The “All-Seeing Shaykh”

The “All-Seeing Shaykh”

The most common tactic for spiritual manipulation is shifting from leadership based on objective criterion, to one based on feelings, dreams, and the ability to read ‘divine signs.’ One real-life example is the “all-seeing Shaykh,” a shaykh from a prominent religious group . This Shaykh’s small group of teachers teach impressionable students that he can see everything they do, in every part of the world, including the USA. There are thousands of students who actually believe this notion. They’re told if they do not believe it, then they lack spiritual conviction.

What has developed is a complex system of control under an elusive, unapproachable shaykh. The Shaykh’s leading disciples use this blank check to validate their abusive behavior, including multiple marriages and divorces, and assigning physical labor. Students and volunteers are taught that the Shaykh is aware of his disciples’ behaviors, his lack of intervening is passed off as consent. The teachers suggest that disagreeing with them is akin to questioning the Shaykh’s wisdom!

I’ll refer to the Shaykh as Shaykh Adam and to his top disciple as Ustadh Hameed for the sake of the story. Below are excerpts from an actual email covering notes from Ustadh Hameed’s meeting with students before Shaykh Adam made a visit to the USA.

            Ustadh Hameed said that we should love Shaykh Adam not just because of all of his beautiful outward characteristics, but most importantly because Allah loves Shaykh Adam.

            Intend to attain the highest maqam with Allah and His Messenger through meeting Shaykh Adam.

            Shaykh Adam can see your intentions on you in the same way we can see if someone is wearing a dirty or clean shirt. 

These are beliefs held by thousands of adults- people in their late teens to those in their old age. Men in this group are known to marry women for short periods of time and divorce them, following the acts of their own teachers. When done in the West- these women are not legal wives and have no legal recourse. They are married through Islamic nikkahs only and not through courts where they can have claims to their rights. As a result, these women are left isolated, made to seem crazy, and mobbed. This group is ruining lives. Where is Shaykh Adam in all this?

When the Shaykh actually does descend upon his followers in person, they are typically given a short period of time or snubbed. Students who aren’t greeted warmly by Shaykh Adam believe it’s because he sees their sins and is repulsed by them. They are told he sees their sins. They believe their intentions aren’t pure enough, their nafs are too strong, or they think too many bad thoughts.

Another teacher, who accompanies Shaykh Adam everywhere, added his comments in the meeting, also shared in the email:

‘It’s not about how close you get to Shaykh Adam physically, it’s about how close you get spiritually. If you work behind the scenes and do khidma, Shaykh Adam iA will make dua for all of those volunteers who helped and it is a special dua he makes for them. There is no room for “I” in this service/volunteering – realize that even throwing out the trash or going on random errands, etc. is all beneficial. Every little thing you do as a volunteer in the background is just as important as the big things that have to be done and Allah is watching all of the work you do.

A close friend once told me that if you believe Shaykh Adam is a Wali of God then speak to him from your heart and he will hear everything you tell him.’

Many sincere volunteers work tirelessly, but aren’t allowed to sit with Shaykh Adam, while his student teachers hang out with him every minute. At several events, students and volunteers told me that even when sitting right in front of him, Shaykh Adam did not respond to a single person’s thoughts. “I thought it was bad adab to speak to him directly, and that the Shaykh will see what our needs are. So I just kept thinking and hoping he would hear our thoughts from our hearts,” one 25 year old volunteer told me. Although spiritual closeness can be better than physical closeness, here it was used to manipulate volunteers into doing all the work. The subtext is- keep doing menial labor while we enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Unfortunately, this does not deter the students from sticking with the group and its methods. Long after Shaykh Adam’s departure, many of his students gather to ask their teachers in the group what they should be doing. Many admit to feeling spiritually abandoned, but always find someone to reassure them that distance is nothing for the auwliya (saints). This has become a common saying, with group members celebrating if someone has a dream of Shaykh Adam. It reassures them that he is watching.

Maybe he is, and I just lack spiritual conviction.