Leading Volunteers: Unity and Gossip

Chinese symbol for unity

It goes without saying that most Islamic organizations suffer from a lack of unity.

There are 3 main causes of disunity within Islamic organizations:

  1. Poor Communication
  2. Gossip (highlighted due to its prevalence in our communities)
  3. Lack of a Shared Purpose [Video: Role of the Masjid]

Communication is an easy indicator of unity. When people don’t know what’s going on, strife will set in.

The lack of communication creates an environment that nurtures gossip. People are not involved because of a paycheck or something else that ties them down. When they don’t feel part of the process, they will talk. Unresolved disagreements also play a role. When leadership is unaware of disagreements, or leadership tries to simply avoid confrontation, then there is a communication breakdown. Gossip then usually becomes the outlet by which people release that pressure and frustration.

This does not mean that frustration is a bad thing – actually, it shows that people care. But there is a line between frustration and gossip. Confrontation can (and should) be dealt with quickly. Wounds can be patched up and people can make up and move forward on a unified front.

Gossip occurs when a negative issue is discussed with someone who cannot help solve the problem. It is, hands down, one of the most destructive things that any organization or community can face. For example, a board member should not be raising complaints about the imam with the masjid treasurer.

Anas related that the Prophet (saw) said, “Do you know what calumny is? .. [It is] conveying the words of some people to others in order to create mischief between them. [Adab al-Mufrad]

Unity can never be achieved when people speak ill of each other. It creates negative feelings in the heart, and an environment of distrust and animosity. When teammates in sports fight with each other, it makes it difficult for them to perform well together on the field. Gossip in an Islamic organization is the same principle, but with much worse consequences.

We should seriously consider implementing decisive consequences for gossip. How quickly would our organizations change if there was immediate termination for gossip? Board member found gossiping about the masjid president? Immediately kicked out.

It’s true, you will lose volunteers that are hard to find in the first place – but I would contend that losing a volunteer is better than having a volunteer that spreads something as destructive as gossip.

A team must be cohesive. They must share a purpose, and have the autonomy (and dignity) to do their work. In football, when the ball is snapped, all 11 people on the team know exactly what they need to be doing. Every receiver knows which route to run. Every lineman knows who to block and in which direction. They don’t even need to talk to each other, they know what to do. Even when the play breaks down, and something unexpected happens, it does not shake them. A lineman, whose only duty is to block, may suddenly recover a fumble and be in possession of the ball. He has never gotten the ball in a game before, but because the team shares the same purpose (move the ball down the field), he knows to start running the other way. His teammates know that they need to run and block for him.

In the above example, the unexpected happened. Someone ended up being forced into something they’re not used to. Did they need to hold a board meeting to figure out what to do? Did they need to call time out and exchange 25 emails to develop  a new policy and procedure for what happens when the lineman is forced to recover a fumble? Did they stop and have a fight and yell at the guy who fumbled the ball?

No. They had a shared vision. They had a shared purpose. Their communication before the game was so good, that they didn’t even need to speak. They simply saw what happened, and every individual knew exactly what their response to the situation should be.

That’s unity.

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