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.


One Reply to “Checks and Balances Amongst Imams: An Interview with Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi”

  1. Thank you shaykh tameem. It’s beautiful that your teacher would make his life inconvenient for the sake of other kids.

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