Author: Danish Qasim, Founder

Founder of In Shaykh's Clothing
The Art of Creating Codes of Conduct for Islamic Institutions

The Art of Creating Codes of Conduct for Islamic Institutions

Introduction

When our team at In Shaykh’s Clothing makes policies for organizations, we use corresponding national standards as a guide and work with organizations to determine their best practices and ethical expectations based on their Islamic understanding. This is the only way to have concepts such as inappropriate behavior and unethical behavior clearly defined and actionable.

The diversity in the Muslim community in North America cannot be overstated. Sharia (Islamic Law) is our common denominator, however, there is significant diversity and differences of opinion on rulings that make universal standards in most areas impossible.

Religious communities have different conceptions of appropriate behavior, having various degrees of evidence from the sharia. Not all are necessarily equal, but they are valid. There is no Islamic qadi (judge) to throw out unfavorable opinions nor is there an enforcement mechanism for which views should be practiced. This creates a free-for-all that is used to justify abuse which reduces ‘bad’ to only something that is haram by consensus. Sharia minimums are not how any functioning society or group should decide what is appropriate. Sharia recognizes local customs and regional standards (called “Urf”) and is flexible to accommodate them in matters which are not forbidden. What is culturally unacceptable and what we deem ‘wrong’ even if not universally haram (forbidden) has more to do with awareness of our own context. For example, understanding that certain behavior is bad based on experience that shows these actions are known to lead to the illicit. Also, in terms of sexual harassment or flirtatious behavior, sexually suggestive actions such as gestures, expressions, and signals are mostly culturally defined. What is considered an inappropriate gesture in one culture may not be in another, but cannot be justified vis-a-vis a different culture. For example using the middle-finger in America wouldn’t be justified as not offensive due to it being a positive symbol in Japan. The clarity that is supposed to come with culture ends up being a source of confusion, since we have many different cultures, subcultures, and religious approaches which makes appropriate behavior difficult to standardize.
‘Urf is also important in setting up professional expectations. These expectations should be congruent with the corresponding American profession. For example, an Islamic teacher in an Islamic school has similar professional expectations as a math teacher in a public school. This matters because when parents send their children to school, they expect the same professional standards any other parent expects in a public school.

Baseline Sharia Directives Are Not Enough to Dictate Ethics

In many cases of abuse, the actions of the perpetrator are not technically haram. This is often used as an excuse to justify unethical behavior. Nevertheless, these arguments are made on two faulty assumptions: 1). It’s not wrong if it’s not haram and 2) You can look at actions devoid of context.

As part of our policy-drafting expertise, we ensure there is language present to make it more difficult for perpetrators to use these faulty arguments to cover for their abuses. We emphasize contracts to circumvent these arguments. To this end, when drafting policies, we develop ethical guidelines by referring to baseline principles (qawa`id) like the prevention of harm, prevention of fitnah, and maslaha (public interest). This could render a halal action haram based on what it may lead to. For example, a man and a woman talking in a public space is halal, but if one knows it can reasonably lead to some inappropriate relationship it would not be halal in that particular situation. Or taking a halal action and determining it to be haram due to harm caused in our time, for example not performing a marriage the woman’s father does not agree to or is not informed about. Although we are not instituting fatwas, it is through this understanding that we may discuss ethics thus developing best practices and have a way of having concrete parameters for adab, or appropriateness.

Below are  scenarios that are arguably technically halal if examined in a vacuum. Though not technically haram, these scenarios demonstrate the importance of considering the principles stated above when drafting ethical policies:

1. Teacher at an Islamic K-8 marries a 13 year old pubescent girl without her parents knowing. He takes the Hanafi view that her father’s permission is not needed. Barring legality, what is wrong with this Islamically?

This involves deception of parents, violation of their trust (they didn’t send their daughter to school to get married), violation of customary duties of a teacher, and probably breach of contract with their employer (who either explicitly or at implicitly – and established by custom – holds that teachers should not pursue students). Also, this includes harm to the girl as established by `urf which can be backed by psychologists as experts for mental harm. This is also illegal, not just as a teacher but by U.S. law.

This will seem obviously wrong to most Muslims, but I have actually engaged respected Islamic teachers who have justified the above scenario. Most reject this action, but when someone they already respect commits such an action, ‘technical’ arguments are made to minimize the action. Although this offense is easier to prosecute due to local laws, recognizing it as wrong from the beginning makes it easier to report and prevent.

2. A woman is over 18 and her teacher marries her without informing her parents. He argues that this is allowed in the Hanafi school. This is legal, there is no religion used to get her to fall in love or manipulate into the marriage.

The issue with regards to what is considered within the expectations of the teacher’s behavior as per `urf would be a determining factor for how ethical this action was. Was there a violation of an implicit trust? This scenario would be difficult to render haram or wrong without an explicit contractual ethical violation.

3. A shaykh marries a vulnerable convert woman he has influence over and can steer her in his direction. He exploits her vulnerabilities and marries her but fulfills her rights as a wife.

The man may argue that there is no explicit text against his behavior and in fact there is a general encouragement in the religion to marry. Without a specific, clear, and objective code of conduct for the organization that is publicized, neither the woman nor the religious figure will be operating outside of ethical boundaries established by the community. Note that the boundaries may not be consistent from community to community. Some communities may have no problem with this, and others may want a waiting period from her conversion. What is important is that  conduct that is approved be clear and objective so people can make adjustments accordingly.

4. A Qur’an teacher insists that it is perfectly halal for him and his minor-child student to be alone in a closed door because it is not khalwa (khalwa only applies to men and women) despite the parent feeling uncomfortable with the child being alone with the Qur’an teacher.

Though there is nothing in our primary sources that says a man and a child being alone is prohibited, this was identified by many scholars as a compromising setting, and there are historical edicts issued which prohibited the seclusion of a man with a child, including pre-pubescent boys, to prevent child sexual abuse. This was recognized as an avenue to the haram, and was therefore declared contingently haram. In America, some Quran schools have a policy in which they do not allow a teacher to ever be alone with a child. This is not the law, nor is it haram, but it is prudent to follow this standard given what we know about how child sexual abuse takes place so institutions adopt it as a contractual condition.

Khalwa

Khalwa is seclusion between a man and a woman who are not married or directly related in which sexual intercourse may take place without a likelihood of others entering. You can note from this definition, a host of other sins may take place in settings which are not intrinsically haram. The fact that the setting is not intrinsically haram, in no way suggests that it is appropriate or won’t lead to haram

Below are two real examples of abuse in which following only the rules of khalwa will not prevent abuse:

1. A shaykh would meet with women in an office room. This office had a window in a hallway that others could pass by if also in the building. After a series of meetings with no incident, and while others were present in the building, the shaykh unexpectedly touched the woman’s knee and kissed her. She walks out of the room, and he spins the story as her coming on to him and him rejecting her.

2. An imam insists on driving alone with a student at night. She expresses discomfort and tells him that she doesn’t think it’s allowed as no one will be there. He tells her it’s not khalwa because the car has windows and others on the road can see them. She maintains that she doesn’t think it’s appropriate, and he makes fun of her and emphasizes that this is not a big deal. She doubts herself and complies. He touches her legs at different moments and she waits for the ride to end before leaving and cutting off contact with him.

Both of these incidents could have been prevented if boundaries were clearly defined. If the concern were professional boundaries opposed to a sharia definition of khalwa, and this were clearly outlined to all members in the organization, there would be a firm grounds for refusal to meet in the above mentioned settings.

A Code of Conduct Makes Enforcement Consistent

That gut feeling of ‘this is wrong’ that a person feels when being pressured into an inappropriate setting despite it being halal should be trusted. If this is not spelled out however, such as by stipulating in an organization “no male and female employee can be alone in the conference room even if there is a window” it would be difficult for somebody to demand that as a norm. Having this set as a rule allows one to argue about appropriateness without having to prove the setting is haram by consensus. If you don’t have this stipulation and someone says they are uncomfortable, or something happens in this situation, it is difficult for that person to claim the inappropriate meetings shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Victims are often too terrified to speak out. A few reasons include: 1) Being traumatized, 2) They don’t think anyone will believe them, and 3) Not sure they’ll be protected even if they do come out. If there is no policy, there’s no explicit statement to say what happened is bad. They may retreat in their own world and say ‘maybe it wasn’t wrong.’ They question their own experience to see if it was wrong or not. They may get into doubts ‘was I actually abused?’ Others to whom they complain also interrogate them asking ‘is it real khalwa?’ ‘Are you sure you aren’t exaggerating?’ Are you mis-remembering?’ But if the policy says ‘you can’t be alone’ the moment the guy shuts the door, that is enough. They should also be ensured that their complaints won’t be used against them or made public.

Other examples of differing views on appropriateness include the long debate over whether we should have dividers or not in the masjid. Both sides have valid points. Another example is taking photos with the opposite sex. Some Muslims may find male teachers taking photos with female students reprehensible. Others will take issue with female teachers appearing on video or flyers, or men and women learning in a room with no dividers and these actions will be seen as a sign of immodesty and lack of spirituality, but to other learned practicing Muslims it will be perfectly normal and respectable. We can’t expect universal agreement on these issues, and since we cannot come to a consensus, these cannot be matters of national policies or standards.

Often in Muslim organizations, there are vague stipulations that amount to promising to uphold the highest standards of Muslim conduct. Such vague injunctions are impossible to enforce consistently because they can mean anything to anybody. Clear and objective standards of conduct make it easy to go through the fact finding process:

Here is a hypothetical example: A teacher at an Islamic school asks a 16 year old for her number in a private setting. She alleges it was in a suggestive tone but the teacher says her father is a friend of his so he just wanted to talk to him.

This is a classic he said-she said scenario. Both parties should be called in and questioned individually. What do you do without other direct evidence? At this point, you go to surrounding factors relating to the scenario and circumstantial evidence. Under which circumstances would a teacher need to ask a student in a private setting? As an institution this is on file, why isn’t he asking the administration? A problem here is the blending of a personal matter, the claim that he wants to speak to his friend, and the professional expectation of only receiving the number from the school. Here, the teacher should be disciplined for not following professional procedures, regardless if his side of the story were true. This is how you avoid the he “said-she said” and avoid the mess of when things are allowed to escalate.

It is important to have expectations, standards, and a code of conduct laid out as clearly as possible. It is not feasible to have a code of conduct beyond basic professional standards as our diverse community varies greatly in particulars. ‘Inappropriate’ behavior, while halal and legal, can be difficult to identify and firmly avoid if it is not made clear. Secondly, each member on staff needs to be able to report violations. This is why we work with organizations to create policies that match national standards and customize guidelines that may vary, and we train staff how to handle violations.

