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5 Ways The Gas Station Owner Mentality Is Killing Our Masjids

Omar Usman

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Why is it that a large number of Muslim communities in North America are all struggling with the same issues? Board politics. Getting rid of good community leaders. Incessant focus on fundraising at all costs.

Clearly, these issues can’t be logistical. They wouldn’t be this prevalent if they were. It’s almost as if there is a shared underlying mentality that is common to many of these frustrating and annoying situations.

This mentality is the “gas station owner” mentality, and it is more prevalent than we think. It’s a metaphor for understanding a lot of the common issues that we face. In this post we will highlight 5 characteristics of this mentality.

1. Ignoring the Spiritual Side of Rizq (Sustenance) and Barakah (Blessing)

In sports, there are some teams who seem to continually be winning. They have a good run of making the playoffs and advancing for a few years. Then they lose their good players, rebuild, but then get right back to winning again.

There are other teams, no matter what they do, they hit a wall and can’t get past it. They may be able to get good players on their team, but it never translates into winning. These are the teams that haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years – they’re consistently losers. And when those good players move on to other teams, they suddenly start winning.

Both scenarios above indicate a deep organizational issue that transcends individual leaders, talents, or personalities.

We have communities like this as well. There’s the place that’s been operating out of a rented retail space for years now, but the community is active and vibrant. People enjoy going there.There are other places that have fancy, empty, structures. They have lots of money, so they keep bringing in qualified and talented individuals – but they keep leaving. No matter what they do, the community won’t get involved.

A million different reasons could possibly explain why these scenarios exist. The one reason we don’t like to talk about, though, is the spiritual one.

What is the impact on a community if a significant amount of their donations originate from haram sources (alcohol, cigarettes, lottery, interest, fraudulent billing)?

Our sins have a real impact on not just us, but those around us as well. It is naive to think these issues do not have an effect and impact on the spiritual development of our communities at large. It’s compounded by the fact that instead of potentially rectifying the situation by at least seeking forgiveness, we seek instead to justify our behavior.

There’s no way of tiptoeing around this issue. When a person chooses to openly sell liquor, and then still wants to serve in an administrative capacity at the masjid, it is a severe case of cognitive dissonance.

At the root of this is a flawed understanding of what it means that Allah is Al-Razzaq (The One Who Provides Sustenance). They assume that they cannot make (as much) money without indulging in a haram business.

That’s between a person and Allah as far as their personal life goes. Bringing that mentality into the masjid is a different story. It changes the dynamics of understanding the spiritual side of money.

This is a mentality of money scarcity. If I make $5, it means you lose $5. If our masjid raised $250k last year, and this year a new masjid opened down the road, it means we’ll only be able to raise $125k. They see wealth with a fixed mentality and operate accordingly.

The more appropriate mindset of tawakkul (or abundance) would be the understanding that if things are done for the right reasons, Allah will provide the financial means. He is fully capable of letting both masjids raise $500k apiece the following year – the same way 2 Starbucks across the street from each other both manage to stay successfully in business.

Consider this hadith about the spiritual side of wealth.

Anas b. Malik raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrated that there were two brothers. One of them would come to the Prophet (s) and the other would seek his sustenance by working. So the one who used to seek his sustenance complained to the Prophet (S) about his brother. He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replied, “It is possible that you are provided your rizq [sustenance] because of him!” [Tirmidhi]

In other words, providing for a student of knowledge is a way of increasing your own sustenance. This hadith should have far-reaching ramifications in our communities when it comes to discussing hiring a full-time Imam and paying a real salary.

Someone who feels that they need to engage in a forbidden business to make money will not have the same understanding and reliance in the provision that Allah provides.

The irony is that these masjids will fundraise excessively for their own (usually construction/expansion) projects. They simultaneously limit the fundraising for other causes, and refuse to invest the money they raise. People employed by the masjid are not just underpaid, but forced to take 1099 contractor status and work without any basic benefits (such as health insurance) while extra funds are invested into construction. Likewise, it is not uncommon for a masjid to have a surplus of zakat funds sitting around that end up getting sent overseas at the end of the year – funds that should have instead been providing ongoing services to the local community.

