Author: Danish Qasim

Founder of In Shaykh's Clothing
Muslim Influencers: Instant Reminders and Reflections

Muslim Influencers: Instant Reminders and Reflections

A hadith on the disappearance of knowledge states that after scholars die, people will take ignorant people as their leaders. They will answer questions when asked, but being misguided themselves, they will misguide others and lead them astray.[1] The wording in this hadith is quite different from literature on evil scholars. The blame here lies with the people for taking ignorant leaders.

We must do our best to not be a sign for the end of times.

A classical charlatan pretends to have substance. He is a wiseacre. He pays homage to the idea of studying, portrays himself as pious, and may be difficult to figure out.

The influencer however is not a real religious figure and does not pretend to be. There is nothing to figure out. The influencer doesn’t need to be a wiseacre. By being an average Muslim, the influencer can give shallow reminders. By not being a scholar, he can minimize his mistakes and not care for decorum. Whether a man talking about being the alpha male or a woman teaching you how to tie your hijab, we must not allot any religious weight to an influencer.

What does it say about us when deception is unnecessary because we do not care for qualifications? What are our standards when we accept enthusiasm, confident utterances, and passionate condemnations as viable substitutes for knowledge?

With an influencer, the questions of how to find a teacher, how do we know someone’s knowledge is sound, etc. do not even apply. They have no qualifications, and do not even pretend they do!

An influencer culture has no concept of intellectual ethos. The quickest people to appropriate a trend become leaders.

They are content creators, so being active and keeping an audience engaged is the goal. Influencers know they are in a trendy and fast paced world so they ‘bite size’ information. They are in a game of likes and shares. Muslim influencers can gain a following through slap stick humor, lip synching, outlandish or provocative takes on marriage, and then appeal to our sentimentality for sages of the past and we fawn over it- oblivious to the aesthetic incongruence of seeing a hikam of Ibn Ata’illah placed between a “Don’t Worry” post and yesterday’s cheeseburger. It’s instant ilm for the button generation.

We do not intentionally go to influencers for Islamic knowledge. Sometimes we turn to them for inspiration or entertainment. Influencers may also be entrepreneurs so we may turn to them for a skill set and the Islamic content is sprinkled on top – usually termed ‘the Islamic perspective of ___.’ Just claiming to have an Islamic epistemology on a given branch of knowledge gives the person credibility to speak on Islam. It’s not attained through teaching Islam. We see this in mental health, activism, masculinity/femininity, and nearly any subject that would make an ‘Islamic perspective’ useful to those anxious about being traditional. Extra points if the influencer is connected to a scholar and most humbly shares what he learned from his teacher.

Another way influencers end up indirectly teaching Islam is through what are dubbed ‘reflections’ and ‘reminders.’ The innocuous terms ‘reflection’ and ‘reminder’ function as ways to circumvent scholarly interpretation. The verse of Quran or hadith must first be understood properly for the reflection or reminder to be acceptable. To expound upon an incorrect understanding spreads ignorance. Although not a commentary proper, faulty presumptions of texts have a similar effect, and perhaps unknowingly, the influencer is giving tafseer bi-al-ray (exegesis from one’s own opinion). Uncritically absorbing such content will shape our understanding of religious texts. Disclaimers such as ‘I’m not a scholar’ do not undo the harm.

More nefariously, influencers may completely make up explanations of Quran and hadith to accord with an ideology. Primary texts are then explained with ‘common sense’ and scholarly exegesis derided as ‘obviously’ wrong. Bending scripture to one’s whims is a sure way to gain followers. Controversy sells. The more comments, the more traction, and for some influencers that’s all that matters.

Being relatable and average sets an influencer up to give simple ‘reminders’ which need not have depth. They are coming from your brother or sister in Islam, and being average is what makes it authentic and valuable. Relatability, however, is the last quality to seek in a teacher. If you base your educational journey off relatability and your established comfort, you will be reinforcing your own personality. You are looking to be coddled, not transformed.

We must recognize that ‘hot takes,’ feel good posts, and reminders are often posted just for the sake of posting. In this context, reminders generally have the profundity of a fact under a Snapple cap. The word ‘reminder’ assumes you already learned the content and your memory is being jogged. If you don’t know something, you can’t be reminded of it. A reminder culture gives us authority we don’t really have in the first place and deceives us by ascribing to us a merit we have not acquired. Traditional knowledge has initiatic stages with an achievement of real value. When information is communicated in a way that implies you already know it, you are acquiring information with no labor, no merit, and no exertion. Such information will do nothing for you and you cannot claim it as knowledge.

While services for Muslims are needed, we must not blur lines between Muslim entrepreneurs and Islamic teachers. Whether someone is running a matrimonial service that “shaykhs trust most!” or an Islamic personality seminar based on traditional humors that quotes Imam al-Ghazali – we must not allot the person any Islamic ethos. We are in an age of content creation so we can expect Muslims to work with religious figures to have a greater market share.  Matrimonial sites, restaurants, and other businesses may benefit greatly from support by prominent or trusted religious figures.

It does not matter how many religious figures find these services useful, support them, or take pictures with the Muslim entrepreneurs –  none of this is religious legitimacy.  Such entrepreneurs do not even meet the criterion for being religious figures.  Likewise, we can expect Islamic leaders to go on platforms that get their messaging out. This business relationship or association however does not even take the form of a religious validation, hence there is nothing to unpack. We interpolate religious validation into the relationship and must catch ourselves. That interpolation can easily be exploited by anyone building a religious influencer brand. Even if content produced is beneficial, it must not be a springboard for religious authority.

We must learn Islam from qualified teachers. Taking knowledge from scholars does not translate into avoiding harm or manipulation. Scholars of the highest degree, with authentic ijazas in tasawuf and Islamic knowledge can be abusive or corrupt. Some scholars may get certification and then go astray and misguide others. However, we can prevent influencers from being a problem by just recognizing it as an invalid religious category ab initio.

We must have high standards for our sources of knowledge. Even if a Muslim content creator makes useful contributions, do not let this useful content indicate any religious qualification.   Furthermore, adding ‘Islamic’ to something does not render it so. Neither does the fact that a Muslim is selling it. As the Muslim market grows, so too will such selling points. Relatability is not a substitute for knowledge. It does not matter how many shaykhs an influencer may take pictures with, how many he hosts on a podcast, or how many retweet him. It is our responsibility to not arbitrarily allot religious authority to an influencer. By simply having some basic standards for knowledge we can bypass the entire phenomenon of influencers speaking on religion.




[1] Sahih Muslim hadith no. 100


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Analysis of “Fallout”: Using Ruqya for Sexual Violations, and The Cult Justifications

Analysis of “Fallout”: Using Ruqya for Sexual Violations, and The Cult Justifications

Below are 20 points from the Fallout Story that deserve an analysis and explanation.  The story revolves around a shaykh forcefully kissing and touching multiple women and the group justifying it through bogus spiritual reasoning. “Ali” who was once a murid of the shaykh took a stance against the abusive shaykh and was outcasted and demonized. The group’s defense of the shaykh’s actions, and blame for victims and the person speaking out are a typical theme in such situations. The points below are beneficial for anyone who seeks to understand and guard against vicious group mentality.


  1. Ruqya (spiritual healing)

While dealing in ruqya the prohibition of touching a non-mahram remains. It is not permissible for a male to ask a woman to  undress or to touch her for ruqya. Ruqya is often used as an avenue for fondling and sexual assault, and this includes male perpetrators to male victims.

The analogy of a raqi (spiritual healer) to a doctor is invalid from several angles, namely a doctor’s treatment requires some physical contact, while ruqya does not require it.  Recitation from a distance is sufficient.

Here is a related excerpt:



The Muhammadan Covenants

Covenant Eighty-one
Below is an excerpt from The Muhammadan Covenants by Imam al-Sha’rani.


“A general covenant has been taken from us by the Messenger of Allah s that we never seclude ourselves with an unrelated woman with whom we fear falling into temptation (fitna), even if we are the most righteous of the righteous. This covenant is neglected by many of the naïve Sufis, especially those from the Ahmadi, Burhani, and Qadiri orders. They take the covenant (‘ahd) from a woman according the etiquettes of their spiritual order, but afterwards they will visit her privately in her husband’s absence. This is a clear-cut example of delusion. And to any of the Sufis who say “All praise is due to Allah, we are protected from such things!” we say that one of two possible conditions apply to you. You are either naïve in heart, and if so, there is nothing that will prevent you from falling into what is forbidden. Or you are intelligent and comprehend matters.

   If you are the former, Iblis has used a stratagem against you as he did against your forefather Adam, when he swore a solemn oath that he was of those who give sincere counsel. And if you are the latter and can grasp the disrepute [that seclusion can result in], then you are from the Party of Iblis, and it is inevitable that you will fall into immoral acts.”

   The Sacred Law’s prohibition [of seclusion] is general and applies to all people; if someone claims a state that excludes him from the general prohibition we belie him, for Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He!) never forbids anything upon the blessed tongue of His Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) while secretly permitting any of his followers to do what contravenes the Sacred Law of His Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Know this and be on guard against that which Allah Most Exalted has warned you against.

 Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Hadidi (may Allah benefit us through his blessings) once saw Shaykh Muhammad al-‘Adl placing his hand on the stomach of a woman as he was reciting (ruqya) over her to treat an illness she had. Upon seeing this, Shaykh Abu Bakr yelled at the top of his lungs, “O our Din! O Muhammad! How dare you place your hand on the stomach of an unrelated woman! Are you divinely protected from error (ma’sum)?” Such was his response even though both were from the Friends of Allah (Awliya).

Beware, therefore, of secluding yourself with an unrelated woman. Beware! And should you forget this, send the woman away until she either brings another woman along with her or brings a Mahram [spouse or unmarriageable male kin]—“and Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.”…

  1. The response to the allegations implied that the assaults against Aisha were justified by those in positions of power because they were occurring for the tarbiya (spiritual edification) of the women.

Tarbiya must be halal. The means for guidance and edification are known and may not contravene the sacred law. Just as a parent is not allowed to nourish their child with unlawful foods, a spiritual guide cannot provide what he feels is tarbiya through unlawful means.

  1.  M1 went on to insist that the average Muslims (‘awam) would not have the capacity to understand the spiritual reality of the Shaykh’s actions.  

Here we see the distinction drawn between the average Muslim and the ‘elect.’ Indeed, special spiritual matters,unveilings, or stories are not supposed to be discussed carelessly as they may confuse people. The fear is that Muslims not advanced in their understanding of Islamic law will assume that spiritual understandings override the law because they don’t understand how the law is not contravened. In this story, however, and in many abusive groups, the group believes that spiritual ‘realities’ (haqiqa) do in fact override law, and that is a higher level of understanding that cannot be understand via the sharia’. This is total misguidance. Haqiqa is being used to justify actions that are not in sync with sharia’. Never in our religion is violating the sharia’ accepted based on reasoning from spiritual experiences. The khaas and awaam distinction here falsely suggests that elite Muslims have understood that the sacred law may be overridden in matters of haqiqa.

