American Professor Randy Pausch famously said, “When there’s an elephant in the room, introduce it.” So let’s talk about Nouman Ali Khan.
If you don’t know who he is, don’t worry. Two million followers on Facebook do, as do hundreds of thousands of students who benefitted from Bayyinah Institute, one of the most well-respected Arabic Studies institutions in the United States. Nouman Ali Khan is its founder and CEO.
This September 21st, he was outed on Facebook by Omer Mozaffar, Muslim Chaplain at Loyola University of Chicago and Adjunct Professor of Theology. In a post that elicited over 2500 comments in less than 24 hours since its posting, Omer wrote:
“I have been working on a case regarding my friend of twenty years, Nouman Ali Khan. He confessed inappropriate interactions with various women, violating agreed-upon bounds of Islamic law. He also told lies to cover up those relationships, and filed threats of litigation against multiple parties to further hide his misconduct. I am calling on him to focus on repentance and reform. He is jeopardizing his soul and reputation; he is tampering with the Iman of so many of the students of his courses and lectures….
In a meeting with the above scholars and myself, Nouman agreed to stop public speeches until further notice, to get professional and religious counseling, and to cease all contact with those women. I had the responsibility to determine when he would be ready to speak again. I gave him an exception, allowing him to post previously recorded lectures, so long as they were not about marriage or gender matters…
This brings us to where we are today. Nouman has now broken his agreement with us and has been sending threats against each of us through his attorney.” full post here
Within 24 hours of Omer’s posting, Nouman Ali Khan posted a response as well. In it, he asserts his innocence and claims that enemies to himself and his family are conspiring to destroy him, and sums the situation up as follows:
“I have been divorced for nearly two years. The circumstances of my divorce are one of the most difficult and painful experiences of my life. Many rumors surrounded that event and I chose to remain silent to protect my children more than anyone else. After the passage of some time I did in fact pursue remarriage with the help of my family. Along that process I communicated with a few prospects with my family’s knowledge and consent and that has been used, distorted and manipulated way out of proportion and turned into something it isn’t. All such communications took place between consenting adults and there was nothing malicious or predatory about them. I fail to see how such interaction can render anyone a victim. These communications took place for a dignified purpose. Yet these are the communications that are being alleged as predatory.” full post here
In a relatively short time, the Muslim world online has been split into two camps, one that believes the accusations and one that doesn’t. Both parties are shocked.
The overwhelming majority of responses to Mozaffar on Facebook – and remember, this is a story unfolding on Facebook itself – are incredulous, unconvinced, and offended on Nouman Ali Khan’s behalf. Commenters on Omer Mozaffar’s original post curse him, call him an apostate, and have gone so far as to suggest the accusations against Nouman are part of a Zionist conspiracy.
Angry commenters to Omer’s post also suggest that he is either a fake profile, a fake person, or a fake in general – taking a stab at Nouman Ali Khan’s reputation in a misguided show of Muslim jealousy. This isn’t the first time that Omer Muzaffar has made news in the Muslim community. Muzaffar was called to act as a mediator in February of 2015 when a prominent Chicago Imam -Mohammad Abdullah Saleem – was accused of sexual assault of a student as well as an employee at the Institute of Islamic Education. Saleem was its founder. He plead guilty on both charges.
Other shuyukh have spoken up in defense of Omer Muzaffar as well.
“A lot of you will be hearing about the Nouman Ali Khan case and will be in utter disbelief. It is very important to put things into perspective:
The accusations against him have been verified by multiple people, and some of them have even been confessed by him…” full post here
This is excerpted from a post by Navaid Aziz, Director of Religious Education and Social Services at the Islamic Information Society of Calgary. While Nouman Ali Khan distanced himself from Omer in his rebuttal post, Navaid Aziz is someone Nouman Ali Khan knows and loves, if Nouman Ali Khan’s own words are anything to go by:
I love sheikh Navaid Aziz. People like him are an inspiration. Make dua for him and his family!