2. Commoditization of Human Capital

This is basically a fancier way of saying that once a board gives a paycheck to someone, they feel like they own them.

In a gas station, the owner’s relationship with the employees is basically nil. This is not the place where you find inspirational leaders creating a vision and rallying their employees to reach their potential. It’s a place where an abysmally-low-leadership-capacity owner hires employees at minimum wage (or often less, but that’s a different story), and then treats them like garbage.

To better understand this, contrast it with Chick-Fil-A where managers take their leadership duties seriously and you see it manifested in the service delivered from front line employees.

The gas station owner has no care or concern for the employee at the register. That employee is a commodity. If that employee quits, you just replace them with another warm body – it doesn’t matter who. They do this because in their eyes it is low level work. It doesn’t matter if the cashier is a jerk or provides stellar service – your clientele is still going to come and purchase whatever they were planning on purchasing.

When this mentality extends into the masjid, the Imam, teachers, and other servants of the community get treated the same way. They are being managed by individuals who are themselves of low leadership competency, and therefore cannot truly understand the value of spiritual leadership in the community. It’s the polar opposite of the “game recognize game” principle.

When those entrusted with being administrators over our communities lack an understanding of the depth of Islamic knowledge, they will never be able to treat its people with the proper respect. The ultimate irony is these people will complain that their teenage children are leaving Islam on one hand, and with the other they work to get rid of those very same people who were in a position to provide mentorship to those kids.

So when you actually do have amazing people working for the masjid, a board infected with this ‘gas station owner’ mentality will fail to recognize or value their work. Instead, they will treat them like that minimum-wage, easily replaceable, cashier.

That means micromanaging their hours, minimizing the payroll expense, and maximizing the hours worked. They see the person as nothing more than an expense on their balance sheet at the end of the month – “labor costs.” The cognitive dissonance continues because they convince themselves that the best thing they can do for the community is to cut costs. So they do it, without any regard or understanding of the long term impact it will have on the community.

It also means that a high rate of turnover is normal to them. It is doubtful that the same cashier has ever worked for them more than 1-2 years. At the slightest disagreement or issue with a masjid employee, their knee jerk reaction will be to cut this person loose. After all, if they’re a commodity, they’ll just as easily find someone else to replace them.

It’s worth noting that the end game for people who actually want to do community work is not financially driven. There are much easier ways to earn money. Ironically, many will even overlook the difficulties and continue to fight to serve the community. Sadly, even this has its limits as board politics and suffocating environments eventually take their toll on a person both professionally and spiritually to the point that they end up leaving.

3. Operate From a Premise of Greed

WIIFM. What’s in it for me? And therein lies the problem. The mentality here is that if we are going to pay someone, what return are we getting?

This does not mean that you ignore job duties, or KPI (Key Performance Indicators), or general performance benchmarks. It does mean, however, that you cannot measure and quantify everything financially (see also: Your Masjid is Not a Fortune 500 Company, Nor Should it Be).

Operating from a premise of greed means that you have a constant need to not only financially quantify every expenditure – but come out ahead. This is also rooted in a lack of being able to quantify the real impact of spiritual leadership on a community.

Think of it this way. Imagine someone came and asked the gas station owner for a job and asked for $12/hour instead of $7. This person asked for that salary because they have an excellent customer service background, and at a previous job they helped the business owner realize a small uptick in revenue due to an increase in customer loyalty and sales – resulting from providing better service on a regular basis.

A business owner with a high leadership capacity would be able to recognize the value of this skillset. The gas station owner will simply say – “only way I’m paying you $12 is if you clean the bathrooms too.”

Every decision is dictated by not just the bottom line, but the immediate bottom line. The irony is that a gas station owner will take out a business loan to buy the gas station and have the patience to wait X number of years to be profitable. Or to build a car wash and be willing to wait X number of years to break even. The only part of the business they do not have this patience for is the actual human resources.

Sounds a bit like masjid construction projects and hiring of an Imam.

We’ve lost the patience to find and develop good talent in our communities. We take up any number of roles – board member, prayer leader, mu’adhin, Sunday school teacher, khateeb, treasurer, social events coordinator, social media marketer, or even random volunteer. How many take the time to understand the skillset needed to serve these positions with ihsan (excellence) and actually make the investment of time and money to develop that skillset? What about investing in others to help them develop? This is why communities feel they can simply get by with a hodgepodge of part-time and volunteer efforts.

