The Mosques of the West Adopting a Customer Service Outlook
By Altaf Husain
Aug. 23, 2007
The Muslims of the West have, on the most part, been relying on a very traditional model of operating mosques, with a few exceptions.
First, in the West, no government bears the administrative and maintenance costs of the mosque, putting the onus on the members of that mosque's community to donate money to ensure its operation.
Second, most mosques offer what can be termed as Prayer plus programs — that is, the mosque is open for at least the five daily Prayers, and there might be some semblance of an education program either in the form of a lecture on Sundays or a part-time, weekend Islamic school for children or both.
Third, most mosques have an imam and an elected board of directors who manage the affairs of the mosque either themselves or through a paid part-time or full-time staff member.
Regrettably, other than slight variations to these three exceptions, the overall outlook tends to be traditional, an almost unilateral relationship an individual believer has with the mosque — you go to the mosque to worship and that's it, no other interaction with the leadership of the mosque and no involvement in the affairs of the mosque. As the number of Muslims of the West who practice Islam regularly increases, and the demographic and socioeconomic profile of the mosque-goers become increasingly sophisticated, it is high time that the mosque leadership in the West adopt a customer service outlook to handling mosque affairs and to providing critical, high-quality services and resources in a timely manner.
Before discussing further what is meant by a customer service outlook, it is helpful to look at an example of a typical mosque-goer's experience. A young woman, practicing law, and a regular donor to the mosque, wished to go to the mosque for Friday Prayers. When she went for this purpose, she only found that there was no one managing the parking lot of the mosque and people (mostly men) had parked in such a way as to block other cars and so close to other cars that it was almost impossible to enter and exit from the car. After some 15 minutes of searching, she found a parking space and rushed inside the mosque only to find that the small space allocated for women was already filled to capacity with women and young children. The hall reserved for men was hardly full and there was a lot of space at the back of the hall and no men were seated there. Deliberating for about five minutes on where to sit and whether to go to the men's hall, she finally convinced a few other women to join her as she made herself comfortable at the back of the hall.
The Friday sermon began and the sound system produced poor-quality sound, and therefore the attendees, in this case, mostly women, were barely able to understand what the imam was saying. The sound faded in and out and when it was most audible, she was able to make out a little of what the imam was saying, and it depressed her because it was essentially rebuking women who choose to work for a living and "abandon the home." He continued on and on and spoke for at least 30 minutes without pause, and then he paused and resumed and showed no sign of concluding. The lawyer became anxious, started looking at her watch, and realized that she was well over an hour into her 90-minute lunch break, and she still had to pray and go back to her car, spend time waiting to exit the jungle-like parking lot, and then drive back to her law firm.
The imam concluded his 60-minute-long sermon and then chose to recite lengthy sections of the Qur'an during the Prayer. By then, she was restless because of the time, depressed because of the theme of the sermon, frustrated because the imam was reciting lengthy sections of the Qur'an, and most of all, angry because all of this could have been avoided if only the mosque adopted a "customer service outlook."
A Customer Service Outlook?
Using the example presented above, we shall attempt to define what a customer service outlook is in the mosque context and offer some thoughts about how to instill and develop such an outlook. By corporate standards, the most repeated motto is "the customer is always right." Although we are by no means suggesting that in the mosque context the "customer is always right," it is important to at least acknowledge that in fact a typical mosque-goer is a "customer" and the mosque administration is responsible for meeting the needs of this customer. Whether the "customer" donates to the mosque or not, does not diminish his or her status as a believer who wishes to respond to the call of Allah (Glory be to Him) and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him).
Therefore, the customer service outlook is defined as a mode of thinking, managing, and evaluating the functioning at all levels of the mosque so that the mosque-goer is at the minimum satisfied with the level, variety, and quality of the services being offered at the mosque. The emphasis of such an outlook is constantly on serving, facilitating, and assisting the believers. This outlook translates into very tangible actions on the part of the mosque leadership and administration, referred to here onwards as "the mosque."
First, the mosque must value time. While almost all mosques by now have calendars that they use to establish the exact time of the Adhan (the call to Prayer) and the Iqamah (second call to Prayer), on the most part, the mosque seems not to value time. Men and women come to the mosque every Friday dutifully responding to the call from Allah, as He commands in the Qur'an, (O you who believe, when the call is proclaimed to Prayer on Friday (the Day of Assembly), hasten earnestly to the remembrance of Allah, and leave off business; that is best for you if you but know!) (Al-Jumu`ah 62:9).
