بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The Prophet (ﷺ) never saw his father, and still developed into the paragon of human excellence. How many Ṣaḥāba were orphans due to their fathers being martyred? Weren’t greats like al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri, Abu Yūsuf al-Qāḍi, Imam ash-Shāfi’i, Imam Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, Imam al-Bukhāri, all orphans? None of these were hindered by the absence of their fathers. So do fathers even matter?
Obviously they do (we will revisit exceptional orphans later), but pinpointing why can be quite difficult, considering the politically charged nature of this subject and the emotion it provokes. After all, the significance of fathers extends from the “significance of men” discussion, and that is not the most popular, progressive, woke subject in today’s world. However, the bottom line is that there is no utility or relevance for men unless there is something unique about them. There must be a difference between men and women, and by extension between fathers and mothers. Otherwise, a father is essentially disposable; you might as well have a single mother, or two mothers. It would not matter.
Unfortunately, this is the fatherlessness experiment many are conducting right now, wherein many fathers are reduced to biological contributors or at best uninvolved financiers. According to the Pew Research Center, the 2-parent household is facing rapid decline in the U.S., the double-mom parenting model is demanding acceptance, and children outside of wedlock have reach 1/3rd of all births since the year 2000.
How detrimental is this? Many studies suggest that the consequences of fatherlessness have reached epidemic proportions, and that so many developmental crises in children and adolescents are directly linked with fatherlessness. To name a few:
- 80% of adolescents in psychiatric institutes stem from fatherless homes
- 90% of all runaway and homeless children were from fatherless homes
- People are 2x as likely to commit suicide (especially boys) after a fatherless childhood
- Children are 9x more likely to be sexually abused (especially girls) in a home without the biological father present
For a Muslim, these alarming numbers are telling you what you already know, because the Creator spared you of being dependent on extensive surveys, statistics, and their margin of error. A Muslim is informed that though all are equal before God in terms of salvation and human dignity, there remain differences between men and women when it comes to certain sectors of the social realm; “And the male is not like the female.” [3:36] Ignore these nuanced differences, and you will create new problems while trying to solve the current ones. The Quran also calls our attention to God’s cosmic patterns, and the dynamic interplay between opposites in His universe; “By the night as it covers, and by the day as it brightens, and by the spectacle creation of the male and the female; your strivings are immensely diverse.” [92:1-4] In other words, the complementary existence of night and day, male and female, good and evil, are all necessary components of balance in the universe. Applying this to parenting: just as fathers can never fully offer their children what mothers can, mother can never fully offer their children what fathers can.
Nowadays, however, such elemental truths are challenged under the influence of modern secular thought, where the “open mind” and “objective human intellect” are accepted by many as the ultimate authority for governing people’s ideas and lifestyles. Embracing human intellect is not wrong, so long as its limitations and biases are recognized. Consider the gender debate, for instance; it will be “thought-out” by either a man or a woman, making non-bias impossible since the disputing parties are the judges. Is it coincidence that most men are biased pro-men and most women are biased pro-women? In Muslim circles, how many women scream injustice when hearing the “your mother 3x” hadith? How many men scream injustice when hearing the “husband’s leadership” hadiths? When a contention to these texts arises, it is always from the “opponent’s corner,” whose bias generates a misperception of injustice in that flawless sacred text. Even those who nobly try to escape their biases, they usually stumble into the opposite bias. Their greater focus on their inherent bias generates a pendulum effect heading for the opposite extreme. Consider, for instance, how some valiant women while trying to escape the pro-woman bias are usually found hastily dismissive of the very legitimate grievances feminists sometimes have. Case in point: only Allah can assess fairly, with full wisdom and neutrality, and not the human intellect, for only Allah transcends all biases. “Transcendent is He who created all the pairs; of what the earth sprouts, and of your own selves, and of things you do not know.” [36:42]
Add to the bias of your predisposed sex that of cultural conditioning. Our strongest notions of acceptance and rejection were not developed in a vacuum. Take our perception of fatherhood, for instance; it was not constructed in isolation of the foolish sitcom dads we grew up watching. Homer Simpson is a certified buffoon. Family Guy is a lowlife. In Everybody Loves Raymond, he evades all duties to play golf. In Stranger Things, the Wheeler’s dad is oblivious to who lives under his roof. In the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will’s father returns only to traumatize his son one last time.