4. Insecurity and Paranoia

When you’re worried about getting swindled 24/7, it’s hard to turn that off.

You’re worried about customers getting gas and leaving without paying. So you make them pre-purchase. People might shoplift, so you install security cameras. Employees might cheat, so you put special cameras over the register and watch the livestream on your phone constantly.

There’s nothing wrong with taking precautions. There is, however, a problem when your default mode of behavior operates on the assumption that everyone is out to cheat you.

This type of insecurity is the same kind of insecurity that drives a middle manager in the corporate world to micromanage his or her employees. They lack the requisite competence or leadership demanded of their position, so they micromanage others to assert their authority. It’s a textbook power play made by low-competency individuals.

Sadly, Zakat distribution is the ultimate illustration of this. When someone comes to the masjid seeking help, they are often treated in a disrespectful and undignified manner. They’re made to wait around for a board member in such a way that it becomes obvious to everyone that they need help. Then they have to fill out twenty different forms and justify their need for zakat funds.

The same paranoia of a cashier stealing money from the register is carried into this situation. People asking for zakat funds are implicitly deemed guilty until proven innocent. Contrast this with the Prophetic example to immediately distribute zakat funds (instead of hoarding them), and responding to requests for help.

Yes, some people cheat the system. Yes, there are cases of fraud. Our faith, however, does not teach us to be paranoid and default to the assumption that everyone asking for help is trying to swindle the masjid out of a couple of hundred bucks.

This is a spiritual issue more than anything else. Do the right thing for the right reason, and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will take care of the outcomes, results, and future financial needs.

The same mentality applies to paying an Imam. The supposedly well-intentioned concern is assuming that once someone goes on payroll, they’ll suddenly start trying to find ways to get paid without working, or that it is some kind of get rich quick scheme. I have personally heard people say things to the effect of – I went to school for 8 years and work 50 hours a week to make X salary, how dare this person just sit in the masjid and get a salary.

We make a default assumption to the worst possible behavior someone could do [perhaps because deep down that’s what we  would do in that situation], and project our personal insecurity onto others.

5. They Live in a Bubble

We have to pick on doctors a little bit.

In a hospital, a physician simply needs to threaten to stop bringing patients to create all the leverage he or she needs to get anything they want.

A gas station owner yields authority over everyone. Do as commanded, or be fired.

In both situations, it creates an environment where a person is catered to individually on a constant basis. No one around you wants to make you mad. You get used to people [subordinate to you] acquiescing to your viewpoint on nearly everything all the time.

This is why, when challenged on something, they’re usually not able to handle it well. Islamic knowledge and community work are not their strengths. It takes a huge slice of humble pie to be able to admit that you’re weak in this area.

That’s hard to do when you’re used to being the expert on everything.

It’s easy for a physician to acknowledge the expertise of a car mechanic. They might try to fix their own car, watch YouTube videos, but realize they don’t even know how to operate a wrench. In this case they can easily go to a mechanic and follow their advice. It’s not a big deal because this is not a skillset that really has any priority or meaning in their life.

Islamic work is a different story. People assume that by being Muslim, or having volunteered to find a catering company for a fundraising dinner, they suddenly know what it takes to spiritually lead and develop a community. Moreover, there is an emotional attachment to the status that comes with holding some type of official title in the community. They often do not realize that their high competency and proficiency in one arena does not translate into another.

This has a negative impact on board dynamics as well. Due to their lack of ability to recognize or admit their own weakness, they have to put themselves at the same level (or higher) than everyone else. So if someone on the board does have actual experience with running a masjid, or organizing Islamic activities, they put themselves on equal standing. “Everyone’s opinion is equal and important.”

No, it’s not.

The car mechanic’s opinion on how to treat cancer is not on par with an oncologist. And a board member’s opinion on how to establish a moon-sighting policy is not on par with an Islamic scholar.

Solution?

After reading this kind of article, everyone always makes the same snarky remark – “Well, what’s the solution then?”

