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Established Knowledge and the American Muslim Campaign Against It

Imam Mikaeel Smith

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Recent social media conversations amongst American Muslims indicate that American Muslim laity have fallen victim to an anti-intellectual trend which has gripped American culture. Anti-intellectualism is the campaign against established knowledge and those who possess it. The average educated American, due to the influences of living in a Democratic political atmosphere (which, in essence, values all voices as equal), mass educational policies and a cultural emphasis on individualism, has developed not only an ignorance, but an arrogant ignorance, that challenges established knowledge and its experts. I am concerned that this broader culture of anti-intellectualism is being mimicked by American Muslims.

“Walking the streets of America are millions of ordinary people who believe that they possess troves of knowledge, they feel they know more than the experts, they can critique their professors and they have more insight into everything than everyone else.”

The Quranic perspective on acquired knowledge is that no one person is an expert on everything[2], and society cannot function without a social division of labor[3] and a reliance on experts. The reason our society flourished in the past is because we communally relied on experts. The discomforting fact is that we are not all equal — just as we cannot all sing or draw, likewise we do not all have an equal propensity to see and recognize gaps in knowledge and illogical thinking. Perhaps the most unsettling fact surrounding this phenomenon is the growth of a narcissistic culture that finds it extremely intolerable to suggest inequality of any kind. This is precisely the reason why some may grumble with my usage of terms such as laity, commoners, or plebeians. I myself recognize that I am layman in many fields and respect the expertise in those fields.  As a society, we have gone from mere skepticism regarding established knowledge to outright war against it.  As Professor Tom Nichols puts it, “Any assertion of expertise from an actual expert,  meanwhile, produces an explosion of anger from certain quarters of the American public who immediately complain that such claims are nothing more than fallacious ‘appeals to authority,’ sure signs of dreadful elitism…”[4] Nichols’ point of view clearly shows that the constant push to free man from every kind of tyranny has led to an American culture which holds all opinions as equal and a belief that “everyone is as smart as everyone else.”

The limitations of time and ability make it almost impossible for one individual to become an expert in everything. By nature, we are inclined to find interest in different things. This usually led to a society that prospered because it benefited from its diverse spectrum of experts.

But what happens when people stop valuing expertise and specialization? Currently, the public square has been reduced to bad information and very poor reasoning by individuals who have mastered almost nothing at all. There was a time when one man would farm his own food, build his own house, and teach his own children all they needed to know. But we collectively realized that an expert house builder produced a better and safer house, the expert farmer yielded more produce and better crops for the entire community, and expert teachers were far more efficient than non-expert teachers.

America’s intense focus on the liberties of the individual holds sacred this resistance to intellectual authority. Alex de Tocqueville wrote that “in most of the operations of mind…each American appeals only to the individual effort of his own understanding.”

The Protestants, preaching sola scriptura[5] coupled with contemporary humanist conceptions of mankind, destroyed the authority of the church and replaced it with nothing but incoherence and what would eventually lead to hyper-pluralism and a “Kingdom of Whatever” per the Notre Dame historian Brad Gregory.[6] One of the most troubling aspects of the death of expertise is that it can lead to the eventual reversal of centuries of intellectual gains. As every Tom, Dick, and Harry assaults the authority of expertise based merely on their own opinion, the once strong edifice of established knowledge is replaced with “nothingness.” Nothingness is what Brad Gregory coined as the “Kingdom of Whatever”, where all opinions are equal and truth is extremely relative. All of this is a result of a hyper pluralistic culture.

“Anti-intellectualism is not a new phenomenon,” explained Jose Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, in 1930. “Thus, in the intellectual life, which of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified, unqualifiable, and, by their very mental texture, disqualified.” Jose y Gasset’s words suggest that some people are simply “disqualified” from entering into certain discussions. This is a hard pill to swallow for some, but we must accept that some of us simply are not qualified to do certain things. For the betterment of the whole society and for the sake of not wasting people’s time, we must be straightforward regarding who is allowed to evaluate and judge expert opinions.

If you have spent any number of years mastering a field of knowledge and practice, you will have learned two things. Firstly, you will have gained an appreciation for any type of expertise. Secondly, you will have experienced unqualified objections from laypeople. Doctors, lawyers, and experts from all fields are now forced by the prevalent culture to prove years of established knowledge to people who have mastered nothing but Google searching.  As Nicholas states, “ignorance has become hip,  with some Americans now wearing their rejection of expert advice as a badge of cultural sophistication.” Hence, we see a trend to describe anything that goes over our heads or beyond our experiential knowledge as elitism.

American Muslims and Religious Expertise

The American Muslim community is currently suffering from the described epidemic. I personally feel that while challenging the established knowledge of medicine may result in loss of life, this is minute in comparison to the loss of faith and religious practice. We see not only an indifference to established religious scholarship, but a positive hostility toward them and their establishments. We are also witnessing as a result a growing number of public intellectuals who serve as simply translators of that knowledge and practice. Lastly, we see a “commodity” usage of religious scholarship in the Muslim community. Religious experts have been reduced to technicians, who we only go to for services like contracting marriages, leading prayers, and other technician type services. The appropriate usage of experts in a community — yes, religious experts included — is to allow their voices to be heard and to allow for real dialogue to exist between them and the larger community.

The Blame Also Lies on Religious Scholars

As a result of the environment described above, religious scholars – like other experts, have abandoned their duty to engage the public and prefer to interact with each other. This is because, for us this is where real discussions are taking place. This trend has led a growing number of  Islamic “public intellectuals.” The public intellectual plays a key role in a society like ours. They are often the translators of extremely dense and nuanced bodies of knowledge.

.  This point must be understood, that this very desire to be a part of an exclusive body of knowledge is actually not elitism but service to humanity.

When an individual decides to study and master a body of knowledge, he or she does so by foregoing expertise in other areas. This is, in fact, the best service to the community that can offer. In turn, we trust that other members in the community will also choose areas to master so that we may trust them in their perspective fields when the need arises.

Of course, the first step in rectifying a problem is to recognize it. The goal and objective of this article is to highlight and point out the dangerous culture that we have created. One possible solution to this problem is to encourage every individual in the entire community to develop expertise in some area. Experience has shown me that people who themselves are experts in any field tend to develop a deep respect for all other experts. When done collectively, humanity and civilization move forward, standing on the shoulders of the giants before them.

 

[1] Nichols, Tom. The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. Oxford University Press 2017.

[2] وَفَوْقَ كُلِّ ذِي عِلْمٍ عَلِيمٌ ﴾ [يوسف: 76] : “Above every knowledgeable person is someone more knowledgeable”

[3] Quran 43:32 in this verse Allah explains that in order to maintain the balance of this world there is a necessary separation of task and responsibilities and some are above others in various areas of life.

[4] Nichols, Tom. The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. Oxford University Press 2017.

[5] Martin Luther’s sola scriptura bears striking resemblance with pseudo orthodoxy calls to return to Quran and Sunnah.

[6] Gregory, Brad S. The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2012. Print.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    MK

    March 7, 2017 at 10:02 PM

    Very good article. Timely and to the point. Loved it!

  2. Avatar

    Adam Dye

    March 8, 2017 at 9:59 AM

    Overall, a fantastic article. I do believe however that some of the skepticism regarding expertise does not come from doubt of an expert’s credentials but rather whether or not there is an agenda. You highlighted Protestantism’s efforts in establishing sola scriptura. Those who support this view can unquestionably craft a convincing argument. But the established church did not go away nor shrink in influence. The church is able to meet Protestantism’s contention with an equally sound theological argument of their own.

    The American Muslim encounters a similar dilemma. Is there any doubt that there are many scholars or “experts” spread among the various denominations? Their beliefs are coupled with substantial knowledge and color their teachings with a partisan viewpoint. The real question is not whether or not an expert is actually qualified in knowledge but instead how we wields his expertise.

    Thank you for the thought provoking article!

    Salam,
    Adam

  3. Avatar

    Hashir Zuberi

    March 8, 2017 at 11:37 AM

    Masha Allah what a smooth and palatable read! To be able to take such a gnarly issue and elucidate in such a manner is an Allah-given talent. May Allah preserve you.

  4. Avatar

    Shafiyu

    March 8, 2017 at 11:17 PM

    I love you akhi , May Allah make your voice be heard , and may you join with those “who bow in worship” , by that i mean those who understand their religion and its practice and overall sense of open mindedness. May Allah protect you and bless you

  5. Avatar

    Abū Fulān Al Isbānī

    March 13, 2017 at 9:17 AM

    As salāmu ‘alaīcum.

    Although it is true what you said in the article, the opposite situation is also terrible. Here in Spain nobody has critical thinkin g or a personal opinión. People here believe things like “science has disproved God” or “science has disproved the soul” and all this pseudointelectual pseudoscientific crap. So because this taqleed of “intelectuals” they have left religion.

  6. Avatar

    Muslimat

    April 16, 2017 at 6:19 AM

    I think this article is both relevant and concerning. On the one hand, it’s very true that Muslims in general (not just in America) are drifting away from established knowledge in religion, on the other hand, when it comes to religion, what exactly is “established knowledge” remains unclear if we’re looking beyond the earliest Muslims who lived with the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions. More importantly, if we don’t start and end these discussions with each person’s obligation to Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) first and foremost, then we’re not really addressing the “elephant in the room.”

    No matter what our opinion is (whether you’re a “commoner” or “religious expert”), it’s really unfair to reduce this discussion to criticism of the arrogant ignorant person and then point out only the problem of scholars not engaging with the public. The implication is that all scholars are sincere and deserving of the title scholar and that they themselves aren’t falling into ignorance (when speaking outside their expertise) and arrogance (when demanding followership they don’t deserve).

    What about scholars who are teaching falsehood in the name of Islam? What about scholars who themselves are arrogant in their demand for humans to basically worship them? What about scholars who are calling people to the Hellfire? All of this is addressed in the Qur’an and Sunnah, but this article doesn’t give advice to the sincere “commoner” running from today’s misguided scholar to save their soul.

    It’s not a sin to reject the writer’s definition of “established knowledge.” What’s sinful is to reject anything from Allah and His Messenger that falls under “established knowledge.” And the true scholar who teaches real established knowledge in Islam without a personal, un-Islamic agenda is very rare today.

    Maybe that’s what these “arrogant commoners” are running from, and maybe Allah will forgive them, and maybe Allah won’t forgive the scholars who caused them to run.

    Until we’re willing to talk openly about the urgent need for “commoners” to protect their souls from scholars calling to bid’ah, shirk, and corruption in religious teachings, we can’t address this issue truthfully.

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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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