Author: Danish Qasim, Founder

Founder of In Shaykh’s Clothing

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)

Psychologist Dr. Ajami: The Need for Safe Spaces for Victims

Psychologist Dr. Ajami: The Need for Safe Spaces for Victims

In this video psychologist Dr. Juhayna Ajami talks about the need to create a safe-space for victims to come forward and get help. As we posted last week, we can simultaneously believe victims and maintain innocent until proven guilty.

In this video, Dr. Juhayna explains: “Victims are suffering through so many different emotions and feelings such as self blame, guilt, shame,  confusion, they can’t even make sense of what happened to them. When the community that they’re supposed to be turning to attacks them and blames them for what they’re saying happened to them or even shuns them that’s just going to compound all those feelings and make it a much worse experience for that victim and less likely to seek treatment.”

(Video length: 4:30)

On Believing Victims and “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

On Believing Victims and “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

Believing victims has been a healthy step in acknowledging problems of abuse in the world. Like anything positive, if taken to an extreme there is a danger. The danger in this situation lies in presuming the guilt of everyone accused in the name of believing victims. Affirming due process and taking an accuser’s claim seriously, and even “believing” a victim are not mutually exclusive.

It is very difficult for victims to come forward due to social and emotional repercussions. People may think that it’s so easy to accuse someone of sexual abuse but it’s terrifying for victims to open themselves up to a barrage of criticism from others. They can also be re-traumatized by reliving details of the abuse. It also takes a lot more brain power to change a long held perception of a respected religious role model than it does to dismiss an accusation made by a stranger or acquaintance. Even family members dismiss claims by their own daughters, sons, and siblings in favor of leaders they have invested so much in. Shame and self-blame are pervasive among victims, especially in these situations where the perpetrator is someone who is so deeply respected and revered. In the case of a perpetrator who is of religious stature, many also internalize that God is punishing them, and that they are bad Muslims. So the victim blaming, and unnecessary and uninformed public commentary, further compounds those feelings and can severely damage victims’ emotional well-being.

At the same time, a mere accusation of sexual abuse can ruin a person’s life. Even if later proven innocent, the damage is unsalvageable. If we are to just believe that every time someone accused is guilty by mere accusation, we will cause great harm to entire families and communities and it may be based on nothing. This is a hysteria we really have to avoid.  A lot of sexual abuse goes unreported, and those who have suffered and kept silent know how hard it is to get justice. But the precept of innocent until proven guilty is inextricable to justice.

When it comes to accusers, the accused, and the facts, different areas of action have their own validation process. Therapists work to validate patients’ thoughts and feelings. That does not necessarily mean they believe the patient was abused; it is just not the place to question the truthfulness of a claim. They operate as if the claim is true, hence believing the victim in their sphere of work. As clinical psychologist Dr. Juhayna Ajami explained to me, “A therapist works with the victim’s experience and symptoms and isn’t concerned with anything else.”

A therapist’s role is not to determine guilt of the alleged perpetrator. Believing the victim’s story does not imply the guilt of the victim’s abuseras it is a compartmentalized ‘belief’ to help the patient. This does not mean the therapist is humoring the patient’s delusion, because the possibility is very real, however therapy sessions are not the appropriate medium to launch an investigation and resolve the claim.

Validating victims’ experiences in therapy matters greatly for their own well-being. Shame and self-blame are pervasive among victims, especially in these situations where the perpetrator is someone who is so deeply respected and revered. As author of The Empathy Trap, Dr. Jane McGregor told me, “one can offer validation to a client, meaning offer recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid, without having to go further than one’s professional jurisdiction and claiming knowledge or evidence of guilt of the person the client accuses.” This matters and shows in Dr. McGregor’s research on the experience of individuals who identified themselves as having been psychologically/emotionally abused. Many participants in the study felt the therapists did not offer validation, but rather made moral judgments and showed disbelief in the stories.

Similarly, an imam or Muslim leader who is informed about abuse cannot adjudicate the claims. There are various reasons for this including lack of authority, lack of competence in this particular field, and liability.  However, he or she may validate pain, give some naseeha [advice], and console the one seeking advice. The victim may or may not be believed in every aspect, but the validation, naseeha, and consolation should be given as if the situation is real.