The answer is that there is no real easy solution. There aren’t 3 bite size nuggets or action items that are going to fix this. Ultimately, a more significant portion of the general community is going to have to wake up and take their spirituality more seriously. When that happens, they can hold their boards to account via elections and/or social pressure within the community.

The community is the only check and balance against bad leadership – but enough of the community has to really care about it to make a difference. Part of that effort includes a deep level of self-reflection and addressing our own spiritual issues regardless of our role and position within any community.

Another alternative, and it is my personal theory that this will become more prevalent in the next few years, is to redefine what the masjid means in America. Currently, we expect the masjid to serve almost as a mini nation-state with its own prayer hall, kids area, gym, clinic, community center, school, grocery store, and Muslim only neighborhood within walking distance.

If we can’t reform this model because bad leaders simply won’t let go, or can’t be forced out (probably because they keep redoing the constitution to keep themselves in power), then we have to create a new model. That model might be to change the role of the masjid to being one of a prayer space only (daily prayers and Juma). Schools would become private entities in their own buildings. Smaller, independent, third spaces would then fill the gap of relevant community programming and development. This is not necessarily a solution, but it appears some communities are now trending in that direction as a workaround to the existing system.

Lastly, just do the opposite of the 5 characteristics above.

Additional Reading

  1. Running a Masjid is a Lot Like Bikeshedding
  2. Your Masjid is Not a Fortune 500 Company, Nor Should It Be
  3. A Leadership Lesson from the 4 Types of Imam/Board Relationships
  4. The Age of the Full-Time Imam is Over, Here’s What The New Era of Islamic Work Looks Like
  5. How Much Should Islamic Clergy Make?

Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jackie

    August 21, 2017 at 1:10 AM

    I think it’s demeaning and degrading for you to make fun of the hard working people who have built and run our masajid. How many masajid have you run? Probably none.

    It’s also demeaning to look down at people who worked hard to earn halal income thro owning a gas station

    Shame!

    • Avatar

      Muttaqi

      August 21, 2017 at 1:32 AM

      I think you missed his point. Read the article again.

    • Avatar

      Yunus

      August 21, 2017 at 10:10 AM

      1- There is nothing demeaning in this article. Truth needs to be said.
      If our masajids are dysfunctional, we need to discuss what’s going wrong and what can be done. Yes that includes people who don’t follow the Sunnah in their management of mosques and their shortcomings.

      2- How many gas stations do you know do halal work? The vast majority of gas stations in the US sell alcohol including many owned by Muslims. Period. If there are some that don’t, those exceptions don’t override the rule.

    • Avatar

      Imran

      August 21, 2017 at 4:11 PM

      I think it’s demeaning and degrading for you to make fun a Muslim Matters writer. How many articles have you written for MuslimMatters? None.

    • Avatar

      Fritz

      August 24, 2017 at 5:32 PM

      Brutally honest and to the point. Really well written. We need to wake up!

  2. Avatar

    Asiah Kelley

    August 21, 2017 at 9:29 AM

    Another great article! Definitely gives me some hope when Muslim drama overtakes me. May Allah reward you for all the great work you are doing!

  3. Avatar

    Noor Saadeh

    August 21, 2017 at 9:58 AM

    Masha Allah this hit every nail on the head. If only those gas station mentality could see it! So insightful. Must share with all those in our community and elsewhere.

  4. Avatar

    Mohammed

    August 21, 2017 at 12:33 PM

    These uncles forget the basic purpose of a Masjid, which is from a place for 5 times daily salat to educating the community with practical knowledge of Islam. It’s a complete conceptual problem that drives these actions.

  5. Avatar

    Abdul Sheikh

    August 21, 2017 at 4:26 PM

    I have notice a common trend among the 30-40s individuals raised in US for criticizing the pioneers who are approaching retirement. These pioneers has built institutions in last 25 years under difficult conditions. The young critics do not want to work hard and contribute. They want every thing free. You have no right to criticize if you do not participate and contribute.

  6. Avatar

    Asma

    August 21, 2017 at 6:12 PM

    SubhanAllah great article. Exact situation of our masjid and I am sure many other masajid.

  7. Avatar

    Munawar

    August 21, 2017 at 11:55 PM

    Very uneducated comments i hope you would have done some research ( what’s halal and haram ) . You are generalizing your bad experience with someone, May Allah guide us all and make us able to look beyond self interest.

