Drawing a Line in the Sand: Student-Teacher Relationships in the Digital Age

A Follow-up to Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

In the Name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy

In this article, I will endeavor to respond to some of the concerns raised about my May 27, 2015 essay,

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

My views are mine alone; I chose MuslimMatters as a platform because of their willingness to discuss broader issues relating to student-teacher relationships in the world of traditional Islamic Studies.[1] (See, for example, “Shaykhy Crushes: Trials in the Lives of Men of Knowledge.”) While my article was not intended as a direct response to “Shaykhy Crushes,” I have been concerned for some time about the emergence of a near culture of celebrity around those who inhabit the North American Islamic lecture circuit.

While the feedback to my piece was overwhelmingly positive, several commenters objected to my article on the following grounds:

Like this?
Get more of our great articles.

I should have named names. By not naming names, I have cast a wide net of suspicion over every Shaykh and speaker on conference rosters.

My response: I did not and will not name names, as identifying the miscreants is not the purpose of my article. My larger concern is the behavior of individuals who use their scholarly authority for personal gain. I am not interested in launching a witch hunt, destroying people’s careers or “undermining Islamic scholarship,” as one person put it on Facebook. My article was very pointed, yes, and intentionally so. I wrote it from the “other woman’s” point of view, i.e., the vantage point of the jilted secret, second wife, because I believe her situation illustrates the extent to which the integrity of sacred knowledge and its disseminators has been compromised. I want those who are in a position of authority and those who hold sway over the Islamic (intellectual) public to consider my advice and reinstate the (moral) boundaries that I believe have fallen away to the detriment of teacher and student.

This article is also not about any one individual, although some cases have stood out as more egregious than others. For over a decade, I (and others) have heard about the misuse and abuse of the institution of polygyny. Go to any Muslim community and you will hear about the secret plural marriages, messy divorces, and other related drama that ensues when people do not follow the strictures of Islamic personal status law. I could have written an article about the lay Muslim man who engages in serial monogamy, or maintains a revolving door of second wives, in either case making a mockery of Islamic law and leaving behind a string of broken homes in his wake. The reason I did not is because these individuals—for the most part—do not lay claim to the mantle of religious authority. While they might invoke (aspects) of the Qur’an and Sunna to justify their behavior (the women are right-hand possessions, etc (!), they are not lecturing the public about morality, taqwa, modesty, spirituality, and so on. I firmly believe that those of us who inhabit the public space that is the Islamic lecture circuit—and I include myself in this—need to abide by higher standards and strive for a measure of consistency in our public and private lives.

There is no need to be suspicious of everyone on the lecture circuit. By and large, I believe our ‘ulama conduct themselves with the appropriate decorum, especially with members of the opposite sex. This article is about those who do not observe the proper boundaries, and, in doing so, are causing emotional and spiritual harm to their (erstwhile) female students. While some commenters feel my concerns are overblown, others have publicly and privately indicated that the issues I have raised are valid.

I will concede that the evidence I have gathered is largely—although not exclusively—anecdotal. Unfortunately, the evidence will remain anecdotal so long as women refuse to go public with their stories. I believe a study of (North American) Muslim marriage practices, especially relating to polygyny and its impact on women and children, would be helpful. Fortunately, there is an emerging literature on this topic. However, this article, again, is not about polygyny per se, but the intersection of religious authority, the public sphere, and gender in the rarefied atmosphere of the Islamic conference.

What is a “celebrity Shaykh”?