If the same accuser wants to make a public accusation against his or her abuser, the Muslim leader can no longer just believe this person to be a victim as it relates to taking action that presumes guilt of the accused. The area of action has changed, and so has the validation process.  Evidence would need to be presented.  In the absence of direct evidence (as is often the case), a fact-finding process should take place based on whatever evidence is available.

For incidents that are made public, we cannot expect, nor should we encourage, anyone to assume a specific person’s guilt for a specific act without evidence. At the same time, we should not demonize the accuser nor deem them to be liars. When a victim is being targeted, the last thought is ‘how do I gather evidence to prove that I’m not making this up.’ There is rarely evidence in these cases and where there is, many victims actually delete incriminating emails and text messages because their foremost goal is to end the traumatic experience and return to normalcy, and unfortunately in doing so, they may delete evidence. In other cases, harassment may be on emails for a work account, and if the abuser is an employer, they can terminate the email account with the emails on it. During the incident(s) of harassment, a victim does not always think to forward those emails to a different account or of other ways to preserve them to later on build a case. Perpetrators know this very well and rely on this.

As an aside, victims have asked me why some shaykh or shaykha appeared sympathetic to them, consoled them about their horrific experience with a religious leader, but then continued to conduct programs with that individual. There are many possibilities as we have discussed previously, but one cannot fairly expect a teacher to believe without sufficient proof to the extent of rallying against someone or boycotting. It’s not as simple as ‘another corrupt shaykh aiding in oppression.’ Consoling and being merciful is part of our religion and so is reserving judgment. Believing victims cannot turn into a witch hunt where anyone accused is presumed to be guilty in the name of protecting others; and if proven innocent the slander and suffering the accused suffers is just collateral damage.

We know of incidents from the Quran and hadith of noble men and women being accused and acquitted that should at least encourage us to reserve opinions. All of these instances relate to either fornication or adultery. It is worth mentioning that although they are not the perfect parallel to cases of sexual abuse, they show that accusations alone cannot be cause for judgment and shunning. There are endless analyses and morals that can be drawn but I will be concise.

Quran:

  1. The slander of Aisha (rw) put great stress on her and her entire family. She was a victim of slander and false accusations. Allah cleared her name and censured those who accused her and revealed rules for anyone to be accused of adultery. Allah revealed the first sections of Sura Nur which pertain to slander and adultery among other matters.
  2. Maryam (as) is accused of being unchaste. She is a victim of false accusations and slander. She gives birth to Isa (as) and he speaks as an infant to defend the chastity of his mother.
  3. Yusuf (as) is accused of trying to seduce Zulaykha. He is imprisoned for the crime and later cleared.

From Sahih Bukhari:

  1. Jurayj was a worshipper of Bani Israel, who was accused of fornication and fathering a child out of wedlock. His worship house was destroyed in reaction to him being accused. The baby born to the accusing woman spoke and cleared Juraryj, and his worship house was rebuilt by the same people.
  2. There was a lady suckling her son that made dua that Allah make her son like a man with a great outward appearance that rode by. Her child stopped suckling and prayed that Allah not make him like that man.  Then they saw a lady being beaten by a group and accused of fornication and stealing. The mother prayed that Allah not make her son like this woman. The child stopped suckling again and prayed “Oh Allah, do make me like her.” The mother asked her son why he made those prayers, and the baby explained the man was a tyrant so he made dua not to be like him, whereas the woman was accused of fornication and theft but was innocent of that, so he made dua to be like her.

Both men and women, many of whom we revere as examples, have been falsely accused in our primary Islamic sources. Men being falsely accused is as much a reality as women being falsely accused. Each of the above mentioned accused had extremely negative effects due to the false accusations. This is a reminder of how important it is to find your facts or at least reserve judgment of both parties. What we learn is that they were innocent and the ones who accused them were wrong and corrected.

That being said, those who are involved in cases, have evidence, and are trustworthy can warn other organizations to not host certain speakers. This would be akin to mentioning someone drinks alcohol when asked for advice in terms of marriage or doing business with them. It can either be accepted or rejected and should be left as naseeha in the private sphere. If the evidence is rejected, as opposed to being ignored (which does happen) we cannot label these organizations as being complicit or aiding abuse, because the very disagreement is on whether or not the said incident occurred.

