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The Ethics of Muslim Charisma | A Proposal for Leadership Standards

The American Muslim communities have several distinct ethics problems. Consider these hypotheticals.

  • A professional imam trained in Islamic Studies becomes popular in his local community. The local police arrest him for improper conduct involving a woman in the Masjid. The criminal matter is quietly resolved, but the Masjid fires the imam, who is quickly able to obtain new employment at a nearby Masjid where the board did not know of the imam’s prior conduct. The imam later commits misconduct involving women and flees the jurisdiction.
  • An Islamic Scholar in the United States obtains payments from working with organizations that are funded by military contractors and governments that routinely abuse human rights.
  • A nonprofit holds a banquet where the speaker fails to disclose 25% of all donations will be the fee for the speaker himself.

I want to be clear about something. This article is not about Nouman Ali Khan. I have no unique knowledge about his case, nor do I have any position on his guilt or innocence. The subject goes far beyond the publicly known facts of his situation. However, the public discussion should cast a spotlight on how Muslim leaders handle misconduct by those who are in a position of public trust. What was clear about Nouman Ali Khan is that there was no system for managing allegations of unethical conduct, breaches of trust and “spiritual abuse” that did not rise to criminal misconduct. Furthermore, attention came to his case primarily because of Mr. Khan’s international celebrity. There is a continuing concern about ethics among imams, shuyukh, heads of charities and other public figures inside the Muslim community, regardless of if their profile is local, national or international.

As a lawyer, I am part of a regulated profession.  Think of it as an organized tribe with a group of elders that can determine who is in, and who is out.  There are rules of professional conduct. For anyone in an actual profession, Dentistry, Architecture, those who sell insurance, boats and even cannabis, there are defined standards, a group that sets them and a group that enforces them.

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There are no intellgible standards in the American Muslim community for shuyukh, public figures and those who provide some form of spiritual guidance. We need them. What I want to do in this article is provide a path for us as a community to do exactly that.

Ethics for all?

The term “unethical” does not mean the same thing for all people. If you are a private business and your primary goal is value for shareholders, your ethics will be different if you are a non-profit organization meant to provide a public benefit. If you are a shaykh that specializes in Islamic Finance, the Muslim community may hold you to a different standard than if you speak out against domestic violence to Muslim groups. Those two people may not appear to belong to the same tribe, though they are similar in that they take leadership roles inside Muslim spaces and their roles may overlap.

Shuykh and imams, unfortunately, have not yet been able to regulate themselves or hold bad actors accountable in the same way other professions routinely do. So, the situation described in the initial hypothetical can still happen. What we also know all too well is that accusations of spiritual abuse and unethical conduct are in no way limited to shuyukh and professional imams. We need a broader framework.

Public figures or semi-public figures who provide spiritual guidance to Muslims can easily be social and political activists. They can also be business people, educators, professors and community members in unrelated professions who are adept at public speaking and leading halaqas. Yes, they can also be Shuyukh or professional imams. It is possible for some personalities to operate exclusively online, like YouTube or social media stars who are only “Twitter famous.” However, much of a leader’s legitimacy and indeed, capacity to personally affect people for good or ill, comes from speaking in physical spaces to live audiences organized by non-profit Muslim groups, particularly large Islamic Centers and Islamic Conferences, such as ISNA and ICNA, as well as other events for Muslim organizations.

The Non-Profit Choke Point

An organization like the Islamic Society of North America (which I do not represent here though I have a vote on its Executive Council) can invite as many as 200 speakers to a single conference, usually on Labor Day weekend in a major US city.  Many speakers are not the same from one year to another. Nearly all the best-known Muslim speakers have spoken at ISNA, as well as other conferences such as ICNA and MAS. The North American Islamic Trust either owns outright or through trust arraignments hundreds of masajid around the country, many of which (regardless of their connection to NAIT) are connected through regional shura councils.  If there is an opportunity to manage ethics in American Muslim spaces, it comes from these organizations.

These organizations can develop formal rules of ethics governing a range of subjects. A shura, such as an independent ethics commission should determine these rules, so I will not attempt to enunciate them all here. However, it is vital those who are involved in formulating these rules have no business or grant ties with foreign or domestic governments, non-profits interested in reforming Islam, defense contractors or financial institutions (more on this later).

All Muslim speakers would need to sign an ethics agreement developed by this shura, if they are famous in the Muslim community or not. It should not matter if the speaker is a head of a nonprofit, an author of the latest Islamic children’s book or a nasheed singer. Such an agreement could be universal throughout the Muslim community in the United States and can apply to board members, khateebs, halaqah leaders, youth leaders and everyone else who is a trusted voice in the community. The only speakers with no signing requirement would be foreign dignitaries and non-Muslim speakers (such as interfaith leaders and government officials). Should a group, such as shuyukh, wish to eventually regulate themselves for things that are specific to their vocations, such a system would encourage wider adoption of rules they develop. The initial ethics rules I suggest here would be broad and general and necessarily apply to a specific profession.

