From Citizen to Mosque Chairman
By Nadiah Tejani and CC Chiang
The Pawprint was able to talk to Shakir Merali, the Chairman of the Nairobi Mosque (SAAJ). The chairman of a mosque organizes financial decisions, brings various speakers to the mosque to educate the community and organizes events and fundraisers. The Pawprint asked him about his path in becoming the chairman that he is now. Shakir grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, in a Christian curriculum. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance and a Master’s in Information Systems; both from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The Pawprint: Hi Shakir. Thanks for joining us. Before we get into some questions about the chairmanship, what were some struggles you encountered on your path to the role of Chairman?
S: There were a few struggles in my path to take on the role of chairman. These struggles included trying to move the mindsets of the community, and moving away from the way that we have always done things in the past. This is the same for any community as there’s always a lot of inertia. Also, when change does happen, it is hard to get people to accept it even if the change is good, as the old generation are more set in their ways of living, whereas the younger generation are more susceptible to change.
The Pawprint: Why did you want a career as a board chairman?
S: Actually, I originally didn’t want a career as a chairman. I only thought of it last minute because I wanted to help the community progress in the future. Some progresses (sic) I plan to make is to get the internal processes organized, such as making sure women have a say, getting the housing project moving, and fixing various administrative problems.
The Pawprint: What was your most successful leadership experience?
S: My most successful leadership experience was when I was chairman of a company we had invested in called Avenue. I was able to make a change, and actually get it to grow and build a new hospital.
The Pawprint: With the growing population of the mosque, how are you keeping everyone happy with the speakers, reciters and everything in general?
S: I’m not really keeping everyone happy, I’m just trying my best to keep everyone at a level of satisfaction. Most of the people we get as speakers are very relatable to the public, but there is always somebody who will shine a negative opinion on a good situation.
The Pawprint: Do you think the community will look different in 10 years?
S: I think all communities will look different in 10 years, mainly because of the youth. The youth will grow older and take over the positions of leadership. I am hoping the move to spirituality will become embedded within the mentality of the community.
The Pawprint: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a chairman? How would you like overcome your weaknesses?
S: I am a good public speaker, and I connect with most people easily, especially because I was part of the community before I was chairman. One of my weaknesses is not being connected to the details and inner workings of the community. I can overcome this by being a little bit more proactive in keeping an eye of what’s going on – engaging with people, finding a way in which all community members have a say, things like that.
The Pawprint: What advice would you give to anyone who is applying for a leadership role?
S: One of the biggests pieces of advice is to be sincere – know that you are engaging with [the people], and understand that anything you do, you’re not going to please the people, but if you are sincere and also making mistakes, at least you know your intentions are right.
The Pawprint: How does the public know that your intentions are right?
S: It doesn’t matter that the public doesn’t know that you are sincere, if the public knows you as a person and not just a part of the board, then they will know you are trying your hardest. Sometimes people have their own agendas and don’t particularly care about sincerity, in which case you’ll always face challenges. The thing is, by virtue of being sincere, you always know why you’re doing what you’re doing.