If Someone Handed You $5 Million, What Would You Build For the Community? Not What You Think.

Someone posed this question to me recently (seriously, not hypothetically). Let’s say there’s a benefactor who has given you a blank check to build something of use for the community – what would you build?

The thinking was why not build a better version of the Bayyinah or Qalam Campus, or a super amazing youth center?

This question presupposes that by simply having the funds, you can shortcut the headache and have an amazing facility. It’s true – you will have an amazing facility, but that might be it.

I’m fortunate, alhamdulillah, to have had an insider’s view (from an administrative capacity) of the launch of both institutions as they transitioned to full time campuses. As I reflected on the question, I realized one of the most important lessons about the process. As cliche as it sounds – it’s the journey, not the destination.

Those programs succeeded in large part on sweat equity. Hustling and grinding. Traveling to dozens (if not over a hundred) Islamic centers and teaching courses, making connections, developing students, and establishing relationships. People see the finished product and think that with some money it can be recreated. The truth is, the final product is a culmination of years of hard work. It’s that work and those relationships which enable the success of establishing something. I’m fairly positive if you hit rewind, and handed those institutions $5 million about 8 years ago – they would have a fantastic facility and full-time staff. But this money is not able to buy results. It is not able to buy credibility. It is not able to buy a reputation.

You can build a fancy youth center, but unless there is a community that they feel a part of, the structure will not make a difference. The greatest masjid stories are those that started out with 5 guys praying juma in the living room of a 2 bedroom apartment. Not the stories of empty multi-million dollar facilities.

In many ways, how you get there is more important than where you go. Once you arrive, it’s quickly on to the next thing. You have to have traction to make that jump.

We can all dream about what kind of institutions we’d build if we had unlimited capital, but the reality is “build it and they will come” is a proven failure. Show people you care, serve them, and whatever you need built will happen by the grace and blessing of Allah (swt).

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