People make sincere attempts to adjust their work schedules on Fridays to be able to come and to join the Friday Prayers most often during their lunch breaks. The young lawyer in our example above was at her wit's end by the time she parked her car, found a place to sit, sat through an overly long sermon, performed a Prayer with no end in sight, and then waited for an excruciatingly long time to exit the parking lot, before she could head right back to her law firm without even a chance to have a quick bite to eat on her "lunch" break.
It is unimaginable to think that much of her 90-minute lunch break was spent dealing with situations that should have been addressed by the mosque and not left for her to have to deal with or to resolve. How important could the message of any sermon be that the imam would risk trying to speak to a congregation that long; a congregation that indeed stopped listening to him and is actually not staring at him in a show of undivided attention but rather in collective resentment? If Prophet Muhammad himself shortened his congregational Prayer at the sound of a crying child or realizing that there were elderly people in the congregation, by what right does any imam choose to prolong the Prayer after having already put the congregation in a resentful mood by speaking during the sermon for too long?
If the mosque sponsors a lecture, why should the believers who did not attend the lecture be penalized if the lecture starts late and ends late, therefore delaying the time of the Prayer? We remind one another, of course, of the hadith reported to the effect that Allah's Messenger said, "The best 'of' the deeds or deed is the (observance of) Prayer at its proper time and then kindness to the parents" (Muslim). If the Imam arrives late, why is it not acceptable for him to adjust his message and shorten it so that he ends on time with the sermon and the Prayer?
It is the right of every believer to expect that the mosque will facilitate Prayer, lectures, and sermons in such a way as to not infringe unfairly on his or her time.
Second, the mosque must value quality. The desire for high quality should be something internal to every Muslim effort, and the management of the mosque affairs should be no exception. Every affair of the mosque must be handled to ensure results of the highest quality, from seeking the most knowledgeable and able leadership and administrative staff to developing programs that are relevant and responsive to the needs of the congregation.
In order to ensure quality, there must not only be performance standards, but also a mechanism to evaluate the performance. The biography of Prophet Muhammad is replete with examples of the emphasis he placed on quality, evaluation, and improvement not only at the individual level, but also with regard to family and community affairs. It is that emphasis on quality that inspired the now well-documented advances in administration and accountability during the caliphate of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him).
Returning briefly to the example mentioned above, there is no reason that the mosque parking situation should become a burden on members of the congregation, because the mosque leadership and staff should develop creative solutions to ensure that, without exception, every one who attempts to come to the mosque has a chance to do so. Whether this means having paid staff or volunteers to manage the parking lot entrance and exit, or if it means renting out neighboring parking lots from businesses or other churches to accommodate overflow parking from the mosque, ultimately, the mosque bears responsibility to address the issue and to do so perfectly.
In addition, the actual messages being delivered during the Friday sermons and during other lectures should be of high quality, delivered by people who are knowledgeable on the particular topic at hand, are articulate, and speak in a style and manner that is easily understood by the congregation. The topics that are chosen to be presented or discussed must also resonate with the congregation and not, as in the example above, end up infuriating or depressing members of the congregation, because of either the style, tone, or content of the sermon or lecture. No member of the congregation should feel yelled at, admonished harshly, or made to feel inferior, incompetent, or ignorant.
It should not be a stretch of the imagination to institutionalize evaluation forms so that every aspect of the mosque operation is evaluated by the congregation. There should be evaluation forms for every sermon, for every lecture, for the maintenance and upkeep of the mosque, and so on. The leadership and staff should review the evaluation forms monthly and develop strategies to address any systemic issues and make any necessary adjustments or changes in the mosque operations as needed.
Every believer has the right to worship in peace and tranquility at the mosque. No believer should feel worse off or be put off after having come to the mosque. The mosque experience should be spiritually uplifting, motivational, inspirational, and most of all satisfying. Regrettably, the status quo and the traditional outlook of the mosque will remain until and unless the leadership and staff of the mosque adopt the customer service outlook. Such an outlook will ensure that those who come into the mosque feel welcome and are able to meet their spiritual needs whether that means praying the five daily Prayers at the mosque, coming to the mosque for the Friday Prayers, coming to the mosque for lectures, for Tarawih Prayers, for dhikr, for reading the Qur'an, and so on.
Sadly, as in the example above, more often than not, the believer is unable to enter the mosque because of a lack of organized and sufficient parking, unable to enjoy the experience due to a poor sound system, overcrowding, an overzealous, and sometimes offensive imam, and then unable to leave in a timely manner because of overcrowding the unsystematic parking. The cleanliness of the mosque, the environment in general, should be conducive and inviting. In addition, as noted above, the mosque must value time and quality. It is the house of Allah, and this house should receive the best care, from the best people, and every guest who visits this house should long for it, feel attached to it, and should never want to leave it. Is it not time the mosque adopt a customer service outlook?
Topic forwarded by Musrata Musrati