My response: Obviously, the article touched a nerve with my reference to the phenomenon of the “celebrity Shaykh,” and I can see how my tone seemed irreverent to some. As I explained initially, I am not trying to diminish or demean our Shuyukh. As I stated before and will state again: I do not believe anyone on the lecture circuit sets out to become a celebrity. We make them into celebrities and now everyone is paying the price. Instead of attending an event to learn, we go to programs to be entertained. Big name speakers just happen to be given the coveted Saturday afternoon speaking slot that commands maximum audience attendance. Lesser known or more substantive speakers are often placed too early in the day or too late in the evening to really reach an audience. We have all been in the lecture hall that has emptied out as soon as the really-famous-speaker was done, leaving the not-so-exciting-speaker talking to empty seats. To make matters worse, we now have speakers who roll in with entourages of adoring students half-bent in ruku’ as one (very good) speaker noted at a conference I recently attended. Although the image sounds humorous, what is the effect on the audience? It is to enthrone the speaker on a pedestal, rendering him almost superhuman. So when we hear that he (or she) is actually human and makes mistakes, we take it personally, losing our iman or dismissing the whole lot. This is an extreme reaction to what is often extreme adulation of our teachers. Let’s let them be human again. Yes, we should hold them to higher standards—after all, they are transmitters of a prophetic legacy—but they are still people.

I’m not the first person to critique this culture of celebrity. Brother Omar Usman has a great website, FiqhOfSocial.Media, that specifically addresses the fanboy/girl culture we’ve created. Also, Imam Zaid Shakir poignantly writes about being a Muslim “rock star” at New Islamic Directions, and reminds us that we woefully underestimate the impact of public service on the health, family life, and free time of our leaders.

Very few people on the lecture circuit, myself included, fit the qualifications of a Shaykh. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of those who appear on conference programs are preachers, du’at (callers), and motivational speakers. A very small subset of those who speak at conferences are actual scholars. In fact, some of the most serious scholars tend to eschew public appearances altogether.

What about the role of the women? Aren’t many of them behaving inappropriately?

My response: Yes, women do play a role in these scenarios. I remember going to a convention with a stack of books from my library, books by well-known ‘ulama and speakers. I was determined to get these authors to sign my books and most of them did. Some were very gracious, and even remembered my name (probably from the last time I cornered them). Some seemed quite bemused as to why I would want them to autograph their books. Some employed personal assistants who ran interference, but most were surprisingly—and refreshingly, for me as a woman—accessible. When I think back, however, I have to take a more critical view of my actions. Yes, I was, in my view, just a bibliophile getting books signed by my favorite authors. But how would these men’s wives have viewed me? They wouldn’t have known that any chance I get, I go to book signings because I believe in the institution of scholarship and want to support good writing. All they would have seen was yet another (young-ish) woman, smiling and making small talk. I share this anecdote to caution sisters that we must try to look at our actions through the eyes of others, particularly the wives of the Shuyukh. These long-suffering women typically have to put up with husbands who are frequently absent and travel more than they stay home. They also have to put up with female students of knowledge approaching their husbands in ways that are, frankly, inappropriate. I have to admit that, as a wife, it can sting when I see photos of my husband with other women, as innocuous as those photos might be. How then do we think it affects the Shaykh’s wife when she has to deal with female fans taking selfies with her beloved husband, then striking up a conversation with said husband once they get to the nearest computer?

I would be remiss if I didn’t address the subject of the halal home-wrecker. This is the woman who is determined to pursue the married Shaykh at all costs, knowing the harm it will bring to his marriage and the hurt it will cause his wife. She quotes hadiths to justify her pursuit of a married man, arguing that the first wife is lacking in faith if she doesn’t wish to share her husband. This argument is spurious and dangerous. Spurious because it is not for the second woman to make pronouncements on the first woman’s faith in the first place. Dangerous because we know what the Qur’an says about those who cause discord between husband and wife, and it’s not favorable. All I will say additionally is if one’s intention is to become not just the second wife, but the only wife, then one needs to check her intention and make taubah. Also, remember the saying, “How you get him is how you lose him.” If he entertained your advances, he’ll entertain those of another.

This article will make it even harder for women to study with male teachers. And male teachers are more scholarly than females.

My response: This article is not about preventing access to qualified scholarship. Women have a right to seek sacred knowledge, so long as they (and the teachers) observe proper gender etiquette. If program organizers start barring women from events, it won’t be because of my article. My article is not calling for the policing of spaces in which men and women gather to seek sacred knowledge. I am calling for the reinstatement of common-sense policies and moral boundaries around the student-teacher relationship, especially when those relationships spill over into the relative anonymity of cyberspace, a space in which people become emboldened to do or say things they would likely not do or say in public.

If men are perceived as being more “scholarly” than women, then that perception may owe to the fact that men are far more likely to receive the sort of training, mentoring, and sponsorship that are required to produce rigorous scholarship. There are serious structural barriers impeding women from attaining parity with their male counterparts in traditional Islamic scholarly circles. Ironically, one of the main obstacles women face is the lack of a platform from which to teach and speak. It is difficult to become an effective teacher or an excellent speaker when many venues simply do not include women. We have to move beyond the politics of the female token and seriously start mentoring the next generation of women scholar and teachers.

Where are the solutions?

My response: I have several suggestions, but few are enforceable. Ultimately, the responsibility for working on these issues falls to the individuals themselves and those in their inner circle. Ideally, their peers, colleagues, and teachers would take up the matter with them; however, that has not appeared to be the case, hence the need for this essay.

Ingrid Mattson tweeted that ‘ulama should consider adopting a code of professional ethics similar to the code adhered to by Muslim chaplains, and I agree. If a teacher or Shaykh finds himself in a position of marrying one (or more) of his students, he needs to really think the matter through, including consulting with his first wife, and considering the potential benefit and harm entailed by entering into polygyny. Ideally, there would be boundaries established that would forestall these scenarios, such as avoiding courtship and marriage with current students. However, if the teacher and student feel marriage is necessary to prevent fitnah, then the process has to be conducted with the utmost integrity and transparency, with measures taken to ensure the rights of all parties are respected.

Women who are approached to be second wives need to regain common sense. Why enter into a relationship that is not legally recognized in the West, then complain when you have no rights? Marrying an already-married man while trusting in his assurances that his first wife is “okay” with the arrangement, or, worse, doesn’t even need to know about it, is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst. Why wouldn’t you want to talk to the first wife to see what he is really like when he’s not sweet talking you? Why refrain from talking to the ex-wives? They’re out there. Are you afraid they’re going to say something to shatter the brother’s mystique?

The teachers and peers of these individuals have a moral obligation to call these brothers on the carpet, not sweep their behavior under the carpet. I believe that there is a culture of enabling this kind of behavior-or at least turning a blind eye—since it takes place behind closed doors and involves a demographic that is the least likely to speak out, namely, women.

Finally, this issue is crying out for women scholars to fill in the knowledge and mentoring gap. Instead of turning to male scholars for validation and inspiration, why not seek out women teachers? When I was in Damascus, I noted the presence of strong networks of women scholars and women students. Observing the impact of these networks years later and assessing the quality of the student-teacher bond, I can say that I have seen no women more self-assured, confident, and empowered than these women immersed in an environment of gender-specific knowledge and learning. On the contrary, I’ve noted that the women who seek out opposite-sex teachers for mentoring and validation, often to end up married to them, seriously struggle with issues of self-esteem.

And Allah knows best.

[1] Traditional as opposed to the academic study of Islam at secular universities

37 / View Comments

37 responses to “Drawing a Line in the Sand: Student-Teacher Relationships in the Digital Age”

  1. Jazaakillaahi khayran for yet another excellent article.

    I especially appreciate the advice you gave to those considering becoming second wives – as a second wife myself, it is precisely what I tell others who ask me about poly. I find it abhorrent that anyone would would try to go behind the first wife’s back, because it screams of a lack of Ihsaan – whether on the part of the husband, the potential second, or both.

  2. Ibn Masood says:

    MashaAllah. Exactly the follow-up that was needed.

    وفقك الله لما يحب و يرضى به

  3. Umm Sultan says:

    I found this article very interesting. Being a married woman myself, I don’t have to worry about the secret second wife issue, but when I do get the opportunity to attend a live event, I often wonder how best to conduct myself with regard to the speakers present. After lectures, especially in smaller venues you often find a gaggle of brothers surrounding the speaker, and they often happily field questions, greet folks, etc. Even when I’ve had a question after the lecture I don’t feel comfortable going over and asking when surrounded by brothers. I find it easier to ask such questions via social media where you don’t have to interact face-to-face and it’s on a public forum where others can benefit from the exchange. I understand though that this isn’t feasible for sisters who are studying w. a scholar in-depth.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Umm Sultan, I’m not saying all electronic communication is problematic, just that which ends up being random and meandering, ultimately leading to emotional attachments and other entanglements. If one is legitimately pursuing distance learning with a teacher, obviously eschewing electronic communication is not feasible; however, certain boundaries should be established for the safety of both parties.

  4. Enosh says:

    In addition, I think another part of the problem is that we view such teachers and speakers as having a perfect life automatically because they are in front of a crowd and seem to have all the answers. We don’t really think that these people sin just like all other humans, including ourselves.

    We (some of us) think of ourselves as people dealing with so many challenges and issues, and then these speakers are walking around ready to solve everything for us – they must be so unstoppable and amazing! – the reality is that we are all human. The problem is also in our own heads: These ‘speakers’ are human; have difficulties and challenges too.

  5. Abu abdirrahman says:

    Men don’t want other men giving them marital advice. Even between friends, personal family issues are not to be discussed. the choices a brother (whether a shaykh or not) makes regarding whom he marries is up to him and the family of the woman seeking marriage.

    People need to mind Their own business especially when it doesn’t concern them. I know shaykhs/brothers who have/had multiple wives but u can’t just go and tell him how he should live his life.

    • Amatullah says:

      Bismillah.

      If you are familiar with a brother’s past and he has demonstrated repeatedly his failure in fulfilling his obligations towards his wives in a just manner, you have a responsibility to remind him that accepting a trust which he knows he cannot uphold is unlawful.

      The spirit of Al Asr applies to all facets of a Muslim’s life. You want to know why the Ummah is facing a multitude of trials and tribulations today? It’s because of the blatant neglect of the prophetic sunnah of mutual reminding one another in good and averting evil for Allah’s sake.

      And Allah Most High knows best.

  6. Ameen says:

    MashaAllah, well pointed follow-up to your blurred lines article. What I see as being a huge problem that causes these sort of issues is the conception of marriage and its process. Too often are Muslims painting this rosey unrealistic picture of what the want their marriages and spouses to be. This isn’t just the case with sisters but with brothers as well. We place all these barriers from having a good and healthy marriage by looking for someone YouTube, for brothers specifically, looking for a Lebanese sister who is a hafidh, and wears niqab, lol, when there’s already a great person down the street in our own masjid and community. Lol, it’s like the boy who asked Allah to save him from drowning, Allah has blessed us with great people in our communities, yet we look for these exotic characters. I believe this to be one of the fundamental problems to how issues like the such occurs. If we concern ourselves with realistic and straightforward expectations,most of this could probably be avoided.

  7. nillam says:

    Jazakiallahu khairan ..!
    I appreciate this effort of yours and agree too..Student teacher etiquette needs to be followed.Sunnat way of teaching, learning etiquette of sahabiyat are the grounds to rely upon… Teaching and Learning through social media should be brief ,short and within limits.And getting so deep to reach personal lives should be stopped at the first place..

  8. Inqiyaad says:

    JazakiAllahu khairan for your response and clarifications. I would like to follow up with you regarding some of your responses and clarify some of my propositions.

    1. Yes, of course, it is much more than a punchline and more than a math problem. The point I was trying to make was that none of the rights of the women who were exploited are going to be restored by making that observation or statement. Part of the reason why this math problem exists is because there is no effective deterrent to such behavior. A lot of people and I have asked you to reveal the names of the people involved to establish deterrence and help restore the rights.

    Now, of course, this is considering that we have made every attempt at giving the accused a chance to explain or that we have concrete evidence to establish their crime. Else, we are guilty of behavior which Moosa ‘alahis-salaam called ignorant.

    Even if there is some merit to these accusations, their (scohlars/speakers) peers should bring this up privately and try to resolve this. Failing effective resolution, they should bring it to the attention of the congregation to warn them of such delinquents.

    2. I completely disagree with your observation that a wali needs to be a mind reader to assure the rights of the women he is in charge of. All of the recommendations that you give to women should have been enforced by the walis. If not then your recommendations to women are moot. If they run into problems after doing due diligence, mashaAllah la quwwata illa billah. Focus should now shift to restoring rights.

    If ‘Ali radhi Allahu ‘anh declined Umar ibn al khattab’s proposal for his daughter multiple times then a wali should not hesitate to decline any bigwig if he has reason to believe that woman’s rights will be compromised (it’s a different thing that he finally agreed). I hope you will advise women to consult and heed to their wali’s recommendations.

    3. Finally, my essay on the Celebrity Shaykh issue:
    ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab narrated that the Prophet(s.a.w) said:
    “Shall I not inform you of the best of your leaders and the worst of them: The best of them are those whom you love and they love you, you supplicate for them, and they supplicate for you. And the evilest of your leaders are those who hate you, and you hate them, and they curse you and you curse them.”

    I asked the questions under points 1 and 2 on your previous post because I sensed that you view ‘celebrity’ as an inherent problem. This is displayed by your criticism of slot allotment to popular speakers.

    I disagree with your assessment that celebrity is inherently evil or that providing popular speakers (scholars) with slots where maximum attendance is expected is a problem. People might love to listen to a speaker they love. The love might be due to positive change that the person brings to their life, connects with them at their level, is charismatic, or may be that they are entertained. Although preference based on purely entertainment value is problematic, we can’t assume that majority love is based on entertainment value.

    In addition, serious students who know the value of real scholars will find a way to attend within or beyond the conference schedules. In fact, real scholars sometimes hate to teach non-committed students, for example ‘Amash.

    A lot of contemporaries of famous historical figures were as qualified if not more than the famous ones. Yet, people connected with the famous ones because of their approachable nature.

    A lot of these famous scholars (speakers) start as fairly unknown figures but gain peoples’ love because people see value. It is the speaker’s responsibility to communicate the value of knowledge he/she has so that people appreciate and are willing to attend.
    The problem arises when people take this love to the level of servitude or fail to observe the obligation of amr bil ma’roof and nahi ‘anil munkar, or when this love for individuals is abused to exploit, and I agree with you on that.

    Yet, in my view, there is no clear definition of what contributes ‘celebrity shaykh culture’ in this context.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Inqiyaad,

      1. We lack the proper mechanisms to address these situations, hence my purpose for writing. Marriage and divorce are conducted in such an ad-hoc, haphazard fashion, with little accountability to spouse, family, in-laws, community–and this applies to the lay and to leaders.

      2. A wali can’t always tell if someone is deliberately misrepresenting himself. That’s my point. Although I think some of these women really lack the type of vigorous wilayah to which they’re entitled. An apathetic wali is not a true wali, in my opinion.

      3. Human nature is such that we incline toward those who are devout, compassionate, friendly, witty, smart, charismatic, etc. I know some speakers and teachers will be more popular than others. I’m saying that this popularity should not be misused, nor should the cult of personality that arises from their popularity be an obstacle to holding them to account.

      3.

  9. Excellent follow up, jzk!

    As for solutions, I think we should standardize a “no poly” clause, and we should call it the “Fatimah bint Muhammad” clause. We should standardize it into the contract so that it forces a discussion about whether it is accepted or not.

    We should call it the FbM clause so that if any ask, we can point out the Prophet (saw) blocked polygyny as part of the contract because it hurt Fatima, and her not wanting it didn’t detract from her status – she was one of the four who perfected her iman. It will make it a teachable moment and force everyone to be aware that this is not something modern or invented.

    • Talibul `Ilm says:

      A fair follow up to both articles would be about those brothers (Sheikhs/Talibs), 1st wives and 2nd wives who do everything for the sake of Allah and in the way Allah prescribed. All human beings will make mistakes and commit sins. But at the same time, it’s always best not to expose laymen to too much Fitnah and disputes that occur among those who are by no means considered laymen. Being exposed to such Fitnah may (and it does) corrupt the Imaan of laymen.
      So please do some research (I’m sure you already have) and write atleast one article about Sheikhs who lead by example on how to revive the Laws of Allah properly. Allah is my witness. I personally know Sheikhs with more than one wife, who are not into all this nonsense of changing wives every few months and whose first wives actually suggested their seconds.
      This Ummah is not dead yet. There are many Muslims, Sheikhs as well as sincere laymen, who implement Allah’s Laws properly to the best of their abilities. There are also women who understand their religion and have open hearts to suggest for another woman to be equally as happy as her with the same good Muslim husband that she has been blessed with.
      Lastly, let’s not forget that marital problems among Muslims is just insanely common these days. And to be honest this is far more common among laymen than it is among Sheikhs.

      • Amatullah says:

        Bismillah.

        Let’s not increase the fitnah amongst the laymen and then sweep the broken laywomen under the carpet while Sheikh yells “NEXT!”? Is that what you’re suggesting?

      • Talibul `Ilm says:

        Maybe you should read what I wrote again. I didn’t make any such suggestion. My point was that to be fair, there should be an article written on those who do things the right way so that laymen are not faced with a trial that will corrupt their Imaan. They may lose trust in all Sheikhs even though when compared to all the Sheikhs around, a small percentage of them are actually like this. They may also think since the men of religion are like this, there’s no need to become more religious and they are fine being the way they are. Or something else.
        When Sheikhs belonging to a group, find out their colleague is going around marrying and then breaking women’s hearts, they should stop their colleague the very first time they notice it. Why keep cheering their colleague on and keep inviting him to more conferences? Why let him continue so more women can be divorced and more laymen can be overcome by the Fitnah?

      • Salaam alaykum,

        I like it as is because the problem is laser focused on one particular problem. This article isn’t about people who do it well, it’s about people who are abusing the system, and so it’s appropriate that this is what’s covered.

        That doesn’t mean we’re averse to good examples =) If you know some, feel free to drop in a guest submission to MM that discusses people who are doing it right. Be sure to get their permission before writing in.

        Siraaj

      • Zaynab Ansari says:

        @Br. Talibul ‘Ilm, thank you for reminding us that there are cases of successful, Sunna-based polygyny. This article is definitely about the opposite scenario. Sadly, anecdotal evidence suggest the latter cases preponderate.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Br. Siraaj, I like the idea of the Fatimah bint Muhammad clause and think it should definitely be an element of the contract between speakers/teachers and the institutions they represent.

    • Inqiyaad says:

      Except that it was not a part of any written contract. Standardizing this practice without regard to context or even incorporating such a clause even in solitary cases might constitute making something that is halal into haram. Muhammad sal Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam drew our attention to this fact in this very context.

      http://islamqa.info/en/162287

      Besides, what will be the penalty for breaking this clause? Automatic divorce? If so, the marriage contract itself will be invalid. Also, experience tells us that prohibition leads to bootlegging. This could backfire and encourage even more underground activity as shaykh Yawar suggested.

      • Abu Milk Sheikh says:

        For every googled fatwa…

        http://islamqa.info/en/143120

        Another fatwa on Islamqa shows that in two of the four madhabs a “automatic-divorce-on-taking-cowife-or-concubine” clause is valid. The moment a husband takes a co-wife or concubine, the first wife is immediately divorced. I can’t find the link but it’s there.

