Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

By Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

“[dropcap size=big]Y[/dropcap]ou who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly–if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.” (The Qur’an, 4:135)

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), God bless and grant his peace, said, “Religion is good counsel. We [Sahaba] asked, ‘To whom?’ He, peace be upon him, replied, ‘To Allah and His Book, and His messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and the masses.’”  (Muslim)

“It is said that a man from the Children of Israel acquired much knowledge from books that would fill up eighty vaults. But that knowledge was of no benefit to him. Allah, the Exalted, revealed to the prophet of that time to tell that person, ‘Even if you were study more books to further your knowledge that would still be of no benefit to you as you do not act upon three things: (1) do not fall in love with this world for this world is not the permanent abode for the faithful believers (lit. mu’minin), (2) do not befriend Satan for he is not a friend of the faithful believers, and (3) do not trouble any of Allah’s creation because such is not the nature of any faithful believer.’” [1]

Disclaimer: The following article represents my views and my views alone. None of what follows should be attributed to the people or organizations with whom I currently work or with whom I have worked in the past. While names and identifying information have been left out, the following accounts are based on verifiable events.

Like this?
Get more of our great articles.

While I welcome comments and questions on this subject, I will not respond to speculation about the identities of the individuals involved in these scenarios. This essay is also not about any particular approach to Islam, school of thought, or minhaj. It is about human behavior.

In the Name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy[2]

People are often curious about my role as a female teacher and speaker in the male-dominated field of “traditional Islam.” [3] “What does a woman scholar-in-residence do?” I am often asked. To the non-Muslim questioner, my role is seen as a bit of a curiosity, especially given the stock, standard media image of the oppressed Muslim woman. To the Muslim questioner, the question goes deeper. For some women, I am a potential role model for their daughters and a mentor to them. For some men, I represent the rare woman in the circles associated with traditional Islam who is willing to speak in public. I am simultaneously called upon to speak for the women in the audience, while defending the Shar’i (Islamic legal) basis for my presence on stage. Event organizers, typically quite gracious, believe that I contribute to the diverse perspectives they hope to offer to audience members. Often the only woman in a lineup that is otherwise exclusively male, I represent, supposedly, a continuation of the tradition of the scholarly Muslim woman.

At first glance, it may appear as if I am successfully negotiating the gender politics of the American Muslim conference. It is really offstage, however, that the tensions between my public role and private reality collide. While I enjoy learning from and interacting with the teachers, callers, and Shuyukh who attend the conferences, events, and retreats that constitute the American Islamic socio-intellectual scene, I have experienced moments that have given me pause. These are the moments in which the lines between the public world of the “celebrity” Shaykh and his private life become blurred, and the women who inhabit both worlds reach out to me for clarity.

When I first started writing Islamic advice columns, I was completely unprepared for the deluge of questions I would receive from men and women around the world. A laid back former colleague told me the job would not be difficult. “You’ll just be the Muslim version of Dear Abby,” he chuckled. Unless Abby has started fielding questions on Shari’ah law, however, I have come to disagree with his assessment. Over the years, thousands of questions have poured in on every conceivable topic: theology, Qur’anic exegesis, hadith studies, human rights, environmentalism, disability, marriage and family law, sexuality, gender relations, Islamic ritual law, history, politics…the list goes on. I quickly realized that the Muslim (internet) public was consuming and demanding answers at a faster rate than I or any other writer could provide. Perhaps dissatisfied with the limitations of online Islamic answers and quasi-fatawa, prospective students of knowledge—which included women in large percentages—began signing up for classes with their favorite teachers and scholars. They also flocked to retreats, intensives, and conferences, looking for the personal connection that was missing from online forums.

This combination of electronic delivery of Islamic content and personal interaction with scholars and teachers at onsite venues has led to a revolution in traditional modes of Islamic learning. [4] Suddenly, students did not have to spend thousands of dollars and experience the culture shock of living overseas. They could access sacred texts from the comfort of their home computers—and, increasingly, their smartphones—and even communicate with the teacher in real time using Skype, chat, and other instant messaging applications. In an instant, the distance between student and teacher shrank and the boundaries of decorum that circumscribed the public interactions of males and females shifted and relaxed. The blurring of lines sparked by this technological revolution has resulted in the creation of fan pages for ‘ulama, “friending” unrelated men and women on Facebook, following favorite teacher profiles on social media, and casually messaging heretofore inaccessible people at all times of day and night.

Adab on the Internet

From the perspective of the democratization of Islamic knowledge, the above developments might appear promising. However, from the perspective of adab (etiquette), the “formality between men and women” so keenly articulated by a prominent woman scholar; the integrity of the knowledge itself and its purveyors; and the safety of the family structure; the above developments are alarming.[5] Before I discuss why I find this trend disturbing, let me say a word about the “celebrity” Shaykh. Lest anyone think I am being dismissive toward our ‘ulama, I am not. I do not believe teachers, scholars, and speakers set out to become famous. I pray that all of us serving in a public capacity read and reread Imam Al-Ghazali’s (God rest his soul and sanctify his secret) warning to teachers of sacred knowledge, particularly regarding their susceptibility to arrogance, showing off, and amassing followers.I believe the celebrity Shaykh is a victim of his own success, a product of a techno-obsessed and consumer-driven culture that dictates that every ‘alim, school, and institution market their “authentic” and “traditional” Islamic “products and services” or perish. Moreover, the celebrity Shaykh has become enthroned on a pedestal, the pedestal of unimpeachable piety and character, the pedestal of “see no wrong, do no wrong,” in which we, the adoring students, have cast this very fallible human being as larger than life.

We are doing ourselves and our teachers a tremendous disservice when we elevate them beyond human frailties. Our ‘ulama, teachers, and Mashayikh are not perfect. They are flawed human beings, with the same weaknesses, shortcomings, and challenges with which we struggle. The only perfected human being was the Prophet Muhammad, God bless him and give him peace. And if we read his biography, we realize that even he, peace be upon him, his wives, companions, and associates had to deal with real human problems. So why do we try to ascribe perfection to our teachers and scholars today? It is natural to feel affection for the person who guides and directs us, but are we helping our religious leaders when we declare them beyond reproach?

I contend that we have created a toxic environment for our religious leaders: an environment in which the proper boundaries between student and teacher have become blurred, an environment in which misuse of power is rife, and an environment in which women, in particular, are subject to deception and spiritual abuse. I raise this issue, not to cause dissension (fitna) in the ranks of the Muslims, but to warn our leaders, our elders, and our masses that we have to address this social ill before we lose all credibility when it comes to the Qur’anic injunction to the

“[Believers], you are the best community singled out for people: you order what is right, forbid what is wrong, and believe in God.” (The Qur’an, 3:110).

Adding Up Islam in Public and Private

Our leaders, particularly those who claim to be spiritual guides, must practice what they preach. Our ‘ulama are not politicians, for whom a wide disparity between public image and private conduct is expected. Yes our ‘ulama are fallible, but they have a responsibility to recognize the tensions inherent in their roles, the pitfalls of the celebrity Shaykh culture, and the integrity of the positions they hold. How can our leaders recite platitudes about women’s empowerment and status in Islam publicly, while privately undermining those very rights they claim to cherish? How is it acceptable to publicly proclaim respect for women, while privately deeming them little more than sexual conquests?

It has recently come to my attention that there are well-known individuals who are using their platforms for more than the dissemination of Islamic teachings. There is evidence demonstrating that these individuals are using their positions in circles of sacred learning to groom, recruit, and entice female followers with promises of marriage, access to Shaykhs, study abroad opportunities, and entrée to exclusive socio-spiritual networks. Under the guise of mentoring, these individuals are engaging in private, unsupervised conversations with marriageable members of the opposite sex. These conversations, carried out in the relative anonymity of cyberspace, appear to run the gamut from fairly innocuous exchanges of biographical information (à la pen pals in the pre-computer era) to material that is merely suggestive to thoughts and sentiments that are wildly inappropriate. For those who want to make the excuse that the conversations are a prelude to marriage, I would merely remind them that the individuals involved in this scenario are teachers of Islamic law and, hence, know full well that there are rules surrounding courtship in Islam. I would also point out that when said teacher is engaging in conversations with multiple women at the same time, we also have a math problem. Islamic law only allows a man to marry four wives, so if the already-married teacher is “courting” multiple women at once, only a certain percentage can expect the relationship to become licit. What then of the remaining percentage? Again, a math problem.

One could make the excuse that our ‘ulama are not mathematicians. True, but surely they have some knowledge of Newtonian physics, “for every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” After making the cold calculus of choosing and excluding whom to marry from their adoring students, these teachers may very well be able to move on, accepting the next exciting or lucrative speaking engagement. However, the women who were promised marriage and then jilted are having a more difficult time of it. It is not an easy thing to be played, particularly when the player is your favorite Shaykh. One can only imagine what these women’s perception of Islam has become, especially when the Shaykh was their Islam.

As a direct consequence of these individuals’ actions, women have become disillusioned, embittered, and depressed. Every time these individuals raise their voices up to proclaim their sincere love of the deen, these women’s hearts fall just a little more. The harm is even more egregious when these women are actually the ex-wives of Shuyukh. Typically, these women start out as eager students who strike up an online relationship with the Shaykh (or with whom the Shaykh initiates contact), which then descends into banter and flirtation, then promises of commitment, talk of marriage, etc. In some cases, the Shaykh proposes marriage, in other cases, it is the women. The common denominator though, in all situations, is the existence of the first wife. Her presence is often alluded to in online conversations, but her consent for the relationship is rarely sought. She is either said to be “okay with it,” or believed to be able to “deal with it.” In most cases, the first wife is not okay with it, nor is she able to deal with it. In fact, in most cases, the poor woman has no idea the other woman even exists, until it is too late.

Talaq by Text Message

Since the purpose of this essay is to draw attention to the plight of the “other woman,” I will not belabor the point about the first wife, except to say that when her husband’s dalliances and marriages are revealed, the trust between them is irreparably broken. If she is legally married (per the laws of the United States, for example), she may have some means of redress. However, the other woman has no such means. As the clandestine second (or third or fourth) wife of the Shaykh, she has no legal avenues through which to pursue her rights. Her Islamic nikah (marriage contract) is not enforceable, placing her in an extremely vulnerable position. It is a position no one’s daughter or sister should find herself in, but it is happening to good women from good families. As the secret second wife of the Shaykh, the poor woman receives no public recognition or respect. She cannot appear with him in gatherings. She cannot announce herself to the community. And she dare not contact his first wife and speak out lest she be accused of causing fitna. To add insult to injury, the Shaykh, who will not even deign to acknowledge the woman publicly, still retains conjugal access, enjoying all the pleasures of marriage without the responsibility, for, in many cases, he has not provided a marital home nor financial support to the secret second wife. To cap it all off, when he is done with the second wife, the marriage is ended without much ceremony, unless one deems talaq by text message ceremonious. Predictably, when the woman reacts badly, as anyone would under the circumstances, the Shaykh and his followers write her off as “unstable.” [6]

I will leave everyone with a few thoughts. What is a woman’s broken heart worth? What does a woman’s lost faith mean to us? What would the Prophet, God bless him and give him peace, who conducted his marriages with total transparency, think of us? Is it appropriate to use one’s access to knowledge and teachers as a lure for needy, vulnerable women? Is it fair to marry a woman in secret, knowing one lacks the means to support her? When a man marries behind his wife’s back, does he truly value the marriage bond? When individuals abuse their religious authority in this fashion, are they upholding the integrity of the tradition with which they have been entrusted? Is it not inconsistent to publicly lecture about modesty and the niqab (face veil) for women, yet let one’s guard down in private communication? We need to think very carefully about how we as teachers, scholars, Mashayikh, and students contribute to the blurred lines that have resulted in broken homes, broken hearts, and broken minds.

“By the declining day, man is [deep] in loss, except for those who believe, do good deeds, urge one another to the truth, and urge one another to steadfastness.” (The Qur’an, 103:1-3).

[divider].[/divider]

Shaykha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq is a native Southerner with Northern roots. She spent several years studying the core Islamic sciences, including Arabic, jurisprudence, Qur’anic recitation & commentary, Hadith, and Prophetic biography in Damascus, Syria at Abu Nour Masjid’s college preparatory program. Currently, she is the scholar-in-residence at the Tayseer Foundation in Knoxville, TN.

[1] Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani and Mawlana Muhammad Abdul Jabbar, tr. Habib Siddiqui, Al-Munabbihat: The Counsel (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2007), 17.

[2] This invocation and all translations of Qur’anic verses come from the M.A.S. Abdel Haleem Oxford World’s Classics Qur’an. The hadith translation is my own.

[3] I am enclosing this term in quotation marks given the fact that most observant Muslims would regard themselves as practitioners of a traditional Islam vs. a non-traditional Islam.

[4] Again, this term is enclosed in quotation marks given that there are a plethora of institutions embodying varying approaches to Islam that lay claim to this mantle. Again, this essay is not about any one particular approach or institution.

[5] See “Formality between men and women” at http://www.peacespective.org/formality/ (accessed May 7, 2015).

[6] All conversations enclosed in quotation marks are either paraphrased or quoted directly.

261 / View Comments

261 responses to “Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse”

  1. Hassan says:

    “… is the existence of the first wife. Her presence is often alluded to in online conversations, but her consent for the relationship is rarely sought..”

    Never heard that man needs to seek permission from first wife to marry second one.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      To say the husband doesn’t need his first wife’s permission to marry a second misses the entire point of the article. It is precisely the lack of transparency in the marriage(s) that results in the social and spiritual problems enumerated above.

      • Hassan says:

        I understood your article and agreed that man should be open about his second wife to public and not do in hiding.

        I just want to know if that statement is islamically correct (having permission from first wife)

      • Amatullah says:

        Also, announcement of Nikah is encouraged. So, what is performing Nikah without letting your “half of deen” know about it? I do believe there’s a difference between Seeking permission/consent and Informing.

      • ibrahim matta says:

        salam aleykum.
        If strictly legally the first wife consent is not mandatory to marry a second one, the women can stipulate in her marriage contract that she don’t want to be in a polygamous marriage.
        But islamically, it’s not about the dry adherence to the law. Marriage is about compassion and love. So even if the first wife give consent but the husband KNOW that will make her suffer he shouldn’t do it. Imam Abu Hanifa radhia allahu anha said “if someone fear to be unjust, he shouldn’t marry more than one woman.” Who can say “i don’t fear to be unjust ?” The safest call is to marry only one. It’s hard enough to be just with only one.

        You have culture (like some africans culture) where polygamy is seen as perfectly normal, and the women don’t suffer from it. So Islam don’t want to impose monogamy on them. But if you see the ayats and the ahadiths with a open heart, you’ll see that the safest call is to be monogamous and you can NEVER do something who will bring one atom of pain to your dear wife, to satisfy your worldly desire. “A person is not a true believer until he want for his brothers what he want for himself”

      • Abdulrahman says:

        Absolute nothing in Shaira requires a husband to seek permission from his wife to marry another woman. A wife can ask for divorce and should be given divorce quickly if she cannot take it. The reality is Muslim scholars in the West are not to be consulted on the issues of polygamy cause their view is mired with Western concept of marriage, one man one woman. This concept goes back all the way to the Roman empire era which even went against the acceptance of polygamy in the Bible. Muslims should take their understanding from the first 3 generations of Muslims.

      • diah says:

        Actually brother AbdulRehman this one man for one woman doesn’t only go back to Romans, it goes back to Adam and Hawa when Allah created one mate for Adam. It has become part of human fitra to dislike sharing ones spouse but since men are the maintainers, they define the language also. So when the burn in heart is felt by the man, it is called “ghaira” while when the same burning feeling is felt by the woman in her heart, she is labeled as “jealous”.
        The truth of the matter is, both are human beings and both have a heart that dislikes sharing ones spouse.

        I highly doubt anything I said would make sense to you since you are only going to see Islam through the lens of your cultural bringing. Islam didn’t introduce multiple marriages, it only accepted it as a practical solution.

      • Mohamed says:

        Dear Usathda Zaynab,

        May Allah preserve you for your efforts to serve his Deen, Ameen. Your article in general touch a reality that we don’t know clearly how to deal with it. Also, your article lacked ( pls forgive me for saying that) the balance from all other side. In fact there are many sides sometimes to one story. I know that you have an integrity and your honest with your self. I hope we carry the conversation on in a sense not who is right & wrong but rather its our problem and we should together be able help teachers, students and everyone. Because we are all part of problem as well as the solution.

      • Laila says:

        Sister, you make excellent points in this article. Openness and thruthfulness is essential between husband and wife. However, Islam does not require the husband to acquire the permission of his wife to take a second wife, unless they have signed a pre-nup in which he consents to a monogomous marriage. As a woman, I defend viciously the rights of all the wives, including the right of the second wife and her children to her full legal rights. I just don’t want there to be a mistake in your article from the Sharia point of view (consent of the first wife).

      • Abdulrahman says:

        Sister Diah, you sound a bit confused. Polygamy is permitted in the Quran and before that in the Bible. I as a Muslim i follow the teachings of Islam that was taught and practiced by Prophet Muhammad (saaw) and his Companions. I think you are the one that is following cultural Islam which goes against the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. I would advice you to review your Islam by starting with the Seerah of the Prophet and how he lived. From your writing I doubt that you ever read that.

      • Qamar says:

        @diah Asalamalaikum wa ramatullahi wa barakatuh
        I agree. I believe it is the fitrah of the human being
        to fall in love with one person at a time, mirroring the
        oneness of al-Wadud.

      • Azim Abdul Majeed says:

        I think this excellent speech could shed some light and also guidance to this discussion topic.

        http://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_rethinking_infidelity_a_talk_for_anyone_who_has_ever_loved

        I would appreciate some good thoughtful comments on this speech with an Islamic perspective.

    • Hassan says:

      That is what I am looking at, I do agree informing is healthy (and perhaps must) and different than seeking consent. But this brings to second statement the author mentioned “believed to be able to “deal with it.” In most cases, the first wife is not okay with it, nor is she able to deal with it.”

      So is that also islamically required that first wife must be able to deal with it, otherwise no second wife?

      • Abu Abdillah says:

        @Hassan

        Generally speaking, it is not a condition for the validity of the new marriage that the previous wife be knowledgeable of it, let alone approve it. That having been said, it is not wise, nor compassionate to enter into a new marriage contract while ignoring the needs and feelings of one’s previous wife. To create a new marriage while destroying the old is hardly in line with the wisdom of polygamy in Islam.

        And there is a precedent from the sunnah for considering the wife’s ability to deal with a second wife as found in the following narration:

        Narrated Al-Miswar bin Makhrama:

        I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) who was on the pulpit, saying, “Banu Hisham bin Al-Mughira have requested me to allow them to marry their daughter to `Ali bin Abu Talib, but I don’t give permission, and will not give permission unless `Ali bin Abi Talib divorces my daughter in order to marry their daughter, because Fatima is a part of my body, and I hate what she hates to see, and what hurts her, hurts me.”

        Sahih al-Bukhari 5230

        Wallahu ‘alam

      • maryam (theologian) says:

        it depends on the scholar you follow and the counry yo live is as to whether the first wife’s consent is necessary from a theologic legal standpoint. tHere are different rulings and laws on this. Ultimately tho, it is as the sister stated, a husband must act in compassion and in a way that protects the marriage he has. sometimes, its not just about what is “legal”but about what is right in the particuar situation. Most things in Islam are not black n white (tawheed certainly is) but most everything else is shades of grey where one must consider the particulars in the situation.

      • Khadijah says:

        I always find it jarring when people make a distinction between compassion/ethics/morality and the rest of ‘Islam’ as if you can separate Islam from its very essence. what is the meaning of this way of life, if it is not Rahma?

      • Qamar says:

        @ Abu Abdillah
        Asalamalaikum wa ramatullahi wa barakatuh

        Regarding the hadith about Ali’s desire for a second wife:
        Ali had the right to take a second wife and he had the right to divorce Fatimah,
        according to God’s law, regardless of the personal desire of his father-in-law.
        The Prophet’s refusal (pbuh) to grant permission was, in my humble opinion, merely
        a warning to Ali that taking a second wife would result in a divorce from Fatimah.
        Ali understood that a divorce from Fatimah would have irreparably damaged
        his relationship with The Prophet and the ummah.

        To my mind, this hadith speaks to the implied requirement
        that marriages and divorces not be secret.

        And Allah knows best.

    • A.M. says:

      she has the right to an immediate khula’ (divorce) under Maliki fiqh.
      So she should know what is about to happen, and he should also know if marrying a second wife is going to mean his first wife divorces him. many men have been surprised when this happened…had they known her decision ahead of time it might have been better.

    • Um Abdel Aziz says:

      A man does not need to seek “permission. He must let his wife(ves) know of his other marital plans and make it public. Her point is men aren’t doing that and they keep it a secret.

    • Abu Yahya says:

      Salaam, while I’m not aware of requirement to seek permission either, what is required is to treat co-wives with justice or marry only one. Q(4:3)

      • umm hussain says:

        Your statement correctly summarizes much of what Marriage In Islam represents. There are no secret marriages in Islam.

        If a man marries a second, third or fourth wife and the first (second, or third) are not aware of it, if I am corret, the marriage is considered “fasit”, not criminal, but certainly not sound. In an era of HIV, stds, herpes, etc. every woman has a right to know if her husband is having sex with someone else. Not knowing or worse, this information being kept secret, is akin to adultery and serious grounds for divorce. And how many men would have no problem telling the parents of the first or second wife the preference to keep the second marriage a secret.

        For those who want to argue the point, you may be so self-absorbed in your lack of knowledge about Islam and marriage that you have failed to understand the most basic principles of marriage are trust and fidelity. I have always wondered why men who insist they are Heads of households, “in charge”, and even “superior” have to stoop to lying to a woman about their marriage status. Exactly what are these men truly afraid of? Also, there is a requirement that men treat their wives fairly. If a man marries a second wife who is aware of her status, does not the first wife have the right to know this information as well? Our beloved Prophet once said something to the effect that when we perceive something is wrong, not right or unjust, it probably is — and that we should avoid it.

        My own question is how long would an average man think a secret marriage is going to remain secret? Does he plan on denying or hiding the children with one woman from another? Without quoting, studying or referring to scholars, hadith or any fatwa, preparing a treatise or PhD paper on polygamy, let us all simply stop trying to justify bad behavior. Women often include clauses in their marriage contracts to in the least require the husband to inform his wife if he marries a second, third or fourth wife. Parents and knowledgeable women know that you can not force anyone (male or female) to do anything (i.e. ask permission), but that a contract is often considerable protection.

        I am so tired of hearing about how Muslim women are gems, treasures, the pride, blah, blah, blah of Islam, yet there are those who feel it is fine and legal to in so many ways to conceal a man’s marriage to one woman from a woman he is already married to.

      • Hameed says:

        It doesn`t surprise me how all of these (most likely African-American muslim men) are attempting to justify not informing their wife that they either have or are seeking to get another wife. Reading those 800 year old fiqh books and seeking to adopt a 7th century lifestyle in today`s time, has really done a job on your damaged sub-conscious mind, along with the chains & psychological images of slavery from Caucasions, whereas he had the responsibility of maintiaining women, which was never your job, but the slavemaster`s. All you want to do is satisfy your carnal desire, while destroying the lives of gullible, low self esteem women. So go ahead black muslim men with your lying and deceiving of women. Karma will follow you until you enter the grave and beyond.