This narrative has even crafted men’s perception of themselves, for art and literature have always been prescriptive of a culture and not just descriptive of it. Some men have internalized this narrative, becoming the runaway and video-game dads. Many others have rebelled against it, deciding that if society does not appreciate them, and has already written them all off as loser husbands and deadbeats dads, then to hell with husbandry and fatherhood. “I can fulfill my hormonal needs without the commitment of marriage and family, and dinner and a motel are far less costly anyway,” he tells himself. And though women suffer far more from the delayed marriage phenomenon than men (female infertility far precedes male infertility), the vicious downward spiral ultimately spares nobody.
Therefore, only by agreeing on an external reference point – conceding to God’s wisdom and submitting to God’s authority (Islam) – can we escape this chaos. “Does He not know what He created, and He is al-Lateef (the Most Subtle) al-Khabeer (the Best Acquainted)?” [67:14] With Allah’s guidance, the role confusion and identity crisis which becomes a family crisis is prevented. Man and woman are different, and so it is not about who can outdo the other in the same task, but who can fulfill their God-ordained duties in a superior way. Also, since this world is a finite realm, it naturally lends itself to greed and the dog-eat-dog mentality. But when reorienting our pursuits for God’s mercy which is infinite, there becomes plenty for every seeker. Only then is there no petty bickering and power struggles between the rich and poor, strong and weak, man and woman.
So again, just as fathers can never fully offer their children what mothers can, mothers can never fully offer their children what fathers can. As for those who grew up orphans or with negligent parents, Allah may intervene in ways that compensate, like He did with our Prophet (ﷺ), for only Allah is truly irreplaceable. But destiny is what we believe in, while the Shariah is what we determine our conduct by. Those who ignore the Sacred Shariah should not expect destiny to rescue them. Obey the laws of His universe, surrender to its King, or invite so much suffering into your life and that of your children.
What Do Fathers Uniquely Offer?
What benefits does a child receive from his/her relationship with dad that are notably different from those derived from their relationship with mom?
- Paternal Authority. In a well-functioning family, the very presence of the father embodies authority and discipline, and it is conveyed simply by his daily involvement in family life.
The dominant role of fathers in preventing misconduct and even psychopathology is well-established. Over fifty years ago, this phenomenon was highlighted in the classic studies on the causes of delinquency by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck of Harvard University. They described in academic terms what many children hear their mothers so often say: “Wait till your father gets home!” Fathers are needed to provide that paternal authority and discipline, or else mom will have to choose between being primarily an enforcer or primarily a loving nurturer, when the kid requires both. We must accept that each parent has a primary role, even if they will inevitably wear the other hat on lesser occasions.
A major challenge in the face of capitalizing on paternal authority is that our children are a reflection of us, and so they must first see their mother respecting dad’s authority. Otherwise, the kids will begin to use mom to undermine dad, and then dad will eventually gravitate away from family involvement due to alienation or simply to avoid conflict. Outcome: paternal authority is lost and the children suffer for a lifetime.
I know “men’s authority over women” is a trigger-word for many, so let me clarify and qualify:
- Allah designated this, not men. Allah who transcends gender and is never biased. What is the wisdom behind this? Perhaps men have a greater capacity for leadership, perhaps women have a greater capacity for humility; likely both and more. However, there is a huge difference between exploring the wisdom and objecting to God.