In the absence of an objective moral code and criteria for judgment (the sharia’), anyone can commit an immoral act and avoid blame by appealing to the ‘awam-khawwas’ dichotomy. Unfortunately, this is very common in spiritual groups, and even those who acquire a reputation of sticking to the sharia’ do this when it comes to their own shaykh or even muqaddams. They then blame victims and those who stand to defend the sharia’ as being veiled. Simultaneously, the shaykh’s actions have hidden wisdom and justification that the victim and onlookers cannot comprehend due to low spiritual stations.

  1. Shaykh ‘Adil began talking about a murida who has sexual feelings when she sees men and asked if she also gets the same feelings. S5 replied that she didn’t, but Shaykh ‘Adil continued to hound her about sexual feelings.  

This is one way sexual predators break barriers with their targets. They insist on opening uncomfortable topics and continuing sexual conversations, while making them seem mundane or purposeful. Casually speaking about sexual matters without change of facial expression confuses the target. Taboo topics become commonplace, and the barriers to prevent escalation are not identified as being broken. Here, Shaykh ‘Adil asks these uncomfortable questions to open a conversation about sexuality and S5’s own sexual feelings. Such a conversation may itself prove stimulating for Shaykh ‘Adil, but it also allows for future discussions of a sexual nature. When S5, feeling uncomfortable, wanted to end this conversation, he kept going, attempting to uncover more private feelings.

  1.  Shaykh ‘Adil admitted to kissing her on the mouth, but claimed that he did not intend anything evil, nor did he experience anything sexual, nor was he aroused.

Intentions do not matter in haram actions. The prohibition of touching a non-related member of the opposite sex is not conditioned by the presence of sexual desire, experience, or bad intentions. This lie is consistent with the tariqa’s separation of sharia and haqiqa, where the alleged state of the Shaykh is a justification for a haram action. Moreover, it is critical not to suspend our better judgment. Just ask yourself, why would a man would even kiss a lady on the mouth if he has no sexual desires?

  1. He also asserted that the Shaykh is not infallible, and that he personally categorized what had transpired as nothing more than a ‘mistake in the shaykh’s ijtihad’ (legal reasoning).

In such cases, the first defense is usually denying the accusations. Then, once the action is proven or admitted, being fallible is used as an excuse. This premise minimizes predatory and abusive behavior as if they are minor slips and mere human imperfections. When someone is hurting others, we must take the means to prevent that harm and not treat it as if it is a private matter that doesn’t damage others. For example, if the Shaykh were to have drunk alcohol, there would be a stronger argument for the obligation of covering the sin rather than exposing it. Likewise, if he consumed haram meat and repented, there would not be a need to expose it. However, when he harms others, protecting others from his harm and helping victims seek justice takes priority.

Furthermore, ijtihad cannot turn a haram matter into halal.

  1. He went on to insinuate that these women lacked moral value in the sight of the spiritual leaders involved, asserting that ‘one woman owned a dog and the other smoked cigarettes,’ thereby invalidating anything else either woman had to say.  

Even if it were true that the targeted women “lacked moral values,” this does not serve as an excuse to violate them. There is never an excuse to sexually assault another person- ever. One does not have to reach a piety benchmark to have the right not to be attacked.

It is common to use victims’ shortcomings, whether totally false, grey areas, or true, to justify abuse against them. This is total nonsense, but something I’ve come across a lot. For example, I have witnessed religious leaders dismiss women who wear tight clothing or do not wear hijab that were duped into secret or temporary marriages where their rights were clearly violated. They are said to be “not all that innocent.” This is after acknowledging her allegations as true, and confirming the specific raised allegations. Right and wrong quickly become only as crucial as the empathy extended to those wronged. Justice is not predicated on feelings. One does not have to be perfect to have their rights protected.

Another tactic used against those raising allegations of abuse is to interview their friends or acquaintances––asking them questions in such a way as to paint the victim as either mentally unstable or unsociable. Not only do such sham investigations slander victims and cover for the abusers, but they capriciously dismiss the fact that vulnerable people are targeted precisely because of how easily they can be dismissed.

I use the term ‘tactic’  here because it connotes those actions or strategies that are carefully planned or executed to achieve a specific outcome, while simultaneously acknowledging in other circles that they are in deep trouble because they know the allegations are truthful. The ‘investigation’ becomes a public relations effort rather than an attempt for justice. An organization, after realizing the depth of crime that took place, may decide to retell the victim’s claims to discredit them. This strategy involves inventing gray areas for dispute or claiming the victim ‘has other extenuating issues’ ––implying that they are mentally imbalanced. Lastly, when relationships are consensual, but the wrongs existed within the context of a consensual relationship such as not giving the agreed upon bridal payment, the premise of consent is used to drop the issue as ‘private matter’ ––therefore making the accusation something to be handled in-house.

  1. This was not the first time Hassan was told that Shaykh ‘Adil had behaved inappropriately with women.  

Abusers often have long histories of abuse that are covered up by loyalists.

  1. As a result of Ali’s tenacity and persistence in seeking truth to secure justice for the wronged women, Ali and his wife have become the target of vicious slander and reproach from Hassan for daring to speak out against such a noble shaykh.  

The standard procedure for those who speak out against abusers in their group is as follows:

  1. Attempts to clear up the ‘misunderstanding.’
  2. Apologies by the guilty parties or compromises that will prevent any further speaking out or warning against them.
  3. Shaming for speaking out and not respecting the shaykh. Often coupled with blaming the person for speaking out and not seeing the ‘greater good.’
  4. Ostracizing and slandering the one speaking out. What was once shared as private information among friends or matters confided in the Shaykh is now used against the one speaking out to discredit.
  5. Sometimes threats are made, and far less common, those threats are followed up on, turning violent or harmful in other ways.

Usually, even while in stage one, the shaykh and those around him have already gone on the offensive, and there is a private slander campaign taking place behind the scene. Steps 1 and 2 are generally done insincerely and seen as quick solutions used to placate the one speaking out before disposing of them. 

  1. Despite the fact it had been emphasized several times during the exchange that what Shaykh ‘Adil did was wrong and his behavior could not be justified, leaving any question as to the veracity of accusations made whatsoever, the blame remained solely on Ali for not letting the issue go. 

Unfortunately, whether an Islamic institution, a Sufi tariqa, or a group, scandals are typically viewed as ‘inconvenient’ rather than morally reprehensible. These groups often function as social clubs, and those not affected turn the lone moral voice who refuses to let the party continue into the new target.

Those not targeted are happy to ignore the abuse and preserve all the positive memories of their nasheeds and retreats. Their own spirituality is cultivated in venues which distance themselves from their own victims. Blocking out and ignoring oppression that one can change, and instead focusing on yourself, is seen as a lofty spiritual station.

Furthermore, the heinousness of sexual assault is sometimes minimized as if it is just a ‘slip’ similar to a consensual lustful act where both parties just fall victim to their own temptations.  Sexual assault, by definition, is not consensual but is minimized when viewed on the same spectrum as a man succumbing to ‘temptation.’

Finally, when those targeted are all women, the unaffected women will often encourage a man speaking out to forget the issues among women, share anecdotes about women not being able to get along and all being crazy. I’ve experienced this personally many times, and have had countless others share similar experiences. The shaykhas and ustadhas in these groups are often the leading aggressors against abused women.

  1. Adam, had taken in the past a strong collective stance against other corrupt religious figures.  

Often people will take stances against abusers they don’t like or don’t have a particular loyalty to. Many of them will still be defensive of other abusers. Therefore, it is vital to not make heroes out of people or assume those who have done the right thing in one instance are beyond doing the same actions in another scenario.

  1. They also informed Adam that the Shaykh had since made tawba (repentance) and took steps to ensure that he would not be alone with women again. 

Ali tells me that “their story keeps changing and that all but one of the victims was contacted and apologized to; they continue to be slandered for speaking the truth.”  Furthermore, even if he made tawba and apologized, it is a violation of trust that makes it impossible for him to serve as a Shaykh of tarbiyya. A murid’s relationship with his Shaykh cannot continue if there is a break in the amana.

Furthermore, tawba also requires outward signs of change and remorse. Unfortunately, in cases of child sexual abuse in particular, it is still common for organizations not to take any meaningful action, allowing the predator move from one organization to another, and at best, claim they will contact other organizations and not let him around children.  Fourteen times I have directly spoken to those expressing regret for not taking the necessary steps the first time they learned of a perpetrator’s child sexual abuse. In most cases this conversation was in the context of another incident arising. This includes religious leaders who thought the perpetrator would be remedied by spending time with a shaykh.

I know directly of a handful of tariqas where the leading shaykh was made aware and acknowledged secret temporary marriages by murids. Each shaykh stated they would ‘discipline’ their murid. This shows the shaykhs acknowledged the actions of the murids were wrong and that the morality of the actions were not a point of dispute.  In the best case, the murid was ‘banned’ from teaching women, but even that was a short-lived ‘ban’ that lasted at most six months. Even other religious leaders who want justice for those wronged are often reluctant to bring up the case to the leader of a tariqa and understandably see it as pointless when one figure has the only and final say.

Conference organizers or institutions associated with perpetrators may claim to keep a ‘watchful eye,’ but the reality is this is impossible. Furthermore, why should they even promote a figure who needs such surveillance? We have to be realistic that such surveillance is nearly impossible and a major circumventing of justice and responsibility.

  1. The zawiya paid for by public donations made in good faith ended up being registered as Shaykh ‘Adil’s private property.  

It is very common for a zawiya or purported endowment or communal property to, in reality, be the private property of the shaykh. We must always follow the Quranic injunction of transparency and accountability in financial transactions.

  1. Adam told Ali that the Messenger Allahis now “after you.”

This is a lie against the Prophetﷺ and it is a claim that Adam directs the Prophetﷺ about who to go after.  Adam also pled to the Prophetﷺ to deny Ali from drinking at the hawd and deny him intercession on the Day of Judgment. Bold claims like this are unfortunately seen as correct solely because of the confidence with which they are delivered. What outsiders correctly see as delusional, insiders see as charismatic.


Aisha’s account:

  1. Then the Shaykh confronted me in front of the other women, and said, “Do you know how old I am? And you’re not even that beautiful!”

This is another example of how the Shaykh denies the serious allegations against him by expounding upon his age as if this is a viable excuse as to why he should not be considered guilty for his egregious behavior. The Shaykh then compounds his trivializing indifference by cruelly besmirching the victim’s physical appearance (the implication being that no man would want her), making her look like the liar––not him.

  1. I laid on my bed in physical pain the whole night. He had convinced me and those around me that I was the one wrong, and how dare I backbite a wali.

It is not backbiting to warn others about harm, nor is it backbiting to inform those in a position of power to make a change, such as Ali or others in the tariqa.

  1. “I kissed you because this is haqiqa,” he had said. “You don’t know anything about haqiqa.”

    Shaykh Adil is not only defending his violation behind false spirituality, but he is further insulting Aisha by insinuating blame for her discomfort on her alleged ignorance
  2. Everyone remained convinced that I had backbitten a wali. I prayed to Allah to forgive me for backbiting an inheritor of the Prophet.

