Author: Danish Qasim, Founder

Founder of In Shaykh's Clothing
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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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)

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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.

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