Recently at a family function, I was involved in a discussion where the lack of co-operation between various Islamic institutes in the UK was a point of criticism. Some of those involved in the discussion went as far as to suggest that some institutes compete with each other whilst others were driven to make money, to the detriment of our society. I found this to be an example of how perception and reality are two very distinct constructs; yet can very easily become conflated.
Firstly, I don’t think such a criticism is correct nor a reflection of what actually takes place on the ground. Nobody disagrees that there should be some sort of collaboration between various institutes at some level; that there should be sharing of good ideas, practices, teaching techniques and so on across the institutes. That’s a given. But to expect all of them to be the exactly same and share everything with everyone else isn’t realistic and nor is it an efficient way of working. Every institute has its own ethos, culture and way of doing things. They possess a certain distinctness that colours them with their own character. It is worth bearing in mind that we have a rich the tapestry within our tradition that needs to be maintained. We need to move away from this mentality of making everything monolithic. Yes, those institutes that are able to push the boundaries can in many ways act as role models and inspire others, something that would be much more difficult if everything was standardised.
The claims about Islamic institutes competing with one another needs to be backed up by evidence. I haven’t really seen any overt form of competition at the very least. In any case, it really depends on what you mean by competition. If they are competing then do we take this to mean that they are competing with one another in serving our communities effectively whilst raising the level of aspirations of our youth? If that is the case, and there is no reason to suggest otherwise, what is then the problem? As individuals, we should be competing with one another for the fruits of the Hereafter, and that is what our institutions are striving for.
Rather than having a negative view, let us focus on our strengths and the positives. I can see much goodness coming from the work people are doing out there. If you don’t have any concern for the future trajectory of our Ummah and aren’t doing anything meaningful out there, then in my view, your have forfeited your right to present an opinion. Remember, it takes a lot of persistence, patience, hard work and sincerity to serve society.
Such are the qualities required for us as individuals to serve society.