The most practical solution is for each organization to have its own set of policies on shared values. By binding themselves to this contract, shar`i issues are avoided. People who are more conservative in their social relations are free to implement norms that are halal and congruent with their conservatism, while those who have a more lax understanding can have corresponding halal norms. Even from a shar`i perspective, the whole goal of a contract is to erase disputes. Defining what the appropriate guidelines are in the employment contract is one way to do that.

Conclusion

It is virtually impossible for a Muslim organization to effectively handle a scandal involving multiple victims against a prominent (or not so prominent) member of the organization. Having a clear code of conduct, an established confidential compliant system, a standardized mechanism for investigating allegations without a conflict of interest, and standardized approaches to dealing with improper conduct consistent with legal obligations is the best way to catch and address problems early before they become a full-blown crisis.

With social media in particular, religious organizations cannot continue to put their heads in the sand and hope nothing happens. It is time for every organization to take a hard look at a standardized code of conduct that is consistent with best practices for running nonprofit organizations, and takes into account our religious sensibilities.

We at In Shaykh’s Clothing have years of experience in training and creating ethical policies in the context of Muslim leadership. Our team is comprised of Muslim scholars, experts in narcissism, professional certified coaches, and attorneys. If your organization or institution is in need of policies , contact us at info@inshaykhsclothing.com. For more on our services, click here.

You can contact Danish Qasim directly via Danish@inshaykhsclothing.com.

Special thanks to Wasim Shiliwala for his assistance in this piece.

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Is the knowledge tainted?

Is the knowledge tainted?

We have unfortunately created a culture of praise where we vouch for someone’s piety without truly knowing them. We see fan pages for teachers and social media comments loaded with praise from people who do not truly know them. We also have a tendency to see someone’s work or their positive results as proof of piety.  Though we should presume innocence and have a good opinion of our brothers and sisters in Islam, piety is a special station that needs to be proven. Piety is not the same as a general blank slate and positive opinion. We have to do our part of not creating a culture where teachers or scholars become so revered that abuse is unfathomable, or when we do learn of abuse we just say ‘no one is infallible’ to minimize cases of truly predatory abuse.

We need to come to terms with the reality that shaykhs can be abusers. In some cases when we hear of spiritual abuse we attempt to comfort ourselves that it was not perpetrated by a ‘real shaykh.’ Or we may tell ourselves that the abuse was the doing of a daai (preacher) or someone who is called shaykh, but would not be considered a scholar in the Muslim world. Or we may tell ourselves that this person has a lot of knowledge, but lacks suhba (companionship) of a true shaykh, and thus did not take the means to spiritually develop along with his knowledge.

Though the above self-assurances are sometimes true, how do we handle a situation when the perpetrator is a ‘real’ shaykh? That is, someone born and raised among scholars and saints of the highest caliber, someone who memorized the Quran as a child, then memorized books of law, Arabic, logic, tasawuf, and exemplified the highest level of understanding, and was authorized to teach—what then?

One real-life example is a shaykh of tariqa, who is certified through an authentic chain and is a scholar of the outward sciences. His offenses include telling women he is their spiritual father and can be in khalwa (forbidden seclusion) with them, that they don’t need to wear hijab around him, and that he can touch them. He also conducted exorcisms “requiring” touching of their breasts. This issue was brought up to scholars of the locale who fortunately refuted the scholar’s false assertions.  Another shaykh pressured his student, who was seeking religious advice from him, for a secret marriage, saying he is her spiritual father and she should just submit to him. He pressured her to not tell her parents or his wife. Ultimately she did not marry him.

These examples are from shayukh who are very knowledgeable, fit global standards of scholarship, and were extremely respected as pious people. Their knowledge equipped them with loopholes to bend the law, and their status created the cover to lie and invent exceptions for themselves. The abuse was hidden from the larger community and difficult to believe at first for others.

When we see high level scholars abusing their position, rather than avoiding the reality that “true scholars” can be abusers, we should return to the warnings of the Prophet (sws) about the evil scholars and insincere preachers. Witnessing corruption amongst scholars and preachers should increase our faith because we are witnessing a phenomenon he explained.

This leads to a few questions:

Is the knowledge conveyed by abusers tainted?

The simple answer is no. The feeling of knowledge being tainted is a negative association.

There is a natural association established between knowledge learned and the one who taught that knowledge. This is supposed to be a positive association and it is why we emphasize learning with righteous teachers, in their company, in hopes that students benefit from the character and spiritual state of the teacher. The mother of Imam Malik would tell him to take from his teacher’s forbearance before taking from his knowledge. Studying with teachers who are pious and role models is the Islamic ideal.

Just the gift of not seeing your teacher’s flaws helps magnify the knowledge learned by them. Imam Nawawi would give sadaqa in the form of dua just to not see any blemish in his teacher.

Unfortunately when a teacher lives a double life of contradicting the morals he espouses in public, many can’t help but reflect that hypocrisy back on the knowledge itself. This devalues knowledge. A common sentiment to those who looked up to such teachers is “what’s the point of learning if this is what people do when they have knowledge?” Others have been unable to separate their relationship with an abusive teacher and their relationship with Allah. In cases of children molested by Quran teachers, I know of instances where the Quran is a trigger. This is a tragedy—the recitation which is supposed to remind one of God, have one listen attentively out of awe, joy, and reverence triggers the trauma of sexual assault.

One scholar and close teacher of mine told me that he remembers being beaten as a child during his Quran memorization for having difficulty with certain short chapters. He says that 40 years later, he sometimes has flashbacks of being hit when he recites those verses.

A few sisters have told me that when a qari with beautiful Quranic recitation pursued them for illicit relationships, they didn’t want to listen to the Quran anymore and that it would just remind them of the qari.

So although these negative associations are very real and have long term impacts on learners, they must be separated from the knowledge itself. For example, if one learned Arabic from an openly sinning Muslim teacher, the language the student learned remains Arabic. What matters for the soundness of the knowledge is whether or not it was taught and learned properly.

As the hadith Shaykh Rami mentions in this video illustrates, knowledge that is not practiced upon by the scholar may still benefit others to the point of their entrance to paradise while the scholar who taught it and did not practice went to hell. This is a clear example of knowledge not being tainted by contradiction, lack of practice, or outright hypocrisy.

As Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib said, “Know men by the truth, and not the truth by people. If you know the truth, you know its people.”

So although the teacher’s hypocrisy or abuse does not invalidate the knowledge, we must understand the reality of negative associations created by such behavior. Inversely, teachers who create a positive experience for students play a vital role in developing love for Allah and His religion that may last a lifetime.

Is the ijaaza valid?

I asked this question to Dr. Omar Qureshi, who told me that his own teacher told him that if an ijaaza was given by a teacher before his fisq (corruption) was known, then the ijaaza is valid. This holds true for an ijaaza in a science or text as well as in sulook (spiritual guidance). One should not continue studying with the teacher and it is advisable for the person to seek an ijaaza from another qualified teacher.

What should one do when they see abusive behavior?

Students should leave such teachers immediately and look for alternatives. If one is capable, can reasonably anticipate being believed and not creating a bigger problem, it would be good to also warn others, even if this is a small segment that may be receptive.

Generally, we should interact with teachers as we would with a teacher of any other subject. Although the knowledge itself is sacred, there is no more of a need to take a fiqh or aqida teacher as a role model than there is to take a biology teacher as a role model. Just as one can respect a biology teacher and learn from him without concern for his personal life, it’s prudent in our time to learn the same way from our Islamic teachers.

Lastly, even pious people can make mistakes; no one is protected from sin except for the prophets. Everyone is struggling with the same enemies – nafs, hawa’, shaytan, and dunya – and while spiritual training might make the best shaykhs rise above those enemies, it is no guarantee that they will remain that way. There are plenty of stories of saints and scholars stumbling and even falling from the path. The goal of this deen is to take from scholars in our pursuit of Allah, not in the pursuit of those same scholars. We may admire and love them, but our souls are in our own hands and we need to prioritize that over everything else. It is Allah we should be drawing nearer to, and these teachers should only serve as human conduits of learning.

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Money, Women, and Trust: Interview with Mufti Nawaz

Money, Women, and Trust: Interview with Mufti Nawaz

This is Part 2 of our interview with Mufti Nawaz. (Click here for Part 1). In this interview we focus on the benefit of religious teachers exercising precaution in dealings with the opposite sex and money, as well as the need for all Muslims to not blindly trust religious leaders.

Mufti Nawaz studied in South Africa where he obtained ijaazah to teach the traditional Islamic sciences and an ijaazah in iftaa (issuing legal opinions). He currently serves as religious director for Masjid al-Hilaal in California and is a founder of Darus Suffah.

Danish: What are some challenges in being an imam?

Mufti Nawaz: An imam, a scholar, a community leader is just like any other human. He has problems like everyone else and has evils within him like everyone else. It’s a responsibility on the imam but also on the community to be careful in interactions.

Even now, in America, people treat what an imam says as wahi (revelation). This puts them in too sacred of positions and that is harmful. I know many imams who began probably with good intentions, but when put in that position, they were overtaken.

Danish: Can you give examples of what those imams fell into?

Mufti Nawaz: I know of cases where there were women picking up and driving these imams to the class they will teach. Leave the debate on permissibility and impermissibility here, taking advantage of eager volunteers and not displaying proper adab is wrong.

Danish: How do you interact with women?

Mufti Nawaz: When people call me to give advice on their marital situation, or any other problem to help them, I go and meet them but I exercise precaution. My shaykh told me certain things I can’t do. For example, if a woman calls me I will make sure I’m in front of my wife. That’s what my shaykh told me. Or I’ll make sure I’m in the house and she knows I’m on the phone with a woman, because I have nafs and shaytan too. It’s not that she cares, it’s for my own self. When couples ask for advice, I try to meet at the masjid or a public place. I’ve met couples in the masjid where there is enough privacy for a conversation, but also plenty of visibility. You want privacy but not too much.

In certain instances if a woman needs advice in a matter I would go to their house on the condition that there is always a male present. We have to be careful because it’s a natural inclination God put in men.

In some emergency cases, women will ask me to come to their house and say their husband is out of town so there will be no male. Here you have to say no, and these opportunities come up when you are a religious leader for anyone to exploit, but you have to set boundaries. I have a strict way of dealing with these things, so you can imagine how it’s easier to fall when people have less boundaries. One sister told me she wanted me to come after Maghreb when no one is home and I had to reject that obviously.