It is extremely common for victims of abusive marriages, sexual assault, etc., to internalize blame and feel there is something wrong inside them for feeling anger or speaking out about the abuse.  Many remain convinced their abuser is a wali, and symptoms they suffer after the abuse is sometimes assumed to be divine chastisement.  Furthermore, any station of being a “prophetic inheritor” must be consistently lived up to rather than assumed to stay constant.

While in abusive groups, the logic of the group will be permissive to abuse. The entire group exists and revolves around the lead figure, so it is unlikely to find support within it.  It is important to seek opinions outside of the group.

  1. It was incredibly humiliating to be asked something like that, but under husn al-zann [holding a good opinion] and adab towards the Shaykh, I replied to him even though he could sense my uneasiness.

A shaykh is supposed to be a guide for his students. Therefore, it is easy to exploit the concept of being a spiritual healer and guide to those who sincerely want to improve by getting them to open up about uneasy topics.  Murids/muridas will often feel that although conversations are uncomfortable, they are needed for growth. Likewise, they may make excuses as to why an otherwise inappropriate conversation would be appropriate since the aim is to heal and progress spiritually.

  1. Final word:

What may seem ‘ridiculous’ and ‘obvious’ to outsiders of such a group is often not obvious to those inside. When leaving abusive groups, one of the most important steps to recovery is to become rooted in a healthy community. Excuses of haqiqa and even statements of the Prophetﷺ being after someone is laughable to many reading this, but we have to understand that there are many Muslims who believe such arguments, and that should not make us callous towards them. We have to empathize with those who will believe rationalizations or be lured into abuse with what may be ‘obvious’ non-sense to us.

Many intelligent and learned Muslims, including high-achieving Islamic scholars, have been fooled by charlatans. Some reasons for even the most learned Muslim leaders being fooled include spiritual experience, including the transference of spiritual states, seeing breakings of the norm, and doubting oneself while seeing abuse by someone certified with an authentic chain from pious scholars. In other cases, students were vulnerable, naïve, or sincere to the point where they did not assume someone would so maliciously plot against them for no apparent reason.

Haram and abusive behavior is easily normalized in such groups when other credible figures vouch for the abuser or when others accept it as normal.  Haram behavior is generally justified through ta’weel (far off interpretations), not statements disregarding the importance of the sharia. Charlatans know the importance of paying lip-service to follow the sharia, which is why they have to justify their actions as still being halal. The normalization of strange ta’weel, such as using haqiqa to justify clear haram, slowly shifts group members’ thinking and makes them doubt themselves about matters that would have been obvious to them previously.

We become compassionate and can seek justice when we internalize the fact that that no one deserves to be abused, no matter how ‘ridiculous’ of a proposition a person may accept or how ‘naïve’ they were.  Only the abuser should be blamed for the abuse.



Related links:

Sufi Tariqas

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Heretical claims and threats-Interview with Zayd Mia on leaving an abusive tariqa

Heretical claims and threats-Interview with Zayd Mia on leaving an abusive tariqa

Murids leaving an abusive tariqa face all sorts of backlash. Please read this interview with Zayd Mia on his experiences in an abusive tariqa and subsequent backlash.


Danish: What initially drew you to the Shaykh and tariqa?

Zayd: I was drawn to the Shaykh mainly due to a family connection. I had a handful of family members connected to the group. I also used to attend gatherings during my early childhood. After a personal loss, I looked for guidance and answers and I eventually reached out to the Shaykh and began following his teachings. I later met him in person.


When did you first notice something was wrong? When did you begin to feel uncomfortable with the Shaykh?

Zayd: The red flags began appearing when I moved to Shaykh’s city, leaving my immediate family behind. When I observed the Shaykh and entered his ‘inner circle,’ spending most of my free time at the zawiya and in his company I was able to see how he is outside of what is broadcasted or just shown to guests. I was also very avid in performing khidma of the Shaykh and his zawiya. This is when the red flags started popping up. There were also teachings that were not spoken about publicly that the Shaykh intimated in private settings.


Can you elaborate on some of these red flags in the actions of the Shaykh?

Zayd: I went on a trip with the shaykh and was with him for the entire day and did not see him stop to pray once. I heard a similar story from one of the murids who told me that he was sitting with the Shaykh and when the time for Dhuhr entered, when questioned whether he wanted to pray, the Shaykh said that he had already prayed. The murid relating this story said this was impossible, as he had been sitting with him the whole time, and he took a strange moral from this story. He believed the Shaykh was teaching him not to display his actions.

There was this culture of taking strange dispensations from the Shaykh in religious matters, this made me uncomfortable. For example:

The Shaykh would act as a de facto Mufti, without any shari’i training at all, declaring things halal without evidence (for instance certain financial practices such as conventional interest, eating non-Zabiha meat, praying in cars and while sitting down without an excuse, and praying before the time enters).

I even saw a murid prostrate before an alleged photo of the Prophet ﷺ, after the Shaykh whispered something. The Shaykh did not stop him. I saw murids prostrate before the Shaykh during dhikr while he, admittedly, could not see them. I saw them neglect the prayer while making ‘khidmah’ of him. And of course, the photo itself is a huge issue and a falsehood


What were some of those teachings related to belief that struck you as unacceptable?

Zayd: There are several teachings that were propagated that went against the clear shari’a and what is acceptable to be said. Some of them, I would say, constitute lies against Allah and his Messenger ﷺ. Some of the more outrageous ones were spoken about off-camera, while others are filmed. One of the strangest things, that I have not heard anywhere else, was in December 2016. The Shaykh explained that Sayyidina Muhammad ﷺ is the father of Sayyidina ‘Isa (عليه السلام) and that Sayyidina Jibril (عليه السلام) brought his ‘seed’ down from heaven to the pure Sayyidah Maryam  (عليها السلام). He then went on to say that the ‘Father’ referred to in the Bible and the Lord’s Prayer is actually the Prophet ﷺ.

The denying of Allah’s attributes (ta’til) is very prevalent in the group. Many times the Shaykh has said that Allah’s attributes do not refer to Him. That Allah is not Al-Hayy (The Living), and that He is neither living nor dead. This is in clear contradiction to the Aqidah of Ahlus Sunnah. The Shaykh would deny Āyāt of the Qur’an clearly describing Allah (such as Ayat al-Kursi) as referring to Him, saying instead that they are a description of the Prophet ﷺ. He would also say that creation comes into existence due to “the meeting of the oceans of La Ilaha IllAllah and Muhammadun Rasul Allah” and would make strange inferences from this idea. This all did not sit well with me.


What were some instances of private conversations that made you uncomfortable?

Zayd: There were many times when those murids who had been authorized by the Shaykh, who I would term as his ‘ muqaddams‘ to employ Sufi terminology, would say strange things in regard to the Shaykh. They would contribute greatly to the culture of absolute reverence and obedience to him, and would often make distressing comments. Once, I heard one of them, the right-hand man of the Shaykh speaking to myself and another brother say that everyone can be replaced, and if you make a mistake the Shaykh can take you out and put someone who can do your job better, as there is no one whose job can’t be done by someone else. This kind of constant devaluing and keeping people in check was part and parcel of things. There was a huge emphasis on presentation and keeping a watch on everything. We were constantly told about appearance and how important it was to keep the dress code the Shaykh laid out, and those who don’t are just showing their ego. Anything and everything that the Shaykh and others did was explained away as a test. The tariqa operated in an almost mafia type manner, with the flow of information being highly regulated.

With all this in mind, I was told privately not to act in a cultish manner during certain times, especially when family was visiting. This was evidently said in order to quell any suspicions.


What was the spiritual and emotional abuse you faced while in the group? What did you see others go through?

Zayd: The Shaykh would often bully others, framing it as tarbiya. This is not the case since genuine tarbiya is done with basira and is done with the intention of making the student grow. If a genuine teacher sees that he made a mistake in administering a harsher form of tarbiya that elicits a negative response instead of positive they will rectify the situation and prescribe the student another way to reach the same goal. This was not the case here. There was almost constant bullying, and even worse if one made a mistake in completing a task of the Shaykh. Then, the Shaykh would act as if nothing had ever happened, or sometimes he would love-bomb the student just enough to reel them back in. I also saw how the Shaykh would call others out publicly, once harshly reprimanding someone whose phone rang during the prayer. He told the entire congregation that one needs to break their prayer if their phone rings and that if they don’t, “The sin of the whole Jama’ah is upon you”. These are not isolated incidents, but happened time and time again.


Was there financial abuse also present?

Zayd: As I was not earning at the time, I was not expected to make large financial contributions, although all were encouraged to give regular gifts to the Shaykh, especially if one felt they made a mistake in their interaction with him.

There were many who would give a large chunk of their monthly salary to the center, and there would not be a night of Dhikr except that the Shaykh would  ask for donations. The Shaykh said in one of his talks that it is legislated for the Shaykh to literally take from people’s wealth, as they will not give it willingly, (using Quran 9:103 out of context). He also gave a private talk saying that 2.5% Zakat is for the common Muslims, and that one in the tariqa has to give at least an amount that makes them shake in their bed at night. Money and giving donations was definitely central to the teachings of the Shaykh.


What did this money go to? Was there clear financial transparency? 

Zayd: There wasn’t financial transparency. The Shaykh would constantly have fundraisers on his Facebook page and ask for donations, and murids would readily give gifts of money on top of their set monthly contribution. They were also encouraged to increase their contribution gradually. The Shaykh claimed that all his financial support came from his father, however this struck me as very strange and not befitting the status of a murshid and shaykh of tarbiya, who encourages his murids to earn money to contribute to the zawiya. He also said that if these awliya’ (making an oblique reference to himself) were to make a du’a, the mountain of Uhud would turn into gold and that Allah provides for them. He also would mention that such people go to bed with an empty bank account and wake up with it filled. All this didn’t add up, seeing as the Shaykh lives in a mansion, owns two mansions, drives a BMW and has many cars as personal property. One raises an eyebrow when thinking about where funds are really going. If these are baseless suspicions, I ask that the Shaykh show where all this money has been going.


Usually spiritual abuse is coupled with manipulation tactics and threats, can you expand on how this played into it?

Zayd: Yes, there was very clear manipulation. The murids are completely robbed of any self-agency and their logical faculties are told to be completely shut off. The Shaykh himself said, “Everything I say here is to confuse you”, and indeed that is what he did. Murids were heavily discouraged from reading books not authored by the Shaykh. There was a very insular culture in the zawiya and amongst the murids. As mentioned, the Shaykh would bully and love-bomb students into submission. An emotional dependence was created on the Shaykh. Criticism of the Shaykh was treated as an unspeakable crime. The Shaykh even said that to look at something haram is less sinful than to doubt your Shaykh. This is clear control and manipulation. The Shaykh would often deflect any criticism by saying that he is from the Ahlul Bayt (family of the Prophetﷺ ) and that the Prophet ﷺ will get upset if anyone complains about him, and to endure any abuse that comes from such shuyukh in order to gain a reward from the Prophet ﷺ. This was a quick card he would play when any criticism came his way- just saying that criticizing Ahlul Bayt is Haram. True descendants do not use their lineage as a get out jail for free card. Intimidation is also used, claiming that if one leaves the tariqa, they are leaving the Prophet ﷺ , getting a text or call from the Shaykh is like getting one from the Prophet ﷺ , and that whoever leaves the Shaykh will be given a life of misfortune, even using an example of someone who left the Shaykh and supposedly as a result, were given a disabled child as a punishment. These are clearly manipulative tactics. The manipulation continues to the point where the students do not trust themselves at all, their mental faculty having been completely stripped from them, their entire worldview being through the lens of the Shaykh and living vicariously through him. Murids are trained in using mental gymnastics to the point where they can explain anything away. The control of the Shaykh was so tight that fellow murids could not even meet at each other’s homes without asking permission of the Shaykh. They could not discuss any of the teachings of the Shaykh with each other, and were discouraged from speaking about the religion in general except for a couple of ‘authorized’ people. This kept a tight seal on any and all information.


