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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