What if something bad happens?

Part of what these speakers and others would sign up for would be consent to a system in the event someone makes allegations of violations of these rules. This would not be to cover up criminal misdeeds. Criminal conduct gets reported to the police. However, it would be a fair and dignified way to resolve allegations where there is a violation of Islamic ethics regardless of it violates a criminal or civil code.

Perhaps the hardest part of implementing such a plan is not formulating rules, but developing a dignified resolution of an allegation that is fair to the accused and the alleged victims. It should also protect organizations- both those that associated with someone who acted with poor judgment and those groups looking at hiring a charismatic leader or speaker to fulfill their future needs. Those organizations who have subscribed to the system can protect themselves from bad actors by having access to the names of individuals who have violated the rules of ethics so that they know who to avoid.

What gets governed?

Ethics is a vast area and the goal should be to make the rules as comprehensive as possible over time. The most obvious thing that would need to be reviewed are the accusations leveled against Nouman Ali Khan, particularly “spiritual abuse.” This is not to re-litigate it, but to address how well defined the allegations were, and can we do a better job at making sure the rules are clear in the future. Vague terms do not help justice.

This agreement should also govern business practices inside the Muslim community, both in non-profits and to the extent private individuals do business with organizations that are public trusts inside the Muslim community. Many of the worst practices in business, from the exploitation of employees to profiteering, can sometimes be found in Islamic organizations. Other practices may be more specific to nonprofits, such as zakat abuse.

Lastly, a broad area of concern would have to be conflicts of interest.  How do we deal with those who may speak for the interests of a financial institution, a foreign or domestic government, defense or domestic security contractors, anti-Palestinian interests or non-profit groups looking reform Islam into a secular identity. Rules of ethics go primarily to actions and income sources, not necessarily points of view, which should be diverse. However, this is not to say that a formal or informal system of “blacklisting” does not happen already or that this is always a bad thing in a religious space. However, someone being banned from giving khutbas or speaking to youth purely because of his or her expressed point of view is often not an ethical concern. It may be that the individual does not fit the role well.

In some ethics cases, it would be appropriate for Muslim organizations to not associate with personalities because they are known to be harmful to individuals. In other situations, ethics should be looked at, not to judge a person as good or bad as an individual, but instead with a view towards protecting the independence of our community’s intellectual and spiritual development from interests that are opposed to justice, human rights or the religion of Islam itself.

Ethics in the American Muslim community is in dire need of leadership. I do hope we have people willing to provide it.

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Ahmed Shaikh is a Southern California Attorney. He writes about inheritance, nonprofits and other legal issues affecting Muslims in the United States. He is the co-author of "Estate Planning for the Muslim Client," published by the American Bar Association. His Islamic Inheritance website is www.islamicinheritance.com

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abu Sufian

    October 18, 2017 at 6:01 PM

    Assalamu’alaikum,

    There are ethics already. They are the Quran and Sunnah. If someone who is supposed to be teaching these two is not following them it’s probably unlikely they will hold themselves to other man-made standards.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      October 18, 2017 at 7:08 PM

      My hope is that the standards would be in keeping with the Shari’ah. There is a long history of Muslims drafting agreements and even laws that are understood to be in keeping with our values.

  2. Avatar

    Thehardtruth

    October 18, 2017 at 10:19 PM

    “Ethics” won’t ever work, when a large chunk of the community places conservative Islamic-values over everything else, and can draw support for almost any “unethical” action if needed.

    Take Nouman’s case. I would say most American Muslims were disgusted with his “unethical” conduct, once some of the evidence and statement from officials came to light.

    However, there is a large minority of conservatives who continue to defend Nouman vigorously, and they draw on Orthodox-Islamic precepts to do it.

    They’ll say, “using his station to influence female-students/workers isn’t haram”, and they’re right, its not.

    They’ll say, “marrying multiple women in secret and not telling each one about the other isn’t haram”, and they’re right, its not.

    They’ll say, “divorcing your wife and leaving your kids so you can have younger, hotter women isn’t haram”, and they’re right, its not.

    They’ll say, “even if he’s truly guilty of Zina, you need 4 upstanding witnesses to prove it, or we’re committing sins even accusing him. Orthodox-Islam doesn’t even allow recorded video or pregnancy as proof of zina, it has to be the literal 4-witnesses”. And they are right.

    The point, is ethnics mean nothing when a large segment of our community can just ignore our “liberal norms” as they call it, and judge behavior entirely on Islamic-ideals.