What was the point when you left the group? What made you decide to finally leave?

Zayd: It was during a period of time when I was away on a trip. During that time, I had some time to breath and process things. I began to realize how many things piled on top of each other, and how many problems there were with the group. Problems that I couldn’t explain away no matter how hard I tried. I decided to continuously make the Prophetic du’a that Allah show me truth as truth and enable me to follow it, and show me falsehood as falsehood and enable me to stay away from it. That was coupled with great amounts of salawat upon the Prophet ﷺ until I clearly saw the only course of action was to leave the group. I have since heard a couple of other stories of people being mistreated by the group, including a confirmed sayyid (descendent of the Prophet ﷺ), who stayed at the Shaykh’s house and was given very little respect, despite giving them priceless gifts. This also devalued the claim that one mustn’t criticize the Shaykh by merit of him being Ahlul Bayt.


Continuing on that, what events happened after you left?

Zayd: After I left, I honestly breathed a sigh of relief. I was able to learn the fundamental basics of the religion which was something the Shaykh never taught, nor did he emphasize the seeking of what is agreed upon and known as personally obligatory knowledge (fard ‘ayn). In fact this was completely de-emphasized, as was learning about the seerah of the Prophet ﷺ. I was able to regain a relatively normative life.

I did experience attacks after I left, publicly from the Shaykh in two of his live broadcasts. He did not refer to me by name, but it was obvious given the context. He also mentioned memorizing the Qur’an twice, which I am currently doing, and I am the only one previously or currently affiliated with that group who has undertaken this. He spoke about, “rats spreading their filth”, “spreading Satanic comments”, “Devils coming out after quarantine”. These talks may also have been directed to others involved in exposing false shuyukh. He reiterated his defense about speaking against Ahlul Bayt. He mentioned much about the “bad character” of certain people, in reference to this and reiterated the comments about rats spreading their excrement twice, then going on to mention the importance of good character and good manners and being loving even to the hand that crushes you. Clear hypocrisy. What kind of good character is it to call a fellow Muslim an excrement spreading rat and a devil?


What is the purpose of you coming out in public with this story? What advice do you have to others in similar situations?

Zayd: The purpose of my coming public with this is not for personal gain or benefit, or mere character assassination. In fact, I’d much rather not have come out with this and simply leave quietly and live my life in peace. It takes a lot more effort to come out in public, and it’s not something that is enjoyable in the least. I have no personal vendetta in this, all I wish is for the Shaykh to be held accountable and for his followers to understand the truth. I’m not here to take anyone away from the tariqa or a shaykh. If they hear the facts and still wish to support him, that is entirely their choice.

The only reason I came public at all about my story is to give information. To call those unsuspecting Muslims to safeguard their most precious treasure, their iman, foremost and then their mental health, and personal property. I do not want others to be misled and put their trust in charlatans. If charlatans are not called out, people may lose trust in the entire foundation of traditional scholarship and the science of tasawwuf (purification of the heart), and perhaps even the religion as a whole. It is important that organizations and seekers on the path are made aware of these problems in order to safeguard themselves from false guides who sell counterfeit merchandise.

My advice to those in similar situations is to look at things with a sound, clear mind. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t ignore the obvious red flags and don’t fall into manipulation. If someone violates the shari’a and rules of Allah – run! That is not a guide, no matter what kind of ijaza they have or what fancy attire they may appear in, or what flowery words they might speak. There is no tariqa without shari’a. May Allah guide us all to what pleases him and what is the best and better.

Having read some articles on In Shaykh’s Clothing helped open my eyes to the reality of such situations, and the indicators of a false teacher and spiritual abuse. After having reached out and spoken to Danish, he clarified many things for me and was very helpful throughout the whole process and helped to put my case into perspective. I would definitely encourage others in similar situations to reach out to In Shaykh’s Clothing and to benefit from the resources and services on the site, that will prove to be both eye-opening, informative, and inshallah very helpful.


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Backlash: Silencing Survivors of an Abusive Shaykh

Backlash: Silencing Survivors of an Abusive Shaykh

Like any abusive situation, leaving an abusive shaykh is very difficult and can result in a backlash that negatively impacts a person’s personal, social, and financial life. Not only does one have to deal with the fallout of the abusive shaykh, but also that of the other figures in the group, such as the shaykhas in the group, the muqaddams, and other murids, and the group backlash that comes along with it. It is important for individuals who are attempting to leave these groups to understand that the patterns of abuse and the type of backlash they receive is typical and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the individual. Understanding the ways in which abusive groups work to erode boundaries and focusing on boundary awareness can protect the individual from future abuse, but once these boundaries have been breached, the fall out can be both difficult to avoid and painful.

Many of those who face such abuse, and consequent backlash for leaving the group, are themselves respected religious leaders and scholars. Abusive groups are a norm, and listed here are common and actual scenarios of backlash men and women face when leaving an abusive shaykh.

Backlash from the Shaykh

This is particularly an issue in Sufi tariqas where the shaykh has the role of a spiritual guide. The shaykh in this context is not just a general religious figure with influence, but someone who has intimate knowledge of his followers. This includes knowledge of sins, bad thoughts which the shaykh may ask to be journaled so he may monitor progress, or any other life problems. This is a spiritual justification for invading boundaries and the information garnered can be used for abuse. In groups where this is the norm, someone may feel uncomfortable but ignore those feelings of discomfort due to a desire for spiritual growth and the normalization of the practice within the group.

Just like a patient may uncover his ‘awra in front of a doctor for medical treatment, the shaykh will say he can learn about the private sins of his murid to properly treat him. Under this guise, he may ask very intrusive questions to collect personal information to understand the psychological makeup of the murid or collect blackmailing information. Many abusive shaykhs are narcissists, and, in general, narcissists thrive on gathering information about their targets as it is an essential ingredient for control of the target. Even if this information is not initially gathered for blackmail, it becomes useful to leverage against a murid who begins speaking out.

Furthermore, conversations may be used to learn more about the sexual desires of murids. This may include desires for forbidden sexual relationships such as homoerotic inclinations and desires for in-laws. When conversations become sexual, the shaykh may be learning how to engage in a relationship or assault, or may just be interested in gathering information on their target.

In other cases, the shaykh will seek to learn about the family life of his murid. Unbeknownst to the murid, what seems like genuine concern and an empathetic ear will turn into blackmail when the target tries to leave. In cases of a female follower leaving, a shaykh may inform her husband of shameful aspects about her life that she did not want disclosed. He may exploit marital issues he was made aware of to get the husband on his side or to intimidate them as a couple. The more shameful information the shaykh can gather, the more material he has to keep his ex-murid or murida silent when he or she wants to leave. This is especially the case if there is an email record of private thoughts and marital issues the murid disclosed under the presumption of spiritual guidance. Even those who may seem to support therapy and work with Muslim mental health institutions and associations will weaponize a disciple’s disclosure of mental health issues, or even seeking therapy, once there is a conflict.

It is common for shaykhs to recognize that a murid is drifting away and will soon be a problem. A cunning shaykh will prepare by making simple statements to other murids such as ‘his heart is veiled.’ Then, when problems arise, the shaykh will be proven right to his murids in a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby the murid is wrong by definition of the fact that he spoke out or asked too many questions.

False teachings of the one leaving a tariqa dying in kufr will scare others into more blind allegiance. Furthermore, the pain and mental agony of the former murid in dealing with harassment and emotional turmoil will also be used as proof of God’s wrath for the one who speaks out against the shaykh. If the shaykh is from the family of the Prophet ﷺ, the former murid may be said to not love the Prophet ﷺ fully and slandered as someone who disrespects the Prophet ﷺ. This is of course false, as loving the family of the Prophet ﷺ does not mean following them in misguidance or accepting their transgressions. Using lineage to justify abuse is a far greater insult to the honor of the Prophet’s ﷺ family.

When the shaykh has this much information about a murid, exposing the shaykh means the murid’s private history will also spread. I’ve witnessed countless examples of former murids being afraid to speak out due to blackmail or fear of information dissemination. This is particularly the case when the former murid has recently broken from his shaykh (less than six months to a year) and has not yet transitioned to a new social life.

A shaykh of a tariqa, or even a tasawwuf oriented group that is not formally a tariqa, will generally not expose the secrets of his former students himself. Although it does happen occasionally, the more common scenario is that he will delegate this dirty work to someone else. The shaykh will usually act hurt and sympathetic about his former murid who is, in his mind, veiled from the goodness of the tariqa and who chose a path of self-destruction rather than staying with the group. In other cases, the shaykh will give lectures describing his former murid, or may allude to a campaign by the former murid against him, but he will cloak it in general language.  The shaykh must convey the image of someone who does not go low and mud sling. Generally, he will look for excuses, like being betrayed,  before speaking out directly and harshly. The shaykh may complain to others that he is being ignored by his former murid and will encourage other murids to pressure him into reaching out to the shaykh as if it is all a misunderstanding. This includes a shaykh pressuring others to reach out to women he has harassed or tried pressuring into marriage who no longer wish to communicate with him.

The belief structure of the group includes beliefs that the shaykh has a special connection to God, special knowledge, and that connection to God must be achieved through a shaykh. These beliefs prevent criticism from seeing the shaykh as the culprit. If everyone who disagrees with the shaykh is veiled from the truth and on a path to perdition, those in the group will be wary to side with the individual leaving. The individual may experience some cognitive dissonance and may struggle to believe what he or she knows to be true and knows to be wrong. Within the logical structure of the group the shaykh can act in blatantly unlawful ways while claiming special status with God. Additionally, the shaykh may claim secret knowledge of the murid’s inner thoughts and intentions, even sometimes claiming to know subconscious thoughts, thereby claiming a more intimate knowledge of the murid than the murid has of himself. This is all meant to destabilize the murid and cause him to question himself, or to keep other murids from leaving.

The shaykh in these settings needs no proof for his claims because his statements are all matters of spiritual realities others cannot understand. It is essential for someone to understand that ultimately only Allah knows a person’s heart. Furthermore, it is imperative to understand that there are moments of kashf a person may have, but having kashf, accurate dreams, or visions does not indicate piety in any way. We only judge a person by his uprightness. Kharq al-‘Ada and kashf are never used to judge someone. Such unveilings and seemingly miraculous actions may occur at the hands of the pious, the wicked, polytheists, as well as average Muslims.

