America that are not oblivious to this fact.

In any case, if Allah gave some of this stuff to us human beings in the form of Islam, it is because he loves us and wants us to have nothing but the best. As the Qur’an says: Innaddeena 'Indallahil Islam.That means Islam works – and nothing else can or will. Whose fault is it if corporate America has been driven by sheer necessity to embrace some of it to get ahead in life in this world?

And whose fault is it if we Muslims sit around and do nothing and just wonder if it is Islam or part of the “Kaafir culture” as some of our ill-informed and misguided younger brothers and sisters seem to put it so glibly? The questions, in any case, are endless. And they are very exciting.

And guess what? They are all very, very Islamic. This is how Islam works in practice – in daily life. Also these are some of the things many of us have lost touch with. We need to relearn many of them. And that is what we are trying to do in this book: retrain, re-educate and rededicate ourselves to some of our lost ideals and to some of the higher principles and practices that run this world even today. May Allah help and guide us!

So, returning to the theme of the likely and the not so likely, what if your guest, Allah forbid, is taken ill? What arrangements have you made? Or did you even think about it? Do you have a doctor on call? Do you have a first-aid kit ready and handy? Do you have a bottle of aspirin within reach? What if there is an accident? Who will you call in his behalf? Who will you talk to? Do you know what to say and how to say it? Do you know what to do?

Islam gets better and better as you understand it more clearly. It gets more exciting all the time. It is you and I who have made it such a dull and sorry affair. If you want to change our condition, if you want to turn things around, if you want us to get out of the mess we are in today, and if you want us Muslims to claim our share of success in this world, just take this one simple thing from me: If you are Muslim, you have got to be the best. If you are not the best right now, you at least ought to be trying all the time.

11. Speaker’s Work-related Needs

Your guest may need such things as:

  1. Paper, pencil, pen, etc.

  2. A copy of the Qur'an with translation – Yusuf Ali, for example – if he needs it.

  3. I myself like Ibn Katheer, the Arabic Tafsir, if possible.

  4. I also like a copy of the Arabic Al Mu'jam Al Mufahras handy. It is a most marvelous index to the Aayaat of the Qur’an. They are Aayaat, which means signs, marvels and miracles – not verses. Please do not call them verses. Also, it is Qur’an, not “Holy” Qur’an.

    I wish I were a Haafiz, but I am not. So my best means of locating an Aayah (not verse, mind you, Aayah) of the Qur’an in a hurry often is the Mu’jam, may Allah bless its compiler. I also think it is a good idea for Muslims in general to start connecting to the Mu'jam.

    Muslims need to move away from dependence on asking people for their opinions about Islam and things Islamic. They need to start recreating and relearning a new culture of reading, research and reflection.

    As Muslims, we are required to seek, pursue and acquire knowledge and not blindly follow other knowledge and opinion holders like a flock of sheep. According to the Hadith, we are shepherds – not sheep – every one of us.

    What a glorious place did Islam carve out for us! It made our place at A’ala 'Illiyyeen – at the highest of the high, as the best of the best! And how we chose to put ourselves at the lowest of the low – at Asfalus Saafileen. Islam made us all shepherds. We turned ourselves into a flock of sheep. What a world of difference separates the two!

    And yet we complain how things went wrong with us! Muslims must know that Islam does not depend on the opinion of individuals. And that people’s opinions are binding on no one but themselves. So, let us put an end to this sorry state of affairs. Let us all begin following the first commandment of the Qur’an: Read! Iqra’!

  5. A computer and printer if your guest can use those gadgets.

  6. Help with someone who can type and use the computer, if your guest cannot.

  7. And a host of other things of that nature.

12. Other Assistance and a Serious Taboo

Then there needs to be someone in charge of reminding the speaker about the program and about the next session. In other words, we need to have someone act as a temporary secretary for the speaker. My programs often run the whole day. And, Mashallah, I give several speeches in one day.

Given the hustle and bustle of Muslim conferences and conventions, tiredness of travel, pressures from people speaking to the guest speaker and seeking attention continually, it may be difficult to stay on top of everything. So it is important to remind and help the guest in moving from one part of the program to the other.

If there are any changes in the program, it is important that you inform the speaker promptly and properly, and apologize to him for the inconvenience. If you want him to do something extra, such as give a public lecture for example, talk to him in advance, and do so properly and make all the necessary arrangements to the best of your abilities and resources – and to the satisfaction of your guest.

There is one very clear taboo in all this: Never tell the speaker what to say in his speech, or how to approach or treat a certain topic. It is rude. It is unprofessional, as some would call it. It is terrible. It is uncivilized. It is arrogant. It is the height of ignorance and foolishness.

He is the expert, not you. Besides, if you already know what he should be saying, why did you ask him to come over in the first place? And why don’t you do it yourself? Get up there, give your own speeches and don’t invite anyone to come and give a speech from your platform.

Part of this problem is the selection of themes and topics for conferences and lectures. It is often done by people who lack the expertise and the proper perspective and insights. The manager-type people often pick the topics – often without much understanding – and then go on a hunt for likely speakers. That is partly the reason why we have the type of conferences we do – not too many of them have anything to do with the real issues that face Muslims either here in the West or in the old Muslim world.

13. How to Treat the Audience

The participants! How are you going to treat them? These people have come at our invitation. They have responded to our advertisement. They are here because they have been told certain things. What now?

The most important thing we owe the audience is to give them the best program possible. Make sure they get a copy of the program, a pen or pencil and enough paper to take notes. If you can, divide them into small groups and put them under group leaders.

Call for audience participation and feedback at every opportunity. This will teach them to think and ask questions in a meaningful and proper manner. Learn to control those individuals who sometimes try to dominate and monopolize the conversation. But do so with respectful firmness and a great deal of tact.

There are always some who tend to do that – drag the program or the speech or the discussion in an entirely different direction. Such people need to be carefully managed. Encourage informal discussions among audience members. Encourage them to discuss and talk about the points raised in the speeches and other parts of the program.

Other than all this, we must be continually solicitous of the welfare and comfort of our participants in every way. We must do everything in our power to make sure, all the time, that they receive the fullest benefit of the program. Program participants, every single one of them, are our most respected guests. They must leave our programs as our trusted friends and enthusiastic supporters.

If we are believers, then showing respect to them and their needs and comfort is our basic Islamic duty. Our being Muslim depends on it, right? Because that is the Hadith.

14. How to Treat Non-Muslims

How do we treat the non-Muslims who may choose to attend our conventions and conferences? Also, at a broader level, how do we treat and deal with non-Muslims in general in the societies that we live in?

There is a great deal of confusion on this issue among many Muslims living in the West. Young Muslims are being misled on this issue by those who seem to have little understanding of Islam and of life in general.

The long and short of the story on this question is this: We must treat non-Muslims the way we treat Muslims – with the greatest respect, kindness and solicitation. Muslims and non-Muslims are members of a common human family. And as Muslims – as Khair Ummah – we are responsible in this world for the welfare of the non-Muslims as much as for the welfare of Muslims.

Muslims must know that as Allah’s Khalifahs or managers on earth, it is their job to be kind, compassionate, respectful and caring about all the creation of Allah including their fellow Muslims, non-Muslims and all the other living and non-living things that lie within their jurisdiction.

Here is a direct measure of how our dealings should be with non-Muslims: When we invite them and they are our guests, or when they invite us and we are their guests, or as we run into one another socially or at work or play, and when we part and leave each other’s company, they should say about us what wonderful people we were – as guests, as hosts, as colleagues, as friends, as acquaintances, and as just plain chance encounters and fellow-inhabitants of this planet.

They should be able to say how clean and organized we were. How kind, respectful, caring and considerate we were. How competent and accomplished we were. And how nice and wonderful it was for them to be our guests, to be our hosts, to be our colleagues, to be our friends and acquaintances, or just to spend a few casual moments in a chance encounter with us.

That is Islam in a nutshell. That is also Islamic behavior at its best. That is how our beloved Rasul (Sallalahu Alaihi was Sallam) was. Both friends and foes were struck by what a wonderful man he was. And by how wonderfully he treated them – always!

So, my dear Muslims, let us go ahead and make those plans for the next conference or convention. But let us do things right. And let us do the right things. And let us make sure we do them for the right reasons. At all times and in all circumstances, let us do them the best way possible – the only way that there is in Islam to do things.

For, that is what Islam is all about. It is the way the Qur’an came into this world to teach. And it is the way the Rasul, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, came into this world to show and to model.

15. Whatever Happened to Cleanliness?

I thought as Muslims Taharah was our thing. At least that is what we claim. But are we the cleanest people in the world? In some ways maybe we are. But are we in every way that we need to and ought to be?

Taharah may be a specific technical term in Islam and cleanliness may be a much broader human concept. Yet, the spirit of Taharah in the broadest sense must infuse every level and aspect of Muslim life and activity. Yet, some of the things associated with our life are quite dirty and smelly. How could we tolerate that?

Therefore, make sure conference premises are spotlessly clean at all times. Not the least the following areas:

  1. The dining area.

  2. Men’s bathrooms.

  3. Women’s bathrooms.

  4. Wudu area for men.

  5. Wudu area for women.

  6. The Salah area.

Make sure there is enough soap. Make sure there is enough toilet paper. Make sure there are water jugs of some kind. Make sure there is an abundant supply of paper towels. How sad it often is! The state of cleanliness in Muslim gatherings!

Tahara is our Iman. And yet cleanliness is not something over which we can pride ourselves in our lives. Not yet. But why not? What, other than our own lazy and rigid mindset and decadent cultural habits could be said to stand in the way?

And there is something else: Women Are People Too! Subhanallah, followers of a Deen that took women from the bondage and lowly state in which humanity had trapped them and put them on a pedestal of great respect and partnership, somehow seem to find a way to make women an appendage – an afterthought to our main activities and focus. We need to ask ourselves continually if the women’s wing, whether in the prayer area or in the bathrooms, is as spacious, clean and conducive as we can possibly make it.

Wallahu A’alam!

Wa Lillahil Hamd!

END

© 2004 Syed Husain Pasha

Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional 
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at] 
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.