The bottom line is that due process and “innocent until proven guilty” does not, and should not, contradict “believing victims.” Affirming an accused’s right to due process should not equate to an inference that an accuser is a liar or otherwise untruthful.

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

Interview with Mufti Nawaz: Addressing Sexual Abuse of Children

Interview with Mufti Nawaz: Addressing Sexual Abuse of Children

This is part 1 of our interview with Mufti Nawaz Khan. In this part we focus on spiritual abuse as it pertains to children and protocol we can establish to avoid its occurrence.

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: Are you aware of cases of child sexual abuse by imams or Islamic teachers?

Mufti Nawaz:

Bismillahi Al-Rahman Al-Raheem (In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)

Yes, it’s a reality and a very sad one.

I’ve learned a lot by sitting with reliable imams, and have known of a few perpetrators who were proven to be guilty.

Danish: In your experience, what happened when a teacher was caught?

Mufti Nawaz: One of two things happened:

  1. It was swept under the rug- especially in the cases of big names, a large following, with people saying “His reputation,” or “the Shaykh’s reputation will be tarnished.” You can just imagine how this makes it so much harder for the victims to come forward.

Or

  1. It was brought to people’s attention and he was stopped. Stopped either by their teachers annulling their ijaazaat, other imams, the community, or through legal action.

Unfortunately, I’d say sweeping the problem under the rug is more common. Even as imams we often don’t hear about cases.

Danish: Is child sexual abuse something your shuyukh (scholars) would talk about?

Mufti Nawaz: Yes- absolutely. Our shuyukh would often talk about the harms of being in seclusion with women/children and the issues that can stem from that. They were very strict in this matter and when we’d be in their company they would talk about this often.   Honestly, at times it didn’t make sense and we sometimes thought it was strange. It wasn’t until serving as an imam and learning of horrible stories that I truly appreciated their strictness and discipline in this arena.

For example, our teachers told us not to teach kids Quran at their homes. Just by eliminating that as an option, we prevent one situation that easily lends itself to abuse. I understand the convenience it gives parents, and that teachers view it as a way of private in-home tutoring that is much more lucrative, but this approach is a preventative.

Danish: What other precautions do you take?

Mufti Nawaz: In our institute, Darus Suffah we have made it a rule that all of our classes will be held in open spaces, preferably in masjids. When we were sending drawings for our new building, our board sat with us and asked about classrooms. We said that we don’t want classrooms, and that we’ll just sit in the masjid and get dividers for a classroom type set up. Children and teachers are both safer in an open space and also the masjid has more barakah. We do not want any seclusion- for everyone’s protection.

Danish: What is your advice to the community?

Mufti Nawaz: Take this issue seriously. We often over-trust imams, teachers, and community leaders and assume them to be free of such vices.   Even parents who are otherwise aware of children being abused will say “he’s our imam, we can leave our child alone with him.” These are common assumptions, and that’s why I was very happy when I saw this website. We need to raise awareness of spiritual abuse.

As I mentioned, we have imams going to people’s houses to teach kids the Quran in seclusion. No one is supervising. Just remember that imams are humans and prone to sin, especially when they have been given that authority. Nafs and shaytan are always active.

For more on child sexual abuse, please watch our video on grooming.

On “Grooming” and Child Sexual Abuse

On “Grooming” and Child Sexual Abuse

In many cases, child sexual abuse is not a sporadic event. Predators may engage in “grooming,” a process which entails identifying a potential victim, gaining their and their family’s trust, and desensitizing them to the abusive behavior. Some grooming behavior is difficult to identify because it seems benign and even positive to outsiders who are unaware of the predator’s motives. 

The more pious, altruistic, or philanthropic a person seems, the harder it is for people to believe the perpetrator’s guilt. Perpetrators are often individuals known to the child, his or family, and possibly the community. In fact, some perpetrators are drawn to professions which provide them with easy access to children such as careers in sports coaching, the clergy, and teaching. Religious communities are no exception. A perpetrator may use his religious authority and/or position in the community to exercise power and control over his victims and to gain access to them. For instance, a religious teacher may use individual lessons with children as an opportunity to be alone with a child and engage in abusive behavior.

