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Cooperative Competition

At one point in your life you have probably been part of or used the services of an ‘Islamic Organisation’. By this I mean, a mosque, madrasah, Muslim school, youth club, ISOC, professional organisation, da‘wah organisation or a charity. And you’ve probably heard or done your fair bit of complaining about any one of the above.

Something that may have irked and puzzled you at times is the rivalry that exists between different organisations that seem to be working for the same cause. Sometimes it can extend to downright insults and attacks and at other times it is much more subtle. Our standards are much higher than theirs, our shaykh has more ijāzahs than theirs, if their Masjid has heated floors then our toilets will have marble flooring, if they ordered their tiles from Dubai, we will order ours from China. (Whether the mosque is accommodating the needs of the local community or the youth is of course not relevant)

Surah al-Takāthur grabs the attention of the listener by its powerful opening: “Fierce competition distracts you, until you visit the graves.” Scholars have mentioned that the object of what humans ‘compete’ in has been left unmentioned. This is in order to indicate that everything human beings compete in, from wealth and children to strength and status is included in this. Everything that one competes in for other than Allah’s sake is condemned in this ayah.  However, competing with fellow Muslims in striving for the good and achieving Allah’s pleasure is commendable. This can be seen in the incident in which the great companion ‘Umar tried to outdo Abu Bakr by giving half of his wealth to charity.[1]

Similarly, the Prophet (peace be upon him) urged his companions to be competitive when he said:  “Should I teach you something with which you can catch up with those who have gone ahead of you and outstrip those who are behind you and none will be better than you except the one who does as you do?’ They said: ‘Yes! O Messenger of Allah!’ He said: ‘You should glorify Allah, exalt him and praise Him 33 times at the end of every prayer.” (Muslim) When being competitive leads to Muslims excelling and performing outstandingly (ihsān) in obedience to Allah, this is positive competition. Al-Hasan al-Basri prudently said: “If someone vies with you in your religion, you must vie with him; and if someone vies with you in this worldly life, then leave it to him.”

What becomes problematic is when we compete for the dunyā under the guise of competing/working for the deen. When we start thinking it is more important to satiate our egotistical needs instead of the needs of other people and Allah’s deen, our problems become colossal. Boasting, having pride in achievements and not attributing them to Allah, envy, malice and backbiting corrupt our efforts. We delude ourselves into thinking we are working for Allah, but we forget the essence of Islam, the basis of faith and the foundation of one’s personality: sincerity.

Working and volunteering for an ‘Islamic organisation’ may make one more vulnerable to this, as for example the mutual rivalry of wealth, condemned by the Qur’ān is more easily gaugeable than condemned rivalry and its negative effects, when one is engaged in matters of the deen. A question we have to introspectively engage in daily is: are we really doing it for the sake of Allah?

Muslims and Muslim organisations need to collaborate and work together to continue working for the deen.  Diversity definitely adds to the quality, and it’s a beautiful thing but collaborating in order to avoid repeating work that’s already been done and instead further developing it seems like the smarter option.  For example, if a youth club exists in one Masjid, why not open doors and share the expertise and resources with another Masjid, and there will be plenty of opportunities for healthy competition later e.g. a football tournament. Or similarly, if a madrasah exerts great effort into making learning a relevant and enjoyable experience for children and revamp the syllabus why not share that with other madrasahs and share the khayr (good)?

The above may sound simplistic and to some, even naïve. Yet the challenges we face as a community are great and openheartedly sharing and working in partnership with ‘competitors’ to achieve greater benefit in our self-aggrandising ‘iTimes’ is actually an apt litmus test of sincerity. Let us remind each other of why we’re here, not lose sight of what we’re doing and stay in focus by keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Let us move from competition which diverts us from our true purpose in life to cooperative competition; where we cooperate in doing good and compete in good deeds. And let our inspiration in all of this be: ‘Cooperate in doing good and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.’[2] and ‘Vie with one another for your Lord’s forgiveness and a Garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for those who believe in God and His messengers: that is God’s bounty, which He bestows on whoever He pleases. God’s bounty is infinite.’[3]

O Allah, purify our intentions and deeds and let us appreciate You how you deserve to be appreciated.



