Sajjad Chowdhry On Leadership In Muslim Communities

Episode 26

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Hosted by
Maruf Yusupov

I help people discover their purpose in life and follow their passion to live in prosperity.

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Sajjad Chowdhry is an entrepreneur and management professional who draws on a diverse range of experience in startups, commercial real estate finance, Islamic finance, structured finance, investment, and trade & manufacturing, along with his strong academic pedigree.

In this episode, we discussed leadership in Muslim communities.

I hope you will enjoy this as much as I did.

Interview transcript

Maruf: Hey, Assalamu alaikum. Welcome to the next episode of Muslims On Fire. I have a special guest and he’s joining me, today, from the US. And today we discuss very interesting ongoing issues. 

I think this episode is being recorded during this covid-19. Everyone and everything is in lockdown. I think it’s gonna be a very interesting episode. Assalamu alaikum, Sajjad, welcome to the show. 

Sajjad: Walaikumassalam, Maruf. It is my pleasure. Thank you so much for honoring me with being with you and with your guests, so thank you and thank you to all your guests as well for taking the time.

Maruf: It’s a pleasure. We have something in common. Recently, we were talking to Rafi. You know, Rafi from Dinar standard. Another great friend, but then you guys you know that today we have you. So, we got yet another set of a story, I guess but you know what before we dive into all those things. 

I think this is how we start the show. We say look if you go back, if you just forget about the moment anything to a childhood like where you are today, what do you remember? What kind of memory you would like to recall? Two fighting over you wanted a desperation. 

Sajjad: Sure. Well, one of my problems is that I actually think that I’m still a kid. My mid-age probably, you know, doesn’t reflect, sort of my thinking. Think as my thoughts. but don’t answer your question. So, you know, I mean, I think you know, pretty typical immigrant family background. 

I mean I came here when I was a kid to the states that is when I was just 15 months old with my mother, bless her and my father is a medical doctor. So, you know, one of those pretty typical Pakistani Muslim immigrant stories, my father was you know throughout just unbelievably hard worker as a solo practitioner, set up his own practice, you know. 

And obviously went through the whole thing in terms of his residency and you know building himself up and and all that stuff and then my mother, she was a homemaker primarily but I think I saw her, sort of adapt in such malleable way over the period of her life that there were so many examples of her sort of adopting new personas in the life that she led. 

So those two personalities I think for anybody right mother and father are very foundational just watching them and being inspired by them and pushed by them and sometimes pulled. I think, you know defining moments that really for me stick out, if I was to name a few growing up grade school and all that stuff is sort of, you know, that time basically you’re not aware of what’s going on around you, right?

Get up in the morning, go to school, come back home. You do your homework and you’re sort of in your own little world. We moved from Flushing Queens to Valley Stream, Long Island in 1985 and I think that sort of really starts, for me, journey of I guess becoming aware, right? 

It was the first change of circumstances for us. So that’s an adjustment right? We’re adjusting from sort of city life to a suburban life and that adjustment there were more responsibilities that were placed on us in terms of just me and my brother, younger brother. We were asked to do more things. 

The house is the rationale and house on an apartment and sort of take responsibility for ourselves. And as time went by. I think we moved to Long Island when I was in the fifth grade, going into High School, my high school was actually really interesting because usually people go to Middle School from 6th, 7th and 8th grade in the states. 

And then they die school is in 12th grade and in our experience the high school that we went to was actually from 7th to 12th grade. So we were in once School for six years to us, which is quite unique and I just remember during that time as holes sort of a series of circumstances and events that had built over time. 

I started playing an instrument as I started learning how to play drums and percussion which has been a lifelong love of mine. I participated in something called Model un throughout High School, which was I think foundational for me just as a person when we traveled across The United States and numerous competitions, we traveled internationally and our team, you know, fortunately, we won those competitions whether a Georgetown or Harvard or or in The Hague internet in the Netherlands. 

We were we were the winning team from the period of I want to say 1989 through 92. Okay? Yeah. So those are really really unbelievably years just you know with the music with the debate stuff with you know, classes and we’re trying to understand what was happening. 

And then I think the other most important thing was just me starting to discover, I guess culture and identity right. It was really, you know, that period was interesting because as an immigrant family, you know, this is the first time that our parents were dealing with obviously American culture, right? 

That’s it and and you know, you come to America with sort of romanticized thing that you know America is just going to be sort of, you know, the land of promise right or the promised land, you wherever you’re going to make a life for yourself and it’s up to him and that that certainly is there but there are all sorts of cultural challenges, the values, the basis with which you you look at the world is fundamentally different.

And I remember my mother, who was an educated woman, but she wasn’t educated in English-speaking schools. She was educated in Urdu medium schools in Pakistan. So I remember, you know sort of trying to help us navigate until those challenges, right? 

Maruf: So, as you said you’re the drummer at the band putting it another way, correct?

Sajjad: I was a drummer in high school. That I was a drummer and the other in the Jazz Band. I was a drummer and percussionist in the symphonic band as a percussionist in the marching band. So all orange that was my thing. 

I was mainly into music and then that became my sort of identifier and it helped me sort of fit in right because as an immigrant kid who doesn’t eat another hamburgers in the in the in the in the school cafeteria and you’re sort of you know, eating peanut butter jelly every day or whatever they’re serving. 

You know,  that’s not non meat, right? 

Maruf: So it’s because the meat is not Halal. 

Sajjad: The meat is not Halal, right. So, you know, you can’t eat that. So you’re eating pizza everyday or eating peanut butter and jelly or something like that and so music became for me to fit in and differentiate and then part of that Journey just fun Dimension was in 1990. 

I added running Tabla, you know, the drums of South Asia. Yeah. To my study so that became something else that sort of differentiated. So when I would bring my Tabla to school for a performance, you know, something cultural or something was happening people would really focus on that. 

Because it was so different right? I mean, playing on the drum set is one thing but then playing on Tabla is a completely different thing and I remember people just being fascinated with this sound and with the whole experience of that. So the main things that really stick out over miles from the informational period.

Maruf: I see. I will come back to this device in the moment the device before I want to, I would ask you something. So you said that about the cafeteria, so I want to ask you because I want to know details. I think this is that about just you know, except what’s the meat was poor or meat was beaf, what it was and how it is like, you know students of different levels.

Sajjad: Of course. So let’s qualify that statement, right? These are coming from a very immigrant South Asian background, right? You know, there was no nuance when it came to actually understanding Ifteluck, difference of opinion from a faculty perspective within the Muslim Community right? There was no nuance in terms of understanding that there are opinions about eating, you know, non behameat. 

Let’s call it that. And so, you know in our experience that’s what it was, right? And so when we started becoming more aware through our exposure in the Masjid and through our teachers in the beginning masajid, you know, he started learning about these different opinions and all that stuff. 

So yes during high school, you know, it was very different but then as in late high school and college things started to change and started to become more nuanced for awareness. 

Maruf: I mean, so this is not the show just like the difference of peace to just tell us, something which is respect.

Sajjad: Absolutely. It’s an issue of different opinion and again from the cultural perspective. It was either of Halal or Haram, right? So we didn’t have the tools to differentiate. Well, okay, you know, there may be some permissibility or not permissibility here right now. Obviously, we’re not here to talk about the specific obstacles, but you understand, right?so it became easier to understand those issues over time as awareness increased.

Maruf: Let me give you a brief story. I’m originally from Uzbekistan. We come from under Sviet Union like more than 7 to 8 years before the event you know, even in the past some Scholars like Imam Bukhari to me know but then over the last hundred years kind of lost the touch is a nation as it was Uzbegs, right? 

So what happened? I remember quite Young when I was young that we kind of getting back to Islam, we say we’re Muslims, right? Right, that’s why we would eat either. 

But our acting was very very busy that I still remember but I one thing I would we would do is okay Podcast is the right thing to do but other than that wouldn’t have this understanding right as it was supposed to be done properly this that but that’s why I’m just telling it to different contrast, I guess on the wires and we have this on the other hand, which is fine. You just write this as I was just trying to figure out.

Sajjad: It’s a part of the journey right, I mean in every situation there are precedents and incidents there is context and each one of those things, each situation has to be understood, part of that larger story. 

Maruf: Absolutely. So let’s go back to the next question that I just picked up with this device. It’s different at this. So like what? Okay. This says just go what defining you were like? Okay. I’m sure you enjoyed it. But I think it was a possibility maybe days is when somehow or some way to tell you how to put it but this was your way of getting into the society blending and maybe composition set or something like that. 

