Author: Danish Qasim, Founder

Founder of In Shaykh's Clothing
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.

They will try to seek out information from women in the group. This includes intrusive details about their marriages. Details include: learning about cases of erectile dysfunction, sexual frustration, and other personal matters. The female murids will be pressured to answer these questions, and will be told it is for their own suluk. Some of these shaykhas may even send murids and muridas to spy on other families to understand their family dynamics and learn what they do inside the home. The collected personal information is then selectively spread to other women in the group. When someone leaves, personal information about their daughters or wife may be spread, which the shaykha had knowledge of or just made judgements from her imagination, but are accepted as a spiritual analysis of the women given her believed spiritual authority. Sometimes confidential information is shared publicly and explicitly; other times private emails will be forwarded; and other times, through whispers of truth mixed with lies, the target’s honor is attacked and he or she is left demoralized.

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.

 

Related article: https://inshaykhsclothing.com/home/intro/the-challenges-of-leaving-spiritually-abusive-groups/

 

To contact, please email Danish@inshaykhsclothing.com

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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.
#ICaughtLaylatulQadr.”

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.

Acceptance 

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  Danish@inshaykhsclothing.com

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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 https://www.patreon.com/suraqah.

 

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

 

To contact Danish Qasim directly, email  Danish@inshaykhsclothing.com

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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).

Introduction

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.

Gifts

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

https://www.makingsenseofislam.com/ep77/

 

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
DANISH QASIM

 

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 Danish@inshaykhsclothing.com.  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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When Abusers Die

When Abusers Die

“Take yourselves to account before you are taken to account, and weigh your actions before they are weighed for you.” – Umar Al-Khattab رضي الله عنه

Death Does Not Absolve Abuse

Throughout the Quran, Allah tells us that we will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment. Getting away with a crime in this world does not translate to getting away with it in the next world. Most oppressors will get away with their oppression in this life and only face its consequences in the hereafter. As the hadith mentions, “oppression is darkness on the Day of Judgment” (Bukhari).  Whether this oppression is cheating someone financially, assaulting them, insulting them, or backbiting them, those who were wronged in this life will have their claim on the Day of Judgment.

The Prophet ﷺ described the bankrupt person as one who has his good deeds taken by those he slandered, backbit, and harmed until he is left with no good deeds on the Day of Judgment, then goes to hell.

When a Muslim dies in debt, the creditor is given priority over inheritors. Death does not absolve debt, nor is it petty for the creditor to collect his debt.

Death is when accountability begins.

Helping the oppressor and the oppressed

When a Muslim who has oppressed others is dying, we should encourage that Muslim to ask for forgiveness, make amends, and take steps to right his wrongs. Death alone will not absolve his abuse; instead, he is entering an abode where accountability will begin, and it will soon be too late to ask for forgiveness. The Prophet ﷺ told us to not delay in the making up for wronging others and reminded us that we would be accountable in the hereafter, “Whoever has oppressed another person concerning his reputation or anything else, let him seek forgiveness today before there will be no money (as compensation). If he had good deeds, they will be taken from him in amounts commensurate to his oppression. And if he has no good deeds, the oppressed will have his sins removed in an amount commensurate to his oppression, and given to the oppressor” (Bukhari).

Reflecting on death should serve as a catalyst to right wrongs rather than trivialize wrongs as insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Crossing the Sirat (bridge) is one of the most serious moments we will ever endure. Falling entails going to hell, and after safely crossing it, believers will be in a place between heaven and hell in which they will take retribution upon one another for injustices in the world. They will be able to enter paradise once they have been purified from their oppression (Bukhari). Even with torment and salvation before our eyes, we will still want justice.

The Prophet ﷺ sent Mu’adh to non-Muslims in Yemen and said, “Fear the prayer of the oppressed as there is no barrier between his supplication and Allah” (Bukhari).

Betraying positions of trust and responsibility towards others is very serious. Leaders will be asked about how they led. Fornication and adultery are always heinous, but the Prophet  ﷺ  specifically mentioned the case of someone entrusted with looking after the wives of mujahids (soldiers) betraying his trust. The mujahid who is betrayed will be allowed by Allah to take all the good deeds he wants from the person he entrusted.  Note here that the wording of the hadith focuses on the betrayal of the one entrusted, not of the adulteress, nor of the illicit sexual action. This hadith on the betrayal of a position of trust and dishonoring someone in the path of Allah has a relevance to all religious leaders who try to engage in illicit or exploitative relationships with women through that position.

Forgiveness

One of the common issues when it comes to spiritual abuse is blaming victims for not forgiving their abusers.

“A spiritually abused survivor may persistently feel split into two conflicted emotional camps,” explains Sahar Abdulaziz, MS, author, and Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Advocate. “On the one hand, survivors are searching to replenish their stolen peace, spirituality, and security, while on the other, forced to face societies misplaced and often dangerous enthusiasm for protecting the abuser. However, what society repeatedly fails to comprehend are the ravages abusers leave behind, how victims become chronically impacted by the abuse they experienced, often with a dizzying concoction of emotional angst: anxiety, depression, guilt, fear, low self-esteem, and post-traumatic stress disorder, to name but a few. For many survivors, and to different degrees, the crimes leveled against them become a life sentence. It is inherently unacceptable to place the responsibility for an abuser’s soul on the victim. To then be further coerced, manipulated, pressured, or guilted into forgiving or visiting their abuser by family, friends, or the community is unthinkable and cruel.”

Example: One woman had been the secret temporary wife of a respected religious figure, but when he was nearing death, the same people who wanted to help her seek justice and acknowledged the wrongs he had committed against her, then turned on her and retroactively made her seem petty for raising negative issues about a dying man. Once sympathies for him outweighed sympathies for her, she was vilified.

This response is unfortunately common in moments when abusers die or are near death, and everyone is reminded of their mortality. Instead of working towards restorative justice, victims are expected to be the ‘bigger person’ and if not––vilified.

Below is a passage from Khaleel Ibn Abdullah Al-Shaybani Al-Nahlawi’s  Al-Durar al Mubahat Fi Al-Hazr wa al-Ibaha on forgiveness and justice:

“A person may hate another person if it is due to oppression. And if he is unable to take his right, then he may defer taking his right until the Day of Judgment. He may also forgive, and that is better, as Allah says, ‘And that you forgive is closer to taqwa.’ Quran (2:237)

And if a person is able to take his right, then he may still forgive, and this is better than the first case of forgiving (where one is not able to take his right). He may also avenge himself, which would be his right without any excess, and that is good justice. Allah says ‘And for the one who avenges himself after injustice, there is no blame on them’ (Quran 42:41).

However, avenging oneself may be more virtuous than forgiving for secondary considerations such as one’s forgiveness leading to an increase in the oppressor’s oppression. In such a case, avenging oneself would be a means for lessening oppression.

But avenging oneself may be better in some cases than forgiveness, for other considerations, like your forgiveness being a means for an increase in his oppressing [so he is enabled to continue to oppress others, especially if it is a righteous person so the oppressor is strengthened by demeaning a righteous person], and your avenging yourself will be a means of lessening his oppression.”

How you can respond to the pressure to forgive

When an abuser dies, their former victim will have friends and family who know of their abuse contact them, demanding they forgive. They will disregard their feelings, their privacy, and not ask any questions to see how the hurt party processing the event is handling the stress. They often will take the position that a person needs to forgive because ‘life is short, and ultimately, what happened doesn’t matter.’ A victim’s entire experience and the wrongs that occurred will be trivialized in an emotional moment and will be made out as the bad person who cannot forgive someone who has just died.

Do not accept this. Realize that the person who has wronged you needs your forgiveness. You may wish to rush to make amends with your abuser––and if you should do that––do so with the understanding that you are not the one who is at fault. You are being generous.

You may also feel hurt, betrayed, and confused when a friend or family member you had confided in about your abuse story assumes enough time has elapsed for you to get past the event. They may become sentimental about death and don’t believe your experience compares to what your abuser is going through. In turn, they use their ill-placed sentimentality and inability to mind their own business to pressure you into forgiveness.

Remember: These people may not have been there for you, were not advocates for you, did not confront the abuser for his harm to you, and did not care to remind him it’s bad to harm other people. They will however, not miss a beat to vilify you for not forgiving. Don’t accept this characterization. Be firm in your belief that the victim is never to be blamed, and you are not the one who needs a pep-talk.

If your abuser had been well-known, there is a good chance he will be commemorated as a pious Muslim. This will be especially difficult to hear knowing the truth. “Surviving abuse can often prompt one to take stock of family and friends and their value in our lives. Sometimes learning to be compassionate with ourselves is a far more difficult assignment than caring for others. Psychological pain can sometimes force us to care for and about ourselves in new and profound ways,” says Sahar Abdulaziz, MS (But You LOOK Just Fine, 2013) “Learning to accept and care for our psyche as it is now, and not simply as we would like it to be, is perhaps the biggest challenge and greatest achievement we can face under duress. Learning to honor our limitations, physical, psychological, and spiritual is a massive accomplishment. However, the emotional baggage left behind from abuse cannot be fixed by sheer will power and determination alone. In fact, this mindset can do more harm than good, especially when placed upon the shoulders of a survivor trying to push themselves through an unreasonable situation made worse by people provoking them ‘to get past it.’”

Although we are taught not to mention the faults of one who has died, this does not mean you need to play along with the abuser’s false reputation. Prepare for the moment ahead of time the best you can. Shut off your social media, don’t read the text messages, or look at the pictures that remind you of your abuse. If someone tries to belittle or fault you for not forgiving, be blunt in responding that whether or not you forgive the person is between you and Allah and that forgiveness does not entail an open declaration or a celebration of the individual, nor is forgiveness itself something you are required to do.

 

To contact Danish Qasim directly, email him at Danish@inshaykhsclothing.com.

 

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The Rehab Wife

The Rehab Wife

During the course of my work, I have been made aware and given direct knowledge of numerous incidents involving someone of religious standing discovered to have serial illicit relationships. Here I am not writing about sexual assault or secret marriages.  The focus of the article will be on serial illicit relationships, whether from a lack of personal development or sex addiction, and the inadequate and damaging responses by community leaders in addressing such behaviors.

Serial Illicit Relationships
In most of these cases, the men engaged in illicit relationships have been fairly young, ranging from huffaz in MSAs, to Quran reciters with fine voices, to youth-group leaders, and new imams who may have recently graduated from their vocational training. When their sexual misconduct comes to light, the immediate reactions from their former teachers or imams are pain and sadness, perhaps even embarrassment that someone they taught could do such a thing. Then, in a hush, these same seasoned teachers hastily begin prescribing marriage as the go-to answer to conquer their student’s issues and stop the problem. However, these are not cases of the men having a girlfriend and being advised to get married to make the relationship halal.  Rather, these are cases of non-committed serial illicit encounters in which they are advised to ‘just get married’ and settle down with a new woman, someone unaware, and bring an unsuspecting sister into a life full of problems.

This is grave mistake.
These men are not fit for marriage.

These men must first deal with their own struggles, whether it be an impulse control issue, or uncontrolled hormones. Additionally, there needs to be a major behavioral overhaul before these types of individuals will ever be fit to be husbands.  However, the burden to resolve their depravity should never be thrust upon the shoulders of unsuspecting women. Women are not tools, and they certainly are not depositories for broken men.

Will prescribing a halal relationship truly be a viable solution to rehabilitate unfettered sexual behavior? And if so, at what cost to his wife? Any woman asked or expected to join in matrimony with such a man––to become his living, breathing band-aid to ‘fix’ his sexual debauchery will have a horrible marriage.  The leaders in trusted positions vouching for such a spouse should feel responsible for her pain, her scars, and her life-long nightmares from being placed in such a destructive union.

How do we in good conscience ignore all of the other righteous imperatives of a successful, healthy marriage as well as the well-being of a sister entering matrimony with a man already found guilty of sexual misconduct? What kind of rationale recommends an innocent person serve as a ‘halal’ sexual outlet for a known deviant?  No one in their right mind would or should advise–or expect a woman they truly care about to marry such a man.

Islamically, when we think of helping men with impropriety issues, our solution should never be at the sacrifice of a sister’s well-being. Such a marriage not only portends infidelity but can also put her at alarming risk for contracting STDs. Furthermore, her emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being is placed in terrible jeopardy, all because- somehow––she is supposed to heal the lecherous ills that lurk in the mind and body of her husband. Marriage is supposed to be a covering to protect one another from damage and injury–not a union to inflict it.

From my experience, even when the person is considered institutionally and communally insignificant in terms of religious position, their Quran teachers, sometimes community imams, can’t help but still see them as the charming boys they once knew and saw growing up…’the fruits of their labor,’ who may now be leading youth groups or tarawih prayers.  However, this is not an acceptable excuse to quietly finagle some patchwork, while hiding their former student’s serious issues under the proverbial prayer rug.  Concern for these men is no excuse to place other women in a situation where they will be subjected to harm.

Examples of Serial Illicit Behavior and Poor Response From Leaders
In one instance, I was informed by a group of imams about a case in which they intervened when one of their peers–another imam, was having illicit relations with multiple women. When I asked what recourse they took, they just replied that they had ‘assumed the problem went away when he [the offender] got married.’ Not surprisingly, this imam not only did not stop his predatory behavior but compounded his licentious behavior–only now as a married man.

It is grossly naïve and ignorant to assume that the prescription for inappropriate sexual behavior is marriage. Much like when mothers learn of their sons’ improprieties and think a girl from overseas will ‘stabilize him and fix the problem,’ all this does is set someone else’s daughter up for major issues and pain.

Some of these men claim to enjoy the thrill of seduction and consider a woman ‘conquered’ if she stops playing hard to get. Then they lose interest and text different women to prove that they can break barriers of modesty.  They revel in lascivious chats and simply carry on doing the same thing to other women. They use digital communication to play these conquests out like a video game.

In a hadith, the Prophet (ﷺ), addressed the youth saying, “Oh young people, whoever from amongst you is able to marry should get married. Indeed, it aids one in guarding his eyes and private parts. And whoever is not able to should fast, as that enervates desires.” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Financial ability is only one aspect of marriage. We also have to factor in psychological readiness, maturity, and emotional readiness for marriage to prevent harm to either spouse.  Furthermore, when one is not able to fulfill these requirements of marriage, fasting is the better option.  Marriage helps those who are struggling to preserve chastity, but we cannot be misled into thinking that marriage will help someone with a debaucherous lifestyle, or issues that are closer to a sex addiction.

Faltering in appropriateness can sometimes be a part of growing pains, an adolescence of confusion, and lack of emotional intelligence to temper hormones, for sure. However, if we are to confuse hyper-sexual behavior as an immaturity that is a byproduct of culture and age, we are only creating and fostering a bigger disaster.  We must also recognize that porn addiction is a significant problem among Muslims. Pornography has played a significant role in altering healthy views on relationships, objectifying men and women, dissatisfaction in marriage, and other growing concerns. Whatever the cause may be, it is for those advising these individuals to help them mature into healthy partners.   Leaders who advise them to marry are cutting them too much slack.  Even if someone with these issues were to marry, and did so for social-religious reasons, he may have the facade of a happy family, but still engage in the same behavior or become incredibly depressed – which will adversely affect his family. When teachers get involved, they need to advise the person to seek professional help and ensure that he does not assume a leadership position prior to addressing his underlying issues of impulsivity.

Sex Addiction
Sex addiction is a serious disease not to be taken lightly and it must be addressed in professional treatment. An individual struggling with sex addiction can engage in extensive pornography use, extramarital affairs, and impulsive sexual encounters. It is a complex disease that can affect every aspect of an individual’s life and both men and women can suffer from it.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Juhayna Ajami explains, “Sex addiction is similar to drug and alcohol addiction, in that it works in the same part of the brain and involves the neurotransmitter dopamine. Addicts struggle to bond with others due to early insecure attachments to their caregivers. They also often have histories of trauma and they learned to regulate their emotions and soothe themselves by engaging in potentially harmful behavior (e.g., drinking, using drugs, or participating in sexual activity). When they are triggered (by negative experiences, thoughts, or feelings) and engage in the behavior, they lose touch with reality and do not consider the negative consequences of their actions. Subsequently, they are overcome with immense shame and guilt once they realize what they have done. This then further triggers the addictive behavior and continues the cycle. Additionally, the addict’s struggle to bond with or attach to their spouse would negatively impact his/her ability to fully participate in a marital relationship. It would also likely exacerbate their shame and further fuel the addictive behavior.”

The most successful treatment for sex addiction is individual and group therapy as well as a 12 step program. It should also involve one’s family if possible, both to support the addict and for the family to obtain support for themselves. In fact, experts in the field have found that addiction has a significant impact on the entire family and that the spouse of an addict is often traumatized and in need of treatment.

People who are suffering from a sex addiction will continue to do so in silence if we fool them into thinking that the solution to their problem is getting married. Not only is this a disservice to the unwitting spouse, but it is harmful to the addict who often has a history of unresolved trauma and does not know where to turn for help. When the prescribed treatment of marriage fails, this will only further exacerbate his pain, shame, guilt, and ultimately- his addiction.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Saadia Z. Yunus explains that in this scenario, “Even though they have every intent to leave their addiction, the withdrawals, slips, and potential continued addiction will be part and parcel of the marriage, something they will not be able to ignore or escape.  The same is true with men who have sexual addictions and vices who get married to an unsuspecting woman.  There is no way these vices will disappear because there are underlying issues that need to be addressed in therapy.  Therapy is the place in which he will gain an understanding of his internal struggles and how to overcome them.  It is a place that will determine if he needs further treatment.  Once he has successfully completed treatment, it can be reassessed at that time as to whether he is fit for marriage.”

Conclusion
There is much to consider with these kinds of multi-layered situations. There are no quick fixes, but therapy is a good start. Whether sexual improprieties are the result of immaturity or sex addiction, a person needs to get well before being encouraged to marry.  Hiding this behavior from prospective spouses only sets them up for turmoil. Women are not, nor should they ever be expected to be the cure for men’s sexual deviance or improprieties. Muslims advising or intervening in such a situation cannot prescribe proper treatments if they continue to ignore, misdiagnose, or make excuses for the illness. Marriage is not a solution in this instance, and as such we should never set a sister up to become a rehab-wife.

 

To contact Danish Qasim directly, email him at Danish@inshaykhsclothing.com.

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Sufi Tariqas with Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi

Sufi Tariqas with Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the practices of Sufi tariqas (orders) as well as the role of the shaykh in said tariqas. Where did tariqa originate from and what exactly is the role of the shaykh within a tariqa? How does a shaykh help his mureed (disciple)  and are there limits to how much a shaykh can help his mureed? I sat down with Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi, who is licensed in tariqa, to shed some light on these oft-misunderstood matters. 

We hope this serves as a resource for what a tariqa is supposed to be. 

 

Shaykh Tameem has translated Reformation of Character by Ḥaḍrat Mawlānā Ḥakīm Muḥammad Akhtar (may Allah have mercy on him). For more, please visit https://nurinstitute.com/

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