— nouman (@noumanbayyinah) May 2, 2014
To make matters grossly messier, screenshots of contact between Nouman Ali Khan and various women have been released (not by the collective of Muslim community keaders mediating this situation, ie. Omer Mozaffer), which include private conversations, shirtless selfies, and money transfer receipts.
On one hand, Nouman Ali Khan is a respected teacher whose founding and teaching at Bayyinah have been an undeniable benefit for the Muslim community world-wide. On the other hand, those accusing him are also respected and trusted in the Muslim community. If there’s a third hand- given the painful complexity of the situation, what is the common Muslim supposed to do?
In a word: Nothing.
If you believe he is innocent…
If you believe Nouman Ali Khan is innocent; that the screenshots “proving” his guilt are fake, that his shirtless selfie is photoshopped, and the entire affair is a conspiracy meant to divide the ummah and undermine Muslim scholarship; then make dua for him and carry on benefitting from the good that Bayyinah provides in your life.
That is all.
Do not call people names. Do not slander other Muslim preachers for slandering your favorite Muslim preacher, because in doing so, you are committing the same sin that you’re calling out. Do not invoke the wrath of Allah or curse those who you believe to be falsely accusing Nouman Ali Khan.
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
Verily, when a servant curses something, the curse rises to the heaven and the gates of heaven close upon it. It turns right and left and if it does not find somewhere to go, it will return to that which was cursed only if it deserved to be curse, otherwise the curse will return to the one who made it.
Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 4905, Grade: Hasan
You may feel very strongly that Nouman Ali Khan is being falsely accused, but only Allah knows if any person is truly deserving of His curse. In cursing Omer Muzaffar and those who agree with him, you are taking a serious risk. Remember- if the person you are cursing is not truly deserving of it – it will return to you instead. Be patient and fear Allah. Trust that in the end, as Allah says in Surah Isra ayah 81, that falsehood is bound to perish – whether you leave angry comments or not.
Seek refuge in Allah from Shaytaan and do not act – or update your status – in anger. Do not assume you have the right to any sort of righteous indignation on Nouman Ali Khan’s behalf. You are not his ex wife or his children. You are not his colleagues at Bayyinah. You are not his friends or his family members.
In all statistical likelihood, you are at best an outsider to the affair, and your fury against those who disagree with you has zero effect on justice in Nouman Ali Khan’s situation. You are neither the defense nor the prosecution. You have zero first-hand knowledge of the situation at all.
If you choose to decide that he is innocent because you love him and no amount of evidence will convince you otherwise, then take a step back and examine the religious devotion you are feeling. Remember that no one except Allah is perfect.
Do not be shocked at the suggestion that a religious personality could be accused of irreligious behavior. That sort of incredulity and disbelief is what shames real victims and discourages them from seeking justice. After all, Shaytaan goes out of his way to take down the righteous. The closer you get to Allah, the more likely Shaytaan will try to drag you down.
Do not conflate an “attack” on Nouman Ali Khan with an attack on Islam itself. Islam is with Allah, and Islam is not the sole domain of any one Muslim. Islam is not hurt by the sins of a scholar any more than it is hurt by the sins of an apostate. Don’t be offended on Islam’s behalf.
Do not conflate your “relationship” with Nouman Ali Khan to your relationship to Allah. Many commenters on the issue have said things like, “I could never believe this about Nouman, he guided me to Islam!” Nouman could not guide you to Islam any more than the Messenger of Allah himself could guide his beloved uncle Abu Talib, who died a polytheist. Guidance is with Allah, not with any Da’ee or teacher.
If you wish to draw parallels to the Ifk- the incident when hypocrites in the Prophet’s community made up adulterous rumors about his wife Aisha RA, then remember this: we have his example of silent patience. Those with adab and knowledge stayed silent on the matter, and Allah caused the truth to be revealed.
Do not curse, not even those you believe to be wronging Nouman Ali Khan. Not even the Prophet would do that to the people wronging him. The Messenger of Allah was asked, “Messenger of Allah, invoke a curse for us against the idolators.” He replied, “I was not sent as a curser. I was sent as a mercy.” [Sahih Al-Albani, Al Adab Al Mufrad 321]
Pray instead for their guidance and for the emergence of truth. Remember that because you have no first-hand knowledge of what has happened, you have no right to comment on his innocence. Or, for that matter, his guilt.
If you do believe he is guilty though…
If you do believe he is guilty of what he has been accused of, then take a moment to ask yourself this: do my own sins infuriate me as much as Nouman Ali Khan’s do? If you committed zina, or cheated on your spouse, or had an inappropriate conversation with someone in privacy, did you benefit in any way from a public skewering? Or did Allah hide your sins and allow you to repent from them?
If you are convinced of his guilt and find yourself seeking out more details, answer this: are you responsible for his justice? Do you need to read every message and study every picture? Do you have any reason at all that you could give standing before Allah, to justify trawling through the public details of another Muslim’s private sins to satisfy your morbid curiosity or moral outrage?
You and the millions of Muslims – literally, millions – following this story are equally irrelevant regardless of whether you presume his guilt or not. While this story has entered the public sphere, at its heart this is still a private matter. There are faces and broken hearts behind the names. There are families who will have to pick up pieces and rebuild their lives long after your curiosity has been satiated. The purpose of Nouman’s misdeeds being announced publicly – if you believe he is guilty – is to protect and prevent victims. Not to create hatred or entertainment within the Muslim community. That it is currently doing both is a poor indicator of our restraint as a community.
If you believe Nouman Ali Khan is guilty, and you cannot stand the sight of him, then don’t watch his lectures. Do not, however, stop or discourage others from doing so. Allah commanded us to encourage good and forbid evil, and while you may not want to use Bayyinah books or watch Bayyinah lectures that is your choice.
The grammar books and educational lectures provided by other teachers at Bayyinah have nothing to do with Nouman Ali Khan’s sins, and to discourage other people from seeking knowledge is of no benefit to the victims.
The people who work at Bayyinah are not complicit in his sins simply because they are his employees. The students at Bayyinah are not complicit in his sins because they are his students. The only parties complicit in Nouman Ali Khan’s sins are those directly complicit in Nouman Ali Khan’s sins.
You could argue that Bayyinah is Nouman Ali Khan’s company, and you disapprove of his actions and don’t want to support the business of a sinful teacher. Considering that all teachers and scholars too are human, and that all humans are sinful, you would be dead before you found that perfect person to learn from. Nouman Ali Khan’s sins do not have any bearing on whether the contents of his previous lectures were correct or beneficial to you or not. If you found them inspiring before, one would hope it was due to your faith in Allah and independent of any faith in Nouman Ali Khan.
Do not lose faith in Islam. Islam is the religion of Allah, sent down by angels, transmitted by messengers and then bumbled-through by Muslims who sin night and day. Allah tells us so, literally-
O My servants, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you. full source here
Every scholar, every teacher, every person you have ever respected has sinned, is sinning, and will sin until they die. What makes a person “good” isn’t lack of sin, it is the presence of repentance.
Still though, if you believe Nouman Ali Khan is guilty, you could choose not to watch his lectures anymore. Or you could watch them anyway knowing full well that every daee (caller) is a sinner, every last one of them, because it is equally as ridiculous to see all scholars as perfect as it is to see all scholars as angels.
A balanced view is that all scholars are all fallible. It is fitting and bittersweet then, to recognize that perhaps the only real difference between preachers you love and preachers you hate is whether their sins are private or not.
But do not use Nouman Ali Khan as an excuse to disparage all preachers. Or to disparage all male scholars. Or to disparage all men. You are as personally culpable for Nouman Ali Khan’s sins as they are- which is none at all.
No one is responsible for Nouman Ali Khan’s actions except Nouman Ali Khan. Allah will not question you – the uninvolved – about anyone’s deeds except your own. Nouman Ali Khan – like all humans – will stand accountable on the Day of Judgment for those that he has wronged. Imagine the irony if you stood accountable on the Day of Judgment for wronging Nouman Ali Khan instead.
Whoever does an atom’s weight of good in this life will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it. Consider the weight of an atom, and consider whether or not you want to stand accountable before Allah for insulting Nouman Ali Khan or those who stand by him – even if you believe him to be guilty.
Do not insult Nouman Ali Khan. You have no right to insult anyone, regardless of their righteousness. You do not know whether he will repent to Allah. You do not know whether Allah will accept it. Imagine if Nouman Ali Khan had repented – imagine if the beauty, depth, and magnitude of his repentance so outweighed his sins that he became those beloved to Allah. Imagine if Allah forgave Nouman Ali Khan for his mountain of sins and wrote a mountain of blessings instead and yet you were still trashing him.
You have no way of knowing if and when Allah forgives Nouman Ali Khan, and while that is an important reminder, it’s actually irrelevant to whether you are allowed to talk badly about him or not. You can argue that what your saying is true – if you believe he is guilty- but the definition of slander is to speak lies about your brother. The definition of backbiting includes any thing that your brother would not like you saying about him, even if it’s true.
Don’t say that Nouman Ali Khan is not your brother.
As long as he is a Muslim, he is your brother. Even if he is guilty, he is your brother. Those directly connected to him are responsible for giving him naseeha, and the very definition of naseeha is that your recommendations are for the betterment of the one you are advising. You are not his judge, jury, or executioner. You may be shocked, offended, or upset at his sins, but unless he has directly transgressed against you, you have no right to call for his humiliation or destruction.
No matter what you believe….
If the communal conversation about Nouman Ali Khan focuses no further than guilt or innocence, then we’re wasting our time. Justice must be served, but we the uninvolved social media spectators, are not in the place to serve it. It is the role of the mediators, the community leaders, and those in positions of authority and actual evidence to do so.
So what should we be doing instead?
Seeing as how ignoring problems is zero percent effective in making them go away, now is the time to have important discussions about many, many things.
What are we doing to prevent emotional and sexual abuse in our communities?
How can we help protect our prominent Imams from situations that could lead to sins like these?
How does our community respond to the victims of cases like these, what support structures do we have in place?
How should the Muslim community hold its leadership accountable for abuses of position or power?
What, if anything, can we learn from this experience as a community?
And most importantly of all – how can we rebuild from this experience in a way that leaves us better prepared and less likely to freak out on a global level. In the things that sadden, shock, or throw the ummah for a loop, any situation that brings us closer to Allah through our response is good, and any situation that takes us farther from Allah – even when it makes us happy- is a failure.
May Allah have mercy on all of us, I seek refuge in Allah from Shaytan and from trolls, who are normal Muslim people that shaytaan tricks into letter their anger lead them. May Allah protect us all, and strengthen us as a community and unite us in our desire to please Allah and work for justice no matter the cost or consequence.
My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.
“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”
In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.
It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.
Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.
When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.
Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone
In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.
The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah as well.
The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.
We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.
مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا
“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15
On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.
Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.
وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22
But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?
The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.
It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.
You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.
There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.
Being Alone Has Its Own Perks
It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.
Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.
Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.
When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.
Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”
All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.
We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone
The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.
You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.
Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.
Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?
This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:
1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens
When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.
Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.
This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.
2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower
The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.
While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.
3) Military aid and complicity of tax-payers
US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.
Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.
4) The Israeli lobby
The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.
5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history
This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.
Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.
The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.
Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji
As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations. We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.
Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion. Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone. There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.
No, it’s not ikhtilaf
The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat. The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.
It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined, free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically, the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.
The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds. We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?
Show Your Work
We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules. In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.
Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.
You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2
Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them? Why or why not?
Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts? What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.
In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor. There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.
The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.
As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent. Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.
People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble. Fisabilillah.
Dawa is the new Jihad
Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past. Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.
Indeed dawah is a broad category. For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah. Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.
No Standards or Accountability
Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.
The Shift to Meaninglessness
Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.
Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it. It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.
- The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
- In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.
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