Allah says “And they ask you about the spirit. Say, ‘The spirit is of the affair of my Lord. And you have not been given knowledge of it except a little.’” (Quran 17:85). Often it is our distance from anything spiritual that leads us to believe anything spiritual is good and an indication of a person’s sainthood or status with Allah. The early Sufis would often warn murids of becoming deluded by their spiritual experiences. Unfortunately, many who are in positions of being murabbis in our time are themselves deluded by personal spiritual experiences and are utterly unfit to guide anyone through spiritual experiences. Whether one has an authentic ijaza or not makes little practical difference.

The shaykh will generally fight covertly against former murids and make statements about forgiving those who have wronged him, ignoring slander, and following the example of the righteous who pray for the guidance of those who wrong them. The shaykh will add hints, however, of tribulations to come for the one who crosses the awliya’, hinting at themselves as one of the awliya’. In other cases, the shaykh will condemn those who go against him, demonize them, forbid murids from communicating with former murids, and sometimes even rile up others to harm them.

If those who have left the group are convincing others to leave the shaykh or be wary, the shaykh may share dreams or visions with ambivalent murids which affirm the special status of those in the tariqa and warn of the wrath and destruction that await those who left.  They may quote the early Sufis or take statements which encourage the suspension of thought and judgment to make the one speaking out against clear wrongs seem hasty and low in spiritual discernment. They may quote stories of shaykhs who tested their murids by appearing to do something haram that was later shown to be halal, or even clear haram which ended up serving some benefit which effectively negates any confidence in calling an action haram, or accepting that haram is wrong because their murids are taught to always second guess themselves and not believe they can ever have the full picture even with what is clear. Faith that the shaykh cannot do anything wrong even when they see wrong is conflated with a high spiritual station, all the while they will affirm that the shaykh is fallible as a credal point. The ones who do not conform are then deemed veiled and problematic. They are deemed trouble-makers causing fitna for disturbing the group’s harmony which is rooted in the shaykh’s sanctity.

Backlash from the shaykhas

Women may hold varying leadership positions in these groups. They may be shaykhas, hold administrative roles over other women, be assigned to teach, or may just be the shaykh’s wife or family member.

Shaykhas, ustadhas, or women of position in abusive groups may be the ones who oppose female victims of the male shaykh most fervently. The shaykh may understand that the optics are better for the group when a woman opposes a woman rather than a man. Unfortunately, it is common for such shaykhas to blame women for tempting the shaykh by not being modest enough in dress or interaction for her own sexual harassment, assault, or unwanted relentless advances for a relationship. They will scold women who raise such issues as being ignorant, immodest, and just not understanding the nature of man. They may also blame the targeted woman for not studying with female teachers even if the group structure itself does not allow for her to do so.

There are also many tariqas and spiritual groups formally headed by women. They are the sole figures in charge and will exercise the same control as male shaykhs over their disciples, which may include men.

In whatever form the setup may be, bullying and control are commonplace in such groups. When disciples are Western women to a shaykha who is either Eastern or is a Western woman who has ijaza in an Eastern tradition, the bullying and berating is often justified as them being naturally inferior due to being Western, or lacking modesty, no matter how they may dress and act, which creates an undefined hence impossible standard that allows the shaykha to make the disciples feel perpetually inadequate and spiritually inferior. In due time, the murida is broken and becomes only a shell of her former self. PTSD and health problems often follow. It is very important for someone exiting the group to understand that the logic of the group is false and not Islamic. Our status before God is not related to our race, origins, or where we live, and even past sins can be forgiven simply by seeking forgiveness from God. We are not inherently less worthy or less Muslim for having been raised in the West.

Furthermore, tarbiya is to nurture the soul and to help individuals grow. Bullying is to strike fear in, ridicule, and emotionally damage others. The goal of the bullying in such groups is to break a person down, keep them in perpetual fear, and have them not be taken seriously by others. Acts of rage, erratic behavior, public humiliation, berating, and embarrassment should never be termed tarbiya. Consider that the behavioral issue lies within the shaykha herself. If someone finds excuses to be so removed from good character, know that you are not the one with nafs issues.

Backlash from the Muqaddams and Fellow Murids

Muqaddams form unique bonds with one another. They organize events together, they run the majalis of dhikr and oversee the running of the group, whether in informal gatherings in homes or in dedicated buildings (zawiyas). Comradery is built among them through serving the shaykh, and they will often have many stories of travels, service, and private gatherings. The shared mission will overpower a lot of the discord, competition, and even envy that exists among themselves. Muqaddams also grow close and their relationships are often grounded in shared special moments with the shaykh and a shared purpose.

When one muqaddam leaves, however, the other muqaddams will close ranks and make sure he is made out to be the problem. This will occur even if they acknowledge the shaykh has committed major acts of sin. They will fault the muqaddam who leaves as being veiled, of not understanding that only the prophets are perfect, or of just not being strong enough to withstand a tribulation on their spiritual path.

When a lower ranking murid breaks from a tariqa, it is far easier to slander him. Depending on the setup of the tariqa, the murid may not have access to the shaykh and will instead be in regular communication with the muqaddam. The muqaddam will function as a shaykh for these murids and will use his position and higher rank to legitimize his own abuse. (It is important to emphasize that in many tariqas in the West, and even the East, the murid’s relationship with the shaykh is usually limited, and the primary conduit of spiritual instruction is through the muqaddam. In some tariqas in the West, murids only know the muqaddam personally, have never even met the shaykh, and do not speak the shaykh’s language.)

Murids will often open up to fellow murids about their personal lives, feeling they have found brothers and sisters in the path of Allah. They feel they are in an incredibly safe space where people are understanding and focused on attaining nearness to Allah. They are completely blindsided when, just by not siding with an abusive shaykh, all these “friends” will become sworn enemies. All of those shared secrets, ambitions, and struggles will be presented as proof that the person has deep “issues,” and will be used to malign the individual doing the right thing (i.e. breaking from abusive tariqa). Real examples include include death threats, murids sabotaging engagements, threatening their former friends with contacting any suitors with smears, and heavy slander in general.  Murids who have a low standing with the shaykh may harshly oppose someone speaking against the shaykh to gain favor from the shaykh. It’s a moment to prove loyalty, and the action is usually rewarded. With this motivation, a murid may harshly oppose the one who left more than anyone else.

Additionally, if the individual tries to seek support or advice from friends within the group, they will fall back on this logical framework, normalize the abuse, and blame the person trying to leave. For example, if the individual is tired of being verbally abused, bullied, and disrespected, he will be labeled weak for not being able to handle tarbiya and the special spiritual training the shaykh is putting his disciples through. If murids question the abuse they are receiving, they will be guilted as questioning the chain of shayukh from whom their own shaykh received his ijaza. This is illogical of course, as an ijaza is not something that validates abusive behavior, nor does it in any way guarantee the shaykh will be or remain upright. This can create a sense of isolation and again can lead the person to question their own interpretation of reality.  Even admitted acts of male teachers sexually assaulting other adult male students are justified by the group and the victim is the one blamed.

The shaykh may tell close murids to post in chat groups or email lists warnings against those who turn away from their shaykh and even refer to such people as demons. Such messages will generally not name any names but the group will understand the ‘dissenters’ are being targeted. Not being part of the chastised group is enough of an incentive to remain loyal.

Cyber-bullying is used to discredit and intimidate those speaking against the shaykh. This includes hacking accounts, posting pictures of a person’s wife without hijab, writing negative comments, information of past relationships, or sharing edited images of someone’s wife to demoralize them. This may be done through anonymous accounts, or they may just appear on private email groups. If there was any knowledge of a previous relationship, regardless of whether the person was Muslim or not, it will be used as a psychological weapon. The same group which publicly espouses morals of love, forgiveness, mercy, and being upright, now foregoes all human decency, and will privately justify bullying as a necessary action to silence a shaytan.

Other instances of backlash include doxing, such as contacting employers and defaming the former murid. If this is done often enough, sometimes the employer will grow tired of hearing the complaints and it will at least cause some problems at the former murid’s job. If they leave one teacher and go to another while the previous teacher maintains a good public reputation, the shaykh may seek to destroy the student’s reputation in the new community as well. Negative reviews of the ex-murid’s business, rumors, and boycotts are also common occurrences.

Furthermore, one’s own children, parents, or siblings may remain loyal to the abusive group.  The family members’ discord with their own family will be very convincing the counter any statement the former murid makes. In the case of a wife staying loyal while the husband parts ways, she may be asked to defame her own husband or exaggerate arguments to make him seem abusive.  Tariqas and tariqa like groups can be very successful in turning spouses and parents and children against one another.

Parents of the former murid may be contacted and told that their child is causing a lot of problems. The parents will often just try to talk their child out of it or pressure them just to end the problems because they don’t want to deal with it. If the former murid persists, he will be further labeled as problematic by the group because not listening to one’s parents will ‘prove’ that this former murid just doesn’t accept any authority, not even his parents, other than his own nafs.

United through Abuse—The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Sometimes the former member will have high credibility and cannot be easily marginalized. If he speaks out against his former group and has proof, the shaykh may be forced to remain silent and just privately control whatever narrative he can. If the former member, however, speaks out against the problems of another group, whether he is or is not part of them, the abusive shaykh now has an ally now to partner with in slandering the one standing up to abuse. Now, the shaykh or his inner circle can pass on personal information about the former murid to the other abusive shaykh and maintain plausible deniability. If they disclosed such information publicly, they would be seen as vindictive, but if they pass it on secretly to another shaykh, the latter can disclose it in a way to tarnish the reputation and discredit the one speaking out.

Conclusion and Advice

Leaving an abusive group is not as simple as just walking away when someone was deeply involved, particularly when leaving due to uncovering abuse.  In addition to the shame and regret of being a part of such a group and having an emotional and financial investment, those who leave face enmity from members of the group. The obstacles in exiting will often be greater when someone is speaking out. This is why many decide to walk away quietly.

Make friends and establish relationships outside of insular groups. This will give you a better picture of how warped your previous group’s understanding was and certain dysfunctions will make themselves apparent by contrast.  You will also find that most people will find what they understand of the abuse to be wrong (although there will probably be details that they won’t fully understand). It is also essential to understand the false framework used by the group and re-ground oneself in the basic truths of Islam, work to restore a direct relationship with God, and understand the magnitude of God’s Mercy. Realize the mistake in thinking yourself unable and unworthy of a direct relationship with God and in need of “fixing.” In fact, all humans are unworthy, but through the infinite Mercy of our Creator, this is in fact what we are given.

With this understanding, we can remain practicing Muslims striving for the highest levels of ihsan. Understanding what was wrong in one’s group will also prevent them from from joining other abusive groups, which is common unfortunately.

My advice to anyone in a tariqa or similar group is to understand that as long as your relationship is defined by the shared shaykh, you will not have a true friendship. That is to say, if your conversations, activities, and bonds all revolve around being in the tariqa and are about the shaykh, what you consider to be a bond of brotherhood or sisterhood will disappear the second you go against the shaykh. If the relationship was formed in the abusive group but grew to something beyond the tariqa, then that relationship could very well last. There are relationships that survive ugly tariqa breakups and usually people just agree not to talk about it. This includes marriages where one spouse remains in the group while the other left.

