Interview and video with Yousuf Azhar on Leaving a controlling Tariqa upon learning of scandal

Interview and video with Yousuf Azhar on Leaving a controlling Tariqa upon learning of scandal

By Danish Qasim
December 24, 2019


 Yousuf was in a controlling spiritual group for 13 years and parted ways when he learned of his shaykh’s abusive behavior. Below are a few questions that I had for Yousuf after his talk.

Danish: What was a method this tariqa used to spiritually control mureeds?

Yousuf: The Shaykh would tell us how dirty we are, and how much we need to become connected with Allah. They begin with the premise that we are not connected, and once we are connected we have nisba.

Danish: What is nisba?

Nisba is a vague concept that once a mureed is given, it means they are connected to Allah. To earn nisba one had to do a lot of service to the Shaykh and his representatives along with zikr and other devotional acts. There was a yearly meeting, and in that meeting we’d find out who gets nisba and who becomes a khalifa (representative of the Shaykh).

They told us that we are dirty cups, and that as cups we are upside down, so even if the Shaykh poured his milk (symbolizing knowledge and purity) in our cups, the cups would not hold the milk due to their positioning. We, as cups, were dirty from sins and love of dunya.

Danish: In hindsight you and many others get a clear picture of the cultic nature of such groups, and the controlling rhetoric. Usually there are spiritual experiences that override rational thinking, would you say that also occurred in this group?

Definitely. I had some profound spiritual experiences while in this tariqa. From dreams to high spiritual states. Additionally to those experiences, I was really trying to be connected with Allah and believed this was my way of doing so.

Danish: There is a misconception that these groups are recognizably weird and that ‘normal’ people don’t join them. Can you please explain just how productive and ‘normal’ many mureeds in the tariqa are?

Yes, this is an important point for people to understand. This group- like many other abusive groups- has doctors, wealthy professionals, and people from different social and educational levels. Many mureeds are highly productive in society, make valuable contributions, and there is nothing apparently ‘strange’ about them.

Danish: Also, this group was strict on gender separation. When strict gender barriers are observed as a norm, it often times makes it hard for people to believe that women are abused or that there are illicit relationships between shaykhs and students.

Yes, most people will not see the fact that the Shaykh met with women alone (khalwa) and did not have the same standards for himself that the rest of the group maintained publicly. When one of his students- a khalifa of his- confronted him about it, the Shaykh scolded him severely.

Danish: The Shaykh’s scandal was a blow to the tariqa, and about half his mureeds left. A well-respected scholar wrote a clarification about how the actions of the Shaykh were wrong, but support for the Shaykh continued  from many others. Besides group-think and emotional loyalty, what do you think are some reasons for the mureeds staying?

Some believe it was a conspiracy against the Shaykh, others think he should just be forgiven , and many justify staying due to the fact that they still benefit from him. Even some of his representatives have acknowledged that the transgressions are real, and many parted ways with him, while others did not. When a scandal hits a closely knit group it changes lives and really tests people. As I mentioned in the talk, even my children are friends with the children of one of the khalifas who has not parted ways with the Shaykh, so we remain cordial. It’s hard to take a stance against someone you supported so sincerely.

Danish: Thank you Yousuf for taking that stance, and may Allah bless you for speaking out against abuse and sharing your story.


Please listen to Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi’s talk on what a Sufi Tariqa is supposed to be


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