        • UmmHaneee says:

          The small number of African American men you think you knowdoes not bring truth to your erroneous statement referring to “all” men. Revelation has been over for some time now and you know not what is in the heart of anyone

      • Qamar says:

        Asalamalaikum wa ramatullahi wa barakatuh.
        I agree with @ Umm Hussain that in a global age
        of disease transmission, a woman has a right to know
        about a husband’s other marriages in advance.
        This is an essential contextual argument.

        And Allah knows Best.

      • Amatullah says:

        Come to think of it, the risk of STDs is actually exponentially nastier when factoring in Muslim converts who were sexually promiscuous prior to entering Islam and they engage in polygynous or serial monogamous marriages.

      • Kareem says:

        Salam Sister Amatullah and others-
        the Muslims who are not converts are not necessarily coming to their first marriage pure either. Regarding polygamy, many of of my Arabs brothers practice it in westerns lands and many Pakistanis in the UK. Move beyond exteriors and let’s solve the issues.

      • Zaynab Ansari says:

        @Br. Hameed, it’s not fair to stereotype African American men as inherently polygynous. The behavior I highlight in my article cannot be ascribed to one group of men to the exclusion of another.

    • عبد من عباد الله says:

      Al-Munabbihat has been incorrectly attributed to al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani. This has been thoroughly detailed by the great muhaddith of our times Shaykh Yunus Jonpuri Hafidhahullah in a treatise of his published in his book
      اليواقيت الغالية.
      بارك الله فيكم

      • Zaynab Ansari says:

        @عبد من عباد الله
        Thank you for the clarification. I’m actually aware that the original ascription of Al-Munabbihat probably does not go back to Ibn Hajar. However, I chose to go with the citation mentioned in the book.

    • Abu Nahla says:

      Dear Brother/Sister in Islam,
      The law is forged by not only the old books of Fiqh and or typical Fatwa coming from deferent realities, mostly fro rules and culture that does not even exist any more beside it being under a Muslim state. Islam have foundational rules and scale of measurement how do we scale something to become Halal or Haram.
      One of these rules is: ” if the harm is equal or more than the benefit then priority is to avoid the harm over attaining the benefit”
      If you ask ANY scholar he will surely agree to this rule and scale of law in Islam.
      Based on today reality, I personally witnessed how unaware women of the marriages of their husband ended with endless law suites for inheritance issues and problems that showed up out of the no where after these people death and departing. I my self translated for a Muslim female patient who have AIDS, she got it because he never informed her of his secondary marriage where she pain a non fair price for such action. I also counsel few women who were literally married to some sheikhs who kept them in rooms and apartments never allowed to go outside and in fact physically abused as well and was never just with them financially or morally and kept their victims in secret, to levels of effecting the state of mental and physical health of these ladies and ended divorced from them. but yet for the sake of the truth they hated Islam and Muslims and many became in full enmity to any thing Islamic as well. why? Because to them they never were able to separate Islam from the carriers of it (SHIEKHS)
      I my self is a scholar and I teach every where when invited and I can refute any one with full line of evident after evident to make it clear that ” IT IS HARAM to get married to another women without the permission and or agreement of the second wife and or give her the choice to seek divorce if she chose to do so”. The health and social and economical and religious damages resulting from such actions is just few of the reasons to make such rule and if you know much about the physiological damages such people leave behind them you will surely agree with me. May Allah guide us to truth and empower us to abide by it, and show us the falsehood and help us stay away from it . jzk

    • Dil says:

      Maybe I can rephrase that ‘seeking 1st wife permission’ well I believe it is very very important to let your 1stwife know that you have a 2nd or 3rd wife no matter how painful it will be for her. It is not seeking her consent as quoted bcoz no woman in our era ever gives this permission its very rare, rather it is respecting your 1st wife and making all the efforts you can to try and make her feel juuust a little bit comfortable with the situation. But alas very few men do this and for the rest its chaos, they have to lie to go met up with their 2nd wive. This is sooo pathetic and drives one far from the sunnah.

  2. Zaynab Ansari says:

    Not every issue can be resolved as a black-and-white question of fiqh. While the letter of the law may not require a man to inform his first wife of his subsequent marriage(s), what of the spirit of the law? What of ethics and morality? What of trust? What of avoiding fitna?

    • Hassan says:

      I understand, but there is always a general principle and then deviations (differences) are circumstantial. And again, I am distinguishing between informing and seeking consent. 1 in 100 million woman will consent for co-wife, so the issue of second wife will become obsolete. However as you mention informing is not even required, but it is better for overall general ethics, then I do not have problem with that statement (whether it is fardh in fiqh or not)

      Thanks for clarification

      • Hassan1 says:

        “1 in one million will consent…..”. Aren’t you answering your own question? It is absolutely absurd to imagine that ANY woman today would feel “just fine” about her husband coming home and saying “please pass the salt honey, oh yeah, and by the way, I got another wife today”. The fact that you can’t even see what is wrong with that IS the problem. Good grief!

      • Zaynab Ansari says:

        @ Br. Hassan, I believe the first wife’s consent must be sought if the marriage is non-traditional in terms of its infrastructure, i.e., if husband and wife have joint bank accounts and are jointly supporting the household, then he absolutely must confer with her before diverting her resources toward his second marriage.

      • Qamar says:

        Asalamalaikum wa ramatullahi wa barakatuh

        Regarding Brother @Hassan’s remark that only 1 of 100 million women
        would willingly consent to polygamy: I believe he is mistaken.
        It may seem as though polygamy is about to become extinct, because, at present,
        it is illegal throughout much of the world. But I believe this conclusion is based
        upon a mistaken understanding of what is actually happening on the ground
        in cultures where polygamy is forbidden.

        Polygamy is formally illegal throughout The West and East Asia, but people
        still practice both serial polygamy (by obtaining as many divorces as they can afford)
        or informal polygamy, colloquially known as “looking the other way.”

        Informal polygamy does not imply that a man is engaging in random sexual encounters.
        Rather, he is maintaining two long term relationships — one with a legal wife, another
        with a current lover. Typically, the legal wife is the mother of his children, but although
        the family ties endure, the sexual relationship and intimate personal relationship has ended.
        Both spouses seek to remain together for the benefit of their children, but desire to pursue
        intimate relationships with other partners for the sake of personal happiness. To accomplish
        these ends, they agree to an informal divorce wherein they remain legally married,
        but agree among themselves that each may pursue an intimate relationship with
        another partner (with mutually agreed upon limits).

        Professor Hakim Jackson has argued that this phenomenon is evidence that polygamy
        is part of the fitrah of the human being. I have wondered whether or not
        this “European solution” should be regarded as haram?

        Must a marriage or divorce be recognized by the laws of the state of residence in order
        to conform to the law of God?

        Judging from the female reaction to Turkey’s recent decision to permit Islamic marriages
        which are not recorded by the state, it appears that this issue is not going away.

        And God knows best.

  3. Amatullah says:

    When I read the title, I thought it would be about the two-faced behavior of Shuyukh in and outside their homes. But to read all this, it was jaw-dropping. Yes, we’re flawed, we’re fallible, but to see or even think that such situations have been faced by women due to our scholars, its so bitter that I wish it were false. Or may be, when I think highly of our Shuyukh, I’m forgetting that they too are humans like us and are equally susceptible to Shaytaan. However, I thank the Ustadha for bringing this into light. It might help many women who keep in touch with Shuyukh on how to deal with them and how to maintain Adab which are well-deserved by both parties. From a bigger picture, Fitna is everywhere. It is born instantly when the principles of Islam are played around with.
    On a side note, (and these are MY views) the women involved cannot be given a shoulder to cry on since they have been equally participating when it came to private conversations and transgression of limits set by Allah. Just because the loss suffered by one side is greater than the other, it cannot be overlooked that both were wrong in the first place.
    May Allah bless you abundantly for bringing this into limelight and educating the Muslim women about it. You have rightly reminded us that the trust in our scholars cannot supersede the limits set by Allah.
    May Allah guide us all for Allah knows we’re all in need of it. Aameen ya Rabbil ‘Alameen.

    • `Aisha Najmatunnisa says:

      Sr. Amatullah,

      Although it is obvious that the sisters involved, too, are responsible for the situation they were in, it is important to note that the events were based on a highly unequal power relations, which is probably why this can be considered as a form of spiritual abuse. Also, they may have come forward with the intention of reminding other sisters to be on guard when dealing with male scholars (or even encourage them to study with female scholars instead) and not necessarily doing so intending to seek sympathy from others.

      • A.M. says:

        women are a lot more powerful than they come across as being, and they are often deliberately playing up their feminine side to gain traction with males…they learn this from society. joking, smiling, softening the voice, giggling, laughing at the male’s jokes even when not funny, looking up to them (literally, with admiring eyes) – there is no way that you can say that the woman is the less powerful. she has a whole arsenal she is deploying to make her way into haram. the point is that no one ever tells us anymore about the dangers of these things because the emphasis is so much on placating women so they don’t make a fuss about sexism…and unfortunately rather than appreciating being able to have access to shuyukh, such women are abusing their access and reducing teh seriousness of the situation and turning it into their own pet fantasy.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Amatullah, thanks for your feedback. I’m not absolving the sisters of all responsibility. Insha’Allah, there will be a followup article to address the role of the women in these situations.

    • Nur says:

      Sister, the article already states that such interaction in wrong. It is rather insensitive and harsh of you to then make such a statement that the women are undeserving of a shoulder to cry on. Didnt you read that after the divorce they face the fitnah of being labelled “unstabled”. Please do not cause more grief for them by being a blamer. Help the victims, help them to strengthen their iman in such testing time or at least avoid causing more grief.

    • FA says:

      Sister Amatullah,
      When the non-Muslim teaching community, has a stronger sense of code of ethics for its teachers,than we do, I think we as Muslims need to re-examine ourselves. I am a public school teacher, and we have a governing council that redresses complaints made against teachers, there are real investigations with police, Child Services and tribunals. Those found guilty (and everyone is entitled to legal representation) the name of the person is published along with a summary of the case. Transparency. Also as a teacher I know the tremendous amount of influence I hold over my students, not due solely to my personality, but as was mentioned, due to my position of authority. Yes we need to help women to be aware of potential danger signs, but I can not accept anyone blaming the women in this situation. As a teacher, in the public board, the ONUS of FULL responsibility lies with the teacher NOT to abuse, covet, or in any way shape or form, use his/her students for his/her own advantage. (That is the code by which NON-Muslims hold their teachers to…makes you wonder why we can’t even bring our Male shuyukh to this same standard, or why we as women even instead have been trained to blame the victims, and lack empathy for the women). Having SEEN someone I know well, go through this situation, I can attest, she definitely needed the shoulder to cry on, even if she had left the entire deen due to this, I wouldn’t be able to fault her, she was completely taken advantage of, she was 20 years old at the time, the “sheikh” was in his 50’s. Losing faith for so many women, even if its just the lowering expectations of believing in Prophetic guidance, caused by male so-called shuyukh needs to be seen for what is, as Ustadha Zaynab put it, abuse of the power of authority.

    • Al-Furan says:

      I never new there was real scholars in America? Rather yet what I readed in this article a group of men involved in Dawah in US, mixing with women. Due to now having real scholarship that patner with Taqwa which are the true signs of a scholar they fall into many sins.

      It is reported that ‘Abdullāh b. Mas’ūd – Allāh be pleased with him – said:

      The people will remain upon goodness as long as knowledge comes to them from the Companions of Allāh’s Messenger – Allāh’s praise and peace be upon him, and from their seniors. But when knowledge comes to them from their minors, that is when they will be destroyed.

      Ibn ‘Abd Al-Barr, Jāmi’ Bayān Al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi article 1060.

      The issue here people confusing students of knowledge and Muslims involve in Dawah as Shayook when they are not.

    • Al-Fursan says:

      Sis Amatullaah real scholars who have knowledge and Taqwa, do not mix with women, rather yet true scholars knows how to teach the people in that which is suitable for all in their proper places.

      People confuse a person with a beard, and have some verse of Quran with him and a few arabi words or not, as scholars.

      What I read in this article appears to be celebrites those from the laymen who do not fear Allah. Do we read about our scholars of the past as mixing with women like Imam Shafi? So muc so there is a narration that he was memorizing and by accident he seen a woman’s foot and forgot . So do you think scholars like him and others was mixing with women. Like Ibn Qayyim al Jawaziya, or ibn Katheer, before them Imam Ahmad and Imam Malik and Imam Laythee, and like Imam Annaawi . Where so Imam Anaawi and Shaykh al Islam ibn Tamiyyah never was married and they did not mix with women.

      That is the differene between a real scholar and a متعالم ( pretend to be scholar).

      For the person who wrote this article it also exposes the peoples in their crowds who are infront of the people who they take knowledge from. Rather yet it was a benefit to read for those who have interlect to see those who are teacher what they fall into.

      Another issue problem we run with this word to frendly Shaykh and it has come in our time we label any one Shaykh and it not sutiable for that person. Next the layman do not say who is a scholar rather it it a real Shaykh a real Scholar let us know who are true Shayook and Scholars. Not students of knowledge or even the caller of Islam. This is another problem with this article.

      Next another issue even in the picture that posted in this article there is a lecture giving to a talk and the crowed is mix between men and women intermilging this is another issue. When we look into the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah sallahu wa alayhi wa salam he did not do this rather yet he single out a day to teach the women. Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri said that women said, “Men have taken over (meetings) with you, O Messenger of Allah! Appoint a day for us that we come to you…” The Messenger of Allah appointed a day for women to teach them matters of the religion. This Hadith is evidence that teaching women matters of Islam is recommended and even required. However, the Prophet appointed a separate day for this purpose and did not invite them to attend along with men.

      For all these evidences from the Quran and Sunnah, scholars of Islam have issued their Fatwas (religious decrees) that free intermingling is impermissible in Islam. There are those who call for free intermingling without necessity or without adhering to the code of dress in Islam or the code of conduct. Such people are directly defying the order of the Messenger, when he said, “Do not have audiences with women.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim].

      There is a well established rule in Usul Al-Fiqh (major rules of the religion) that states, “An act may become impermissible because of what it may lead to of sin (or evil).” Free intermingling is a door wide open for sin and following what Allah has prohibited. Also, free intermingling leads a woman to lose her precious gift and bounty given to her by Allah, that is, her shyness. A sign that a certain woman still has shyness is her refusal to mingle with men freely. The Messenger of Allah was once with some of his companions when he saw Asmaa’, the daughter of Abu Bakr, walking. He offered that she rides behind him on his camel. She said, “I was shy to walk with men. ” This is how a woman reaches completeness in her good conduct and righteous behavior.

      So that which is stated in this article is from the mishaps of those who differ from the Messenger of Allah sallahu wa alayhi wa salam command.

  4. Sarah says:

    Four words – “Tip of the iceberg”.

    Brilliant to see Zaynab Ansari writing about these phenomenons in our community. We are a conservative bunch and as a result, the abuses by ‘students of knowledge’ of their position in communities remain largely silent – especially since the people involved are usually those without voices or who are not taken seriously when they speak, such as convert women, children, people who end up leaving the deen and never looking back – and all of this adds up to “invisible” problems that we refuse to face.

    • anon says:

      “Tip of the iceberg” is right. The stories are quite sad and depressing.

      Its not just shuyukh – its also young huffaz leading taraweeh, “daiee” types, Muslim poet types, some nasheed singers too. We put these people on a pedestal because of their words, but never really bother to look at their moral compass and akhlaaq in action. Practicing Muslims can be very naive and innocent. Preying on this naivete has become a subculture of its own.

      • Sarah says:

        One thing that I’m not seeing anyone admitting on here is that in many Muslim circles, veneration of the scholar is encouraged as an Islamic thing. Following “your sheikh” who can do no wrong, vehemently denying that a person of Islamic study is anything other than blessed, constantly reminding people of ahadith about scholars and ilm – and then we wonder why these problems are around?

        Unfortunately the entire tone of the comments, as though this is some huge ‘expose’, only shows that many religious people in our community are living in their own bubbles. We need some serious intra-community conversations to get going.

  5. Iqra says:

    It’s interesting to see that the first conversation about the article in the comments is about a random never-endingly debated question which is rather pointless to discuss in this manner, in my opinion. That said, the article itself raises some valid questions and addresses important issues and for that I appreciate the article wholeheartedly and include the author and MM in my supplications. As far as “celebrity Shaykhs” are concerned, I think we as seekers of Islamic knowledge should take the good and leave the bad in their teachings and NOT get obsessed with these personalities on a personal level. We all need role models, mentors etc but obsessive personality worship is a subtle form of shirk, I dare to point out. After all, we are supposed to love Allah and His Prophet peace be upon him more than our own parents.

    As a side note, I find it encouraging to read about a Muslim female scholar who appears on public platforms.

    • Iqbal says:

      I was not in the least surprised. The Ustadha writes a piece on an extremely serious issue confronting Muslims and in typical fashion, the first comment ignores the entire submission and nitpicks on a tiny point. Then we wonder why the Ummah finds itself in its current state!

      • Hassan says:

        Oh yes, ummah is doomed because of me.

        To me it was one central point, so I had to clarify, sorry for causing chaos to ummah.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Iqra (hope I’m using the correct title), I agree the first comment was a bit of a red herring. The larger issue is the misuse of religious authority and influence in the teacher-student relationship and its particular impact on women.

  6. Sameer says:

    Asalamualaykum. My name is Sameer and I am editor in chief at Islamicate on the other side of the pond (www.islamicate.co.uk). I would just like to congratulate the author on this extremely well written article. Its a difficult topic to grapple with, yet an important issue which needed to be mentioned. May Allah reward you for addressing the issue, and may this article be the first step in helping to address it inshaAllah.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Sameer, Wa alaikum as-salaam wa rahmatullah, thank you for drawing our attention to your work on issues of importance to our British Muslim family. I especially liked Sr. Bushra Wasty’s “The Case for Female Muslim Leadership.” An unspoken piece of the problem I’ve highlighted is the sidelining of female scholarship. We need female teachers and mentors for female students of sacred knowledge.

    • Asker says:

      The article starts with a discussion on one topic (how learned women are perceived) and then takes a sudden and unexpected turn by discussing etiquette on the internet, particularly in the context of on-line teachers and their students. From my perspective, the one key aspect of this secondary topic that isn’t covered in the fullest sense, is the issue of “position of authority” and the related issue of “breach of trust”. Any teacher, whether on-line or not, whether teaching English (for example) or religion HAS an obligation on him/her to ensure that trust placed in them is not breached. The article only hints at this fundamental issue. Flirting with students, is in my view unacceptable, whatever the gender, or age of the respective parties. The teacher is the one upon whom this responsibility rests. Maybe, you are trying to be non-confrontational in this article, but in my view there is a sacred bond of trust between a teacher and his/her student that needs to be emphasised in the strongest possible manner, no matter who that may annoy.

      • Asiya says:

        Salam alaikom wa rahma’tullah,

        Ma’sha Allah tabarak Allah. I think in the context of teaching our deen, it is really befitting that those who have knowledge dignify this sacred amanah with humility and respect and it is sad to hear at times crass jokes made in circles of ilm. Somehow, it jars with the beauty and integrity of an incredible and amazing tradition which starts with our beloved Prophet[sallallahu alyhi wasalam] . I sometimes wonder, if our people of ilm thought that Rasul[s] were listening, how much more focused, dignified and beneficial and beautiful the conveyence woud be! =) Insha Allah. Not to mention – humble and sincere.

  7. Layla says:

    Wow, it surprises me that there are still people around who are unaware that this goes on in our communities. It’s been going on for centuries. These types will do the same if they weren’t Muslim, they’d problem strike up relationships in the work place and university environment with their bosses/teachers. You’ll never stamp this behaviour out, just don’t make it a big deal and don’t use it as a stick to beat the rest of us with. Us women have a hard time accessing knowledge as it is , we don’t need the few bad apples to further dictate the rules stopping us from speaking to our Shaykhs.

  8. Nada says:

    Though I agree with most of the article – I think it’s very one sided. Not all fans of shuyukh or second or third wives are as naive or innocent as you’ve portayed them. I’m married to someone well known – and the amount of sisters who seek any excuse to open the door of fitnah is deplorable. These sisters are star struck – they flirt, they ask unnecessary question, they tease a man’s desire and when he finds himself in a tangle with one of them- only he is blamed and the sister becomes a innocent prey.

    The sisters need to get their desires in control. Sure, we women find a knowledgeable, able, famous man to be the most attractive – but that doesn’t give the sisters the excuse to chase them blindly and then complain they’ve been played.

    • Umm Musa says:

      Thank you for this spot on comment, Nada. I too am the wife of a shaykh and while I agree with most of Ustadha Zaynab’s article and commend her for it, it’s important not to paint the “other woman” as completely naive and taken advantage of. I can’t believe some of the emails and messages my husband has received from students and conference goers. Many of these women embody fitna and have no consideration for their fellow sister in islam, the first wife. the lack of adaab is astounding and they should know better. In no way am I relieving the shuyukh in question of their own responsibilities and the fact that they are in a more powerful position- but it takes two to tango- and in my experience, it is troubling how often it is the sisters initiating it. I have seen a real phenomenon of young, overzealous women who are falling in love with their religion again then turn and treat shuyukh like they are infallible and completely romanticize the idea of being married to one. Little do they know that it’s not an easy life for the family at all. I only have Allah swt to thank for protecting my marriage thus far, and pray he continues to protect our community from falling into an even more downward spiral in this area. Thank you, Sr. Zaynab, for writing this authentic article.

      • Abdullah says:

        Thank you sisters for the eye-opening comments

      • Zaynab Ansari says:

        @Sr. Umm Musa, thanks for your comments. I will, insha’Allah, address how we women have contributed to this celebrity culture that has sprung up around our Shuyukh. I fully sympathize with the difficult path the Shaykh’s wife treads; it is not always easy for her to observe the behavior of the adoring (female) students of her husband. Much work needs to be done on our adab.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Nada, I agree the perspective presented in my article is weighted heavily in favor of the “other woman’s” narrative. I am not absolving the women of responsibility. I am highlighting, however, the power imbalance that exists between teachers and students and how the former can, sadly, misuse their position if boundaries aren’t established. In the cases that have come to my attention, it would seem that the women’s naivete played a role. Insha’Allah, I will write a followup article more directly addressing the adab with which women should be acquainted.

      • Bro K says:

        This article was very timely. I myself recall a situation I personally witnessed when a well know Shaykh gave a lecture at an Islamic center and while walking to the podium, Muslim women were trying pull on his garb as if he were a pop star. That was a number of years back, but left an impression on me.
        Sadly, the Celebrity Shaykh (even preacher) has mimicked that of the charismatic Christian preacher who becomes the attraction of women & a badge of honor for brothers to show that they’re “connected” w/ the Imam.

      • M. Mahmud says:

        Women who break families should cry over themselves. It’s easy to blame their “naivete” and not them how about excusing the male shaykh for his naivete? Doesn’t he need a shoulder to cry on? If you are going to give an excuse for these women who behave this way to seduce shuyookh, give the same excuse to the shuyookh.

    • A.M. says:

      I’d like to say that our general culture has created this discrimination against the average man and distorted what women are looking for. they are now looking for the ‘knowledgeable’ men as husbands – but since when is this the definition of a man of Jannah? a man of Jannah can be a very simple, humble, hardworking man. A man who gets up and goes out to serve his family even when it’s the hardest thing to do. when are we giong to go back to celebrating that type of real man? and stop behaving as if the only men are the men in turbans.
      this is a huge part of the problem. and it also causes married women – those married to average but very good Muslim men (though not scholars) to look down on their husbands for not being the turban-wearing types. behind all those gellabiyas are another whole set of challenges, from big egos to all sorts of other issues…

      • A.M. says:

        a man of taqwa, a man of faith…a spiritual man – does not have to be one who is famed for his private connection to his Creator. let each woman exalt her own husband, father and brother before going out and exalting non-mahram men.

      • M. Mahmud says:

        I would like to add-

        Ibn Abbas RA and Ibn Masud RA were scholars of the Ummah. Both of them would definitely assert the Umar RA was a greater man than they and the Sahaba RA knew Umar RA was the most knowledgeable of all the Sahaba RA.

        And yet we know Abu Bakr RA is the GREATEST man after the Anbiya and Mursaleen and the greatest man of the Ummah and he is more known for spending his wealth than being knowledgeable.

        So being a scholar does not = knowledge and knowledge does not always = superiority. The very best man in this Ummah was a man not singled out for his knowledge or scholarship but the state of his heart.

      • fa says:

        brother, your comments are thought-provoking, thank you. As woman who for a long time wanted to marry a sheikh-type brother, perhaps we were unaware of how this seemingly good aspiration was impacting brothers, perhaps making them feel inferior for not being a scholar of the Deen.

    • Hena Zuberi says:

      Assalma alykum wa rahmatulah Sr Nada and Umm Musa,

      Jazakillah Khayran for your perspectives. I believe we have addressed these issues in depth in the Shaykhy Crushes article and I truly had been waiting for a foil for that piece to share the women’s perspective for years. It needed to be written by someone who has the access and the wisdom to handle the topic as Ustadha Zaynub has done. May Allah bless your families and the families of our shuyookh and re-compensate the sisters who have been harmed with Khayr. I look forward to publishing her advice to sisters on the adaab of dawah and teacher-student relations.

  9. Abdullah Mumin says:

    Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, I have great respect for you but ….

    I think it would have been better if names were named, the article currently casts a wide net of suspicion on all our shuyukh unfortunately. No matter how well-intentioned, this is bound to create aversion in the hearts of many average Muslims against scholars.

    If names were mentioned, at least, our sisters will know who to remain clear from.

    If names can not be mentioned at all then the article shouldn’t mention that this is based on certain sources, a general advice and warning would have sufficed.

    I realize it’s a tough thing to balance but greater good should be always kept in mind, even when serious issues such as the one Ustadha Zaynab has discussed exist in our communities.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Abdullah Mumin, thank you for your advice. This article was not intended to make the community suspicious of our teachers and ulama. Allah Ta’ala says, “Believers, if a troublemaker brings you news, check it first, in
      case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done.” (The Qur’an, 49:6)

      Trust me, I thought long and hard about writing this piece, but, at the end of the day, I found the accounts credible, and I felt it was important to mention that I was not writing based on vague suppositions, but the testimony of actual people.

      I also am not interested in publicly calling people out. It is up to the women in these situations to go public. If they choose not to do so, then we have absolutely no business naming names.

      What’s more important than the “who” is the “why” and “how.” As a community, we have a lot of work to do. We need to relearn adab and we need to hold our leaders accountable.

      • Abdullah Mumin says:

        Thank you for your follow-up comment.

        Relative to the masses, there are only a small number of shuyukh that exist across the spectrum, traditional or non-traditional, who are in the celebrity shaykh category. This article – and I don’t doubt your intentions one bit, I know they are pure – unfortunately has put every single one of them under a cloud of suspicion. I don’t that it’s an exaggeration to say this.

        My only feedback is that it was better to not point to specific cases of women who gave their testimonies to you in order to avoid casting the net this wide over every one of the handful of scholars that exist. Because now that we know you know someone’s name, it makes us suspicious of everyone.

      • Halima says:

        Thank You

        Theres no need to name names. Before the internet age, there was just so much more bashfulness. I remember my mother would never sit in the same room as the Imam or Hafiz, and his wife would always would be present with him during social gatherings, he was really trying hard to get his wife to be involved with the community and sisters and liasing as well as getting her to make friends as they were new to town.

  10. Siraaj says:

    Salaam alaykum Ustadha Zainab,

    Well-written article, JazakaAllah khayr. This problem of “celebrity” shaykhs abusing their position of authority knows no theological or sectarian boundary, as you rightfully point out, it is a humanity (or lack of it) problem.

    Along those lines, I would add that the idea of the perfect Shaykh / teacher / etc is also a human problem for both men and women, and has been so for centuries even in circles of islamic Ilm, hence many of the angry sectarian fights over the centuries over schools of jurisprudence, theology, and tariqahs. I think social medias role hasn’t been to introduce this problem, but to accelerate its ubiquity.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Siraaj, thank you for taking the long historical view. You are correct; this transcends marital disputes and goes back to questions of religious authority, legitimacy, and identity.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Siraaj, and Wa alaikum as-salaam wa rahmatullah!

  11. Khan says:

    This is a very important piece, you have done us a favor by writing it.

    In my current capacity, I have the opportunity to meet many of these “Shuyukh” and I can tell you that not only are they as flawed as anyone, rare is the one whose head isn’t the size of Mount Uhud. They use their god-given charisma to line their own pockets with exorbitant speaking fees, threaten to cancel events if the payment in full isn’t received prior to landing all the while keeping their prayer beads flowing.

    Before you tell me “equal pay for equal work,” don’t get me started on their adab in private once they land in your city. The manner in which they treat “common people” is disgraceful. I have met Supreme Court Justices and acclaimed celebrities in other walks of life and these “scholars” could learn a thing or two about humility.

    Finally, they manner in which they treat our sisters – as groupies are treated by 80s hair bands – is despicable. All I can say is – if you’re looking for real Islam, don’t look at the Shaykhs with large followings – they’re probably best left ignored. They should fear for their aakhirah – who is worse than a man who sells Allah’s faith for a meager gain? If you don’t know what I am talking about – just move to California.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Khan, that’s pretty painful. I’m sorry that’s been your experience.

    • Umme Fatima says:

      Totally agree with you. Unfortunately it’s this absorbing of a culture which feeds off “glamour” and “drama.” May Allah help guide those scholars and help our youth, as they seem to become the victims.

  12. Shabandar says:

    Good article, definitely sheds light on a topic that needs to be talked about. Quick question, doesnt there need to be 4 witnesses for a nikkah? How are these shaykhs marrying others through text messages?

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Shabandar, in this case, the concern was the validity of divorce via text. However, now that you mention it, there seems to be a troublesome surge in conducting nikah and talaq via electronic media. This trend needs to be curbed. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, I just don’t see the justification for conducting serious business in such a casual, random fashion.

  13. An excellent article on the phenomenon of what I dub #MarriageBandits – those who have a chronic habit of hopping on and off the marriage carousel, leaving behind huge numbers of victims.

    Wrt previous comments, there’s an important distinction to be made between those individuals who actively seek out and prey on female students; and those who fall into fitnah due to errors of conduct on both sides (shaykh and teacher alike).

    In the former, there is definitely a huge power play issue and the individual will take advantage of a woman being star-struck, as it were, and press matters inappropriately – almost always without involving her wali and taking the correct steps.
    In the second, both teacher and student are at fault: the student for possibly flirting etc (and yes, I’ve seen this as well – my family is heavily involved in da’wah and I saw it up close and personal), and the teacher for not immediately shutting her down and establishing firm boundaries.

    In the former, it’s a very obvious case of spiritual abuse; in the latter, it’s a messier, more universal human problem.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @The Salafi Feminist (and I love your moniker, by the way :-)–yes, there there are mistakes on both sides, I think. There is the more egregious case of the revolving-door-marriage model and then there is the case of the mutual slip-up. In either case, the lesson to be learned is that marriage is a serious commitment, not a game.

    • A.M. says:

      I would love to see more advice, gently offered, to men on how to ‘shut down’ the women’s flirting. imho, this is where we fail. we are all about educating women on how to shut down unwanted male attention, but never assist men in dealing with inappropriate female attention, and this actually becomes the vehicle that moves the fitnah along – the woman is often the aggressor but because she is female, her ‘harassment’ of the male is not seen as harrassment.

      • Rejecting unwanted attention should be simple – a blunt “Sister, CC your mahram in this email/text” or “Please direct your queries via my wife/ secretary/ whoever.” If flirting is direct/ in person, the man himself should be able to lower his gaze and/ or have someone close by to monitor the interaction – or even say, “Sister, I don’t feel comfortable with your approach right now, please contact me via email or text with a mahram CCed.”

  14. Spirituality says:

    As salamu Alaikum,

    Jazaki Allahu Khayran Sr.Zaynab for the very revealing and frightening article.

    When reading articles such as this, I always wonder at the iron clad insistence that names not be named.

    I understand that we need to avoid back biting and slander. Yet, if one has definitive evidence, and one still keeps silent, isn’t that protecting the guilty and allowing abuse to continue?

    In this case, two things will happen…one as brother Abdullah Mumin says, there will be unnecessary speculation raised about Shayks in general, most of whom are pious. At the same time, sisters will continue to fall for the traps of Shayks referred to here, as no one knows who to avoid.

    And Allah knows best.

  15. Shadee says:

    I think Ust Zeinab has done enough to touch a nerve and bring up something that needed to be brought up. She can’t name names if the action was not public.

    I was surprised how the comments collapsed so fast into the debate about whether the first wife should know or not. Totally not the point.

    She followed the sunna of “What about some people who do such and such.”

    And as another commenter said, it takes two people to do this, but the ‘shaykh’ wields charisma, influence, knowledge, etc so it’s more on him. Wallah alam.

    Allah al-mustaan.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Shadee, yes, it’s touched a nerve. I hope we can transcend the raw feelings, though, and consider the bigger issue: How healthy is this celebrity culture we’ve created for the Shuyukh AND the students? We are both complicit.

  16. a growing concern as we’ve become more connected online but one that certainly has been a problem since I can remember being involved in the Islamic space. People in positions of influence have the opportunity to take advantage of their following. Many have. This is not limited to Muslims and certainly doesn’t exclude them. The dynamics are complicated as some people in positions of influence are often judged as ones wanting or seeking attention even if they’re just doing what they see as a public service. The only real attempt at a solution is to address matters like low self esteem among our daughters and a balanced attitude towards our public figures. We either turn them into saints or demons. Never just human beings. Temptation can get the best of anyone. I pray that both the congregations and the people on the pulpit stay committed to their divinely inspired moral code.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan, thank you for your feedback. I agree that there is a fine line between attention-seeking behavior and genuinely wanting to perform a public service. As a matter of fact, I was reticent at first to write this article because I was conscious of the tension that you mention. At any rate, we definitely need to work on women’s self esteem. Ultimately, their relationship with Allah is not mediated through a Shaykh–after all, that is not one of the questions of Munkar and Nakir. The question will be, “Who is your Prophet?”

    • M. Mahmud says:

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      “The only real attempt at a solution is to address matters like low self esteem among our daughters and a balanced attitude towards our public figures. We either turn them into saints or demons. Never just human beings”

      Indeed! Seeing girls go crazy after religious figures is sad…and corruption isn’t just in the brothels or bars. It can occur in a more insidious form-in the masjid, the household the Islamic convention.

  17. Saharish Arshad says:

    Hmm… Maybe I shouldn’t be encouraging my husband to be more active in Da’wa…

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Saharish, I don’t think you should dissuade your husband from da’wah work. Just have a candid conversation about the pitfalls.

  18. Yasir Qadhi says:

    Jazak Allah for your very factual (and hence terrifying) article.

    I ask Allah to grant me (and all of us!) sincerity, and to save us from the fitnahs of this world, and the punishments of the next.

    Yasir Qadhi

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, thanks very much for your feedback and Ameen to your dua. May Allah Ta’ala save us from ourselves!

    • A.M. says:

      thank you Brother Yasir. could you please start to talk about the importance of true inner modesty – you are one of our shaykhs and can make a difference God willing. please tell sisters to be modest, and talk to your fellow shaykhs abotu how to ward off these dangerous women who come at them with admiration and flirtation.

  19. Former Student of Knowledge says:

    SubhanAllah. This is an extremely important issue that needs to be addressed. Jazakillahu khayral jazaa Sister Zaynab. Having spent almost ten years seeking sacred knowledge, at home and abroad, I have seen this first-hand. I have seen sisters, especially convert sisters, sucked in by charismatic celebrity Shaykhs and manipulated into illicit relationships that lead to her being a 2nd, 3rd, 4th wife or just ma malakat yameenuk. The most dangerous message some shuyukh put out is the NECESSITY of taking a Shaykh and blindly following him. He will say that even if the Shaykh errs, the salikah is rewarded for her obedience. Al-Imam al-Ghazali said that finding al-murshid al-kamil was a rarity. Interestingly, so many exist in this age and time. Sisters need to be warned and shuyukh need to understand that they are not above reproach. Muslims are afraid to call these men out because it constitutes ghiba. But does it? How is speaking the truth to protect the vulnerable ghiba? We, as a society don’t let pedophiles in a classroom. Why do we give the platform to Shuyukh with histories of violating the sacredness of the student-teacher relationship?

    • M. Mahmud says:

      “or just ma malakat yameenuk”

      That is not even valid….they cannot enter such a thing except through war.

  20. WAJiD says:

    salaam alaikum,

    May Allah preserve you for highlighting this issue.

    May Allah forgive us for allowing it to develop.

    May Allah strengthen us towards taking practical steps towards rectifying the situation.

  21. Fatima says:

    Salam
    Disclaimer: I am going to be personal in this comment; for the purpose of educating the numerous women I know will be reading the comments here; desperately yearning for some kind of sakinah. I’m typing off the cuff so it may be unstructured.

    In all honesty reading articles like this takes me back to a time many years ago when I myself was guilty of the late night chatting; crossing the line of what constitutes proper etiquette in communication between men and women.

    Aspiring second wife to a Shaykh/student-of-knowledge – I wore that cap too.

    However when you’re running an Islamic organisation and you organise conferences and nasheed events etc; the humanness of people – male and female Islamic scholars, nasheed artistes and other individuals/groups does become apparent in a way that it doesn’t when you’re just a spectator…not just in terms of men-women interaction; but other aspects too.

    This shouldn’t come as a surprise for wasn’t mankind created weak?

    I can view myself as a vulnerable someone who was taken advantage of or I can take responsibility and admit to myself that I entertained advances; and allowed them to morph into more. I prefer the latter as it encourages repentance and reflection and self growth.

    I’m happy to share that my obsession with sharing my life with a famous Muslim (not a specific one, any one or even one close to one) has now been completely extinguished. I find the Facebook fan pages and the 22k likes off putting; but try not to criticize too much as if Facebook was around when I was living my dream of hanging out with famous Muslim celebrities I’d probably be managing those pages.

    From someone who mailed various Shuyookh regularly (no I didn’t want to marry them all; it was just this space you’re in when everything in life is about this scholar and that scholar and this conference and that conference – and you want all the big name scholars to like you and think you’re awesome); I think I’ve become someone who drops a Shaykh my family and I knew well a line once every few months?

    Recently a friend of mine was in a situation whereby her husband; a Shaykh wanted to marry again. It affected her spiritually, psychologically and physically. She mentioned coming across email interactions between women and her husband and how these affected her and I was grateful that I’m no longer caught up in that web.

    What’s life like now? In all honesty it’s peaceful.

    In South Africa a talking point in the Muslim community is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Muslim women to get married.

    There are two options: become a co-wife or stay single.

    I’ve consciously chosen the latter (without taking anything away from those who have chosen the former – one of my closest friends is a second wife) and am at peace with my choice.

    I’ve found that if you are blindly caught up in the ‘Shaykh this’ ‘Shaykh that’ vibe (male or female) you will not question injustice on the part of Shuyookh when you see it. I am pleased with the fact that my colleague and I (she runs the org with me) are able to deal with Shuyookh in a forthright and authentic manner and question them if necessary.

    I also learnt through my experiences to switch someone off; tell them emphatically that I’m not interested (and here I’m not speaking about people who are necessarily high profile).

    So really brothers and sisters; marrying/being the right hand man of a Shaykh isn’t everything. Everything is your relationship with Allah then your parents then your children. Shuyookh are there to consult; not idolise; to learn from not become infatuated with.

    My apologies for the long comment.

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Fatima, thanks so much. I really appreciate your candor. And I was one of those students who was at the head of the line, ready to have my books signed by the Shuyukh and speakers, a big smile on my face. We naturally gravitate toward those who teach, motivate, and inspire us. We just need to consider how our actions are perceived by others, and the impact of our actions on others.

  22. Yusuf says:

    May Allah protect His creation.

    This(behavior) does seem normal for humans. Our Muslim community rarely shares
    what is happening or going on in our lives\community.

    Imagine you are the only Muslim in your country, you would know and
    hear all the troubles of the people because non-Muslims share there
    plight, or it’s just too common. It’s easy to see where you can help
    that community or what are common problems/fitna.

    However in a Muslim community we hide our sins and troubles, there is
    shame. This does make the community think everything is OK, and we
    don’t have that many problems.

    I don’t think we are suppose to openly admit our sins, however the
    sins of our time are happening by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

    On a side note, you don’t have to be famous to have tests. Please make
    dua that we are all protected, guided, and forgiven.

  23. Abu Ahmad says:

    JazakAllahuKhayran for this discussion.

  24. Yasir says:

    Thank you sister for speaking up about these issues. Another set of people that abuse their power are the mosque leaders. They actively divide the community based on nationality, social status, family alliance, and other means of division. They lack sincerity in their efforts and when you try to correct them for the sake of Allah swt they ignore and don’t respond back. These sort of people are probably doing just as much damage (if not more) than the celebrity shaikhs.

    I have come to realize that we simply CANNOT rely on Islamic ‘scholars’, mosques, islamic organizations, etc for sincerity because their yardstick is not what please Allah swt or what prophet Muhammad saaw commanded us to do. Their yard stick is what will increase their status and ranking in the short term at any cost. It is better to stay away from them as much as possible.

    Allah swt knows best.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Yasir, thanks for your feedback, but it does sadden me to think we should distance ourselves from all organizations and institutions. Many of them are doing very good work.

  25. Sameera says:

    Alhamdulillah, I am so glad this is being spoken about! I do wish though that somewhere in the article the term “sexual abuse” would be used. Because while it starts out with spiritual grooming, whenever it leads to anything sexual (not solely rape), the author does mention cases which insinuated the presence of sexual violence and indiscretions. There are a number of cities across North America who have seen their own religious leaders be charged with sexual violence offences, and many times, these were hidden by the organization hiring them. We have to remember that these Shuyookhs are in a position of power whenever they communicate with someone, especially their “followers.” All types of abuse happen when there is a clear delineation of power and hierarchy between the individuals involved. It is therefore incumbent on these religious leaders to be extremely cognizant of this fact. By nature of their position and role, especially on social media, they have a higher power dynamic. I too am disturbed by the “rise to fame” many scholars have had in this internet era. As Muslims, I encourage us all to remember the Shahada and how critical our own exploration of Islamic knowledge is. It’s best to keep an arm’s length away from all religious leaders (i.e. be critical thinkers) and they too should be setting boundaries given the nature of their role.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Sameera, thanks for your feedback, but this article is not about sexual misconduct. All parties involved in the situations were consenting adults.

      • Former Student of Knowledge says:

        I would like to respectfully disagree. While the two parties might be consenting, one party is in a position of control and power while the other is not, one claims knowledge while the other is seeking it. Yes both parties are flawed and human but the onus of responsibility falls on those wielding power through knowledge. The unequal footing of the two parties makes it very possible that there was sexual abuse.

      • M. Mahmud says:

        It’s also then sexual abuse/harassment if an innocent Shaykh is harassed by an enthusiastic female fan. It goes both ways.

  26. Ibn Masood says:

    While not taking away from the the importance of the article in that it is bringing to light a specific problem, I continue to be surprised when Muslims are surprised that either scholars or dai’s are not living up to their personal, spiritual or intellectual repute.

    The incidents of the Arab Spring have already taught our generation this important lesson, and this is not a new phenomenon rather it has existed since Islamic scholarship has.

    Its also worth it to note that not every person presenting themselves as a scholar is actually one. Most of those who present themselves to be scholars nowadays are merely learned individuals who have yet to attain the rank of a scholar in the study of this deen.

  27. Sarah says:

    I agree with one of the comments above, you should be specific in your article, who are you talking about? You should remove the post if you’re not willing to give names or specifics otherwise the finger is pointed at every ‘celebrity scholar’ and it creates a bad feeling of suspicion around all female/Sheikh interactions. I’ve been to many retreats and have never heard of this happening, neither have my family or friends. We have a hard enough time accessing the Sheikh as it is and now we most probably will be prevented from talking to some Sheikhs because of this article. Can the female scholar not understand the impact it might have on women seeking knowledge? Is venting about little known incident more important than trying to help women gain access to knowledge? This isn’t a big phenomena, absolutely not, and the proof is in asking people you know in your community (not the internet!). You have created suspicion in our minds, and this is fitnah. I wonder what the Quran says about creating suspicion against scholars? Would you rather the young stop respecting our scholars, what is the point of such a general article? This problem should have been dealt with through the right channels. Sensationalism and bitterness will not help our ummah develop and I would have expected more decorum and a wiser approach from a woman scholar. There are going to be people who will use your article to further close the door to women seekers of knowledge. Thank you for helping your fellow sisters.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Sarah, I’m sorry you feel that way. I don’t know if I would construe this piece as sensationalist or bitter. Misuse of power and authority for personal gain is a problem in all faith communities, and Muslims are not immune. This article was not intended to shut down women’s access to knowledge, but to call for some boundaries to be reinstated. The unspoken piece of this article is the need to cultivate female teachers and mentors for female students.

      • Shakeeb says:

        I loved the article but I particularly like this reply to that comment. I’ve always thought about this. Why have people been ignoring this obvious problem? Why are people condoning famous (and non-famous) male scholars teaching females and interacting with them unnecessarily when they are clearly susceptible to temptation? They are NOT Prophets whereby they are protected from major and minor sins and they are not even the Sahaba! Male scholars should teach men and female scholars should teach women. Is it the lack of female scholarship that has really caused this to get out of hand? I think it is. And then male family members, scholars and non-scholars alike, have not learned from the bigger scholars and then passed the knowledge on to the female members of their respective families. If both of these things have played a part then I can see why women are forced to get caught up into the idolization of popular male scholars. There aren’t enough female scholars to begin with and then they are forced to seek knowledge by themselves due to the lack of effort of their male family members. Once they form the relationship with the scholar, shaytaan attempts his work on both the male scholar and female student. This is a possible reason, in my opinion, for sincere women going down this path. Obviously, there are going to be women who purposely go after male scholars because of being star struck or a desire to marry a scholar.

        Two Things That Can Help Stop the Sincere Women
        1. If there is a lack of female scholarship in one’s area (and maybe even if there isn’t) male members of families should teach their mothers, sisters, daughters etc. what they have learned from male scholars
        2. Create more female scholars and have THEM teach women

        Please do correct me if I have an incorrect understanding and please forgive me if my comment is rather incoherent.

    • Halima says:

      There are many female scholars to access Ilm from, plus its been the Tradition of knowledgable elders to refer their daughters and wives to act as a go between.

      This hasnt created fitna its actually finally addressed something that needs addressing.

      No Dai or Knowledgable person should use their position of leadership to hunt for a second wife, I have seen it happen a few times to other sisters “in the name of deen” and its appaling.
      these people should know best how to work at a marriage as they are knowledgable

      What we are trying to say is that there should be a line drawn, you only discuss educational matters at class time and not any other time.

      • A.M. says:

        women don’t know what is good for them. they throw away the ways of the past thinking they know better. do they really think they will attain more piety by speakign face to face with make up on to a shaykh? or trying to look pretty and talk in a sweet way with him? what a loss for her if she thinks that.