It is also helpful to talk to others who left the same group or had very similar experiences. Such conversations help you see that you are not unique and it erodes the shame of being manipulated. You will also learn how to move forward if you speak to those who have successfully transitioned out of the group and adjusted to a normal life. However, such groups can be harmful if not enough members have transitioned or made sense out of their own experiences. If the conversations are dominated by sharing frustrations, particularly on social media or chat groups, it may be better to not be part of the group. Such groups are more effective if they are scheduled discussions rather than continuous threads.

We also have a responsibility to not stigmatize or view friends or religious leaders as tainted for once being part of an abusive group or cult. We need to be empathetic to why they may have joined such a group and recognize the good in the fact that they left after uncovering the abuse therein.  Not everyone will announce their departure or publicly discuss their experiences.


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The Commodification of Worship: How Automation Dilutes the Meaning of Seeking Laylat al-Qadr

The Commodification of Worship: How Automation Dilutes the Meaning of Seeking Laylat al-Qadr

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
That [is so]. And whoever honors the symbols of Allah – indeed, it is from the piety of hearts.
Quran 22:32

Writer and consultant Edward Bernays revolutionized advertising with his deep understanding of human desires. He is called the father of public relations and one of his strategies of selling was to link consumer products to unconscious desires. Bernays did not waste his time with propositional advertising and instead went directly after what emotionally moved consumers. With this understanding, for example, Bernays was able to challenge the taboo of women smoking by framing cigarettes as ‘torches of freedom’ and thus a symbol of feminine power.

Muslims have been no exception in following advertising norms carved out by Bernays.  The worst manifestation of such marketing however comes when it is applied to the religious market, which inevitably leads to commodifying the sacred.  Though underlying intentions may be good, many Muslim organizations are nevertheless reducing our most sacred signs into mere products to meet the spiritual aspirations of Muslims. As displayed in these ads, My Ten Nights—a platform for automating donations in the last 10 nights of Ramadan—commodifies the most precious night of the year with the unique selling proposition of “catching” Laylat al-Qadr.  The ads show Muslims busy with their careers, and My Ten Nights offers the solution of taking care of their last ten nights with an automated donation tool. This ad campaign moves us away from seeking Laylat al-Qadr and actively worshipping Allah in the last 10 nights of Ramadan.

The ads focus on Muslims at work, who with a distracted glance at their phone assure themselves, “I caught Laylat al-Qadr.” An honest ad would show the platform’s ability to help one give sadaqa, but without acting as a guarantor for “catching” the night.  The ads further send the message that Laylat al-Qadr is not worth any extra effort to seek out and can simply be automated with a “set and forget” model of worship while still maintaining the same level of attention to one’s career.  This not only ignores the value of Laylat al-Qadr but warps the meaning of worship.  Simply, worship is an end and not a means.

If the purpose of the tool is to encourage charity only, why not show someone engaged in worship such as someone in itikaaf who cannot leave the masjid to make a donation, or someone who can focus on reading Quran or praying because the charity aspect of worship is made easy?  This would highlight the tool’s benefit of easing the giving of charity while donors persist in other acts of worship. The ads however, focus on the tool’s ability to let people carry on with their career while mindlessly and peripherally demonstrating their devotion.

Worship and worldly duties

As careers and familial obligations dominate many lives, Muslims look for practical religious guidance for their circumstances. To meet this very real need, scholars will help Muslims maintain religious routines, engage in acts of worship while at work or home, and make good intentions that turn worldly matters into acts of worship. Those who have a connection to a spiritual guide or teacher will be given litanies and be helped in structuring their lives in a way most devotional given the circumstances. Sometimes, scholars just need to help Muslims see that their taking care of dependents, supporting their families, or having careers which provide essential services to others are themselves worship and are better for them to continue than to go into retreat. When people are not able to stay up late on the last ten odd nights of Ramadan due to such obligations or health issues, scholars will point them to easier acts of worship such as reciting Surah Ikhlas three times, praying Isha and Fajr in congregation, or just praying two units of prayer before Fajr to fit the broader definition of qiyaam al-layl (standing in the night).

The Mauritanian scholar Muhammad Mawlud writes in his Nazm al-Tafakkur (The Poem of Reflection), “When you are too busy or feeling lazy, then incline towards the easiest and best of actions, such as reflection, repentance, and multiplying intentions.” There are many ways to accommodate the reality of busy lives and obligations placed upon Muslims and maintain true religion.

The MyTenNights series of ads, however, show individuals busy at work attending to worldly needs, but with a quick message on their phone they are assured that their religious life is being taken care of.  With this assurance, they can confidently return to their jobs while barely giving a second thought to worship. A My Ten Nights Facebook post from May 2, 2020 reads [emojis not included]:

“We understand your Ramadan. Family, work, and the regular daily tasks … all on top of your Ramadan to-do list. But that’s why we exist. To help you make the most out of Ramadan even on your busiest days.

What is My Ten Nights doing exactly? Picking up the burden of worship from the rest of us and automating it? We have to wonder where the confidence of boldly declaring “I caught Laylat al-Qadr” comes from.

There is one portion in the ad series which shows a woman taking care of her child.  Many women have guilt about the time spent caring for children during Ramadan and not being able to spend as much time in prayer.  Knowing that this feeling of guilt exists, the advertising manipulates that guilt and suggests that they are the solution while ignoring that taking care of one’s young child is inherently an act of worship too. A mother in such a case should not feel the slightest bit guilty, and in addition to her worship of taking care of her child, she can recite Quran, make dhikr, or make duah while walking around with the baby.  The mother is not in a disadvantageous position to begin with, so to portray a mother taking care of her child as such and then offer the donation to catch Laylat al-Qadr is to offer a solution to a non-existent problem.

Ramadan‚ particularly the last ten nights—is a time of retreat. Many Muslims feel anxiety about being able to properly retreat from worldly tasks in the last ten nights, especially the odd ones.  While religious teachers are encouraging people to do their best given other obligations, My Ten Nights is suggesting that they don’t need to worry about it and that it is taken care of. Simple solutions and statements assuring Muslims that they do not need to worry about it are very appealing and exploitative.


Allah has hidden his qubool (acceptance) of good actions, and as servants we can never be sure if our action has qubool. This should make us humble and move us to ask Allah for qubool and our uncertainty should serve to constantly remind us of our dependence on God. When we give charity, it should be with the realization that Allah does not need our charity, but we are in need of giving.

The Sahaba would supplicate to Allah for six months to reach Ramadan. Then they would supplicate for another six months for Allah to accept their Ramadan. Our pious predecessors would reflect on the verse “Allah only accepts from the people of taqwa” (5:27) and would be worried that their actions were not pure enough despite being sound and great outwardly. Abdullah Ibn Masud (may Allah be pleased with him) would say “For me to know that Allah has accepted an action of mine is more beloved to me than to possess the world full of gold.” The Prophet told us that Allah is pure and only accepts purity. This is all meant to keep us humble and beseeching Allah for acceptance and guidance.

Contrast this with the “I got this!” attitude shown in the ads that suggests we can all stop worrying about our sincerity and purity of action, because that’s just sweating the small stuff. The “My Ten Nights” account tells us, “Don’t worry about missing Laylatul Qadir this year—in 3 easy steps you can easily catch it!” (May 24 Facebook post). Those three steps are to automate donations processed through My Ten Nights of course.

We should be worried about our actions being accepted, and esteeming the last ten nights is one way of being in the proper mindset for humility based actions. We must not turn the most important night of the year for worship into a checklist item which can be automated.

Worshipping Allah is portrayed as an automated act

Worship should be a heartfelt and present act. Worship is the purpose of life, and sincerity and presence bring worship to life. Worship cannot be automated. It is far superior to take the extra few minutes and donate daily with presence than to assume the automated breakup will stand in place of deliberate consistent acts. You can use technology to set a daily alarm for the donation and take the extra minute to make a donation.

Islam gives us the opportunity to gain intimacy with God through sincere acts of devotion out of love for Him and for His sake. Are we willing to give up that opportunity because a quick and easy online worship service saves a few minutes of making a donation?

As fintech tries to take financial services to the next level, it cannot take our worship to the next level. Technology cannot worship for us. We cannot build our intentions into a software service and automate our worship, and robots will not revolutionize our ability to gain acceptance with God.

The attitude of not worrying about worship, not needing to bother with seeking out Allah’s Mercy and devoting the nights to worship to catch Laylat al-Qadr is sacrilegious.  This is hard to detect in a world where reverence for the sacred is mocked.

Actors in the ad campaign are portrayed as “successful.” They are then using their power (money) to “take care of” their worship. This conveys a few messages: (1) they are too busy or important to actually seek out Laylat al-Qadr. (2) This doesn’t matter because they are successful and powerful. Like priests selling indulgences to absolve their congregants of sin, these ads convey that seeking out Laylat al-Qadr does not apply to the ‘successful’ Muslims. There is a materialistic logic used, rather than prescriptions from Allah and His Messenger .

It is worth noting that the wealthy cannot just opt out of hajj by paying someone to perform it on their behalf. Everyone must toil, dress similarly, and fulfill the same rights.   One little pop up on your phone is not indicative of God accepting your donation. Rather, we should have hope in Allah’s mercy to accept our action and count it as one good deed we did. The confident declarations of “I caught Laylat al-Qadr” are not said in hope, nor out of spiritual ecstasy, but as if it was just purchased with the donation, and they are transactionally guaranteed the night. The ads seem to offer more than just an act of worship, but acceptance itself.

Does catching Laylat al-Qadr mean the night comes and we are alive? Then the whole ummah catches it whether one does a good action or not. Doing a good action does not constitute catching the night either.  Giving life to the night and having acceptance in it is the goal.

In such advertisements we see money being used as power as it is in our worldly lives, to purchase what we want.  We do not, however, have purchasing power to dictate God’s contentment. There is a serious line crossed when an advertisement begins to sell the secret of acceptance that only Allah knows.

Quranic transactional language

The purpose of zakat specifically is purifying your wealth. We know from a hadith that sadaqa (general charity) extinguishes sins like water extinguishes fire.  When we give, our intention must be to help the needy, to share what we have been given with gratitude, to recognize that we too are in need, etc.

Allah uses transactional language in the Quran. For example Allah asks “Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned” (Quran 2:245). One reason Allah uses the term ‘loan’ is to emphasize the guaranteed return that the lender will receive in the next life.

Similarly, Allah tells us, “Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah, so they kill and are killed. [It is] a true promise [binding] upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Quran. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah? So rejoice in your transaction which you have contracted. And it is that which is the great attainment” (Quran, 9:111).  It would be enough for Allah to just say that He will reward them, as He told us “It is the promise of Allah, Allah does not renege on his promises” (30:6). However, the transactional language of a binding contract in verse 9:111 is to emphatically convey a guarantee.

