As I recall, I have been conducting religious circles since secondary school under different organisations – Alhamdulillah for the opportunity, and there are a number of things I have learned over the years, some times the hard way.
1. You can’t give what you don’t have. One must equip oneself first – which means increasing one’s effort to pursue knowledge. During my university years, I have seen so many opportunities for this, whether on a structured learning channels (private institution the likes of AlKauthar and AlMaghrib for instance) or the one-off tazkirah sessions, knowledge-sharing sessions etc. Nevertheless, as a consolation, as one shaykh said during Twins of Faith conference – we know more than what we need to become a good muslim(and often it boils down to acting upon what we know), so why shy away from sharing?
2. Do not become a parrot. Often, nuqaba’ (plural form for naqib/naqibah) who involve in a formal system will have a syllabus to follow, and will first undergone a briefing/session themselves on the topics to be covered. Honestly, this is not something that I favour. One tends to parrot whatever one heard, hence his/her sessions later become another copy-and-paste, soulless knowledge impartment. Remember, what comes not from heart won’t touch the hearts of the listeners. One good listener can see whether one issue has been fully digested by a speaker, or the speaker is just being superficial. I could not stress how important it is to seek knowledge from other sources, as in Point 1 above, and wisely integrate it with the syllabus you choose to follow, if any.
3. Read and be up-to-date. Especially on the current issues. This is in particular a problem with the girls, including me – who tend to be such a lazy bum when it comes to digesting news and current issues. During my student activism years, this has been a source of mockery for the boys . Force yourself to read the news. I still have to, and let me share you one thing I keep doing until now : make Google News your browser’s homepage. The least you could do is reading the headlines, and come on, won’t at least one or two headlines attract you into clicking and reading further?
Well, did I say at least read the headlines? Actually to be able to digest, analyse and form your own opinion is more desirable of course.
4. Conduct the session the way you like your own circle/naqibah to be. Sit down and think hard about your previous experience. What do you like about those sessions? What do you dislike about them? Was it that it has so many segments that they have become superficial and not deep enough? Was the session too one-way that all you do is listening without thinking?
5. Correct your intention and your mindset. We are no superior than those attending the circle we conduct. We are just a mere messenger, but surely this should not hinder us from working towards betterment of ourselves, as one who involves in dakwah. This is a space for discussion, a safe space for people to raise the concerns and confusion, and seek help. It could be a group of people working together to get closer to Allah, not necessarily you leading them. I often see the opportunity of conducting such circles as a motivation, another BIG driver for me to practise what I preach, because the curse is upon me for saying things that I do not practise.
6. Be genuinely interested in people. Learn about them. Read psychology stuff if you must, about human behaviour for example. I know this is more challenging if you are born introvert, but remember, as one ustaz has one said, the more God-fearing you become i.e. the more religious you’re, the more people-inclined you should be. Why? Because Islam is never a religion that condones isolation or monastic living – many of our basic rituals involves societal elements, take zakat (paying of alms) for instance.
I read a book entitled Personality Plus by Florence Littauer a while ago, which I believe is quite beneficial and would suggest reading it. Of course, stereotyping is not necessarily good, but it makes understanding people and loving them for who they are a lot easier. I’ve been using this in my previous student organisation, and it has been quite useful in identifying who’d be happier doing what, based on their individual temperaments and personality.
7. Bring the relationship outside the circle too. During the final year of my study, I was supposed to conduct two circles, and with time constraint that I have, it was rare that everyone in the circle can agree on a specific time to meet up. And that is not a problem – at all I’d say, unless you are like a teacher being pushed to finish your syllabus before the end of the year or something lame like that. I have always enjoyed my personal time off – be it going for a theatre or movies, or simply sipping a cup coffee in a coffee shop – and I try to include the girls in that, so I could talk to them and discuss things. It may not include everyone, and that’s fine with me because sometimes a one-to-one session can be more effective than a typical usrah session.
8. Keep reminding them the most important thing: Purpose of Life. In my life, I know I need to keep being reminded on my purpose of life – so that I could be consciously and continuously asking myself whether what I am doing (or to do) fits my purpose of life, and I believe, based on my experience, that everyone is aware of the purpose of living as set by our Creator.
9. We are not there as one who feed them with fish. We are there as a motivator, one who suggest ways and motivate them to act on their own – ‘This is what you can do; if you want to learn about this and that, why don’t you go to this place; here’s a book I found interesting, maybe you’d want to read it as it suits your interest.’ Something like that. Let them grow according to their potentials and if we are wise enough to see the potentials, you might be able to suggest the way. That’s how mentoring works. And you are there, as I’ve said before, to encourage them to think, not to think for them.
10. Stop being self-absorbed. Do not feel down when some choose not to attend or be in your circles, because you are not really good anyway, and chances are that they find something worth spending their time on, rather than being in your circle. Perhaps they are attending a more beneficial learning session, or a course, or reading a more life-changing book, or writing a masterpiece – you’ll never know. Thank Allah for showing them the opportunities for doing so, because only He knows what is best for everyone, and stick to Point 7 above (so that you may learn from them too!).
Surely, some of my readers (if there is any actually) cannot relate to what I am saying above, but for those who could, I hope that reading it won’t waste your precious time – and I leave it to the girls in my circle to deliberate whether their encounters with me were in any way useful.
And God knows best!