Research suggest that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. This phenomenon has lifelong repercussions on victims which are further exacerbated when they do not receive the support they need. It is imperative that we gain awareness surrounding this issue in order to appropriately protect our children and communities. 

Please watch our video with Dr. Juhayna Ajami on grooming in child sexual abuse. 

(Video length: 5 minutes, 34 seconds)

Checks and Balances Amongst Imams: An Interview with Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi

Checks and Balances Amongst Imams: An Interview with Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi

By the time many victims come to us, they have already attempted to address their situation by seeking the help of other shaykhs/imams. Unfortunately, most of our religious leaders are woefully unprepared to address their situation and either do not understand what they are dealing with, completely ignore the victim’s problems, or even blame the victim and take sides with the spiritual abuser. Either way, the victim is let down.

Further complicating the matter, as we have addressed before is that sometimes even when imams have wanted to address the problem, attempting to do so would not only cause harm to themselves but also be ineffective. Nevertheless, in some instances, our imams are also valuable in addressing spiritual abuse because of their influence and networks in holding their peers accountable.

Below is an interview we conducted with Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi where we discuss with him the challenges of being an imam and a success story in addressing spiritual abuse through networks of imam/scholars.

DANISH: What are some challenges that imams face?

SHAYKH TAMEEM: A big challenge is realizing that other people don’t see us as prone to error and as the fallible people that we are. We have marriage problems, family responsibilities, and we also have the constant fear of “burn out”. It’s a constant challenge to have higher standards of righteousness than other practicing Muslims, especially when we are not around our own teachers for continued guidance and company and we are residing in a non-spiritually conducive environment. It’s easier to develop personally when in the company of your teachers, but when you are no longer around them and there’s no environment, it’s easy to fall short.

Many times imams will become active in Dīnī service and forget the examples of their pious teachers- almost like becoming rich and forgetting your roots of poverty. People begin abusing concepts of daroora [necessity] to act in an unbefitting manner and before you know it, you have gone against once dearly held values. We need to remember and constantly be reminded that being an imam is a great trust, and just as the status of an Imam or Alim is very high, the slips and misappropriations of an Imam or Alim are very dangerous as well.

DANISH: What is your advice to current and future imams?

SHAYKH TAMEEM: It’s critical that we never consider ourselves scholars. Read the stories of the Salaf of this Ummah and you’ll be ashamed to even consider yourself a student of knowledge, let alone a “scholar”. Rather, we should see ourselves as khuddām [servants], trying our best to keep ourselves and others above water and saving ourselves and others from drowning in this sea of godlessness. We are servants of the community. We serve the public. We serve the Dīn and Ummah of Sayyiduna Muhammad.

If you think of yourself in this manner, it will keep the nafs [ego] in check. If the imams are sincere in this view, they will not feel entitled to favors, money, or any other ‘perks’ of leadership. They will see it as a responsibility and a trust by God for which they have to answer on the Day of Judgment. Also, imams must set positive examples and positive precedence for others. Have this cognizance that everything I say or do is considered a hujjah [proof] for the laymen. It’s like, if the Imam is doing it or saying it, then it must be ok. This is the toughest thing that we tend to forget as Imams. Literally, everything we say or do can and will be used against us in this life and the hereafter so we have to tread carefully.

DANISH: How important is it for imams to set a positive precedence?

SHAYKH TAMEEM: It has been mentioned in Hayatus Sahaba [Lives of the Companions], if my memory serves me correctly, that after the passing of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) if Umar b. al-Khatttāb would be brought delicious food or drink he would recite the verse “You exhausted your pleasures during your worldly life and enjoyed them, so this Day you will be awarded the punishment of [extreme] humiliation because you were arrogant upon the earth without right and because you were defiantly disobedient.”(Quran 46:20)

He would also say something that all imams have to remind themselves of, “How difficult did Abu Bakr and my beloved messenger (peace be upon him) make it for me. How difficult their standard is.” He was harsh on himself for wanting to enjoy, even the permissible enjoyments. He was worried that by indulging in these pleasures in this life he would be deprived of it in the next life. He knew that the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr never enjoyed them in their lives. He remembered the example of his pious predecessors.

