Note: Below is a response to Br. IbnabeeOmar’s article, “How Much Should Islamic Clergy Make?“
I read MuslimMatters articles from time to time but don’t really comment on the things much. However, I felt it would be of some benefit to comment to this particular article, ‘How Much Should Islamic Clergy Make?’
Allāh blessed me to be around a very good masjid that was active and firm on the Sunnah in my late teen years. The Imaam was very respected by all of us and he was there for me even at the wee hours of night if I had any problems. Masha’Allāh the community understood the importance of knowledge and taking care of the one giving out the knowledge so that he is able to dedicate 100 percent of his time to the da’wah rather than getting a side job to support himself and his family. He was our Imaam for about 5 years. We used to have regular full-fledged explanations of texts and also would invite well known shuyookh (scholars) from USA for weekend workshops every now and then. On top of that, we would also have regular tele-conferences with the scholars in Jordan, Kuwait, etc.
In those 5 years the masjid produced 4 full-time du‘aat, one of them being myself Alhamdulillah. I’m finishing up my degree soon and another brother from that masjid is about half-way done at Madinah University. The Masjid was always the hub for the Muslims. Unfortunately, only in recent times have the Muslims forgotten the importance of the House of Allāh. Who wants to deal with ignorant bullies who run the Masaajid these days? That’s why we find so many Masaajid across the United States that are void of duroos. They just have daily prayers, a Jumu‘ah, and a terrible Sunday school structure, yet we see people flocking to these institutes because that is the only choice they have.
Alhamdulillah I’ve had the opportunity to visit quite a few states and universities for da‘wah programs during the majority of this past decade. I’ve also served as an Imaam for a few Masaajid and had the privilege to work with an Islamic organization/school. I noticed a few people raised concerns that imams/teachers shouldn’t be paid but should do da’wah and look after a community for free because that would prevent them from corruption. Fear of corruption is great concern, but that also applies to fame. We’ve seen many tullaabul‘ilm change as they got more and more famous. And as Imaam Ahmad said so fittingly – the less people know you, the better. In any case, I want to share my story with you all so that you realize what extreme cases exist out there.
My father is a scientist, MashaAllāh and my entire family is very well known in my country for their wealth and education. I’ve seen more money in my life than any of these Masaajid in USA can “tempt” me with. Ever since I broke the news to my family that I want to become a Da’ee bi idhnillaah, and I felt I can do more for this ummah by dedicating my time to seeking knowledge and spreading it, I became the black sheep of the family. From the moment I wanted to pursue being a Da’ee full-time, I had in my mind that I will do da‘wah for free since my family has so much wealth. I wanted to spend a few days a week giving time to all the various family businesses with my uncles (even though my dad thought I should forget that and da‘wah and just focus on being a doctor!) and the other days giving classes at the Masjid from whatever little I knew. Qaddar Allāhu maa shaa afa‘al, my family treated me like dirt and said since I’m in Allāh’s path I should help expand their businesses as an act of sadaaqah towards them. After all, helping your kin is a great deed in Islam. So yea that plan didn’t work out, Alhamdulillah! My father, who does not pray, thinks science is bigger than religion (may Allāh guide him) and gave me a terrible time as I grew up. I never knew how to pray, never knew how to read one ayah from the Qur’an. It was through that Masjid that I mentioned in the beginning, that I learned how to pray, read and develop a love for Islam and more specifically the Sunnah. There were times my dad severely beat me for going to the Masjid and I would show up for the duroos severely bruised. Our Imaam would shed tears looking at me and told me no matter what happens he would always have a special kind of love for me and would give me more of his time whenever I needed it. As I grew older, obviously all that torture stopped. My parents moved back to the city where I grew up and my dad traveled a lot between the United States and other countries due to his work as he also was part of the government in the country he’s from.
While visiting my mother after a couple of years, I gave a few duroos and khutbahs at a local Masjid where she lived. One of them offered me to be the Imaam for them since they had nobody. They noticed the youth really liked me and thought I would benefit them. Let me tell you briefly about this specific community. They had teens doing drugs 20 feet away from the Masjid, pre-teen girls getting pregnant by kuffaar men and fornication that happened inside the house of Allāh! The only reason why I made the move was because my mother had developed an incurable disease and her condition was terrible. I thought being with my mother and doing da‘wah work is a huge chance for me to earn reward bi idhnillaah. Nevertheless, I was part of the community for approximately 1 year. For the first three months they did not pay me a penny. I complained to them that I cannot be doing this full-time and not be given anything in return. So they told me to take over a new project which was to teach kids Qur’an & Islamic studies and I’d be paid for being a teacher. I agreed. I continued to be the Imaam for free and took money for just the weekend school. They paid me $300 a month for teaching 45 kids by myself.
Alhamdulillah, I really wanted to help and I didn’t care about being an Imaam for free. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of these children and young adults. The day I said in the Masjid, “Ar-Rahmaanu ‘alal ‘arsh istawaa” was the day I got fired. I don’t know how they can call it “fired” when they never even hired me in the first place to be the Imaam. Hire would mean you pay a salary to the one designated as an Imaam but I was doing it for free! The admin started complaining that I ruined their kids, made them into “wahabis” and that I needed to go. So their kids doing drugs and committing zina was much better for them then to have their kids learn that Allāh is above us. SubhanAllāh! To this day, children and teenagers that I taught and counseled regularly keep in touch with me through emails and tell me how much they miss me, thanking me for the help I happily and readily gave to them. Many of them still remember everything I taught them and they carried it throughout their lives growing up, mashaAllah.
While being part of that community I visited other Masaajid regularly. So after I left them, I became the Imaam at a suburban Masjid. I was the Imaam there for three years. I faced a lot of resistance continuously from about 30 people out of 250; but the admin was on my side and Alhamdulillah, together we were able to do a lot of good in just three years. We even had to expand the Masjid to accommodate more attendees at Jumu‘ah. My salary was not that great at all. I was getting $1,600/month for those three years. During that time I visited my native country to see my relatives. While I was there, my own father (who was part of the government) wanted to imprison me with the excuse that I was a fanatic. Let me be clear, I know very well that killing non-combatants, women & children is not the Islam brought by Muhammad . He wanted to do that so I couldn’t come back to the USA and continue da‘wah work. He thought keeping me in prison would be the best way to make me give up the path of da‘wah. Alhamdulilah, he was not successful in his malicious ways and I made it back safe to the United States.
I never complained nor ever made any demands. I did not get into this field for the money. If I loved money so much, I could have just stayed with my relatives. I was a single man. I did not have rent to pay since I was living in my parents’ house so I rarely had any expenses. Rather, I lost out in something great. Marriage! I simply wasn’t able to afford to get married. I got rejected by about 7-8 prospects because of my financial situation. Alhamdulillah after being patient for 7 full years trying to get married, I finally got the wife of my dreams. I was invited by the MSA of a university in New York to do a non-Muslim da‘wah program. I did it, and from there I got re-invited another two times at their local Masjid. It was when I went there that a sister from the administration asked if I was married or not. So I told the sister I’m looking. She suggested the daughter of her friend for me. So I took the girl’s father’s number and after a month I called him up. My wife is Arab and I’m a desi, but Alhamdulillah there were no racial problems because her father told me that he does not care simply because of what my profession is. The marriage cost me an arm and a leg. Both our families wanted to have typical weddings that cost thousands & thousands. Alhamdulillah, the only good thing my dad ever did after I took this path was pay for all the wedding costs. I truly believe it was from Allāh and a reward for my efforts over the years.
My wife, mashaAllāh, understands what it means to be the wife of a da’ee extremely well. So now that I was married, obviously $1,600/month was not going to cut it. The Masjid got taken over by those same 30 people that were always being resistant to the da‘wah. They played some sly games to prevent the good brothers from being re-elected. It took them three years to plan this out, but they finally were successful. They got rid of every previous member from the administration as well as me. This is the reality of typical dirty Masjid politics. After that I moved on to another Masjid. I signed a contract with them, but obviously typical Muslims don’t care about any contracts. The contract was for $2000/ month. They only paid me $1,200/month. If I did not care about the image of Islam and only cared about money, I could have taken them to court and sued them for not complying with the signed contract. Instead, I made Du‘aa to Allāh to remove myself from this situation and to guide the brothers to Haqq. HasbiAllāhu wa ni‘mal wakeel.
I and my wife still made it by simply because we didn’t have rent to pay. But my parents’ house was 1 hour away from the Masjid and it was not feasible for me to travel such long distances every day. In spite of everything I still did this for 6 months. I then told them I needed a pay increase so I can afford an apartment closer to the Masjid. I never tell people about my family background because I know how people can be and what I worried about came true. One of the admins found out the wealthy state of my family and told the rest of the administration. At the next meeting, the administration told me, “Your father and family are very rich, why are you asking for a raise? Just take money from your family.” HasbiAllaahu wa ni‘mal wakeel.
My mother, even though being permanently disabled, is the ONLY person in my entire family that truly understood what I do in my life. She told me that I could not live like this any longer and have to think about myself and my wife. My mother didn’t know the exact details of my finances but she knew it wasn’t a lot to live fairly and comfortably with a family. I made a very good relationship with a lot of youth in the city and I just didn’t want to go to a different city. I knocked on my family’s door again and asked him to give me my inheritance so I can do something with my wealth. That way I can do da‘wah for free and not have to deal with ridiculous administrations. My father wrote off about $10-$12 million worth of property (meaning what I’m supposed to inherit from him) to my paternal cousins. He did that right in front of my eyes and then said to me – “ You’re in the path of Allāh, so Allāh will take care of you, you said you live in this world for Islam so go and live your life.” To this day, I will never forget these words.
I moved to a different state and took a job with a famous Islamic organization. QaddarAllāhu maa shaa afa‘al I had a big car accident which limited my mobility for more than six months. I showed up to work as much as I could. But guess what happened? I eventually had to quit because I simply could not take hearing the things I was hearing around me and even behind my back. You would expect RELIGIOUS Muslims to be more understanding. Staff members would tell my wife (not knowing whose wife she was) “this new brother that Sheikh fulaan got, he is so lazy, doesn’t show up every day, doesn’t deal with the youth properly, he’s probably just getting the free money that he’s getting.” I just couldn’t go back because of the way staff members were looking at me and talking about me behind my back and criticizing me without knowing the full truth. It was not going to work out and so I had to quit on them.
There have been times where I was invited to deliver khutbahs or do weekend programs in other cities but I refused to accept the invitation because I could not even afford the gas money. I have been prevented from doing what I love to do for the sake of Allāh due to malicious games and beliefs that shuyookh and du’aat should not be paid. Where is the logic in that? In between I developed diabetes, liver problems, arthritis and few other things. No health insurance, no medication. I even had to sit helplessly at home while my wife suffered through a life threatening illness without proper medication because I could not afford it.
I summarized a lot of details in between because many people do not know the reality and the suffering a sincere Da’ee/Sheikh/Imaam/Taalibul ‘ilm go through. I’ve been physically tortured for wanting to seek knowledge, nearly imprisoned and cut off from any family wealth for being a Da’ee, mistreated by terrible masjid administrations, wrongfully accused by the so-called religious community, insulted even by my friends — but I do not regret this life even for one second. I will never ever be able repay what Allāh has blessed me with. I do not mean repay Allāh, I mean repay society for what Allāh blessed me with. Giving me access to Shuyookh who taught me to be this way and what it truly means to follow the Salaf. No matter how much effort I put in, I will never be able to do justice in spreading Islam.
So no, I’m not in it for the money… but it is my right just like everyone else who does work to be fairly compensated. No, I will never dilute the Sunnah for a better life and to be accepted by the society. Alhamdulillah, all my physical problems are gone except for diabetes and arthritis and I know my financial difficulties will be gone very soon, too. WAllāh my dear brothers & sisters, the greatest gift you can get from this world is a spouse who truly understands the Sunnah and a mother who will constantly make du‘aa for you and encourage you never to stop working for Allāh’s sake. Mistreatment from people will not make me give up doing da‘wa. The only sorrow I have in my life is that I was never able to convince my own father to come to just one dars that I gave and the fact that I have cousins who do not even know how many raka‘aat to pray in which waqt. After marriage, Allāh gave me in-laws that are equally ignorant about the religion as my own family and added to the “headache caused by family!” I always make sure that none of my relatives nor my wife’s relatives find out about my intricate financial difficulties. I firmly believe that knowing how difficult the lives of du’aat can be is not good for the hearts of those who are not serious about their deen. Shaytaan will make them think “see this is what religious people go through, you’re doing great the way you are.” Allāh created man weak and most of us cannot handle too many shortages in life. It’s upto the Shuyookh and du’aat to protect the weakness of people from causing them to go further away from the Deen. Learning the religion and doing something for this Ummah, no matter how small it may be, and having a wife who is not confused about the Sunnah…no bad situation can outweigh these good things. Alhamdulillah, I am able to eat and sleep at night without hearing bombs explode unlike the people of Somalia or Palestine. I’m not worried about anything except about whether my deeds will be accepted by Allāh or not.
I ask Allāh to make what I wrote a reminder to myself first and foremost about my purpose in life and to be of benefit to others.
Assalamualaikum wa Rahmaatullahi wa Baraaktuhu
Raising a Child between Ages 7-12
From a cognitive-development standpoint, this is called a concrete operational period, according to Jean Piaget.
(N.B: Some adults never progress beyond this phase, while 15% of kids may reach the following formal-operational phase at age 9!)
The child now (7-12) may factor in two dimensions of an object simultaneously. So, the longer cup may have less water because it is thinner. However, this is still hard for him/her to perform in the abstract realm, so, they are still uni-dimensional in that respect. Concepts and behaviors are still black and white. It is also hard for the kids in this stage to imagine and solve the structure of a mathematical problem. They cannot think contrary to facts. In other words, you can’t get them to use as a basis for an argument a question like what if the sky rains sugar instead of water?
Socially, Erikson felt that in this period kids develop industry or inferiority. According to his theory, from age six to puberty, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments. If encouraged, they feel industrious and confident in their ability to achieve goals.
Based on these observations, we may recommend:
1- Using a lot of hands-on teaching, since they still have limited ability with conceptualization and abstract reasoning.
2- Continue the focus on memorization. If you want them to finish the Quran in 1-2 years, 12 and/or 13 seem to be the prime years for that. This suits some children and some families, not all. If you like a more gradual approach, you should have them start serious memorization at 7, accelerate at 10, and finish by 15-17. Not all kids are meant to memorize the whole Quran though; they can still be educated and pious. Invest in their strengths, not your dreams.
3- Use concrete props and visual aids, especially when dealing with sophisticated material. Use story problems in mathematics.
4- Use open-ended questions that will stimulate thinking and help the child reach the following stage faster. Example: “What do you think about the relationship between the brain and the mind?”; “What do you think about the relationship between prayful-ness and piety?” Make sure you know the right answers!
5- More explanations will be needed, but keep them simple, and even though they should be more detailed than the last stage, they still need to be uni-dimensional. Examples: we obey God because he created us; if we disobey Him, we get punished, and if we obey Him, we get rewarded in this life and in the hereafter. Too early to teach him that “the brokenness of the disobedient is better than the haughtiness of the obedient.” Break it down. Humbleness and obedience are good, while haughtiness and disobedience are bad.
6- Encourage and praise their accomplishments, while making them aware that there is always room for improvement. Continue to encourage initiative-taking and leadership qualities, yet you may also set limits, and make them aware that they will have to always report to someone. Even if there are no people above them, Allah always is. They have to adapt to being leaders and followers at the same time, because that is the reality of all people.
7- This is still a stage of belonging and affiliation to the group, and the child will develop more or less attachment to Islam through his or her experience at the masjid and with the community.
Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj
This is called a pre-operational period by Jean Piaget who was focused on cognitive development.
Children this age have difficulty reconciling between different dimensions or seemingly contradictory concepts. One dimension will dominate and the other will be ignored. This applies in the physical and abstract realms. For example, the water in the longer cup must be more than that in the shorter one, no matter how wide each cup is. Length dominates over width in his/her mind.
Throughout most of this stage, a child’s thinking is self-centered (egocentric). This is why preschool children have a problem with sharing.
In this stage, language develops very quickly, and by two years of age, kids should be combining words, and by three years, they should be speaking in sentences.
Erik Erikson, who looked at development from a social perspective, felt that the child finishes the period of autonomy vs. shame by 3 years of age and moves on to the period of initiative vs. guilt which will dominate the psycho-social development until age 6. In this period, children assert themselves as leaders and initiative takers. They plan and initiate activities with others. If encouraged, they will become leaders and initiative takers.
Based on the above, here are some recommendations:
In this stage, faith would be more caught than taught and felt than understood. The serene, compassionate home environment and the warm and welcoming masjid environment are vital.
Recognition through association: The best way of raising your kid’s love of Allah and His Messenger is by association. If you buy him ice cream, take the opportunity to tell them it is Allah who provided for you; the same applies to seeing a beautiful rose that s/he likes, tell them it is Allah who made it. Tell them stories about Prophet Muhammad . Statements like: “Prophet Muhammad was kinder to kids than all of us”; “Prophet Muhammad was kind to animals”; ” Prophet Muhammad loved sweets”; ” Prophet Muhammad helped the weak and old,” etc. will increase your child’s love for our most beloved .
Faith through affiliation: The child will think, “This is what WE do, and how WE pray, and where WE go for worship.” In other words, it is a time of connecting with a religious fraternity, which is why the more positive the child’s interactions with that fraternity are, the more attached to it and its faith he/she will become.
Teach these 2-7 kids in simple terms. You may be able to firmly insert in them non-controversial concepts of right and wrong (categorical imperatives) in simple one-dimensional language. Smoking is ḥarâm. No opinions. NO NUANCES. No “even though.” They ate not ready yet for “in them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people.”
Promote their language development by speaking to them a lot and reading them books, particularly such books that provoke curiosity and open discussions to enhance their expressive language. Encourage them to be bilingual as learning two languages at once does not harm a child’s cognitive abilities, rather it enhances them.
This is despite an initial stage of confusion and mixing that will resolve by 24 to 30 months of age. By 36 months of age, they will be fluent bilingual speakers. Introduce Islamic vocabulary, such as Allah, Muhammad , masjid, Muslim, brothers, salaat, in-sha’a-Allah, al-Hamdulillah, subhana-Allah, etc. (Don’t underestimate the effect of language; it does a lot more than simply denoting and identifying things.)
In this pre-operational period, their ability of understanding problem solving and analysis is limited. They can memorize though. However, the focus on memorization should still be moderate. The better age for finishing the memorization of the Quran is 10-15.
Use illustrated books and field trips.
Encourage creativity and initiative-taking but set reasonable limits for their safety. They should also realize that their freedom is not without limits.
Between 3-6 years, kids have a focus on their private parts, according to Freud. Don’t get frustrated; tell them gently it is not appropriate to touch them in public.
Don’t get frustrated with their selfishness; help them gently to overcome this tendency, which is part of this stage.
Who Can We Trust?
Spiritual abusers are con-artists, and if they were easy to spot then they would be far less successful. That is why you must exercise vigilance and your own judgment above that of public opinion. Never let the person’s position make you trust them more than you would without it.
Spiritual abusers work covertly, present themselves well, and use their service as a cover beneath which to operate. The way to avoid them is to recognize their tactics and avoid being caught by them.
Spiritual abuse often begins with hard-to-spot precursors, with manipulators exploiting grey areas and blurring boundaries to confuse targets. For example, when setting someone up for illicit relations or secret marriage, teachers may begin with inappropriate jokes that lower boundaries.
They may touch others in ways that confuse the person touched as to permissibility, for example, men touching women on their hijabs rather than direct skin. They may inappropriately touch someone in ways that leave him/her wondering whether or not it was intentional.
There may be frivolous texting while the premise of engagement is ‘work only’. Boundaries may be blurred by adding flirtatious content, sending articles praising polygamy, or mentioning dreams about getting married. The recipient may struggle to pinpoint what’s wrong with any of this, but the bottom line is that they don’t have to.
While these tactics may be hard to prove, you don’t need to prove that you don’t want to be communicated with in this way and that you will not tolerate it. You can withdraw from the situation on the basis of your own boundaries.
One of the key challenges in standing up to spiritual abuse is the lack of confidence in calling out bad behavior or the need for validation for wrongs. We may be afraid to a question a teacher who is more knowledgeable than us when he is doing clear haram. However, halal and haram are defined by Allah and no human has the right to amend them. If a religious leader claims exemption to the rules for themselves or their students, that’s a big, bright, red flag.
Beware of Bullying
When you witness or experience bullying, understand that a Muslim’s dignity is sacred and don’t accept justifications of ‘tarbiyah’ (spiritual edification/character reformation) or breaking someone’s nafs (ego). If you didn’t sign up for spiritual edification, don’t accept any volunteer spiritual guides.
If you did sign up, pay attention as to whether these harsh rebukes are having a positive or negative effect. If they are having a negative emotional, mental, or physical effect on you, then this is clearly not tarbiyah, which is meant to build you up.
When abuse in the name of tarbiyah happens, it is the shaykh himself or the shaykha herself who needs character reformation. When such behavior goes unchecked, students become outlets of unchecked anger and are left with trauma and PTSD. This type of bullying is very common in women’s groups.
Trust Built and Trust Destroyed
There are different levels of trust, and as it relates to religious leaders, one does not need to investigate individuals or build trust for a perfunctory relationship. You do not need a high degree of trust if you are just attending someone’s general lectures and not establishing any personal relationship.
If you want to study something with an Islamic teacher, do so as you would with a school-teacher, understanding that their position does not make that person either exceptionally safe nor exceptionally harmful. Treat religious figures as religious consultants who are there to answer questions based on their knowledge. Give every teacher a clean slate, don’t have baseless suspicions, but if behavior becomes manipulative, exploitative, cultish, or otherwise abusive, don’t justify it either.
Personal accountability is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith and we have to take responsibility for our own faith and actions. There is no need to be suspicious without reason, but nor is there a justification for blind trust in someone you don’t know, just because they lead prayers or have a degree of religious education.
It is natural to ask ourselves whether people can be trusted after experiencing or learning about spiritual abuse. The answer is yes – you can trust yourself. You can also trust others in ways that are appropriate for the relationship. If you know someone well and they have proven over a long period of time to be trustworthy, keep secrets, and do not use you or take advantage of you, then it makes sense to trust that person more than a stranger or someone who has outward uprightness that you do not know well. That level of trust is earned through long-time demonstration of its characteristics.
Seeing someone on stage for years or relying on testimony of people impressed by someone should not convince you to lower your guard. Even if you do believe someone is pious, you still never drop your better judgment, because even saints are fallible.
Don’t Fall for Reputation
Never take other respected leaders praising or working alongside an individual as proof of his or her trustworthiness. It is possible that the teachers you trust are unaware of any wrongdoing. It’s not a reasonable expectation, nor is it a responsibility for them to boycott or disassociate themselves from another religious figure even if they are aware of them being abusive.
Furthermore, skilled manipulators often gain favor from respected teachers both overseas and domestically to gain credibility.
If one shaykh praises another shaykh, but you witness abusive behavior, don’t doubt yourself based on this praise. The praise may have been true at one time or may have been true in the experience of the one giving the praise, but no one knows another person’s current spiritual state as spiritual states can change.
Even if the abusive individual was previously recognized to be a great wali (saint), understand that there are saints who have lost their sainthood as they do not have isma (divine protection from sin or leaving Islam) like the prophets (upon them be peace) do. What was true yesterday, may not be true today.
Often praises of integrity, courage, and inclusiveness are heaped on men who support influential female figures. However, men who are praised as ‘allies,’ and thanked for ‘using their privilege’ to support female scholarship and the participation of women in religious organizations and events are no more trustworthy than those who don’t.
Abusers are often very image-conscious and may be acting to improve their own image and brand strength. Influential male and female religious figures also help one another with mutual praising and social-proofing. That is how the misdoings of men who are supportive of women are ignored, as long as they support the right politicized causes such as inclusive spaces and diverse panels.
Don’t be tricked into trust through a person’s credentials. An ijazah (license) to be a shaykh of a tariqa is purportedly the highest credential. It’s a credential that allegedly has a chain that goes all the way back to the Prophet , but that does not impart any of the Prophet’s character or trustworthiness in and of itself. A shaykh has to continuously live up to the ijaza and position. The position does not justify behavior outside of the sharia or any form of abuse. Scholars are inheritors of the Prophet only to the degree to which they embody his character.
When a teacher who hasn’t spent adequate time with righteous shayukh abuses, they are said to lack suhba (companionship of the pious), and that is why they are abusive.
The truth is many of the worst abusers in traditional circles are highly certified, have spent adequate time with shayukh, are valid representatives of them, and are able to abuse because the previously mentioned credentials lead to blind trust.
Don’t let certifications about spiritual abuse, ethical leadership, or the like mean anything to you. Skilled narcissists will be the first to get such certifications and take courses because they know this will make people trust them more. You will see courses on ‘healthy leadership’ and ‘spiritual abuse prevention’ being taught and designed by them. There is a false premise behind such certifications that if religious leaders knew how abuse occurs and the damage it causes victims they wouldn’t do it. The fact is they know how abuse works, know how damaging it is, and don’t care. In a way, it’s good to have lessons on spiritual abuse from purveyors of abuse, just as learning theft prevention from a thief might be the most beneficial.
Don’t judge by rhetoric
Don’t look at the rhetoric of groups or individuals to see how seriously they take abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs in all groups. It is common for members of one group to call out abuse that they see in another group while ignoring abuse occurring within their own group.
Sufis who will talk about the importance of sharia, label others as ‘goofy-Sufis,’ and insist that real Sufis follow sharia, will very often abuse in private and use the same justifications as the other Sufi groups they publicly deride.
Many imams and religious leaders will talk publicly about the importance of justice, having zero-tolerance for abuse, and the importance of building safe spaces, while they themselves are participating in the abuse.
Furthermore, female religious leaders will often cover up secret marriages, and other abuses for such men and help them to ostracize and destroy the credibility of their victims as long as their political views align. Muslim mental health providers often incorporate religious figures when they do programs, and in some cases they involve known abusers if it helps their cause.
In some cases, the organization does not know of any abuse. Abusive individuals use partnerships with Muslim mental health organizations to enhance their image as a “safe person.” This is especially dangerous due to the vulnerability of those struggling with mental illness and spiritual issues, who may then be exploited by the abuser. It is a community responsibility to ensure the safety of these vulnerable individuals and to ensure that they do have access to resources that can actually help them.
Don’t judge by fame
One false assumption is that the local-unknown teacher is sincere while the famous preacher is insincere and just wants to amass followers. This contrast is baseless although rhetorically catchy.
The fact is, many unknown teachers desire fame and work towards it more than those who are famous. Other times the unknown and famous teacher may have the same love of leadership, but one is more skilled than the other. They both may also be incredibly sincere.
Ultimately, we cannot judge what is in someone’s heart but must look at their actions, and if their actions are abusive, they are a danger to the community. Both famous and non-famous teachers are equally capable of spiritual abuse.
Look for a procedure
Before being involved in an organization, look for a code of conduct. There is no accountability without one in non-criminal matters. Never depend on people, look at the procedures and ensure that the procedure calls for transparency, such as the one we at In Shaykh’s Clothing published and made free for the public to use.
Procedure also applies to an organizations’ financials. Do not donate money to organizations based on personalities, instead demand financial transparency and accountability for the money spent. There is great incentive for spiritual abusers to win the trust of crowds when it means they can raise money without any financial accountability.
But what about Husne-Zann? Thinking well of others?
Allah tells us يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ
“O You who believe, leave much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sinful” (Quran 49:12).
From this verse, we see that some – not all negative opinions are sinful. The prohibition is partitive, meaning some bad opinions are permissible.
If someone punches you, it is not hunse-zann to assume that person just happened to stretch with a closed fist and did not see your face was in the way. This kind of delusion will lead to you getting punched more. To be wary of their fist isn’t a sinful level of suspicion.
Part of why spiritual abuse is difficult to detect is that its purveyors have a reputation for outward uprightness. They are thought well of in the community, and in many cases they are its pillars and have decades of positive service to their defense. Assuming that someone cannot be abusive simply because they have been a teacher or leader for a long time is not husne-zann. When facts are brought to light- like a fist to the face – it is delusional to assume they didn’t mean it that way.
If someone does something that warrants suspicion, then put your guard up and don’t make excuses for those actions. Start with a general guard and be procedural about things which require a procedure. For example, if you are going to loan someone money, don’t just take their word that they will pay you back but insist on a written record. If they say they are offended, just say “it’s my standard procedure to avoid any confusion later on.” A reasonable person won’t have an issue with that. If someone mentions on the phone they will pay you $100 for your work, write an email to confirm what was said on the phone so there’s a record for it.
Lastly, and most importantly, never leave your child alone with a teacher where you or others cannot see them. Many cases of child sexual assault can be prevented if we never allow children to study alone with adults. There should never be an exception to this, and parents much uphold this as a matter of policy. Precaution is not an accusation, and this is a professional and standard no one should reject.