    • Avatar

      shondhabati

      October 18, 2017 at 11:57 PM

      To be fair, many who make these statements understand the importance of ethics in their secular workplaces. ‘Ethics’ is primarily a western and secular concept, in the absence of a law-giving God. In the history of workplaces in the Muslim countries, we did not have the concept of ‘ethics’ the way its understood in the West. We only had the clearly haram, the clearly halal and everything in between. Since this discussion of ethics is very new in Islamic circles (used specifically by Muslims willing to practice, so most people in these ‘circles’ know the clearly halal from the clearly haram), I don’t think its fair to say this is how people would have reacted had there been a pre-agreed set of ethical conduct. I also think it is unfair to go after people based on a loosely, vaguely defined set of ethics. What this author suggested would solve part of the problem.

  3. Avatar

    Usman

    October 18, 2017 at 10:32 PM

    The irony of ethical committees needed for policing religious leaders who espouse and promulgate ethics is regrettable. What does this say about the Islamic speakers and scholars of our era? The intellectually lazy answer would be that
    Universal Justice would be served without such a system of checks and balances. My fear would be that by having another organized layer of authority beyond the Ulema, academic Scholars, and Islamic organizations (ie ISNA, ICNA, MSAs, etc) would generate politics. Politics breeds corruption and favoritism.

    I think the answer lies at the micro-level of individual communities acting as the gatekeeper to speakers. Word of mouth moves quickly via electronic communication which would caution the community Masjids from allowing corrupt speakers from extorting or abusing their respective congregations.

  4. Avatar

    DI

    October 19, 2017 at 5:58 PM

    There’s a few problems with this.

    1) Cherry picking religious texts. We always do this in our community, our hadith are clear on good conduct but then the standard gets lowered to halal-haram from ihsan-good akhlaaq when it comes to misconduct. It becomes a battle of interpretations and overseas fatwas. Its nafsi nafsi.

    2) Even if an ethical framework is created, the leaders of these big organizations have their hands dirty. Their seasonally embroiled in power struggles, in-fighting, government audits for mismanaged funds and under investigation. Any ethical standard or regulation they create gets discarded quickly. Most organizations don’t even abide by their constitutions and bylaws. The only way to control the cronyism is bringing in a non-Muslim voice.

    3) Most academics and Muslim leaders are involved in some way with those anti-Palestinian or anti-Muslim forces, even indirectly. For example, a PhD on madrassa systems in Pakistan or women’s roles can easily be passed off to military intelligence to undermine the Muslim lifestyle of distant Muslim lands. Even if the research grant is not from a shady source, it can still be used against us. You cannot regulate that and its bound to happen when Muslim want fame or have mouths to feed.

    Logistically, a better starting point may be the British movement of Unions for Imams. http://imamsonline.com/imams-fair-wage-campaign/

    Classically, religious leaders would be ‘regulated’ by their shaykhs and Sufi silsilas and madaris just as Muslims trades people would be ‘regulated’ by their sufi guilds (asnaf) to keep the market fair. Regardless of your view on sufism, asnaf and tariqas are how historically Muslims regulated and governed themselves without involvement from the state. Unions today seem to fulfill this function, but without the moral and spiritual authority.

    Many preachers that you are thinking of have no shaykh they answer to. They have no direct mentors or superiors. If anything, their mentor too cut themselves off from a system of religious chain of transmission. So how do you regulate them? If they really want, they can argue ‘freedom of expression’ and continue to teach as they wish.

    di.

  5. Avatar

    Latifa Aimaq

    October 21, 2017 at 3:22 AM

    Excellent article. For those of you claiming ethical standards are 1. Man made, 2. Cannot be enforced because of politics and cronyism, 3. Our Deen somehow allows for unethical behavior through texts that people can use to justify behaviors and so on, I believe you would be surprised that such standards used to exist in the past and have recently been discarded, which explains how ethical standards (which exist in the Quran and Sunnah as well, and in the best form) have disappeared over time. First of all, scholars used to reference students of knowledge and select people who were known for their good character (which obviously encompasses good ethical standards that one practices as well as others.) So prevention was key. Nowadays we accept as imams people who are unknown and whose knowledge and character is either unknown or deficient in some way. Before any other ethical standards are adopted, one should set preventative measures which include character and knowledge references and those are done by scholars who have seniority in knowledge and character. Secondly, a group of people who are highly knowledgeable in Islam can be part of ethics committees which may not have formally existed in the past but used to convene if a person of knowledge acted inappropriately or was suspected of doing so. The scholars would examine the claims and clear or consider the person unfit. The same needs to happen nowadays. Thirdly, for those who think that Islam allows abuse, think again. Yes, someone can technically leave his wife and kids for a younger woman and that technically won’t be forbidden but it would not be accepted as an act of good character when Islam emphasizes kindness toward women. Secondly, the idea of marrying secret wives and divorcing them while retaining a permanent “legal one” under clearly unequal terms in Islam is something not allowed. So for some of you to think that Islam would condone such behavior is to have a low opinion of our religion. I will accept that yes, people misuse the Deen to get what they want but is that person considered ethical in the least? No. Lastly, people in the past had a higher ethical standard than all of us combined. They had books and books on the character of people who passed on knowledge called, “The Knowledge of Men,” primarily in Hadith sciences. If someone was a lier, it was clearly mentioned. Their ethical standards were so high that forget halal and haram, they would not take knowledge from people who acted inappropriately. We need to revive the legacy of those who went before us in these areas and with the help of sincere and knowledgeable scholars and others formulate clear ethical standards and abide by them.

  6. Avatar

    Muhammad

    October 21, 2017 at 9:32 AM

    “It is possible for some personalities to operate exclusively online, like YouTube or social media stars who are only “Twitter famous.” However, much of a leader’s legitimacy and indeed, capacity to personally affect people for good or ill, comes from speaking in physical spaces to live audiences organized by non-profit Muslim groups, particularly large Islamic Centers and Islamic Conferences, such as ISNA and ICNA, as well as other events for Muslim organizations.”

    I agree with the author and I commend and applaud his recommendation for speaker to sign an ethics agreement developed by the shura.

    I agree with this statement of a reader:

    “the idea of marrying secret wives and divorcing them while retaining a permanent “legal one” under clearly unequal terms in Islam is something not allowed.”

    This ethics agreement should call for a recognition that secret marriages are haram. Of course, the ethics agreement should probably cover many other issues as well.

    Islam is above all about honesty. It started out from the honest Sadiq Al Ameen being chosen to be a messenger for his honesty and the message of Islam emphasizes that honesty is a must.

    A secret marriage entails not just one lie but thousands of lies. It entails living a life of lie every day and every night.

    It is said that Muslims need to be reminded of this but we must save our families and our honor from this family destroying deception which makes a mockery of Islam.

  7. Avatar

    Hafiz Gee

    October 21, 2017 at 11:35 PM

    Something that is sorely needed in our times. An issue that spans the Sufi-salafi-ashari-brelwi-deobandi-tradionalist divides.

    The is a difference between proving someone guitly of Zina in Islamic law and holding people in positions of authority in the Islamic community to higher standards.

    I think inevitably in the next 20-50 years sitting like this will come to pass whether or not individuals like the author of this article are supported right now or not, this sort of regulation/professional standards is inevitable at least in the west.

    A lot of students of knowledge who looked up to certain scholars, adherents of Sufi shaykhs, fans of shaykhs, etc. have faced far too many situations where the shaykh has let them down massively through their unprofessional behaviour.

    As with any other organized profession in the West, there needs to be a college or guild and there needs to be serious self-regulation.

    I think getting that regulation in place and imams shaykhs to buy in will take decades, but that’s no reason not to start such an eandeavour as it is necessary.

    This isn’t about casting aspersions on imams/shaykhs/mawlana/pirs this is about facing reality and the cumulative trauma that many in the Muslim community have faced because of the lack of regulations. If these folks don’t start putting their house in order they will lose their following. I think the level of scandals awaiting the Muslim when more and more of these abuses of power and position (specifically sexual abuses) emerg the Muslim community will be facing crisis not unlike that going on in the Catholic community.

    Ijazas, khilafah, isnads do nothing to stop unprofessional behaviour. Yes you can quote stories of famous shaykhs of the “glorious past” who upon hearing their mureed, khalifa, student was doing somethingnit only sinful but wholly unbecoming of station immediately revoked their khilafah (Sufi license), ijazah or whatever. But in today’s world you will see several examples where all of those abuses are overlooked and the unprofessional “imam/shaykh/Mawlana” is able to continue on and do their thing. Some are even today the principles of respected madrassas, heads of Sufi Tariqas, presidents of major Islamic organizations.

    I think the big challenge with Ahmed shaykh’s proposal is getting shaykhs to buy in and not make them feel insulted or like the organization is trying to discredit them or accuse them as a whole of wrong doing. Also it has to be more than just a salafi club, or Sufi club, or a salafi-deobandi club (at the expense of brelwis) or whatever sectarian flavour. This needs to be something universal. Everybody needs to buy in. The professional/ethical need to be sufficiently broad and not sectarian in their wording so as to include everyone, non-offensive, and needs to steer clear of big differences of opinion issues in fiqh. For instance of these professional standards were laid out

    Moreover what would this whole set up look like: would the qualifications of members of this “College of Islamic Educators” have to be vetted and what would that mean(what qualifications if any would suffice)? Or would it just be a pledge for anyone to take? If there reports of breaches of professional conduct (e.g. Quran teacher raping his student) how would these be reported? How would the issue be handled so as not to destroy a scholar’s credibility before a conclusion is reached or more importantly I the scholar is found to be innocent of breaching the code of conduct? How would breaches be handled? Would scholars have probationary licenses or would (I.e. Quran teacher may now only teach adults not children)? How and where would those breaches of conduct be reported so the Muslim Public can be made aware, and to what extent should details be reported?

  8. Avatar

    Educator

    October 22, 2017 at 8:20 PM

    I would also like to respectfully submit that Islamic school leaders (Principals and Board members) be included in the group that needs to adhere to a framework of ethical standards and be held accountable for their actions and words. There have been allegations of violation of Islamic principles that have been swept under the rug and the voices of victims in educational institutions quieted by the ‘elders’ of the respective communities.
    We need more conversations on this subject; it will take time, as one of the previous comments indicate but we must begin to have the difficult dialogue. If nothing else, then to raise awareness.

  9. Avatar

    Md Nayeem

    October 24, 2017 at 4:49 AM

    Jazāk Allāhu Khayr, Bro.!! Your following post is really analytical. I will say one thing that standardization of ethics for an actual leader is following Quran and Sunnah to lead people or giving people chance to trust on you. And the sariah, of-course, its also from the two basements….

  10. Avatar

    Amira

    October 28, 2017 at 8:56 PM

    Great efforts are coming about from these leaders everyone will agree, but time for a reconciliation of practicing what you preach.

    Not to mention the personal major sins and immoral practices community leaders make on a personal basis but hide it in from the eyes of community members affecting their ethical practices of running the nonprofit. Local Texas city youth organization anyone?

    Where do all the community donated funds go. Why are volunteer staff not reimbursed within a reasonable time frame instead of at least a year later. Why are volunteer staff worked like mad dogs with no training whatsoever, receive nothing in return besides self satisfaction, pumped up like crazy to their face, and being the object of trash talk behind their backs while being mentally blacklisted by the Director/President. Why is so much expected of volunteer teachers yet they’re given absolutely nothing in return not even from the supposed successful fundraisers. The community leader fails to reassess his last minute strategies and thus the organization doesn’t reach its potential.

    I know a community leader whose major theme of the organization(s) was the best of sinners is the one who repents and makes great efforts to align the organization’s practices with strict views BUT practices none of that in his own personal life. All in the name of status. Time to clean out some intentions.

  11. Avatar

    Hisham E

    October 28, 2017 at 10:57 PM

    Thank you brother Shaikh. I, also, applaude you for promoting this issue of setting ethical standards for Muslim community leaders.
    The point I like to raise has to do with litigation and litigation only as the one thing that would make this issue move forward, and would force the creation of Imam unions and guilds, that would be able to exclude and issue warnings to members that don’t abide with ethical standards.
    Take for example a lawsuit that would cost a community millions of dollars forcing them to sell their center (or several centers in the case of NAIT).
    It is then and only then that associations and communities would wake up and attemp to regulate their Imams, sheikhs, down to any employee who appeal to others as having any kind of moral or spiritual authority.
    Frankly, I am surprised that insurance companies don’t require such an arrangement. Or better, I should ask if Muslim communities ever have such insurance policies against ethical misconduct.
    This is not just about the image of Islam before our children and outer communities, and not about implementing Sharia, but rather about maintaining the very organizations (and realestate) that our communities put so much energy to create and maintain.

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#Society

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks: An Obituary

This article was originally published at Al-Madinah Institute.

 

An internationally recognised Islamic scholar, who saw spirituality, justice, and knowledge as integral to an authentic religious existence.

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Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, who passed away on the 9th of July 2020 at the age of 64, was a scholar of international repute, able to communicate and engage on the level of state leaders, religious scholars and the broader public. As a scion of one of the most prominent Islamic institutions in South Africa and internationally, who also spent a decade studying at the hands of the most prominent of Makkan scholars, he not only inherited a grand bequest, but expanded that legacy’s impact worldwide. In particular, he upheld a normative understanding of Islam, embedded in a tradition stretching back more than a millennium – but deeply cognisant of the needs of the age, including the need to strive to make the world a better place.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks was a high school English teacher between 1980 and 1982 in Cape Town before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 1983 to study at the Umm al-Qura University in Makka. Before this, he spent many years studying particularly at the feet of his illustrious uncle, the late Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks – erstwhile Life President of the Muslim Judicial Council and widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Islam in southern Africa – as well as his father, Imam Hassan Hendricks.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks studied the Islamic sciences for more than a decade in the holy city of Makka, spending three years at the Arabic Language Institute in Makka studying Arabic and related subjects, before being accepted for the BA (Hons) Islamic Law degree. He specialised in fiqh and usul al-fiqh in the Faculty of Shariʿa of Umm al-Qura University and graduated in 1992. Shaykh Seraj took ijazat from both the late Sayyid Ahmad Mashur al-Haddad and Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qadir b. Ahmad al-Saqqaf, as well as his extensive time spent with the likes of Shaykh Hasan Mashhat and others. These scholars are all known as some of the pre-eminent ‘ulama of the ummah in the 20th century, worldwide.