Now, I’ll give you an example of one of my senior teachers and mentors. He was known to be very cautious of gazing at or being alone with young boys close to puberty or young men who had just entered puberty. He did this just to set a precedence that would prevent sexual abuse of children. He would say that he was following his own teachers who also did this to prevent the abuse of what we know is way too rampant. He would constantly speak out against lustful glances at males and females and speak openly about the destructiveness of the disease of lust.

Some might hear this and say, ‘that sounds perverted or weird’, but the reality of the matter is that he was being real with himself and would prescribe the medicine according to the sickness. A “weirdo” or a “pervert” will never speak openly against such things because he is probably affected by that sickness himself. Sometimes he would even get harsh criticism about his speaking openly about this sickness of pedophilia and lustful glances but he didn’t care. He would say, “they don’t feel ashamed of committing such evil actions, why should I be ashamed of speaking against it?!”

So if we think beyond ‘me’ and look at what we can do to prevent abuse, even when it causes a personal inconvenience, we begin to think like leaders.

DANISH: In cases of actual spiritual abuse, have you seen any effective address?

SHAYKH TAMEEM: We actually had a case of a ‘shaykh’ in our community who we caught having inappropriate contact with a female student. The scholars were able to absolve him of his position but he just relocated to a different state. This is another issue we have- teachers can just relocate.

Alhamdulillah, because he and I shared teachers, other imams and I were able to address the situation. We were able to confront him about it and ensure that he wouldn’t become a teacher anywhere else, nor teach at any Islamic school. Whenever he tried to get involved, our people were able to stop him. It was a successful ban and from what we know, he was not involved in any such behavior again. We had proof which we had showed his own teachers, who actually revoked his ijazah [teaching license].

We tried our best to establish checks and balances- we informed the boards of any new organization he attempted to work for and they would immediately take action. He has since gone to college and started a secular career.

DANISH: Alhamdulillah, that’s amazing.

SHAYKH TAMEEM: It’s bittersweet. Obviously I’m happy that we were able to preserve the Dīn, to some extent and able to prevent others from being harmed. Logistically, this wasn’t too difficult given the proof, our shared teachers and shared extended community. However, the whole process emotionally affected me. We were very close and knowing that someone would use their position of authority and the name of their Shaykh to take advantage of someone who put their trust in them, brought tremendous grief and sadness to my heart. Trying to remove someone from their position and have their ijazah taken away is a serious matter. But keeping Allah Ta’ala as a witness above us, we did what we had to do despite the tremendous pain it caused us. This is only because we are all accountable to Allah for all that we say and do, and this Dīn is a serious matter, not something that is restricted to titles, positions, and honorariums.

It was one of the most difficult things I had to do, but it had to be done. For those who are striving to be inheritors of the Prophet (peace be upon him) know that his inheritance comes with tests and hardships. And only with Allah is our ability to do good, and to Him is our return.

Why Other Imams Don’t Help: Losing Their Livelihood

Why Other Imams Don’t Help: Losing Their Livelihood

 

Photo Credit: Matthew Sleeper

We often ask why trustworthy imams don’t stand up to their abusive peers and hold them accountable. Unfortunately, many imams and community leaders are already overworked and under-compensated, which creates stress in their personal lives. Simple factors like healthcare become issues- even for imams in wealthy communities. Often, taking these controversial stances against abusers adds to their stress by putting their livelihoods on the line. In fact, we have heard cases in which imams would attempt to be “Good Samaritans” by boycotting events where abusers were speaking, but the community instead ostracizes them and they almost lose their jobs.

These are still reliable imams that we can go to for advice. However, if we want these imams to actively address issues beyond their vocational role, we need to pay them livable salaries and otherwise support them as a community. It irks me when masaajid (mosques) can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for masjid expansions and [pointless] renovations but will not pay their imam more than $30,000 a year. We fail our imams when we don’t pay them enough to support themselves. We simply can’t expect them or any other community member to take on more stress when they are having a tough time providing for their families a.

The bottom line is, if we want our scholars to stand up to abuse, which is already controversial, then they need to do it without fear of losing their livelihoods and reputations. By paying them a living wage we can ease this situation, thus empowering our imams and giving them leverage to address abuse. If we pay them more, we are providing them more support as communities, giving them more power to tackle these difficult issues.

To learn more about why not all good people help, click here.

There are many challenges that Muslim leaders face. Over the coming weeks, we will host a short series online where some community leaders will share varying challenges they have faced.