The Quran encourages us to do good deeds so we may enter paradise, and there are varying narrations of prayers and Quranic chapters to read for sustenance.  These examples of Allah or the Prophet are not remotely analogous to suggestions of purchasing God’s acceptance. The rewards promised in the akhira are contingent upon acceptance. Most importantly however, Allah is revealing His own ways of acceptance, as only He has a right to do.

 A better way

It is very easy to dismiss this as not a big deal, or just ‘the nature of marketing,’ but marketing does not have to be like this. As Neil Postman writes:

  “As late as 1890, advertising, still understood to consist of words, was regarded as an essentially serious and rational enterprise whose purpose was to convey information and make claims in propositional form. Advertising was, as Stephen Douglas said in another con- text, intended to appeal to understanding, not to passions. This is not to say that during the period of typographic display, the claims that were put forward were true. Words cannot guarantee their truth content. Rather, they assemble a context in which the question. Is this true or false? is relevant. In the 1890’s that context was shattered, first by the massive intrusion of illustrations and photographs, then by the nonpropositional use of language” (Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death). 

The My Ten Nights ads are problematic because they alter the meaning of seeking Laylat al-Qadr through automation, continuing business as usual, and putting worship on the back burner.

Imagine that a Muslim AI company created a “Beloved” app that helped one schedule religious obligations and gradually add nafal (supererogatory) acts of worship. Using the hadith Qudsi where Allah states that fulfilling obligations and supererogatory actions is how a servant draws close to Him until Allah loves him, the company markets Beloved as a way of becoming a wali. “Become Allah’s beloved- plan your religious routines today!” some ads may state. This advertisement would not be problematic on the surface because it encourages worship. However, it is manipulative and implies that the app itself can fulfill your desires of becoming beloved by Allah. Instead, manipulative and emotional advertising should be avoided altogether and the app should be advertised honestly as a tool to help organize worship and work towards improvements. We can at least use propositional advertising for religious products. False promises, especially false promises of acceptance by Allah, must be avoided.

The aim of this article is not to deny the benefits and convenience of using technology to help others or question the intentions of the tool’s creators or users.  It is perfectly reasonable for charities to advertise and encourage others to goodness—especially in the last ten nights of Ramadan when donors are the most charitable. But we must be careful not to bring a consumer mentality into Islam, and we cannot allow advertisers to make false or emotionally manipulative suggestions about Allah’s acceptance.  A more appropriate ad would assure donors that they can choose to have their donations automated throughout the last ten nights, as these are common requests, but not as a way of opting out of worship.

As the Sufis say, treat every person as if he is Khidr, and treat every night as if it’s Laylat al-Qadr.


To contact Danish Qasim directly, email

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Interview with Shaykh Abdul Aziz Suraqah on The Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya

Interview with Shaykh Abdul Aziz Suraqah on The Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya

Shaykh Abdul Aziz Suraqah is a renowned translator. Recently, Shaykh Abdul Aziz Suraqah completed a commentary and translation of Imam Abu ‘Isa al-Tirmidhi’s al-Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya. This book of Shamail describes the Prophet Muhammad’s ( (Allah bless him and give him peace) character and physical description.  We are fortunate to share this interview with Shaykh Abdul Aziz regarding his recent work.  To learn more about his projects and to find out how you can support, please visit


Bismillahi Al-Rahman Al-Raheem (In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)

 Danish: What made you want to translate the Shama’il of Imam al-Tirmidhi?

 Suraqah:  Scholars state that the virtue of a science is proportionate to the virtue of what it aims to study; therefore, as a text that helps one know the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), it is one of the most virtuous texts out there. Actually, it didn’t occur to me to translate the Shama’il until I was approached and asked to do it. When I first began, it was limited to a translation of the hadith reports without their chains of transmission, and without the comments of Imam al-Tirmidhi, and with minimal commentary in the footnotes. But as I got half way into completing the first draft, it was clear that it required far more than just a few footnotes sprinkled here and there, but rather an entire commentary. . So, this is not just a translation of the Shama’il, but a full commentary on it as well.

 Danish: How can one best benefit from studying the Shama’il?

 Suraqah:  Following the tradition of different scholars who would write introductions to sciences they were writing about, I wrote in my preface a prolegomenon of sorts titled “How to read the Shama’il.” It lays out the proper approach one must take as they read the Shama’il—the proper spiritual lenses through which they venture into the text. In it I said:

One may ask why the Shama’il exists as a distinct genre of Islamic literature when virtually every hadith compilation is filled with descriptions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his recorded statements and actions. The answer is simple: Learning about the physical and moral qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is a religious necessity and essential ingredient of sincere and sound faith. Simply put: the medium is the message. The medium of the message of Islam is the one who brought it to us, communicated its contents and reflected it perfectly—our master the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). Understanding the Shama’il is therefore critical to any proper understanding of Islam, for it details the qualities of the message-bearer, which fundamentally alters how we understand the message he brought. Knowing the Shama’il is a pre-requisite to properly understanding Islam in general and the Prophet’s life (Sira) in particular, for it is his beautiful appearance, his lifestyle and his character that provide the ultimate contextualization needed for correct understanding of its content and application. Without a proper understanding of the Shama’il one is left to read Islam and the Prophet’s life through the lenses of his or her own socially conditioned impressions and assumptions.

[…]Before venturing into the dazzling meadows of the Shama’il, it is essential to understand certain key points. The first book about the Prophet’s sublime qualities is the Quran. It is the first and most excellent Shama’il. The beautiful moral, physical and spiritual qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) are embedded in the Book of Allah. The Quran—the pre-eternal divine speech—is the supreme character reference. Some scholars have said, ‘If you want to see the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), then look into the Quran.’ This is undoubtedly true, as Imam al-Tirmidhi recorded in the Shama’il (hadith 385) from Anas ibn Malik, ‘I gazed at his blessed face, and it looked like a page from the Quran (mushaf)…’  The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), therefore, reflects the Quran and the Quran reflects him.

The entire preface is a good starting point for someone who wants to know how to approach the Shama’il.

Danish:  People often ask what the point is of knowing the physical description of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and why don’t we just focus on his character. What is your response to that? 

Suraqah:  The Shama’il, by definition, refers to the Prophet’s qualities of character and nature. The Shama’il of Imam al-Tirmidhi is as much about the Prophet’s sublime character as it is about his beautiful form (Allah bless him and give him peace). Beauty in character is beauty in form, and the Companions transmitted to us the physical qualities so we could cherish it too. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr once went out at night in Medina in a state of hunger. He encountered the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), who asked him why he was out. Abu Bakr replied, “I’ve come out to meet the Messenger of Allah and gaze upon his blessed face!” Some scholars have stated that the reason why the Seal of Prophethood was between the blessed shoulder blades of the Prophet, and not on his blessed hand or another readily accessible place was because his face was a sufficient proof of his truthfulness—as ‘Abdullah b. Salam said when he went out to see him, ‘By Allah, that is not the face of a liar!”

Recognition of the qualities of the message bearer and his physical features are a part of recognizing his message. Allah mentions in Sura al-Mu’minun:

أمْ لَمْ يَعْرِفُوا رَسُولَهم فَهم لَهُ مُنْكِرُونَ

“Or, do they not know their Messenger, and so deny him?”

Danish:  What does this translation offer that other ones do not?

Suraqah:  Again, this is a commentary and not just a translation. It makes use of over a dozen classical commentaries and other sources. There were a couple of translations of the Shama’il I’d seen over the years—and may Allah reward the translators and publishers for their service—but there needed to be a full English commentary on the text that explains the narrations in a way that highlights the Prophet’s perfection and sublimity, as well as his lofty character and concern.

One thing that sets this work apart from others is the aesthetic detail. Admittedly, there is a utility in writing things in a simple style, but the intention behind this project from the outset was to make the entire work, not just the words, an expression of love and reverence, something that, when seen, evokes awe. The Shama’il of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) deserves far more, but it’s the least that can be done.

Danish: Thank you for the interview and may Allah bless and accept your work


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Spiritual abuse in Khidma (service), MSA WEST 2020 talk

Spiritual abuse in Khidma (service), MSA WEST 2020 talk

Listen to Danish’s talk from MSA West on January 11, 2020


 Below is a guide from the workshop I gave at MSA West on January 11, 2020 at U.C. Davis.

The title of the conference was Meeting of the Two Seas: Illumination Through Service. My topic was on spiritual abuse with a focus on abuse of khidma. Below are the notes that relate to khidma (service), where I draw heavily from Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (رحمه الله و قدس الله سره).


Spiritual abuse is the misuse of religion; whether to harm others or to harm oneself (via ostentation, etc).

Shaytan lying to Prophet Adam and Hawa (peace be upon them) was the first instance of spiritual abuse. Prophets have the highest intellectual faculty, yet he was deceived by Shaytan. The exegetes give a few explanations for this, including Prophet Adam (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) did not know what a lie was, or did not think anyone would lie about something Allah prohibited. This was not a sin, because by definition prophets cannot sin.

In Surah Jinn, the jinn share that they did not think jinn nor man would lie concerning Allah.


The Prophet ﷺ said, “Exchange gifts and love will grow.” The Prophet ﷺ encouraged giving gifts, himself received gifts openly, but the scholars recognized gifts should not always be accepted because it may harm the recipient or the giver.

The great scholar Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi outlined a few conditions of giving gifts in his work Etiquettes of Social Life. Some of those conditions are:

  • Not to give a gift to someone from whom you will ask for a favor. Such a gift is closer to a bribe.
  • Gifts should only be given out of love. One should not even present a need while giving a gift because the giver will be viewed as having an ulterior motive.
  • The intention must not be to attain a benefit, as such a gift will be a bribe.

Khidma (service)

Khidma, serving others, is an integral part of our religion. In the previously mentioned book, Maulana Thanwi also lists some etiquittes of khidma, and states that khidma should meet the following conditions:

  1. It should be done out of love and not to attain any secondary benefit.
  2. There should be a relationship between the one serving and the one being served.
  3. The one serving should know how to serve.

Maulana Thanwi also mentions that one should not invoke someone of higher authority to seek a favor or receive khidma. This removes the assurance that such a favor is being done with one’s contentment, as there is likely to be outside pressure on the one fulfilling the favor.

Khidr and Musa

Maulana Thanwi also comments that although Allah told Prophet Musa (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) to seek out Khidr, Prophet Musa did not state Allah had sent him. Nor did he invoke his own authority of prophethood to have Khidr comply with his request. Rather, he asked without any intercession as to not pressure Khidr, and humbly requested:

قَالَ لَهُ مُوسَىٰ هَلْ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَىٰ أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمْتَ رُشْدًا

And Musa said to him (Khidr) “May I follow you so that you may teach me some of which you have been given from guidance?”
Quran 18:66

This humble approach gave Khidr full freedom to stipulate conditions on allowing Prophet Musa (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) to follow him, and to part ways when he chose to.