Additionally, he obtained a full ijaza in the religious sciences from his primary teacher, the muḥaddith of the Hijaz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawi al-Maliki, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamaʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars. Together with his brother, the esteemed Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, Shaykh Seraj and I wrote a book on this approach to Sufism entitled, “A Sublime Way: the Sufi Path of the Sages of Makka”. Alongside his brother, he became the representative (khalifa) of the aforementioned muhaddith of the Hijaz.

Further to his religious education, Shaykh Seraj was also actively engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 80’s and early 90’s, alongside the likes of figures like Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, comrade of Nelson Mandela, and the renowned journalist, Shafiq Morton. His commitments to furthering justice meant insistence on expressing constant opposition to injustice, while fiercely maintaining the independence of the institution and community he pledged himself to his entire life. At a time when different forces in Muslim communities worldwide try to instrumentalise religious figures for partisan political gain, Shaykh Seraj showed another, arguably far more Prophetic, model.

The shaykh also was keenly supportive of the rights of women, whom he saw as important to empower and cultivate as religious figures themselves. His students, of which there were many thousands over the years, included many women at various levels of expertise. I know it was his wish that they would rise to higher and higher levels, and he took a great deal of interest in trying to train them accordingly, aware that many unnecessary obstacles stood in their way.

After his return to Cape Town he received an MA (Cum Laude) for his dissertation: “Tasawwuf (Sufism) – Its Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam” from the University of South Africa (UNISA), which is currently being prepared for publication as a book. He translated works of Imam al-Ghazali, and summarised parts of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihyaʾ ʿUlum al-Din), most notably in the Travelling Light series, together with Shaykhs ʿAbdal Hakim Murad and Yahya Rhodus.

Some of his previous positions included being the head of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee (which often led to him being described as the ‘Mufti of Cape Town’), lecturer in fiqh at the Islamic College of Southern Africa (ICOSA), and lecturer in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). He was a member of the Stanlib Shariʿa Board, chief arbitrator (Hakim) of the Crescent Observer’s Society, and was listed consecutively in the Muslim500 from 2009 to 2020. He was also appointed Dean of the Madina Institute in South Africa, a recognised institution of higher learning in South Africa and part of the world Madina Institute seminaries led by Shaykh Dr Muhammad Ninowy. Shaykh Seraj was also appointed as professor at the International Peace University of South Africa, holding the Maqasid Chair for Graduate Studies.

Apart from fiqh and usul al-fiqh, some of Shaykh Seraj’s primary interests are in Sufism, Islamic civilisation studies, interfaith matters, gender studies, socio-political issues and related ideas of pluralism and identity. He lectured and presented papers in many countries, sharing platforms with his contemporaries. Shaykh Seraj taught a variety of Islamic-related subjects at Azzawia Institute in Cape Town, where he was its resident Shaykh, together with his brother Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks. His classes showed an encyclopaedic knowledge that was rooted in the tradition, while completely conversant with the modern age.

But beyond his classes, he was a pastoral figure to many – a community made of thousands – whom he gave himself completely to, in service of the religion, and counselling them as a khidma (service), with mahabba (love), in accordance with the Prophetic model. Many urged him to restrain himself in this way, fearing for his health, which suffered a great deal in his final years as a result – but he saw it as his duty.

The Shaykh was an international figure, a teacher to thousands, and an adviser to multitudes. Many today ask the question as to why ‘ulama truly matter, seeing as it seems so many of them can be compromised by different forces in pursuit of injustice, rigidness and petty partisanship. Such a question will not be asked by those who knew Shaykh Seraj, for in him they saw a concern for spirituality, not paltry political gain, and a commitment to justice and wisdom, not oppression or slogans. In him, many saw, and will continue to see hope for an Islamic commitment to scholarship that seeks to make the world a better place, rising to the challenge of maintaining their values of mercy and compassion, and exiting the world in dignity.

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#Current Affairs

Oped: The Treachery Of Spreading Bosnia Genocide Denial In The Muslim Community

The expanding train of the Srebrenica genocide deniers includes the Nobel laureate Peter Handke, an academic Noam Chomsky, the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, as well as almost all Serbian politicians in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. One name in this group weirdly stands out: “Sheikh” Imran Hosein. A traditionally trained Muslim cleric from Trinidad and Tobago, Hosein has carved his niche mostly with highly speculative interpretations of Islamic apocalyptic texts. He has a global following with more than 200 hundred thousand subscribers to his YouTube channel, and his videos are viewed by hundreds of thousands. He has written tens of books in English, some of which had been translated into major world languages. His denial of the Srebrenica genocide may seem outlandish, coming from a Muslim scholar, but a close inspection of his works reveals ideas that are as disturbing as they are misleading.