  8. Avatar

    Mehmood

    August 22, 2017 at 9:22 PM

    How about an article about a mosque that does it well, and efficiently, a model to follow. This would be a great start for many mosques who want to improve but lack ideas and resources.

  9. Avatar

    Hassan

    August 23, 2017 at 5:56 PM

    As a desi fob (well 18 years here almost) it will be not racist for me to say that what you described are desis in any matter. I have software business, and after many years learned that I need to avoid desis. A non-desi person/company will pay good and be very accommodating or understanding of everything. A desi will give very little money and then will practically expect that they have done huge favor and own you as a slave.

    So once they pay imam 15k/year with additional whopping benefit of 600$ apartment rent, they think he is their slave and are extremely shocked to think otherwise, they just cannot comprehend.

  10. Avatar

    Tami

    August 31, 2017 at 9:22 AM

    That’s the problem with South Asian. Helping someone means that they own you and expect something in return. This happens in family matters and businesses. When it comes to business and career, there’s too much competition. Non-south asians are there to mentors you and honor and appreciate your work.

    I have known 3 imams that grew up in the states and have left the masjid because the community control how they should live, spend money and have no respect for their livelihood. They treat them as a volunteer person. No Muslim will work for free and do fulfilling duties at the masjid. If they are paid then you’ll see the job taken care of.

  11. Avatar

    Miriam

    September 27, 2017 at 9:09 AM

    About the “nation-state” model of a masjid: I’ve been told that a masjid should be a place of meaningful experience for every member of the household. That means classes, activities, and even games, for everyone to get involved in. Wouldn’t segmenting this into chunks like prayer-only, school-only, take away from that? If someone doesn’t pray, they won’t go to the masjid. Whereas before, they may have gone just to play ball. Hope this makes sense. Please shed some light, jazakallahu khair

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#Life

Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware

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Mindful

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfull

“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”

[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]

Mindful or Mind-full?

Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.

A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.

For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.

Autopilot to Aware

Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?

Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.

Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.

Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.

Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”

Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.

Mindful

Real Life in the Present Moment

You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.

The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.

You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.

The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.

You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.

This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.

The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.

In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims

Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.

[Imam Al Ghazali]

Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.

Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.

  1. Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  2. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
  3. “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

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#Society

A Code of Conduct To Protect Against Spiritual Abuse

Danish Qasim

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Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, Institutions

When there is a claim of spiritual abuse, the initial reaction of concerned Muslims is often to go to another Muslim leader and expect that leader to take care of it.  Most of the time, however, religious leaders in the community have no authority over other religious leaders who are found abusing their position. Many of these leaders feel a foreboding sense of powerlessness to exert change, leaving those who abuse, to do so freely and with impunity. 

There have been attempts by some leaders to take action against abusive religious figures. However, when this happens, it is usually followed by a public or ‘in-group’ campaign against the abusive figure, and the abusive figure and his supporters return in kind. This becomes messy, quickly. There is name-calling, mud-slinging, and threats, but in the end, it amounts to nothing, in the end, leaving everyone involved to make their own decision as to whether or not to continue support for the alleged perpetrator. Other religious leaders may know the accused is guilty, but due to friendships or programs they wish to continue doing with the accused, they will cover for them, especially when there is only a perceived low level of evidence that the public could ever discover it. 

There are several methods and excuses through which abuse is covered up.

The Wall of Silence

In cases of tightly knit groups, whether Sufi tariqas, super Salafi cliques, activist groups, or preachers who have formed a team, the abuser will be protected by a wall of silence, while the victim is targeted, maligned, and ostracized for speaking out against the leader. They, not the abuser, are held accountable, liable, and blamed. While the abuser is expected to be ‘forgiven,’ the victim is socially shamed for a crime committed against him or her. More often than not, the victim is intimidated into silence, while the perpetrator is left free to continue abusing. 

The Kafir Court Rationale

There have been countless situations when there have been legal claims made against a transgressing spiritual leader, but through coercion and pressure, the shaykh (or those close to him) will be able to convince his victim that they are not allowed to go to kafir court systems to solve issues between Muslims. Ironically, these same shaykhs see no difficulty signing legally binding contracts with other Muslims they do business with, or when they give classes, which stands to reason, they are perfectly fine accepting the same ‘kafir court’ as a source of protection when it is for themselves. 

Stop Hurting the Dawah Plea

In other cases, when the disputes are between fellow students, or representatives of the shaykh and those lower ranking students, the shaykh himself is able to get on the phone with the disgruntled victim, give him or her special attention, and convince the person to drop it and not pursue justice, as that may ‘hurt the dawah.’ Sometimes, the shaykhs will ostensibly push for Islamic mechanisms of justice and call for arbitration by other religious figures who they know will decide in his favor. It is critical not to fall victim to these arguments. 

Your Vile Nafs Culpe

Far too often in these groups, particularly the more spiritually inclined ones, everyone will acknowledge the abuse, whether illicit sexual behavior, groping, financial fraud, secret temporary marriages, or bullying by a Shaykh, but steadfastly invoke the ‘only prophets are perfect, and our Shaykh is a wali–– but he can make mistakes’ refrain. Then, when those seeking recourse dare disclose these issues, even when there is no dispute about the factuality of their claims, they are browbeaten into compliance; told their focus on the negative is a sign that they are ‘veiled from the more important, positive efforts of the group, and it is they who should overcome their vile nafs.’ With such groups, leaving may be the only solution. 

Pray it Away Pretext

Sometimes, a target of abuse may go to other teachers or other people in the community to seek help, guidance, or direction. The victims hold these teachers in high regard and believe that they can trust them. However, instead of these teachers acting to protect the victims, the victims are often placated, told to pray it away. They are left with empty platitudes, but nothing concrete is ever done to protect them, nor is there any follow-up. 

The Forgive and Forget Pardon

They are told to forgive…

Forgiveness has its place and time, but at that critical moment, when a victim is in crisis and requires guidance and help, their wellbeing should remain paramount. To counsel victims that their primary job and focus at that pivotal juncture is to forgive their abuser is highly objectionable. Forgiveness is not the obligation of the victim and for any teacher or religious leader to invalidate the wrong that took place is not only counterproductive but dangerous––even if the intention behind the advice came from a wholesome place.

The Dire Need For A Code of Conduct

It is very easy to feel let down when nothing is done about teachers who abuse, but we have to understand that without a Code of Conduct, there really isn’t much that can be done when the spiritual abuse is not considered illegal. It is the duty of Islamic institutions to protect employees, attendees, and religious leaders. We also must demand that. 

Justice is a process. It is not a net result. This means that sometimes we will follow the process of justice and still come up short. The best thing we can do to hold abusers accountable for our institutions is to set up a process of accountability. A code of conduct will not eliminate spiritual abuse. Institutions that adopt this code may still cover up abuse, in which case victims will need to take action against the institution for violating the code. This code of conduct will also protect teachers who can be targetted and falsely accused.

As members of the community, we should expect more.  Here is how:

  •  Demand your Islamic institutions to have and instill a code of conduct. 
  •  If you are in a group outside of an institution, get clarity on the limits of the Shaykh.
  •  Understand that anyone, no matter their social status, is capable of doing horrible things, even the religious figures who talk about the importance of justice, accountability, and transparency. 
  • When it comes to money, expect more from your leadership than emotional appeals. Fundraising causes follow trends, and while supporting good causes is a positive thing, doing so without a proper audit or accountability is not. It lends itself to financial abuse, mistrust, and misappropriation.  

Establish a Protocol

A lot of hurt can be saved and distrust salvaged if victims are provided with honest non-judgment. Even in the event that there is a lack of concrete evidence, a protocol to handle these kinds of sensitive situations can provide a victim with a safe space to go to where they know they won’t be ignored or treated callously. We may not be able to guarantee an outcome, but we can ensure that we’ll try.

Using Contract Law to Hold Abusers Accountable – Danya Shakfeh

In cases of spiritual abuse, legal recourse (or any recourse for that matter) has been rare due to there being no standard of conduct and no legal means to hold abusers accountable.  In order to solve this problem, our Code of Conduct creates a legal mechanism of enforcement through contract law.

The reason why contract law is important and applicable is that the law does not always address unethical behavior.  You have heard the refrain “Just because it is legal, it does not mean it is ethical.” The law, for varying reasons, has its limits. Although we associate the law with justice and morality, the law and justice and morality are not always interchangeable and can even be at odds with each other.  

Ultimately, specifically in a secular society, the law is a set man-made rules and sometimes those rules are arbitrary and actually unfair. For example, there is a class of laws called ‘strict liability’ laws. These laws make a defendant liable even if the person committed the offense by accident.  One example of strict liability law is selling alcohol to a minor. In some states, even if the person tried to confirm the minor’s legal age, the seller could still be held liable for the offense. On the flip-side, there are is a lack of anti-bullying laws on the books in the United States. This allows employers to cause serious emotional damage to employees, yet the employer can get away with such offensive behavior.  Accordingly, the law does not always protect nor is it always ‘just.’

On Power, Boundaries, And The Accountability Of Imams

This is one of the reasons that victims of spiritual abuse have had little success in having their claims addressed at a legal level.  Because abuses are not legally recognized as such, there is often no associated remedy. For example, when a woman enters into a secret second marriage only to find that the husband is not giving her all her Islamic legal rights, that woman’s recourse is very limited because the law does not recognize this as abuse and does not even recognize the marriage.

Further, if a victim of spiritual abuse is abused due to religious manipulation unless the abuser engaged in a stand-alone crime or civil claim, the victim also has no legal recourse. For example, if a religious scholar exploits a congregant’s vulnerabilities in order to convince the congregant to turn over large amounts of money and the congregant later learns that the Islamic scholar did not really need the money, he or she may have no legal recourse.  This is because manipulation (as long as there is no fraud) is not illegal and depending on how clever the religious scholar was, the congregant would have no legal recourse. Our way of solving this problem is by using contract law to set and enforce the standard for ethical behavior.

Use of Institutional Handbooks

Whether people realize it or not, institutional handbooks are a type of contract. Though an attorney should be consulted in order to ensure that they these documents are binding, policies do not necessarily need to be signed by every party nor do they need to be called a “contract” in order to be legally binding.  By creating institutional handbooks and employment policies that relate to common issues of spiritual abuse, we can finally provide guidelines and remedies.

When an employee at an institution violates the institution’s policies, this is a “breach of contract” that can result in firing or even monetary damages. In other words, the policy is that document which victims and institutions can use to back their cases when there are allegations involving abuse.  Policies can also hold institutions themselves liable for not enforcing the policy and remedies as to victims’ abuse. Policies also serve the purpose of putting the community and their beneficiaries and patrons on notice as to what is expected of them.

Our Code of Conduct is the most comprehensive of created ethical guidelines for Muslims leaders and institutions for making spiritual abuse remedies actionable. We believe it will provide remedies to victims that would otherwise not be available through other legal means.  By binding the parties to a contract, victims and institutions can take these contracts, along with the abusers, to court and use the contract to fill in the gap for appropriate behavior that the law otherwise does not fill.

Download the Code of Conduct For Islamic Leadership By In Shaykh’s Clothing

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

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#Current Affairs

The Environmental Cost Of War With Iran

Abu Ryan Dardir

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war with Iran

Report after report shows how planet Earth may reach a point of no return. An analysis written by Ian Dunlop claims the planet cannot be saved by the mid-century if we continue on this path. And yet here we are marching towards a war with Iran.

When we think of climate change, we rarely think of war. On June 12th, 2019, Brown University released a report declaring the Department of Defence to be “the world’s largest institution to use petroleum and correspondingly, the single largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world.” Burning jet fuel for transportation of troops and weapons make up 70 percent of the Pentagon’s emissions.  Ironically, earlier this year the Pentagon released a 22-page report to Congress stating the ⅔ of their mission-essential installation in the US are vulnerable to flooding, and ½ are susceptible to wildfires. To no surprise, Trump rejected those findings at the time. The Pentagon is now concerned with the impact climate change has on their “foreign missions.”

war, iran, America, Climate change, pentagonWith tensions high with Iran, and several thousand troops are expected to be deployed, if war with Iran is to happen, it may lead us to a more damaged planet that may not recover. This makes the Pentagon guilty of killing people and the earth. The Department of Defense has consistently used between 77-80% of the entire US energy consumption. We see spikes during times of massive war (since America is in a constant state of war), like in 1991, 2001, and so on.

