Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Sacrifice of Personal Time

By Imam Daayiee Abdullah

As an Imam, I am often privy to semi-private conversations that are easily overheard while people are generally having discussions or making commentary about their day-to-day lives. One theme that I hear quite a lot is the “sacrifice of time”—I don’t have the time—the “boogy-man” of commitment. Don’t get me wrong, people are committed to many things depending upon where they may be in life—early may be focused on education or work, middle on intimate and family relationships, later years dealing with health and maintenance issues, and like most other people, we have social issues we support.
What I don’t hear that often is the willingness to make some effort towards a common goal. What do I mean by that statement? A commitment to an ideal does not mean one has to do all the work. If it is an ideal that you support with a few volunteer hours a week, you are part of the process of moving towards the ideals to which you are committed. In order to express my point more clearly, let me give you a personal example.

In my early activist years, I learned Jane and John Q. Public types, as well as...
the more progressive, center left types, (I am talking about a spectrum of folks), not everyone was able or willing commit some small amount of time on a regular basis. Yet, across the board for the folks I met, when individuals agreed with those progressive and inclusive ideals I was promoting—they would say things like, these ideals should be encouraged or made available to all, or believed such a change could benefit them. However, when asked to commit to a small amount of time or donate funds to the organization in order to help bring these ideals to fruition, people would sidestep or reject the idea they could or should actively participate in bringing change. What that says, generally, people under most circumstances expect these great changes will drop like manna from heaven—a gift from on high—but failing to recognize that change takes active participation and that means effort expended in time (hours of work) and/or a donation of money on a regular basis to facilitate transition to a better system that provides those benefits sought.

Now, do understand me, I have been and continue down the road of working and going to school at the same time, working and participating in the activist community, and now juggling work and building a progressive Muslim community in Washington, DC. Yes, a person’s time can be sparse or limited. However, the difference is my commit is I plan a specific number of hours each week and use that time to focus on moving the envelop getting closer and closer to my goals. I have also made the commitment to put it on your calendar, mark it in highlighter, and let people know that is “my time” and I am committing “my time” to a particular cause. People do respect that kind of dedication to a cause.

Of course, knowing how much time a person can commit and really be committed is based upon what you have on your plate of things to do. You have a whole lot like school, work, caring for children or parents, and other sundry items, your time is limited. Yet, when you can commit four hours a week to a cause (this is not including travel time), you will be amazed how you can help an organization accomplish a lot more than without your four hours of time. If you bring skills and talents to the table that can help the organization become self-sustaining, those skills are always welcomed. Even if you don’t think you could be of assistance, you will be amazed at how little experience you will need to do envelop stuffing, to placing leaflets in your neighborhoods, or attending a political person’s meeting and taking notes—all of these things are small commitments that help get a lot done.

Okay, okay, okay, if your life is at a stage where you just don’t have the time, then seriously consider donating funds to the organization—on a monthly basis. I belonged to one organization and had the task of picking up the mail once a week. Doing this for about two years, I had noticed that every two weeks or so, one person would always send an envelope. So I inquired one day and learned the man sent a $25 check every pay check to the organization—that is $50 a month for two years that I knew of, totaling $1,200 and he didn’t demand anything in return. He believed in the purpose of the organization. This is what I call putting your money where your mind/heart/purpose find important.
Now, I’m speaking on real terms here, and my purpose is not to judge anyone on what they do, but I do believe we can sacrifice a little and get a lot done. If you eat dinner out once a week, four times a month, commit the cost of one or two of those dinners out. If you’re being entertained, forego one concert a season or the season tickets you are not going to use, auction them off and send the money to a cause you believe in. Even if you imbibe in cigarettes or alcohol, you can skip a few packs a month—stretching them, or donate the money for a drink or two each week, and send it in. Again, you will never know how much you are helping others help others when you cannot be there to help yourself. And it is more than just a “feel good” statement, it is you working to change the levels of injustice and oppression people are facing, and we can count our blessings we are not the ones in need.
It is also important for those who donate time to help a cause, remember, if you are a novice, you need time to learn about the organization and how it works. Avoid having unrealistic expectations of the organization—no one organization can make the world a utopia. Allow yourself to be guided into the areas the organization believe your skills and talents can be best applied, and remain flexible if you are asked to help in other areas from time to time. These attitudes help make you a valuable asset to the group—good workers have the potential of being good leaders too.

For progressive organizations, you must not squander the talent that may be offered to you. Be honest, realistic and respectful with volunteers—they learn to trust your guidance and will be there when those things are taken into consideration. People who volunteer often ask others they know to help too. You can increase your volunteer numbers when people know you do not waste their time. Building a partnership is the road to success.

Finally, progressive Muslim communities need this kind of commitment from organizations and volunteers. I strongly encourage everyone who can to make a commitment to a progressive Muslim organization in your area. If you do not have one in your area, donate to the national and local organization in your area.

Over the past several years, I have contributed a lot to Muslim for Progressive Values, Though it takes a bit of my time, I still meet my other commitments, and I remain convinced my small contribution helps move our ten principles into the larger Muslim community and MPV will thrive.

Allah promises us a good benefit when we work actively to eliminate injustice and oppression in the world—even if the oppression originates from our misreading of Islam.