Danish: A lot of people will find rukhsas and loopholes to justify loose interaction. I see more knowledge has actually made you stricter, why is that?

Mufti Nawaz: In certain things where sharia permits “loopholes” or the rukhsa (dispensation) we also encourage it. But in certain matters you should adopt the strictest opinions. My shaykh, Maulana Abdul Hameed Saab (may Allah preserve him) would always tell students who were graduating and to visiting graduates, that there are two avenues you need to take the strictest positions: 1. When dealing with women 2. When dealing with money. If you can protect yourself here, you will be on the right track.

Women and Money require the most strictness. Some hadith mention women as the greatest fitna (test) for men and others mention money, so these are areas which require the most caution. Our deen teaches us that when it comes to these matters, be as transparent as possible.


These are the two areas imams generally delve into completely. I recently met a brother who does ruqya and he mentioned different opinions on gender interaction, but I advised he take the strictest opinion here given the nature of close interaction during ruqya.


From our teachers and mashayikh (scholars) we were taught that this precaution is not just for women, but also for little children, which sounds weird but you see the reality of that later in life.

In terms of “loopholes” and rukhsas, we will keep that for other matters like ibada (ritual worship). But when it comes to money and women, we will be strict. Unfortunately this is something many people can’t appreciate and many women even feel disrespected if we don’t look at them, but we do it out of self-protection. Inshallah this is something we won’t ever compromise in.

There are other imams who will have very loose interaction and even if they do nothing bad, it can put them in mawadi al-tuhm-(a place of doubt). But one thing is to do it, another is to put pictures of it on the internet.  It’s even worse to take these photos sitting right next to female students and almost touching her as a point of promotion for your events and how you are open in your gender interaction. And the sister’s reputation may suffer as a result. It’s as if this is normal but it isn’t supposed to be. Imams need to understand that with the authority Allah has given them, they have more of a responsibility. You will safeguard yourself and the deen by not taking any rukhsas in these matters.

Danish: Can you expound on your teacher’s advice in terms of money?

Mufti Nawaz: Our teachers advised that when it comes to money, put yourself in a position where you won’t be blamed for anything. You have imams who count donations after Jummah. Even in a corporate setting this is a conflict of interest. Your salary may come from that, so it’s not befitting. We have cases in which imams were caught stealing money, and it’s not the first time you steal you are caught. You get so comfortable you get caught being sloppy, via cameras, etc.

In terms of qurbani (ritual animal slaughtering) , we collect qurbani money for the poor in different African countries. For donations we collect through Darus Suffah with complete transparency but qurbani usually is cash only. Now, for that if anyone gives money for qurbani we make them sign a paper in front of two witnesses affirming the amount given. This still isn’t enough transparency because you can do whatever you want with that and they won’t know, so what we are trying to do is put these projects under Darus Suffah. We have nothing to do with money. Just tonight someone came and gave me $200 for zakat, but I’m going to give  it to our treasurer today.

Loans

We are told in the Quran to “then write them out” – when you take a debt.  The first thing you do is document it. When it comes to money, transparency is essential. When as a religious teacher you want something, like a recorder and people are ready to give it to you- don’t just accept it- ask how much it costs and purchase it. This is another problem, people like imams or other respectable community members, when they take a loan from someone it burdens that person because it’s hard for them to ask for the money back. Our teachers told us not to ask anyone for loans. This was a principle of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (RA), he would say “I don’t take loans, I don’t give loans.” Loans have the potential to break relationships, but if one is in need, be very transparent.

Danish: How do you deal with fundraising?

Mufti Nawaz: If I fundraise, I make sure it’s legal and ethical. In terms of others fundraising, someone showed up at my masjid saying “my cousin is starting a masjid in Afghanistan, can we fundraise in your masjid.” I said only if its legal (raising for a non profit, etc.). He told me “but we’re doing it for Allah” and I told him “I’m not denying that you’re doing it for Allah, but we also have laws to follow.” I’m not going to raise cash without having transparency on where the money is going. I’ve had people get upset when I don’t let them pass out flyers for good causes unless they have gone through the protocol of us verifying where the funds go. I’ve refused charities passing donation flyers from people that I trust just to stick to the principle.

Our deen teaches us to be as transparent as possible. Look at what Islam says about transactions,

البيِّعانِ بالخيار ما لم يتفرَّقا، فإن صدقا وبيَّنا بورك لهما في بيعهما، وإن كذبا وكتما محقت بركة بيعهما

The buyer and the seller have the option of returning an item as long as they don’t separate. And if they make everything clear, then they are blessed in their transaction. If they lie and conceal (faults), the blessing will be removed. (Bukhari and Muslim)

So we try our utmost to be transparent in our interactions.

We have a zakat form for our institutions collecting zakat. We have full records of receipts including for staples, and that’s how it should be.
There’s more of a responsibility because I’m not being asked to do any of this. It’s important to be proactive because there is no accountability from the community- they just trust me. Sometimes I’m just given cash and I don’t accept that for zakat. I give them a form with our whole policy where our zakat may stay in our account for up to 6 months, unless you request it should be discharged before. Also, people just come and give cash- there’s no accountability- I can just put this in my own account. The community needs to not be so trusting.

Danish: What is your advice to imams as well as the general community?

Mufti Nawaz: As the hadith mentions, الامام ضامن Al imamu daamin. This means that the imam’s action envelops actions of those praying behind him.  Damina (ض م ن) is to include everyone in the action he is doing. If his salaat has makrooh actions, that impacts everyone’s prayer. If he is cheating he is including everyone in that sin. This really goes back to having a fear of Allah. We give khutbas on it, speak repeatedly about it, but unfortunately when put in the position we are the first ones to fail. Stay in contact with your teachers and consult with them. You brag about the mashayikh people studied with but your ways are contrary to their way. This is a general advice to everyone, but especially to those who have religious authority.

May Allah reward you for bringing these issues to light. Abuse of religious position should not be hidden. Everyone is responsible and should be held accountable; imams are no exception, they are just leading you in prayer. Yes they deserve respect and honor, but that respect and honor is to a certain degree. If he is doing something wrong than that should be addressed. “Whoever sees a wrong then change it…” that applies to everyone. It doesn’t matter how popular the imam is. We know victims come forward decades later sometimes because they know they will be overpowered. Imams are often overpowered by senior religious leaders. I know of younger imams who told older imams to have taqwa (fear of Allah) and they are just laughed off.

Warn the people you can, if you can’t go public tell the people you can and make the community aware of abuse in general. Let people know that everyone is prone to error.

 

To learn more about the importance of transparency from our religions leaders, read our previous post by Danya Shakfeh Who Will Mind the Minders?

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Activism As a Cover For Abuse

Activism As a Cover For Abuse

بِسمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحمٰنِ الرَّحيمِ

 وَإِذا قيلَ لَهُم لا تُفسِدوا فِي الأَرضِ قالوا إِنَّما نَحنُ مُصلِحونَ
أَلا إِنَّهُم هُمُ المُفسِدونَ وَلٰكِن لا يَشعُرونَ

        When it is said to them: “Make not mischief on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only want to make peace!”
Of a surety, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realise (it) not.
-Quran 2:11-12    (Yusuf Ali translation)

 

People use good causes for personal agendas.  The most sinister form of this is the use of religion for personal benefit. In Shaykh’s Clothing was founded to create awareness of this age-old problem, and how it is something we all need to be aware of.

There is however another type of charlatan that Muslims need to recognize: the opportunist activist. Some of these activists are also teachers and religious leaders in our community.

We are in a moment where ‘social justice’ activism is a measure of religious devotion. The rewards for speaking activist language and associating with the disenfranchised are high, so you’ll have opportunists marketing their sacrifices, taking pictures with expressions of indignation, and typing online statuses of rage.  Capturing the popular sentiments of the moment and scoring points by regurgitating popular discourse – regardless how unislamic it is- is one of the fastest ways to gain a following.

These actors are capturing the emotions you want to see and often recalling images from the 60’s to embody a spirit of struggle. This does not suggest their work isn’t beneficial- it may very well be, just as an insincere teacher can guide others to good deeds while being deprived of its reward due to ostentation. Nor am I suggesting that every person who engages in social justice activism is doing it for personal gain.

You will see opportunists publicly posturing rage and indignation regarding social justice issues. Many will make the social justice cause about their personal experience rather than the issue.  They are selective about the causes they publicly support so they may boost and not hurt their brand. Others will do a lot of good work as well- they will start non-profits, be very engaged in charities, and advocate for great causes. Unfortunately in many cases, this will be just for building their own personal brand, or to create a cover for their own abuse. It’s very difficult for people to understand that the same person fighting so passionately against a social ill is a purveyor of that very illness.

This should not be shocking. Jerry Sandusky was a hero in Pennsylvania for his great work with the youth. He used his non-profit which helped the youth as a way of meeting the 45 young boys he was convicted of sexually abusing. He hid behind his philanthropy and when this news broke his community was in shock that someone who helped kids so passionately was also sexually abusing them.

In 2015 Joel Davis was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to stop sexual abuse.  In 2018, Davis was charged with sexual crimes against children, including child pornography and attempting a sexual encounter with a 2 year old child. Like Sandusky, Davis’ work gave him access to children and the trust of parents. This was a way of grooming the larger community for trust and access.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was a vocal proponent of the #metoo movement but was later accused by several women of sexual harassment himself ultimately resulting in his resignation. Schneiderman’s championing of women’s rights appeared only to be a cover for his own alleged misconduct.

Similarly, there are religious activists (including scholars) exclaiming we have our own Harvey Weinsteins who need to be exposed. However they are similar to Eric Schneiderman in that they are quick to condemn some teachers while engaging in the same behavior.  They may condemn the scandals of some teachers, but continue to host and praise teachers who they know are a lot more abusive than the ones they call out. Reasons for this may vary, but one common reason is that the teacher they cover up for supports the causes those activists care about and they don’t want to lose a powerful voice.

There are teachers who have built their brand off speaking for women’s rights and yet are themselves groping women they are not married too, or engaging in secret marriages and then divorcing these women without giving them basic rights such as the agreed upon mahr, and then marginalizing these women by slandering them as being ‘crazy.’  Being outspoken against secret second marriages or manipulation is a great way to make it harder to be detected. This is not to cast doubt on those who are, but such vocalization cannot be used as a litmus test for one’s character.

Some of these teachers are using the right language of ‘triggers’ and ‘trauma,’ as well as supporting and becoming involved in the growing field of Muslim mental health.  This only strengthens their credibility and makes it harder for people to believe that they are traumatizing other Muslims.

We need to realize that anyone can be abusive. This shouldn’t lead to paranoia, or a negative default assumption. Rather it should mean that we allow trust to be earned rather than assumed. Be careful of giving ‘passes’ and making exceptions for those you otherwise respect or have a personal affinity towards. If a person’s behavior is exploitative don’t allow that to be offset by an overabundance of indignant imagery whether through long statuses or visual images. Merit must be earned through proven character- and even then always realize everyone is fallible. Public praise, the causes with which one aligns, and doing good work does not mean this person is not abusing his position. Even then, we must observe and maintain boundaries as in any other relationship.

The importance of trust varies in accordance with the different levels one engages these figures, for example attending a jummah khutba (Friday sermon) would not require much trust opposed to approaching for advice and sharing personal information- especially when there is no explicit agreement of confidentiality (as in the case with therapy).

There are a variety of ways an opportunist or abuser can manipulate people and obtain power. Religion is one way, activism is another, and joining between religion and activism is yet another way. We need to be cognizant of the ways in which abuse manifests and always leave room for the possibility that even the most apparently ‘just’ people may be corrupt.

To learn more: Dr. Ronald Mah on Narcissism 

 

To contact Danish Qasim directly, email him at Danish@inshaykhsclothing.com.

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“My Shaykh’s Marriage Advice” – Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi

“My Shaykh’s Marriage Advice” – Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi

We often hear of Muslims who are ostensibly pious but tyrannical to their spouses. “Musa in the masjid and Firaun at home” as the saying goes.

In this audio for In Shaykh’s Clothing, Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi explains that treating one’s wife with respect and dignity is essential to piety.  The righteous honored women in their family and we need to understand spouses as human beings and as a trust. A trust for which we are accountable to Allah.

He shares the marriage advice his shaykh, the great scholar Maulana Hakeem Akhtar (may Allah have mercy on him), gave him before his marriage that left a profound impact on his own life.

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Attorney Danya Shakfeh’s Article on Using Legal Analysis to Address Claims of Spiritual Abuse

Attorney Danya Shakfeh’s Article on Using Legal Analysis to Address Claims of Spiritual Abuse

Our own Danya Shakfeh was recently published in the latest issue of the International Cultic Studies Association Magazine, ISCA Today (page 14).  Her article, titled  “Using Legal Analysis to Address Claims of Spiritual Abuse” is a rendition of our previously posted article on appropriately addressing spiritual claims of spiritual abuse. Defining and clearly elucidating a standard for spiritual abuse is key to identifying and addressing spiritual abuse.  Dr. Michael Langone, in his introduction to this month’s publication writes:

Abuse in its most general sense connotes misuse, mistreatment, or exploitation. When the adjective spiritual is added, the abuse is understood either as occurring in a religious/spiritual context, or as adversely affecting one’s spirit—that is, one’s relationship to God or one’s inner core, or both. The contributors to this issue approach the subject from both perspectives. Danya Shakfeh uses the first meaning: “the use of spiritual authority for one’s personal gain.” Maureen Griffo focuses on spiritual abuse as causing “detrimental changes to core elements of the self.” The spiritual abuse that Stuart Lachs describes is simultaneously an exploitation of religious authority and an assault on deep aspects of the self. The spiritual abuse that Nori Muster writes about and captures visually is the latter, what in her book she called a “betrayal of the spirit,” although others in the ISKCON organization (e.g., the children who were sexually abused) were victims of the exploitative form of spiritual abuse, as well. Griffo emphasizes that spiritual abuse can occur in both mainstream churches and fringe and cultic churches. Together, the articles in this issue underscore the fact that spiritual abuse can arise in any religion. 

[…] 

Another significant factor in understanding spiritual abuse is recognizing that a power differential, such as between parent and child, teacher and student, therapist and client, pastor and congregant, or congressman and aide, creates a POTENTIAL for abuse. Whether or not that potential is realized is a function of many variables in the circumstances and relationship.

You can also learn more about cultic groups by visiting the International Cultic Studies Association.

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Triggers

Triggers

Triggers are an important concept to understand. We have victims of molestation, sexual abuse, bullying, etc who see their abusers on pulpits, praised on social media, and within their own families. We cannot expect them to ‘just get over it’ as if nothing happened. We have to understand what these victims may go through by the mere sight of their abusers, let alone seeing them in a position of reverence.

Dr. Juhayna writes on triggers “Triggers remind an individual of the traumatic event and elicit similar emotional and physical reactions that the individual experienced during the event. Triggers vary for each individual and could be in the form of people, places, situations, sounds, smells, etc. People can experience and react to triggers in various ways. Furthermore, while some individuals may become so emotionally overwhelmed that they freeze and/or dissociate, others may display extreme anxiety, increased heart rate, muscle tension, and sweating.”

(Video length: 2:08)

Dr. Juhayna specializes in trauma and works with victims of abuse as well as offenders. A Step Forward is a wonderful therapy resource for victims of sexual abuse. For more, please visit http://www.astepforwardinc.com

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“People have dignity. Everyone has dignity.”

“People have dignity. Everyone has dignity.”

