Saturday, February 10, 2024

Summary of Questions and Suggestions

The Prophet Sallallahu ‘alyhi wa sallam said, “This deen is sincere advice.” In the spirit of this hadith, alhumdulillah, around 60 donors attended our lunch with the shura, and the most important part of the event – the questions and suggestions – had a high level of participation. Here is a summary of the discussion.

 

Question: What are the top 3 strategic priorities for Dar-us-Salaam over the next 3 years?

Shura: The top three strategic priorities we are pursuing are as follows:

1) Professionalizing the organization – When Dar-us-Salaam started around 1996, the shura members were doing all the groundwork, plus each of them had their own roles and responsibilities, from accounting to counseling to marketing. As we hired more staff to operate the school and the rest of Dar-us-Salaam, the management gap between the shura (upper management) and the rest of the staff became more pronounced, and the shura members found it difficult to give the staff and the growing number of projects at Dar-us-Salaam the attention those projects deserved. Part of professionalizing the organization is building that middle management layer. To that end, last Fall we hired Brother Ayman Nassar to serve as a project manager. He oversees around a dozen projects and departments including social services, youth services, and the building department, among others. Br Ayman is a certified PMP. In the Finance Department, we hired a training accountant to assist Brother Sayeed Jaweed in managing and tracking our $ 8 million cash flow. Most recently, we added one more person to our middle management team in Aftab Shaikh, an MBA candidate specializing in Marketing who is now our Director of Digital Marketing.

2) Making Al-Huda School “branch ready” – Part of Dar-us-Salaam’s mission is to share the beautiful message of Islam with everyone we come in contact with. Over the last decade, we’ve received dozens of requests from Muslim communities across the nation and the world that we open a branch of Al-Huda School in their community. We are still filling in some of the gaps in Al-Huda School – like the absence of a standardized, modern Islamic Studies curriculum which addresses the current challenges facing our youth. We are filling in these gaps quickly, alhudmulillah, and we are excited to have received delegations from Ohio and the Caribbean island of St Croix last summer for serious discussions on opening branches of Al-Huda School. Currently, we only have one branch in Pennsylvania.

3) Expand our religious services – Several weeks ago, we finalized the hire of Imam Sabri Benkahla, a youth raised in the DMV region who graduated from Madina University in Shari’ah. Imam Sabri now serves as Assistant Imam and will deliver halaqas and other educational sessions throughout the year, in addition to answering Islamic questions from the community. This fall we also hired Ustaz Hayat Marso, a young man raised in the Dar-us-Salaam community who recently returned from Madina with a degree in Qur’anic Recitation. Ustaz Hayat will be supporting religious education through the Qur’an Institute and Tooba University.

Advice: We should start a soup kitchen.

Shura: A soup kitchen has been part of our social services plan for many years. Our social services department Ansaar-ul-Birr Community Services partners with local food kitchens throughout the year. As we redevelop Sooq Al-Huda with more kitchen facilities, we hope to incorporate some soup kitchen type functions in the plan, in shaa Allah.

Question: How does Dar-us-Salaam engage with other masaajid to create an ummah feeling? 

Shura: Since inception, Dar-us-Salaam has always operated under the Qur’anic verse “the believing men and the believing women are friends and protectors of one another” and also the hadith “Allah helps the servant as long as he helps his brother.” The most prominent example of this is Al-Huda School, a school which serves the critical education needs of all the surrounding masjid communities. The hard task of founding the school, fundraising, years of toil and challenges with Allah’s permission allowed families to rely on Al-Huda School for their children, no matter which community they belong to. The Muslim Link newspaper also served every masjid and every Islamic organization in the region, all at no cost and with all the challenges of operating that media outlet on the shoulders of Dar-us-Salaam. There are many other examples. When it comes to fundraising, Dar-us-Salaam’s doors are open wider for our fellow organizations than any other masjid. When other organizations come to fundraise at our jumu’ah prayer, our policy is to give that organization all the money placed in our donation boxes by our donors in addition to the money our community members donate to them directly, alhumdulillah !

Question: To what extent is Dar-us-Salaam going to expand horizontally versus growing vertically?

Shura: Dar-us-Salaam did add many projects during its first two decades, and the management weight of these projects is significant. During recent years, we’ve understood the need to add management depth and to grow vertically. So, we launched the Al-Huda Global School a few years ago drawing from our experience starting and growing Al-Huda School. We are focussing more on strengthening our existing programs over expanding into services and markets which are completely new to us. 