      • Sarah says:

        Personally, I find women circles of knowledge a waste of time. They’re badly organised and noisy and the women are usually too preoccupied with back-biting and marriage. I would also say the female teachers I’ve come across aren’t as scholarly as the male teachers… my point is:- we have a long way to go before females can mentor each other so lets stop knocking what little we have and start building instead. It’s very short-sighted to expect everything to work exactly as it did during the caliphate years, especially given the fact that we are living in the west under non-Islamic rule. We really need to start getting real…

    • Asiya says:

      Salam alaikom,

      I consider this article beneficial, not judicial. None of us have the right to know those involved, just to be aware, cautious and protective of ourselves, loved ones and those who teach. We are suposed to avoid suspicion, so really, we should assume the best of people unless or until proven otherwise. Allahu Alim.

  28. khurram says:

    I read quite a few responses and I see men saying that ” they don’t need permission” On the other hand Women complaining about how men behave and they should be with Only one Woman. The fact of the matter is, most men would like to have another woman in their life, accept it or not ” it is what it is” 14000 plus years ago, there were plenty of examples and the men of those days had the accessibility. In this day and age, men are deprived and a good Man is the one who only sticks to one Woman. Ladies and Gentleman, we have abundance of Aalim in our societies but no one dares to speak the truth, because it is not acceptable in these times therefore plenty of establishments to around. There is a lot to talk about, but it is just not acceptable now a days because if we talk about it we become Male Shovanist Pigs. So leave it there …. There is not going to be a solution to this.

  29. Hibatullah says:

    From my experience, public/community figures, who teach Islam and portray good manners to the public also fit into this, as they too have this blurred private life. It’s unfortunate to know that these good Muslim men privately message MANY women and speak about intimate relations and private matters, and think it’s okay because they think it will most likely lead to a marriage, or it’s okay because they’re friends, and justify having feme friends.
    Having said this, these men are already married. Men like that abuse the power they have because they are well known and think they are any girls dream. Just like the sheikhs in the article.
    This article was on point about all that I’ve mentioned.
    It’s unfortunate and disappointing that it’s those public figures who teach the public, do the opposite in private.
    It’s upsetting not to be able to see this religious figure the way i did before knowing how they are in private. It’s disappointing that they appear as pure and amazing to the public yet no one knows what happens behind the scenes.

  30. […] In the Name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy[2] […]

  31. Umm Ayesha says:

    Thank you for this article and highlighting something I never thought to consider. Nobody is infallible , not least our dearest shaykhs whom we respect so. I do agree with the Salafi Feminist though that there is a clear distinction between intentional spiritual abuse versus human weakness on the side of both parties.
    I also think that more specifics should have been given in the article to enlighten us on exactly how big a scale is this happening?? And how should we as general seekers of knowledge react now that we know this? Also constructive measures could have been included. Allahua’lam.
    May Allah protect us all and guide us to His path.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Umm Ayesha, thanks for your comments. This piece was largely directed at those who inhabit the world of the Muslim speaking circuit. There will be a followup piece with some thoughts and suggestions for the women.

  32. Abufaruq says:

    Fame and Power are among the many fitnah of this worldly life. I have seen many local businessmen (let alone trained people of knowledge) who gain a little bit of knowledge, give a few khutbahs and all of the sudden they are declaring themselves THE local Islamic authority. It is what I like to call “the seduction of the minbar.” But Imams or other religious leaders preying upon their congregations only becomes possible when these congregations remain awashed in ignorance. The lack of knowledge of basic principles and manners coupled with the tradition of blind following we suffer from is what enables people of knowledge to take advantage of the ignorant. Until we cure the disease of willful ignorance in our community these and similar problems will continue to exist.

  33. Suad says:

    Yet more accusations about celebrity shuyukh, and yet again, no one wants to name names. How are we supposed to know who is safe and who we should keep away from? Which shuyukh do we need to protect ourselves from?
    One of my close loved ones is a mureed of a shaikh who has an association with another shaikh who allegedly abused his wives. Do I let my loved one remain involved with this person? How do I know there is no danger? Despite months of searching, I could not find any proof or evidence of wrongdoing, but still, it put great doubt in my heart, doubt about the shaikh, about everything I believed to be true, about everything I had ever learned, and sadly, about Islam itself.
    I asked everyone who might know-people who DID know the truth and could easily have cleared the matter up-and no one would ever confirm or deny the allegations.
    I know we are supposed to cover one another’s sins, but if we are in any kind of danger especiallyfrom people who are in positions of power, we should be told who these shuyukh are. These are not trivial allegations! And if those accused are NOT guilty of any wrongdoing, then we should clear their names.

  34. Suad says:

    Also, if someone knows that Shaikh So-and-So is an abuser in any way, doesn’t the person who knows have a responsibility to warn and protect others? If one knows that someone in a position of power does these types of things and doesn’t speak out, aren’t they accountable in some way?

    • A.M. says:

      you can’t stop your friend from being married to whoever she’s married to. this is more about being aware that there is adab in male female relations.
      if you don’t gawk at male speakers, write cute lil messages to them filled with emojis, ask about matters you could easily ask a female scholar, don’t use a simpering voice and gush over them with admiration – you’ll be okay. As soon as you start to throw admiration all over them and go googly eyed, you are responsible in front of Allah for starting to go down the wrong path. don’t be surprised if the devil meets you on that path.

  35. Asif says:

    Salam – good article highlighting the inherent weaknesses that we posses. Many have laid the blame on women not knowing their limits, also, as well as the shuyukhs. But the onus is on the person “in power” for they lack conviction of their faith (the article touched in this). And this is what this is: lack of conviction. Also, I have been taught that the first wife needs to agree to the second marriage… unless the second marriage is hidden.

    This article also reminded me of another situation long time ago (as it relates conferring trust and such) when my children were going to a hafiz to learn Quran. As it turned out, he was molesting children. When parents found out and barged to his place, he was nowhere to be found. He had fled. I can imagine the same thing happening today, if children are sent to places which residences without additional people present in the vicinity.

    It is interesting to see many comments latching on to specifics but not on the spirit and the intent of the article. In the comment above, a responder lays great concern about the writer creating “fitna” and future issues about seeing a sheikh since the individual are kept anonymous. I agree with the writer’s approach. No legal bounds were breached here. This is a matter of “adab” being discussed and, to that point, the article took the right approach.
    Ws;
    Asif (@butair)

    • M. Mahmud says:

      This is even more important than the issue of some “women who are taken advantage off while they flirt with the shaykh”

      It is ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE to leave children alone with ANY adult that isn’t related. There are so MANY cases of sexual abuse of young boys and girls

      • Umm Abdullah says:

        But sexual abuse is often done by relatives, so where does that leave you?

      • Kareem says:

        It’s an important issue so there needs to be a separate article on it.

        I would not advise, Um Abdullah, you leaving any children with anyone before they can talk and express themselves. The only exception would be one’s mother if she is the average good woman. When they begin to express themselves you need to do the following…

        1) Be serious in your own physical interaction with them and even if they make an error in touch you take that opportunity to point out that they need to be more careful. This does not mean one does not show affection towards one child, it just means that at an early age one needs to begin teaching them a sense of space.

        2) Stop anyone who crosses a line in a tactful way without accusing them of a bad intention.

        3) As your children how people dealt with them at any moment they were out of your sight. Even if you were in the same house.

        4) Practice drills with them of how they should react to someone touching them inappropriately.

        5) Remove them from the environment. I once saw someone I knew for years touch my child inappropriately. It was not in the most private of parts but in an area that test the limits. From that day I made it clear that my child always stays next to me at and will not be alone with “you!” I did not say anything I simple did it by my actions until the person got the point. “Son come here and sit next to me, right away”

        Some cultures don’t like any turbulence in family relations – this is where we need to grow – it’s your child – forget adab with the Uncle.

        I repeat: It’s an important issue so there needs to be a separate article on it.

  36. A.M. says:

    hey everyone, a humble request: let’s all say some special duas this whole week, and into Ramadan, for our Shaykhs, their families and wives, for female seekers of knowledge, our sisters in general, and the author of this article. this whole topic is a sign of the lack of taqwa. of big egos – women’s egos that want attention and to feel loved and special and important in the shaykh’s eyes, and male egos that want to feel admired and adored and powerful and seek conquests of females; all of this shows that this whole type of activity is far from being about pleasing God and truly seeking His Face. surely this is where jihad an naffs should come in. why is it so absent? let us make duaa that this nobility and purity will be returned to our Ummah.

  37. A.M. says:

    women often goad each other on and are encouraged to be groupies too….that has to be addressed. they try to take all the advice about being so super respectful of one’s shaykh and apply it, not realizing that in the past, women did not act so silly. Even the Sahabiyaat did not act all star-struck around Rasool Allah sallUllahoo alaihi wasallama. think about that. you can respect and admire someone without becoming a total groupie/super excited teeny bopper/needy woman wanting a sexual relationship. can we not have some normality in our communtiy and just women who want to learn and not women who want to become cult wives?

  38. A.M. says:

    you talk of the problem, but what is the solution?
    can you give clear guidelines? you say that there should be the adab of the past brought back – but what does that even look like?
    can we just say: check your heart? ask yourself if you really need to go smiling and asking the shaykh for his answer-autograph? and what are shyukh or organizers of events supposed to do to keep the proper etiquette alive?

  39. Latif says:

    I do wish there was no mention made of “celebrity sheikh” in the article. It would have been enough to say “certain recognizable Muslim speakers” instead. Now a great number of individuals who might be thought of as “celebrity sheikhs” (not by their own wishes) will be looked upon with suspicion despite being free from such impropriety.
    I advise all of you to have a good opinion of your fellow Muslims.

  40. This is really saddening but I have seen this myself, I’m sure we all have. Adab is the solution, may Allah guide our teachers to remember why they’re in their position. What I find the worst effect of this is women who loose their faith because of being jilted by a teacher. Excellent article, may Allah reward you.

  41. Halima says:

    If someone values the marital bond with his wife, he would consult her about the matter to see how it will affect her, if he doesn’t do this, what hope is there that he will even value his second wife? Its alot to think about
    They say that the Prophet salla Allahu Alayhi wassalam married many wives, but what about Sayidina Khadijah radiAllahu Anha.
    It just goes to show doesn’t it?

    The other thing is some cultures are raised to value women as second class and thats another issue in itself, the more mistrust that is created in society the fewer marriages will take place due to the high stipulated wedding dowrys

  42. Omar Usman says:

    jazakallahu khayr for the article and reminder.

    a couple of observations on the comments-

    1) There seems to be some emphasis on addressing the behavior of the sisters as well. I think that can be done in a follow up article, it wasn’t the focus of this one. however, the fact that the first comment on this article was “isnt it ok to marry a 2nd wife without the consent of the first wife” is extremely indicative of the attitude many brothers have and is a root cause of the issue.

    on a larger scale even beyond celebrity shuyookh, we have created a culture amongst ourselves where it’s socially acceptable (particularly for brothers) to joke around about their “ball and chain” or making immature 2nd wife jokes.

    both of these contribute to intentionally overlooking the human nature of relationships.

    2) For those asking Shaykha Zaynab to name names. I fully understand where you’re coming from – it’s a natural reaction to say … who??? However, i think it is important to give her the benefit of the doubt in this case. It should be respected that the author felt the wiser choice was not to name names. even in forbidding an evil there is a principle to not create a bigger evil.

    it is hoped that the general advice can suffice as a reminder in accordance with the sunnah of reminding generally (as mentioned in a previous comment). i think it’s important to note the distinction that had this been a case of sexual abuse etc, then it would be a different situation. those saying “omg now all celebrity shaykhs are suspect” – that’s a bit dramatic. it’s not as if anyone is going to hear a lecture on patience at a national convention and suddenly become a 3rd wife before the Q&A session, nor are these shaykhs predators etc.. i think the post is meant to just give general awareness of an issue and some common sense guidelines to keep in mind, and that should be sufficient.

    • A Muslim Brother says:

      “however, the fact that the first comment on this article was “isnt it ok to marry a 2nd wife without the consent of the first wife” is extremely indicative of the attitude many brothers have and is a root cause of the issue…these contribute to intentionally overlooking the human nature of relationships.”;

      Salaamu alaykum brother. I’m going to say something which may seem to hit your ego, but understand it is out of a spirit of love and brotherhood inshaAllah. With due respect my dear brother, do you have a second wife? Because I don’t. For that reason, I don’t think it’s wise to presume how one goes about getting a second wife, nor am I going to prescribe to brothers how to do so unless I can explicitly derive it from the Quran and Sunnah. That being said, the fact of the matter is that out of all the first wives in history who’s husbands married other wives, what percentage of those do you think consented? We don’t have any scientific data here, but I don’t think any man here will wager over 10%. Understanding the nature of human relationships is not simply taking account of how hurt a first wife would be by this action, but understanding how to deal with that hurt. There is no way a man will marry a second woman and the first wife will not be hurt. That’s Allah’s law of nature. Allah knows this, and told men to break hearts anyway, and then endowed men with the God-given ability to “spit some game” for lack of a better phrase, and mend things with the first wife.

      As I don’t have a second wife, I am open to being corrected on this by a man who does have a second wife. If you got your wife to consent to another woman, please write a book or something because you have been given a God-given gift lol. That’s knowledge every man should know. Even then I’d really think that this type of man is the exception not the rule (either Allah blessed him with a wife that’s an angel, or with more knowledge of the female psyche than a street hardened pimp.) I could be wrong, may Allah guide us all inshaAllah.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      Thank you, Br. Omar Usman. I am grateful for your comments and appreciate the work you’ve done on Fiqh of Social Media.

      Jazakum Allahu Khayr.

      • Zaynab Ansari says:

        @A Muslim Brother: Please don’t put knowledge of the “female psyche” and “pimp” in the same sentence. This is a serious conversation about the dispensation found in Sacred Law for plural marriage. Please don’t bring this conversation down to the lowest common denominator.

  43. Mustafa says:

    I think my heart died a little bit reading this article. I know all humans are weak and tend to err but I guess I always attributed my errors in hindsight to lack of knowledge, and to better myself today I only need more of it. This article has left me feeling this isn’t true. You’re not talking about ignorant people here and the subject matter isn’t exactly a tiny mistake. I mean, taking things too far with the opposite sex??? Isn’t that steamrolling a few thousand red flags for every Muslim?

    What happened to the simple rules we had?! no one-on-one teaching sessions with girls? And questions from females for the alim being fielded and relayed by the alim’s wife? When did we stop doing these things?

    As for anyone talking about permissibility of multiple wives today or to go further the joke of a question “if we need consent or just inform”, in this era of the ummah, please give it a rest. Please! That’s like talking about the permissibility of eating cake as a defense of eating cake in your kitchen while your house is burning down (or whether you should ask first or just let your wife discover it’s missing) . Can we focus on putting out the fire the ummah is currently in first? For an alim to be lured by this permissibility is very troubling.

    Which brings me back to my original point. If knowledge isn’t the armor we need, what is? Any insight into this would be appreciated! Thanks and as salamu alaikum!

  44. Mustafa says:

    Also I want to add naming names is wholly inappropriate. I don’t think the author wants to destroy these people, which is what naming would do but instead give them the opportunity to reform themselves.

    I’m also comforting myself by thinking that this is very isolated and perhaps the case in maybe 1 in a million alims.

  45. Umm Ibrahim says:

    The information in this article is heartbreaking. I pray that the sisters who were victims of these sexual predators have gotten the help they need in order to heal and move on. My sincere advice to them is to focus on themselves and commit to healing. Really try to understand the pattern of behavior that lead to this unfortunate situation. Examine your own behavior and seek the help of licensed therapists if you need some objective ears. You must rise up from this situation a better person, a wiser woman and a more beloved servant of God. There may be some underlying issues related to self-worth or depression or just really unhealthy patterns of behavior that need to be formally addressed. This situation has highlighted the need for you to do some serious contemplation.

    Lashing out on these so called ‘teachers’ may give you a sense of fulfillment in the short term but you will always be left with your own actions and your own role in this situation that will continue to haunt you and potentially lead to similar situations in the future.

    I recommend reading a good seerah book. Take a nice long break from the TV & social media. The internet is a cesspool, my sister. Internet Islam is no exception to this rule.

    Knowledge is found in books, not articles and Facebook statuses, knowledge is transmitted from heart to heart, not from key stroke to key stroke and what we seek is Allah alone. Seek Him alone and you will never be let down again.

    Love and Prayers

  46. Halima says:

    Sarah
    May 28, 2015
    Personally, I find women circles of knowledge a waste of time. They’re badly organised and noisy and the women are usually too preoccupied with back-biting and marriage. I would also say the female teachers I’ve come across aren’t as scholarly as the male teachers… my point is:- we have a long way to go before females can mentor each other so lets stop knocking what little we have and start building instead. It’s very short-sighted to expect everything to work exactly as it did during the caliphate years, especially given the fact that we are living in the west under non-Islamic rule. We really need to start getting real…

    I do believe that women have sought knowledge from Men, but they were Serious in their pursuit, sincere and obeyed the conditions stipulated from the Shariah..hence they amassed a wealth of knowledge. Sometimes seeking Ilm takes sacrifice of ones family, friends, home, comforts, money. Institutions have been set up for women in the West, such as in Bradford, Preston, Bolton, Lancaster who do take on boarding students from all over the World.

    I don’t believe this article reflects on all Shuyukh or a Majority. Most Shuyukh are incredibly committed to their family and community because they are trying to get closer to Allah. The headline seems somewhat out of context as it also refers to any Muslim man or woman.

    • Khadijah says:

      I am astounded with this lack of adab towards women. I have met and learned from wonderful women shaykhas. I wonder what your definition of ‘scholarly’ is? bearded? let’s be careful here. The author herself is mashaAllah a woman scholar. May Allah bless her and her integrity and taqwa which are – I think the article itself shows – the most important things in a scholar. May Allah increase all our scholars in integrity and taqwa.

  47. Um Ibrahim says:

    Asalaamu alaykum sister Zaynab, mashaaAllah this was a very great read. You have shed light on an important and worrying topic. The sad truth in my opinion, is that you put the blame on the shayukh alone. Like you said, they are humans and can make mistakes. The women who put themselves in such situations are accountable and to blame for being in that predicament as well. In fact I think 90 percent of the blame should be put on the women. It is the fault of the woman who agreed to be kept as a “secret wife.” She likes the man? Fine. She’s willing to accept him being married to another woman and having a family with that woman? Fine. But I don’t understand why any woman will ever agree to be a secret wife! Is she less of a woman than his first? Did Allah not give men permission men to marry upto 4 women? So why would a woman put this great burden on herself and lower herself in that way?!

    Yes it’s wrong for a man especially one who claims to be a scholar of islam to take such advantages of women but I feel like women need to protect themselves. They need to educate themselves and know THEIR RIGHTS IN ISLAM.

    It is the responsibility of the man to solve his first wife’s issues if she has a problem with his second marriage. But the second wife should never ever agree to such terms in the first place. It’s wrong.

    • Hajar says:

      Laying 90% of the blame on the women when there is obvious power imbalance in the student-teacher relationship is obviously unfair and naive. You can’t demand that we respect our scholars for the knowledge or the Prophetic chain of transmission they inherit and not equally hold them to higher standards of moral and ethical conduct.

      It is very well possible that the condition for the marriage being kept a secret was only introduced after the marriage was consummated, which practically locks them into the marriage, more so when they married as virgins.

      • Um Ibrahim says:

        But it is the responsibility if the woman to protect herself. She is not a child. A marriage cannot be kept a secret unless and until both parties agree to keep it a secret. I’m not saying there’s no blame on men who are doing such things. But what I’m saying is, we need to focus on where the main problem is coming from which is lack of education and women not knowing their rights in Islam. This should be something the parents need to teach to their daughters and sons at a young age before someone takes advantage of them.

  48. Salikah says:

    BismiAllah.

    I think we are not addressing the root issue. The fact of the matter is that we are neglecting the shariah and sunnah and hence we are suffering from the repercussions. Forgive me if I sound extreme, but allow me to relay my view inshaa Allah.

    Very sadly, what I see is that a lot of Muslims these days are very relaxed when it comes to the ahkaam related to freemixing and modesty. I still fail to understand why there isn’t proper segregation in events and why there is no barrier between brothers and sisters. Plus why is it a must that the sisters must see the Shaykh? I have male teachers and a blessed Shaykh (hafidhahuAllah) however they have never intentionally appeared before me without me being in niqaab. There is a board or curtain separating them from us and subhanAllah our teachers have such taqwa that a sheet must be thrown over the board if it appears to have holes. May Allah bless them. Ameen. If there is no barrier then we must present with niqaab or maybe in extreme situations they will keep their gaze down. I have witnessed at least 2 teachers with their head straight down walking across sisters. SubhanAllah, both brothers and sisters study at our madrasah, but never ever has there been any freemixing and I consider this a blessed miracle of Allah. There is 1 entrance for them and 1 entrance for us. Never ever has there been any incident as a result. There is so much shame, if there are many brothers are at their entrance, the sisters will wait in their cars until they clear inshaa Allah.

    The second thing our blessed teachers teach is to stay hidden. To remain free of the limelight. My shaykh and his shaykh and all the blessed mashaykh in the chain refrain from photography, they will get extremely upset if someone by deceit takes their picture. They have never appeared in TV programmes, in videos or this modern trend of youtube videos. Yes, they may have social media accounts controlled by their students to spread their words of wisdom but that’s about it. They do all they can to remain hidden. Of course though, ALlah Ta’alaa raises the humble ones and that’s why they have worldwide recognition, not of their wanting it to be so but because Allah Ta’alaa honoured them.

    These days, a lot of us do not understand why taking photographs is lethal. In our shariah there is a chapter called “Sadd Al dharaai'” or closing the means to haraam. Would any of these issues even surface if the sisters involved didn’t upload their pictures or the Shaykh himself? I would doubt it. Unless, of course, in person there is no strict segregation. Again, I say that when I see sisters fully dressed up next to a Shaykh I get extremely shocked. The shaykh may be a pinnacle of piety but what harm does it do to put a barrier at least?

    Sadly, we are very passionate about learning, but very weak on implementation and ihsaan. We ourselves are not working on our spirituality and self development. We study, but we don’t increase in taqwa and humility. What does this show? We have a lack of ikhlaas, subhanAllah. We need to sit in the gatherings of the pious, do our dhikr, leave all sins and follow Allah’s deen strictly without making compromises for our nafs.

    Shuyookh are examples for the youth and they should embody sunnah. They should look and behave like the Prophet sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam. These days some don’t consider covering their heads important or even wearing Islamic attire. Forgive me if I sound offensive, I don’t mean to be. However, it is important to understand the importance of sunnah. The sahabah radhiyAllahu ‘anhum were so diligent on sunnah, they wanted to become lookalikes of the Prophet sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, they didn’t say “O well it’s just a sunnah”. Even kids today crave to dress like their favourite characters and the ummah of the Prophet sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam doesn’t care if they look like their leader or not? SallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam.

    In conclusion, we must go back to shariah and sunnah and submit 100%. We must not pick and choose for our desires. This is the root issue. Allah says in the Qur’an that any affliction that affects us is because of what our own hands have earned and sadly, even if it is bitter to digest, this problem mentioned in the article is definitely because we left the laws of ALlah and started to follow our desires.

    I hope no offense is taken. This ummah has to wake up and work on their hearts inshaa Allah. We are just behaving like robots, doing what we find easy and leaving what we find hard. May Allah Ta’alaa give us the tawfeeq to change for His sake and do mujahadah on ourselves as He pleases. May Allah Ta’alaa keep all fitnah far from us. Ameen ya Rabb!.

    Requesting your duaas,
    A fellow sister.

    • Um Tariq says:

      Salikah, masha Allah your comment hit the nail on the head. I believe very strongly in what you have stated but subhanAllah it is such an unpopular view. So many times when I have attended large seminars or conferences I have requested a barrier to be put up between the men and the woman, and they tell me I’m being uptight and restricting the sisters from knowledge. It’s ridiculous because from my own experience as a student of knowledge, some of the best knowledge I’ve attained was from behind a curtain. And like you said, in cases when we absolutely needed to see the shaykh for instruction, ALL of us were in niqab and full hijab.

      Like I said…it’s a very unpopular view these days.

  49. Omer says:

    Salam Alaikom,

    Phenomenal article, jazaki Allah Khair for being brave enough to bring such an important issue and at the same time being sensitive and kind enough to navigate it in a fashion that is beneficial rather than an exposé. I look very forward to reading a follow up.

    Just some very basic advice that has already been implicitly mentioned and I am sure everyone is aware of. When we fall in love with our ulema and shuyoukh we need to remember that they are nothing more than a vessel that Allah uses to show us His beauty and the beauty of the religion. All good is attributed to Allah, so a wonderful lecture by sheikh Yasir Qadhi on “reconstructing the Muslim mind” is a gift from Allah who we should direct our love to. On the other hand our ulema and shuyoukh need to remind themselves of that and I recognize its easier said then done. I will end with this, I was not “practicing” at one point in my life, and if I knew that getting closer to the religion would lead me to sin and transgression then I might have stuck to being non practicing. I probably simplified a complex issue but just some points to share.

  50. Moutasem Atiya says:

    Salamu Alaikum Dear Shaykha Zaynab,

    I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter. It has already opened up discussion between many nationally known Islamic figures, may Allah reward you immensely. This issue is one that I have been grappling with for sometime now.

    Where once a person’s knowledge, maturity and stability were the key factors in who is promoted in our community, now it is how popular they are and how many conference attendees or social media hits they can possibly bring. We have traded maturity for popularity and in some cases we are paying a terrible communal price.

    We have witnessed strange behavior from speakers who violate the core spiritual and ethical teachings of our Messenger (peace be upon him and his family) and yet we continue the national promotion. During the early generations these actions would have been looked down upon and scorned, but to the contrary in our time we use this behavior as an additional marketing ploy in our promotions, as if we are advertising to niche cable audiences vying for their attention. In doing so we continue fueling the fire until it rages out of control. One of the many soon to be seen unfortunate outcomes results in what you have stated in your article.

    Until Muslim leaders and organizers are willing to reassess who they are promoting in the public sphere, and other national speakers are willing to confront the known ill behavior of our colleagues we will continue to grapple with this problem.

    • Omar Usman says:

      i think this is one solution – when the peer group finds out about such behavior, they should stop inviting these people to conferences and giving them platforms, or promoting them etc.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      Wa alaikum as-salaam wa rahmatullah,

      Thank you, Shaykh Moutasem. You have hit the nail on the head. The responsibility of the speaking circuit is an immense one and I’ve been troubled by some aspects of the culture that has sprung up around that circuit.

      I’m the first to question whether I should even be on that platform.

      Insha’Allah, I will address the issues you’ve raised in a followup article.

      Jazakum Allahu Khayr.

  51. The title of the article seems to point to a very serious matter – indeed it is seriously accusatory in tone – and if indeed spiritual abuse is happening in the name of teaching Islam it is despicable and must be stopped. Boundaries are extremely important and it is true that they get blurred – whether deliberately or not is for Allah to judge – to the detriment of all involved. This is the result of lack of Tarbiyya and indeed Taqwa which we all need to work on and ensure that our intentions remain pure always. I have heard of instances of teachers (I don’t like to use the term Shaykh or Shaykha) even announcing that they are searching for spouses. I consider that to be highly inappropriate and distinctly disgusting and totally out of keeping with the vaqaar and honor of the work of teaching Islam. But when teaching Islam has been made into a money making circus with conferences becoming more networking and socialising affairs rather than being serious places of learning – without any boundaries of mixing of genders, music (beat boxing is music), comedy and other gimmicks (I saw a conference poster with so-called Shuyookh billed as Love Doctor and other such innovative titles) then what can one seriously expect? Organizers appear to me more concerned about attracting more and more people because that means more and more ticket money and justify everything else through dubious interpretations of the rules. And the rest follows.

    However in the comments, I see that there is a lot of discussion about the entire issue of second marriages, which also comes from some of the comments in the article. On that I wish to make two points: 1. What Allah made legal nobody can make illegal. 2. Why does a woman agree to marry a man knowing that he is married, if indeed women are so against second marriages? All it needs for men never to be able to marry a second time is for women to decide that they will not marry a married man. Why does a single woman even entertain any conversation with the man when she knows that it is not permissible for her to do so? As they say, clapping is a two handed affair.

    If a woman marries a man who is already married then she is equally responsible for ruining his marriage – if that is what happens. That is the hard truth, whether anyone likes to accept it or not. What the man is doing is not illegal, no matter who likes it or not.

    As for Rasoolullah (S) doing everything openly; so do Arabs, Malaysians, Chinese, most Africans, Japanese – Muslims or not. The cultures accept that. So did Indian sub-continental urbanites until they got Westernised. In rural India second and third marriages are still prevalent to this day without any stigma attached to them. This is true even among Hindus for whom under Indian Law bigamy is illegal. Urban women have taken to Western traditions of one wife (legally) and so having a second one is not acceptable to them. Allah created the law to take care of social problems all of which we are well aware of and so I won’t list them here. However we complain about the problems but don’t accept Allah’s solution. There are thousands of young divorcees, with and without children today who are sitting at home or trying very hard to bring up children on their own because their sisters won’t allow their men to marry a second time. Yeah! Yeah! I know – why must you marry a woman to take care of her financially? Why didn’t Rasoolullah (S) or the Sahaba do so then? And it is not to say that wives will allow their men to support another women and her family without marrying her either. Ask them and see if you don’t believe me.

    I think we need to get real. Yes there should be transparency but there can’t be transparency when there are severe negative consequences to doing things legally. So reduce the price to pay and men will become brave enough to face the music. For the record – as everyone who knows me, knows about me – I am against second marriages as a rule. I think one must move on in life and do other things than marry one woman after another and make changing nappies your life goal.

  52. umm H says:

    MashaAllah sister – thank you for talking about this. Perhaps more female scholars is what is needed. If woman seeking knowledge of their Deen, role models or mentorship had more woman that they could actively learn from and look up to, then maybe in this time of fitna, we would go some way in closing the door on some of these sociatal evils.

  53. Farah says:

    I think this unfortunate phenomenon is a result of an overall spiritual, epistemological and ethical crisis in the Muslim community. Ustadha Zainab herself touched on this in the beginning of her article: she is often the only woman on all-male panels, she is viewed as a token woman scholar, a novelty. This is precisely at the heart of problem: “sacred knowledge” has become a vehicle for reifying hegemonic male authority in Islamic traditional learning, relegating women to the lowly position of shy/emotional/hormonal student groupies and our knowledge comes only from “sheikhs”. Why is that? How is this “sacred” or “prophetic”? It’s because we have created a false and superficial category of what being “pious” and “learned” means.

    Unless we get real about this rosy image we’ve created about “sacred knowledge”, it will continue to be a mockery and a caricature. Men and women of knowledge should fear the dangerous ruination of nifaq: men should check their egos and stop objectifying/sexualizing women and women should feel more empowered to take their rightful authority when it comes to Islamic sacred knowledge. Unless women are empowered to be “shaykhas” in their own right, rather than just be the receiving end of instruction, we are doing something seriously wrong.

  54. Muslimah says:

    A few suggestions:

    1. In Q/A sessions, instead of the male speaker sitting down in the sisters’ section to answer one-on-one questions, he can simply ask everybody to note down questions on paper and just address the relevant ones. (I’ve been to classes where sisters are literally elbowing others out of the way in order to go right up to the Shaikh (only to snap a picture up close!)).

    2. Shaikhs might make it a policy not to add any non-mahram to their personal social media accounts. And block anybody who tries otherwise.

    3. Shaikhs might forward (or have someone forward) relevant emails from sisters to an ustadha instead in order to prevent a one-on-one interaction.

    Women stopping online interaction is not going to happen. It has to the implementation of some strict policies on the part of the Shaikh and his team.

  55. strawberrrrryfields says:

    I am thankful to Ustadha for talking about this very important topic. In the recent times, I have seen the shayukh are treated in the similar fashion just like the celebrities and secondly, some of the female students unfortunately does not deal with them in the manner they deal with anyone of opposite gender. It is not against Ulema, I don’t know why would someone think of it that way. It cuts both ways , thus putting an equal responsibility on the Ulema and our women.

  56. keda says:

    Salaam. ..Great article and sorely needed. Adab. Adab. Adab. As well as constantly purifying our intentions and just being real. These would go a long way to curing our community of this ill. I’ve seen this firsthand and some of these sisters are in fact naive young women being taken advantage of by more experienced charismatic men. What saddens me is they lose time…sometimes years of their life being strung along by these teachers dreaming of the day they will be his second plus wife. All the while being groomed away from actual eligible bachelors. There are other women out there purposefully and callously going after these men with no regard for their current families or situation. The ease of private communication just adds to the roads of fitna. Very sad. Thank you for bringing the discussion to light.

  57. Kareem says:

    Bismillah and Salaam:

    There are several points I wanted to take a look at. First I think it would be fair to provide a background. I myself have been guilty as a male of falling into precarious situations while discussing with or “advising” the opposite gender which ultimately caused hurt on my spouse. There are many factors and sub-issues which touch on propriety, scholarship and community. I will attempt to organize my thoughts below in a fashion which others can reply to specific aspects. I actually wished that people who knew me during a most difficult time had reached out to me to seek a balanced understanding and to try to bring about much necessary healing to all parties involved. Moreover we need to avoid gossip, pointing the finger and exalting ourselves and being so shocked at the fall of others. The door of tawba is always open and the door to the shaytan is always open.

    This was marked too long so let’s look for it in a few posts.

    1 – Scholarship and its role to play in a solution to the issue(s) addressed.
    a) The need for Female Scholarship cannot be stressed enough. Public events where masses of Muslims congregate are a catalyst for us only being interested in sensational speakers. Women by nature are not going to be outwardly sensational though we do have many. This is not an attack being sensational by any gender more than it is a realization. Many women are not on stage due to the fact that as an Ummah we have the onus that we are not interested in speakers, whether male or female, that are not sensational and/or funny and Allah knows best. We need as an Ummah to raise the bar of our interest in deeply intellectual and/or spiritual matters. Another aspect to consider is that many religious scholarly women are dedicated to their husbands and children and will not venture away from that which is sacred to them. This latter point begs the question: Should husbands start to take some of that responsibility from their scholarly wives in order that they might dedicate some time to the much needed work. Women need access to more female scholars and women “should be willing” to utilize those resources instead of preferring male outlets. I found several qualified female teachers but they are rather obscure. Moreover, I find that female scholars tend to dedicate themselves to serious projects such as charity, medical work, counseling and other much needed community work. However, there is a need for these female scholars to network (some are doing this already) and make themselves available so that women have no excuse to ask a male scholar or would be scholar any “inappropriate” questions. On the other hand there is nothing wrong from a woman learning or seeking nothing from males but there are several issues to consider in relevance to the times we live in and issues we face. Conclusion: More connectivity and awareness of female scholars\teachers\dai’ya is a must!
    b) Male speakers and scholars need to realize that we have to at some point be honest with ourselves. Many male scholars of the past generations did not teach the opposite gender and there is nothing wrong with that. We should not be upset if a male scholar likes women because it is in fact normal. However, if a man is prone to polygamy or is monogamous but likes women (don’t limit yourself to looking at carnal aspects, women offer a lot more than satisfying base desires) he should stick to teaching males and avoid teaching women where he knows he will fail time and time again. However, as a community we fail also, since we’d rather gossip than say to the male teacher: “brother stop playing you know all the ladies like you, avoid it, teach the brothers only!” We want our male teacher to be nearly Imam al-Nawawi or others who barely could marry due to worrying they would fail to give a woman her physical right! A man can be a man who has no issues teaching women and we have many exemplars of that, a man can also like women but avoid them and only deal with sisters through is daughter or wife. If we try to limit character diversity we will always fail in providing accurate Nasiha similar to a foolish doctor attempting to perform open heart surgery on someone suffering only from a brain tumor. Another aspect is that not all wives and daughters have any interest of being a go-between for their spouse\father. Conclusion: Not all male scholars need to teach women. Forward requests to the list of female scholars that insha Allah will be available or more available in the future by virtue of this spot-on article. Note: There can be several networks of female scholarly networks not just one or two.
    c) Issue of impropriety in male-female relations have been accurately discussed and we should pray for one another. Those who wronged themselves and others should feel remorse for their actions.

    2 – Impropriety between males and females. Who’s to blame? Well…I read above many valid yet one-sided responses whether from the point of the first wife, or female fan victim or male teacher.

    a) Let’s look at: work and study: 1) realize when to not teach or work with the opposite gender – the ummah will continue with or without “your project”
    b) Males\Female Teachers: We do need to judge ourselves and start being honest. The institute of marriage is sacred as well as the institutes of Islamic learning. I, myself, reached the point that if I fear failing the Allah, my spouse or the community then divorce has been made legal and it is an option. It’s better to divorce and remarry with grace than to skirt the lines of Islamic manners. I was guilty once of skirting those lines until one day you realize you cannot try to satisfy your needs by crossing the lines of adab. I am not advocated divorce but one should not rule it out and have that “secret” life.

    c) Male\female fans or students: Very few are victims. I have seen many women ignore men of scholarly status or suggest they speak to their mahram. It does not have to be rude. I have seen many sisters respectfully cut the communication when impropriety is feared. I have also seen female scholars respectfully answer questions by male scholars such as our Ustadha Zaynab. We don’t have to live in closets but we have to use common sense. We as an Ummah are lacking common sense to be quite honest. Now, many fans\students push the envelope? This fact cannot be dismissed. Many students and fans push the envelope, do not control their giggles and flirtatious mannerisms, and everyone cries over them when they are broken hearted but they did not mind to engage a married male or female and go for the gold. They did not mind to break up a marriage. Power abuse is when you are talking about the adult abusing the youth, or the strong angry husband beating his wife or vice versa, two people giggling on a phone has no abuse of power it’s an abuse of proper adab and both parties are equally guilty. Moreover, don’t think women are the ones always being taken advantage of. Just because a woman may state she has this and that issue and suffering in this and that way – no one knows the secret deeds of that woman – that she sometimes uses the “weak naive man” for her emotional or other need fulfillment. On the other end – is that man weak and naive? Should he really continue speaking to a woman that flirts with him on the phone. Both are criminals that need to make tauba.
    d) In respect to protecting women. Our fellow sisters do need protection not only from men with motives but from themselves and their own motives. The reason we don’t solve issues is because we try to play a blame game. This is the reason why mahram are very important – if women will listen to them. We as Muslims interested in this issue, have to change the standard and universally ask sisters to have a mahram. Reputable men of our community have to start being mahram for disenfranchised sisters or women that simple need a male guardian. I think going through mahram for communication was more popular in American Islam but since the over indulgence of conferences, email and text messages, facebook, viber you name it – everyone began to do their own thing and here is where the danger lies.

    3 – Spouses step it up and accept your role to play.
    a) Why are you speaking about your wife’s or husband’s virtues in front of every person? Why are you allowing your husband to advise your cousin? Why are you allowing your wife to advise your brother on the phone for years? Why are our gatherings not separated? Islam promotes prevention of harm before attaining benefit. Why do the sisters not create their own circle and halaqas with rules? You backbite you are out! You don’t want us to discipline your child you’re out! I will address this more in the section of healing and solutions. Why dear wife and husband must you relate every emotive comment mentioned by a non-mahram person to your spouse? Who cares if a sister had a dream of your husband in Medina? Don’t mention her name to him but maybe say “Someone had a dream…” Who cares if brother so and so thinks your wife is astute – why mention it? You tell her you think she is “awesome”. The tongue is the trap door for many of these issues. As for the heart: Why do you think you have it all made as a scholarly couple? Why the arrogance? Arrogance leads to sins and this is a secret that those who fall come to know. May Allah have mercy on us.
    b) Why should you as a woman (someone brilliantly commented on this) not adore your man who can fix your car and prays at night? Why does he have to be a sensational speaker? (we do love our sensational speakers and we are not poking at them) Maybe he could have been that but preferred to protect his ego, or provide for his family of 6 children, or be the hidden one whose dua gives the sensational speaker the success they attain just like those sahaba who due to lack of means or due to responsibility stayed behind and prayed for the those who had the means to fight. We do also have to be fair to a woman who does want her husband to look like a Muslim due to her Imaan, why should she be happy when he shaves his beard? Why should your wife be a hadith scholar – she can’t be a wife who is devoted to you and gives you her all? We do need to see both sides here and ultimately a lot needs to be said about intention and the value of sabr and dua. Sometimes people change if we pray for them. “Seek help with patience and prayer…”
    c) Husbands\Wives: So your spouse seems to be inclined to the fans, students and colleagues in the masjid? Ever considered that it is not a crime to be feminine or masculine for your spouse. Perhaps your spouse needs that from you and all will be well. We want the solution to always precede from the one failing. You spouse are the environment, you give a little and perhaps this is the environment change that man or woman needs. Wear a turban at home! Is it haram to look nice for her? Dress up for that male scholar dear wife! Is it haram to for him to be spiritual and enjoy you dolled up? Or must he enjoy you in sweat pants only otherwise he is ibn-dunya?

    • Khadijah says:

      We are unfortunately too focused on outward things, and this is why we cannot see goodness in simple men who are our husbands and fathers; why we cannot see goodness and example in pious quiet women from whom we could learn so much, if we just settled down a bit; and why we fail to realize God is watching. God is watching. As much as your lower self or selfish aspect may want something – a marriage, a man, fame, power – the whole point of this existence is to submit to He Who is Greater and not give in to our lowest animal-level desires when fulfilling these hurts another person. If we cannot do that, let’s not claim any moral superiority amongst humankind.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Kareem, thank you. You’ve made some great points, especially in highlighting the need to be real when it comes to dealing with members of the opposite sex. Traditionally, some of our ‘ulama would only teach same-gender students and I think there’s great wisdom there. Also, the point about passing over the hardworking Muslim husband for the glamor of the public speaker is an important one. We need to consider the impact of our fanclub activity on our own spouses.

      • Kareem says:

        Sister Ustadha Zaynab,

        Thank you in turn. It seems like there are so many facets to this discussion and I am inspired by so many of the responses. So many rights and needs are being neglected.

        1) The rights of the wife
        2) The rights of the community
        3) The rights of the co-wife
        4) The rights of the husband
        5) The rights of the Scholars

        This article needs to turn into something more. Things are breaking down and in a time when we need to be stronger. May God give you strength to help us.

  58. Kareem says:

    Con’t

    4 – Community
    a) You love the juice. Let’s be honest. You would rather know names and judge people to make your own Islam seem holy. (not judging those on this thread who wanted to know names – I believe they are sincere InshaAllah) You don’t care about the victims – you just listen to a sob story and you treat the wife and male teacher like dirt. You don’t seek to heal. You send follow up messages to the male teacher who abused his power and this and that and you don’t ever ask to talk to him face to face with an intention to understand and heal. Sometime all is takes is a balanced person to listen to all sides. You are the community and you are men and women who love gossip because subconsciously you say to yourself: “I can’t believe it, he was the right hand man of the Mufti! Man I’m going to catch a movie we aren’t doing so bad in our deen after all… At least we are not doing that!” You are the community who never seek to heal who throw out the baby, the bath water, and the baby’s smiles – all you see is the baby’s excretions.
    b) You are also the one who does not care about the victim and all you care about is preserving the reputation of the scholar and his holy wife or her holy husband. “How dare that tramp!” He was not calling her? That female teacher was not enthralled by the brother who studied 15 years here and there? She was not sending him e-mail after e-mail while her husband was at home reading to the children? You are the community and you take sides.
    c) Now when it comes to abusing children I have low tolerance and I stand with taking a tough stance on perpetrators. However, you are the community who refuse to take advice, who know so much better than some uneducated person. When you were told to never send your child alone to a teacher due to the increase amount of sexual abuse you ignored it and said: “you can’t protect your child from everything, he\she will have to face the world some day” This is another issue and we will leave it here.
    d) You are the community who were friends for years and refused to advise your hypocritical friend you saw failing and falling. Perhaps secretly you did not mind that male “scholar” or female “star” being brought down on their knees. Perhaps you like feeling better and secretly you were jealous. You never advised him or checked to see if the gossip was true or to really see how you can help your friend from falling? Where were you? Did they not look out for you when you were suicidal and had no solution left except their scholarly advice? When you were depressed they spend hours sharing ilm with you? Why did you leave them to hang???
    e) You are the community whom we love and pray for because we too are you. You did not like the akhlaq of people in California and I validate your concerns and this is not directed to you alone. Did you ever turn down those who were not in the limelight who just wanted a few pieces of bread and a place to teach day and night for the sake of Allah or were you hoping to secure more funds from your congregation. How many sincere people who can affect change are snubbed due to race or lack of popularity? Not to mention sectarian differences among Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jammah itself.
    f) You are the community. You came from countries where adab was instilled from young and you don’t share it with others. One of those adab is the separation of gender. Half-religious Yamanis practice it and it protects them from the majority of those ills (not saying always-so don’t provide examples where it fails). Or you only force separation of gender on converts but for your own ethinic culture you allow free mixing in hopes the girl gets married to that “Shaikh”.
    We are the community and we are dishonest with ourselves!

    5 – Healing and where do we go from here?
    a) First step was Ustadha Zaynab bringing it out. May God reward her and create 1000 like her. May God protect her and raise her rank and protect her, her husband, children and community.
    b) Male\Female Scholars – respect yourself and your spouse. If you degrade your spouse, as I came to know, the women\men you aspire to marry will not respect you and use you. Men do have the slight level of power to be strong and say, “Sister ask Ustadha Zaynab? “Sister I will check with Ustadha so and so and forward the response and from there try to connect with sisters of sound advice.” If you are exposed it is from Allah whether it is valid or not. You have to repent because it is a punishment from Allah either way you slice it. Re-evaluate yourself and decide if it is better for you to step down and take a break for awhile, repent and find a way of serving the community in a different way. Don’t teach the opposite gender and don’t do public engagements – leave that for those who Allah has protected in this regard and may He always protect them. If Allah wills He will use you again if you have healed yourself and those around you. This may be rare. (Of course for sexual abuse of same gender minors one should just repent, never go back to that action, apologize and remain obscure until you meet Allah.)
    c) Mahram to women – Teach your girls! Teach your wives! Teach your sisters! Even you being with them while another male interacts with them is not appropriate always. Why do they need to go to every halaqa and conference. Find female scholars for your womenfolk and other resources and live Islam yourself in your home and life with them. When your sisters and daughters are ready for marriage if they have a zeal for sacred knowledge find them a pious man that has good manners and don’t worry about silly things. If you want to stay within your culture do so if you go outside do so but try to respect their wish for a scholarly spouse. Don’t allow men to have access to your women folk. Some women are active in the community and there is a space in Islam for that which we won’t deny. Those like Ustadha Zaynab are exceptions and we all need validate this. The grassroots work that Ustadha Zaynab performs is what is badly needed – namely being a resources for true seekers of knowledge, for sisters, for families and for our brothers and sisters of other faiths.
    d) Unmarried Men and Women who study or follow as a fan the esteemed one – try to follow the same behavior you would want an unmarried brother\sister to follow in dealing with your future wife\husband. If you fall into inappropriate behavior repent and don’t try to defame anyone and play victim. 25 years and you’re a victim? Say to them straight – you are awesome and are you going to marry me? If not then we end here and forgive me as I forgive you. If you liked this man or woman why are they now so bad and need to be defamed. They did not have any good? After all that reflects on you as well. You sought them out or fell for them so either they had some good or you yourself are bad and picked a bad person. Either way you should not defame them rather advise them and see if they change, don’t spread gossip where stories have a chance of becoming more and more spicier as they flow from circle to circle and home to home or facebook pm to facebook pm.
    e) Community don’t assume people don’t change. Don’t assume you know the whole story. Go ahead and judge others and the same may happen to you. Seek to heal, protect and prevent. There are many stories in Islamic history of students forsaking their esteemed teacher thinking they are better than that teacher who made a slip. Okay teacher can stop teaching – I agree. However, do you student or community member think it’s okay not to try to advise or help them. After all that teacher is a Muslim, albeit a munafiq for the while, he could be close to Allah tomorrow after deep repentance. Also we need to help those affected to heal. Sometimes we need parties to apologize to one another in order to calm the rage of the ones hurt and to prevent the poison of gossip. Instead we point a finger – “look at what he\she did” Look at what you did not do sitting on your bottom and gossiping your life away. The one who heals between parties obtains a great reward from Allah so be that person and don’t try to stick up for your friend because you don’t like that male/female scholar anyway or because you have a secret crush yourself and since you can’t have them and want to drag them down too. We also need to create healthy environments which are gender separated (without going to extremes in this interaction either which sometimes lead to homosexual behavior). As Muslims one of our ills is our over-consumption of unhealthy sugars and fats and our lack of movement. Brothers and sisters need to release energy and stay healthy. Unhealthy nutrition causes excess in emotional needs and even sexual needs. You will find that after a strong brisk walk in nature and some Quran recital (in any order) that your emotional and sexual needs are kept at bay. We should encourage more activity in our masajids and more sharing of edification between Muslims. That can’t happen with small prayer spaces for women, smelly carpets, racism, elitism, and a dearth of activities that take place outside the masjids and do take place in community centers, our homes and nature. We need to forgive and we need to be the means of people seeing their faults and realizing that if they are honest and work through their issues we will help all sides move forward in a productive manner. Female halaqas need to happen and they need to be serious and single women should not be allowed to ignore them in preference for male halaqas. What do you want hanging around the male halaqa for jokes and to stare and men. Be a woman and learn to be one from a female beacon of light hence the need for more female beacons of light. Female teachers: some of you are snobby and unapproachable, judgmental and downright rude. If you are like stones what seeking deen girl will sit with you, she already may need a father figure so you being the stormy ustadha ain’t gonna cut it. Take her under your wing, edify her and help marry her to a good man.
    f) Say Allah and work. We need to realize as Muslims that we just need common sense and we need to sometimes not focus on being “shocked” but rather on working hard towards fixing matters. We cannot leave a male teacher in a state where he feels its okay not to apologize. It’s wrong. Any married person with a real engagement in making it work knows they have to apologize often even if they are right :) so apologize please and admit you are a failure in this regard. It’s also okay to seek an apology from some who you think wronged you because maybe they wish to admit their failures but are shy. Moreover, maybe they wish to have you recognize where you need to make amends in the like. To the one who feels victimized: we are all too often victim to our own egos and desire to fulfill carnal needs or self worth gratification when this goes wrong we tend to point the finger. For a woman victim: you must respect your mahram and use them to provide your worth in the eyes of males. If you don’t respect and listen to them they you don’t have their protection. Sometimes if they can just say marry this person or don’t go to this place or be back by this time or let us meet that religious teacher you like and see if we can be involved ( or encourage him to not lead you on) – but we know better sometimes and our mahram is left with no power. For the male victim: can you simply find a girl to marry who values you? if you and your wife can’t make it work please see what changes need to be made maybe choosing divorce or not choosing it and looking at a change of location, home, lifestyle or relationship style. Also begin to honor your sister and if you failed in the past do better in the future. One of the early Muslim exemplars was found once carrying a non mahram up a staircase for some fun, yet his tauba made him a name hardly unrecognized by the scholars and laymen of past generations.

    May Allah heal us by uniting us, save us by showing us our faults, love us by placing among us sincere love for one another.

  59. Jamil says:

    In the Name of God. Firstly, I would like to thank and congratulate Mrs. Ansari for such a powerful and wonderfully written article. For years, I suspected that such things were going on within certain circles of Muslims, teachers, shaykhs, etc. but I never gave in to my suspicions hoping that they were just that, may God Grant forgiveness. Perhaps this is why so many Muslim friends, along with myself, have chosen to distance ourselves from the entire celebrity shaykh culture. Once a person becomes larger than life, everything and everyone around him changes and it is an uncomfortable feeling, for sure, to say the least. I will add, however, that it is deeply hurtful and heartbreaking to know, witness and see that a person with (outward) Islamic knowledge could do such things to people, women in particular. I personally do not see much benefit in a man or woman acquiring all this legal/outward knowledge if it does not dramatically alter their character. It seems we/they have missed the point of learning and perhaps even the purpose of religion, altogether. Thank you again, Mrs. Ansari for this insightful and eye-opening article and I pray that we take these words to heart in hopes of purifying it.

  60. Lateefah says:

    I was unable to read all of the previous comments, but I cannot help but ask where are the guardians of these women who have allegedly been harmed. Guardians who should be there to ask questions and help the parties ascertain what their future roles will be when married. Where is the contract agreed upon by all parties.?? Part of marriage is having a walimah to announce the union. All the blame for these so called bad situations cannot be placed with the man. These intelligent women must take responsibly for helping to create the relationship they freely took part in. And whether the first wife knows or not is not a condition of marriage as stated previously.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Lateefa, the presence of the guardian is no guarantee abuses won’t happen, particularly if the guardian is unaware of the brother’s true intentions. And while the first wife’s knowledge is not a condition, it certainly would reduce a lot of the fitna caused by clandestine second marriages.

  61. NadT says:

    Let’s not forget that this doesn’t only apply to people who are married. there are those SEEMINGLY perpetually single men who don’t want to settle down and endlessly test the waters through quickie clandestine marriages, leaving a trail of broken & confused hearts in their wake while they play the field on the side. We should do everything we can to protect our sisters, daughters, and friends. You, my brothers, will have a severe questioning for every tear that falls from her eyes due to your manipulation and oppression, and so will the “teachers” who give you platforms to speak, perform, and attract more followers. Ameen.

  62. Taqwa says:

    JazakAllah Khairan for bringing certain topics to light. I was just contemplating this bizarre trend of Shaykh worship as ICNA just ended. As a young person it is unusual to others that I have rejected social media outlets for many years now due to my belief in their contribution to creating environments of even more fitna (casual conversations between genders turning into flirtation, ceaseless photos of people and animate objects created and shared, narcissistic posts/photos on you and your life with the intention to create envy among others, attacking followers in the comments who share Islamic knowledge of what is proper and improper “here come to haram police!”…). Some Shaykhs even have followers profess on their every photo and post that they love them…for the sake of Allah and the Shaykh posts pictures of themselves along with an Islamic hadith or inspirational Islamic quote that gets people emotionally stirred and attached in all the wrong ways. As a result of searching through articles for heart softening quotes and lectures to renew my imaan I’ve more recently come across social media posts where I don’t need an account to view this type of Shaykh worship in comments amongst not only females but males as well. “You’re the coolest Shaykh!” IS problematic. A Shaykh is human like us and may start to take this platform as an aspiration for themselves while losing focus on their true duty to the Ummah because it’s well-hidden under the guise of Islamic talks. A Shaykh is to be only concerned with further elevating the worship of ALLAH SWT in our lives. Personally I don’t know why I need a scholar to make Allah SWT “cool” to me or make me see someone look “cool” as he worships Allah SWT in order for me to do it. I don’t need to see “cool” photos of your travels to South Africa etc. where you gave an Islamic talk. Islam is simple and elegant and I’d be worried for the adaab in the future generations if this isn’t publicly more addressed and nipped in the bud right now. Sorry if I veered off on this one particular concern. May Allah SWT guide us all on the right, straight path Ameen.

    • Muslimah says:

      I totally agree with the above comment. Even though I am not a “friend” of any Shaikh, I can easily see pictures where they are cuddling cute babies or photos that are best kept private. Not because there is anything wrong in sharing these photos with the general public, but when women see this Shaikh (already respecting them a lot due to their knowledge) appearing to be the perfect dad, photos when he was a teenager etc etc, this can lead to fitnah.

      One more thing: I really like one Ustadh’s policy to not at all show his kids’ pictures on social media. That is a pretty effective way one can keep a barrier between his personal life and the general public.

  63. Umm Hibah says:

    I don’t see what is wrong with making a comment about a cool sheikh? Sheikhs have always been severe and scary and spoke about hell-fire! Now come younger ustaads who are gentle and speak of Allah’s love and millions follow them and their imaan is vitalized…I am so glad we have these celebrity sheikhs. They revitalize our deen

    • Taqwa says:

      It’s important for a believer to not remain in ignorance and to as well never be satiated with knowledge; ALL Muslims are constantly students of knowledge. This just reiterates my point that the problem comes down to ego. Ego that even stops us, as followers, from recognizing any faults or shortcomings in how we obtain our knowledge by behaviors including from certain Sheikhs or ourselves behaving with those certain Sheikhs.

      I understand you – Masha’Allah it’s great when our deen, particularly when we’re otherwise busy in school and work, is revitalized in the popular trend of these small or quick, very easy-to-digest quotes, reminders, hadith, convention lectures, videos on social media etc. However, this does that replace real Islamic learning and it doesn’t mean you are putting that knowledge into practice especially when observing and addressing these issues of social media behavior in the Ummah.

      People naturally love guides in our lives who make things look easy and “cool” to us; so many attach themselves to the medical knowledge of Dr. Oz as the end-all be-all guru in medicine and we can recognize the troubles there already. Personally I don’t mind my medical advice coming from the mysterious, faceless, serious yet still well-meaning medical practitioner who is only accessible to the public by their journal article research contributions to NCBI.

      I will just say I love to listen Sheikh Salah Bukhatir’s Quranic recitation because there is a lovely lightness in his voice even in the most scary verses regarding the Akhirah and he has his own facebook page too. However, on there he does not reply to his followers in friendly ways that have the possibility to go awry. And his pictures are not his “cool” selfies making faces and beard jokes with fans or posting pictures of his prized possessions in this life, or his “fun” travels to Islamic conventions across the globe that create an illusion of bliss to his followers. Some followers act as if Islam is all dark and rigid and too difficult and therein lies the problem; the impression is wrong from the get-go.
      Wasalaam

  64. SH says:

    I sincerely pray that the people who need to see this most, do, and that Allah allows your words to penetrate their hearts so that they may reflect and repent before further wronging their own souls.

  65. Khadijah says:

    brilliant comment. JazakIllahu alf khair.

  66. Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena says:

    A well researched very informative article.
    May ALLAAH Shower More Health, More Wisdom, More Courage, and More Patience upon You my Dear Sister.
    Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena. Sri Lanka.

  67. Inqiyaad says:

    As salaamu ‘alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,

    Sister Zaynab, I would like to ask you a few questions to get a better understanding of your perspective and to demonstrate a few concerns I have with the article.

    1. What is a ‘celebrity Shaykh’? This celebrity shaykh is central to your thesis and yet he hasn’t been defined clearly. If you would rather refer me to popular understanding then a ‘celebrity shaykh’ is one who has a certain charisma, whom people love, are influenced by, love his company, and in certain cases love to extend that company to marital relations. As such, I am assuming that you do not perceive any inherent malfeasance in a celebrity shaykh. If you do then I would protest with the following point.
    2. Is ‘celebrity status’ an inherently bad thing or are there benefits to the Muslim society because of this ‘celebrity status’? When we see scholars who do not have charisma, we complain that they might have the knowledge but are not movers, cannot influence people, or cannot even merely communicate the knowledge they have. What is the interconnection between celebrity status, and women being abused? Is it that ‘celebrity status’ automatically leads to spiritual abuse, specifically of women? Or is it that when the celebrity status is not managed properly, either by the celebrity or the fan-base that problems arise? I see that you hint at mismanagement by the celebrity but assert that there in fact is abuse in a plurality of cases if not in majority of cases. Therefore, you remonstrate,
    a. “How can our leaders recite platitudes about women’s empowerment and status in Islam publicly, while privately undermining those very rights they claim to cherish? How is it acceptable to publicly proclaim respect for women, while privately deeming them little more than sexual conquests?”
    b. these individuals are using their positions in circles of sacred learning to groom, recruit, and entice female followers with promises of marriage, access to Shuyukh, study abroad opportunities, and entrée to exclusive socio-spiritual networks.
    c. hence, know full well that there are rules surrounding courtship in Islam
    While statements about math problems make good punch lines, they will not affect these individuals who have lost their moral compass, nor will they help warn others about these individuals. I agree with other commenters that these individuals be named so that they can be avoided. Perhaps, the REAL solution lies elsewhere as stated by Nouman Ali Khan and sister Lateefah.
    3. What is “celebrity Shaykh culture”? This question is central to understanding your thesis about this problem. My perception from reading your article and follow up comments* is that this term is very similar to “rape culure”, another very popular feminist construct that shuts down any conversation about the responsibility of females (who are usually trumpeted as victims, see Nur’s comment above). Victims^ they are, for sure, considering the psychological trauma they undergo as a result of the choices they make. But, since you agree that these ‘victims’ are adults, and as Nouman Ali Khan and Lateefah point out, these are choices they make despite the availability of better choices. Choices of making full use of Shariah prescriptions about interactions with non-mahram men and involving guardians to safeguard their interests. I really hope your follow up article will not be about, “How women can avoid being victims of celebrity shaykh culture.” Rather, it will talk about, “You are adults and have choices, and you will be held responsible by Allah for your choices, your actions, and consequences.”

    *In your comments above, you stated, “I will, insha’Allah, address how we women have contributed to this celebrity culture that has sprung up around our Shuyukh.” And, “In the cases that have come to my attention, it would seem that the women’s naivete played a role.” You have clearly avoided identifying women as ‘mukallaf’. The equations boils down to, women are naïve, and might contribute to “celebrity shaykh culture”(whatever that means), which leads to abuse by (male) shaykhs. Much like, women are naïve, and might contribute to “rape culture” (a male societal construct), which leads to abuse by frat boys. When, clearly, they have and can exercise their choice not to drink at or go to frat parties. What about situations in which both parties are drunk? Invocation of the term “rape culture” assures that all responsibility is placed on the male shoulders and females are provided with shoulders and mourned as ‘victims.’ Sure, we expect better from “shuyukh” than the frat boys, but the descriptions you paint do not distinguish them much from such frat boys.
    ^ a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.

    • Muslimah35 says:

      Salam Alaikum,
      Thank you to our dear sister for writing this article. I do know of personally one “celebrity shaykh” who did do this to someone I know. She did not give up faith after, but it has been very difficult on her to say the least (as well as her family who trusted their daughter to this man). The result is that it has sickened me to the point whenever I see his name come up on a new conference in town, or if one of my friends even “shares” one of his articles or tweets, I get a physical reaction. I can’t help it. I will not listen to him speak or go to any conference he is invited to, because I know how he is in his private life… and to me, who cares all the Islamic knowledge in the world IF YOU AREN’T A GOOD PERSON? It has also made me suspicious and weary of all scholars in general, which isn’t fair. May Allah guide us all.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Inqiyaad, wa alaikum as-salaam wa rahmatuallahi wa barakatuh. I appreciate your advice. The “celebrity Shaykh” thesis could bear some elaborating, which I have done in a followup piece (under review). I’m not faulting certain speakers for their popularity: communication skills, wit, knowledge, and charisma are all desirable qualities in effective speakers and teachers. I’m critiquing the culture that imbues our teachers with an aura of infallibility. I’m also critiquing the misuse of one’s “celebrity” for personal gain.

      As to the math problem, it is more than a punch line. When a man leads on several women with promises of marriage, he will, invariably, run into a math problem. If he is already married, then only 3 of those women are eligible for marriage. So what becomes of the others?

      I think I’ve been quite clear about celebrity Shaykh culture. In my followup, I address the women’s culpability. This article is not about those who cry wolf. This article is about women who have been misled through trusting the wrong man, often with the knowledge of their (unwitting) wali. Walis (guardians) are not mind readers; typically, they will accept a suitor’s words at face value.

  68. Zahra says:

    Salaam. This is an eye-opening article. I feel lucky that I just missed this era, having gotten married before falling into these traps — certainly I was the type who would have been vulnerable. I’m sorry I have not read all the above comments, but Ustadha, please continue to write more on this topic. Jazakumullahu khayran.

  69. The title of the article seems to point to a very serious matter – indeed it is seriously accusatory in tone – and if indeed spiritual abuse is happening in the name of teaching Islam it is despicable and must be stopped. Boundaries are extremely important and it is true that they get blurred – whether deliberately or not is for Allah to judge – to the detriment of all involved. This is the result of lack of Tarbiyya and indeed Taqwa which we all need to work on and ensure that our intentions remain pure always. I have heard of instances of teachers (I don’t like to use the term Shaykh or Shaykha) even announcing that they are searching for spouses. I consider that to be highly inappropriate and distinctly disgusting and totally out of keeping with the vaqaar and honor of the work of teaching Islam. But when teaching Islam has been made into a money making circus with conferences becoming more networking and socialising affairs rather than being serious places of learning – without any boundaries of mixing of genders, music (beat boxing is music), comedy and other gimmicks (I saw a conference poster with so-called Shuyookh billed as Love Doctor and other such innovative titles) then what can one seriously expect? Organizers appear to me more concerned about attracting more and more people because that means more and more ticket money and justify everything else through dubious interpretations of the rules. And the rest follows.

    However in the comments, I see that there is a lot of discussion about the entire issue of second marriages, which also comes from some of the comments in the article. On that I wish to make two points: 1. What Allah made legal nobody can make illegal. 2. Why does a woman agree to marry a man knowing that he is married, if indeed women are so against second marriages? All it needs for men never to be able to marry a second time is for women to decide that they will not marry a married man. Why does a single woman even entertain any conversation with the man when she knows that it is not permissible for her to do so? As they say, clapping is a two handed affair.

    If a woman marries a man who is already married then she is equally responsible for ruining his marriage – if that is what happens. That is the hard truth, whether anyone likes to accept it or not. What the man is doing is not illegal, no matter who likes it or not.

    As for Rasoolullah (S) doing everything openly; so do Arabs, Malaysians, Chinese, most Africans, Japanese – Muslims or not. The cultures accept that. So did Indian sub-continental urbanites until they got Westernised. In rural India second and third marriages are still prevalent to this day without any stigma attached to them. This is true even among Hindus for whom under Indian Law bigamy is illegal. Urban women have taken to Western traditions of one wife (legally) and so having a second one is not acceptable to them. Allah created the law to take care of social problems all of which we are well aware of and so I won’t list them here. However we complain about the problems but don’t accept Allah’s solution. There are thousands of young divorcees, with and without children today who are sitting at home or trying very hard to bring up children on their own because their sisters won’t allow their men to marry a second time. Yeah! Yeah! I know – why must you marry a woman to take care of her financially? Why didn’t Rasoolullah (S) or the Sahaba do so then? And it is not to say that wives will allow their men to support another women and her family without marrying her either. Ask them and see if you don’t believe me.

    I think we need to get real. Yes there should be transparency but there can’t be transparency when there are severe negative consequences to doing things legally. So reduce the price to pay and men will become brave enough to face the music. For the record – as everyone who knows me, knows about me – I am against second marriages as a rule. I think one must move on in life and do other things than marry one woman after another and make changing nappies your life goal.

    • My2cents says:

      I think you are linking two completely unrelated matters. You seem to imply that the Muslim community is suffering due to a number of divorcees and their children because the Muslim community as a whole is not increasingly practising polygyny. This idea of yours could not be further from the truth.

      For one, if a Muslim man is capable of maintaining two or more wives there is still nothing obliging him to marry the widow or divorcee as the second, third or fourth wife.

      Secondly, and more importantly, one can easily observe that the general trend amongst polygamists is typically to marry more women for personal benefit, pleasure and a range of altruistic reasons.

      Muslim men have always married more than one woman, and the problem of divorcees, widows and children have always existed. They have always managed to exist side in side with the men marrying many women.

      Furthermore, all the discussion is rendered irrelevant by a single factor. Whatever reason a man chooses to marry again for, he must be impartial in his treatment of his wives and be able to afford all their necessities. This is the hum of Allah. Either treat two wives justly or marry only ONE. And according to many of our scholars, especially those from the subcontinent, the majority of men are not able to fulfil this condition. The majority of polygamists have not observed justice between their wives. Hence many ulema, such as Deobandi ulema, both past and present (such as Maulana Hakim Akhtar Sahib and Hakim ul Ummat Ashraf Ali Thanvi), have encouraged men to stick to just the one wife and fulfil her rights.

      It’s surprising that the people who purport to worry the most about widows, divorcees and their children express the least concern for the first wives, second wives and their children who suffer as a result of the husband’s unfairness and oppression in the vast majority of polygamous marriages.

      • My2cents says:

        sorry I meant

        Secondly, and more importantly, one can easily observe that the general trend amongst polygamists is typically to marry more women for personal benefit, pleasure and a range of “non-altruistic”* reasons.

        And “This is the hukam* of Allah. Either treat two wives justly or marry only ONE.”

        This is the hum of Allah. Either treat two wives justly or marry only ONE.

  70. […] [6] All conversations enclosed in quotation marks are either paraphrased or quoted directly. […]

  71. brother says:

    Nice piece & comments – ma sha Allah

    May Allah reward the author & make this article a source of guidance & repentance for the Ummah

  72. Maryam says:

    Bismillah
    I feel this sadness when I read the article, and even more sadness when reading some of the comments.
    From a Convention- organizer’s perspective, these are difficult things to digest.
    No doubt this problem is real and has happened, and I don’t mean to trivialize that in the least. Although it does seem to be a minority or even an individual case that the article refers to.
    Firstly, our experience in our community has been nothing but positive. Conventions do have purpose and function. In our community, it is seen as a beacon of hope that muslims here can be united under common messages that speak to every muslim. We have no local “celebrity shaykh”- although I really dislike that term- our leaders are of the stiff, halal/ haram type, and by bringing these shuyukh to our shores, the way the message of Islam is being delivered is being transformed. Even local Imams are inspired. People look at the jokes/ humour/ humanness of these “celebrity shuyukh” in disdain, but what it actually does is build on responsiveness of the audience (especially the younger ones) and make simple messages more memorable. Islam is easy, it does not need to be made stiff and difficult.
    Conventions are family- oriented events- there tends to be something for everyone to be motivated to coming to listen to the lectures on stage. There is always room for improvement InshaAllah.
    I really dislike what was said about making more money, attracting more people and bending the rules, because I don’t think anyone goes into this with those intentions.
    Coming to the issue of the article, I am sad because none of the Shuyukh we have ever interacted with have ever demonstrated anything but perfect adhaab. We do have the problem of groupies here- the worst experience was when a woman called in to one of the live programs and serenaded one of the Shuyukh with a personalized song :) But again, it was good that these things happened; our local community got to see a live situation where something was inappropriate and how it was responded to in a respectful but correct Islamic manner.
    You see, we learn so much more from our Shuyukh other than the lectures they deliver on stage. We learn interactions- personal and public and they set good examples for us. We love seeing them as human beings- funny, on adventures, with their wives and children- because it gives us so much hope that they have lives just like ours and how our Islam can be integrated in to that.
    I really fear that this article, written with good intentions and speaking to a real problem, does really have the effect of casting that wide net of suspicion on the entire body of Shuyukh that a previous commenter did say. Perhaps if it was a one- off or minority of occurrences, it could have been addressed in a more individual basis?
    I would really hate for our Shuyukh to be fearful of every smile, every response, every questioner of the opposite gender, every Facebook post or tweet as being judged and scrutinized. Simply because this is exactly the difference they are making in our community- making Islam more accessible and more real.
    I will take the article in the spirit of renewing our own intentions and striving towards perfecting Islamic manners, especially in opposite gender interactions.
    I am sure there is a lot more to be learned and to experience on our part, but we remain positive InshaAllah

  73. Omar Ibrahim says:

    jazakiallahukhair sister and may all reward you for your elucidatory prose and insights.

    I am continually amazed at the increasing depth and wisdom of our women scholars today, as well as there courage in speaking out about issues which seem to be avoided by their male counterparts. We’re (the male majority) are quick to assess the problems of today and refer back to our rich islamic history, but somewhat oblivious, I want to say, of the greater narrative over time, the way things were, the way things are and the putting two and two together so to speak.

    I cannot say much about men in leadership positions abiding their power; I don’t think I am too surprised, but I will say that man men of this sort, (and women too perhaps) do not consider themselves scholars but du’āt. I also want to say that there is a problem on the flip-side, too: are there no young men enamored by our women speakers and their unique perspectives? The problem here is these young men (or young women) becoming followers of a veiled celebrity whom they don’t really know. This isn’t actually a gender problem, it’s a leadership problem. For many, celebrity shayks are just that, celebrities, and there’s no actual mentor figure no guidance instilled. We can share moments with each other through insta-communities online, but it’s an ephemeral connection without much substance in my eyes.

    In any case, this is not my gravest concern, rather, it is the underlying cause to these troubles.

    In this regard I want to address one of your statements specifically: “I contend that we have created a toxic environment for our religious leaders: an environment in which the proper boundaries between student and teacher have become blurred, an environment in which misuse of power is rife, and an environment in which women, in particular, are subject to deception and spiritual abuse. I raise this issue, not to cause dissension (fitna) in the ranks of the Muslims, but to warn our leaders, our elders, and our masses that we have to address this social ill before we lose all credibility when it comes to the Qur’anic injunction…”

    I believe this to be somewhat reckless. You say “we”, but who is truly to blame? Who should we be weary of if not religious leaders themselves? Are they not responsible, in large part, for ensuring the sanctity and safety of the environment where we are to gather and collect and share ideas?

    I ask these tough questions out of a deep-seated concern for the future of the ummah. You speak of the celebrity shaykh as being “a product of the techno-obsessed culture that dictates that every ‘alim, school, and institution market its ‘authentic,’ ‘classical’ and ‘traditional’ Islamic ‘products and services'”… isn’t this the real trouble? And, isn’t it also a monetary issue? I honestly don’t know. I always maintain that marketing and da’wah are truly two different things, but is this being shortsighted? Is the potential for branding oneself and one’s organization worth the risk of commodifying wisdom and spirituality? And, most importantly, can we avoid it?

    If not, or there’s no need for concern and all is as it should be, then perhaps these moments of pause and question only contribute to the health of our ummah despite our worries, and despite the seeming ephemerality of it all.. and if this is the case, all we need to do is continue the narrative as best we can wallahua’lam..

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br.Omar Ibrahim, thank you for your feedback. I don’t think my statement was reckless. The “we” to which I’m referring is the collective “we” elaborated in the hadith on nasiha. We the ‘awamm (lay) and we the ‘ulama have a mutual responsibility to ensure that ethical practices are upheld. As conference goers, we should adhere to certain guidelines when we interact with speakers: guarding our gaze, respecting his/her space, not taking pictures without permission, not striking up a casual relationship online or offline, etc. As conference speakers, we should also adhere to similar guidelines, with the recognition that our public actions have private ramifications and vice versa.

  74. S. Ahm says:

    About 10 years ago, I was at a huge conference in Toronto and an older auntie (in niqab) wanted to ask the Shaykh a question at his booth. As soon as she went up to him, he raised out his arm and told her to step back and ask the question from that distance. The auntie was surprised and commented that, even though I’m so old, this shaykh still had this much adab and respect for himself and her to make this boundary clear.

    His manners had so much hikmah behind them. And this was his habit always, even when there were sisters only question sessions in his weekend class, any sister who wanted to speak to him had to step back at a distance like 3/4 seats if they wanted to ask him a question privately.

    I think if all the shuyukh kept this limit and made it a point, every single time, more sisters would also know their limits.

  75. Abu Azzam says:

    Is this a serious problem? It seems that the author is alluding that male islamic speakers often misuse their positions. I would like some clarification on this because if it is a problem than its certainly something worth addressing.

    Furthermore, both males and females should always be careful when choosing a spouse. It’s bad enough having “celebrity” scholars, we don’t need groupies as well.

  76. Freda Shamma says:

    Assalamu alaikum. From the first Islamic scholar that I met, I have had a ‘sure way’ to judge all those with higher knowledge/higher spirituality – humbleness. As a new convert (many years ago) we had a scholar as a guest at our house. When he left I thanked him for all of his wisdom shared with us, and he countered, “No, sister, thank you for your insights.” Whenever I heard, see, or hear of a sheik/ scholar/imam this humbleness is the first thing I look for. In my opinion, if a person is not very humble, he/she has no true knowledge to share.

    Zainab, thank you so much for this article. I hope it reaches every person who speaks for Islam.

  77. Qamar says:

    Asalaamalaikum wa ramatullahi wa barakatuh.

    Islam permits polygamy and Islam permits divorce. Islam does not prohibit people who are married from falling in love. It merely insists that amorous relationships be consummated in the right way:
    A legal marriage must take place and both parties to the marriage contract must consent.

    But an essential underlying presumption is that a legal marriage is a PUBLIC marriage,that is, one that is not hidden from relevant parties, and that would most certainly include an existing wife. This was not made explicit in the time of The Prophet (pbuh) merely because the community was so small that it was not possible to hide a marriage.

    To my mind, if married men are unhappy in their marriages and wish to seek second wives, they are free to do so, provided they refrain from engaging in hidden marriages. The proper Islamic solution to protecting existing wives from injustice is this: 1) permit wives to divorce at will, 2) give women custody of young children and 3) enforce court mandated alimony and child-support payments from fathers .

    Beyond this, the best way to protect women from unhappy polygamous situations is to teach them that a woman has the right to “give up her turn.” When a woman declines to go to her husband’s bed the angels that curse her all night are the ones on HIS shoulders, arguing about what he did wrong.
    Period. Marriage gives men and women the right to try to make love to their partners; it does not give them the right to demand sex. Women who unwittingly find themselves in an unhappy polygamous marriage should jointly punish the man by refusing sex until he rectifies the situation.

    And Allah knows best.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      Wa alaikum as-salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

      @Br. Qamar (I hope the title is correct), that’s a novel solution you’ve posed. The women present a united front against the husband. I can see how that might be effective.

      Thank you.

  78. diah says:

    I agree with most of the things which you have specified in the article but, my personal opinion which I have formed over the many years of experience and conversations with muslim women, I believe muslim women are responsible for the unfair treatment they get from men in their society. It doesn’t start in adulthood, its a problem that manifests itself in childhood. When mothers are subconsciously teaching their male children, through multiple actions, that its ok to walk over women rights and even though no one is BLUNTLY going to say “WOMEN are inferior to MEN”, these male children can conclude from what they see around them all the time, that women can be walked over and used to satisfy men’s need.
    I can’t write out all the wrongs that lead up-to creating the mentality of the type of men you have described in your article, but women play an integral part in shaping that mindset. Even in the example you quoted, what type of a human being, a woman, doesn’t know that being a second wife will one way or another hurt the feelings of the first wife. These women know exactly how it must feel, yet they are willing to become the second wife. What goes around, comes around! I’m sorry, I don’t feel sympathy for these women who have no empathy for other women. If women can’t respect women, don’t expect men to respect them either. Unless women start to change their own mindsets and showing grace, empathy towards each-other, this will remain a lost cause.

    Mother is the first teacher of all babies, male or female, and unfortunately from what I have seen, very few mothers teach their sons “empathy”. I don’t know the people you have mentioned in your article, but the men who act in that unjust way towards women usually come from families where they saw men behave in similar manner towards the women in family. They have learned over a period of time how to manipulate women and they have previous experience with their wives. They know their wives won’t speak up. It is a vicious cycle which can be broken, if we educate the women of ummah about their legal rights and honor the women who actually speak up. We have created a society where women who speak up for their rights are labeled as cunning, sharp and uncompromising type, not fit to become wives. I see it as the other way around. These women who speak up and know their rights are PRECISELY the type of women who should give birth to the next generation and teach those kids what a real woman looks like.

    Again, this is just my view which might sting many people and no one has to agree with it even if in their heart they know its true….and I can’t thank Allah enough for making me live in a culture where, as a woman, I can voice my opinion without being ostracized by the community.

    • Sarah says:

      Excellent points! I totally agree with your analysis. We need more articles on many of the points you mentioned since we should be looking at the root of the problems and not merely making it a point to sound the alarm every-time. I am also thankful for Allah (swt) for the fact that I was born in a country that allows me to speak without fear of stigmatization or being shut-down. I find it ironic that educated Muslim women and scholars are therefore calling for more boundaries between student/teachers as the only real solution to all this, when they are in the most cases the product of a culture that offered them unlimited and equal access to their education. Unfortunately our communities have been built with the mindset of serving the male presence, so we shouldn’t be surprised that we’ve arrived at this: glitzy ‘celebrity shaykh’ culture. This set-up doesn’t work for the female because it was never really created with her in mind. So yet again, by default, we are going to shut HER down, close the boundaries around her access. This behaviour has existed for so long within our homes, the female teacher was never present, instead what is manifesting from our home is the adored male, the male that needs to be idolised, put on a stage. I don’t see why we don’t follow the western university environment of professionalism, it works. I’ve learnt more from Islamic events held in informal settings (Universities) where both genders mingle freely and have equal access to the teacher without much thought or pre-occupation to grandeur or gender relations. Attending Islamic courses held at university settings is such a welcome change to the very austere celebrity world of our Muslim conferences and mosque educational shows. I find our western universities are a refreshingly normal and dignified setting for learning Islamic knowledge.

      My last experience within a mosque run teaching environment left me very dis-heartened and promising never to return. During most of the lecture (the females) were constantly reminded of our presence and the fitnah we can cause the brothers by sitting too far forward in the class, we were made to feel guilty. Funnily, and quite ironically when lunch was announced we all found ourselves together, eating in the same canteen: families, children, singles all mingling happily without much impropriety. What was telling was that almost all the single brothers took it upon themselves to push to front of the queue, and nothing was said about it. I guess since our eduction teaches that the female presence should be relegated to the back of the queue, why should it be any different with other areas in society?

      • diah says:

        Sarah,
        I agree with you but I have learned to keep my thoughts to myself and only to share with very close circle of like minded sisters. Alhamdulillah, now we have started to see female scholarship in US which is a very positive sign but what we are talking about is not going to be mainstream conversation yet…Like you, I had been disheartened but alhamdulillah I was able to see the separation between Islam and muslims. Its sad that I get more respect in a University class, from non muslims, while if I go to the masjid, I will be put in a room with TV/speakers to listen to the khutba. I attend seminars with organizations who I know from experience, give some respect to the female audience. The funniest and ironic thing is, in most conventions where women are seated with a divider, almost all of the ones I attended, women outnumbered men, yet still were treated like herds. This shows that sometimes strength is not in the numbers, but in the quality. We need women who also can articulate intelligent words and realize their self-worth.

  79. diah says:

    reading the comments here is so painful. Men are still trying to argue if they consider a “woman” human enough to actually inform her before marrying second-wife.

    This is so sad…how they use Islam to justify their ill-treatment/injustice towards another “HUMAN BEING”, a woman.

  80. mirza ahmed says:

    Salam
    Ustadha Zaynab Ansari has done a good thing by highlighting these issues. My worry is that if these “shuyukh” are not exposed, then they will “play” with other women.
    So I wonder if they should be publicly named and shamed? That will discourage other harmful acts.
    On further issues, I think many “scholars” just plainly lack adab and live in cloud 9. This especially includes “scholars” who come from an “academic” background.

    • Zeynep says:

      I agree,they should be named publicly. Please think of the next sister you could be saving from depression, heartache, and disillusionment. Nobody is above accountability.

  81. brother says:

    Bismillah

    I don’t think “naming & shaming” should be seen as the solution. This problem stems from deeper underlying issues that need to be addressed. After we’ve “exposed” these “celebrities”, destroying any chance of repentance & what good they could have done if they repented, I see the community then turning on the “groupies” who “threw” themselves at the community’s favourite speakers.

    I think a better solution is to circulate such articles & make the community aware that we need to be vigilant, especially when we let our past love of western (and eastern) celebrities mould how we see our teachers & how we receive our learning.

    Our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

    مَنْ سَتَرَ مُسْلِمًا سَتَرَهُ اللهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ

    “The one who covers a Muslim will be covered by Allah in this life & the next”.

    And Allah knows best.

    • MN says:

      I disagree. Naming & shaming should be considered for repeat offenders. Tawba is between us & our Lord, but transgressions against others don’t get settled the same way…not when their actions end up messin up other Muslims & their Islam.

    • MN says:

      I disagree. Naming & shaming should be considered for repeat offenders. Tawba is between us & our Lord, but transgressing others don’t get settled the same way. Messin up other Muslims/their Islam is no joke & many spiritual abuse victims end up worse off if not quittin the deen altogether.

  82. brother says:

    “Shuyookh are there to consult; not idolise; to learn from not become infatuated with.”

    Fantastic – ma sha Allah

    • Malik Shabazz says:

      The role of the da’i and shuyukh is to call women to enter Islam. Not to call women with Islam so you can enter them.

  83. senssay says:

    you’re all missing the point… its not about polygamy, its about celebrity shaykhs taking the P… abuse of position. bordering on hypocrisy.

    • Khadeeja says:

      That’s not even the real point. There are women suffering alone behind a black curtain of oblivion and with nobody to defend their dignity and honor. they would be lucky if they got a bridal dowry. If they are mothers, they are left to pick up the pieces of their own and their children’s lives with zero support or acknowledgement. If they are in the West, many are forced into the welfare system to manage their basic livelihood. If they are elsewhere, good luck. And this is just material support. Who will speak on their behalf?

      • Zaynab Ansari says:

        @Sr. Khadeeja, your post made me sad. Thank you for reminding us about the women (and children) who are forgotten and left to cope the best they can.

  84. brother says:

    I’ve seen positive results after an intervention was taking on one individual – alhamdulillah. I’ve also seen an individual wrongly accused, and yes he should be patient like the Prophets, but he too reached the level of despair that sisters mentioned here had.

    To stop these things before they happen, I think we should send our fresh graduates off to study education & counselling since this is what they’ll be doing. The guidelines taught to & imposed on teachers in the West, coupled with their Islamic knowledge, could be potential for something really great – In sha Allah.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Brother, thank you for reminding us that there is the possibility of false accusations. Rest assured, I reviewed the evidence before writing this article.

      • brother says:

        Jazakillahu Khayran Kathiran

        You didn’t “name & shame” anyone so I was just throwing in some information for all to think about. If you were to mention names, I would recommend proper interventions first, exhausting such avenues before “going public”.

  85. AsSalamu Alaykum,

    I read the article when it was first published. I wasn’t able to comment until now. I wanted to thank Ustadha Zaynab for bringing this very troubling issue to light. May Allah protect us all.

    JazakAllahu khayran.
    WasSalamu Alaykum,
    Abdul Nasir Jangda

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda, wa alaikum as-salaam wa rahmatullah, I really appreciate your comment. Jazakum Allahu Khayr.

  86. Usama says:

    The Selfie culture is destroying mainstream society and also our young Muslim children. You see this a lot under the guise of “collectives” which are really just temples built at the altar of a single person. Often this person will have some young naive person post pictures ad nauseum of this “shaykh” in action, reading, talking, laughing – all to project an image.

    “Image is everything” was Andre Agassi’s mantra; might as well be the daily zikr of some neo-“shaykhs”

  87. Naemah says:

    Wow, that is just so sad. It is never OK for a non-mahram man and woman to be alone in one room for any reason. There’s a hadith of the prophet, PBUH, that says when a man and a woman are together, the shaytan is the third which means he will entice them and encourage them to do haraam things things that will finally lead to zina. So clearly, this so-called sheikh was taking advantage of these poor women and they didn’t realize it. May Allah guide us all. It is truly sad.

    • Sarah says:

      It beggars belief that after so many years of learning Islam some women still don’t know the basics such as not to go out with your shaykh for a Starbucks coffee. The fact that he drinks ‘Starbucks ‘says it all to me…

      I also came from dysfunctional family, didn’t know anything about my religion and was suitably horrified at my first Mosque experience. The road is paved with much misguidance…unfortunately the misguidance begins in our mosques.

  88. Hassan says:

    Muslims are a stupid brain washed bunched. There are both Salafi and Sufi “shaykhs” “getting with” adoring muslimah fans and then dumping them that its unreal.
    No one speaks up about, no one objects or calls it what it is sexual exploitation because “akhi dont back bite against the ulema”
    lol
    These bearded perverts are marrying these women having sex with them and then giving them Talaq.
    Then they move on to the next city or country to do it again!
    They are undertaking temporary marriage whilst claiming to be against shi’te temporary marriage (im sunni as it happens)
    They tell us temporary marriage was abrogated (yes this is true) and yet they practice it, but the poor girl doesnt know she has entered a temporary marriage.
    I have come across muslim girls who have left muslim men who they were going to marry to be a 3rd or 4th wife of a “shaykh” and then after he finished with her he dumped her!
    Then there are cases of these “shaykhs” enticing women to leave their husband and kids to marry them
    There are cases of these “shaykhs” inviting girls to marry them in secret and tell their fathers later
    There are cases of these “shaykh” marrying a girl having sex with her and dumping her with talaq in 24-48hrs
    This is rampant amongst all of them Sufis Salafis Deobandis etc;
    And the other so called “shakyh” close ranks and hide this from the general public they will make excuses for these
    degenerates because they want to stay friends with the pervert.
    There are celebrity “shaykhs” doing this across the globe on their speakers tours leaving a trail of misery and no one dare speak out!
    Its disgraceful, I just cant wait for a mainstream journalist to pick up the story and humilate these disgusting cockroaches pretending to be learned men of religion
    Wake up muslims your daughters or sister could be a victim of these

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Hassan, thank you for your comment. I’m glad to see that you have strong views on the topic, as do I. I would only caution that this problem (misuse of spiritual authority) is not exclusive to Muslim religious leaders. It’s a problem among other religious groups as well. Although we (thankfully) lack a direct parallel to the celebrity pastor with his mega-church and prosperity gospel, the larger issue of misusing one’s position to wield influence on followers is legitimate.

  89. Taz says:

    Salam from the UK dear Ustadha

    Thanks a bunch for the brave article. May Allah SWT bless you to continue these reminders. We have gone from an extreme of women sitting in rooms watching shayukh on screens to what you mention above. Neither is acceptable or healthy. I pray for a middle way.

    Warm regards

  90. diah says:

    sister Salma,
    I am so sorry to hear and am saddened to learn about another shaykh and sister falling in the traps of shaytan.

    But as previously I stated, I beg to disagree once more. Why is all the blame put on that misguided “shaykh”? I know you did not outright discharge the woman from being equal partner in crime, but the tone of your story stresses guilt on shaykh more than the sister who agreed to go out to starbucks and later marry the guy. Why are muslim women who fall for married men always seen as victims? Are these women mentally challenged to the extend that they can be easily enticed, seduced by opposite gender like little kids by stranger with a candy? If this was witnessed overseas, I would have sympathized with the woman because I know “force”, “blackmailing”, “emotional manipulation” and “physical threat” does play a role in making women do things which otherwise they wouldn’t. But if, indeed you are talking about US, please enlighten me why a grown woman, who I hope had attended school at-least till 12th grade, would be seduced by a married man and then be seen as a victim?
    We see one extreme in Saudi Arabia, Iran and so on, where by law, men always get away with all sort of injustices against women but now I am witnessing another type of hypocrisy, where regardless that the crime was committed by mutual consent of two adults, burden of sin is placed on the man, more so than the woman.

    I am not defending the shaykh in your particular case. He deserves to be held accountable for his manipulation but at the same time, please do not see women who consent to a relationship with a married man, and agree to marry him are in any way LESS GUILTY.

    You are a great example of a strong, intelligent muslim woman who cannot be seduced by anyone. I feel the whole religious culture has hyper sexualized the man to woman communication to the extend that when women, who otherwise attend universities and are rarely, if ever, seduced by highly educated non-muslim professors, suddenly become intellectually numb and easy prey to muslim men? What goes wrong in the islamic environment which doesn’t happen when these women are in a non-islamic, university environments? Is it that they are forced to act as responsible individuals on university campuses, knowing subconsciously that they need to protect themselves and no one but Allah is in-charge of them? Suddenly, when these women enter masajids, they are turned into an object which possesses extremely strong seductive qualities and hence must be placed behind a divider? if the divider is missing, since now they are aware of their sexuality and super sensitive about it in islamic environment, do you think that plays a role in how they think they are seen by men in the masjid? Does this super sensitivity play a role in how they act/speak around muslim men? Science says it does. I usually observe how women talk around other women in masjids vs how their tone of voice and body gestures change when a male is present in the room. This wouldn’t happen on university campus unless the woman is around the guy she is consciously attracted towards. In masjid, its not the attractiveness that plays a role, its the mere gender AWARENESS.

    The answer is again, family! Mother and father…the relationship between daughters and fathers! sons and mothers! How the emphasis of covering is always on women. They are continuously taught they are fitna for men. Then the way they are treated by their fathers. I have stated multiple points addressing psychology and religion, all mixed because wanted to keep this comment/reply short, which I failed to do. Please excuse any spelling errors since I am feeling really tired to spell check my comment.

    • Umm Umar says:

      Sisters Diah and Sarah,

      Calm down. There’s no need for you to accuse your fellow sisters of being “mentally challenged”. You obviously have left out a very important determining factor in the Muslim women-behaving-in-Muslim context, which is the expectation of Sharia-compliancy in the interaction and more so on behalf of the individual who’ve actually undergone years of rigorous religious training abroad. As far as I’m concerned, the “sheikh” carries much of the burden of wrongdoing. The fact that the sisters involved should also have put their foot down and resist his advances does not in anyway negate the “sheikh”‘s predominant responsibility over the events spiraling out of control.

      Why is it more acceptable to us that in the context of teaching in the West, teachers are entirely to blame for initiating intimate relationships with students, whereas in the Muslim context we are eager to point our fingers at the women involved?

      Why is it so difficult for us to accept that it is entirely wrong for the “sheikh”, who students had placed their trust and confidence in as they sought spiritual guidance and assistance, to have manipulated and abused his authority?

      How did we reach a point where we easily dismiss the responsibility of the person in the more powerful position to control the necessary boundary between the two parties, which is really just plain common sense, just because of his larger-than-life persona and affiliation with well-respected teachers and public figures, and his thousands of followers on social media?