Whether the head of an institution or a volunteer, everyone is equal in dignity.  Dignity is a right that is intrinsically tied to the human.  The existence of a hierarchy is natural and needed, but when those in lower positions are humiliated, bullied, and treated without basic dignity, it hurts us all collectively. 

“All ranks, like all races, are worthy of equal dignity. Deviations from equal dignity set in motion a dynamic that draws attention away from whatever we’re doing- working, learning, or healing. When energy is diverted to defending one’s dignity against insults in the workplace, productivity suffers.” 

(Video length: 46 seconds)

Robert W. Fuller earned his Ph.D. in physics at Princeton University and taught at Columbia, where he co-authored Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics. After serving as president of Oberlin College, he became a citizen diplomat and set about improving international relations during the Cold War. During the 1990s, he served as board chair of the nonprofit global corporation Internews, promoting democracy via free and independent media.

After the Cold War ended with the collapse of the USSR, Fuller reflected on his career and realized that he had been, at different times in his life, a somebody and a nobody. His periodic sojourns into “Nobodyland” led him to identify rankism—abuse of the power inherent in rank—and ultimately to write Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank. Three years later, he published a sequel that focuses on building a “dignitarian society” titled All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity. With co-author Pamela Gerloff, he has also published Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism. His most recent books are Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship?, Genomes, Menomes, Wenomes: Neuroscience and Human Dignity, Belonging: A Memoir, The Wisdom of Science; The Theory of Everybody; and The Rowan Tree: A Novel.

 As a recognized authority on dignity and rankism, Fuller’s ideas and books have been widely covered in the media, including The New York Times, National Public Radio, C-SPAN, The Boston Globe, the BBC, Voice of America, and O, The Oprah Magazine.

You can learn more about Dr. Robert W. Fuller by visiting his website.

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Mufti Mudassir Owais on Sincerity and Checking One’s Intentions

Mufti Mudassir Owais on Sincerity and Checking One’s Intentions

In an interview with me, Mufti Mudassir Owais, a teacher and resident scholar at Islamic Center of Fremont, speaks about the importance of sincerity in speech and actions and checking one’s intentions.

 

Danish Qasim: The talk is in Urdu and I have added my own translation below:

In the name of Allah, the most Gracious the Most Merciful, we praise him and send prayers upon his noble Messenger.

To proceed:
أعوذ بالله من الشيطان الرجيم
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ
“And they were not commanded except to worship Allah, [being] sincere to Him in religion…”  Quran 98:5

Respected friends and elders, actions which are done to please Allah are called khalis [sincere] actions. Because the purpose of these actions is to attain the pleasure of Allah. The reason and goal of these actions are only Allah- for Allah to be content, and to be successful in the next life.

This was the  trait of the sahaba, their hearts were pure from love of dunya, from materialistic goals, and from thinking highly of themselves.
“seeking bounty from Allah and [His] pleasure…” Quran 48:29

They sought Allah’s contentment by every action.

“only seeking the countenance of his Lord, Most High.” Quran 92:20

Their greatest desire was to please Allah and to attain his contentment.

Allah is pleased when a person does actions for Him alone. When a person includes someone other than Allah in his actions, Allah rejects those actions and does not accept them. But when a person does actions for Allah, those actions are accepted and that person is accepted, even if that action is minor.

The most grand of actions, whether knowledge, martyrdom, or generosity,  with hearts and intentions directed to other than God- Allah rejects those actions and is not pleased by them. So the faqih, the one of understanding, is the one who with his actions and knowledge builds his hereafter.

In the hadith, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) states that the sincere people have a glad tidings, they are the people through whom guidance is spread and protect others from [fitna] tribulations.

The sincere person [mukhlis] is such that through him, Allah protects others from tribulations, and removes tribulations through them.

When a person has ostentation, seeking fame, or building a following  in his intention, that person and his action become a source of tribulation for his society. Hadrat Abdul-Wahab Sha’rani (  رحمه الله ) mentions an interesting point. He says that “sincerity is that if someone else begins the work you are doing, that your heart should be happy with that.” This desire should be in us because it’s also action that is done for Allah. Sufyan al-Thawri (  رحمه الله )  said to protect yourself from hidden desires (shahwat al-khafia). Someone asked, “what are hidden desires?” He said “To hope for praise for your good actions.” This desire destroys actions.

May Allah protect us all, put sincerity in our intentions and be content with us. This is the ardent desire that we should have.

Before commencing an action, we should rectify our intentions. During an action, we should examine our intention. And at the end of an action, cry to Allah, seek forgiveness, and pray for rectification of intentions and that Allah give us sincerity, because only Allah can judge sincerity, not creation. Humans see our outward form, but Allah sees our heart, with which intention and with which desire we are acting and speaking.

May Allah give us all sincerity, make us from the sincere, and protect us and the entire ummah from ostentation, seeking fame, and all impure intentions.

Alhamdulillahi Rabb al-Alameen

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Understanding the Offensive Tactics Employed by Narcissists

Understanding the Offensive Tactics Employed by Narcissists

Dr. George Simon, author of In Sheep’s Clothing, Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, explains that narcissistic games are not coming from a place of pain or insecurity, rather they are offensive tactics to establish dominance.  This is an important  video for anyone dealing with a narcissist. It’s very difficult for targets to understand the offensive nature of manipulation.

(Video length: 6:56)

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