Who Will Mind the Minders?

Who Will Mind the Minders?

A minder is someone whose job is to look after and protect others.  They are respected authorities and seen as gatekeepers in a community.  But how do we ensure that the minders are doing their jobs? What mechanism can we employ to ensure they are working in the interest of their beneficiaries versus their own personal interest? The mechanism is full transparency and transparency is the key to accountability. When we think of holding those in authority accountable for their misdeeds, we tend to think of ‘calling them out’ or other forms of public redress.  While there is certainly a time and place for public accountability, this method will fail on two fronts: 1) where covert abuse is taking place and 2) prevention of abuse by others. There are two forms of transparency: 1) transparency of process and 2) transparency of conflicts of interest. In the context of spiritual abuse where covert abuse is frequent, both of these forms of transparencies are rarely demanded and incredibly underutilized.  

Transparency of process entails that clear standards  are in place before addressing claims of spiritual abuse.  Mentioning the specific offenses, setting the boundaries of, and defining spiritual abuse is only the first step. The process and evidentiary methods should also be laid out. This should entail a method for complaints, redress, evidence-gathering, and applying the facts to the definition and analyses of spiritual abuse in a clear way. There should be no clouds of secrecy.  Instead what our Western Muslim community has engaged in is call-outs without clear definitions and analyses. Our community is only given vague statements regarding allegations of abuse that the community is expected to believe. The problem with this is not necessarily (though sometimes is) that the perpetrator is innocent, but rather that this allows community leaders to use allegations against a perpetrator to bring down the perpetrator for their own personal benefits and to promote themselves as heroes.  Another problem that arises out of lack of transparency is when a perpetrator is found to have engaged in illicit or abusive behavior and then quietly or even celebratory departs from an organization. This allows the abuser to easily work for other organizations because his previous send-off was positive or neutral.

Transparency is key because it is essential for manipulators to control the flow and content of information to different people. One of the tactics that manipulators use, for example, is misinforming different people about others and creating suspicion among people.  So John may privately tell Mary and Maria that one is jealous of the other and anything John does is for their protection. He can then justify any abusive behavior under this guise. But once Mary and Maria speak to each other, they will realize that it was John who is instigating this misinformation.  But if everyone is in the same room at the same time (literally and figuratively), the manipulating party has less control of his or her victims.  This is why transparency is key. The best way to explain this is by way of example as follows:

TRANSPARENCY OF PROCESS

Below are two cases where transparency of process was lacking resulting in further abuse:

Case One: A well known Muslim scholar, who also sat on the board of a well-known nationally known Islamic organization, was accused of engaging in secret marriages by several women.  One of the women went to the organization to complain and the founder of the organization, who is a close friend of the shaykh, readily sympathized with the women, asked for evidence, and promised he would discuss it with the founder of the organization.  Shortly after the woman sent her multiple written exchanges between the Shaykh and herself, the organization unexpectedly announced the termination of the abusing Shaykh from the organization. The official statement from the organization stated that the organization would greatly miss the Shaykh but the Shaykh now has decided to relocate for personal reasons.  The woman attempted to contact the organization’s founder for some type of explanation, but the founder ignored her. Finally, adding insult to injury, the woman learned from others’ that the founder was calling her mentally unstable and warning the community to stay away from her.

CASE ONE ANALYSIS: In this case, the organization did not have, nor did not abide by a transparent grievance process. There was no opportunity for either side to be truly heard and ultimately the issue was swept under the rug.  The victims never got redress and the larger community does not have an inkling of the Shaykh’s abuse, which allows him to continue his abuse in other communities. The organization’s founder lied to the woman by expressing concern and pretending that she would be heard, then turning around and suddenly terminating the abusing Shaykh with a positive send-off.  It became clear afterwards that the organization’s founder’s ultimate goal to hearing the complaints was not redress, regardless of how that takes place, but to learn what would appease the woman into silence. The silence-through-appeasement is more effective than threatening the woman into silence because threatening the woman into silence may cause her seek redress elsewhere and making the organization’s actions cover-up known publicly.

Case Two: A famous Shaykh sponsors and affiliates with an international humanitarian organization.  Unexpectedly (to most people at least), the Shaykh announces his withdrawal of support from the humanitarian organization by a one-page letter published on the internet.  In the letter, the Shaykh states that he has named certain members of the organization who he claims have engaged in financial impropriety. The Shaykh does not mention any formal investigation, any experts consulted, or methods cited as to how to he reached this conclusion.  Based on the letter, it appears that this was a unilateral decision and investigation, even though the humanitarian organization has a board. The organization and its members named denied the Shaykh’s allegations.

CASE TWO ANALYSIS: In this case, our community is expected to only take the Shaykh’s word regarding his accusations against these individuals.  Putting aside whether the individuals are guilty of the accusations, the community has no clue as to how the Shaykh arrived to his conclusion.  Even if we assume that the Shaykh had the best of intentions, we do not know if he has the expertise to make such a determination. Simply put, the community should demand a higher standard and clear process and basis when conclusions, especially of this magnitude, be made.

TRANSPARENCY OF CONFLICT

This may make many people uncomfortable, but we need to always be cognizant of the fact that our scholars are human subject to their own faults and vices.  Such faults include having personal enmity, jealousy, and conflicts with other people, including other scholars. In such cases, scholars who have such conflicts should disclose or recuse themselves from any process of holding their enemies accountable. It may be the case that two scholars have done business together (whether within or outside of their religious organizations) and have had a fallout and would not mind seeking revenge.  Another type of conflict of interest is when a scholar was potentially involved (whether unwittingly or not) in the allegations and would like to handle victims’ claims in order to protect his (or her) reputation rather than addressing the claims.

 Here is a scenario, which is frankly, quite common and based on several reports we have received:

Case of Conflict of Interest: Imam Imad and Ustadh Isa have collaborated on many Islamic projects together including teaching courses together.  Within a few years of their relationship, things started to sour and they had a fallout rooted in financial disputes. At some point, members of their shared community approached Imam Imad with complaints regarding Ustadh Isa bullying them and privately approaching female students for secret marriages.  Imam Imad found this to be an excellent opportunity to ‘take down’ Ustadh Isa and gain an upper hand in their financial dispute by spearheading a committee to ‘investigate’ these claims. Imam Imad also wanted to protect himself since he frequently publicly endorsed Ustadh Isa knowing that students were complaining about Ustadh Isa’s bullying.  Ultimately, Imam Imad issued an open letter  regarding his ‘investigation’ and advised the community to stay away from Ustadh Isa. Ustadh Isa denied that he was given an opportunity to address the claims of the investigation and was not physically present during said investigation. Additionally, there were whisperings of other well known scholars working nobly “behind the scenes” to address the community’s concerns. Ultimately, Imam Imad appeared to be the hero while Ustadh Isa was exposed an abuser.

ANALYSIS: This scenario is incredibly problematic on several levels. Firstly, as is obvious, Imam Imad was in no position, given his personal conflict, to be in any role in holding his adversary accountable, even if the allegations against Ustadh Isa are true. This taints the integrity of the process and may result in findings and punishments harsher than what may be truly warranted.  Additionally, it falsely presented Imam Imad as a hero when his behavior is no better. He used his position as a community leader to address his personal conflict with Ustadh Isa.

Another problem is the community’s treatment of other scholars working ‘behind the scenes’ as if this is some sort of benevolent form of accountability.  There is nothing noble or laudable about this approach. The proper way is to document the claims as specifically as possible, document the process, take meeting minutes to ensure that all parties are present and heard, and document the testimony and evidence.  

CONCLUSION

We will never get past scandals of spiritual abuse if the manner in addressing the incidents are equally scandalous.  This takes away from the credibility of addressing the claims and the community will never truly benefit from the lessons that could have otherwise been learned.  We will just continue the same cycle of a victim coming out, the community marginalizing the victim, fake accountability, and opportunists taking advantage of the situation for their personal gain while being hailed as heroes.

If you or your community is experiencing this problem, you can learn more about our training and consulting services or email us to info@inshaykhsclothing.com.


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