Here is a list of the seven significant sources of greenhouse emissions done by the Department of Defense:

  1. Overall military emissions for installations and non-war operations.
  2. War-related emissions by the US military in overseas contingency operations.
  3. Emissions caused by US military industry   — for instance, for production of weapons and ammunition.
  4. Emissions caused by the direct targeting of petroleum,   namely the deliberate burning of oil wells and refineries by all parties.
  5. Sources of emissions by other belligerents.
  6. Energy consumed by reconstruction of damaged and destroyed infrastructure.
  7. Emissions from other sources, such as fire suppression and extinguishing chemicals, including   Halon, a greenhouse gas, and from explosions and fires due to the destruction of non-petroleum targets in warzones.

This impact on the climate is just the portion from America, in the Iraq war, 37 countries fought alongside America, and 60 are allied against ISIS. There is a way to calculate those emissions as well.

The Rules of War

Before engaging in battle, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) instructed his soldiers:

  1. Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elder or sick person. (Sunan Abu Dawud)
  2. Do not practice treachery or mutilation. (Al-Muwatta)
  3. Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees. (Al-Muwatta)
  4. Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food. (Al-Muwatta)
  5. If one fights his brother, [he must] avoid striking the face, for God created him in the image of Adam. (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
  6. Do not kill the monks in monasteries, and do not kill those sitting in places of worship. (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal)
  7. Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle. (Sahih Bukhari; Sunan Abu Dawud)
  8. Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy; pray to God to grant you security; but when you [are forced to] encounter them, exercise patience. (Sahih Muslim)
  9. No one may punish with fire except the Lord of Fire. (Sunan Abu Dawud).
  10. Accustom yourselves to do good if people do good, and not to do wrong even if they commit evil. (Al-Tirmidhi)

A verse in the Holy Qur’an

4:75 (Y. Ali) And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?- Men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!”

How does this potential war against Iran play into all this?

Our first call to action is to organize an anti-war rally. This type of work is weak in America, and virtually non-existent within the Muslim community.

فَقَالَ أَبُو سَعِيدٍ أَمَّا هَذَا فَقَدْ قَضَى مَا عَلَيْهِ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَنْ رَأَى مُنْكَرًا فَلْيُنْكِرْهُ بِيَدِهِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِلِسَانِهِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِقَلْبِهِ وَذَلِكَ أَضْعَفُ الإِيمَانِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ ‏.‏

Abu Sa’eed said: ‘As for this, he has fulfilled what is upon him. I heard the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saying: ‘Whoever among you sees an evil, then let him stop it with his hand. Whoever is not able, then with his tongue, and whoever is not able, then with his heart. That is the weakest of faith.”‘

War with Iran will be a Greater Mistake than War with Iraq

Historically, anti-war sentiment in America has grown over the years. When the Iraq war first started only 23% thought it was a mistake, today it is close to 60% that believe the war is a mistake. Yes, this is in hindsight, but that it is also growth. The reason the anti-war movement is feeble in America is that there is no platform for the campaign to grow. Both parties are guilty of starting wars or taking over the wars from the past administration. Whether we do it alone as an individual or as a group, we should do everything we can as privileged members of this planet to save and protect those that can’t defend themselves.

There is a famous quote of the famed boxer Muhammad Ali when explaining why he wasn’t fighting in the war. He said, “…I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.”

Fighting Earth

With that said, there is a significant interest in the region for more than just fuel and resources. It is truly a problem, our operations in the Gulf is to address our dependency on Persian oil, and the fuel that is used to address our dependence is to protect those resources and access to them. One estimate is that America spends $81 billion annually defending the global oil supply. They do this because the DOD feels its dependency will make it vulnerable on a larger scale.

In 1975 America decided to take away the fear of losing the resources and developed the “Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” and in 1978, they created the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). Their only purpose was to defend US interest in the Middle East. This, in turn, leads to extractivism of resources and supplies. (Which will be explained in a future article).

This war can be the end of all wars as it can accelerate us to the point of no return in regards to climate change.

A war with Iran is a war with Earth and all who live on it.

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