Author: Danish Qasim, Founder

Founder of In Shaykh's Clothing
“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.

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.

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

“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.

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

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)