      You can’t just message a convert sister struggling with her outward practice of Islam with the intention of giving da’wah on proper hijab, over a social networking site, get her to meet him offline with the pretext of soliciting her assistance in “coordinating his Islamic speaking engagements”, all the while candidly expressing his attraction to her, strike up a conversation on marriage and then pursue things secretively. Similarly, it’s just not right for a “sheikh” to take advantage of another struggling convert sister who genuinely reached out to him for spiritual guidance, thinking that marriage can “rescue” her, when there is precedence of his failure/inability to actually fulfill a God-given trust. In case everyone on here forgets, marriage in Islam is a sacred trust. These are just relatable examples of abuse drawn from verifiable anecdotes that are too easy to be swept under the rug just because some sisters are concerned how an article like this would end up further limiting their access to knowledge. So much for solidarity.

    • diah says:

      Dear sister Umm Umar,
      you said “Why is it more acceptable to us that in the context of teaching in the West, teachers are entirely to blame for initiating intimate relationships with students, whereas in the Muslim context we are eager to point our fingers at the women involved?”

      By law, teacher is entirely to blame for initiating or encouraging intimate relationship ONLY IF THE STUDENT is a MINOR by law of the land. Once both parties are considered an “adult” by law, they are responsible for their actions.

      I’ll keep this short since I wouldn’t like to elaborate the same message I wrote above. I am not discharging the “man” (shaykh or not) from being an active party in creating pervasive incident, while I also do not believe that he was solely responsible, or more at fault than the female involved. If she was developmental normal adult woman, she can’t be blameless or “less” blameworthy.
      As far as the “shaykh” status goes, since we are muslims and not catholics, we do not popeworship/shaykh-worship so a male’s title is, or rather, SHOULDN”T be a factor in deciding guilt when the matter is of “intimate” nature and not of “knowledge” or “information” nature. Information doesn’t translate to character…

    • Umm Umar says:

      Diah,

      Let me give you an analogy, a parallel situation but without the inter-gender dynamics, perhaps it’s a clearer picture for you.

      Sheikh Ahmed and New-Convert-Rasheed go for a hike in the local inner-city park. Sheikh Ahmed argues that since they don’t have any food, so it’s ok to get some pork rinds from the vending machine. Ahmed knows that Rasheed has a taste for them and misses them after entering Islam. After a long dialogue, New Convert Rasheed concedes to Sheikh Ahmed’s better knowledge of the religion, opens the bag, and they each eat. Ahmed proposed it, claimed it was halal, and knew Rasheed had a desire. They both ate it. Clearly, Rasheed does not bear an equal nor majority of the responsibility for having eaten pork here…or are you still going to argue that as long as Rasheed isn’t mentally challenged, he’s equally or even more responsible than the sheikh who deceived and exploited Rasheed’s ignorance and weakness?

      As for your comment: “As far as the “shaykh” status goes, since we are muslims and not catholics, we do not popeworship/shaykh-worship so a male’s title is, or rather, SHOULDN”T be a factor in deciding guilt when the matter is of “intimate” nature and not of “knowledge” or “information” nature. Information doesn’t translate to character…” —- I suggest that you reread Ustadha Zaynab’s article, particularly the section where she talks about “Adab of the Internet” and the pitfall of celebrity sheikh culture, or perhaps familiarize yourself with the current American Islam scene. I don’t think it’s too difficult to see how we have indeed catapulted the status of sacred knowledge (and its conveyors) into an unhealthy level of reverence and admiration that is close to worship.

  91. Muslimah says:

    Dear Sr. Zaynab,
    It is as if I was writing this article myself. Please do not post this, if possible. But is it possible for me to contact you? What you describe is only the outward manifestations, but it is far more deeper and disturbing within the more elite circles of the celebrity shaykh. I have turned to several scholars for help, but I have no power nor any status in the community to be deemed worthy. I continue to live and am alive today because of my deep faith in Allah. I hope you will please contact me, I am among the voiceless and often times hopeless women in the community.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Muslimah, please contact me via Facebook. Additionally, you may forward your question to MuslimMatters admin and they will contact me, insha’Allah.

      • s halit says:

        i for one never understood people’s obsession with scholars, the qur’an warns us against scholars and monks, i’m not saying that they are all bad, but just think about it, when the masses are so ignorant about religion and they trust a man to tell them Allah’s words, he can tell them anything and get away with it.

        i think that other brother made a good point as well about how when people get interested in islam, they begin to look down on real life honest, hard working muslims and idolize these scholars, da’ees, so called islamic rappers and what have you.

        at the end of the day if a shaykh or whoever brought you some knowledge about Allah, that was Allah who taught you using them as a means that’s all. that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a good person. Allah can aid the religion by using a wicked person, as per one hadith states.

  92. Zaynab Ansari says:

    @Sr. Salma, thank you for coming forward. I pray others find the courage to share their stories. It’s never easy to acknowledge the hurt and disillusionment we feel when our leaders/teachers don’t live up to our expectations, especially when our expectations are rooted in reasonable assumptions of adherence to the Shari’ah. I appreciate your candor.

  93. Qamar says:

    Asalamalaikum wa ramatullahi wa barakatuh.

    The moral issues that lie at the heart of this discussion would be much clearer if we were discussing the conduct of philandering men in general, rather than philandering shuyukh in particular. Since Muslim cultures have had a history of strict gender segregation, until very recently, there were not many situations in which non-mahram men and women mixed. Non-Muslim cultures that are comfortable with freer interaction between the sexes have been forced to find ways to deal the sexual tensions that can arise when a person of on sex is supplying services to a person of the opposite sex.

    I am a muslimah. I worked for many years teaching mathematics in public colleges and schools. To my great astonishment, invariably adolescent boys would seem to develop crushes on me. They would leave notes on my blackboards, hang around outside my office, make excuses to seek extra tutoring … It made me somewhat uncomfortable, but I realized that mostly, young people are naturally inclined to adore their teachers, and those under the influence of the strong hormonal surges are susceptible to developing crushes on teachers — female teachers as well as male teachers.

    The responsibility for setting limits lies squarely with the teacher or other authority figure — for clearly this problem is not limited to teachers.

    The lasting damage in “being seduced” by an authority figure stems from being deceived by someone
    you trusted implicitly. By far, the worst offenders are men who commit incest. After that, clergy, school teachers, medical doctors, policemen, professors, lawyers, employers … The psychological damage is proportional to the degree of trust placed in the abuser. Throughout the West, most of the regulatory professional organization have clear guidelines, procedures for making complaints, investigating complaints and punishing proven offenders. I concur with other commenters who suggest that the ulema should consider instituting similar guidelines and procedures.

    However, I also know of many instances in which Professors have ended up happily married to former students, of Doctors who requested a colleague to assume the care of a patient to clear the way for an ethical romantic relationship to develop.

    The blossoming of love in the heart is a gift from Allah. It is given not chosen.
    It is not for us to judge was is in the hearts of others — whether they are married or single —
    as long as courtship and marriage follows Islamic principles.

    Ustadha Zaynab writes : “…individuals involved in this scenario are teachers of Islamic law and, hence, know full well that there are rules surrounding courtship in Islam. “

    As a born and bread Westerner, it is my belief that many of the rules governing courtship “in Islam” are, in fact, rules governing courtship “in Pakistan” or “in Egypt” or “in Saudi Arabia,” …
    For example, it is far from obvious to me that that “engaging in private, unsupervised conversations with marriageable members of the opposite sex” is haram if it is done in writing, or from a distance over the internet, so that there is no immediate danger of succumbing to zina. Western shuyukh who are familiar with both traditional Islamic sciences and western dating traditions, need to re-examine the topic of Halal Courtship.

    In my humble opinion, and Allah knows best.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Qamar, wa alaikum as-salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh, I agree with much of what you said. Lest I wasn’t clear; I wasn’t writing about philandering. Per the basic requirements of the Islamic marriage contract, these are valid nikahs happening. My issue is with what’s happening post-nikah, when the women, often second wives, are not in a position to secure their rights. Also, the issue of teacher-student relations needs to be addressed. If a teacher desires to marry his student, guidelines need to be implemented so as to account for the power imbalance inherent in the relationship, and ensure the marriage is contracted ethically.

  94. Jiwan Shah says:

    Dear Sister Zaynab,

    Salam. Your article is well intended and well thought out. But, I feel there are certain aspects you must raise, which perhaps you didn’t because you are indeed affiliated with certain institutes and scholars and all your disclaimers would not be sufficient to protect that association. So let me venture and say a few things:

    1. We must also find solutions to these problems.
    2. In my honest view, the main problem begins with lack of proper segregation screening at events. Men and women must be completely segregated so that they cannot see each other and the women should not be able to see the Shaykh nor should he see them.
    3. If ever there is an in person consultation, there should be a full length non-porous divider between the Shaykh and the woman.
    4. If there is correspondence, the woman must cc: either the wife of the Shaykh, or a senior female student of the Shaykh, or a female friend of her own.

    If I name institutions, people, or manhaj, it is likely that my comment will not be published. So let me just say that in my 20 years of experience in this field, I have never heard or witnessed a problem in those institutions, people, or manhaj who followed all of the above. And let me also say, that each and every institutions, people, or manhaj who did not follow all of the above strictly, there have been problems.

    The blurred lines are because we allow blurring of the lines in hayah and taqwa.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Jiwan (correct title?), salaam, and thanks for your comments. While I agree that strict segregation at gatherings plus some common-sense guidelines about electronic correspondence could nip this problem in the bud, the issue is more complicated. 100% segregation will completely cut off the women from the male teachers. Many of our sisters feel they already lack access to instruction and feel left out at events that are strictly segregated. Then, how practical is it to regulate someone’s private correspondence? This is where the person’s own moral compass needs to kick in.

      • Ali says:

        Assalamu alaikum

        I am noticing a lot of Muslim couples giving births to girls.

        So now, our job is to make a new generation of knowledgeable Muslimah scholars who leave no room of excuse for this to ever happen 20 years from now, inshaAllah.

        The second thing is that we need to raise our girls by telling them that their purpose of live is to worship Allah. And we need to work extra hard for them to get solid Islamic knowledge before they reach their teens so that they can study under the male scholars and there is little to no room for temptations by either side. Then when the girls reach teens they can move to Zaytuna College or some where else more respectable.
        And Allah knows best!

      • Ali says:

        By the above comment, I intended to say that little girls before they reach teens (correct thing to say is puberty) can study under male scholars to there are no temptations from either side since the girls aren’t at age of puberty yet. I didn’t mean that girls need education before they become teens SO THAT they can study under male scholars afterwards – NO.

  95. Naziyah says:

    Salam Sheikha Zaynab,

    You devoted two full paragraphs to the hypothetical “math problem”
    of a married Shaykh simultaneously courting multiple women.

    I know of no religious proscription forbidding someone seeking to marry
    from considering multiple potential spouses simultaneously. If such
    fatawa exist, I would be grateful if you would enlighten us.

    Islam requires that both parties to a marriage contract freely consent.
    In the context of 7th century Saudi Arabia, in the tiny town of Medina,
    where most people knew each other from birth, had similar upbringings,
    similar levels of education and ways of life, and often married at a very
    young age, consent was a very different matter than it is today.

    Here in the West, young people are accustomed to conversing with people
    of the opposite gender, in an appropriate settings, to get a sense of their
    suitability as a potential marriage partner. Often, after a first meeting at
    school or at a masjid or at a Matrimony Bazaar, before marriage is
    proposed, extended conversations take place, in email or by phone
    or under the supervision of family members or youth group leaders.

    Today’s Muslim youth will not “consent” to marriage without
    “looking” in a fuller way at potential spouses. To my mind, that
    is wise.

    I do not comprehend why it would be un-islamic to conduct
    such conversations with multiple people at the same time.
    Until marriage is proposed, the proposal accepted
    and a marriage contract signed …. Marriage seekers
    should guard their hearts.

    You write: “As a direct consequence of these individuals’ actions,
    women have become disillusioned, embittered, and depressed. “

    Perhaps it would be best if married men who are unhappy in their marriages
    and intend to seek additional wives informed their wives of their desire
    to court other women so that the wives are not surprised.

    On the other hand, women (and men) who are disappointed in courtship
    or marriage need to realize that other people are not responsible for their
    emotional states and unfulfilled expectations, if those expectations fall outside
    Islamic prescription or explicit agreement between a husband and wife.

    Thank you for writing this excellent article. Insha’Allah there will be
    a sequel. Wa salam.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Naziyah, salaam, and thanks for your comments. I don’t think it’s very ethical to court more than one suitor at a time. Speaking from a gender-neutral perspective, I believe one owes it to the suitor to give him or her full consideration before moving on to the next person. Talking to multiple people at once might prove entertaining in the short term, but, in the long term, it could prove a headache. And this headache becomes exacerbated when it’s a case of a married man courting other women. Unless the situation is handled with the utmost delicacy, it can quickly spiral out of control, leaving everyone feeling played–the first wife, when she realizes what’s going on, and the other women who were promised marriage, then dropped.

      • Ali says:

        Walaikum assalam warahmatullahi

        I am a man and I agree with the respected teacher of this article.

        For singles, it’s wrong for men to go after multiple prospects knowingly. It’s not just about math, it’s about honor as well.

        Moreover, men cannot approach a sister if he knows she is engaged. I think he cannot approach a sister if he knows another man has also approached her or has decided to approach her (i.e. the engagement has not even happened yet), and my evidence is how Rasulullah salAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam told some of his Companions about a certain proposal he was about to make (I forgot her name), and his Companions were approached by the father of the woman and the Companions refused to entertain the idea because they knew Rasulullah (SAW) already has expressed his intention to marry her. I cannot remember the name of the father of the woman either but he was very happy that Rasulullah (SAW), the best of the men, wanted to marry his daughter. Shaykha Zainab Ansari, can you please tell me if what I am saying is correct here? JazakAllah khayran.

        And Allah knows best!

  96. Naziyah says:

    Salam Shahykah Zaynab,

    You write: “To add insult to injury, the Shaykh, who will not even deign to acknowledge the woman publicly, still retains conjugal access, enjoying all the pleasures of marriage without the responsibility, for, in many cases, he has not provided a marital home nor financial support to the secret second wife. To cap it all off, when he is done with the second wife, the marriage is ended without much ceremony, unless one deems talaq by text message ceremonious.”

    Good grief! What are the mothers and female elders teaching young women so that they allow themselves to be thus abused! And what is this “conjugal access” all about? Women whose husbands
    aren’t providing should JUST SAY NO to conjugal access!

    WA SALAM! :-D

  97. s halit says:

    naziyah, if that is the case, they why even marry in the first place? i think the qur’an says something like…there is no blame in what they mutually consent to. if she agrees to something then changes her mind later on, likewise the guy could change his mind too and then just divorce her. she knew what she was getting herself into, unless he lied of course.

    oh btw, i also read that you have to do talaq with two witnesses or something, is that true?

    • Hassan says:

      A brother no stranger to fitna, who took a secret second wife while his first was pregnant that lead to the breakup of his first marriage, a sister he already had half a dozen of kids with, who struggled paying alimony, has no real income but relies on community zakat, has no business going round asking the hands of impressionable sisters for marriage with the pretext of dawah, using his “shaykh” card to boot. THats straight up FRAUD.

  98. Azim Abdul Majeed says:

    I think this excellent speech could shed some light and also guidance to this discussion topic.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_rethinking_infidelity_a_talk_for_anyone_who_has_ever_loved

    I would appreciate some good thoughtful comments on this speech with an Islamic perspective.

  99. Ali says:

    Assalamu alaikum warahmatullahi

    SubhanAllah — this article only confirms that there is a huge spiritual vacuum in the community. People are so alone out there and they are trying to seek confirmation of their existence and fill the spiritual void they have in them.

    There are two reasons these voids could occur: 1) Shaytaan has penetrated deep into the person’s life, and 2) the importance of using halal income and foods.

    One of the reasons why I don’t carry my own cellphone is because of a “alternate reality mindset” it creates. Besides, if my forefathers could do it (without a cellphone), then so can I, inshaAllah. A cellphone really is a tool of the Shaytaan.

    About halal income and foods, people need to follow what they know is the truth, deep down in their hearts, and not obey their whims and desires when it comes to food and jobs. Don’t eat the chocolate because you love it, or don’t go to a non-Muslim restaurant claiming to offer Hakka Chinese halal when you know they serve alcohol and their sauce could have alcohol as well. And take that analyst level or farmer job that is halal rather than manager level job that is not in halal industry, even though you argue it’s “halal” because you have no “direct” contribution to the workings of the industry. SubhanAllah…

    These are the aakhiru-zamaan.

    And Allah knows best!

  100. Hanif says:

    Thank you to Sr. Zaynab. But as a revert, it surprises me that this matter is taking the Muslim community by such surprise. To the laypersons as well as the leadership, let this be a lesson. If someone comes to you with a claim against a more powerful, more connected, more wealthy, more whatever individual: investigate and interview. No matter if you think “that shaykh/shaykha/activist/walee/student/professor/celebrity/FRIEND OF MINE/smooth talking daee would never in their lives do such a thing…………” everyone is fallible. everyone. Victims of abuse who are forced into silence today will be part of an unwell family and community tomorrow, and we will all bear the responsibility and consequences. That person may be the teacher instructing your child, the physician treating your sister, the mother raising a brokenhearted little boy because she’s unable to forgive what was done to her by the man who hurt her or the men who turned the other way when she asked for help. It’s time to throw off the garbs of false piety and do the real work of al-Islam. Sister, if you have a means for victims to report these issues, please do share and circulate. ASA.

  101. Another person of clay says:

    One thing that makes me hopeful about the stuff this article sheds light on, and the fact that people are engaging with it by reading it and sharing thoughts in the comments section, is that I see people in my community (the Muslim-American community) pay attention to interpersonal abuse and violence, and start to grapple with what it’s like when we recognize that it is happening. I pray that this exploration would be fruitful, grounded, and sustained by the One who is beyond all of our understanding.

    I am not aware of a strong openness in the Muslim-American landscape to talking about domestic (physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual) violence directed at children. It may be out there (big and varied landscape) but I am not aware of it (if so, would love to be made aware), or may not be. I have never felt there was a possible space in my spiritual community as a Muslim-American to speak, engage, work together (or even begin to) on the fact of domestic violence from parents to children. This is deeply toxic and I think it is a really big problem. I know many of my friends, and myself, experienced violence, attacks, toxicity from their parents and had simply no where to put it. The community seemed to have a very clear understanding that parents have your best intention at heart. And my parents – at least – shared that understanding, and when I deigned to not participate by receiving their violence, they held the “we’re your parents, your duty is to us before any one else in the world.” Which is just one small sliver that founds an entire body of spiritual injustice. I was asked (violently demanded) to make sujood to my father, I was threatened to be killed, I was attacked ~ all in a guise of “disciplining me to be more obedient to Allah” – some of the deepest idolatry I have come across in my short life. Many years ago, Allah opened a way for me to physically leave my family’s home. But that is it – I left. There was no one in my community to bring in for support, no one I even felt I could tell without being judged, no third party I could bring in to mediate or convey a message or be a buffer between me and my parents, not even anyone to consult or just share that this was happening and to ask for prayers and help getting out of there where I was in an emergent situation, no one to bear witness with me, no one to help me discern if I should bring in resources like counselors or social services. I had support for myself – but none of it was from my home town community (Muslim or not), and I was able to share with only a small number of people who were Muslim at all. I know I’m not the only one who experienced this kind of thing. Relating with my parents is dangerous – beyond what I have shared in this email – for me, and I have decided to not partake in that danger, this is very clear. But this means I have lost my entire community of upbringing, that I don’t feel safe going back to my hometown, that there are many friends who I have simply lost touch with, and that I have no reconciliation of any stable kind with my parents except that I don’t give them my address and don’t stay in touch with them, and that I cannot be in relationship with my other relatives who share a household with my parents.

    I don’t regret my journey. God brought me into the wilderness with wisdom and grace. There are struggles and they belong to all of us – my healing requires all of our healing, because it is whole communities who make it possible for violence to either get healed or go unnoticed. As an adult, it’s my responsibility to bear witness to the injustice and unhealthiness of this situation in our communities. And that there is a need, a gaping wound, that exists – may God lift veils from our hearts and eyes that we may have the courage to see, hear, notice, hold in our hands, and turn to God for the aid our imaginations and certainties cannot summon. May we have the courage for our hearts to break open.

    In peace,
    your sister and a creature of God

  102. bosun says:

    Salams,

    “… do not trouble any of Allah’s creation because such is not the nature of any faithful believer.”

    —-Actions are judged according to intentions.

    “We are doing ourselves and our teachers a tremendous disservice when we elevate them beyond human frailties.”

    —-We are not only doing ourselves a tremendous disservice, we are ignorant of the religion.

    “Our ‘ulama, teachers, and Mashayikh are not perfect.”

    —-Islam 001.

    “The only perfected human being was the Prophet Muhammad,”

    —Correction: The only *Perfect* human being.

    “There is *evidence* demonstrating that these individuals are using their positions in circles of sacred learning to groom, recruit, and entice female followers with promises of marriage, access to Shuyukh, study abroad opportunities, and entrée to exclusive socio-spiritual networks.”

    —hmm, do we mean exhibits here? Cos we can’t play lawyer and judge at the same time.

    “One can only imagine what these women’s perception of Islam has become, especially when the Shaykh was their Islam.”

    —It’s like Firawn and Bani Israel.

    “As a direct consequence of these individuals’ actions, women have become disillusioned, embittered, and depressed.”

    —That’s way too simplistic!

  103. […] light of Ustadha Zaynab Ansari's recent critique of Celebrity Scholars and 'blurred lines', it is perhaps an opportune moment to perform a more extensive examination regarding the current […]

  104. […] In the Name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy[2] […]

  105. […] example, when I wrote about the issue of “blurred lines” between religious teachers and their students and the culture of celebrity we have built up around […]

  106. Muslima says:

    Women: beware beware beware beware beware these wolves in sheep’s clothing. A mortifying practice is for these men (I cannot call them teachers) to invite a single woman to travel along on a carefully orchestrated, religiously flavoured trip, sometimes even to a far off destination, where she will serve the as the romantic entertainment for a holiday getaway under a cleverly crafted cover of shared learning or specialty-artisanal-spirituality. More often than not, he leaves her head spinning as she thinks herself to have been initiated into some super elect fantasy-land where she will always be on the VIP list for the next underground superstar gathering, ushered in wearing the abaayah he’s hand picked for her, his gleaming thasbeeh wrapped around her wrists, only to be crushed when he returns home to his wife and children and, surprise! your SMS goes unanswered for weeks. Please……never accept such an “invitation” no matter how charming and charismatic these predators make themselves out to be. May they be guided to honour true Prophetic chivalry and to God’s justice, from which there is never an escape.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Muslima,

      Assalamu alaikum,

      Thank you for posting this warning! I’ve heard some alarming things about some of these overseas trips and the lax–to put it mildly–gender interaction.

      Let’s have fear of Allah in all circumstances!

      Zaynab

  107. sara says:

    Woman should not lie and adopt falsehood
    Narrated by A’sha that a woman came to Allah’s Apostle) and said: I have a co-wife. Is there any harm for me if I give her the false impression (of getting something from my husband which he has not in fact given me)? Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: The one who creates such a (false impression) of receiving what one has not been given is like one who wears the garment of falsehood.

  108. […] like to thank Ustadha Zaynab Ansari for her: Blurred Lines, and Mobeen Vaid’s Mass Marketing Islam and “Edu-tainment” for helping to kick-start […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *