10 things that I’d tell the current and future MSA EXCO (Part 10)

10. Be open to constructive criticism

Any contribution that you make in public automatically puts you in a position to receive criticism. Criticism that is either constructive for the purpose of growth and even the type of criticism that might put you in the position of destructive self-doubt. The question of why you set out to put yourself out there in the first place or whether you have the strength to continue. How you feel judged with whatever genuine contribution you make, but you still want to keep going, that the only way you feel like you would have the strength to do so is to armor up and push through.

Push through without taking anything of what others say to heart because of the fear that you might break.

This was something that I sometimes struggled with when MSA was first starting to get active. There were elders that would give genuine, sincere, and constructive advice where the implementation of it paved way for transformational growth. There were, however, some that would come up and nitpick whatever you do.

“The event could have been more bigger with more food.”

“Why do you trust this elder when there are other elders that are better?”

I felt pressured to consider what everyone was suggesting but there came a point where I felt like we could not meet the expectations of many. We were after all new that whatever we ended up doing sometimes felt futile to their standards.

I grew tired of some of the criticisms that I was starting to notice myself armoring up to help me not take anything to heart. This was preventing me to notice some genuine criticisms. New elders that I did not know before—that may not have been as effective with their words—were coming from a good place. There were even non-Muslims on campus that genuinely criticized that Muslims around the world could deal with cartoons against the prophet Muhammad (saw) in a more effective manner. I was only able to notice that this criticism—from non-Muslims—as constructive, because of the recent realization, that my armoring up was preventing me from noticing genuine advice.

We were only able to come up with the campaign on campus for non-Muslims to get to know prophet Muhammad (saw) after hearing the constructive criticisms from some non-Muslims. The non-Muslims on campus that previously criticized later saw our flyers for the “Who is Muhammad (saw),” campaign where some came up and said that they were happy to see this on campus and intend to join. It was only then I realized the potential loss for not hearing what they said. We could have been offended for them assuming that all Muslims are emotionally charged to march down the streets with anger, or we could have taken what they said as insightful knowledge for transformative growth.

Dear MSA,

Please keep in mind that those within the MSA EXCO are trying their best while having their own struggles. This does not mean that you should hesitate giving feedback. Engage, show up, and contribute, because this is how you can show that you care. An effective way to bring transformative change before you give feedback is to genuinely thank MSA-EXCO for their previous accomplishments and acknowledge that you understand that they are facing struggles. Your act of expressing gratitude and displaying emphatic understanding will demonstrate your intention for giving feedback. It will show, that you are not bringing a sword, but you are rather bringing your heart. It would move those in charge to take off their armors, because of how they automatically realize, that you are not standing opposite ends of the field shooting arrows. You are rather to there to stand with them side by side with full on support.

You are there to build and be their strength.

Dear MSA EXCO,

Be open to constructive criticism because transformative and progressive change cannot occur without feedback. We need unsolicited feedback to discover opportunities for growth. Do not assume that people are highlighting your weaknesses but rather think they notice potential strengths—strengths that were waiting to be found.

There might be people that thrive in watching you fall. They may look down at your efforts, and feel like they could do better, but respond with grace. Request that they build beside you. If they do not come to contribute then it shows their priority and focus for giving feedback was not growth. This does not mean that their priorities can never change that always choose to respond with kindness. It is with Allah (swt)’s Help and Mercy you can potentially move hearts.

A way to build an environment to ensure you get constructive criticism is to arrange annual events just for the MSA & its mentors where there are honest conversations about growth. You can also propose the ways in which you would like to receive feedback and show that it is a priority within EXCO. How you recognize that constructive criticism only fosters growth and healthy engagement. How the EXCO is rather in need of such engagement because of how everyone has different strengths. Everyone has different means and potential that it is your responsibility as leaders of the EXCO to let others realize their strengths. Let them know how they can contribute.

This is a way you can engage with the MSA.

There is wasted potential if you seclude yourself within the MSA EXCO because by doing so you are disengaging with the rest of the MSA. I realize that this is a struggle that the first batch went through where there were few active members with the rest out of the loop. I have grown to realize that there are harms with disengagement, because once you disengage, people within the MSA might question their place. They might feel like they do not belong and thus not even consider contributing. This is how they disappear from events because maybe a lot of them might feel like they cannot share their views.

I, therefore, encourage you to create a safe space where there are honest conversations about growth. Create a constructive feedback culture with the innate realization that we are all on the same side of the table—we all want to see a progressive MSA.

I know that it might be hard to sometimes take in the suggestions of others. I know that there is steepness in the climb whenever trying to grow, but realize, it is uncomfortable for anyone with a pure heart to reach out and give feedback. It is uncomfortable because they might be going through the fear of them potentially not being heard. They put themselves out there by reaching out. They used their voice. We are most vulnerable when we put ourselves forward for the greater good that it takes a lot of strength to propose new ideas. This is why it is your duty to also be emphatic whenever taking in advice.

Remember that we are not truly learning and growing if we are not putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations. Growth was never meant to be easy. The second you feel uncomfortable and feel like you are struggling then take it as good news that you are growing. Never settle and never feel afraid to challenge the limits—there is always the potential to do more.

Do not be afraid to admit that you cannot do something or lack something whenever someone gives criticism. There was a time where we were criticized for not having enough food at events but the president admitted our limitations, that at the next event, some halal restaurants offered their services for free. There is only good in admitting what you cannot do because it gives the chance for someone to realize how they can help. It is, therefore, a form of strength—not failure—to admit that you lack something and accept that you do not have it all together.

If you feel like there are too many criticizing without any productive support then know that you have a strong support network with mentors out there to help. Mentors that are elders and from MSA EXCO’s history—amidst the noise—so that you can see and think clearly for you to then do your hard work.

So take off your armors and be open.

Be open to believing in yourself, be open to using your voice, be open to calling out to Allah (swt) and consulting elders, be open to sharing MSA’s platform with others and finding ways to unite, be open to expanding MSA’s work not only on campus but off campus as a representative body of Muslim students that care, be open to being there for Hong Kong’s youth, be open to keeping things structured and organized for future MSA EXCOs, and be open to constructive criticism with the mindset of progressive growth.

I promise you, that by being open, you will only rise—not fall. 

The question is—are you ready?

Sister Sa’diyya is an alumna of The University of Hong Kong and was instrumental in the formation of the MSA.

She lives life with physical ‘disabilities,’ where she is now a writer and speaker that focuses on uplifting souls into living a better tomorrow.

Updates of her work can be found on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sadiyyanesar