Muslim Views article on Nouman Ali Khan Case

Muslim Views article on Nouman Ali Khan Case

This article was first posted in Muslim Views in the June 2019 issue. The article features quotes from Danish Qasim and Danya Shakfeh.


Nouman Ali Khan case was ‘grossly mishandled’


Mahmood Sanglay


The visit of Nouman Ali Khan to South Africa this Ramadaan, as the guest of Masjidul Quds in Cape Town, sparked an unprecedented controversy. The invitation of the mosque was met with objections by a group of 29 Muslim activists concerned about allegations that Khan is guilty of ‘conduct unbecoming’ in respect of his dealings with women.


The group of activists consists, inter alia, of academics and professionals who are signatories to a letter requesting the Masjidul Quds committee to rescind the invitation to Khan. The mosque committee did not accede to the request, and Khan proceeded to present a programme that was well received and well attended throughout his stay in Cape Town.


The objection of the activists to Khan’s programme in South Africa is essentially founded on the position adopted by a panel of six leading Muslims in the USA and Canada, under the leadership of Imam Muhammad Magid, Executive Imam of All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Virginia. He is also the Chairman of the International Interfaith Peace Corps and the former President of the Islamic Society of North America.


The other panel members included Dr Ingrid Mattson, Professor of Islamic Studies at Huron at Western University in Canada. Her areas of interest include Quranic Studies and Islamic Theological Ethics. Dr Tamara Gray has an academic background in leadership and policy administration as well as qualifications as an Islamic scholar. Another academic on the panel was Dr Altaf Husain, Associate Professor in Social Work at Howard University and vice president of the Yaqeen Institute in Texas.


Two other professionals on the panel were Aisha Al-Adawiya, founder of Women in Islam, an organisation dedicated to social justice for women and Salma Abugideiri, a mental health professional and counselor.


This panel issued a statement on October 3, 2017 in which they announced that they had engaged with Khan as well as with some of the women who accuse him of serious ‘violations of trust, spiritual abuse and unethical behavior’. The panel confirmed that the allegations are true and advised him to ‘ask forgiveness from those he has hurt, to face the consequences of his actions, and to take a break from public life in order to get counselling and engage in acts of expiation.’


However, there was a breakdown in co-operation between Khan and the panel. He resumed his public work and preaching soon thereafter. What followed was the extreme polarisation of Khan’s supporters and his accusers. For over a year there has been bitter online and social media vitriol, largely from Khan’s supporters over the world.


This is fueled by the public circulation of nearly thirty screenshots reflecting very personal and private social media communication between Khan and the women he had allegedly wronged. Khan’s accusers argue that the social media posts are compelling evidence of his wrongdoing.


This position is in stark contrast to that of Dr Mohammad Akram Nadwi of India, a respected mentor of Khan, who regards the allegations and evidence against Khan as ‘flimsy and unspecific’. Khan’s supporters generally treat these as attempts to defame him, inter alia, by jealous rivals. They fiercely defend him and denounce, in vile fashion, those who support the allegations.


Khan defends himself in a statement on his Facebook page on September 22, 2017. He explicitly denies and rejects the allegations as false. It appears his statement was published eleven days before the panel’s statement because he had anticipated the outcome of their deliberations. Also, the announcement by the panel of six followed the same conclusion by another panel of four Muslim scholars and leaders, some of whom were consulted by the panel of six. The two groups essentially concur that the allegations are true.


In addition to denying the allegations against him, Khan makes several counter-allegations.

This includes allegations of blackmail, threats, harassment as well as evidence of ‘loads of explicit illegal activity’ against him and his company, Bayyinah Institute.


The discourse is extremely polarized. On the one hand there are serious allegations of wrongdoing, and confirmation that the allegations are true, by at least one panel of reputable Muslim leaders, academics and professionals. On the other hand, there is emphatic denial of the allegations by Khan who enjoys the support of millions of exceptionally loyal followers worldwide.


However, no criminal charges were brought against Khan and no court has yet heard the matter. Therefore no formal finding in the matter was ever made and the parties did not have the benefit of due process. And the evidence, much of which is now exposed for public consumption, was never examined and tested before a properly constituted judicial body. (And I will deal with the role of the panel of six presently.) Thus the drama and histrionics we witness wherever Khan has followers, is akin to a trial by media and in the court of public opinion.


The presence of Khan in Cape Town this Ramadaan presented Muslim Views with an opportunity to request an interview, so we could ask some key relevant questions in the public interest.


For example, did Khan confess he had ‘inappropriate interactions with several women’ as claimed by the panel of six and the group of four scholars? (In his statement Khan makes a generic plea for forgiveness for ‘sins known and unknown to myself and others’. Given that Khan denies all the allegations, this generic plea, by implication, is presumably not directed at the women he had allegedly wronged.)


It is also important to know if, at any stage, he recognised the authority of the two panels that engaged him. At what stage, and why, did engagements with these panels break down? Everyone has a private life, but not everyone is a public figure. To what degree, if at all, does Khan accept that the private life of a public figure—including his own—should be subjected to public scrutiny? Would he agree, in the interests of justice, to appear in front of an independent Islamic tribunal that will conduct a fair hearing in a dignified manner without the theatrics witnessed thus far?


Muslim Views made sustained enquiries, for almost a week, to secure an interview. However, Khan did not respond. Unfortunately, without Khan’s direct response to questions there remains ample room for unwanted speculation and drama.


Muslim Views also contacted each member of the panel of six by email and asked an even more exhaustive set of relevant questions.


Was there any formal process that led to the constitution of the panel? If so, what was that process? Did the panel have any judicial or quasi-judicial standing at any level in American society? What legal and ethical framework did they apply? Did they use any written code of conduct and did they produce any documented finding? Did they examine and test the evidence?


Can the panel explain, from an Islamic legal and ethical framework, why the identity of the accusers is being withheld? Has the panel responded to any of Khan’s counter-allegations? Do they admit that it may be necessary—if at all possible at this stage—to call on another, independent tribunal to adjudicate the matter with the willing participation of Khan and his accusers in a fair and reasonably open and transparent forum?


Did the panelists do a check for possible conflicts of interest in the course of setting up the panel? For example, Dr Altaf Husain on the panel is also vice president of the Yaqeen Institute, the same organisation founded and presided over by Shaikh Omar Suleiman. The latter was an employee of the Bayyinah Institute and Khan filed a lawsuit against him for a million dollars.


Panel leader Imam Muhammad Magid replied to Muslim Views on May 14, saying they have no comment. Once again, this compounds the climate of speculation.


The allegations against Khan are serious. The South African signatories to the letter requesting Masjidul Quds to rescind their invitation to Khan say the panel of six found that

‘he had indeed manipulated women into secret sham marriages and then attempted to buy their silence or threaten them if they called him out or put pressure on him.’


The activists’ concern is for the well-being of the women with whom Khan is alleged to have had inappropriate contact. However, their unsuccessful attempt to bar Khan from speaking in South Africa has raised other concerns, even among some of the signatories.


Their main concern is that in an Islamic legal and ethical framework one cannot compromise evidence and due process. This means that, as Muslims, we have a legitimate expectation of those advancing the cause of the complainants—the alleged victims of spiritual abuse—to disclose all the relevant facts of the matter in order to effect due process.

One signatory, Distinguished Professor of Education, Aslam Fataar of Stellenbosch University, says that many of the activists in the Khan case appear to have adopted the #metoo movement logic of diminishing the importance of due process and an evidence-based approach to making a just finding in such matters. This, he says, is not consistent with the Islamic legal and ethical framework.


Another signatory, Dr Shahid Mathee of the Department of Religion and the Study of Islam at University of Johannesburg, concurs. Mathee adds that he signed the letter because of the valid moral and ethical complaints raised regarding Khan. However, he has reservations about the activists’ reliance on a progressive neoliberal approach which relegates the Islamic requirement for evidence and due process.


A US-based project called In Shaykh’s Clothing was launched in 2017 to address the problem of spiritual abuse by educating and empowering communities to confront it. Danish Qasim, its founder, has a background in Islamic Studies and Fiqh. He is currently pursuing doctoral research in spiritual abuse.


Qasim’s platform is online ( and works with all faiths. This month they launched their code of conduct for Muslim leaders which covers aspects like marriage, finances, harassment, exploitation and children. The code is in the form of a contract and is intended to have legal effect.


Qasim says, with reference to the Khan case, that the statement by the panel of six did not include a clear accusation or evidence. As such, how can you expect organizations to treat the statement as if it’s a conviction?  “Violations of trust, spiritual abuse and unethical behaviour” are all ambiguous statements if the specific incidents of each are not mentioned. . In an article on lessons from the Khan case on the platform, attorney Danya Shakfeh says the case in the US was ‘grossly mishandled’ after carefully considering the various social factors, evidence, veracity of the claims, politics, covert manipulation and morality.



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