        It is also the case that if the first wife is from a culture or family where monogamy is the norm, even without an explicit clause in the marriage contract she has recourse to a divorce if her husband takes a co-wife or concubine.

        Any Muslimah may do taqleed of the above rulings and none may prevent them. If they invoke these rulings because they are following their desires (which is blameworthy,) that is between them and Allah.

        While the cited rulings are in favor of the women, other rulings favor the men in a polygynous situation and make it easier for them to manage their families.

        The Law does a good job of protecting both parties’ rights. It’s Divine; how could it not?

      • Siraaj says:

        The clause itself is something I would suggest is reviewed at the time of the agreement of the contract. If the man wishes to marry the woman and relinquish the right to do so, then that is accepted. He’s a free thinking man and she a free thinking woman. If she doesn’t want to be part of a plural marriage, she can make that clear up front and find herself a man who is content with monogamy. Likewise, the polygynist can let go of one and find another.

        I find it strange that we want to force people to be in relationships they want know part of. Most women today will find themselves tried in many things beyond, religious commitment being the most damaged along with emotional and psychological health. There was no problem with Fatimah complaining and saying she was hurt by Ali considering another proposal, I see no problem if any woman says such and a father does not wish this for his daughter.

      • Inqiyaad says:

        Abu Milk Sheikh and Siraaj

        Yes, Google, the tool of choice for fatwa shoppers! Going beyond the snide ad hominems, jazakAllahu khairan for sharing the link. Although, the evidence presented is not very clear to me. I cannot see how the Prophet himself is reprimanded for giving up something as trivial as honey for his own person, and yet here we are suggesting that it is acceptable to eschew polygamy as a standard protocol across the board. All because, تَبۡتَغِى مَرۡضَاتَ أَزۡوَٲجِكَ‌ۚ

        Regardless of our disagreements, it is clear that if the husband takes another wife, and the wife finds it unduly difficult, she may ask for annulment (khula). We agree about this. So, what is the need to write this down in the contract? I agree with Siraaj, if the potential wife wishes to propose such a clause, fine. If the potential husband is convinced that such a clause is indeed turning something halal into haram, he should reject such a clause. But proposing that this should be a standard procedure for everyone or even teachers while signing their contracts with institutions (not marriage contract) that they will give up polygamy is beyond our mandate.

        Besides, how many rights are we willing to write down in the contract? Will it be acceptable (tasteful) for a husband to start the relationship by stating his intent to divorce if his list of expectations is not fulfilled?

        Finally, I totally abhor the idea of secret polygamy. If a man is not willing to acknowledge his second wife publicly he has failed in fulfilling her first right and I would not have much expectation that he will fulfill other rights.

      • Inqiyaad says:

        Abu Milk Sheikh and Siraaj

        Yes, Google, the tool of choice for fatwa shoppers! Going beyond the snide ad hominems, jazakAllahu khairan for sharing the link. Although, the evidence presented is not very clear to me. I cannot see how the Prophet himself is reprimanded for giving up something as trivial as honey for his own person, and yet here we are suggesting that it is acceptable to eschew polygamy as a standard protocol across the board. All because تَبۡتَغِى مَرۡضَاتَ أَزۡوَٲجِكَ‌ۚ

        Regardless of our disagreements, it is clear that if the husband takes another wife, and the wife finds it unduly difficult, she may ask for annulment (khula). We agree about this. So, what is the need to write this down in the contract? I agree with Siraaj, if the potential wife wishes to propose such a clause, fine. If the potential husband is convinced that such a clause is indeed turning something halal into haram, he should reject such a clause. But proposing that this should be a standard procedure for everyone or even teachers while signing their contracts with institutions (not marriage contract) that they will give up polygamy is beyond our mandate.

        Besides, how many rights are we willing to write down in the contract? Will it be acceptable (tasteful) for a husband to start the relationship by stating his intent to divorce if his list of expectations is not fulfilled?

        Finally, I totally abhor the idea of secret polygamy. If a man is not willing to acknowledge his second wife publicly he has failed in fulfilling her first right and I would not have much expectation that he will fulfill other rights.

    • Naziyah Nur says:

      Are we exclusively concerned with the issue
      as it pertains to married men?
      Or does Sheikha Zaynab seek to prohibit all men and all women
      from courting more than one person at a time?

  10. Amatullah says:

    What most of us fail to realize is how much the crisis of trust is already affecting laypeople even before the article was even published. A fitna brewed precisely due to the lack of response by the good scholars in keeping in check the few bad apples whose actions they decide to turn a blind eye on under the guise of giving them 70 excuses and having a good opinion or even cheer on as multiple concurrent marriages are deemed successful “conquests”.

    Notice how little traction the article has within the traditional Muslim crowd. Less than a handful of scholars or callers to Allah have circulated the piece, even when it touches on pertinent broader issues in the Ummah like the relaxing of gender relations between Muslims and the role of technology in this, which is relevant to laypeople and scholars alike. We forget that being silent on the matter helps foster a dangerous enabling culture for the few individuals who have been exploiting the circumstances to their benefit.

    • Zaynab Ansari says:

      @Sr. Amatullah, I can’t comment extensively, but I think your perception is correct, despite my disclaimer that I’m not singling out any particular school or methodology, as I believe the problem likely transcends methodological affiliation.

  11. khalid says:

    There could be many causes for these problems, it could even be the fact that there is a distinction between lay people and scholars, never mind “celebrity” ones. In my opinion, such a distinction should not even exist. Everyone should be considered equal and it’s only taqwa which ultimately distinguishes us with Allah.

    Some blame “free-mixing” but maybe that’s not the real problem. I feel that sometimes we like to place the blame on everyone and everything but ourselves. We blame the west, parents, teachers, men, women, our environment, the jews, anything but our own stupidity and misguided choices.

    How are we going to preach to others about the superiority of Islam, when we are behaving no differently from the rest? We criticize the Catholics, the Jews, the Marxists, the Shi’ites (for Sunnis/Salafis), yet it looks as though somewhere down the line, we became the thing we hate most.

    • Abu Milk Sheikh says:

      Allah and His Messenger ﷺ both clearly differentiate between scholar and layman in numerous ayahs and hadith.

  12. Naziyah Nur says:

    Shaykha Zaynab writes: “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 who are disappointed in love and 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 husband and wife.

  13. Naziyah Nur says:

    COMMENT :

    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!

    • Orbala says:

      Note, Sister Naziyah, that in both of your comments, you’re putting the blame and responsibility on the women, none on the men (e.g., what are the “mothers” teaching their daughters; “women” whose husbands aren’t providing “should just say NO to conjugal access” – that’s actually so much more simpler put in words like that). The way we express your condemnation of the act matters.

  14. 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.

    @ustadhah zaynab and @dr. yasir qadhi.

  15. brother says:

    May Allah make this article beneficial for all those who read it

  16. Iqra says:

    I think the most relevant point raised in this article is the need for female Islamic teachers. I find it easy to learn from my online female teachers on the platform Wiziq. And yes, they are all qualified scholars! Alhamdulillah.

  17. Ahmad says:

    I had no idea this was such an issue. May Allah protect our leaders from this fitnah!

  18. Momin says:

    assalamualaikum

    in the prequel to this piece the author said she will address issues with the women’s side but this piece fails to do that. is there a 3rd one coming out? or did author change her mind? i hope the feminist groups did not pressure our respected sister to change her mind in coming full circle to address the issues on the other side of the coin.

    may Allah bless u ya ustadha.

    Momin S.

  19. […] 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 […]

Leave a Reply

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