SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association) - Dr. Usama Al-Atar talked to SHAFAQNA reporter about how to build a successful center within the community so that it becomes beneficent to its members. He gave a complete example of community work and how to achieve the best results possible. Dr. Al-Attar stated that:
You find the most successful centers are the ones that are not affiliated to anyone or any party. In North America for example, the ones that do not have such an issue are the ones that are neutral. Now let us take a look at some examples of very successful models here. One successful model that I have seen is from Sayyed Mustafa al-Qazwini in Los Angeles. He got a center in Irvin or close to Irvine, California, and there, they started literally from scratch back in 1995-1996. They had nothing, there was a huge Shia community that was just scattered.
Then he was approached by some followers and was told that there are many Shias here that are scattered and do not know anything about religion. Some have lost their religion. People have just lost it and do not even know that they are lost. So thank Allah with the help of Ahlulbayt (A.S.), they established from scratch. They rented a place for few years and thank Allah there was the potential and purchase of a place. Now, they are very successful. Now you look at their model. First of all, they are completely neutral and not affiliated with anything.
Second, is that they established a weekend school and at the weekend school, they actually paid their teachers. So it was not volunteering, because there is more responsibility and commitment. When you have a volunteer, that is fantastic, but then of course volunteers are volunteers after all. When you pay somebody, he will have more responsibility.
Then you can actually look after them and can tell them here you write a curriculum; how many hours are you going to spend on this curriculum? On distinct we will pay you for it. That makes a big difference. Now I will sit down and do it, because now I am going to get paid for it. So thank Allah, their school was very successful.
Then, they have regular programs, but all in English. Their programs were all in English, so they are attended by everybody. You find people from different backgrounds. Yes there is one group that is majority, but you have many other people as well in there. Various groups from different backgrounds. Jum’a prayer thank Allah is very attended as well as Eid prayer. For example, over 2000 people attend. They have to conduct more than one prayer; they conduct one Eid prayer with 1000 people, then they leave and conduct another Eid prayer with another thousand people. The center cannot accommodate with many people.
After that, they established a weekly program on TV, on a cable channel where they purchased just a one hour slot. The Sayyed actually recorded a lecture and they will play it on TV. He called it “Discovering Islam”. So this was a cable TV and they had all of their information available to the audience such as an e-mail address, telephone number; so if you need anything you can contact them. Then, when the Internet came about, immediately they developed a really good website and formative. A website that has their e-mail address, any books that Sayyed Mustafa had published, for example, contact information, general knowledge. You can go to the website it is called IECOC.ORG.
Then they started a youth group. Every Friday night he would lecture to the youth. Initially, he told me there was very few people coming. It took them about 3 to 4 years until the youth started coming and getting attracted again and the youth group started having summer camps for the youths and now thank Allah it is very successful. Some of their youth graduated. They were very young at the time and now they have children. They opened a whole new center. Some of those youth were basically, because Los Angeles is very big, so they moved to other places in Los Angeles; and now these youths who used to attend these sessions are running other centers as well.