The Prophetic Example of leadership

وَاخْفِضْ جَنَاحَكَ لِمَنِ اتَّبَعَكَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

“And lower your wing to those who follow you from amongst the believers.”
Quran 26:215

النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَىٰ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ  

The Prophet is priority to the believers before their own selves…”
Quran 33:6

  • Part of the “priority” or greater right the Prophet ﷺ has over the believers, is in the fact that he would take responsibilities for the debts Muslims would owe in their death. His high rank came with taking on more responsibility for the believers.
  • In Khandaq (Battle of the Trench) The Prophet ﷺ was digging trenches along with his companions. He did not relax as others worked for him despite being the best of creation.
  • He would walk behind his companions.
  • Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, served the Prophet ﷺ for ten years, and stated that the Prophet ﷺ never asked him why he did something he did, or why he did not do something that he did not do.
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Making Sense of Islam podcast: On abuse in sufi tariqas and recovery

Making Sense of Islam podcast: On abuse in sufi tariqas and recovery


In this podcast, Danya and Danish focus on spiritual abuse in Sufi Tariqas and discuss different tactics of manipulation and abuse, the struggles people go through in spiritual groups, and what it means to trust religious institutions. Also mentioned are some ways In Shaykh’s Clothing has helped victims of spiritual abuse, and how we can work to protect our communities.

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Physical Beatings and Sexual Abuse in Islamic Schools

Physical Beatings and Sexual Abuse in Islamic Schools

This article was first posted in MuslimViews. Danish discusses beatings and sexual abuse in Islamic Schools.


Confronting Spiritual Abuse at our Islamic Institutions


SPIRITUAL abuse is any type of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual, financial) that occurs within a religious setting.

It is particularly damaging because, in addition to the effects commonly seen from the  particular form of abuse, abusers use religion to cause harm, which harms the religious lives of the victims.

Parents with religious concern often put their children in Islamic schools or Sunday schools to learn how to read Quran and obtain a basic Islamic education. They often trust that the children will not be harmed but, unfortunately, abuse is common in these settings, and may harm the children’s religious development and education, which was the very thing the parents were seeking to secure.

Physical and sexual abuse of students is an issue in Islamic schools across the world. Physical abuse of students often happens overtly, being excused in the name of tarbiya, although this is far from the Prophetic model. Sexual abuse often occurs in secrecy, and with few safeguards or policies in place, often continues unchecked. Enforcing a strict code of conduct in Islamic schools is a first step towards preventing spiritual abuse.

Physical abuse is a major issue in Islamic schools. It is essential for us to ask ourselves what effect the normalisation of abuse within Islamic environments, when considerable efforts have been made to stop abuse in secular environments, teaches children about Islam.

Children studying the Quran are often beaten and humiliated, and sometimes even adults are physically struck by angry teachers. This is far from the Prophetic way, as we know from the hadith of Aisha that the Prophet (SAW) never struck anyone outside of battle. (Muslim 2328)

We must then ask ourselves, why, as adults, we believe that physical abuse is normal in Islamic contexts. The conditions that allow for harsh reprimands to students as tarbiya are seldom met, let alone those for physical discipline, which may never be abuse. It is commonplace to see teachers make these transgressions out of anger, which itself  undermines any justification of moral edification (tarbiya) for the student.

Ibn Jama’a mentions in Tadhkirat as-Sami wal -Mutakallim fi Adab al-Alim wal Muta’allim that in some cases, a teacher’s harsh reprimand is acceptable if there is no fear of the student being discouraged by it. The best interest of the student has to always be at the forefront of even harsh verbal reprimands.

Imam al-Ghazali reminds teachers that they have a responsibility to be positive role models, and to treat students well in his Book of Knowledge. He mentions that a teacher should correct a student’s bad character in an indirect manner if possible and avoid directness,and that he should do so in a merciful way, not a harsh one.

The role of a teacher is to be an example in character and a conveyor of correct information. Instilling love in children for learning and in Islam is of the utmost importance. Love will last longer than intellectual arguments.

I know of shayukh in Muslim countries who have taken it upon themselves to preach to heads of Islamic schools to disallow any type of physical disciplining of students. One of the main reasons cited are the bad effects it has on students, even in their older age. This is compounded when leaving Islam is an easy option.

Another issue is that young and untrained students are often put in charge of children learning the Arabic alphabet or Quran, and these students often do not have the patience to teach children, and end up hitting them quite mercilessly. In such schools, there is no oversight or any checks and balances for how children are treated.

Being beaten in Islamic schools often leaves a lifelong negative association with Islam or religious figures in general. It is imperative that Islamic schools establish clear guides for how teachers may discipline students that centre the student’s dignity and do not justify outbursts by teachers. If teachers break these rules, or any law, it should be reported immediately with zero tolerance for the crime.

We need to show children that their wellbeing is our most important concern, and Islamic tarbiya simply does not allow for abuse. Every child has an inviolability, and abuse is a vile transgression of that inviolability. Another issue is sexual abuse.

This may be with children or young adults. There have to be preventative rules in place, such as no child ever being alone with an adult, there being more than one adult with children, and accountability for violating any of these rules.

Children should also be taught about boundaries, and what is or is not acceptable touch or conversation. It is imperative for parents to understand that being Muslim, an Islamic teacher or in an Islamic school does not make someone less likely to commit these horrific acts.

Parents must learn to notice signs of abuse in their children, let their children know to communicate any inappropriate behaviour, and not teach them to be submissive to authority figures. There is a major difference between respect and obsequiousness, and the more assertive a child is, the less of a target. Staff should also have training on sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, learn the laws regarding abuse and reporting it, as well as being trained on the school’s policies.

It is often difficult to prove sexual assault, and, unfortunately, in many cases, if the alleged crime cannot be proven it is dismissed as slander. For the protection of both students and staff, against assaults as well as false accusations, there have to be policies such as what we have come up with in our code of conduct so lesser violations can be proven, which have a lower standard of proof, such as being alone with a student or getting contact information of a student without permission from the administration.

By matching corresponding professional expectations, the basis of terminating such an employee is a violation of professional ethics and standards when a criminal offence may not be proven.

I have been involved in several such cases where the accuser did not feel there was enough evidence but, upon looking into the facts, many boundary violations were uncovered that sufficed in proving that the Islamic figure acted outside of professional ethics. When these standards are ambiguous, however, it is easy to exploit grey areas, and that is what a code of conduct eradicates, hence making accountability practical.

Teaching Islam is an amanah (sacred trust). Teachers and institutions are responsible for the students in their care. They must show that they make the well-being of their students a priority.

This is done by setting up policies, procedures and accountability mechanisms to ensure no abuse is tolerated. We need to win the hearts of Muslims to show that we care about safety, dignity and justice.

We can do this by being proactive in ensuring we deliver these ideals and that we are not concerned about just responding to scandals or having a good image but we are invested in the well-being of our present and future generations.


To contact, please email  To learn more about Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, click here.



This article was first published in Muslim Views, South Africa.

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Interview with Scholar and Female Mentor Ammarah Bholat

Interview with Scholar and Female Mentor Ammarah Bholat

Ustadha Ammarah was born and raised in Los Angeles CA. At a young age she travelled to England to pursue an Alimiyyah degree in Islamic Sciences. Over the next 6 years she studied Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, Aqeedah, Usul (foundations of jurisprudence), Arabic Grammar and gained guidance from many esteemed scholars of England. During this time she received ijazaat from scholars in the Islamic Sciences with isnād (a linked chain of the prophetic traditions from herself to the Prophet) in numerous books of hadith. Since then she has been involved in teaching Islamic Studies and lecturing in various mosques across the Bay Area.

Danish: Your seerah classes are really popular  masha’Allah. What are some points you emphasize in your classes?

Ustadha Ammarah: Many times the approach to Seerah is to learn facts about the Prophet’s life, however I focus more on the lessons and morals that we can learn from the Prophet’s life and how to apply them to our life.  Studying the Seerah naturally instills love for the Prophet in us, and that is one of the most important reasons to learn it.  When I teach young mothers, in addition to the lessons we have discussions on how to instill love for the Prophet in our children. Teaching children is different than teaching adults, and when I teach young mothers we often discuss methods of instilling the love of the Prophet SAW in our children.  This is critical because you can’t teach children advanced texts or fiqh, so you must teach them love of Allah, His Prophets, and about our beliefs. Teaching love at a young age will last longer than making Islam seem like a list of do’s and don’ts.

Danish: What are some main needs you see in the Muslim community?

Ustadha Ammarah: There are many needs, and certainly one of the most pressing needs is to have young female mentors for our younger girls and teenagers. I feel like we are heading in the right direction in many communities but there are still many that need young energetic male and female scholars that can relate with the youth and help them navigate through the challenges they face. We need older leaders the youth can look up to, but also young leaders they can relate to.

As a female teacher my main goal was to benefit the women in our community as Alhamdulillah we do have many male teachers. I’m often approached by women who have questions and are not comfortable approaching or speaking to male scholars about it.

I’m aware of many cases of divorce in which the women hesitated in speaking to the male scholars openly and it resulted in their husbands manipulating or changing the story while speaking to the scholar. In just this past year there was a case in which a women was either already divorced from her husband as he had said words of talaq but he would tell her that he explained the situation to a scholar and that the scholar said a divorce did not take place when in reality it had. Another woman had been stuck in a situation like this for three years without anyone she could turn to or feel comfortable speaking with.

It’s not enough to just say the women shouldn’t be shy and tell stories of Ansari women who were bold in asking questions. We have to understand the reality of our society and that many women just won’t initiate questions or that they will be trusting even with a man who is divorcing them. Thus communities need to take steps to make female resources available to women and point them in the right direction as well as encourage women to be proactive in learning.

Danish: What are some challenges you face?

Ustadha Ammarah: Overall my experience has been positive. I feel very fortunate to be respected and to be included in programming. However there are some challenges.

One challenge is balancing between family obligations and the responsibility we have to our community. I am very lucky to have an amazing example in my mother who, along with raising her children and handling all her family obligations, was still able to dedicate her time to her community. In addition to conducting classes throughout the week, she also had to dedicate so much of her personal time from marriage counseling, to answering fiqh questions throughout the day. There are times where she would receive phone calls at Suhoor time in Ramadan if a sister is unsure about her fast, or calls at night when women are in Hajj and need clarification on certain rulings. This work is often unnoticed especially if we as female scholars choose not to publish our lectures on YouTube or speak in conferences with both genders. Also, during Hajj women are often in need of support from female scholars. However, there still has not been much awareness of this need.

I have received calls from women who are in panic and call late at night from Makkah during the days of Hajj. If a woman’s menstruation starts before she has completed her Umrah or her Tawaaf Ziyarah the rules can get quite complicated. They are usually not comfortable speaking to the male scholars in their group and then struggle to find a female scholar to whom they can explain their situation.

Danish: What are some important lessons you learned about being a teacher and a leader?

Ustadha Ammarah: The importance of continuing to study and realizing this is a life’s journey. Additionally, acknowledging that the responsibility I have in the community is an amanah and trust for which I will be answerable to Allah.

Our teachers always emphasized the importance of dedicating time to the community. When completing our Aalimiyyah program, at our graduation ceremony our teachers place a white hijab over our heads. I remember one of our teachers explaining that this is a reminder for us that the responsibility of our Ummah lies in our hands. That made a profound impact on my life, and I always try to keep this in mind and strive to fulfill the sacred trust in a way that is most pleasing to Allah.

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