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Egypt is Not Special

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Over the past two and a half years, Egyptians have become fairly desensitized to violence on the streets of their capital. Prior to 2011, virtually any crime beyond petty theft – let alone violent flare ups in public squares or massive processions against the authorities du jour – grabbed the attention of the Egyptian populace; it was simply outside the norm. Today, lawlessness is rampant, a day without a “million man” protest is unusual, and “molotov” and “birdshot” are as ever present in the Egyptian lexicon as “fuul” and “ta3miyya.”

Yet, even given this more jaded context, the events of the past few days were utterly shocking.

Rightful Indignation

The latest official figures, aggregated from Ministry of Health and newspaper sources, indicate nearly 1,300 people killed from August 14 – August 16 — the vast majority of whom were peaceful protesters in Cairo, Alexandria and other governorates.

1,300 people. Dead.

To put that in context, the death toll throughout the vaunted – and violent – eighteen days of the January 25 uprising didn’t pass 850. The numbers are, as one can imagine, historic. As The Atlantic notes, August 14, 2013 was “one of the deadliest single-day instances of police-on-protester violence since Tiananmen Square.”

There are, naturally, many who are rightly outraged by the crackdowns on anti-military protesters, particularly with regard to the Raba’a mosque sit-in. Governments around the globe condemned the excessive use of force, a sentiment echoed by human rights organizations and the United Nations.

This – let’s just call it what it is – massacre has also triggered a crisis of conscience among at least two high profile figures that have adamantly supported the army’s actions since the July 3 coup. On Wednesday, Mohamed ElBaradei resigned as interim vice president, saying that he “cannot bear responsibility for one drop of blood,” while word came on Friday that National Salvation Front spokesman, Khaled Dawoud, resigned in response to his organization’s failure to condemn the army’s violence. Dawoud later clarified that the turning point for him came when he saw the scores of dead bodies at the Al Iman mosque, where victims of the Raba’a crackdown were sent when fires engulfed the makeshift hospitals and morgues.

One wonders, however, what exactly ElBaradei and Dawoud expected when they backed the military overthrow of a democratically elected president.

Blind Jingoism

While there are many individuals, organizations and countries that have taken a principled stand against the security forces’ brazen disregard for innocent lives, these condemnations are largely – and sadly – falling on deaf ears in Egypt.

This is especially the case with the junta led government. Far from realizing the devastation their actions have wrought, officials have done away with any pretense of humanity and given security forces the green light to use live ammunition at will. This declaration has, of course, been roundly cheered throughout Egyptian media (which has served as a state mouthpiece since the coup) to the extent that each channel now displays banners (alternatively in English and Arabic) declaring variations of “Egypt Fights Terrorism.”

Needless to say, the constant drumbeat of this Orwellian message has permeated deep into Egyptian society. It’s likely that most Egyptians fully support the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, their supporters, and anyone else who is against the current military-led regime. In fact, a sizable percentage of the population seems to want security forces to take an even harsher stance against the “terrorists.” As disheartening as this circumstance is, the fact that generally respectable academics are whitewashing the military’s actions while regional powers outright support the brutal assault on protesters makes it likely that more egregious crimes against humanity are yet to come.

One Foot Over the Brink

A sort of “exceptionalism” has taken hold of Egyptians recently. It’s led them to believe that they can, for example, escape the laws of political science when it comes to the dismal repercussions of military coups. This “too big to fail” mentality has also led Egyptians to believe they are immune from the tumult that has engulfed other countries in the region.

Indeed, not long ago, if you mentioned “Egypt” and “civil war” in the same breath, you were assumed an alarmist with a penchant for sensationalism. Today, human rights experts proclaim that Egypt looks “depressingly like Iraq” while one of the premiere bloggers in Cairo compares the Egyptian army’s strategy towards the Brotherhood to Bashar Al-Assad’s approach to protesters early on in the Syria conflict.

So, to put it bluntly: Egypt is not special.

The sooner that all parties realize that the country doesn’t have some magical immunity from catastrophe, the sooner we can perhaps pull back from a descent that could cripple the state and the region for a generation or more.

Until then, expect nothing but sloganeering and higher body counts.

Youssef is from Brooklyn, New York by way of Alexandria, Egypt. Currently, he is a doctoral student at the University of Southern California studying Political Science and International Relations. A student of Islam, history, and politics, his recent extended stay in Cairo placed him squarely at the nexus of these disciplines. Follow him on Twitter (@TheAlexandrian) as he tries to make sense of all that's happening in Tahrir and beyond.

49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. Avatar

    yaseen

    August 17, 2013 at 10:03 PM

    this is truly sad to see. it hurts to see so many bodies lined up and casually reported on the news in a tone and manner that is as if to say “see, look at those crazy Moozlums, they’ll eat each other”. I intend to become more versed on the inner-workings of each and every country that claims to be a Muslim country, because I am tired of hearing about how “Muslim countries are crazy” and how “things like that always happen in that part of the world” I am waiting for the day that a predominantly Muslim country adopts, properly practices, and properly implements Islam without omitting some key aspects while maintaining the aspects that they find favorable. I do not feel that this will happen until that country is not in a more wealthy nation’s pocket.

    Being a Muslim in the military I hear the worst stories, comments, and discrimination about Muslims and Islam in general from the most ignorant of people. I know that on a micro level the best way to combat their ignorance is to not only be the best Muslim I could be but to do so unapologetically and not be sheepish about being a Muslim. On a macro level, I know it is as Allah states in the Quran that our condition will not change until we change that which is in ourselves.

    Lastly, as a revert, I must say that it makes you an idealist in that you learn about the deen and you believe that anyone who has this kind of belief system and way of life known as al-islam, it would be impossible to be morally bankrupt, depraved, and spiritually destitute. So when I see what goes on in the world I have a lot of question and I do not understand how people turn away from something that put life in me and saved me from myself. I am far from an ideal Muslim but I can say that, I was dead inside. The miracle that we as Muslims have to understand is that, prophets (peace be upon them all) have all been attributed miracles by the permission of Allah, but the distinct miracle that Allah allowed Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) to perform was to give life to the spiritually dead. To change the hearts by speaking God’s words are something that no one else did. If we as Muslims remember that, there would not be chaos in these countries.

    • Avatar

      Youssef Chouhoud

      August 17, 2013 at 11:06 PM

      Salam Yaseen,

      Thanks for the comment. You have quite a unique perspective, given your circumstance. Do consider putting your tale to print and allowing us to publish it. I’m sure you have a lot of insights our readers would be interested in hearing.

      • Avatar

        yaseen

        August 19, 2013 at 2:06 PM

        Salaam Youssef,
        May the peace and blessings of the Ruler of All the Worlds be upon you, your family, colleagues at this website, visitors of this website, and this entire ummah. I have to say that I am flattered you even took the time to respond to me and that you would want to hear more from me in regards to the path Allah placed me on that I pray will ultimately lead to Him and His favor. Unfortunately, I do not believe that I have anything too interesting to say that would garner much attention from your readers. Neither do I have any credentials outside of my sincerity that validate my thoughts, words, or opinion. Nevertheless, for the sake of sharing I can tell you a little about myself if you feel it would be of benefit.

        Salaams

    • Avatar

      Saeed Khan

      August 19, 2013 at 3:55 AM

      “I am waiting for the day that a predominantly Muslim country adopts, properly practices, and properly implements Islam without omitting some key aspects while maintaining the aspects that they find favorable. I do not feel that this will happen until that country is not in a more wealthy nation’s pocket.”

      I believe you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. It is natural for Muslims to want to live under the rule of Islam but over the decades in many minds this idea has become vague. What does it mean to live under Islam? How do we achieve this? Is it by adopting democracy and through the democratic process enabling gradual change? Does it mean fighting the rulers and demolishing their system and replacing it with the Islamic system? Or as Youssef Chouhoud says, “I support the rule of law and the enshrining of democratic institutions.” What does this mean? Which democratic institutions? But wait doesn’t democracy contradict Islam? Isn’t democracy the rule of man and Islam the rule of Allah? Where will sovereignty lie?

      There are so many questions and realities that need to be properly defined and understood before we can proceed in any given direction. However, in all this there is one matter which is absolutely clear and upon which there can be no compromise. The source of all solutions must be the Quran and Sunnah. Whoever proposes a solution must first be qualified to give one (ie, a scholar of Islam) and secondly must provide the detailed evidences for their ijtihad.

      This is not a simple problem that we face and to jump on to a bandwagon without fully understanding is a catastrophe just waiting to happen. May Allah (SWT) guide our Ullema so that they can guide the Ummah of Rasulallah (SAW) to victory in this life and success in the Hereafter.

      • Avatar

        yaseen

        August 19, 2013 at 3:06 PM

        Salaam Saeed,

        May Allah’s peace and blessings reach you, your family, and this entire ummah. You asked the interesting question of just how you create and implement an legitimate Islamic government. The first thing that must happen is that the individuals involved in this process must have the sincere intentions to form an Islamic government not for their own gain but because they feel it is the right thing to do.

        Because of the nature of strategic geo-politics, the country must be financially stable and dependent because if they are not they are to bend to even whim that the funding government suggest. So if you are asking which country can do this, it must be a wealthy Islamic country, if your are asking how it can be achieved, I would say that there must a congress that consist of knowledgeable scholars who will check and assess ever decision that is to be made by the ruler. Each assessment must be checked solely by the Quran and Sunnah with no deviations at all. Deviations lead to extremes. An example of this is the silly rule in Saudi which states that women cannot wear seatbelts because it reveals the contour of their anatomy–so women must be in danger while men don’t have to?? COuple this with the fact that Saudi has an extremely high rate of car accidents and you can tag this as a disregard for the safety of our women and an extreme. A good book on the disadvantages of women in Saudi that was written by a female doctor who is from the US but lived in Saudi is titled “In the land of the Invisible Women”

        In closing, this would be beautiful to see for many reasons but the one that stands out to me would be to see an Islamic government enact the paying of zakat which would not only result in ZERO POVERTY but a surplus as well. This surplus could be used to improve infrastructure, schools, and scientific advancements that focus on improving the healing capacity of medicine and not the destructive capacity of weapons. A side note of this is that the individual is who was ultimately responsible for creating the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer, repeated his regret for his involvement until his death because of man’s vioent tendencies.

        • Avatar

          Tanveer Khan

          August 20, 2013 at 3:51 PM

          “An example of this is the silly rule in Saudi which states that women cannot wear seatbelts because it reveals the contour of their anatomy”

          I’ve lost my eyes…..

  2. Avatar

    Jon Solis

    August 17, 2013 at 10:34 PM

    Dear Youssef,
    A balanced article would comment on the over 49 Coptic churches that have been burned down and desecrated by these peaceful Islamists over the last 4 days. They also brought out some nuns for public humiliation. Is this consistent with the teachings of the Prophet? I know the Muslim Brotherhood has “condemned” this behavior, but frankly, I do not believe a word of it.

    • Avatar

      Hassen

      August 18, 2013 at 4:33 AM

      of course there’s no justification for damaging the churches and it’s something to be condemned, but we have to realize that Egypt has entered into an unprecedented level of chaos (even greater than the Jan 25th revolution) and there are going to be crazy people who just take things into their own hands and aim their anger at anyone who is supporting the other side.

      *And I’m honestly not 100% convinced by the official story of who’s behind these attacks considering that it was revealed that Mubarak’s government was behind the church explosion in Alexandria right before the Jan 25th revolution started… and Allah knows best.

    • Avatar

      Umm Naadirah

      August 18, 2013 at 5:09 AM

      It’s rather strange that over 49 churches (both Coptic and Catholic) have been burned down and yet only 7 Christians have been killed over the past few months in Egypt (bbc.com), which is extremely small given that over 1000 Egyptians (mostly Muslim) have been killed since the coup.

      It’s also strange that the mosques which have been burned down and vandalised have received very little attention in the MainStream Media.

      I’m convinced that it’s not the MB who are burning down these churches but rather it is either the military or foreign Islamists, or a combination of the two. The reason I am convinced is because the military has done VERY VERY LITTLE to try to stop, arrest, or shoot the people burning churches (and mosques).

    • Avatar

      Abu Asiyah

      August 18, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      I know a few people in the brotherhood in Egypt with whom I interacted during their studies in the US and who are very trustworthy. They have said (and posted pictures) of these things being perpetrated by thugs, not the brotherhood.

      The media in Egypt is going crazy with accusations of the brotherhood, most of them completely unfounded and some of them absolutely crazy (I mean people were saying Morsi was planning to rent out the pyramids to another country…), so taking their word for who did these things is problematic.

      Furthermore, are you really saying that these 1300 people (and the numbers are almost surely higher, there have been many reports of government officials putting down ‘suicide’ or ‘accident’ as cause of death for those shot) deserve to die because a few churches were burnt down? Do you want to say that to my wife’s friend who just lost her husband who was shot by a sniper while PEACEFULLY protesting the government crackdown?

      If the brotherhood really did burn down churches, I condemn it. But until you show proof for it, let’s not justify the massacre by “oh, they’re a bunch of extremists anyway”.

  3. Avatar

    Shurufa

    August 17, 2013 at 11:14 PM

    Islam is perfect, teachings of our prophet (May peace be upon him) is flawless. But all Muslims are not. Please don’t base your views of Islam on the behavior of some of our deviated brothers and sisters..

  4. Avatar

    Youssef Chouhoud

    August 17, 2013 at 11:18 PM

    Dear Jon,

    Unfortunately time and space restrictions forced my hand, so I couldn’t touch on all the travesties of the past few days – given they were so many.

    But, for the record, the burning of houses of worship across Egypt was utterly disgraceful. Any individuals involved should be apprehended and subject to punishment under the law.

    Here’s the thing, Jon – and I say this speaking only for myself. I don’t “support” the Muslim Brotherhood. I support the rule of law and the enshrining of democratic institutions. The army, as they have shown time and again, have no interest in furthering those ends and so I am avowedly against their rule and against those who brought them into power.

    This doesn’t mean I brush aside any of the (numerous) mistakes the MB have made – from idiotic to grievous. Although, that being said, I’m not convinced that there is anywhere near enough evidence to place responsibility for all the church burnings on the MB and their supporters.

  5. Avatar

    Jon Solis

    August 17, 2013 at 11:35 PM

    Youssef – If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then most likely it’s a duck! Who do you think is burning all these churches? Santa Claus? Bradley Cooper of the Philadelphia Eagles issues a racist diatribe and blames it on alcohol. Unfortunately, I believe that all alcohol does is unmask what was really in his heart. Similarly, the actions of those upset at the army’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood controlled government has unmasked what is in the “heart” of “some” Muslims. Unfortunately I believe that this widespread occurrence within Egypt should lead to a profound public reexamination of tolerance of Islam towards minorities living within an Islamic country (I don’t think it will, but it should.).

    • Avatar

      Youssef Chouhoud

      August 17, 2013 at 11:51 PM

      Jon, if you think anything is conclusive in Egypt these days, or that there aren’t elements willing to go to ANY length to bring about the ends that would suit them, then you haven’t been paying attention. Again, that’s not absolving anyone who actually did commit these crimes, but let’s just hold off judgement on a series of events that fits oh so neatly into the ruling junta’s narrative until all the evidence is in.

      On the issue of religious minorities, Egypt has done a piss poor job of safeguarding them and granting them their due rights in the past and little has change. We have to do better.

      • Avatar

        halwah

        August 18, 2013 at 4:54 AM

        OMG Jon for god’s sake.. Please explain to me…what is the point of your comment? it’s a Muslim majority country.. and they can’t even protect their own mosques from being burnt to the grown or even protect their own Muslim people… what makes you think they care about churches or synagogues. If that’s how they treat people who are supposedly of their own religion.. what makes you think these very same people would treat others better? Egypt is in utter chaos. It is very much like a riot going on and it’s clear all hell will break lose, buildings will be burnt, public property destroyed, private property stolen, defaced.. and your like one of the victims.. pointlessly blaming me or yousef just because we happened to be talking about it why did we break and destroy your things. Have some sense of perspective. I know your upset but look you’re not the only one.. there are people who actually lost their loved ones to this madness.. and still trying to make sense out of it.. and you are asking as if we know what happened? Hello if we knew what is happening, what is the solution, we would have fixed it.. pronto.. but do you think we got a grip of the problem? NO. So have some sense..We’re upset too and at a lost. No one cares for any single one matter right now. Your talking about a country that is under a military coup right now, that has no sense of rule of law, that overthrew their first democratically elected government, that before Tahrir Square, has previously spent years after years trying to deIslamize Egypt. Did you forget all of that conveniently when your accusing Islam is at fault for this? Good try. Anyway, I think it is quite safe to say collectively people who have sense just want this madness and senseless killing to end. Those who want to try to force their agenda and have some political gains out of this chaos will surely make the way out of this difficult. But for sure, the death toll cannot rise, the destruction has to cease. And this anger has to stop. If you really care that much, don’t add fuel to the fire and be part of the solution.

  6. Avatar

    Moe

    August 18, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    Jon what about the fact that no Churches were blatantly left unprotected by the state which clearly anticipated such violence. Or the fact that army snipers were placed on Churches? There are sectarian elements in Egyptian society and have been since Nasser and this type of Tiennamen crackdown in which all are complicit breeds radicalization and fear. This is the idiocy of the situation, the MB for all its flaws was heralding a new era of thought in Islamist circles. Al Qaeda’s narrative the whole world hate Islam and would never let Islamists ever rule in any government was beginning to lose currency as the MB and other Islamist parties were slowly but surely abiding by the rules of the game and learning democratic politics which had been denied to them and others for decades. In the Muslim world ‘Democracy’ used to mean the veneer to dictatorship. It will be once again if this junta succeeds. The MB has despite the bloodshed sought the path of nonviolence. One cannot help but feel this junta is going out of its way to breed a insurgency as all fascists do to justify its clinging to power. The situation is out of the MB’s leadership’s hands as the days go by. They will not be able to do anything and all those Egyptians that tried democracy for the first time and saw votes of 5 elections thrown in the garbage will no longer believe democracy exists for them. With Libya a safe haven in the east and a military that only knows how to lose wars and kill protesters Al Qaida and other extremist groups will shove “I told you so” down everyone’s throats and quietly begin. And we will see a war in Egypt that will easily become like what we are seeing in Syria. Regardless the end result will be that democracy is a distant dream.

    • Avatar

      Moe

      August 18, 2013 at 12:33 AM

      I meant that the churches were left unprotected by the state. The state did not guard them in anyway.

  7. Amad

    Amad

    August 18, 2013 at 4:10 AM

    I have been glued to the news on Egypt since Morsi was deposed. Every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. And now with the news that most MB supporters were expecting and saying from day one, that the state wants to disband MB. Of course, that will not be the end. The more you oppress a force, the more it becomes resilient. It would be much easier to defeat MB politically by winning hearts and minds based on economic and social policies (even resorting to propaganda as was the case for most of Morsi’s presidency) than to defeat it by force.

  8. Amad

    Amad

    August 18, 2013 at 4:21 AM

    More thoughts:
    While all of the violence thus far has been despicable to say the least, the images that I found most disturbing were from yesterday, with civilians (you can call them thugs but that’s a lot of thugs) kissing up to the military and being more Sissi than Sissi himself. Reminds me of Uncle Tom, where some slaves would get more angry at insults upon their masters than the masters themselves!

    How do average people get so numb and heartless to the killing of people with whom they share common ancestry, religion and race? I cannot think of any other factor bigger than the media. Once Sissi shut down outlets ranging from neutral to pro-MB, the only ones left were those that embodied the Uncle Tom spirit, those run and owned by Egypt’s elites who prospered under Mubarak and didn’t want anything but Mubarak back. There was an important article in Christian Science Monitor I believe that I can’t locate, which talks about this media affect on average Egyptians. Egyptian media has done what FOX couldn’t imagine doing in a hundred years. If we thought FOX was islamophobic, Egyptian media has taken this to another extreme.

    What is happening with the dehumanization of brothers specifically but more dangerously with anyone who looks Muslim++ (beard, niqab) will have wide and long-term consequences. We know what happened with Jews in Europe (the technique there was not just about Judaism as a religion but that Jews were “money-grubbers”, etc.). Now I am not saying that pro-coup folks are like Nazis. But rather there are themes that are common in terms of how to dehumanize the other.

    If Egyptians don’t start sealing this fracture, their society with a large percent of Muslims++ will rip apart before too long.

  9. Amad

    Amad

    August 18, 2013 at 4:32 AM

    Final thought for now:

    Many, like Jon, harp on the churches issue. Let me say it loud and clear– no building, whether a church or a mosque or a synagogue is worth more than one innocent civilian’s life. Even in Islamic tradition you find that a life is worth more than the Kaba, the holiest sanctuary for Muslims in the world.

    What is really so disgusting and despicable is Sissi’s governments’ attempt to use the churches issue to divert attention from its crimes against humanity. Can’t we use the simple logic that with the amount of state security resources that government has, it couldn’t provide protection to the churches? Rather the interim govt wanted this sort of reaction. Just like they wanted a reaction by the MB in response to their massacres. The latter is not a conspiracy theory but is now being channeled by many influential political commentators.

    Thus Egyptian Christians have become unwitting pawns in the military plan to destroy MB. And unfortunately the Copts made the strategic mistake of siding with any side. This is because they could not, should not have ignored the underlying current of “Christian vs. Muslims” and not allow that to be exploited. One could imagine the same if roles were reversed and it was Christian brotherhood which was removed from power and if the Muslims cheered and supported the removal. We cannot ignore underlying perceptions, even if Copts have as much right to support the military as non-copts. It is about staying above the fray to protect your own.

    Of course, this doesn’t excuse the act itself. Each person who had a hand in destroying one church, one Christian’s life or private property, be it MB supporters, government insiders, is a despicable low-life who should face the highest punishment allowed by law.

  10. Avatar

    RCHOUDH

    August 18, 2013 at 4:39 AM

    What I see going on in Egypt is similar to what I saw going on in Bangladesh earlier in the year and in Turkey to a lesser extent also, and that is a power struggle between the so-called Islamist and secularist elements of Muslim societies. And unfortunately I have to wonder whether any sort of dialogue existed between these two factions prior to all these struggles, or if the two groups (secularists and Islamists) just actively avoided each other for the most part during peacetime. As practicing Muslims, I believe it has to be our duty to reach out to those secularist elements so as to discuss with them completely what Islam is and what it entails and to give Da’wah to them towards better understanding what Islam is (a complete way of life that offers solutions to all issues affecting society). Before we go out to give dawah of course, we have to ourselves be knowledgeable about Islam first. And we should give da’wah using compassion and beautiful forms of persuasion. It’s all too easy to avoid, look down upon, and even curse out those who, despite being Muslim, don’t follow or know about the tenets of Islam properly. But we as practicing Muslims must never take the easy way out, otherwise it leads to chaos like what we see going on today in many Muslim countries (everyone fighting to gain power and not knowing how to wield that power effectively once they have it).

    • Avatar

      convert of 24 years

      August 18, 2013 at 10:49 PM

      The best form of Daw’ah is being a good person.It starts at home then at the Masjid. At our masjid events everyone sits with their own race, we do not even know each other
      Outside the Masjid most of us do not even interact with people of different faiths
      Do we know our neighbors?? Is all this chaos really surprising??

      • Avatar

        RCHOUDH

        August 19, 2013 at 11:21 AM

        You’re right it does start with each and every one of us first. Hopefully this has started to be done now.

  11. Avatar

    halwah

    August 18, 2013 at 4:57 AM

    I’d like to have a pro coup write an article here and justify this Islamically. It will also be interesting to read a Erdogan vs protestors and Sisi vs protestors comparison, because I’m sure some opportunists will do so.

  12. Avatar

    Jon Solis

    August 18, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    I would like to thank everyone for reading my posts and responding. It was certainly not my intent to hijack the thread of this article with my comment on the Coptic churches, but since I have the opportunity, let me clarify and respond to some of the comments made.
    1) I am NOT a supporter of the Egyptian military coup, and their actions are difficult to even remotely begin to justify. I have NEVER stated that the destruction of the Coptic churches was a justification of the actions of the military.
    2) Mr. Chouhoud: Your writing is clear and well thought out. My criticism is not on what you write but rather on what you choose not to write. Your responses to me acknowledging that some of the mistakes made by the MB are “idiotic to grievous” reveal you to be open-minded and show that you clearly understand the major issues involved. Why then would you not include these thoughts in your articles rather than only acknowledging them when questioned? A true journalist examines the entire truth no matter where it leads him. A commentator is clearly allowed to interject his opinions, but if he selectively only sees (or reports) one side he compromises his ability to influence those who do not originally share his opinions. Your article is like preaching to the choir. If you wish to truly influence people who do not share your opinion you must be able to report on all sides of an issue in order to get to the “truth.” (whatever that is!)
    3) There are many here who assume that since Egypt is completely falling apart, the destruction of the many Coptic churches is a minor issue that is being given too much attention. I respectively disagree. The perception in the West is this is “proof” of Muslim intolerance and that any sympathy that was being generated for the Egyptian populace is not deserved. Several people responded that the action of these people are just “crazies” or a small amount of people and should not be reflective of Islam in general. First, it really does seem that this is being perpetrated by a lot of people, not just a few. Second, since the Coptics apparently supported the coup, it is really quite Machiavellian/ Oliver Stone conspirist to attempt to convince me that the military is behind this. I will grant you that these incidents may have occurred without the approval or support of the MB, but I (and almost everyone else not on this website) will believe these acts of violence were committed by those who support the MB. If you wish to bury your head in the sand like an ostrich and pretend this isn’t so, well so be it.
    4) If Egyptians wish to show that the right of a non-Muslim to live and worship safely in a Muslim country is a fundamental tenant of Islam, then the actions of the last few days must be countered by more than simply meaningless words of regret and condemnation. There must be action. One writer asked me to be suggest an action so here it is: Muslims in Egypt should offer to rebuild these churches and sincerely offer to protect them. Just a thought.

    • Avatar

      Youssef Chouhoud

      August 18, 2013 at 7:26 PM

      Jon, though I may not always share your views, I do always welcome them. I will be more mindful to interject more balance in my pieces, although I do ask that you grant a little more benefit of the doubt as writers are always forced to tackle one angle or two at most to allow their work to be of an optimal length for online reading.

      On the issue of minorities, we’re largely in agreement that relations need to improve, although I would caution not to think that animosity is the norm. You mentioned protected Christian houses of worship. Well, as it turns out, that’s just what happened in the town of Sohag this past week: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2013/08/muslims-protecting-christians-in-egypt-during-mass.html Now, I wish there were more scenes like this, but rest assured that there is a large contingent in Egypt that wishes there to be peace and equal right of worship for all.

      -YC

      • Avatar

        Jon Solis

        August 18, 2013 at 7:34 PM

        Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your sentiments. I also checked out the link for the website you mentioned. It is a wonderful story. Unfortunately they were not there four days ago when the church in Sohag was burned down to the ground.

  13. Avatar

    ZAI

    August 18, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    I think Shaykh Hamza has turned out to have the most prescient and validated comments
    on these political upheavals. Simply getting rid of rulers is not enough. As he has said, the
    most basic, elemental and foundational problem in the Muslim world today is the lack of
    akhlaq. There is simply a lack of basic civility, decorum and a spirit of accommodation and compromise. There is utter dishonesty, cheating and lack of tolerance. All of these things
    make it impossible to have a civil democracy and basically ensure that only dictators can rule
    these countries with anything resembling a semblance of civility…which ofcourse comes
    with corruption, lack of basic freedoms, and this recent exposition of barbarity when they feel
    their rule is threatened.

    This whole situation was problematic from the start. We will never have peace in our
    homelands until we learn that we MUST compromise and reach accommodation to have it.
    This zero-sum mentality that affects everyone from Islamists to secularists is a bane
    on civil society. Until we give up this “winner takes all” force what we want down people’s throats
    all or nothing nonsense, forget peace. Everyone is at fault here…the Brotherhood, the secularists, the liberals, the media. Everyone. This is the natural result of not caring about the rule of law, but instead investing in the idea of winner takes all and might is right. It is sad to see Egypt go down the same road as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, et. al.

    Lastly, I’d want to ask opposition figures like Baradai, what the h*ck did you except to happen
    through a coup supported by the likes of Saudi Arabia? In what alternate universe did you
    think that would lead to a liberal democracy? Wasn’t it enough to warrant suspicion that the Saudis
    were calling the original 2012 revolution “un-Islamic”, but they gave this one
    full backing and 12 billion in aid suddenly materialized?

    • Avatar

      Gibran Mahmud

      August 20, 2013 at 7:24 PM

      Do you care more about a liberal democracy or the law of Allah aza wa jal?

  14. Avatar

    shahgul

    August 18, 2013 at 6:21 PM

    There is no justification for killing 1300 people whatsoever. No matter where you are coming from. This is more heinous a crime than burning all the mosques and churches in the world. So don’t compare.

  15. Avatar

    Zaheer

    August 19, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    Some good points here (referring specifically to ZAI but others too). Basic rules of disagreement are being disregarded with the same lack of care that Muslims show towards each other’s lives.

    I would argue, however, that the problem here, and the underlying problem of the entire Arab spring and related conflict, is the massive, major, fundamental split that has occurred in the Arab/Muslim world. You could almost say there is a 50-50 split between those who want a secular state, and those who want an Islamic state. Whether the secularists/liberals are being influenced by the West (probably), and the Islamists are being backed by terrorist/extremist forces (likely), the fact is that Egyptians (and Tunisians, and and and…) want their country to head in radically different directions, and this conflict is the inevitable result of this AND the ‘winner takes all’ mentality, as well as the basic disregard for the lives of fellow Muslims/countrymen/Arabs/etc.

    In the Levant region, there is the added molotov of sectarian Sunni-Shia conflict on top of this already combustible situation, so the violence has a longer history, is even more bloody, if possible, and one could argue there is even less hope of a resolution in the near-future due to the radical differences between Sunni and Shia (real or imagined).

    The thing is, with due respect to those of us who support this kind of idea, Western-style democracy is Islamically impracticable. To enact democracy as the West conceives of it is to say: “We will only practice the Islam the majority of people want”. Since doing “what the majority want” means essentially doing what everyone can agree on – a.k.a. the Lowest Common Denominator (it ain’t just a math term) – Islam essentially becomes a surface religion like the Christianity currently practiced in the West, an extension of people’s personality, like their clothes and cellphones, and not a way of life. Argue however you like, this is what Western-style democracy leads to, given the nature of people to only agree on the lowest types of behaviour when in crowds. The current moral, ethical, and cultural bankruptcy of the West is testament to this. And let’s not forget, we can all agree – we need to make money, so rampant industrialism and consumerism is another “side-effect” of this type of political system (actually it’s the entire reason the West follows it, but that’s another topic for another day).

    Instead, as we have known for 1400+ years, the Islamic mode of governance/leadership is As-Shura – mutual consultation. Of course, secularists have somehow used this as a justification for rampant no-limits democracy, and argue that the Qur’an itself orders us to imitate the West with their bankrupt political systems, na’uthibillah. There is a hadith which indicates that something bad is still bad even though the majority of people engage in it, and good is still good even though only one person (or no one!) follows it. And our measure for this is Qur’an wal Sunnah. However, the basic assumption of democracy is that what is right is what the majority thinks is right, regardless of reality – “1 million people can’t all be wrong, right?”.

    Until the Muslim world re-realizes that our solutions are not in imitating the West in their failed and destructive quest for worldwide liberal democracy, and instead re-evaluate the meaning of their religion, and why Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) was sent to us, we will forever be either in remorseless conflict or an apathetic state where Islam is an adornment for our unique, modern, utilitarian personalities.

  16. Avatar

    Hisham

    August 19, 2013 at 5:20 AM

    Unfortunately I can see a lot of uninformed comments probably formed by watching biased media. The western media is cheer-leading for chaos in Egypt and it pains me to see fellow Muslims do the same. The only ones who are supporting Egypt and its prosperity, to be frank, are Saudi Arabia and some other fellow Arab brothers.

    To those supporting the Brotherhood, I will say:

    1) They burn churches, is this what Islam preaches?
    2) They kill innocent people and claim they were shot by police. Their have been images of MB members posing “dead” for the camera
    3) Morsi destroyed Egypt’s economy
    4) Morsi and the Brotherhood were friends with the greatest enemy of Islam, Iran

    And if you talk about Islam, dont forget that the Saudi King is supporting Gen Sisi, and he is advised by eminent scholars and they know what is right in the light of Islam far more than any of us.
    And if that is not enough, even Al Azhar has spoken out against the Brotherhood.

    I can understand some western Muslims are unaware of how evil the Brotherhood are because they have not experienced them. I lived in the Gulf and people there are very wary of the Brotherhood and prominent personalities/Shuyookh have spoken out against the Fitna and chaos that they spread.

    • Avatar

      Hassen

      August 19, 2013 at 6:15 AM

      SubhanAllah, you think the Saudi king is doing this because it is “‘right in the light of Islam?!” The only motivation for this support is political. All the Arab dictators were perfectly happy with the solid control they had over their countries before the Arab Spring and they want to make sure they crush any possible threat to their control- simple as that. This has absolutely nothing to do with them wanting to further the cause of Islam.

    • Amad

      Amad

      August 19, 2013 at 6:17 AM

      wow, what a comment. So Saudi Arabia, known for its descipable human rights record and racism, is now a beacon of enlightenment? Can you repeat that please?

      To your four points:
      1) No evidence. If and when MB take responsiblity for it and say they destroy churches, you will see me being the first one to write against them.
      2) No evidence. The MB rallies had as much arms as Saddam had WMDs. Just like Bush sold WMDs to the American sheep population, Sissi has sold arms to the Egyptian sheep population. We ALL SAW IT. With our OWN eyes. Even if someone in the crowd used a gun or two, there was absolutely no evidence on record, that the crowd was armed. So please stop being a sheep.
      3) He didn’t destroy it. But doesn’t appear he helped it. And no one can forget how he was blocked from doing anything at every step by what is the now the post-coup alliance
      4) Iran is not the “greatest enemy of Islam”. Neither is Saudi or any country. The greatest enemies of Islam are those who justify the spilling of innocent blood and I hope you don’t get included in that. And who says that “guilt by association” is approrpriate?

      As for scholars of Saudi… please! Are you deliberately telling half the story or are you just in the dark of the full story? Shaykh Salman Ouda and Shaykh Arifee— two of the biggest names condemned the massacre in Egypt. And most other scholars will probably be put in jail if they say a word. As for Azhar, I think you missed the rally by Azhar scholars against the coup. The official figurehead of Azhar is a political appointee and as such is doing his job as well as the Saudi mufti– and that is to kiss up to whoever is in power.

      Finally, I am not a great lover of ikhwan… had lots of issues working with them in USA, but does that mean I will support a coup that has among its friends Assad, Israel, that benefits Israel the most, that wants to decimate influence of Islam in Egypt, that has made bearded men into targets, that kills at will (even its prisoners)? Look, there is a reason that pretty much all Western media has come out against it. And please the last thing Western media would be biased towards is Islam. There is no logic in it. The brutality and oppression is so obvious that even sheep will get it. And I hope you are more than a sheep.

      • Avatar

        Hassan

        August 19, 2013 at 8:07 PM

        Hmm, Saudi mufti…are you sure?

  17. Avatar

    Hisham

    August 19, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    Saudi Arabia’s human rights record? Whose version are we talking about? If its the western one, where criminals get rights, then yes its “bad”. But in eyes of Islam , they have done nothing wrong as they apply Shariah, which means a murderer wont be given 5 star accommodation.

    And overall, Saudis and citizens of other Gulf nations love their leaders who have given them a standard of living which is an envy of the average westerner; they drive better cars, have cleaner roads and safer societies.

    Anyways , coming to Egypt, have you noticed most of MB’s support seems to be foreign, from Turkey, western Muslims and other Brotherhood members? Most Arabs, and particularly Egyptians detest them. All Arab channels,with the exception of Jazeera are supporting Sisi. How do you explain that?
    When the siege at a mosque ended, common Egyptians wanted to lynch those inside, but the police stopped them doing that. Surely the Brotherhood must have done something to make the average Egyptian hate them so much?

  18. Avatar

    Pakistanisister

    August 19, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    wow… the articles and the comments are something I don’t know if I can completely distant myself from…. I feel for the people of Egypt the innocent men, women, and children who were doing peaceful protests for 2 months and the resultant deaths of 1000s of people in Egypt. The spilling of muslim blood and indeed many of those protestors were laymen not high figures in any movement political or otherwise. This spilling of blood is tragic, their voices have not been heared. What is even more tragic is the desensitization of this and other occurances.

    If you have an ideological difference from the brotherhood, fine but to be so niave and support the gulf countries in their sending money to the Egyptian army to stem the rebellion and by stem meaning actual field face time killing of muslims…bravo…on your understanding…. bravo…..

    Don’t mention the Saudi kings or their statements as an example of islaam following, they are the lesser of the two evils that muslims deal with. The Saudi scholars, esteemed scholars always speak out against rebellion because of the aftermath it causes…I wonder where they were when Morsi was elected president and enjoining salah(afterall that is the thin line between accepting a ruler over you no matter how much of a sinner and not). These same Saudi scholars, senior esteemd scholars were foremost in support Syrian people’s rebellion against the Bathist Assad but when the signal ws given by their king otherwise, they stopped.

    so may Allaah forgive them and guide the senior scholars for they really don’t have much in their hands.
    and yes Saudi to this day does hve human rights violations, whatever shariah they use to practice in the past is now diminishing, no more executions for murder and no public executions in Saudi. And yes the Gcc countires despite givng their citizens immense support are afraid of ikhwani influence, hence sendng money to the Egyptian army to kill more terrorists or ikhwanis or actually just muslim protestors.

    *This comment was edited by the MM Comments Team in order to comply with our Comments Policy*

  19. Avatar

    Mahmud

    August 20, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    At the core of this conflict is this-Islam versus kufr. Should Muslims stay Muslim and prefer Allah’s judgement or should they prefer another law and leave this deen?

    • Avatar

      Zaheer

      August 21, 2013 at 7:25 AM

      Sounds simple, but basically that’s what’s going on here. I wouldn’t go as far as saying ‘kufr’, but certainly the fundamental issue is a violent, bloody, and inhumane difference of opinion between which direction Egyptians (and most of the rest of the Arab/Levant world) want their society to head in.

      The Ikhwan want something, the leftist secularists want another, and the only “resolution” they can see is the violent revolutionary winner-takes-all mentality we see going on here. Remember that the Ikhwan and secularists put aside their differences to overthrow Mubarak, and both fought with and killed those who were supporting Mubarak at the time. Alliances quickly change when different circumstances present themselves.

      This is not to say the MB ‘got what was coming to them’; however, when they assumed power, they were naive to think that Egypt’s large secular contingent, which had always had control over the country’s media and commerce, etc., would sit idly by and support the re-Islamification of Egypt. That is against their interests – they do not want Islam as a state religion, nor do they even want an increase in Islamic awareness and practice in the country. Of course, this naturally allies them with the Copts and other religious minorities in the country.

      At the risk of repeating myself – this is the fruit of the kind of revolutions which have been all too common since the big French Revolution of the late 1700s. Complete societal meltdown and overthrow of the existing order, without a clear plan as to what the revolutionaries want to replace the current system. So, while Mubarak was tyrannical, and secularist in his own way, those who opposed him didn’t ensure they agreed what they wanted beforehand. Instead, they relied on the emotion of adrenaline-filled revolution, overthrew the government, and then hoped that elections would solve their problem, restore “freedom” and “peace”, a la The West. When the inevitable power-grabs occurred, due to the utter lack of consensus of what they wanted for the new Egypt, suddenly the Brotherhood were ‘doing things we did not elect them for’ – liberal democracy in action.

      As I have said before – the solution is simple, we just don’t want it because it involves more hard work than violence and constant conflict.

      It may be that Egypt needs to split, like Sudan did, into a part of the country which wants Shari’a, and the rest who don’t. That, would mean leaving homelands, giving up work, wealth, etc. Is this not exactly what the Muhajirun and our Nabiy (s.a.w.s.) did? Is this not a founding factor in our deen, so important that we start our calendar according to that great event? Yet it doesn’t even occur to us to do such a thing because we need big nation-states in order to compete with global economies. Who cares if we’re forcing people with severely different belief systems to live together? They’re replaceable in the great scheme of globalization – this is the fruit of following that which is not in our best interests. Hint – this is not ‘from the West; because this idea has spread everywhere, hence its ability to change societies around the globe.

      • Avatar

        Imran

        August 21, 2013 at 11:52 AM

        Salaam,
        I hate to say it but you are right. Religious Muslims cannot live with secular Muslims. They want different things.

        At some point we’re going to need to discuss the issues of hypocrisy and sectarianism.

  20. Avatar

    awaiskhan

    August 22, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    If all Muslim countries and Muslim are not united and whenever we will hold the rope of Allah then these Barbarity wil be vanished.

  21. Avatar

    Hisham

    August 23, 2013 at 5:01 PM

    After Shaikh Sudais has given his opinion on the Brotherhood and how they are responsible for spreading violence and Fitna, no Muslim should have any illusions about this organization

    • Avatar

      Mahmud

      August 23, 2013 at 7:37 PM

      Yes, no Muslims should have any illusion. It’s now crystal clear that they are heroic Muslims, struggling in the way of Allah to establish his law in Egypt.

    • Avatar

      Laila

      August 24, 2013 at 12:26 AM

      Interesting Hisham,
      I don’t know what your background is(ethnicity or views) but you just totally disregarded what I just wrote. I have a lot of respect for shaykh sudais but does he justify killing of the 1000s of people many of them families. I’ll go ahead and break it down for you. I do not agree with the ikhwanul muslimeen. I do not asribe to them nor am I part of them but I will defend their right to participate in a fair government with their votes which they had given and had a president who was democratically elected. their sit ins were peaceful initially without any “violence” the violence came afterwards this military coup.

      Despite being a proponent of neoconservative salafism with a few added out of the box views(which I am now quite comfortable with because rather than being a drone I’d rather think for myself and realize nobody works in a vacuum be it even the ma shaa ikh), I still think what dhulm happened to the people in Egypt is wrong.

      You did not have a jawaab for my post? do you even have an answer. May Allaah swt guide muslims like you and also myself.

      what is happening in Egypt I do not see it as “ikhwani problem.” I see it as a muslim problem. learn to think for yourself brother, do not be brainwashed(unless you are an xyz government official from an xyz nation then I apologize and please do not kill me for my views).

  22. Avatar

    Ummsalih

    August 24, 2013 at 7:35 AM

    @ Hisham. I’d say the opposite! After Shaikh Sudais has given his opinion on the Brotherhood and how they are responsible for ‘spreading violence and Fitna’, no Muslim should have any illusions about THIS MAN.’

    In contrary much respect for Sheikh Shuraim…look at his tweets on the situation.

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Challenges of Identity & Conviction: The Need to Construct an Islamic Worldview

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islamic online high school

He squirmed in his seat as his Middle East history professor–yet again–made a subtle jab about Islam, this time about the jizyah.  This professor claimed to be pro-Arab and pro-Islam and was part of a university department that touted itself for presenting history and narratives that are typically left out of the West’s Eurocentric social studies sequence. Still, she would subjectively only present an Orientalist interpretation of Islam. Ahmad* sighed. He felt bad just thinking about what all his classmates at this esteemed university thought about Islam and Muslims. He was also worried about fellow Muslims in his class who had not grown up in a practicing household-what if they believed her? He hated how she was using her position as the “sage” in the room to present her bias as absolute truth. As for himself, he knew deep down in his bones that what his professor was alleging just could not be true. His fitrah was protesting her coy smile as she knowingly agitated the few Muslims in her class of one-hundred-fifty.  Yet, Ahmad had never studied such topics growing up and felt all his years of secondary education left him ill-equipped as a freshman in college.  He tried to search for answers to her false accusations after class and approached her later during office hours, but she just laughed him off as a backward, orthodox Muslim who had obviously been brainwashed into believing the “fairy tale version” of Islam. 

***

Asiyah* graduated as class valedictorian of her Islamic school. She loved Biology and Physics and planned to major in Engineering at a top-notch program. While both family, friends, and peers were proud of her (some maybe even wishing they were in her shoes), they had no idea of the bitter inner struggle that was eating away at her, tearing her up from the inside out. Her crisis of faith shook her to the core and her parents were at their wits’ end. While she prayed all her prayers and even properly donned her hijab, deep down she felt……..sort of….……atheist.  Physics was her life–her complete being. She loved how the numbers just added up and everything could be empirically proven. But this led to her greatest anguish: how could certain miraculous events during the time of the Blessed Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) have occurred? How could she believe in events that were physically and scientifically impossible?  She felt like an empty body performing the rituals of Islam.

*names changed

***

An Unwelcome Surprise

Islam is a way of life. Its principles operate in every avenue of one’s life. However, English, History, Science and Mathematics are often taught as if they are beyond the scope of Islam. It is commonly assumed that moral teaching happens, or should happen, only in the Islamic Studies class. Yet, if we compare what is being taught in the Islamic Studies class with what is being taught consciously or unconsciously in other classes, an unwelcome surprise awaits us. Examining typical reading material in English classes, for example, reveals that too much of the material is actually going against Islamic norms and principles. Some of the most prominent problems with traditional English literature (which directly clash with Islamic moral and ethical principles) include: the mockery of God and religion, the promotion of rebellion against parents and traditional family values, the normalization of immoral conduct such as lying and rude behavior, and the condoning of inappropriate cross-gender interactions. Additionally, positive references about Islamic culture are either nonexistent or rare. Toxic themes of secularism, atheism, materialism, liberalism, and agnosticism are constantly bombarding our young Muslim students, thus shaping the way in which they view and interact with the world.

Corrective Lens: The Worldview of Islam

We need our children to develop an Islamic worldview, one that provides a framework for Muslims to understand their world from the perspective of the Qur’an.  It is impossible for the Islamic Studies classes alone to successfully teach Islamic behavior and nurture moral commitment unless the other classes also reflect the Islamic worldview- an outlook that emphasizes the idea that all our actions should be focused on pleasing Allah and doing good for ourselves and others. Therefore, the majority of what is taught in all academic disciplines should be based on Islamic values, aiming to improve the life of the student by promoting sublime ethical conduct. The unfortunate reality is quite the opposite: a typical child in a school in the West spends a minimum of 576 periods (16 periods of core classes/week * 4 weeks/month * 9 months) of classroom instruction annually on academic subjects that are devoid of Islam and contain minimal teaching of morality that aligns with Islamic principles. How much Islam a child learns depends on whether their parents choose Sunday school, Islamic schools, and/or other forms of supplementation to provide religious knowledge. However, rarely does that supplemental instruction undo the thousands of hours of the atheistic worldview that children soak in by the time they finish high school through the study of secular subjects. By not having an Islamic worldview and not having Muslims’ heritage and contributions to humanity infused into the teaching of academic subjects, we witness the problems experienced by the likes of Ahmad* and Asiyah*–problems that plague modern Muslim youth.

Identifying the Unlikely Suspect

This realization is perhaps the missing piece in the puzzle when it comes to our bewilderment: how are large swaths of youth from some of the kindest, sweetest, practicing Muslim families going astray and getting confused? When we shepherd our flock and find one or more of our “sheep” lost and off the beaten path, we think of the likely suspects, which include negative influences from peers, family, movies, social media, etc. We may even blame the lack of inspiring role models. We are less likely to suspect that the very literature that our children are consuming day in and day out through our well-intentioned efforts to make them “educated” and “sophisticated” could cause them to question Islam or fall into moral abyss.

Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.”

Islamic Infusion in Academic Study as a Solution

There have been efforts across the globe to infuse Islam into academic study of worldly subjects. Universities such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia(IIUM), which has a dedicated “Centre for Islamisation (CENTRIS),” is an example. At the secondary school level, most brick and mortar Islamic schools do offer Arabic, Qur’an, and Islamic studies; however, few Muslim teachers are trained in how to teach core academic subjects using principles of Islamic pedagogy.

How exactly can educators infuse an Islamic perspective into their teaching? And how can Muslim children have access to high quality education from the worldview of Islam, taught by talented and dynamic educators?

Infusing Islam & Muslim Heritage in Core Academic Subjects, According to the Experts:

  • Dr. Nadeem Memon, professor of Islamic pedagogy, states that for a pedagogy to be Islamic, it should not contradict the aims, objectives and ethics contained in revelation (Qur’an) and should closely reflect an Islamic ethos that is based on revelation, the sunnah of the Prophet(pbuh), and the intellectual and spiritual heritage of his followers. It should also effectively develop the student’s intelligence (`aql), faith (iman), morality and character (khuluq), knowledge and practice of personal religious obligations (fard ain) and knowledge, skills and physical abilities warranted by worldly responsibilities and duties (Ajem, Ramzy and Nadeem Memon, “Prophetic Pedagogy: Teaching ‘Islamically’ in our Classrooms”)
  • Dr. Susan Douglass, expert in Social Studies, promotes a panoramic study of the world by global eras–emphasizing the interdependence of nations–rather than an isolationist civilizations approach (which in Western societies focuses only on Western civilization). Such study includes Islamic history and Muslims’ contributions to humanity throughout the ages.
  • Dr. Freda Shamma, pioneer in promoting culturally inclusive and ethical literature, emphasizes that English classes should carefully select literature aligned with Islamic moral values and include works by both Western authors and those from other cultures, i.e. literature that 1-features Muslim main characters and 2- is authored by Muslims.
  • Dr. Nur Jannah Hassan at CENTRIS, stresses that Science classes should be designed to awaken the student’s mind, to inspire a complete awe of and servitude towards the Creator and Sustainer, to instill the purpose of creation, vicegerency and stewardship of the earth and its inhabitants, to enable students to decipher God’s Signs in nature and in the self, to infuse responsibility in sustaining balance and accountability, and should include Muslims’ legacy in the field.
  • Dr. Reema alNizami, specialist in Math Education, advocates that Math classes should instill creative thinking, systematic problem solving and an appreciation of balance; include a survey of Muslims’ contributions to the field; and utilize word problems that encourage charitable and ethical financial practices.

Technology Enables Access to Islamically Infused Schooling for grades 6-12

Technology has now enabled this Islamic infusion for middle schools and secondary schools to become a reality on a global scale, alhamdulillah. Legacy International Online High School, a college preparatory, online Islamic school serving grades 6-12, whose mission is “Cultivating Compassionate Global Leaders”, offers all academic subjects from the Islamic worldview. Pioneered by leading Muslim educators from around the globe with background in Islamic pedagogy and digital learning, Legacy is the first of its kind online platform that is accessible to:

  • homeschooling families seeking full-time, rigorous, Islamically infused classes
  • Public school families looking for a part-time Islamic studies or Arabic sequence
  • Islamic schools, evening programs, and Sunday schools that are short-staffed and would like to outsource certain courses from the Islamic worldview
  • Schools and entities needing training/workshops to empower Muslim educators on how to teach from the Islamic worldview

Alhamdulillah, Legacy IOHS is an accessible resource for families with children in grades 6-8 who are seeking curriculum and instruction that is Islamically infused.

Strengthening Faith & Identity in College and Beyond

For those seeking supplementary resources to address the most prevalent hot topic issues plaguing young Muslims of our times, Yaqeen Institute, whose initial publications were more targeted towards a university audience, is now working to make its research more accessible to the general public through both its Conviction Circles initiative and its short videos featuring infographics.

Another online platform, California Islamic University, offers a comprehensive course sequence which allows college students to graduate with a second degree in Islamic studies while simultaneously completing their undergraduate studies at any accredited community college or university in the United States. Qalam and AlMaghrib Institute also offer online coursework in Islamic studies.

What We Hope to Avoid

While volunteering at his son Sulayman’s* public school with ten student participants, Ibrahim* was saddened when he met a young boy named Chris*. When Chris met Ibrahim, he piped up and eagerly told Ibrahim, “my grandparents are Muslim!” Through the course of the conversation, Ibrahim realized that he knew Chris’ grandparents, a very sweet elderly couple (and currently very practicing) who had not made the Islamic worldview a priority early on in their children’s lives. A mere two generations later, Islam is completely eliminated from their family.  *names changed

Our Resolve

Legacy IOHS recommends the following to Muslim families/educators and Islamic schools:

  1. Instill in our children a strong grasp of the foundational sciences of Islam, while preparing them with the necessary contemporary knowledge and skills
  2. Teach our children in their formative years to view the world (including their “secular” academic study) through the lens of Islam
  3. Follow this up with relevant motivational programs that assist them in understanding challenging issues of today and coach them on how to respond to the issues in their teenage years.

We pray that with the above, we will have fulfilled our duty in shepherding our flock in a comprehensive way, with utmost care. It is Allah’s help we seek in these challenging times:

رَبَّنَا لَا تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّابُ

‘Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate after You have guided us. Grant us Your mercy: You are the Ever Giving. [Qur’an 3:8]

 رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا

‘Our Lord, give us joy in our spouses and offspring. Make us good examples to those who are aware of You’. [Qur’an 25:74]

يَا مُقَلِّبَ القُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِيْ عَلَى دِيْنِكْ

“O turner of the hearts, keep my heart firm on your religion.”

Freda Shamma has a M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Ed.D. from the University of Cincinnati in the area of Curriculum Development. A veteran educator, she has worked with educators from the United States, South Africa and all over the Muslim world to develop integrated curricula based on an Islamic worldview that meets the needs of modern Muslim youth. She serves as Curriculum Advisor for Legacy International Online High School.

An avid student of the Islamic sciences, Zaheer Arastu earned his M.Ed from The George Washington University and completed his training in Educational Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. his experience in Islamic education spans over 15 years serving as both teacher, administrator, and dean of innovation and technology. He currently serves as the Head of School for Legacy International Online High School.

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Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective

Omar Usman

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I don’t really care about grit.

Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.

Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.

What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don’t think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit – it’s about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.

The appeal of grit in a self-help context is that it provides a magic bullet that intuitively feels correct. It provides optimism. If I can master this one thing, it will unlock what I need to be successful. When I keep running into a roadblock, I can scapegoat my reason for failure – a lack of grit.

Grit encompasses several inspirational cliches – be satisfied with being unsatisfied, or love the chase as much as the capture, or that grit is falling in love and staying in love. It is to believe anyone can succeed if they work long and hard enough. In short, it is the one-word encapsulation of the ideal of the American Dream.

Self-help literature has an underlying theme of controlling what is within your control and letting go of the rest. Islamically, in general, we agree with this sentiment. We focus our actions where we are personally accountable and put our trust in Allah for what we cannot control.

The problem with this theme, specifically with grit, is that it necessitates believing the circumstances around you cannot be changed. Therefore, you must simply accept things the way that they are. Teaching people that they can overcome any situation by merely working hard enough is not only unrealistic but utterly devoid of compassion.

“The notion that kids in poverty can overcome hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, and trauma by buckling down and persisting was always stupid and heartless, exactly what you would expect to hear from Scrooge or the Koch brothers or Betsy DeVos.” -Diane Ravitch, Forget Grit, Focus on Inequality

Focusing on the individual characteristics of grit and perseverance shifts attention away from structural or systemic issues that impact someone’s ability to succeed. The personal characteristics can be changed while structural inequalities are seen as ‘fixed.’

Alfie Kohn, in an article critical of Grit by Angela Duckworth, notes that Duckworth and her mentor while studying grit operated under a belief that,

[U]nderachievement isn’t explained by structural factors — social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted it should be attributed to the students themselves and their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

Duckworth admitted as much in an interview with EdSurge.

There was a student who introduced himself having written a critical essay about the narrative of grit. His major point was that when we talk about grit as a kind of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ personal strength, it leaves in the shadows structural poverty and racism and other things that make it impossible, frankly, for some kids to do what we would expect them to do. When he sent me that essay, of course, I wanted to know more. I joined his [dissertation] committee because I don’t know much about sociology, and I don’t know much about this criticism.

I learned a lot from him over the years. I think the lesson for me is that when someone criticizes you, when someone criticized me, the natural thing is to be defensive and to reflexively make more clear your case and why you’re right, but I’ve always learned more from just listening. When I have the courage to just say, “Well, maybe there’s a point here that I hadn’t thought of,” and in this case the Grit narrative and what Grit has become is something that he really brought to me and my awareness in a way that I was oblivious to before.

It is mind-boggling that the person who popularized this research and wrote the book on the topic simply didn’t know that there was such a thing as structural inequality. It is quite disappointing that her response essentially amounted to “That’s interesting. I’d like to learn more.”

Duckworth provides a caveat – “My theory doesn’t address these outside ­forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” This is a cop-out we see consistently in the self-help industry and elsewhere. They won’t deny that those problems exist, they simply say that’s not the current focus.

It is intellectually dishonest to promote something as a key to success while outright ignoring the structures needed to enable success. That is not the only thing the theory of grit ignores. While marketing it as a necessary characteristic, it overlooks traits like honesty and kindness.

The grit narrative lionizes this superhero type of individual who breaks through all obstacles no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. It provides a sense of false hope. Instead of knowing when to cut your losses and see a failure for what it is, espousing a grit mentality will make a person stubbornly pursue a failing endeavor. It reminds me of those singers who comically fail the first round of auditions on American Idol, are rightly ridiculed by the judges, and then emotionally tell the whole world they’re going to come out on top (and then never do).

Overconfidence, obstinance, and naive optimism are the result of grit without context or boundaries. It fosters denial and a lack of self-awareness – the consequences of which are felt when horrible leaders keep rising to the top due, in part, to their grit and perseverance.

The entire idea of the psychology of achievement completely ignores the notion of morality and ethics. Grit in a vacuum may be amoral, but that is not how the real world works. This speaks powerfully to the need to understand the application of these types of concepts through a lens of faith.

The individual focus, however, is precisely what makes something like grit a prime candidate to become a popular self-help item. Schools and corporations alike will want to push it because it focuses on the individual instead of the reality of circumstances. There is a real amount of cognitive dissonance when a corporation can tell employees to focus on developing grit while not addressing toxic employment practices that increase turnover and destroy employees physically and emotionally (see: Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer).

Circumstances matter more than ever. You’ve probably heard the story (of course, in a Ted Talk) about the famous marshmallow test at some point. This popularizes the self-help version of delayed gratification. A bunch of kids are given a marshmallow and told that if they can avoid eating it for 5 minutes, they’ll get a second one. The children are then shown hilariously trying to resist eating it. These kids were then studied as they grew older, and lo and behold, those who had the self-discipline to hold out for the 2nd marshmallow were far more successful in life than those who gave in.

A new study found that a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow had nothing to do with the ability to delay gratification. As The Atlantic points out, it had much more to do with the child’s social and economic background. When a child comes from a well to do household, the promise of a second marshmallow will be fulfilled. Their parents always deliver. When someone grows up in poverty, they are more attuned to take the short term reward because the guarantee does not exist that the marshmallow would still be there later. The circumstances matter much more than the psychological studies can account for. It is far easier to display grit with an entrepreneurial venture, for example, when you have the safety net of wealthy and supportive parents.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post that grit discourse is driven by middle and upper-class parents wanting their spoiled kids to appreciate the virtues of struggling against hardship. Unfortunately, this focus on character education means that poor students suffer because less money will then be spent on teaching disadvantaged students the skills they need to be successful. Sisyphus, she notes, had plenty of grit, but it didn’t get him very far.

Strauss asks us to imagine if a toxic dump was discovered near Beverly Hills, and our response was to teach kids how to lessen the effects of toxins instead of fixing the dump.

The grit discourse does not teach that poor children deserve poverty; it teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship. This logic is as seductive as it is circular. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is seen as a virtuous enterprise whether practiced by Horatio Alger’s urchins or Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs (bootstrapping is a common term in technology finance circles). And most importantly, it creates a purported path out of poverty that does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes. -Valerie Strauss

This approach is a way to appear noble while perpetuating the status quo. It provides the illusion of upliftment while further entrenching the very systems that prevent it. We see this enacted most commonly with modern-day Silicon Valley style of philanthropy. Anand Giridharadas has an entire book dedicated to this ‘elite charade of changing the world’ entitled Winners Take All.

The media also does its fair share to push this narrative. Stories that should horrify us are passed along as inspirational stories of perseverance. It’s like celebrating a GoFundMe campaign that helps pay for surgery to save someone’s life instead of critically analyzing why healthcare is not seen as a human right in the first place.

Islamic Perspective

Islamically, we are taught to find ways to address the individual as well as the system. Characteristics like grit and delayed gratification are not bad. They’re misapplied when the bigger picture is not taken into account. In the Islamic system, for example, a person is encouraged not to beg. At the same time, there is an encouragement for those who can give to seek out those in need. A person in debt is strongly advised to pay off their debts as quickly as possible. At the same time, the lender is encouraged to be easygoing and to forgive the debt if possible.

This provides a more realistic framework for applying these concepts. A person facing difficulty should be encouraged to be resilient and find ways to bounce back. At the same time, support structures must be established to help that person.

Beyond the framework, there is a much larger issue. Grit is oriented around success. Success is unquestionably assumed to be a personal success oriented around academic achievement, career, wealth, and status. When that is the end goal, it makes it much easier to keep the focus on the individual.

The Islamic definition of success is much broader. There is the obvious idea of success in the Hereafter, but that is separate from this discussion. Even in a worldly sense, a successful person may be the one who sacrifices attending a good school, or perhaps even a dream job type of career opportunity, to spend more time with their family. The emphasis on individual success at all costs has contributed to the breakdown of essential family and community support systems.

A misapplied sense of grit furthers this when a person thinks they don’t need anyone else, and they just need to persevere. It is part of a larger body of messaging that promotes freedom and autonomy. We celebrate people who are strong and independent. Self-help tells us we can achieve anything with the right mindset.

But what happens when we fail? What happens when we find loneliness and not fulfillment, when we lack the bonds of familial solidarity, and when money does not make us whole? Then it all falls on us. It is precisely this feeling of constriction that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’ These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157)

Resilience is a reflex. When a person faces hardship, they will fall back on the habits and values they have. It brings to mind the statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that patience is at the first strike. He taught us the mindset needed to have grit in the first place,

“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).

He also taught us the habits we need to ensure that we have the reflex of grit when the situation warrants it –

“Whoever would be pleased for Allah to answer him during times of hardship and difficulty, let him supplicate often during times of ease” (Tirmidhi).

The institution of the masjid as a community center provides a massive opportunity to build infrastructure to support people. Resilience, as Michael Ungar writes, is not a DIY endeavor. Communities must find ways to provide the resources a person needs to persevere. Ungar explains, “What kind of resources? The kind that get you through the inevitable crises that life throws our way. A bank of sick days. Some savings or an extended family who can take you in. Neighbours or a congregation willing to bring over a casserole, shovel your driveway or help care for your children while you are doing whatever you need to do to get through the moment. Communities with police, social workers, home-care workers, fire departments, ambulances, and food banks. Employment insurance, pension plans or financial advisers to help you through a layoff.”

Ungar summarizes the appropriate application of grit, “The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself.”

The one major missing ingredient here is tawakkul (trust in Allah). One of the events in the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that epitomized grit, resilience, and perseverance was the Battle of Badr. At this occasion, the Companions said, “God is enough for us: He is the best protector.

“Those whose faith only increased when people said, ‘Fear your enemy: they have amassed a great army against you,’ and who replied, ‘God is enough for us: He is the best protector,’“ (3:173)

This is the same phrase that Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), while displaying the utmost level of resilience, said when he was thrown into the fire, and it was made cool.

There is a core belief in Islam about balancing between fear and hope. Scholars advise when a person feels despair, they should remind themselves of the traditions that reinforce hope in Allah’s forgiveness. When a person feels themselves sliding further and further into disobedience to Allah, then they should remind themselves of the traditions that warn against Allah’s punishment. The focus changes depending on the situation.

Grit itself is a praiseworthy characteristic

There is no doubt that it is a trait that makes people successful. The challenge comes in applying it and how we teach it. It needs a proper level of balance. Too much focus on grit as a singular predictor of success may lead to victim-blaming and false hope syndrome. Overlooking it on the other hand, enables a feeling of entitlement and a victim mentality.

One purpose of teaching grit was to help students from privileged backgrounds understand and appreciate the struggle needed to overcome difficulty. Misapplied, it can lead to overlooking systemic issues that prevent a person from succeeding even when they have grit.

Self-help literature often fails to make these types of distinctions. It fails to provide guidance for balancing adapting the advice based on circumstance. The criticisms here are not of the idea of grit, but rather the myopic way in which self-help literature promotes concepts like grit without real-world contextualization. We need to find a way to have the right proportionality of understanding individual effort, societal support, and our reliance on Allah.

Our ability to persevere, to be resilient, and to have grit, is linked directly to our relationship with Allah, and our true level of trust in Him.

To stay up to date with more articles from Omar, sign up for his email list at http://ibnabeeomar.com/newsletter

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Who Can We Trust?

Danish Qasim

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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.

Blurring Lines

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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 outright 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.

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