Author: Danish Qasim, Founder

Founder of In Shaykh's Clothing
Danish Qasim Interviews Local Scholar and Female Mentor Ammarah Bholat

Danish Qasim Interviews Local 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.

Share this post:
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.

 

Share this post:
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.

Share this post:
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/

Share this post:
The Art of Creating Codes of Conduct for Islamic Institutions

The Art of Creating Codes of Conduct for Islamic Institutions

Introduction

When our team 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

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.

Conclusion

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 info@inshaykhsclothing.com. For more on our services, click here.

You can contact Danish Qasim directly at Danish@inshaykhsclothing.com.

 

Share this post:
Is the knowledge tainted?

Is the knowledge tainted?

We have unfortunately created a culture of praise where we vouch for someone’s piety without truly knowing them. We see fan pages for teachers and social media comments loaded with praise from people who do not truly know them. We also have a tendency to see someone’s work or their positive results as proof of piety.  Though we should presume innocence and have a good opinion of our brothers and sisters in Islam, piety is a special station that needs to be proven. Piety is not the same as a general blank slate and positive opinion. We have to do our part of not creating a culture where teachers or scholars become so revered that abuse is unfathomable, or when we do learn of abuse we just say ‘no one is infallible’ to minimize cases of truly predatory abuse.

We need to come to terms with the reality that shaykhs can be abusers. In some cases when we hear of spiritual abuse we attempt to comfort ourselves that it was not perpetrated by a ‘real shaykh.’ Or we may tell ourselves that the abuse was the doing of a daai (preacher) or someone who is called shaykh, but would not be considered a scholar in the Muslim world. Or we may tell ourselves that this person has a lot of knowledge, but lacks suhba (companionship) of a true shaykh, and thus did not take the means to spiritually develop along with his knowledge.

Though the above self-assurances are sometimes true, how do we handle a situation when the perpetrator is a ‘real’ shaykh? That is, someone born and raised among scholars and saints of the highest caliber, someone who memorized the Quran as a child, then memorized books of law, Arabic, logic, tasawuf, and exemplified the highest level of understanding, and was authorized to teach—what then?

One real-life example is a shaykh of tariqa, who is certified through an authentic chain and is a scholar of the outward sciences. His offenses include telling women he is their spiritual father and can be in khalwa (forbidden seclusion) with them, that they don’t need to wear hijab around him, and that he can touch them. He also conducted exorcisms “requiring” touching of their breasts. This issue was brought up to scholars of the locale who fortunately refuted the scholar’s false assertions.  Another shaykh pressured his student, who was seeking religious advice from him, for a secret marriage, saying he is her spiritual father and she should just submit to him. He pressured her to not tell her parents or his wife. Ultimately she did not marry him.

These examples are from shayukh who are very knowledgeable, fit global standards of scholarship, and were extremely respected as pious people. Their knowledge equipped them with loopholes to bend the law, and their status created the cover to lie and invent exceptions for themselves. The abuse was hidden from the larger community and difficult to believe at first for others.

When we see high level scholars abusing their position, rather than avoiding the reality that “true scholars” can be abusers, we should return to the warnings of the Prophet (sws) about the evil scholars and insincere preachers. Witnessing corruption amongst scholars and preachers should increase our faith because we are witnessing a phenomenon he explained.

This leads to a few questions:

Is the knowledge conveyed by abusers tainted?

The simple answer is no. The feeling of knowledge being tainted is a negative association.

There is a natural association established between knowledge learned and the one who taught that knowledge. This is supposed to be a positive association and it is why we emphasize learning with righteous teachers, in their company, in hopes that students benefit from the character and spiritual state of the teacher. The mother of Imam Malik would tell him to take from his teacher’s forbearance before taking from his knowledge. Studying with teachers who are pious and role models is the Islamic ideal.

Just the gift of not seeing your teacher’s flaws helps magnify the knowledge learned by them. Imam Nawawi would give sadaqa in the form of dua just to not see any blemish in his teacher.

Unfortunately when a teacher lives a double life of contradicting the morals he espouses in public, many can’t help but reflect that hypocrisy back on the knowledge itself. This devalues knowledge. A common sentiment to those who looked up to such teachers is “what’s the point of learning if this is what people do when they have knowledge?” Others have been unable to separate their relationship with an abusive teacher and their relationship with Allah. In cases of children molested by Quran teachers, I know of instances where the Quran is a trigger. This is a tragedy—the recitation which is supposed to remind one of God, have one listen attentively out of awe, joy, and reverence triggers the trauma of sexual assault.

One scholar and close teacher of mine told me that he remembers being beaten as a child during his Quran memorization for having difficulty with certain short chapters. He says that 40 years later, he sometimes has flashbacks of being hit when he recites those verses.

A few sisters have told me that when a qari with beautiful Quranic recitation pursued them for illicit relationships, they didn’t want to listen to the Quran anymore and that it would just remind them of the qari.

So although these negative associations are very real and have long term impacts on learners, they must be separated from the knowledge itself. For example, if one learned Arabic from an openly sinning Muslim teacher, the language the student learned remains Arabic. What matters for the soundness of the knowledge is whether or not it was taught and learned properly.

As the hadith Shaykh Rami mentions in this video illustrates, knowledge that is not practiced upon by the scholar may still benefit others to the point of their entrance to paradise while the scholar who taught it and did not practice went to hell. This is a clear example of knowledge not being tainted by contradiction, lack of practice, or outright hypocrisy.

As Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib said, “Know men by the truth, and not the truth by people. If you know the truth, you know its people.”

So although the teacher’s hypocrisy or abuse does not invalidate the knowledge, we must understand the reality of negative associations created by such behavior. Inversely, teachers who create a positive experience for students play a vital role in developing love for Allah and His religion that may last a lifetime.

Is the ijaaza valid?

I asked this question to Dr. Omar Qureshi, who told me that his own teacher told him that if an ijaaza was given by a teacher before his fisq (corruption) was known, then the ijaaza is valid. This holds true for an ijaaza in a science or text as well as in sulook (spiritual guidance). One should not continue studying with the teacher and it is advisable for the person to seek an ijaaza from another qualified teacher.

What should one do when they see abusive behavior?

Students should leave such teachers immediately and look for alternatives. If one is capable, can reasonably anticipate being believed and not creating a bigger problem, it would be good to also warn others, even if this is a small segment that may be receptive.

Generally, we should interact with teachers as we would with a teacher of any other subject. Although the knowledge itself is sacred, there is no more of a need to take a fiqh or aqida teacher as a role model than there is to take a biology teacher as a role model. Just as one can respect a biology teacher and learn from him without concern for his personal life, it’s prudent in our time to learn the same way from our Islamic teachers.

Lastly, even pious people can make mistakes; no one is protected from sin except for the prophets. Everyone is struggling with the same enemies – nafs, hawa’, shaytan, and dunya – and while spiritual training might make the best shaykhs rise above those enemies, it is no guarantee that they will remain that way. There are plenty of stories of saints and scholars stumbling and even falling from the path. The goal of this deen is to take from scholars in our pursuit of Allah, not in the pursuit of those same scholars. We may admire and love them, but our souls are in our own hands and we need to prioritize that over everything else. It is Allah we should be drawing nearer to, and these teachers should only serve as human conduits of learning.

 

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

Share this post:
Money, Women, and Trust: Interview with Mufti Nawaz

Money, Women, and Trust: Interview with Mufti Nawaz

This is Part 2 of our interview with Mufti Nawaz. (Click here for Part 1). In this interview we focus on the benefit of religious teachers exercising precaution in dealings with the opposite sex and money, as well as the need for all Muslims to not blindly trust religious leaders.

Mufti Nawaz studied in South Africa where he obtained ijaazah to teach the traditional Islamic sciences and an ijaazah in iftaa (issuing legal opinions). He currently serves as religious director for Masjid al-Hilaal in California and is a founder of Darus Suffah.

Danish: What are some challenges in being an imam?

Mufti Nawaz: An imam, a scholar, a community leader is just like any other human. He has problems like everyone else and has evils within him like everyone else. It’s a responsibility on the imam but also on the community to be careful in interactions.

Even now, in America, people treat what an imam says as wahi (revelation). This puts them in too sacred of positions and that is harmful. I know many imams who began probably with good intentions, but when put in that position, they were overtaken.

Danish: Can you give examples of what those imams fell into?

Mufti Nawaz: I know of cases where there were women picking up and driving these imams to the class they will teach. Leave the debate on permissibility and impermissibility here, taking advantage of eager volunteers and not displaying proper adab is wrong.

Danish: How do you interact with women?

Mufti Nawaz: When people call me to give advice on their marital situation, or any other problem to help them, I go and meet them but I exercise precaution. My shaykh told me certain things I can’t do. For example, if a woman calls me I will make sure I’m in front of my wife. That’s what my shaykh told me. Or I’ll make sure I’m in the house and she knows I’m on the phone with a woman, because I have nafs and shaytan too. It’s not that she cares, it’s for my own self. When couples ask for advice, I try to meet at the masjid or a public place. I’ve met couples in the masjid where there is enough privacy for a conversation, but also plenty of visibility. You want privacy but not too much.

In certain instances if a woman needs advice in a matter I would go to their house on the condition that there is always a male present. We have to be careful because it’s a natural inclination God put in men.

In some emergency cases, women will ask me to come to their house and say their husband is out of town so there will be no male. Here you have to say no, and these opportunities come up when you are a religious leader for anyone to exploit, but you have to set boundaries. I have a strict way of dealing with these things, so you can imagine how it’s easier to fall when people have less boundaries. One sister told me she wanted me to come after Maghreb when no one is home and I had to reject that obviously.

Danish: A lot of people will find rukhsas and loopholes to justify loose interaction. I see more knowledge has actually made you stricter, why is that?

Mufti Nawaz: In certain things where sharia permits “loopholes” or the rukhsa (dispensation) we also encourage it. But in certain matters you should adopt the strictest opinions. My shaykh, Maulana Abdul Hameed Saab (may Allah preserve him) would always tell students who were graduating and to visiting graduates, that there are two avenues you need to take the strictest positions: 1. When dealing with women 2. When dealing with money. If you can protect yourself here, you will be on the right track.

Women and Money require the most strictness. Some hadith mention women as the greatest fitna (test) for men and others mention money, so these are areas which require the most caution. Our deen teaches us that when it comes to these matters, be as transparent as possible.


These are the two areas imams generally delve into completely. I recently met a brother who does ruqya and he mentioned different opinions on gender interaction, but I advised he take the strictest opinion here given the nature of close interaction during ruqya.


From our teachers and mashayikh (scholars) we were taught that this precaution is not just for women, but also for little children, which sounds weird but you see the reality of that later in life.

In terms of “loopholes” and rukhsas, we will keep that for other matters like ibada (ritual worship). But when it comes to money and women, we will be strict. Unfortunately this is something many people can’t appreciate and many women even feel disrespected if we don’t look at them, but we do it out of self-protection. Inshallah this is something we won’t ever compromise in.

There are other imams who will have very loose interaction and even if they do nothing bad, it can put them in mawadi al-tuhm-(a place of doubt). But one thing is to do it, another is to put pictures of it on the internet.  It’s even worse to take these photos sitting right next to female students and almost touching her as a point of promotion for your events and how you are open in your gender interaction. And the sister’s reputation may suffer as a result. It’s as if this is normal but it isn’t supposed to be. Imams need to understand that with the authority Allah has given them, they have more of a responsibility. You will safeguard yourself and the deen by not taking any rukhsas in these matters.

Danish: Can you expound on your teacher’s advice in terms of money?

Mufti Nawaz: Our teachers advised that when it comes to money, put yourself in a position where you won’t be blamed for anything. You have imams who count donations after Jummah. Even in a corporate setting this is a conflict of interest. Your salary may come from that, so it’s not befitting. We have cases in which imams were caught stealing money, and it’s not the first time you steal you are caught. You get so comfortable you get caught being sloppy, via cameras, etc.

In terms of qurbani (ritual animal slaughtering) , we collect qurbani money for the poor in different African countries. For donations we collect through Darus Suffah with complete transparency but qurbani usually is cash only. Now, for that if anyone gives money for qurbani we make them sign a paper in front of two witnesses affirming the amount given. This still isn’t enough transparency because you can do whatever you want with that and they won’t know, so what we are trying to do is put these projects under Darus Suffah. We have nothing to do with money. Just tonight someone came and gave me $200 for zakat, but I’m going to give  it to our treasurer today.

Loans

We are told in the Quran to “then write them out” – when you take a debt.  The first thing you do is document it. When it comes to money, transparency is essential. When as a religious teacher you want something, like a recorder and people are ready to give it to you- don’t just accept it- ask how much it costs and purchase it. This is another problem, people like imams or other respectable community members, when they take a loan from someone it burdens that person because it’s hard for them to ask for the money back. Our teachers told us not to ask anyone for loans. This was a principle of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (RA), he would say “I don’t take loans, I don’t give loans.” Loans have the potential to break relationships, but if one is in need, be very transparent.

Danish: How do you deal with fundraising?

Mufti Nawaz: If I fundraise, I make sure it’s legal and ethical. In terms of others fundraising, someone showed up at my masjid saying “my cousin is starting a masjid in Afghanistan, can we fundraise in your masjid.” I said only if its legal (raising for a non profit, etc.). He told me “but we’re doing it for Allah” and I told him “I’m not denying that you’re doing it for Allah, but we also have laws to follow.” I’m not going to raise cash without having transparency on where the money is going. I’ve had people get upset when I don’t let them pass out flyers for good causes unless they have gone through the protocol of us verifying where the funds go. I’ve refused charities passing donation flyers from people that I trust just to stick to the principle.

Our deen teaches us to be as transparent as possible. Look at what Islam says about transactions,

البيِّعانِ بالخيار ما لم يتفرَّقا، فإن صدقا وبيَّنا بورك لهما في بيعهما، وإن كذبا وكتما محقت بركة بيعهما

The buyer and the seller have the option of returning an item as long as they don’t separate. And if they make everything clear, then they are blessed in their transaction. If they lie and conceal (faults), the blessing will be removed. (Bukhari and Muslim)

So we try our utmost to be transparent in our interactions.

We have a zakat form for our institutions collecting zakat. We have full records of receipts including for staples, and that’s how it should be.
There’s more of a responsibility because I’m not being asked to do any of this. It’s important to be proactive because there is no accountability from the community- they just trust me. Sometimes I’m just given cash and I don’t accept that for zakat. I give them a form with our whole policy where our zakat may stay in our account for up to 6 months, unless you request it should be discharged before. Also, people just come and give cash- there’s no accountability- I can just put this in my own account. The community needs to not be so trusting.

Danish: What is your advice to imams as well as the general community?

Mufti Nawaz: As the hadith mentions, الامام ضامن Al imamu daamin. This means that the imam’s action envelops actions of those praying behind him.  Damina (ض م ن) is to include everyone in the action he is doing. If his salaat has makrooh actions, that impacts everyone’s prayer. If he is cheating he is including everyone in that sin. This really goes back to having a fear of Allah. We give khutbas on it, speak repeatedly about it, but unfortunately when put in the position we are the first ones to fail. Stay in contact with your teachers and consult with them. You brag about the mashayikh people studied with but your ways are contrary to their way. This is a general advice to everyone, but especially to those who have religious authority.

May Allah reward you for bringing these issues to light. Abuse of religious position should not be hidden. Everyone is responsible and should be held accountable; imams are no exception, they are just leading you in prayer. Yes they deserve respect and honor, but that respect and honor is to a certain degree. If he is doing something wrong than that should be addressed. “Whoever sees a wrong then change it…” that applies to everyone. It doesn’t matter how popular the imam is. We know victims come forward decades later sometimes because they know they will be overpowered. Imams are often overpowered by senior religious leaders. I know of younger imams who told older imams to have taqwa (fear of Allah) and they are just laughed off.

Warn the people you can, if you can’t go public tell the people you can and make the community aware of abuse in general. Let people know that everyone is prone to error.

