Author: Danish Qasim, Founder

Founder of In Shaykh's Clothing
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.


  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.

Share this post:
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)

Share this post:
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.

Share this post:
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.


Share this post: