Author: Danish Qasim, Founder

Founder of In Shaykh's Clothing
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


To contact Danish Qasim directly, email

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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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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.


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


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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.”

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

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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

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The Art of Creating Codes of Conduct for Islamic Institutions

The Art of Creating Codes of Conduct for Islamic Institutions


When we at In Shaykh’s Clothing makes policies for organizations, we use corresponding national standards as a guide and work with organizations to determine their best practices and ethical expectations based on their Islamic understanding. This is the only way to have concepts such as inappropriate behavior and unethical behavior clearly defined and actionable.

The diversity in the Muslim community in North America cannot be overstated. Sharia (Islamic Law) is our common denominator, however, there is significant diversity and differences of opinion on rulings that make universal standards in most areas impossible.

Religious communities have different conceptions of appropriate behavior, having various degrees of evidence from the sharia. Not all are necessarily equal, but they are valid. There is no Islamic qadi (judge) to throw out unfavorable opinions nor is there an enforcement mechanism for which views should be practiced. This creates a free-for-all that is used to justify abuse which reduces ‘bad’ to only something that is haram by consensus. Sharia minimums are not how any functioning society or group should decide what is appropriate. Sharia recognizes local customs and regional standards (called “Urf”) and is flexible to accommodate them in matters which are not forbidden. What is culturally unacceptable and what we deem ‘wrong’ even if not universally haram (forbidden) has more to do with awareness of our own context. For example, understanding that certain behavior is bad based on experience that shows these actions are known to lead to the illicit. Also, in terms of sexual harassment or flirtatious behavior, sexually suggestive actions such as gestures, expressions, and signals are mostly culturally defined. What is considered an inappropriate gesture in one culture may not be in another, but cannot be justified vis-a-vis a different culture. For example using the middle-finger in America wouldn’t be justified as not offensive due to it being a positive symbol in Japan. The clarity that is supposed to come with culture ends up being a source of confusion, since we have many different cultures, subcultures, and religious approaches which makes appropriate behavior difficult to standardize.
‘Urf is also important in setting up professional expectations. These expectations should be congruent with the corresponding American profession. For example, an Islamic teacher in an Islamic school has similar professional expectations as a math teacher in a public school. This matters because when parents send their children to school, they expect the same professional standards any other parent expects in a public school.

Baseline Sharia Directives Are Not Enough to Dictate Ethics

In many cases of abuse, the actions of the perpetrator are not technically haram. This is often used as an excuse to justify unethical behavior. Nevertheless, these arguments are made on two faulty assumptions: 1). It’s not wrong if it’s not haram and 2) You can look at actions devoid of context.

As part of our policy-drafting expertise, we ensure there is language present to make it more difficult for perpetrators to use these faulty arguments to cover for their abuses. We emphasize contracts to circumvent these arguments. To this end, when drafting policies, we develop ethical guidelines by referring to baseline principles (qawa`id) like the prevention of harm, prevention of fitnah, and maslaha (public interest). This could render a halal action haram based on what it may lead to. For example, a man and a woman talking in a public space is halal, but if one knows it can reasonably lead to some inappropriate relationship it would not be halal in that particular situation. Or taking a halal action and determining it to be haram due to harm caused in our time, for example not performing a marriage the woman’s father does not agree to or is not informed about. Although we are not instituting fatwas, it is through this understanding that we may discuss ethics thus developing best practices and have a way of having concrete parameters for adab, or appropriateness.

Below are  scenarios that are arguably technically halal if examined in a vacuum. Though not technically haram, these scenarios demonstrate the importance of considering the principles stated above when drafting ethical policies:

1. Teacher at an Islamic K-8 marries a 13 year old pubescent girl without her parents knowing. He takes the Hanafi view that her father’s permission is not needed. Barring legality, what is wrong with this Islamically?

This involves deception of parents, violation of their trust (they didn’t send their daughter to school to get married), violation of customary duties of a teacher, and probably breach of contract with their employer (who either explicitly or at implicitly – and established by custom – holds that teachers should not pursue students). Also, this includes harm to the girl as established by `urf which can be backed by psychologists as experts for mental harm. This is also illegal, not just as a teacher but by U.S. law.

This will seem obviously wrong to most Muslims, but I have actually engaged respected Islamic teachers who have justified the above scenario. Most reject this action, but when someone they already respect commits such an action, ‘technical’ arguments are made to minimize the action. Although this offense is easier to prosecute due to local laws, recognizing it as wrong from the beginning makes it easier to report and prevent.

2. A woman is over 18 and her teacher marries her without informing her parents. He argues that this is allowed in the Hanafi school. This is legal, there is no religion used to get her to fall in love or manipulate into the marriage.

The issue with regards to what is considered within the expectations of the teacher’s behavior as per `urf would be a determining factor for how ethical this action was. Was there a violation of an implicit trust? This scenario would be difficult to render haram or wrong without an explicit contractual ethical violation.

3. A shaykh marries a vulnerable convert woman he has influence over and can steer her in his direction. He exploits her vulnerabilities and marries her but fulfills her rights as a wife.

The man may argue that there is no explicit text against his behavior and in fact there is a general encouragement in the religion to marry. Without a specific, clear, and objective code of conduct for the organization that is publicized, neither the woman nor the religious figure will be operating outside of ethical boundaries established by the community. Note that the boundaries may not be consistent from community to community. Some communities may have no problem with this, and others may want a waiting period from her conversion. What is important is that  conduct that is approved be clear and objective so people can make adjustments accordingly.

4. A Qur’an teacher insists that it is perfectly halal for him and his minor-child student to be alone in a closed door because it is not khalwa (khalwa only applies to men and women) despite the parent feeling uncomfortable with the child being alone with the Qur’an teacher.

Though there is nothing in our primary sources that says a man and a child being alone is prohibited, this was identified by many scholars as a compromising setting, and there are historical edicts issued which prohibited the seclusion of a man with a child, including pre-pubescent boys, to prevent child sexual abuse. This was recognized as an avenue to the haram, and was therefore declared contingently haram. In America, some Quran schools have a policy in which they do not allow a teacher to ever be alone with a child. This is not the law, nor is it haram, but it is prudent to follow this standard given what we know about how child sexual abuse takes place so institutions adopt it as a contractual condition.


Khalwa is seclusion between a man and a woman who are not married or directly related in which sexual intercourse may take place without a likelihood of others entering. You can note from this definition, a host of other sins may take place in settings which are not intrinsically haram. The fact that the setting is not intrinsically haram, in no way suggests that it is appropriate or won’t lead to haram

Below are two real examples of abuse in which following only the rules of khalwa will not prevent abuse:

1. A shaykh would meet with women in an office room. This office had a window in a hallway that others could pass by if also in the building. After a series of meetings with no incident, and while others were present in the building, the shaykh unexpectedly touched the woman’s knee and kissed her. She walks out of the room, and he spins the story as her coming on to him and him rejecting her.

2. An imam insists on driving alone with a student at night. She expresses discomfort and tells him that she doesn’t think it’s allowed as no one will be there. He tells her it’s not khalwa because the car has windows and others on the road can see them. She maintains that she doesn’t think it’s appropriate, and he makes fun of her and emphasizes that this is not a big deal. She doubts herself and complies. He touches her legs at different moments and she waits for the ride to end before leaving and cutting off contact with him.

Both of these incidents could have been prevented if boundaries were clearly defined. If the concern were professional boundaries opposed to a sharia definition of khalwa, and this were clearly outlined to all members in the organization, there would be a firm grounds for refusal to meet in the above mentioned settings.

A Code of Conduct Makes Enforcement Consistent

That gut feeling of ‘this is wrong’ that a person feels when being pressured into an inappropriate setting despite it being halal should be trusted. If this is not spelled out however, such as by stipulating in an organization “no male and female employee can be alone in the conference room even if there is a window” it would be difficult for somebody to demand that as a norm. Having this set as a rule allows one to argue about appropriateness without having to prove the setting is haram by consensus. If you don’t have this stipulation and someone says they are uncomfortable, or something happens in this situation, it is difficult for that person to claim the inappropriate meetings shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Victims are often too terrified to speak out. A few reasons include: 1) Being traumatized, 2) They don’t think anyone will believe them, and 3) Not sure they’ll be protected even if they do come out. If there is no policy, there’s no explicit statement to say what happened is bad. They may retreat in their own world and say ‘maybe it wasn’t wrong.’ They question their own experience to see if it was wrong or not. They may get into doubts ‘was I actually abused?’ Others to whom they complain also interrogate them asking ‘is it real khalwa?’ ‘Are you sure you aren’t exaggerating?’ Are you mis-remembering?’ But if the policy says ‘you can’t be alone’ the moment the guy shuts the door, that is enough. They should also be ensured that their complaints won’t be used against them or made public.

Other examples of differing views on appropriateness include the long debate over whether we should have dividers or not in the masjid. Both sides have valid points. Another example is taking photos with the opposite sex. Some Muslims may find male teachers taking photos with female students reprehensible. Others will take issue with female teachers appearing on video or flyers, or men and women learning in a room with no dividers and these actions will be seen as a sign of immodesty and lack of spirituality, but to other learned practicing Muslims it will be perfectly normal and respectable. We can’t expect universal agreement on these issues, and since we cannot come to a consensus, these cannot be matters of national policies or standards.

Often in Muslim organizations, there are vague stipulations that amount to promising to uphold the highest standards of Muslim conduct. Such vague injunctions are impossible to enforce consistently because they can mean anything to anybody. Clear and objective standards of conduct make it easy to go through the fact finding process:

Here is a hypothetical example: A teacher at an Islamic school asks a 16 year old for her number in a private setting. She alleges it was in a suggestive tone but the teacher says her father is a friend of his so he just wanted to talk to him.

This is a classic he said-she said scenario. Both parties should be called in and questioned individually. What do you do without other direct evidence? At this point, you go to surrounding factors relating to the scenario and circumstantial evidence. Under which circumstances would a teacher need to ask a student in a private setting? As an institution this is on file, why isn’t he asking the administration? A problem here is the blending of a personal matter, the claim that he wants to speak to his friend, and the professional expectation of only receiving the number from the school. Here, the teacher should be disciplined for not following professional procedures, regardless if his side of the story were true. This is how you avoid the he “said-she said” and avoid the mess of when things are allowed to escalate.

It is important to have expectations, standards, and a code of conduct laid out as clearly as possible. It is not feasible to have a code of conduct beyond basic professional standards as our diverse community varies greatly in particulars. ‘Inappropriate’ behavior, while halal and legal, can be difficult to identify and firmly avoid if it is not made clear. Secondly, each member on staff needs to be able to report violations. This is why we work with organizations to create policies that match national standards and customize guidelines that may vary, and we train staff how to handle violations.

The most practical solution is for each organization to have its own set of policies on shared values. By binding themselves to this contract, shar`i issues are avoided. People who are more conservative in their social relations are free to implement norms that are halal and congruent with their conservatism, while those who have a more lax understanding can have corresponding halal norms. Even from a shar`i perspective, the whole goal of a contract is to erase disputes. Defining what the appropriate guidelines are in the employment contract is one way to do that.


It is virtually impossible for a Muslim organization to effectively handle a scandal involving multiple victims against a prominent (or not so prominent) member of the organization. Having a clear code of conduct, an established confidential complaint system, a standardized mechanism for investigating allegations without a conflict of interest, and standardized approaches to dealing with improper conduct consistent with legal obligations is the best way to catch and address problems early before they become a full-blown crisis.

With social media in particular, religious organizations cannot continue to put their heads in the sand and hope nothing happens. It is time for every organization to take a hard look at a standardized code of conduct that is consistent with best practices for running nonprofit organizations, and takes into account our religious sensibilities.

We at In Shaykh’s Clothing have years of experience in training and creating ethical policies in the context of Muslim leadership. Our team is comprised of Muslim scholars, experts in narcissism, professional certified coaches, and attorneys. If your organization or institution is in need of policies , contact us at For more on our services, click here.

You can contact Danish Qasim directly at


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