Question: Where does Dar-us-Salaam need to be financially in order to meet its growth goals? 

Shura: With Allah’s blessing and your support, Dar-us-Salaam’s current operating budget is about $8 million per year. This doesn’t mean we are sitting on millions of dollars, rather it means around $8 million comes into the organization and is spent operating the organization. Most of our funds come from Al-Huda School tuition and service fees, and around $1.5 million comes from donations each year. The shura is consulting financial consultants and getting assistance from experienced accountants with expertise in the non-profit sector to develop long term financial plans. We would like to reduce our reliance on donations for the day to day running of the organization as much as possible; ideally, donations should be reserved for major growth projects and not for operations. This will take time to achieve, but it is one of our financial goals, in shaa Allah.

Question: Does Dar-us-Salaam’s engagement on the Palestine issue pose a danger to Dar-us-Salaam?

Shura: Dar-us-Salaam has a clear stance on the issue of Palestine consistent with the rest of the world. We’ve had halaqas and khutbas about Palestine which addressed the on-going, unjust occupation of this blessed land and the oppression against our brothers and sisters there. There is no controversy on this issue nor any danger to the community as far as we are concerned. We also cooperate and amplify the good work other, more specialized Muslim organizations are doing for Palestine in terms of advocacy and also relief. While Palestine is an urgent issue, our focus must remain on the Dar-us-Salaam mission –  community building, education, and social services. 

Question: How is Dar-us-Salaam helpingits graduates navigate the world outside of Al-Huda School on college campuses? 

Shura: How our graduates navigate life out of Al-Huda School is something our leadership team and our teachers think about all the time. We all make du’aa that Allah keeps our youth firm in their emaan. The single most consequential investment we’ve made in helping our graduates navigate campus life is to gather the best group of teachers and staff we can, put them into the classrooms and hallways of Al-Huda School, and put them into the lives of our students for 13 years. With genuine love and care, our students know they have people they can come back to when they need help. Also, we have a full time licensed social worker in Sister Walida Mukhtar who counsels our alumni. The Imam’s Office also provides counseling services without charge. Keeping graduates fully connected to Dar-us-Salaam while they are in the fast paced world of campus, friends, and early career has proven challenging. Building a loving, positive environment at Dar-us-Salaam is likely the best way to encourage our alumni to reconnect with us over time, in shaa Allah. Brother Safi added that we try to implement a “servant leadership” model at Dar-us-Salaam, where leaders put the needs of the community members above their own personal needs; servant leadership is the leadership model of the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu ‘alyhi wa sallam.  

Question: What is the progress of the Islamic Studies high school curriculum ? 

Shura: Alhumdulillah, we’ve produced six textbooks so far, and they continue to get excellent reviews and feedback from our high school students. A few months ago, the Al-Huda School Islamic Studies curriculum team made a presentation to Islamic school educators from around the nation at the Islamic Schools League of America (ISLA) conference. The educators were very excited and several schools purchased our textbooks in order to discuss adopting them with their own administrators. The word is getting out and we are very excited. While we develop the next textbook, we are also putting together a marketing campaign which we hope to launch globally to English speaking Muslims this Ramadan, in shaa Allah. 

Question: Is Dar-us-Salaam applying for grants to fund its projects? 

Shura: Alhumdulillah, Al-Huda School has been benefiting from state and federal education-related grants for more than 15-years. Starting in 2018, the Dar-us-Salaam Donor Care Office began pursuing more grants, starting with a successful application for a $100,000 Nonprofit Security Grant to fund the steel security doors at all entry points to our building. Since then, we hired Sister Marnice Williams as our full time grant officer, and with Allah’s blessing we are receiving several hundred thousand in grant funding between Al-Huda School and our social service programs. The grants are sometimes in the form of restricted cash which can only be spent on certain items and programs, and other times the grants come in the form of equipment like laptops and other technology for the school.

Question: Can Al-Huda School implement mandatory volunteering for school parents?

Shura: This is something the school administration has been considering. It is an active discussion.

All donors and community members are encouraged to send their sincere advice and questions to shura@darussalaam.org. You can also call us at 31-982-9848. All messages left on that phone line will receive a response, in shaa Allah.

Author: