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


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

by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a “celebrity Shaykh”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are the solutions?

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

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

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

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

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

And Allah knows best.

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

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  1. The Salafi Feminist

    The Salafi Feminist

    May 30, 2015 at 10:06 PM

    Jazaakillaahi khayran for yet another excellent article.

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

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    Ibn Masood

    May 31, 2015 at 12:43 AM

    MashaAllah. Exactly the follow-up that was needed.

    وفقك الله لما يحب و يرضى به

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    Umm Sultan

    May 31, 2015 at 2:11 AM

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

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      Zaynab Ansari

      June 1, 2015 at 7:58 PM

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

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    May 31, 2015 at 3:10 AM

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

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

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    Abu abdirrahman

    May 31, 2015 at 7:53 AM

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

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

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      May 31, 2015 at 2:25 PM


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

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

      And Allah Most High knows best.

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    May 31, 2015 at 10:56 AM

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

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    May 31, 2015 at 3:14 PM

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

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    May 31, 2015 at 11:23 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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      Zaynab Ansari

      June 1, 2015 at 8:07 PM

      @Br. Inqiyaad,

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

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

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


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    Siraaj Muhammad

    June 1, 2015 at 12:56 AM

    Excellent follow up, jzk!

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

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

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      Talibul `Ilm

      June 1, 2015 at 3:06 AM

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

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        June 1, 2015 at 9:22 AM


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

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        Talibul `Ilm

        June 1, 2015 at 12:39 PM

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

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        Siraaj Muhammad

        June 1, 2015 at 3:09 PM

        Salaam alaykum,

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

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


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        Zaynab Ansari

        June 1, 2015 at 8:11 PM

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

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      Zaynab Ansari

      June 1, 2015 at 8:09 PM

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

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      June 1, 2015 at 11:26 PM

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

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

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        Abu Milk Sheikh

        June 2, 2015 at 12:27 AM

        For every googled fatwa…

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

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

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

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

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

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        June 5, 2015 at 3:26 PM

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

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

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        June 6, 2015 at 12:13 PM

        Abu Milk Sheikh and Siraaj

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

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

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

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

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        June 7, 2015 at 3:35 PM

        Abu Milk Sheikh and Siraaj

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

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

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

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

    • Avatar

      Naziyah Nur

      June 2, 2015 at 3:55 AM

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

  10. Avatar


    June 1, 2015 at 2:03 PM

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

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

    • Avatar

      Zaynab Ansari

      June 1, 2015 at 8:14 PM

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

  11. Avatar


    June 2, 2015 at 3:47 AM

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

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

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

    • Avatar

      Abu Milk Sheikh

      June 4, 2015 at 7:31 AM

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

  12. Avatar

    Naziyah Nur

    June 2, 2015 at 4:01 AM

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

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

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

  13. Avatar

    Naziyah Nur

    June 2, 2015 at 4:06 AM


    Salam Shahykah Zaynab,

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

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

    Wa salam!

    • Avatar


      March 16, 2016 at 4:39 PM

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

  14. Avatar

    Azim Abdul Majeed

    June 3, 2015 at 9:46 PM

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

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

    @ustadhah zaynab and @dr. yasir qadhi.

  15. Avatar


    June 4, 2015 at 10:54 AM

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

  16. Avatar


    June 5, 2015 at 10:19 PM

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

  17. Avatar


    June 6, 2015 at 2:16 PM

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

  18. Avatar


    June 8, 2015 at 10:25 PM


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

    may Allah bless u ya ustadha.

    Momin S.

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Alternative Eid Celebrations In The Midst Of A Pandemic

“Eid-al-Quarantine” is what my sister has so fondly dubbed our upcoming Eid al Fitr this year. I find myself asking, “How are we going to make Eid a fun and special celebration this year in the midst of a dangerous pandemic?” With a little bit of creativity and resourcefulness, this Eid can be fun–no matter the current circumstances. This post will provide you with some inspiration to get your alternative Eid preparations underway! 

Special note: Shelter-in-place restrictions are lessening in many places in the United States, but this does not give us the green light to go back to life as normal and celebrate Eid in the ways we usually would have in the past. I am no health expert, but my sincerest wish for all Muslims throughout the world is that we all err on the side of caution and maintain rigorous precautions.

In-person gatherings are going to be much riskier in light of public health safety concerns. I do not recommend that people get together this Eid. Keep in mind, as well, that this is a big weekend for all Americans, as it is Memorial Day Weekend and crowds may be expected in places like parks and beaches. 

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Eid Day Must’s

Just because you are staying in, doesn’t mean that all of the Eid traditions have to go. Some may be exactly the same, some may be slightly adjusted this year. 

  • Get dressed up, even if it’s just for an hour or two. This might be a good chance to do hair and make up for sisters who normally don’t on Eid because of hijab or other modesty concerns. 
  • Take your family pictures, as usual. 
  • Decorate your house, even if it’s just with some fresh flowers in a vase or hanging up some string lights. (This time, I think sharing pictures of your setup may  have some more wiggle room.)
  • Find a way to pray Eid salah at home, if your local imam mentions a way to adapt for the current situation or check out this MM article
  • Eat some good food, and make sure to feast. 
  • Take that infamous Eid nap. 
  • Greet loved ones (phone calls, video calls, text messages, voice/video messages, make and send Eid cards).
  • Give and receive gifts. (Electronic ways to transfer money/checks in the mail, dropping off gifts to homes/sending gifts in the mail/having an online order pick-up in-store. You may also choose to do a gift exchange, if not this weekend, next). 

