Masjids as Clear as Crystal
In the story of Prophet Sulaiman(s) and Queen Bilqees in the Qur'an 27:44, Bilqees is told to enter a magnificent glass palace with a courtyard paved with clear glass. The palace was clear and transparent.
Clarity and transparency is beautiful not only in architecture, but also metaphorically in the way we conduct ourselves. There is no building or entity more deserving of this beautiful transparent conduct than a house ascribed to Allah, Lord of the Worlds; the masjid.
"Back in the day, it would have been sacrilege to have asked about the backroom workings of the masjid."
But we live in a different time and age now where society demands transparency and openness in every sphere of life, especially when funded by the community. Unfortunately, this openness has not found its way into many masjids.
With a view to encouraging more transparency in the houses of Allah, I wanted to share some simple ideas and encouragement as to how greater transparency can, inshallah, be achieved.
The masjid custodians should always remind themselves that they are the custodians of the masjid and not its owners. There is a fine line between the two. Many start with good intentions as the former and then unwittingly descend into the latter. In a nutshell, transparency boils down to the mindset of the custodians and how they perceive their role as trustees/directors.
All masjids should seek to have charitable status*, such that there is a level of in-built statutory scrutiny. Many people are unaware that information about the charity, including names of trustees and audited annual accounts, can be easily obtained online. Years of unsubmitted accounts are red flags which point to poor governance that should not go unchallenged.
All monies raised should be banked. Goods and services should be paid for by bank transfer, even if it means paying a bit more. Cash often flies stealth under the radar. All masjid transactions should appear on bank statements, providing a clear audit trail.
Masjid bank accounts should have multiple signatories. Each transaction should be assigned a meaningful reference for future auditing purposes.
Receipts should be retained for all transactions. In the past, storing paper receipts was often a time consuming, cumbersome exercise. But now with a smart phone, capturing and storing a receipt image could never have been easier.
All key decisions should be recorded in writing, especially those involving large sums of money.
Many masjids are run by families or even by individuals, which is inherently problematic when it comes to accountability (the same could be said for an unrelated clique of friends). In many a case the checks and balances needed for good governance simply do not exist. If it is not possible to diversify the board, then at the very least independent advisors should be invited to sit alongside the trustees when key decisions are taken, such that there is the potential of a credible dissenting voice.
Trustees should openly donate to the masjid themselves, so that they feel the burden of spending community funds. It is not sufficient just to volunteer as an alternative to donating; we need to put our money where our mouth is.
There is a counter argument that being overly transparent and posting all information in the public domain can attract the wrong kind of scrutiny from mischievous parties. I believe that this argument does have some merit, however the case for transparency is a legal, moral and religious obligation which overrides any such concerns.
When the masjid promotes a culture of transparency something amazing happens; the blessings descend from the heavens and people are willing to offer their money and physical efforts in unlimited amounts . People start to actively identify with the masjid as their spiritual home and thereby the masjid ascends to the next level by the permission of Allah.
Finally, we should never seek to undermine the stability of the masjid, no matter what concerns we may have. As the famous fiqh maxim goes, "Repelling harm is to be given precedence over bringing about benefit." The houses of Allah should remain as oases of tranquillity, whatever the shortcomings of the management may be.
Our obligation is only to advise the masjid custodians in private with beautiful manners and to make dua that Allah guides them to discharge their duties in the best way.
*Note: Some masjids are now favouring the Community Interest Company (CIC) model as an alternative to being a registered charity due to the reduced regulation. What’s important to note with a CIC, however, is that although it looks like a charity, it is actually a company that does not have the same transparency as a charity.