Much of Hosain’s output centers around interpreting the apocalyptic texts from the Qur’an and Sunnah on the “end of times” (akhir al-zaman). As in other major religious traditions, these texts are highly allegorical in nature and nobody can claim with certainty their true meaning – nobody, except Imran Hosein. He habitually dismisses those who disagree with his unwarranted conclusions by accusing them of not thinking properly. A Scottish Muslim scholar, Dr. Sohaib Saeed, also wrote about this tendency.

In his interpretations, the Dajjal (“anti-Christ”) is American-Zionist alliance (the West or the NATO), the Ottomans were oppressors of the Orthodox Christians who are, in turn, rightfully hating Islam and Muslims, Sultan Mehmed Fatih was acting on “satanic design” when he conquered Constantinople, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a false flag operation carried out by the Mossad and its allies, and – yes! – the genocide did not take place in Srebrenica. Such conspiratorial thinking is clearly wrong but is particularly dangerous when dressed in the garb of religious certainty. 

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Hosain frequently presents his opinions as the “Islamic” view of things. His methodology consists of mixing widely accepted Muslim beliefs with his own stretched interpretations. The wider audience may not be as well versed in Islamic logic of interpretation so they may not be able to distinguish between legitimate Muslim beliefs and Hosain’s own warped imagination. In one of his fantastic interpretations, which has much in common with the Christian apocalypticism, the Great War that is nuclear in nature is coming and the Muslims need to align with Russia against the American-Zionist alliance. He sees the struggle in Syria as part of a wider apocalyptic unfolding in which Assad and Putin are playing a positive role. He stretches the Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings to read into them fanciful and extravagant interpretations that are not supported by any established Islamic authority.

Hosain does not deny that a terrible massacre happened in Srebrenica. He, however, denies it was a genocide, contradicting thus numerous legal verdicts by international courts and tribunals. Established by the United Nations’ Security Council, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) delivered a verdict of genocide in 2001 in the case of the Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstić. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague confirmed, in 2007, that genocide took place in Srebrenica. In 2010, two more Bosnian Serb officers were found guilty of committing genocide in Bosnia. The butcher of Srebrenica, Ratko Mladić, was found guilty of genocide in 2017.

In spite of this, and displaying his ignorance on nature and definition of genocide, Hosain stated in an interview with the Serbian media, “Srebrenica was not a genocide. That would mean the whole Serbian people wanted to destroy the whole Muslim people. That never happened.” In a meandering and offensive video “message to Bosnian Muslims” in which he frequently digressed to talking about the end of times, Hosain explained that Srebrenica was not a genocide and that Muslims of Bosnia needed to form an alliance with the Orthodox Serbs. He is oblivious to the fact that the problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the former Yugoslavia stem not from the Bosniaks’ purported unwillingness to form an alliance with the Serbs, but from the aggressive Greater Serbia ideology which had caused misery and destruction in Bosnia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Kosovo. 

Hosein’s views are, of course, welcome in Serbia and in Republika Srpska (Serb-dominated entity within Bosnia), where almost all politicians habitually deny that genocide took place in Srebrenica. He had been interviewed multiple times on Serbian television, where he spewed his views of the Ottoman occupation and crimes against the Serbs, the need to form an alliance between Muslims and Russia, and that Srebrenica was not a genocide. His website contains only one entry on Srebrenica: a long “exposé” that claims no genocide took place in Srebrenica. Authored by two Serbs, Stefan Karganović and Aleksandar Pavić, the special report is a hodge-podge of conspiracy theories, anti-globalization and anti-West views. Karganović, who received more than a million dollars over a six year period from the government of the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska for lobbying efforts in Washington, was recently convicted by the Basic Court in Banja Luka on tax evasion and defamation. The Court issued a warrant for Karganović’s arrest but he is still on the loose. 

True conspirators of the Srebrenica killings, according to Hosain, are not the Serbian political and military leaders, and soldiers who executed Srebrenica’s Muslims. The conspirators are unnamed but it does not take much to understand that he believes that the massacres were ultimately orchestrated by the West, CIA, and NATO. Hosain even stated on the Serbian TV that if people who knew the truth were to come forward they would be executed to hide what really happened. Such opinions are bound to add to an already unbearable pain that many survivors of the Srebrenica genocide are experiencing. It is even more painful when Bosniak victims – who were killed because they were Muslims – are being belittled by an “Islamic” scholar who seems to be more interested in giving comfort to those who actually perpetrated the heinous crime of genocide than in recognizing the victims’ pain. These views are, of course, welcome in Serbia, Russia, and Greece.

It is not difficult to see why Hosain’s views would be popular in today’s day and age where misinformation and fake news are propagated even by the world leaders who should know better. A conspiratorial mindset, mistrust of established facts, undermining of international institutions – these are all hallmarks of the post-truth age. In another time, Imran Hosain would be easily exposed for what he truly is: a charlatan who claims religious expertise. Today, however, his opinions are amplified by social media and by the people who already question science and established facts. For these reasons, he needs to be unmasked to safeguard the very religious foundations which he claims to uphold but ultimately undermines. 

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#Life

A Festival Amidst a Pandemic: How to Give Your Kids an Eid ul-Adha to Remember

Eid ul-Adha is less than 3 weeks away!  This year, more than ever, we want to welcome Eid ul-Adha with a full heart and spirit, insha’Allah, despite the circumstances we are in with the global pandemic.

If you follow me on social media, you probably know that my husband and I host an open house brunch for Eid ul-Adha, welcoming over 125 guests into our home. It’s a party our Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors, friends, and family look forward to being invited to each year. It’s a time to come together as a community, share heart-felt conversations, have laughs, chow down lots of delicious food, and exchange gifts. Kids participate in fun crafts, decorate cookies, and receive eidi. The reality is that we cannot keep up with the tradition this year.

Despite social distancing, we have decided that we will continue to lift our spirits and switch our summer décor to Eid décor, and make it the best Eid for our family and our child. We want to instill the love of Islam in my daughter and make the Islamic festivals a real part of her life. We want to create warm Eid memories, and COVID-19 isn’t going to stop us from doing that. I really hope you plan to do the same.

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Here are 4 ideas to inspire you to bring that festive spirit alive for your family this Eid ul-Adha:

Hajj and Eid ul-Adha themed activities and crafts

There are so many activities to keep the little ones engaged, but having a plan for Eid-ul-Adha with some key activities that your child will enjoy, makes the task so much easier.

Kids love stories, and for us parents this is a great way to get a point across. Read to them about hajj in an age appropriate way. If you don’t have Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha related books, you can get started with this Hajj book list. Read together about the significance and the Islamic traditions of hajj, and the story of how zamzam was discovered. While you teach them the story of the divine sacrifice of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), ask relatable questions. As a lesson from the story, give your child examples of how they can sacrifice their anger, bad behavior, etc. during this season of sacrifice for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Ask your children how they would feel if they had to give away their favorite toys, so that they can comprehend the feeling.

Counting down the 10 days of Dhul Hijjah to Eid ul-Adha is another fun activity to encourage kids to do a good deed every day. Have different fun and education activities planned for these 10 days.

Family memories are made through baking together. In our household, Eid cannot pass without baking cookies together and sharing with friends and family. Bake and decorate Eid ul-Adha themed cookies in the shape of a masjid, camel, or even lamb, and share with the neighbors one day, and color in Islamic wooden crafts the next. This DIY Ka’bah craft is a must for us to make every year while learning about the Ka’bah, and it’s an easy craft you can try with your family. Have the kids save their change in this cute masjid money box that they can donate on the day of Eid.

Decorate the main family areas

We are all going to be missing visiting friends and relatives for Eid breakfast, lunch, and dinner this year, so why not jazz things up a bit more at home than usual?

Start decorating the areas of your home that you frequently occupy.  Brighten up the living area, and/or main hallway with a variety of star and masjid-shaped lights, festive lanterns, and Eid garlands, to emphasize that Eid has indeed arrived. Perhaps, decorate a tent while you tell your children about the tent city of Mina.

Prep the dining room as if you are having Guests Over

Set up the breakfast table as if you are having family and friends over for Eid breakfast.

These times will be the special moments you spend together eating as a family. Now, with all hands on deck, plan to get everyone involved to make it a full-on affair. What specific tasks can the little ones take on to feel included as part of the Eid prep and get excited?

While the Eid table set-up itself can be simple, the moments spent around the table sharing in new traditions and engaging in prayer will insha’Allah be even more meaningful and memorable.

 An afternoon picnic

Family picnics are a perfect way for family members to relax and connect. If Texas weather permits, we may take advantage of a cool sunny day with a picnic at a nearby, shady park. With the heat wave we are experiencing, it may either not happen or will be an impromptu one.

Out of all the picnics, it’s the impromptu family meals on the lawn or at a park that I love the most. The ones where we grab an old quilt, basket, light meals, fresh fruits and venture out into the backyard or a nearby park. It’ll be a perfect socially distanced Eid picnic.

Eid ul-Adha comes around just once a year, so let’s strive to make the best of it for our children, even amidst this global pandemic.

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