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Virtual Parties

Virtual celebrations are a great, safe, option. The best thing about virtual hangouts is that people from all over the world can “come together” to celebrate Eid. This can be as simple as talking and catching up, or can be as orchestrated as a full-out party including games. Keep in mind, the games and virtual parties aren’t only for the kids–everyone should have fun this Eid! We recently threw a virtual birthday party for our one-year-old and it was quite the experience. 

  • Split guests into different calls (kids’ call, adults’ call; men’s call, women’s call)
  • Party agenda for a rigorously planned party so everyone knows what to expect
  • Party games, either with certain items that everyone has (or can easily and quickly purchase) or games that do not require much else besides an internet connection 
    • Games requiring physical items (think of items that everyone is likely to have and think of carnival-type games):
      • Soccer ball juggling or basketball shooting competition
      • Water balloon toss
      • Timed races (three-legged, holding an egg in a spoon, etc.)
    • Games with little to no special equipment
      • Online Pictionary
      • Online Scrabble
      • Video games
      • Charades
      • Taboo (we do this for our cousin game nights with pictures of cards that one person sends to people from the opposite team)
      • Scattergories
      • Bingo
      • Mad libs
      • Speaking games that take turns going around a circle (going through the alphabet saying names of animals or colors or foods, rhyming words [we played the last two lines of “Down by the Bay” for our son’s birthday party])
      • Movement game (Simon says, dancing if you’re into that [“Cha Cha Slide,” dance-off, passing along dance moves as was a TikTok trend I heard of, simply dancing…])
      • Games like in Whose Line is it Anyway? or like the “Olympics” (specifically the “middle games”) that I wrote about way back
  • Performances
    • Skits prepared by one family or even across households
    • Reciting a poem or surah or singing
    • Other showcases of talent, by individuals or not
  • Gift Exchanges (I’ve been doing this virtually since 2013 with friends/distant family members.)

Alternative Virtual/Group Celebrations

Being “together” isn’t always gathering for a party, and that’s what I think most people miss during the forced isolation caused by the pandemic. There are many things you can do to get ready for or celebrate Eid with loved ones even if you’re not together. 

  • Share special recipes with each other or plan to serve the same meals.
  • Coordinate Eid outfits or attempt to do matching henna designs.
  • Send Eid pictures to family and friends.
  • Prepare and cook meals or clean or decorate while on a video call (you don’t have to be talking the entire time).
  • Watch the same movie or show (whether that’s something everyone does as separate households or you do concurrently/even with a video or phone call running. This might be a good time to watch Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” and do the 10 things it invites us to do.)
  • Go through family pictures or old videos together. Maybe even create a short slideshow/video of your favorites. 
  • Story time full of family legends and epic moments (the best Eid, a difficult time of sickness, immigration or moving story, new baby in the family, etc.). Someone build the fire and get the s’mores going.

Alternative “Outings”

In the same breath, it’s so refreshing to go out and do something fun, not just stay cooped up in your house, right? Seriously. 

  • Check out a virtual museum tour
  • Go on a nice drive to some place you love or miss going to, like drive by the masjid or school or a beautiful area (but stay in your car if there are other people around)
  • Watch an Eid Khutbah (or a regular one) on Eid day (make it special by listening outside in your yard or as a family where you pray).
  • Create a movie theater experience inside the home (that might just mean some popcorn and homemade slushies).
  • Get carry out from a favorite restaurant (if it’s open), and finally have the motivation to take a longer drive if needed
  • Make fruit or gift baskets for friends and family and drop them off at their homes
  • A “paint night,” or some other craft, that everyone in the family participates in
  • Decorate your car and drive around to show it off to friends (I’ve heard there’s an actual Eid car parade at various masaajid in Chicago

Interesting Alternative Community Celebrations I’ve Heard About

Some communities are getting super creative. As I mentioned above, a handful of masaajid in Chicago (Orland Park Prayer Center, Mosque Foundation, and Islamic Center of Wheaton as well as Dar Al Taqwa in Maryland) are putting together Eid drive-thru car parades. I’ve heard of different communities, whether officially sponsored by the masjid or just put together by groups of individuals, having a drive-in Eid salah, in which families pray in their cars in a rented drive-in theater or parking lot (Champaign, Illinois and a community in Maryland). I’m  definitely impressed with that last option, and I’m waiting to hear about more creative ways to get together and worship and celebrate.

So, what am I doing for Eid (weekend) this year? All the must’s, inshaAllah, including getting extra dolled up and making donuts from biscuit dough. A “game night” (virtual party) with alumni from my MSA. A gift exchange party with my cousins as well as another gift exchange party with classmates from my Arabic program (we’ll send unboxing videos out instead of meeting at the same time.) Check out a local college campus we’ve been dying to drive around. Binge a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender newly released on Netflix and do some online Memorial Day sale shopping. Le’s put a tentative on all of those, haha.

At the end of the day, Eid al Fitr is about acknowledging the month of worship we engaged in during Ramadan and spending quality time with loved ones. It doesn’t really matter what that quality time looks like–as long as it is intentional, this Eid will be special no matter what, inshaAllah. Who knows, this might be one of the best, most memorable holidays ever!

Eid Mubarak!

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#Current Affairs

A Response To Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments On Uyghurs

Toqa Badran and Aydin Anwar respond to the statements made by Shaykh Habib Ali Al-Jifri


Protests preceding the Ghulja Massacre, 1997


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By Toqa Badran, Aydin Anwar 

We acknowledge that those individuals who have devoted their lives to the spiritual empowerment of others are to be admired and respected. The Ulema often serve as beacons of guidance and sources of emulation for the Ummah with their scholarly and moral leadership. Their critical role means that they are also expected to speak and act according to a higher standard of truthfulness and ethics. Bearing this in mind makes it especially dismaying and hurtful to witness inaccurate comments from a famous preacher and scholar who should be a part of this heritage of high intellectual rigour and superior moral conduct. It is even more problematic that these erroneous statements pertain to a group of fellow Muslims presently experiencing almost unprecedented duress to criminalize and eradicate their religion and cultural identity. 

It is unfortunate that Habib Ali al-Jifri, a popular scholar in the Arab world, in a recent lecture has misused his platform by propagating information that is all at once incorrect, biased, and otherwise detrimental to the lives of an entire Muslim nation colonized and oppressed by China. Although he tepidly acknowledges that China has done wrong to Uyghurs and is not fully innocent, a number of his claims remain inaccurate and deserve to be corrected. This article attempts to walk through some of these inaccuracies, and correct such claims that ultimately work to delegitimize and downplay the deplorable reality of Uyghurs and other Turkic-Muslim peoples, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, of East Turkistan (renamed and referred to as Xinjiang, meaning new territory in Mandarin, by the Chinese occupation). 

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#1: Shaykh Ali al-Jifri claims that only around half of Uyghurs are Muslim

The first glaring error made by the shaykh is his statement that only around half of the Uyghur population is Muslim. His error may have been a result of confusing the presently reported demographic makeup of East Turkistan with the religious composition of the Uyghur people. While the Uyghur and indigenous inhabitants of the region are overwhelmingly Muslim, the Han Chinese population has climbed drastically from only 6% in 1949 to an estimated 40% – due largely to incentivized migration and other – settler colonial programs embarked upon by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This statistic itself may be unreliable as many undocumented Uyghurs are unaccounted for and, in recent years, scores of Uyghur prisoners and forced laborers have been forcibly transferred to mainland China. 

If, however, al-Jifri meant to propogate the notion that only half of Uyghurs are Muslim, this is another matter altogether. To deny the self-professed Islamic faith of the utter majority of Uyghur people is to commit one of atrocities perpetrated by the CCP itself — the denial and erasure of this long persecuted population’s faith. As for the rootedness of Islam among this people, it has been the predominant religion among Uyghurs in East Turkistan– long before Egypt, or even the Levant, became majority Muslim societies during the Mamluk era. Much of the Islamicization of Central Asia and the Turkic world has been credited to the Karakhanids – a group of Turkic tribes who lived in the Uyghur homeland and converted to Islam in the 10th century (4th century Hijri), after their ruler Sultan Abdulkerim Bughra Khan entered the faith (Svat Soucek. A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press. 2002, pp 84).

Uyghurs were also historically part of the Chagatay Turkic Khanate, whence the rulers of the Mughal Dynasty — who ruled much of India for over two centuries — hailed. Tasawwuf-inflected preaching was a key driver in conversions among these Turkic tribes in ways reminiscent of Islam’s spread at the hands of itinerant Hadhrami Sufi scholars and merchants — from whom Habib Ali hails  — across the Indian Ocean littoral and Nusantara (Malay world).

Map of East Turkistan in relation to the rest of Central Asia. East Turkistan is the same size as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada combined. 

Source: International Crisis Group

Starting with the aforementioned Karakhanids in the 10th century, Islamic institutions were founded and devoted to the study of theology, natural science, arts, music, and more. These institutions allowed for the emergence of hundreds of prominent Turkic scholars, who helped shape and record Islamic, Turkic, and specifically Uyghur history through their works: The likes of Mahmud Kashgari’s Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk, the first comprehensive dictionary of Turkic languages. Yusuf Khās Hājib’s Kutadgu Bilig, a mirror-for-princes in prose from the 11th century that shed light on Turkish-Islamic history and culture, and is perhaps one of the earliest surviving Turkic works in the genre of akhlāq (Islamic morality and ethics). The Turks of the region have also been greatly impacted by the Yasawī sufi order which helped make communal dhikr gatherings part and parcel of Uyghur culture. The influence of sufism is also evident in the prevalence of  Sufi shrines — most of which have since been systematically destroyed or left abandoned after being blocked off with barbed wire by the CCP.

The survival of old Quranic manuscripts from the area, as well as manuscripts from the 19th and 20th century, testify to the centrality of the Islamic intellectual tradition and its preservation within Uyghur culture. Thousands of beautiful mosques were constructed throughout the region, many of which have been demolished in recent years by the CCP regime. Had they not been places of great significance and visitation, it begs the question as to why the Chinese government would  bother razing them. Kashgar, the historic capital of the Karakhanid Empire and “jewel” of the Silk Road, became a prominent center of learning and hub showcasing the rich Uyghur past. Yarkend had also been a particular center of Islamic learning and culture for centuries, with dozens of madrasahs present in the last decades of the nineteenth century. It even holds Queen Amanisa Khan’s shrine, where the 12 Muqam (classical Sufi dance and song performance pieces that are a central Uyghur heritage form) were established. 

It is now clear that not only have the vast majority of Uyghurs been Muslim since the 11th century at least, but that the history of East Turkistan cannot be separated from that of the greater Muslim world. Like most Turkic Muslims, Uyghurs have traditionally belonged to Ahl as-Sunnah (the mainstream and overwhelming majority of Muslims), the legal school of Hanafism, and have immense love for the noble Ahl al-Bayt (family and descendants of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). Uyghurs had even established a maqam (shrine) dedicated to the 8th century scholar and descendant of the Prophet ﷺ, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq – through whom Habib Ali traces his lineage back to the Prophet ﷺ – near the town of Khotan in East Turkistan, which was destroyed by the CCP. If segments of Uyghur society are not practicing Muslims today, it is mostly due to the Communist repression since WWII, just as Soviet anti-religious repression led to the radical decrease in religious literacy and practice in neighbouring Turkic republics. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy and heartening to see that some of the Central Asian republics are currently experiencing a gradual revival of Islamic observance thanks to the demise of oppressive policies, hinting at how the Uyghur religious life could flourish if and when repressive policies in East Turkistan cease.

Before and After of Imam Jafari al-Sadiq shrine. L-R Dec 10 2013, April 20, 2019. 

Photograph: Google Earth/Planet Labs 

The systematic aggression with which the Chinese government has sought to stamp out the works produced by Uyghur scholars and the many ancient Muslim cities scattered across East Turkistan is evidence of their historical importance. From banning the publication of texts in the Uyghur language, closing all religious spaces, and transforming historic sites into propaganda centers for the dissemination of a sanitized, non-religious, and state-sponsored Uyghur identity, it is clear that the CCP feels not only threatened by Uyghur culture, but is aware of its power in maintaining a social fabric worthy of any independent nation. 

And with all of the aforementioned said, we pose the question: Even if the majority of Uyghurs were not Muslim as the shaykh incorrectly claimed, does this excuse Muslims elsewhere of their duty to stand against oppression? Over the course of his commentary on the plight of the Uyghur people, the shaykh himself asked the audience why we [Muslims] are only angry when China oppresses Uyghurs and not the Buddhist Tibetans. Not only does this question contradict his initial premise that the Uyghur community cannot be referred to as overwhelmingly Muslim, but also deeply confuses the listener: “Are we to fight against oppression, regardless of the religion of the oppressed, or not?” We would argue that it is not only an obligation for Muslims, but for all people to resist their own oppression and the oppression of others — especially if this oppression manifests as the criminalization of the most fundamental practices of a people’s faith, Islam in this case. The East Turkistani independence movement itself has always allied itself with those of the Tibetan, Palestinian, and Kashmiri people. It has been incorrectly posited by the shaykh that Uyghurs have only been oppressed for the last 3-5 years. While this is demonstrably false, through the decades-long occupation Uyghurs have faced, what is worse is that he makes this claim in order to draw a false equivalence (between East Turkistan and the Tibetan people) in the hopes of delegitimizing the plight and cause of those in East Turkistan. Worse still, is that when the shaykh is confronted with the truth of the 70+ long years of Chinese colonization of Uyghur lands, he contests its factuality by responding that if China were really so bad then we would see the individual politicians responsible for the colonization personally affected by the Chinese Coronavirus. We question the legitimacy of this apparently necessary correlation and will do so again later in this paper. Furthermore, now that we know that the Uyghur identity is as much an Islamic one as his own Arab identity and that Chinese oppression has been occurring for almost a century, do the scholar’s recommendations change? 

#2: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims that the question of Uyghur oppression is a political, not religious, one 

We would like to preface this section by making it clear that Islam rejects the false dichotomy between the religious and the secular. What is “political” is not necessarily devoid of religious significance, and what is “religious” is not necessarily apolitical. While the Sharia’s precepts pertaining to siyasah (governance and ‘urfi/customary-public law) are mostly general, with few exact prescriptions established by the sources of Sharia (al-adillah al-sharʿiyyah), Muslims have always conceived of politics as a space bound by Islamic morality and ethics, akhlāq. As with any other dimension of human life, a person’s moral culpability before God extends into the domain of the “political” just as it extends into the domain of the economic, familial, ritual, etc. 

While it is true that colonization is often understood as a political phenomenon and not a religious one, religion has featured prominently both as a pretext and the locus of subjugation in China’s crimes against the Uyghur people. China brands its campaign against the Uyghurs as a fight  against “Islamic extremism” in an attempt to ride on the coattails of the global “War on Terror” thereby garnering  sympathy for its policies — including the imprisonment of millions of Turkic peoples into concentration camps and prisons — and insulate itself from backlash it would otherwise face as a result of its inhumanity in East Turkistan. Like Modi’s India and many Western nations, China exploits the world’s frenzied paranoia surrounding “Muslim terror” to justify its crackdown on innocent Muslims.

“Ubiquitous scene on the streets of  #Xinjiang these days. Men and women (inc. the elderly) trudging around with enormous clubs, part of the ‘People’s War’ on terrorism.” – David Brophy, Nov 15th 2017 

We acknowledge, however, that if this matter was purely religious, and not political, we would see Hui Muslims, who do not have a territorial claim at stake, rounded up into concentration camps and being subject to the same forms of oppression Uyghurs and other Turkic people are. However, this is not the case. Huis have historically been left largely undisturbed for the sake of maintaining the CCP’s facade of religious acceptance — or at most they are subject to the usual disruptions any religious group faces under the anti-religious CCP. Historically, the Hui have been staunch supporters of the Chinese state, and even played a critical role in the dismantling of the first East Turkistan Republic of 1933 and the second of 1944.. This did not spare them, however, from the current religious crackdown they and other faith groups like Christians face, once again highlighting the inextricably religious dimension of the CCP’s supposedly merely “political” project. As though rounding up innocents into concentration camps and subjecting an entire people to violations of fundamental human rights as part of a larger campaign of ethnic cleansing and cultural destruction would be anything less than heinous, even if religion played no role in the matter.

Much of Uyghur and, by extension, all Central Asian Turkic identity, has centered on religion; Uyghurs and other Turks are Muslim, just like Malays have been Muslim based on historical development in the past millennium. Historically, up until the 1930s, Uyghurs were not commonly referred to as “Uyghurs” — they and other Turkic Muslims of East Turkistan were simply referred to as “Musulman” (Muslim), “Turki” (Turk), or “yerlik” (local). This truth further explains why China has been so adamant in removing religion from the lives of East Turkistanis — Islam is so critical to the history and culture of the Turkic presence that the CCP knows that, without it, East Turkistanis will be left weak and purposeless– easily converted into malleable forced worshippers of the party, and indistinguishable from the rest of China’s largely atheist, but nominally Confucian, Buddhist or Taoist Han majority. Not to mention that they are then exploited in China’s massive hypocritically capitalistic labour scheme — which most of Chinese masses also suffer from. 

Claiming that the oppression is not a religious matter implies that Muslims need not care about the Uyghurs out of religious concern, while in reality our blood should be boiling knowing that the rights of God and His worshippers are being violated by the CCP. Muslims around the world rightly condemn and stand in solidarity against zionist oppression in Palestine, though, by the shaykh’s standards, this would be appear a purely political project undeserving of collective Muslim outrage. The Israeli state-apparatus oppresses Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike. The CCP has singled out Muslims, however, especially those in East Turkistan, as the targets of their brutal project. Again, we see that this is both a religious and political issue against which all Muslims and conscientious human beings should speak and fight. Just as we all wish for the freedom of Palestine sooner rather than later, we should pray, speak, and fight for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in East Turkistan.

Practicing Islam is categorically forbidden in East Turkistan, despite China’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Islamic texts and names are banned, practicing most of the five pillars of Islam is forbidden, and centuries old Islamic institutions have been destroyed and converted into communist propaganda centers. Religious scholars (ulema) have disappeared, sentenced to life in prison, or killed.

These tragedies are never publicized within China’s borders — and their occurrence is aggressively denied by the Chinese media apparatus. Instead, the media tokenizes and highlights a few religious acts, in reality no more than complex theatrics which the government has directed in order to showcase the power of “CCP Islam”. Journalists and political actors from other countries, especially Muslim ones, are invited to East Turkistan to witness a beautiful charade of “harmony” and happiness that, in reality, is no more than an open air prison for the Uyghurs. Albanian academic and journalist, Dr Olsi Jazexhi, was one of these visitors, who later reflected on his experiences and observations on such a CCP-sponsored trip. He and other journalists toured many mosques with the CCP’s aim being to show to the outside world that there are mosques, and indeed religious freedom, in East Turkistan. Jazexhi recalls venturing into one of the mosques near Urumqi’s Grand Bazaar and finding only a store. He also recalls his visit to a concentration camp or what China calls a “vocational training center”:

“The center was in the middle of the desert. It was a kind of Alcatraz, and by its appearance, we were expecting to find some criminals, terrorists, and killers, and people who were dangerous to society. When we went there, the criminals presented us with a concert. These poor boys and girls who were being held there since many years. They were told to dance to me; Uyghur dance, Chinese dance, and Western dance. The authorities wanted us to film them only dancing and smiling and singing. They were all speaking Chinese, even though they were Uyghurs [sic].” 

Jazexhi, a dual Albanian and Canadian citizen, was later fired from his university position in Albania — demonstrating the reach of Chinese economic blackmail diplomacy. The professor was blacklisted by China due to his truthful reports on East Turkistan, highlighting the CCP’s suppression of criticism abroad, even within the context of academia, with its diplomatic and economic pressure. 

Scene from a staged tour of a ‘vocational training center’. Uyghur detainees are playing music to show  ‘harmony’ and ‘happiness’ inside the camps. Source: BBC 

Of course, this harmony would not be complete without the millions of Han Chinese who have been settled, with the aid of the government, within the borders of East Turkistan. While Uyghurs are systematically transported outside of the borders of their homeland and into mainland China to work as forced laborers or to be imprisoned and “reeducated”, it is hard to ignore the demographic erasure of Uyghurs in East Turkistan. As more and more Han Chinese are brought into Uyghur land to replace the displaced natives, the CCP razes ancient mosques, homes, and sanctuaries to make room for the new settlers. 

Photo from Gilles Sabrie: “Sledgehammer: The Chinese say Kashgar must be destroyed because it is susceptible to earthquakes” (TIME

These settlers act both as continuous reminders of the disappearance of Uyghur autonomy as well as wardens over the remaining Uyghur population. There have been many accounts of Han Chinese living with Uyghur families in their homes as “big siblings”— feeding the government information on the family’s every move and assisting in Uyghur imprisonment for even the smallest of religious offences. Aside from simple demographic engineering and ethnic cleansing, the Chinese program of destroying Uyghur cities and patrimony is intended to deracinate East Turkistanis from their culture and make them self-internalize that they are a people with no heritage, and to imprison them in easy-to-surveil panopticons with Han colonialists wardens. Destroying ancient cities and heritage is an old authoritarian communist strategy, reflecting the idea brillianty summarized by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that “to destroy a people you must first sever their roots.” 

Muhammad Salih Hajim (82), widely known as the first scholar to translate the Quran to modern Uyghur, is amongst one of the martyred and was killed in detention in January 2018. Source: RFA

One former prisoner, Adil Abdulghufur, in an interview with our co-author, Aydin Anwar, recounted how he was beaten unconscious by Chinese prison authorities and forced to wear a 25 kg cement block for a month hung by a thin string around his neck after saying “Bismillah” (in the name of God) in his sleep. Countless Uyghur women and men, who have been sent to camps and prisons due to religious practice have been raped, forcibly sterilized, drugged, and their bodies used for organ harvesting. Uyghurs are punished with long prison sentences; one Uyghur woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for promoting the wearing of headscarves, a Kazakh man was sentenced to 16 years in jail after Chinese authorities found audio recordings of the Quran on his computer, and several Uyghur refugees we have spoke with said that even saying the Muslim greeting Assalāmu Alaykum (Peace be upon you) can get them locked up for 10 years. Saying Insha’Allah (God-willing) is also prohibited. In one of the many documentaries published on the dystopian existence of the Uyghur people, VICE interviews a woman who states her charged crime was the learning of the Quran and the Arabic language. A man, later in the documentary, details how he was punished for refusing to eat pork even while imprisoned. By many accounts, the word God or Allah itself must be replaced with “Party” (Chinese Communist Party), or the name of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

Portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping shaking hands with Uyghur Imams placed in Kasghar’s historical Id Kah (Eidgah) mosque in East Turkistan. Note that the picture is facing the congregants in the direction of Muslim prayer – Qiblah. Source: David Brophy 

#3: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims the reason people are fighting for East Turkistan is because they do not want China to build the so-called ‘New Silk Road’ and become 2x as strong as America economically

This claim reduces the East Turkistani freedom movement to a China vs America binary– thereby completely erasing the decades of occupation East Turkistan has endured under China. In 1759, the Manchu Qing Empire invaded East Turkistan and made it its new colony. Uyghurs rebelled against Qing rule, and in 1863 were able to break free and establish Kashgaria under their leader Yaqub Khan, now known as East Turkistan. Two decades later, the Uyghurs were invaded by the Qing again, and, this time, the Uyghur homeland was formally incorporated under the Chinese empire as “Xinjiang”. Chinese nationalists overthrew the Manchu Qing Dynasty in 1911, putting East Turkistan under the rule of Nationalist China. The Uyghurs carried out numerous rebellions and were able to establish the East Turkistan Islamic Republic in 1933 and 1944, both of which briefly lasted before the Chinese government reoccupied the region through the military intervention and political interest of the Soviet Union. The most recent occupation started in 1949 when the Communist Party of China came to power, and since then, millions of East Turkistanis have been subject to various forms of brutal systematic genocide. 

The Declaration of Independence of the Islamic Republic of East Turkistan, November 12, 1933 Note: As is visible, the local ulema/scholars spearheaded the effort for independence.

It is deeply condescending to not only delegitimize the efforts of a Muslim people in standing against their oppressors, but to also deem them to be no more than American pawns. Indeed, Xi Jinping’s China seeks to continue solidifying Chinese hard power in East Turkistan while working towards the larger CCP strategic goal of establishing China as a global hegemonic power with a new Chinese-dominated global economic-political order, via the multi-trillion dollar One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative. This strategic-economic project — the largest the Eurasian Landmass ever seen — spanning over 70 countries via railroads, gas pipelines, and other infrastructure projects, is one of the greatest attempts of China to secure itself a superpower position in the 21st century. Without East Turkistan, deemed by the CCP the “Chinese gateway” to Eurasia and the West in general, the entire OBOR initiative’s immediate feasibility is truly brought into question. In addition to this strategic importance East Turkistan, the land of the Uyghurs is also extremely rich in oil, gas, and coal. According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, the region contains the second-highest natural gas reserves and highest oil reserves of any province-level jurisdiction of China, reportedly producing more than 30 BCM of natural gas in 2015. 

A statement that reduces the intention of the freedom movement to a simple modern economic enterprise further belittles the rich history of a people that once lived with centuries of independence, and its rightful effort to reclaim its full rights and freedom. The Uyghurs played a crucial role in establishing the Koktürk Khanate (552-744), the Uyghur Khanate (744-840), the Kara-Khanid Khanate (840-1212), Gansu Uyghur Kingdom (848-1036), and Idiqut State (856-1335). They lived co-independently in the Mongol Empire, even playing crucial roles in its administration through Gengiz Khan’s usage of the Uyghur yasa law system and the Uyghur script. After the Chagatai Khanate, East Turkistan was integrated into the Turkic-Muslim milieu of the larger Turkistan stretching from the Caspian to Mongolia including cities and polities like Bukhara, Samarkand, Kokand, etc. with scholars, traders and others moving east and west. Thus, it is truly ridiculous to understand the issue of Uyghur colonization solely through a lens of Sino-American politics. The colonization of East Turkistan began long before China was a real contender in the quest for international political-economic hegemony, and will continue –ceteris paribus– long after a change in the foreign policy of either the United States or China. The recent interest American politicians have taken in the plight of the Uyghurs has never even clearly crossed into the realm of East Turkistani independence– it is Uyghur, Turkic, Muslim, and anti-colonial activists who are at the forefront of the East Turkistani independence movement. Just as it was completely understandable that Afghans accepted American assistance in the fight against Soviet occupation, and that the Viet Cong accepted Chinese assistance to protect against American invasion on the other hand, the Uyghur crisis is so dire that the people are justly tempted to accept the assistance of any powerful nation against the century long Chinese oppression they have faced. Had China, under the yoke of CCP, not suffocated the Muslim peoples inhabiting East Turkistan, Uyghurs could maybe regard China differently…

The only way to secure Uyghurs and other East Turkistanis their essential rights — to practice their faith, operate economically, and take pride in their rich culture and history without fear of imprisonment, assault or death — is to secure the sovereignty of their occupied homeland. For many Uyghurs, the human rights/autonomy discourse is dead. The Chinese government has proven over the course of its long occupation that it can never guarantee Uyghurs the safety or the freedom they deserve. Although China claims Uyghurs to be one of its “proud 56 ethnic minorities”, it sees Uyghurs not only as foreigners, as made clear with their completely distinct language, history and culture, but also as existential threats to its despotic power. As internal but “foreign” threats, the Uyghur people have been imprisoned, enslaved, indoctrinated and murdered. There can be no going back after this horror. The only solution is for the Uyghur people, completely foreign to China, to formally exist outside of the jurisdiction of the Chinese government as their own nation.

#4: Al-Jifri asks how COVID-19 can be divine punishment if Communist Party authorities themselves remain untouched by the virus

While we agree with al-Jifri that we are in no position to state definitely whether any worldly occurrence is a direct act of Divine punishment, we question a few of the implications presented during the lecture. For example, the shaykh asks how the coronavirus pandemic can logically be considered Divine punishment if the individuals, who made the governmental decisions resulting directly in the oppression against Uyghurs, themselves remained unscathed by the virus. We respond: How can a virus which has debilitated the economy and social structure of a country, whose government is committing genocide against millions of colonized peoples, including millions of Muslims, not be? This article does not aim to delve into a metaphysical discussion on the nature of blame and culpability, but we can simply ask how the shaykh knows that none of those individuals he identifies did not fall ill. 

Additionally, we question why such a punishment could not target an entire corrupt regime — or even a complicit or apathetic populace — and not simply certain individuals, who he might deem actually culpable. 

The fact of the matter is this: We do not know how many of the Uyghurs who are trapped in concentration camps, prisons or forced labor factories, have been additionally subject to this seperate CCP oppression — a virus which only became as terrible of an international menace as it has due to the deception and inadequacy of the CCP. We hope their number is very low, but also understand that the illness of Uyghurs does not indicate that the CCP is any less problematic or morally horrific in its dealing with the virus and with the regime’s colonial holdings. The shaykh  also asks why other oppressors would not be more deserving of a plague such as this one. To this we repeat the shaykh’s  question to himself: Who are we to question God’s methods? The burning of the Amazon is not certainly a punishment for the South American nations whose borders it crosses, or it may be a punishment for humanity at large — we cannot know. 

It does not take an act of divine punishment for us to recognize the immorality of an action or event. We do not wait for lighting to strike us down before we realize we may have committed a misdeed. In the same way, we do not know if COVID -19 is divine punishment, but we do know that the oppression of Uyghurs is a moral outrage and requires immediate international action, especially from fellow Muslim brethren. 

 As previously noted, we do not seek to act as interpreters of God’s will. On the contrary, we only seek to act according to a well-established Islamic tradition of taking ʿibrah, a lesson derived from a moral experience, from what we observe in the world. Even while carefully performing this observation, we acknowledge that our derivations are zannī, or of uncertainty. This being said, we believe that our history and faith have so clearly called for justice and religious freedom that to ignore the direct suppression of Islam or Muslims, especially through means as violent and cruel as those practiced by the Chinese Communist Party, is to commit a definitive moral misdeed.

This kind of deduction by ulema and regular Muslims alike has been practiced for centuries. One pertinent example is of an individual named Mirza Ghulam of Qadiyan, who apostatized from Islam in the late 19th century as a claimant of prophethood, and experienced a rather gruesome death due to dysentery. His downfall has been commonly interpreted (taʾwīl) as punishment, for his attempting to act as a divinely ordained prophet of God. This kind of informed and qualified interpretation has been performed for centuries and is allowed for any individual so long as they ultimately believe in the finality of the Knowledge and the Will of God. W’Allāhu Aʿlam (God knows best).

Action Items & Closing Notes

We do not seek to find out the intention of Habib Ali al-Jifri’s speeches on the situation of our Uyghur brothers and sisters – he may have simply been misinformed. What we can do, however, is question the sources of his information and highlight the graveness of his actions and words. The fact of the matter is that millions of Muslims are detained by China for committing simple acts of faith that people elsewhere have the pleasure of doing each and every day– including saying “Bismillah” before they take a bite of food. As we observe Ramadan currently, it is devastating to think of the Uyghurs, who are forced to eat and drink, let alone drink alcohol and eat pork, during the holy month to prove their “innocence” from Islam to the Chinese government. While we sit with our families and break our fast, Uyghurs and other Turkic people suffer silently in thousands of prisons and labor camps far from their families. 

This scholar, or those who have misinformed him, have not only dismissed the CCP’s violations against our religion and the Ummah at large, but have also attempted to disincentivize hundreds of thousands of free Muslims from aiding the Uyghur people in their plight against the CCP.

We ask that you to pray that the oppression of the Uyghur people ceases as soon as possible; but also urge you to boycott Chinese or Chinese-made products likely to be reliant on Uyghur slave labor; to actively spread the word on the suffering of East Turkistan; and to build interest groups and networks to pressure governments to lower their dependency on China, while increasing economic and political collaboration between Muslim people. Change starts with and around each and every one of us; inquire about Uyghur-East Turkistani exiles in your area and country, and organize your communities to help stranded Uyghur orphans, students and other disadvantaged individuals survive as Muslim Uyghur people with their culture. Lobby for issuing Uyghurs passports and securing Uyghur emigres refugee-asylee status and protection. Stop “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China. Call for a united diplomatic effort of Muslim, Arab, and/or Turkic and others concerned for freedoms countries against China’s atrocities. They should act according to inter-state relations and not as slavish would-be vassal states, and hold a respectable diplomatic stand vis-à-vis China from our countries.

We ask that you get your universities involved by both raising awareness on campus as well as by assessing your university’s relationship with China. Check to see if your school has a Confucius or China Institute. These entities often serve as a public educational arm of the Chinese government abroad, and are controlled by the CCP — thereby enabling them to exercise soft power all over the world. Insist that these institutes make a statement and acknowledge the atrocities faced by those in East Turkistan, and call them out if they do not. Call for a double background check for Chinese researchers lest they actually be informants as often happens in the U.S. Countless events and panels discussing the horrors committed by the CCP have been canceled by universities around the world due directly to Chinese pressure. Call for university endowments to divest from China. Finally, call on your school to increase funding for Uyghur/Turkistani studies and to set up scholarships and grants to assist exiled Uyghur students and scholars — their lived experiences are essential to hear, accept, and make sure fewer people have to go through again. 

 It is important to ensure the political and economic independence of academia– without which generations of students will maintain worldviews colored by propaganda and complicit in the oppression of millions. Insist that your school cuts ties with Chinese bodies violating academic freedoms, similar to how Cornell cut ties with a Chinese university. Hold your universities accountable regardless if they are directly complicit in, or just silent on, the human rights abuses China commits. Demand that these important institutions divest from these China and the CCP. 

We have seen large-scale protests across the Muslim world, especially in countries, whose governments have remained silent against the oppression in East Turkistan for fear of Chinese retribution, and hope to see even more people push their governments to pressure the CCP. The shaykh encourages members of the audience to maintain an Islamic guiding moral principle and to act on it. We agree with this wholeheartedly — but we vigorously disagree with his calls to (in)action. Instead of focusing only on ourselves and our individual economic and academic developments, we also hope to fight for the Uyghur and other Turkic people’s ability to do the same — to practice their faith, live without fear of imprisonment, and in a homeland that is formally their own. This is not a hopeless cause– our voices can and must be heard, inshAllah. 

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ رضي الله عنه قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِنْ قَامَتْ عَلَى أَحَدِكُمْ الْقِيَامَةُ وَفِي يَدِهِ فَسْلَةٌ فَلْيَغْرِسْهَا

From Anas Ibn Malik, Allah be pleased with him: The Prophet Muhammad, the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him, said: if the day of judgement is upon you, and in your hand is a seed, plant it. 

Action Items:

  1. Keep making Dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world
  2. Boycott Chinese products– do not be complicit in slave-labour
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause, learn more at
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China
  5. Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui, Christian or Tibetan Buddhist
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by either citizenship or refugee-asylee status. Stop the “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China! 
  9. Get your universities-endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies.

Dislclaimer: The authors acknowledge Habib Ali’s willingness to retract his statements, and appreciate his dua for the oppressed Uyghur when faced with rightful criticism. However, the retraction came to our attention towards the very end (on May 12, article published May 14) of writing the piece (a month long process) and despite being a welcome move, does not remove the falsehood of most of his takes. He only corrects the first item from his otherwise totally-problematic takes. After an online correspondence with Uyghur activist Abdulghani Thabit, Habib Ali only corrected his statement number 1 from the longer talk. The three other misleading takes remain and were thus addressed in the piece. The authors tried their best to give all due respect to someone who dons the mantle of ‘scholar’. Our intention is not to attack Habib Ali or any other scholar, rather we seek to use his misleading commentary (corrected albeit in part by the Shaykh later) as a segue into educating the largely ignorant Muslim masses susceptible to Chinese propaganda on Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause.

Here is a condensed Arabic version of this article translated by Imam Abdul Jabbar

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Podcast: Revisiting Women-Only Tarawih | Ustadha Umm Sara

I still remember the first time I heard of a women-only Tarawih congregation. I was about 10 years old and my father had told me that Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (1914–1999), a prominent Indian Hanafi scholar of the past century, had written a book about his mother (d. 1968) who was a hafidha (memorizer of the Quran) and had mentioned she would lead women in Tarawih. Shaykh Nadwi had written:

“What a beautiful era it was when they (his mother and aunts) all would recite one juz each in Tarawih. They would follow the fatwa of some scholars and have their own congregation in which there would be a woman Imam and women followers. Their Tarawih congregation would go on from after Isha till almost Suhoor time. All of them would recite Qur’an very beautifully with impeccable pronunciation. If it’s not disrespectful I would say that they recited better and more accurately than many of today’s scholars. Their heartfelt passion and natural melody would add even more beauty to this. I recall one time I stood for a long time watching my mother recite as she was leading Tarawih. It felt as if rain was descending from the heavens. I still have not forgotten the beauty of that moment.” (Nadwi, 1974).

The full original piece that this podcast is based on may be read here.

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Podcast recorded and produced by Zeba Khan

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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