Sajjad: Yeah. Absolutely. I think everybody needs to find something that will allow them to identify themselves and be identified by others, right? There’s two things you have to identify yourself and you have to have some way for people to identify you, right? And in each of those things it’s very multifaceted, right? 

So one of the things that you know, so you say yes, I’m a Pakistani. Yes. I am Muslim right and and but also a drummer and and so in many respects You know during that early journey what allowed me to fit in where I might not have felt like I fit in as a Pakistani or the Muslim because everybody around you so different, right?

What allowed me to fit into a stew a hive to a large degree is being that drummer and you know being in front of people up in you know, in the in the auditorium’s on the field etc and then you know, I took it quite seriously so I competed at the district level, at the state level, you know to whatever extent that I could.

This is also new for my parents as well, right? My parents were never familiar with music itself. They always encouraged it which is always great, you know, being a competitive musician was also something very new for them. 

So they were navigating all these things for the first time, you know, we were sort of, you know, pulling them to help us, you know to be the best that we can be and  that was a fantastic part of growing up. So yeah, that’s where I think for me music allowed me to fit in, somebody else was you know, they were they were on the sports teams. 

I was in music and then there were other activities to I mean I was you know, it was active with publishing in high school and numerous other things that would be happening from a leadership perspective throughout and then going into you know, just graduating the other the other thing I’ll just quickly mention is I think it’s really important. 

One of the other things that sort of defined our growing up is that my mother, she started she started getting ill when I was quite young so she was probably 12,13 years old 12 years old actually when she started getting sick and so, you know, a lot of growing up was just about being responsible.

And you know, sometimes they would be there would be times especially during college and stuff where you know, she just was she was an incapacitated God forbid. She was always active to whatever extent that she couldn’t be but there were times when she needed a lot of help around the house. So my brother and I primarily, we took it upon ourselves. 

All’s to be that to take that role since your mother, right The Prophet (S) said you know, when he was asked who do you know who to respect, right? Your mother, your mother  your mother and that thoughts exactly that so there’s no question for us, you know, the dad came first before everything else and so, you know being in that role I think was also very important for me. 

Maruf: You said you were 12 years old. Is that what you said?

Sajjad: Mom started getting sick that it’s actually before that. She started getting sick when I was about 10 or 11 and then you know sort of just progressively over the years got pretty bad and she passed away now 1999. So it’s been over 20 years. 

Maruf: I see. As a young kid like, 12 years old, it’s really hard, you couldn’t play around like other kids. You had to take responsibility. You had to take everything a little bit differently, I guess.

Sajjad: Absolutely. It’s not like we didn’t have our leisure time. And again, she was an unbelievably strong person. Both of my parents have been unbelievably strong. I mean you know giving preference to any one of them in her case, you know, because she was with us the whole time right, Dad without working and then that would do this thing and come back.

And then again keeping working weekends and as a solo practitioner, as the medical doctor, you know, his all to his profession and rightly so because you know, it’s medicine right in this in this context right now with this whole covid thing going on, right? 

There’s all this conversation about, you know, the value of medical professionals, right and everybody is saying how valuable they are. They are right because in situations like this, that’s who you go to because it’s about life death. So but yeah going back to Mom. I mean she being responsible for those 

things during that time was certainly quite foundational but we’re very thankful for that opportunity. 

Maruf: So make sure you enter a specific High School. It was like from 11 to 12th grade. So yeah, so tell me this like I have this you request Miller with the US system. So it’s after your high school, you go to college or university, Is how it is?

Sajjad: Right. So, you will finish high school and then you’ll go to the any number of options are there but yeah, usually you’ll go into a four-year college or university program and.

Maruf: How was it in your case? By that time you were about to go to college. Did you have a clear picture what you would like to do with your life or you are still deciding your options?

Sajjad: No, I was one of those three medications. So, you know, the idea was, you know, do medicine. Okay and I think to a certain degree that there was a sincerity about that but during college I realized that medicine was not for me. 

I was much more interested in business and in whole idea of people, you know, being empowered through enterprise and I just like the creativity of business I think business is an intensely creative enterprise if you take it that way, right? 

It’s not just about sort of setting up policies and procedures and making transaction that It’s about really creating like when you create a brand, right, around a particular proposition, whether it be a service or product you really really need to drive a very creative and Innovative, excuse me approach to creating that. It’s almost like a child. 

Maruf: It’s like a character. It’s an image, isn’t it?

Sajjad: 100%. 

Maruf: Sometimes we see, even for you to this, the service is the similar service you, the service that companies who are doing the same service you talk to one of them you get a bit different version little bit on other one. It’s a totally different experience. That’s what you’re talking about.

Sajjad: Yeah. This is the other reason and then you know as you get more and more complex, you know from smaller to larger organizations and what have you all those dynamics the actual organizational culture and manifests, you know, I think that’s an intensely interesting and powerful sort of phenomenon, right? 

Because defining that and at the inception and I know it doesn’t matter if your company is five people 50 people 500 people or 5,000 people. There is a culture you have to define it maintained and then over time as you’re different and culture that people have a huge part in playing a role or something playing usual. Excuse me, in maintaining that culture and especially at a leadership perspective, right? So it’s unbelievably interesting for me, too. See all that stuff happened.

Maruf: Okay, so that’s what you want to do. You want to go to business as why I guess, continue to do want to transition or you drop out the business. 

Sajjad: So, I guess I’ll highlight a little things are happening during college and whatnot. So one of the things that was foundational during college was our local Masjid, you know, we had a little bit of a common occurrence. 

I’m going to say this. I don’t mean it to be a negative sense. There was a little bit of a rift in the community. I want to say backing that was like probably early 90s, maybe 91, 92 there was a little bit of a difference of opinion on how the Mashjid should be run, how the community should be running exactly. What I was just talking about right now, there organizational character, right? 

So what was the community character going to be right? And there were some people thinking about a community character, a certain way and I think fundamentally what that is issue ended up being was there was a certain group. 

That was bringing a very immigrant oriented character to the if the community right and it was another group saying no. No, we need to think about the future right our children are growing up in America. Their primary mode of communication is going to be English, right and we need to adapt and maintain a very forward-thinking posture. 

So the way I usually say it is I think as a result of that forward Thinking that our Masjid was gifted by Allah, an Imam whose name was Fahim Joe. He was a gambian scholar who had studied in Mecca as well and the four years that we had with chiffon Fahim during college. Every time I think about him. I lose my words those were four of the most powerful years. Whatever life, you know, Allah has given me.

Maruf: This when you are in the finishing High School, right, this is very lucky, those years. 

Sajjad: I finished high school. And this is basically during the College Years. 1993 to 97 is my college Years those were the years that we were with Fahim and sorry. Like I said, I lose my words when I talk about him and I think about it just you know, that’s when we started to understand, sort of a broader context as a big was introduced into our into our understanding it as a medium of learning, right?

Arabic was not just something that you know, you learned to pronounce the syllables of the Quran, the words of the Quran, can’t read the Quran reading in quotes, right? You don’t really read it because growing up in an immigrant community. You don’t read it to understand it. You read it personally, right? Yeah, but I mean this is reading it for the lila has its own merits but reading it for understanding is a completely different story. So Fahim, he was really the man for me and so many of my friends and colleagues at that point. 

He introduced us to that broader, you know field of Islamic thought and I know I had a highlighted earlier for me. Also during High School sort of coming into an understanding of who I was. And the drive there was okay. So yes, I’m an American because I’m in America. Yes. I’m a Pakistani because I was born in Pakistan. 

But what came before that right sort of what is more more Elemental than that? Right? And that for me was my identity as a Muslim and and I wanted to learn what it means to be a Muslim right beyond what we were taught, you know at home and really start studying and so I’m highlighting come back to us. 

But yeah, I mean the other thing during college was me just deciding, I’m not going to do medicine, I’m gonna do business. So I ended up, I was working for a software company during college and little bit afterwards. 

So that really gave me a lot of insight into business development into how to talk to people, how to there was a lot of training so conducting meetings and seminars and all that stuff and and sort of really putting myself out there in front of counterparties and taking their comments thoughts and stuff. 

So as a really powerful experience for Rafi two to three years. I was working part-time during college and then I went into Finance like a lot of people I think at that time. I didn’t really have mentorship from home with respect to career because you know what? My parents knew again, you know sort of coming from the immigrant experience it you medicine, maybe engineering, maybe accounting, you know, there were like four or five different fields that they knew and so this was all very new.

So, I ended up working for a rating agency on Wall Street for about a year and a half that was 98 to 2000. That was also the time during which my mother passed away in 99. So yes double thank you, you know God bless her, all of our mothers and then I got married in 1999 as well. 

And then I left Wall Street for a while to work on some personal project with my family in Pakistan and then I transitioned to two graduate degrees with Islamic Studies at Hartford Seminary and then the other graduate degree was a Colombian international service.So that to me from 2000 to 2004 and 2004 is when I met Rafi and we collaborated to start in Dinar standard.

Maruf: I see. So this was 2004. Why did I say? I asked a question to Rafi. I ask you as well. So what was the objective purpose behind it? When you guys went to the greatest thing?

Sajjad: I think in Dinar Standard the conviction for us to was that you know saying that there is a religious identity is fine right, La Ilaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasurullah, right and that’s a given, right? So you have this religious identity, but there is a lot more that we can talk about that we should highlight and so I think Dinar Standard was the first Attempt to define those other views specifically from a Commerce and business perspective. 

You know, we were very fortunate from the very early on the first sort of iteration for dinner standard was a an online newsletter news site type of thing right where we would update on a monthly basis and then on an annual basis the big Flagship sort of release was the DS 100 which was the like a fortune 100 ranking of the Muslim businesses in the end. Muslim majority countries. 

It is a really difficult Enterprise because a lot of those companies are not publicly traded their private companies. So you need to do a lot of research and you need to have sort of this all sorts of methodologies where you’re making judgments. And anyway, we would come up with this ranking and I Remember December 2014. We were actually profiled by the It’s magazine as something you know, really interesting, right? 

So that was really you know, it’s very encouraging, very early validation of what that concept was and we worked together till 2009 lots of productivity lots of sort of new things. I wrote one of the things I wrote during those years, I started writing a series of articles on classical Muslim thinkers. 

And what type of lessons we take from their writing. So I wrote an article and there’s a book of business and then I wrote an article on Ibne and they were you know a handful of others, but that was really great because again, I got to sort of try and show people how there is lots of thinking in our Khuludun heritage that can be applied to you know, to contemporary, you know contexts and that’s what of still a very the important thing.

 Maruf: Let me ask you a question while we’re talking Islamic discussing some Scholars you just mentioned. Do you think as of today where we are today? Like, do you think we have a kind of like all those most of the scholars, they wrote in Arabic, right? We talked about do you think we have a contemporary translation of those scholars?

So like Muslim and I can talk a lot of the scoare talk about play person like myself.Do you think we have our kind of connection, we can go and learn those gems lessons or our will or is he still most of those most of the books are still in? You know what I’m trying to say? 

Sajjad: Yeah, and I think I follow. I mean I think my take on that is that I think there is an unbelievable treasure house in all of our traditional languages. I think you know Arabic is obviously at the root, right and I think that so you asked about translation. I love to translation in a second. 

I think just in terms of the original languages themselves, right? I think we all should any one of us who is concerned interested, you know driven by what it means to be Muslim in contemporary times should be devoting some time to having command over any one or more of those traditional language. 

So, you know if I come for example, I’m from Pakistan, you know, I should know how to read Urdu. This is just a personal conviction to copy. It may not be something that everybody agrees with which is fine. But I made that effort when before my mother passed away probably two years or three years before she passed away. I actually said to her I said Mom I can speak Urdu but I want to be able to read properly. And so I did that and then for Arabic. 

Just give you a quick and anticode which I repeated to a lot of people who I meet with. So the area that I grew up in on Long Island is is a heavy Jewish population there. Okay. Anyway, I think there’s a heavy Jewish population in around New York City in any piece, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re coming from Westchester County or from New Jersey or from Long Island. There are Jewish people in all directions, right? 

You know, I’m always in awe of seeing American Born, American raised Jewish people and I would see this very very often when I would take the train from Long Island into the near engineer of City when I was working in the city. I would seem routinely in the morning especially at maybe even in the evening as well. 

I would routinely see people Jewish leadership Jewish people, excuse me reading in Hebrew. Okay, I think whenever I see that, right I tell myself maybe these people, they were born in America. They grew up in America, but they’ve established and infrastructure in which they are making sure that people in their Community know how to access the original sources. 

All right, these are not rabbis, right? These are not what we would call alama right? These are people who are in my stockbroker or so, they might be, you know other types of what they mean business for themselves, whatever they may be but they know how to access their books and I’ve actually seen even in the train in public. 

I literally seen their speed given on the train on issues of tahara, right when whatever they call those issues in day and Hebrew. I don’t know but I remember the gentleman who was reading, I was sitting very close to them. 

He was talking to six or seven people who are sitting around him and these are not 

 these are not phesitic juce, this is just sort of your average Jewish guy who would see on the street. He was giving them $1.00 in the train talking about the Hebrew and unaware that he was sorry and giving him giving them a almost like an exegesis or a shudder of the of the teachings that he was talking about.

So I look at something like that. I say, you know, we should have the same Dynamic, right? But I think we don’t think, we’ve been only we have that yet. I think we have been learning Islamic sciences who are specializing but you don’t see a lot of those people, you know, sort of being professionals right if there still a little bit of a dividing line. 

And this may be changing. I mean, I’ve spent a lot of years outside of the states now with my work overseas, but I still think that there’s those gaps. So I think I know my answers going along but I do what you like me to address? 

Maruf: Let me ask you this. So if you remember that thing went to do so by your younger brother, right a couple of months ago. This actually met him with Dinar standard. He was in Dubai and that’s how we got to know and I thought we talked to your shared one of your articles. 

That you remember you wrote this is what was it? What the research? I was thinking what was that? I can’t remember the date, wasn’t this your brother’s research?

Sajjad: Right.

Maruf: It was Dinar standard like the first established? 

Sajnad: No, you are talking about the NYU study?

Maruf: The one you shared with me about leadership and some communities.

Sajjad: Right. So that study was written under a grant from the Henry Luce foundation and it was something that caught the thief at this Islamic Center and why you had gotten the funding to do and then Khalid asked me for help to protect study together. 

So during 2015, 16 I did the research for that and the paper was actually ready in 2016, but then they were just delays because of the election and all these things so it didn’t end up getting released until 2018. That was a paper on a study sort of Muslim leadership development programs in the United States. 

And so we sort of surveyed 15 institutions that we identified as contributing to the development of the talks of Muslim leaders in the United States and what we try to do in that what was your will be tried to ask some really important questions about what are our conceptions of leadership? 

How are we understanding Notions of authority in the Contemporary context? How are those oceans being sort of adapted for the situations that we have and then you know is really sort of here towards asking a lot of questions and I’m looking at the institutions that are out there at least the ones that were there at that time and saying, okay. 

Well, here’s you know where we see these institutions and what we tried to do was to provide almost like a classification scheme for those institutions and that was the first time so we classified them between academic, Seminary, Madrasa and regimented co-curricular and Civic rights. 

That was the five category classification.

Maruf: I read it. I did with it, was very interesting. I know a lot of Justice to who explained everything in that research but I mean look for the late people like us we’re listening to so like if you would like to highlight two or three fundamentals and thinks that all people take from specially in this days right this everybody’s spaceship and I just think it’s also time reflect what are the things you would like to share with the audience so that we can listen, we can benefit from it, it could be from your childhood or from your research.

Sajjad: I appreciate that you know in this covid-19, I was talking to someone yesterday, and I was saying Prophet (S) is known to have spent time in the cave Hera that practice is known as Tahannaf, in this self isolation, maditiate state and I think it’s almost that was being compelled by Allah to go sort of Tahannaf at this point.

And so it’s really interesting to be able to ponder, you know, lots of issues. We know with respect to that research and a lot of the thinking that still drives what was sort of goes on in my head. I think two or three points. 

Well, I think we have to be really really nuanced when we look to our leaders, right and what that means is we should understand in what capacity somebody is leading. Are they leadin in a community, are they leading in a political capacity, are they in leading in a business capacity or a financial capacity etc. 

And each one of those leadership capacities is based on perhaps that person being in Authority or an authority in that the subtle difference between that and that was something that I draw on some of the work of doctor for there is a difference of somebody being an authority and somebody being in Authority, being an authority means that you know, you have proven your mastery and expertise and command over, you know, certain teachings, certain methods certain history, certain texts, certain certain what not. Okay. 

And being in authority means that because of maybe your personality or skill set or whatever. You’ve been given responsibility to make certain things happen. Maybe give a little bit of an example. If I was to go into a madrassa into a sort of a Traditional School of Muslim learning. They would be ostensibly you have lots of different alama around right and then somebody is behind this and somebody’s office in some reason for being 

You’ve got all these different types of Scholars there. Some of them would also be given administrative duties, right? Somebody is the director of the Madrassa. Somebody’s the dean and somebody’s the you know, the head registrar or whatever it is principal whatever those administrative positions might be. 

That’s because they have a certain skill set that some of the other one that don’t have right some of the other all of my heart just to put teachers they’re good Scholars. So I’m using that example to try and differentiate that we have to be very nuanced when we look to our leaders. That’s  one thing. 

The second thing is, I can’t emphasize enough as a community the need for us to understand our history and you know, it is an incredibly complex, you know story but start fundamentally with the central circle trunk, right, which is the Prophet (S) his teachings and then start you know, thinking about what histories are important to you. 

You mentioned for example where your family comes from, Maruf. So to understand that history is very important right to understand how your understanding of Islam and yourself was shaped right to a large degree even if that, you know may not have been completely positive. As you said, you know that the whole country Uzbekistan was under, you know, Soviet Rule and what after so many years, right? 

So that becomes a marker for you, right that becomes reference point from which you will start to understand. Okay, where do I need to go? Right? Where do I have the person I has a community or be as a community. Where do we need to go? 

See we need to understand history and  that means spending time and asking questions and investing in grasping that the journey that we’ve been on as a community of Muslims of Uzbegs, Pakistanis, Indians of whatever you may have then the unique thing that we’ve got. 

I hear, Maruf, is that my journey has a Pakistani Muslim American Muslim Pakistani, American American of Pakistani right coming you can – 8 any number of ways, but whatever that journey is today my reality is that I’m an American and I think that is so important. 

I think there still some communities, I didn’t say a lot but some communities look at seem to be stuck with some paticular cultural context and that’s just not gonna ne helpful. And the negative effect is that you actually have people you know they stuck themselves in a context. 

In New york, for example, I’ve seen 2,3 years ago, I was in Juma, there was an young khateeb in Khudba, and I remember him you know Moulana room, Sheikh Saadi relevance of you coding this in Farsi to this crowd of Muslims who is if nothing else? 

It is 50% young and 50% elder right and amongst the youth I can tell you, you know, probably certifiably that nobody here understands Farsi and amongst the elders how many people are going to understand it for so why are you putting Farsi he’s coding for see because that’s what he learns at the Madrassa he goes to, right, so we are not understanding our context and there’s some unbelievable work, very foundational. 

I think that you know people like Dr.Omar Farum, Dr. Sherman Jackson has done and is doing and many many other Scholars, of course, you know, what’s happening today in terms of zaytuna of the American Islamic College of so many other efforts Hartford Seminary. 

These are all trying to help us ground ourselves in today’s reality, right, and I think it’s really really important. I think we need to do a lot of work for that. I still didn’t answer your question about the translation. 

Maruf: But so we’re working. So I mean, look I see what we have today like things going on with the lockdown if it’s effecting economics, other things like what would be your advice for us? What advice would be what would be the best thing is to advise to conditional type of, would say distress, right? How do you suggest like, to spend time without going out? 

Sajjad: So I’m going to answer that question about right now, and I’m also going to talk about a little bit of maybe perhaps what we can do to come out of this right because I think  there’s some things that I’d like to share out that I think there’s tremendous opportunities there. 

So today look, I mean, I think I wrote a little bit of a Blog just this morning before for a website that I’m helping build out in the sustainability space and I titled the short it’s a short trip log and I titled it over living, in its brief is just meant to any sort of again raises a bunch of questions and you know highlight some issues. 

It’s not extensive by any means, but I think if you’re asking about what we could be doing today during this sort of lockdown period, is really I think come to terms with whether we are over living or not, right and over living in this case means that we’ve been you know, there were living luxuriously, we’re living beyond what we should be doing.

Allah created us as a middle community, right? That is something that we are taught in the Quran. We are taught by the Prophet (S) himself was the most balanced personality and the archetype that we should be approximating in the best way possible right in the Sahaba were very different personalities, right? 

But they loved one home as my many women wherever they were all sorts of different personalities, but they were all trying to be like a Prophet (S) right? I still have some so I think let’s you know try and take just quickly the opportunity during this period to make our living right sized, right balanced moderate you know we can go into all sorts of things about how the process.

And we know even for example, he said being the world like a traveler, right and I think sometimes we have difficulty reconciling with and how that would really work in today’s world. So I would only just say they are, you know, just consider this idea. Are we over living or are we living correctly, rightly? Allah and His Prophet (S) have taught us and then I think this the coming out of this lock down period is going to be really really interesting. 

I think we are in 2020. We are in election year, right? We are going to be coming out of Inch’allah at some point this covid induced or or precipitated lockdown and you know, there are people in the Muslim Community who have undoubtedly been effected financially economically, jobs etc by these circumstances, right? 

I know that there are many Muslim businessmen who are applying for you know aid packages to the government because they need to keep their businesses running right? I’m sure there’s lots of Muslims you know who are in the throes of either insecurity with jobs because their employers are having difficulty rather keeping them on staff or maybe, unfortunately, we as a community have so much work to do and this is an opportunity right .

 I’m not saying this in a negative way. I think we have a lot of room to grow and improve what I would love to see is Muslim Institutions businesses, professionals etc rallying together at a community level and saying who has been affected. Okay, I will take responsibility for giving people jobs. 

I will take responsibility for helping by investing in perhaps, you know, small enterprises or recapitalizing somebody’s business because they have been out of business for you know, several weeks or months getting, I don’t see that happening at a programmatic level enough, right and we need to do that. 

And I think I this is a great opportunity for us to be able to organize that and develop ourselves in such a way that we have this institutional platform at a community level because tomorrow what’s going to happen is that very same platform can be used to provide mentorship and guidance to young people who are looking to get into their professional lives, right? 

So hey kid, you know, you want to be an accountant. Okay. Well, I’ve got an accounting. I’ve got three different accountants in the community, right? 

I want you to go do your internship at one of these accounting firms, right? 

Or maybe I’ve got you know a couple of accountants in the big four, right and one of the headline accounting for or whatever ut might be right. There’s ten different ways that this can go but I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for us to start organizing stuff like that. 

Maruf: Okay, sounds interesting. Thank you very much for your time. So this is what I want to ask one simple question, of course, ask you to share where people can follow you and more about that. Do you think, if there is a question that I haven’t ask what would it be? And what would you say?

Sajjad: That you haven’t asked and that I would like it asked. 

Maruf: Yes, for example. Yeah, you would like to mention maybe you’d like to mention as a last note to the show to this episode. 

Sajjad: Yeah, I think I’ll highlight a couple things. I think, you know, one of the things that’s always driving me, is just this idea of potential, I think that there is an unbelievable storehouse of potential that human beings have fundamentally and then of course, I looked to the Muslim Community myself, right? 

And I think how much potential is there out there that is still yet to be tapped, right? And the only way we’re going to be able to tap that potential is a lot of hard work, right? We’re not there. The election cycle is going to give us opportunities to show who we are.

They are getting out of covid is going to show us an opportunity to show who we are and then just, you know, defining again for the next generation and I’ve got three kids. I got to make sure that what I give them, this is what I was taught by my parents. 

You know, what we give to our children should be at least as good as what we had if not better right if you notice, you know my WhatsApp and that will all sort of tag line that everybody can put there. I have a saying in Arabic that basically says they planted and we reaped so we reap those crops, we will plant and our children will reap. 

So if we don’t do that, you know, we’re not we’re not taking that into consideration. And then I think the other quick thing would be continued to study. This is a lifelong thing, you know find a teacher, go to a halaka, involve yourself in, developing yourself spiritually, intellectually, understanding any aspect of our cultures, of our religion etc.

And integrate the community into the thinking into the process. That’s where we are today. 

We have to be really bringing our community into our thought process from an early point and I think I’m a proud of a lot of things that a lot of my friend have been able to start and do and develop their several different things that I can name but I’m not going to because if I say one and I don’t see the other something it means to really integrate the think the community thinking right, the community into our thinking because that’s ultimately what our children are going to go into as well. 

And if we don’t give them a solid infrastructure and platform into which they will then move for getting them at a disadvantage and they deserve that from us as well. So that’s just a couple things. I hope that’s helpful. 

Maruf: Okay, so just thank you very much for giving us time even in this time.

Sajjad: Everybody has time more than anything right now.

Maruf: Yeah, that’s true. But mention where people can follow you find you, you know. 

Sajjad: I think probably the best I’m on LinkedIn and there are a couple of projects that I’m involved in. So I think our oath on your feet. If you perhaps have something we can share a couple of Link’s potentially.

Maruf: Absolutely, okay, having said that Assalamu alaikum.

Sajjad: Thank you so much. Walaikumassalam.

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Episode 26