 

To learn more about the importance of transparency from our religions leaders, read our previous post by Danya Shakfeh Who Will Mind the Minders?

Share this post:
Activism As a Cover For Abuse

Activism As a Cover For Abuse

بِسمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحمٰنِ الرَّحيمِ

 وَإِذا قيلَ لَهُم لا تُفسِدوا فِي الأَرضِ قالوا إِنَّما نَحنُ مُصلِحونَ
أَلا إِنَّهُم هُمُ المُفسِدونَ وَلٰكِن لا يَشعُرونَ

        When it is said to them: “Make not mischief on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only want to make peace!”
Of a surety, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realise (it) not.
-Quran 2:11-12    (Yusuf Ali translation)

 

People use good causes for personal agendas.  The most sinister form of this is the use of religion for personal benefit. In Shaykh’s Clothing was founded to create awareness of this age-old problem, and how it is something we all need to be aware of.

There is however another type of charlatan that Muslims need to recognize: the opportunist activist. Some of these activists are also teachers and religious leaders in our community.

We are in a moment where ‘social justice’ activism is a measure of religious devotion. The rewards for speaking activist language and associating with the disenfranchised are high, so you’ll have opportunists marketing their sacrifices, taking pictures with expressions of indignation, and typing online statuses of rage.  Capturing the popular sentiments of the moment and scoring points by regurgitating popular discourse – regardless how unislamic it is- is one of the fastest ways to gain a following.

These actors are capturing the emotions you want to see and often recalling images from the 60’s to embody a spirit of struggle. This does not suggest their work isn’t beneficial- it may very well be, just as an insincere teacher can guide others to good deeds while being deprived of its reward due to ostentation. Nor am I suggesting that every person who engages in social justice activism is doing it for personal gain.

You will see opportunists publicly posturing rage and indignation regarding social justice issues. Many will make the social justice cause about their personal experience rather than the issue.  They are selective about the causes they publicly support so they may boost and not hurt their brand. Others will do a lot of good work as well- they will start non-profits, be very engaged in charities, and advocate for great causes. Unfortunately in many cases, this will be just for building their own personal brand, or to create a cover for their own abuse. It’s very difficult for people to understand that the same person fighting so passionately against a social ill is a purveyor of that very illness.

This should not be shocking. Jerry Sandusky was a hero in Pennsylvania for his great work with the youth. He used his non-profit which helped the youth as a way of meeting the 45 young boys he was convicted of sexually abusing. He hid behind his philanthropy and when this news broke his community was in shock that someone who helped kids so passionately was also sexually abusing them.

In 2015 Joel Davis was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to stop sexual abuse.  In 2018, Davis was charged with sexual crimes against children, including child pornography and attempting a sexual encounter with a 2 year old child. Like Sandusky, Davis’ work gave him access to children and the trust of parents. This was a way of grooming the larger community for trust and access.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was a vocal proponent of the #metoo movement but was later accused by several women of sexual harassment himself ultimately resulting in his resignation. Schneiderman’s championing of women’s rights appeared only to be a cover for his own alleged misconduct.

Similarly, there are religious activists (including scholars) exclaiming we have our own Harvey Weinsteins who need to be exposed. However they are similar to Eric Schneiderman in that they are quick to condemn some teachers while engaging in the same behavior.  They may condemn the scandals of some teachers, but continue to host and praise teachers who they know are a lot more abusive than the ones they call out. Reasons for this may vary, but one common reason is that the teacher they cover up for supports the causes those activists care about and they don’t want to lose a powerful voice.

There are teachers who have built their brand off speaking for women’s rights and yet are themselves groping women they are not married too, or engaging in secret marriages and then divorcing these women without giving them basic rights such as the agreed upon mahr, and then marginalizing these women by slandering them as being ‘crazy.’  Being outspoken against secret second marriages or manipulation is a great way to make it harder to be detected. This is not to cast doubt on those who are, but such vocalization cannot be used as a litmus test for one’s character.

Some of these teachers are using the right language of ‘triggers’ and ‘trauma,’ as well as supporting and becoming involved in the growing field of Muslim mental health.  This only strengthens their credibility and makes it harder for people to believe that they are traumatizing other Muslims.

We need to realize that anyone can be abusive. This shouldn’t lead to paranoia, or a negative default assumption. Rather it should mean that we allow trust to be earned rather than assumed. Be careful of giving ‘passes’ and making exceptions for those you otherwise respect or have a personal affinity towards. If a person’s behavior is exploitative don’t allow that to be offset by an overabundance of indignant imagery whether through long statuses or visual images. Merit must be earned through proven character- and even then always realize everyone is fallible. Public praise, the causes with which one aligns, and doing good work does not mean this person is not abusing his position. Even then, we must observe and maintain boundaries as in any other relationship.

The importance of trust varies in accordance with the different levels one engages these figures, for example attending a jummah khutba (Friday sermon) would not require much trust opposed to approaching for advice and sharing personal information- especially when there is no explicit agreement of confidentiality (as in the case with therapy).

There are a variety of ways an opportunist or abuser can manipulate people and obtain power. Religion is one way, activism is another, and joining between religion and activism is yet another way. We need to be cognizant of the ways in which abuse manifests and always leave room for the possibility that even the most apparently ‘just’ people may be corrupt.

To learn more: Dr. Ronald Mah on Narcissism 

 

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

Share this post:
“My Shaykh’s Marriage Advice” – Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi

“My Shaykh’s Marriage Advice” – Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi

We often hear of Muslims who are ostensibly pious but tyrannical to their spouses. “Musa in the masjid and Firaun at home” as the saying goes.

In this audio for In Shaykh’s Clothing, Shaykh Tameem Ahmadi explains that treating one’s wife with respect and dignity is essential to piety.  The righteous honored women in their family and we need to understand spouses as human beings and as a trust. A trust for which we are accountable to Allah.

He shares the marriage advice his shaykh, the great scholar Maulana Hakeem Akhtar (may Allah have mercy on him), gave him before his marriage that left a profound impact on his own life.

Share this post:
Attorney Danya Shakfeh’s Article on Using Legal Analysis to Address Claims of Spiritual Abuse

Attorney Danya Shakfeh’s Article on Using Legal Analysis to Address Claims of Spiritual Abuse

Our own Danya Shakfeh was recently published in the latest issue of the International Cultic Studies Association Magazine, ISCA Today (page 14).  Her article, titled  “Using Legal Analysis to Address Claims of Spiritual Abuse” is a rendition of our previously posted article on appropriately addressing spiritual claims of spiritual abuse. Defining and clearly elucidating a standard for spiritual abuse is key to identifying and addressing spiritual abuse.  Dr. Michael Langone, in his introduction to this month’s publication writes:

Abuse in its most general sense connotes misuse, mistreatment, or exploitation. When the adjective spiritual is added, the abuse is understood either as occurring in a religious/spiritual context, or as adversely affecting one’s spirit—that is, one’s relationship to God or one’s inner core, or both. The contributors to this issue approach the subject from both perspectives. Danya Shakfeh uses the first meaning: “the use of spiritual authority for one’s personal gain.” Maureen Griffo focuses on spiritual abuse as causing “detrimental changes to core elements of the self.” The spiritual abuse that Stuart Lachs describes is simultaneously an exploitation of religious authority and an assault on deep aspects of the self. The spiritual abuse that Nori Muster writes about and captures visually is the latter, what in her book she called a “betrayal of the spirit,” although others in the ISKCON organization (e.g., the children who were sexually abused) were victims of the exploitative form of spiritual abuse, as well. Griffo emphasizes that spiritual abuse can occur in both mainstream churches and fringe and cultic churches. Together, the articles in this issue underscore the fact that spiritual abuse can arise in any religion. 

[…] 

Another significant factor in understanding spiritual abuse is recognizing that a power differential, such as between parent and child, teacher and student, therapist and client, pastor and congregant, or congressman and aide, creates a POTENTIAL for abuse. Whether or not that potential is realized is a function of many variables in the circumstances and relationship.

You can also learn more about cultic groups by visiting the International Cultic Studies Association.

Share this post: