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Where is the Modern Fatima al-Fihri? The Need for Educational Endowments

If planned correctly, it is not unimaginable for the vast majority of mosques within North America to be self-sufficient within the next twenty years or so.

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As we strolled through the winding streets of Fez on a Saturday night during a recent trip, a friend pointed to a house tucked away in one of the alleys and remarked, “That’s the house of the woman who gives every student at the Qarawiyyeen 200 dirhams as a gift each year.”

“It’s true – I collected the amount myself,” added a former student we were with. “She also gets everyone measured up and gifts each student a personally tailored jallabah and a pair of shoes.”

‘That’s love – not charity,’ I thought to myself. Love for sacred knowledge, for those who possess it and those who pursue it.

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‘The Qarawiyeen Mosque – founded in 245 AH by Fatima al-Fihri‘, reads a plaque adorning one of the awe-inspiring gates of the hallowed centre; Fatima’s endeavour too was one of love. Shortly after, her sister Mariyam al-Fihri, feeling left behind perhaps, rushed to establish her own mosque and seminary in the newly founded city of Fez. The Andalous Mosque, as it came to be known, also became a center of religious learning and left its mark on the city’s intellectual heritage.

It is because of individuals like these that institutions of learning flourished for over a millennium in the Muslim world. There was an ineffable esteem for knowledge amongst Muslims; it was perhaps this deep love that drove individuals to selflessly spend and endow in the path of religious education. To this day, students at the Qarawiyyen received full financial support thanks to the endowments the school has accumulated over the ages.

It saddens me as I contrast these generous gestures of past to the faltering financial situation of Muslim educational institutions back in North America. Fundraising, unfortunately, is the one thing that occupies the hearts and minds of leaders at the handful of seminaries across US and Canada. Their precious time is often consumed in organizing the unending fundraising dinners, appeals at conferences and the perpetual campaigns needed to meet yearly expenses.

There are far too many stories of debt-ridden scholars having to rely on odd jobs to make ends meets, of students of knowledge returning home after years of study to work at some shopping mall, of unpaid employees at Muslim institutions due to lack of funds.

The few institutions that are financially stable resort to charging students hefty tuition rates and have unfortunately barred the masses from access to sacred knowledge – knowledge that was traditionally offered without any financial barriers.

Students striving to study the sacred sciences formally still have to go abroad; often at great personal and financial risk to themselves. Despite the immense need, avenues for an affordable and comprehensive religious education remain extremely limited – an education that encompasses everything from Quran memorization to Arabic to advanced competency in the Islamic sciences.

Lack of communal support for establishing such schools means that scholars have had to resort to providing part-time education through avenues such as weekend seminars, summer intensives and online-courses. This approach naturally caters to part-time students with part-time ambitions and its scholarly output is many times understandably sub-par as well.

A lack of concern and vision

It would be too simple to say that ‘the money isn’t there’. There’s more than enough money in the community to generously fund educational projects such as a seminary or a college – without respectable scholars having to stand in front of a crowd and perpetually ask for donations.

Anyone that’s worked as a fundraiser knows the wealth the community has been blessed with. Magnanimous gestures of generosity have helped lay foundations for projects like masajid, Islamic schools and NGO’s; these institutions continue to run as a result of continued fiscal commitments from the community.

The problem primarily arises because of our community failing to collectively recognize the need for establishing seminaries that produce scholars for generations to come. The progression from investing in mosques to seminaries should have been a natural one; that progression unfortunately never became a reality.

The general lack of the concern for sound religious knowledge is a global Muslim phenomenon and no doubt it is to blame partially for this issue. However, in the case of North America, the problem is self-inflicted in many ways and goes back to the leadership in our communities – in particular, the leadership at our mosques.

Whereas virtually all historical seminaries in the Muslims world were associated with the large mosques of the city, our seminaries largely have been independent ventures of cash-strapped scholars and students. These brave souls have decided to independently take on the daunting challenge of establishing the intellectual backbone of the community – often times with very little support from the existing communal infrastructure that mosques have to offer.

Once established, these educational institutes run their own programming, marketing campaigns and fundraising events – often times offering redundant services to that of the mosque and competing for access to the same congregation. The healthy ecosystem needed for both the seminary and mosque to mutually benefit often does not exist; an ecosystem where the mosque benefits from the educational output of seminaries and where seminaries benefit from access to the mosques congregation and donor base.

The road to endowments

Establishing self-sustaining seminaries goes hand in hand with creating self-sustaining mosques; the financial strain of maintaining mosques is arguably the primary reason for the stagnated development of other Muslim institutions. Ideally, fundraising activities at the mosque should be used to support other vital organizations that simply don’t have access to the large congregation that frequents the mosque. Educational institutions should be foremost on that list, followed by under funded non-profits such as Muslim lobby groups, chaplaincy programs, publishing houses or artistic establishments.

For their own upkeep, mosques should work towards becoming self-sustaining by establishing profitable endowments and engaging in other revenue generation activities. The current model used by most mosques of relying largely on donations to meet annual expenses is highly inefficient and prevents communal investments into other much needed institutions.

In addition, such heavy reliance on donations has disallowed the mosque itself to develop as a formidable institution. For example, the Imam’s office largely remains a poorly paid position, often a part-time job, with little to no benefits and often entails highly stressful working conditions. How many in the future will aspire to become Imams if the position fails to even promise a decent wage and a dignified lifestyle?

Again, the non-existence of endowment based mosques results due to the lack of a vision – not lack of resources. Fundraising models at mosques have been essentially the same for the past several decades. Why haves fundraisers not organized ‘endowment drives’ where congregants are asked to pledge a percentage of their estate for an endowment fund?  Mosques should offer services to help draft up people’s wills in a way that allows them to contribute to such a fund; every mosque should also have a known workflow for anyone wanting to leave property behind for the mosque – we need to be ‘endowment conscious’. Consider the number of funerals each month at a mosque – imagine how many of those deceased souls would have wished to leave behind money for a trust fund for the sake of perpetual charity (sadaqa jariya).

Educational institutions should also work towards establishing such endowments simultaneously with mosques. However, given their inaccessibility to a large audience, it would be more effective for mosques in each community to direct a percentage of monthly collections to a seminary of their choice. Working towards creating self-sustaining mosques and religious seminaries should be a communal priority. This effort will also create employment opportunities and allow us to build professional expertise in endowment and non-profit management; areas of expertise critically needed in our community.

Naturally, there isn’t one cookie cutter solution for fiscal self-sufficiency that applies to all mosques. It obviously isn’t practical to work on endowments for mosques still under debt or those too small to manage their own endowment. However, even medium sized mosques can raise sufficient amounts for a fund if they set out an organized five to ten year fundraising plan; small mosques could create co-operatives and establish shared endowments. Engaging in managing properties left for the mosque is a simple way even small congregations can work towards revenue generation from rental income. This is something many mosques are already engaged in—the practice needs to become more widespread.

If planned correctly, it is not unimaginable for the vast majority of mosques within North America to be self-sufficient within the next twenty years or so. This process should gradually also lead to increased communal investments into endowments for religious seminaries and other critical institutions. Once our leadership creates an active and vocal plan for the establishment of endowments, it is likely going to create an impetus for wealthy donors who can independently endow to also step-up.

An Imam once told me about a wealthy individual who consistently would donate about $200,000 independently every year to the mosque. There are hundreds of such silent individuals in the community whose wealth, if channeled correctly, can help create longer-term sustainable institutions. Holding congregants hostage for fundraising in Ramadan shouldn’t be a custom our future generations still have to bear – we need to find ways to eliminate it. Our scholars too need to focus their energies on educating and addressing the pressing needs of the community – travelling to fundraising dinners shouldn’t be their primary occupation. Students of knowledge crowdfunding for tuition and living expenses should be a thing of the past. We still have an opportunity to turn around the stint of poor fiscal management in our community; let’s act before it’s too late.

 

Waleed Ahmed writes on current affairs and politics for MuslimMatters. He focuses on Muslim minorities, human rights and the Middle-Eastern conflict. Based out of Montreal, he's currently pursuing a Ph.D. at McGill University in fundamental physics. Waleed spends his spare time playing basketball, snowboarding and praying for Jon Stewart to run in the next presidential election.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Aliya

    August 18, 2015 at 11:46 AM

    What is the set up plan to make mosques and educational institutions self sustainable then? Setting up of a waqf can be a start but that requires start up funds too. We somehow need to get out of the fundraising loop.

  2. Avatar

    Manna

    August 18, 2015 at 12:23 PM

    Masajid need to raise funds to invest in something that regularly will give them back money like a business. InshaAllah there would be multiple benefits to this:

    1) Pretty regular/reliable income if the right business is started or purchased
    2) Ability to employ Muslims from that very masjid in the business
    3) Free up people’s money and time to focus on longer-term projects

    I know of some masajid with hundreds of thousands just sitting there… waiting until they reach maybe a $1 million so they can start their next expansion project so money sits for many many years doing almost nothing (unless they lend it to other masajid to help their building efforts) as the money goes down in value as inflation increases maybe 3% each year.

  3. Avatar

    Engin Gürelli

    August 18, 2015 at 5:43 PM

    “Fatima and her sister Mariam, both of whom were well educated, inherited a large amount of money from their father. Fatima vowed to spend her entire inheritance on the construction of a mosque suitable for her community.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatima_al-Fihri

    Actually calling it as mosque is wrong from my view. ALLAH named the place as “mescid/mascid” with HIS WORDS in Quran.

    “Mascid” and “Sajda” are related words due to their Arabic roots : http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=sjd#(9:108:5)

    I believe Fatima did good things with her money, which is build a “Mascid” and “Madrasa”

    Madrasa : is the Arabic word for any type of educational institution. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madrasa

    Surely only ALLAH knows truth, ALLAH is the All-Knowing.

    20:98 Your ilah/god is only ALLAH, there is no ilah/god but HE; HE comprehends all things in (HIS) knowledge.

    • Avatar

      Ali

      August 20, 2015 at 3:19 PM

      Assalamu alaikum

      There are Muslim organizations who probably have a LOT of money just sitting. In fact I know one major one as I have seen their statements. It’s in millions.

      This money can be used to purchase real estate and put it out all on rent. The cash inflow will be enormous, inshaAllah. This is probably the most halal and best endowment method.

  4. Avatar

    Noon

    August 22, 2015 at 2:19 AM

    Great article.
    Every where the major problem is a person problem.

    We need to deal with the ego, the nafss and the behavior as a major issue in masajid or any muslim institution.

    Unfortunately , it is to be said that masajid are oftenly run run by the older generation not necessarely aware of all the accurate methods of management

    • Avatar

      Qasuikm

      August 29, 2015 at 1:19 PM

      that why the solution to all this is authentic Tazkiya. When ppl r purified, there more worth and honourable of running well whatever they may control.

      otherwise itll remain a personal problem, an individual uncontrolable problem ie addictions, family problems, social problems.
      how is such a person expected to run well and behave honourable with a medressa/masjid or any ‘nafl’ work of deen

  5. Avatar

    Abdul

    August 24, 2015 at 4:51 PM

    Barakallahu Feek

    This was a great article mashallah

    If you create a donation link and put it in the article I am sure we can raise some money right now to go towards helping muslim students of deen

    Jazakallah khair

  6. Avatar

    Hj. Umar

    October 11, 2015 at 5:48 AM

    Assalamu aleikum.

    The masajid should follow the basic idea behind Harvard’s fund that allows practically every student to attend free despite the enormous sticker price – obviously, without the riba. A major growth fund following halal principles would be the perfect vehicle not only for financing masajid, but for many other useful purposes, such as furnishing a free university education to Muslim kids.

    note: the website I’ve linked is obviously not mine, I’ve provided it for those unfamiliar with the concept.

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Why I Turned to Tech to Catch Laylatul Qadr

Make sure you maximize your sadaqah

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By Ismael Abdela

My life, just like yours, is sooo busy. So naturally, as the tech nerd I am, I turn to tech to help me manage my regular routine including project management apps to manage my daily tasks. I even have a sleeping app that wakes me up at the optimum time (whatever that means!). But even though tech has changed everything in all sectors and helped make efficiencies in my daily life, it had had little impact on my religious activities.

A few years ago, whilst I was preparing for the last 10 nights of Ramadan, it hit me – why doesn’t something exist that automates my donations during these blessed nights to catch Laylatul Qadr. Rather than putting a reminder on my phone to bring out my bank card every night and inputting it into a website – why doesn’t something exist that does it for me, solving the problem of me forgetting to donate. After all we are human and it’s interesting that the Arabic word for human being is ‘insan’ which is derived from the word ‘nasiya’ which means ‘to forget.’ It is human nature to forget.

So the techie in me came out and I built the first scrappy version of MyTenNights, a platform to automate donations in the last 10 nights of Ramadan (took two weeks) because I wanted to use it myself! I thought it would be cool and my friends and family could use it too. That same year, nearly 2000 other people used it – servers crashed, tech broke and I had to get all my friends and Oreo (my cat) to respond to email complaints about our temperamental site!

I quickly realised I wasn’t alone in my need  – everyone wanted a way to never miss Laylatul Qadr! Two years down the line we’ve called it MyTenNights, and our team has grown to 10, including Oreo, senior developers, QA specialists, brand strategists, creative directors and more. It fast became a fierce operation – an operation to help people all over the world catch Laylatul Qadr!

Last year alone we raised almost $2 million in just 10 days – and that was just in the UK. We’ve now opened MyTenNights to our American, Canadian. South African and Australian brothers and sisters and we’re so excited to see how they use it! We’ve made it available through all the biggest house name charities – Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Helping Hand, Penny Appeal, you name it! All donations go directly to the charity donors choose – all 100% of it.

Looking back at the last couple of years – it feels surreal: The biggest charities in the world and tens of thousands of users who share my need to be certain they’ve caught Laylatul Qadr. Although I hear many impressed with the sheer amount MyTenNights has raised for charity (and that excites me too!), it’s not what motives me to go on. What excites me most is the growing number of people who catch Laylatul Qadr because we made it easier.

I often tell my team that the number of people that use MyTenNights is the only metric we care about, and the only metric we celebrate. It makes no difference to us whether you donate $1 or a million – we just want you to catch Laylatul Qadr and for you to transform your Akhirah, because (after Allah) we helped you do it.

To catch Laylatul Qadr with MyTenNights, visit their website MyTenNights.com

Ismael Abdela is a Law & Anthropology graduate from the London School of Economics. He spent some years studying Islamic Sciences in Qaseem, Saudi Arabia. He is now a keen social entrepreneur. Ismael likes to write about spiritual reflections, social commentary, and tafsīr. He is particularly interested in putting religion in conversation with the social sciences.

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How Do Muslims Plan for Disability

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Families with children with disability have an extraordinary set of challenges and blessings.  Disability (or special needs) is a broad term.

Many disabilities will prevent what we often think of as “normal.”  It may hinder or prevent educational opportunities, and employment. Many people with “special needs” can get educated, get married and live long and productive lives.  The problem for many parents of younger children with special needs is that they typically have no certainty about their children’s future needs. Even if the situation looks dire, it may not stay that way.  

How do parents plan for a world where they may not be around to see how things will end up for their special needs children?  What can they do to help their children in a way that does not violate Islamic Inheritance rules?

Certain types of disability, especially the loss of executive decision-making ability, could also happen well into adulthood.  This can be a threat to a family’s wealth and be the cause of internal conflicts. This is the kind of thing every adult needs to think about before it happens.  

The Problem

The issues are not just that parents believe their special needs child will need more inheritance than other children. Muslim parents usually don’t think that. Some parents don’t want their special needs child to get any inheritance at all.  Not because of any ill-will against their special needs child; just the opposite, but because they are afraid inheritance will result in sabotaging their child’s needs-based government benefits.    

Many, perhaps most special needs children do not have any use for needs-based benefits (benefits for the poor).  But many do, or many parents might figure that it is a distinct possibility. This article is a brief explanation of some of the options available for parents of special needs children.  It won’t go over every option, but rather those that are usually incorporated as part of any Islamic Estate Planning.

Please Stand By

Example:  Salma has three daughters and two sons.  One of her children, Khalida, 3, has Down Syndrome.  At this point, Salma knows that raising Khalida is going to be an immense challenge for herself, her husband Rashid and all the older siblings.  What she does not know, however, is what specific care Khalida is going to need through her life or how her disability will continue to be relevant. She does not know a lot about Khalida’s future marriage prospects, ability to be employed and be independent, though obviously like any parent she has nothing but positive hopes for her child’s life.   

In the event of her death, Salma wants to make sure her daughter gets her Islamic right to inheritance.  However, if Khalida needs public benefits, Salma does not want her daughter disqualified because she has her own money.

Her solution is something called a “stand-by special needs trust.” This type of trust is done in conjunction with an Islamic Inheritance Plan and is typically part of a living trust, though it could also be a trust drafted into the last will.  I will describe more about what a special needs trust is below. For Salma, she is the Trustee of her trust. After she dies, she names her husband (or someone else) the successor Trustee. The trust is drafted to prevent it from becoming an “available resource” used to determine eligibility for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid and other benefits that go with that.

If it turns out that Salma passes away when Khalida is 5, and her assets are held in trust for her until she is 18 and her Trustee determines she does not need a special needs trust, she will get her inheritance precisely like everyone else based on their Islamic right.  If she does need benefits, the Trustee will only make distributions to Khalida that would not harm her eligibility.

This way, there is no need to deny Khalida her inheritance because of her disability, and she is also making sure giving her daughter inheritance would not harm her daughter’s healthcare or other necessary support.  

Munir Vohra is a special needs advocate and an athlete

The Shape of Special Needs Trusts

A stand-alone Special needs trusts, which is sometimes called a “supplemental needs trust” the kind without the “stand-by” variation I described above, are a standard device for families that have children with special needs. A trust is a property ownership device. A Grantor gives the property to a Trustee, who manages the property for the benefit of a beneficiary. In a revocable living trust, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary are typically the same person.  

When the trust is irrevocable, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary may all be different people. In a special needs trust, the person with a disability is the beneficiary. Sometimes, the person with a disability is also the Grantor, the person who created the trust.  This might happen if there is a settlement from a lawsuit for example and the person with special needs wants it to be paid to the trust.  

In many if not most cases, the goal may not be to protect the beneficiary’s ability to get public benefits at all. Many people with a disability don’t get special government benefits.  But they do want to protect the beneficiaries from having to manage the assets. Some people are just more susceptible to abuse.

The structure of the arrangement typically reflects the complexity of the family, the desire of siblings and extended family to continue to be involved in the care and attending to the needs of the person with a disability, even if they are not the person directly writing checks.   

Example: Care for Zayna

Example: Zayna is a 24-year-old woman with limited ability to communicate, take care of her needs and requires 24-hour care.  Zayna has three healthy siblings, many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her father, Elias, earns about $70,000 per year and is divorced. Zayna’s mother Sameena cannot contribute, as she is on social security disability. However, Zayna’s adult brother and sisters, brother in laws, sister in law and several aunts, uncles want to help Zayna meet her needs E.lyas creates a third party special needs trust that would ensure Zayna has what she needs in the years to come.

Zayna receives need-based public benefits that are vital to her in living with her various disabilities and her struggle to gain increasing independence, knowledge and dignity.  So the trust needs to be set up and professionally administered to make sure that when Zayna gets any benefit from her trust, it does not end up disqualifying her ability to get any needs-based benefit.  

Contributions to the special needs trust will not go against Islamic Inheritance rules unless made after the death of the donor.

If Zayna dies, her assets from the special needs trust will be distributed based on the Islamic rules of inheritance as it applies to her.

When disability planning is not about Public Benefits

Perhaps most families with special needs children do not use any needs-based public assistance.  They are still concerned about special needs and planning for it.

Example:  Khadija, 16, is on the autism spectrum. For those familiar with the autism spectrum, that could mean a lot of things.  For her parents, Sarah and Yacoob, other than certain habits that are harmless and easy to get used to, it means Khadija is very trusting of people. Otherwise, she does well in school, and her parents don’t think she needs way more help than her siblings and she has just as good a chance of leading a healthy and productive life as any 16-year-old girl.  

The downside of being too trusting is that the outside world can exploit her.  If she ends up getting inheritance or gifts, she may lose it. The parents decide that when she gets her inheritance, it will be in a trust that would continue through her life.  There will be a trustee who will make sure she has what she needs from her trust, but that nobody can exploit her.

In some ways, what Khadija’s parents Sarah and Yacoob are doing is not so different from what parents might do if they have a child with a substance abuse problem.  They want to give their child her rights, but they don’t want to allow for exploitation and abuse.

Considering your own needs

There are many people who are easy marks for scammers, yet you would be unlikely to know this unless you are either a close friend or family member, or a scammer yourself.  While this often happens to the elderly, it can happen at just about any age. Everyone should consider developing an “incapacity plan” to preserve their wealth even if they lose their executive decision-making ability.   

There is this process in state courts known as “conservatorship.” Indeed, entire courtrooms dedicate themselves to conservatorships and other mental health-related issues.  It is a legal process that causes an individual to lose their financial or personal freedom because a court has essentially declared them not competent to handle their affairs. Conservatorships are a public process.  They can cause a lot of pain embarrassment and internal family strife.

One of the benefits of a well-drafted living trust is to protect privacy and dignity during difficult times.

Example: Haris Investing in Cambodian Rice Farms

Haris, 63, was eating lunch at a diner.  In the waiting area, he became fast friends with Mellissa; a thirty-something woman who was interested in talking about Haris’s grandchildren.  The conversation then turned Melissa and her desire to start a business selling long distance calling cards. Haris was fascinated by this and thought it made good business sense. Haris gave Mellissa $20,000.00. The two exchanged numbers. The next day, Mellissa’s number was disconnected.

Haris’s wife, Julie became alarmed by this.  It was out of character for her husband to just fork over $20,000 to anyone on the spur of the moment.  What was worse is that the business failed immediately.  

Three months later,  Haris meets Mellissa at the diner again.  She then convinces Haris to invest $50,000 in a Cambodian rice farm, which he does right away.   His wife Julie was pretty upset.

How living trusts helps

As it happened though, Haris, a few years before, created a living trust.  It has a provision that includes incapacity planning. There are two essential parts to this:  The first is a system to decide if someone has lost their executive decision-making ability. The second is to have a successor Trustee to look over the estate when the individual has lost this capacity.  This question is about Haris’s fundamental freedom: his ability to spend his own money.

If you asked Haris, he would say nothing is wrong with him.  He looks and sounds excellent. Tells the best dad jokes. He goes to the gym five times a week and can probably beat you at arm wrestling. Haris made some financial mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes.

Julie, and his adult children Haroon, Kulsum, Abdullah, and Rasheeda are not so sure it’s just a mistake.  The living trust created a “disability panel.” This panel gets to vote, privately, in if Haris should continue to act as Trustee of his own money.  If they vote that he should not manage his own money, his wife does it for him.

The family has a way to decide an important and sensitive issue while maintaining Haris’ dignity, privacy and wealth.   Haris’s friends don’t know anything about long distance calling cards or a Cambodian rice farm; they don’t know he lost his ability to act as Trustee of his trust.  Indeed the rest of the world is oblivious to all of this.

Planning for everyone

Islamic inheritance is fard and every Muslim should endeavor to incorporate it into their lives.  As it happens it is an obligation Muslims, at least those in the United States, routinely ignore or deal with inadequately.  However, there is more to planning than just what shares go to whom after death. Every family needs to create a system. There may or may not be problems with children or even with yourself (other than death, which will happen), but you should do whatever you can to protect your family’s wealth and dignity while also fulfilling your obligations to both yourself and your family.

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Should Spiritual Leaders Who Violate Our Trust Be Forgiven?

Some people want to move past the indiscretions of community leaders quickly as though they never occurred while others wish to permanently blacklist them. This article examines a third option between the two that can be a win-win for the fallen leader, the victims, and the community.

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In the past couple of years, a number of simmering scandals among spiritual leaders became public knowledge and the subject of vigorous and often painful public debate.  As someone who has worked in the community dawah space the past 15 years, often acting as a bridge between past and present microcelebrity as well as non-celeb teachers to the community at large, one question I’ve been asked repeatedly – should community leaders who violate our trust be forgiven?  I’m often asked by people who aren’t fanboys / fangirls taken by microcelebrity dawah culture or wearing spiritual blinders for non-celebs, and often don’t even understand what has occurred.  Below I share answers I have heard as well as what I believe is fair and pragmatic in many (not all) situations.

Answer #1:  Yes, We Must Forgive Them

One group of people argue we should completely forgive them. No one is perfect, everyone is human and makes mistakes.  If we assume the mistake was truly made, then we should also forgive them and move on. Our faith is replete with statements about Allah’s Mercy, and if we want His Mercy, surely we should also give it to others. Oftentimes, members who fall into this group don’t actually believe the person in question is at fault and are trying to convince others either on the fence or against the individual to let it go. Of course, there are some who believe the violation occurred and not think it a big deal, while others may think the violation indeed was a big deal, and should still be forgiven. I can agree with some aspects of this, but not completely.

Answer #2:  No, They Should Never Be Forgiven

Another group believes that once a person commits a violation of trust, they are no longer to be trusted again. They should leave their positions and be ostracized from the community permanently. They are to be tarred and feathered and made an example of for life.  Members within this group oftentimes don’t need to wait for evidence to arrive at any conclusion – they were judge, jury, and executioner well before there was a trial.  Not all members are like this, of course – some waited for evidence and then reached their conclusions that the gravity of the charges was too much and therefore the person should never be forgiven.

Answer #3:  It Depends – Forgive Them If They Take Ownership and Make Amends

In my view, the problem with the first group is they don’t often see that the person did anything wrong, or if they did, it’s trivial relative to the khayr, the good and benefit they bring to the community. They keep citing that Allah is forgiving, so we should forgive automatically, but in their haste, they forget that part of the process of making restitution is first sincerely regretting what one has done.

To sincerely regret, one must also move out of denial and into acceptance that they made a mistake. Once one admits failure, they can then ask to be forgiven, and then the aggrieved party is in a position to grant it. The community forgiving and re-integrating a person who refuses to take responsibility for their wrongdoing does neither them, their victims, nor the community any good. We continue to distrust the person and they continue to believe they can get away with whatever they wish because they are “special”. Victims fear community integration, everyone becomes cynical about religion, and the cause of calling people to become better worshippers of Allah is harmed.

On the flip side, the second group is far too extreme in their view of justice. To ostracize that person and leave them no path of return means they have no means to redeem themselves, and de facto their families are casualties who must deal with the fallout of being pushed out of the community. I agree that none of us are perfect, and we all often make egregious mistakes. In my own experience, there are many instances where activists who advocate publicly for better are often involved privately in worse than those they go after.

That being the case, there is no person that can’t be forgiven, and I would say we shouldn’t leave aside this possibility in our dealings with those who fail us just as we expect it when we ourselves fall short, sometimes seriously so. I would add that we would lose the skills and talent of that person – if we believe in allowing people with criminal histories back into the general population and providing them with opportunities to become productive, reformed citizens, I don’t see why we wouldn’t offer the same to our community and religious leaders.

The key I believe is in following a process which includes the following for the individual:

  1. Taking ResponsibilityThey own responsibility for the mistake and acknowledge it was made.  No amount of denial, minimization, and spin will suffice.
  2. Make Restitution:  First and foremost, they apologize and make amends as best they can with the victims.  If the issue went public, then they should apologize to those they were serving as a leader for their mistake as well. This includes handling financial compensation.
  3. Remediating Oneself:  Enroll in counseling, therapy, mentorship, and / or group support programs to help them overcome their issues.
  4. Being Held Accountable:  Work with others on concrete milestones of both behavior and programs that demonstrate their commitment to change.  Be able to show the community that they take reformation seriously and are committed to coming out of their mistake a better person, one who can even advise others of the mistake and how not to repeat it.

As someone who has worked in dawah and supported the ascension of numerous modern-day microcelebrity spiritual scholars and teachers, I and others like me act as a bridge between them and the community.  I do not speak for all of them, certainly, but I know that any leader who tries to re-integrate into the community without taking responsibility will continue to find that many will not support them. Most, in this case, feel a sacred duty to oppose their elephant-in-the-room integration to protect the community at large.

Likewise, I know that many like myself would be willing to overlook and forgive such individuals if they took responsibility for their behavior and demonstrated they were taking concrete steps to make amends for their mistakes.  The month of Ramadan is upon us, and sometimes one just has to rip the band-aid off, go through the process of feeling the pain of scrutiny for owning up, and then moving forward to forgiveness.  I won’t promise it’s easy or that everyone will change, but I can at least say many of us would have an easier time accepting individuals back into the community.

What’s your view on these situations?

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