Notes: Somayya Patel writes on behalf of 1st Ethical Charitable Trust who empower Muslims to benefit society through faith based campaigns, thereby increasing social cohesion. For more information, please visit  
Islam21c requests all the readers of this article, and others, to share it on your facebooktwitter, and other platforms to further spread our efforts.
[1] Tirmidhī
[2] 5:2
[3] 57:21

About Somayya Patel


  1. Rashid Mohammed

    A reality check
    SubhanAllah. I read the title of this article and thought this might be an article for me. Then I read the article and realized that no doubt this article is for me. I work at an “Islamic Organization” and no doubt this article hit home for me on a personal level.

    Working at an Islamic Organization can be dangerous in the sense that you can become soooo relaxed with your intentions in regard to your work at the organization. So much so that the truth is what the sister has written is a reality which I have seen with my own eyes and detected this disease within my own heart.

    I ask Allah rectify the mistakes in regards to this of myself first and foremost. And I ask Allah that He brings up leaders amongst us that will be immune to this disease of the heart. I ask Allah that He make successful those that already have and those that will leave of the worldly competition for His sake.

  2. The truth does hurt
    Whenever I read articles and comments like these, the reality those hurt.

    Although our expectations are high for ourselves; muslims and Islamic organizations.Then again, even with the right guidance we are all but imperfect and therefore constantly need reminding.

    I think topics like this would make an interesting Khutbah.

  3. real examples
    small point: its better to use real examples instead of,
    ‘if their Masjid has heated floors then our toilets will have marble flooring, if they ordered their tiles from Dubai, we will order ours from China.’
    unless they are real of course; if someone confirms that, they had better look for me on the floor somewhere as I’m sure i would have passed put from reading someone acknowledge that LOL

  4. Masha’Allah always being thinking the same, sign me up what are we going to do.
    Assalam Alayikum,

    I toltally agree with what you are saying what I would like to do is as there is very little going in Woking I want to start up different islamic projects but neither have the experience, expertise, money or manpower. Can you tell me who is doing something where they are trying to share expertises. I know MRDF has links to many organisations so they might be in the best position to start this. Can contact me on 07870 496923, I currently am going to the Sabeel courses and retreats. So co meet up at on of those. Currently doing quarterly islamic newsletters, dawah stall and a website (temporary address for Woking.



  5. Opportunities

    Some good points alhamdulilah. The challenge that I have faced in the past is that institutions are not interested in suggestions or sharing of ideas but of promoting their approach or their ideals. You either meet their hidden requirements or you are not wanted.

    In my locality there is a venue where I offered my time and abilities – alhamdulilah I am foruntate enough to be multi-skilled so I see it as a responsibility to get involved. The response of the leadership was underwhelming – they didn’t pursue the discussion any further and just ignored me, even though i contacted them repeatedly.

    The response I was expecting was “Alhamdulilah, thank you for your enthusiasm. We have a small project here we’d like you to get involved in and inshallah we shall progress it from there.”

    The venue had been lacking in a certain area and I offered to address the shortcoming. I didn’t criticise them nor call them out as is the want of some of our bretheren, rather I offered them time and presented a skills overview and how, inshallah, I could be of service.

    The sad thing is that I don’t know why they said no or didn’t want me to engage with them. I can speculate as to the reasons but that would be pointless. It left me a little concerned and quite disillusioned as to what their intents and purpose were.

    Contrast this with a non-faith oriented voluntary organisation that I approached. Within 2 months of being there, I was nominated as the President of the organisation (which I initially declined), 6 months later I was asked to join the leadership team, and then went on to become their first Muslim Vice President and then President.

    The difference in attitude was astonishing – the group had had no problem in choosing a “bearded Muslim”, who met all the visual requirements for a “fundementalist” as their leader as it meant their organisation and therefore its people would benefit.

    Upon reflection it appears that some organisations pay lip service to the concept of communal unity and service; the leadership teams seem to have forgotten that it is Allah whom they should serve; that they should utilise any person willing to aid with addressing with the needs of their respective communities.

    Unfortunately, My venue appears to be focused on a agenda which they don’t share and their attitude appears to be one of “donate and don’t ask for changes – we know best”.

    May Allah guide them and forgive them for their mistakes. Ameen.

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