- Authority here does not mean a powerless sex-slave who is not allowed to have an opinion. It does not even mean a parent-child dynamic, nor that mom is a robotic arm for dad’s micromanagement at home (will address men’s abuse of authority later). In Islam, absolute authority belongs only to God, but for the sake of social order, God placed some in authority over others and demands compliance for the collective good. Thus, the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is questioned about his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is questioned about his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and is questioned about them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is questioned about them.” [Bukhārī 6719, Muslim 1829] Some may argue that shepherd only means responsibility, not leadership. It certainly does mean responsibility, but responsibility cannot be separated from authority. Where is the justice in a person being responsible for something they have no degree of control over?
- No joint-enterprise can ever work without authority, or else the arguments will never end, decisions will never be made, and there would be utter stagnation. Can you imagine presidential debates not ending with elections, but rather until one of the two parties convinces the other? For that reason, Allah placed a mechanism wherein authority / ultimate responsibility rests in someone’s hands. Allah designated that it be the husband, and that he gets interrogated for it. Also, remember that Islam teaches fleeing from leadership, and that those competing for it are least qualified for it. But when it is imposed upon you, do not dare fumble it, for your questioning is not like anyone else’s.
- Some may argue that men cannot be trusted with authority, since most are drunk with power. There is some truth to this, but you might as well say they cannot be trusted with money either, since most rich men are corrupt. In fact, one may even claim that men cannot be trusted with women, since most battery cases are men against women and not women against men. See where this is going? In reality, the problem is not in the presence of authority, but the absence of the greatest safeguard against human transgression and the abuse of authority: the fear of God and the cultivation of conscience. I must admit that this can be scarce in an age when Islam is largely a mere a cultural identity for many, and thus our mothers, sisters, and daughters are oppressed in many Muslim homes before our very eyes. However, whenever and wherever Islam is embraced holistically, we find shining examples that embodied “the best of you are those best to their wives.” [Sunan at-Tirmdihi]
Be certain that if a child does not experience a clear power structure at home that must be conformed to, it is so much harder for those children to grasp even God’s authority in their lives. Why? They were not accustomed to feeling that they must answer for things in life, and restrain themselves from things to avoid unwanted consequences. Consider that 85% of youth in prison had fatherless homes, and 71% of high school dropouts stem from fatherless homes. [See: Infographic] These kids desperately needed someone to instill in them frustration tolerance, and accustom them to hearing a non-negotiable “no” at times. This is a priceless developmental contribution, and none can effectively provide it like the father figure.
- Paternal Affection. These indispensable expressions of warmth enhance a father’s ability to fulfill his primary role; they offer a constant non-verbal reassurance that dad is not disciplining because he hates me. Paternal affection also has intrinsic benefit for a child, since kids thirst for different kinds of loving care; paternal and maternal. Absentee fathers create an emotional void that leaves youngsters particularly vulnerable. It should be no riddle why 2/3rd of teen pregnancies happen among girls from fatherless homes, girls who sought masculine protective love, while the wolves hunted her for other aims. In boys, their initiation into manhood is obstructed if they feel inadequate and unaccepted around their fathers. To compensate, they are found turning to sports, gangs, and gaming, seeking through them transcendence into something bigger than boyhood.
- Financial Security. Without the father’s presence, children have a 40% chance of growing up in poverty. But have the 60% who escaped poverty survived the tragedy? Far from it, for a sizable portion of financially secure fatherless homes still suffer from emotional hunger. After realizing just how consequential paternal affection is, one can only imagine how much more of a necessity a mother’s mercy and unparalleled compassion can be for a child. Now calculate what securing the finances (escaping the 40%) costed that child when mom’s presence is usually sacrificed for it (in addition to dad already being absent). Should it still then surprise us to hear that 69% of suicide deaths were from fatherless homes?
For this reason, I am just staggered by the whole role-reversal debate. Do people not see what emotional wrecks their kids would be if she worked all day while dad stayed home with the kids? As some Muslim scholars explained, God created the mother *generally* having a greater capacity for mercy, and the father *generally* having a greater capacity for justice, and hence each is tasked accordingly. Or as Dr. Jordan Peterson frequently puts it, even if from an evolutionary-survivalist paradigm, studies consistently show that women are far more agreeable (able to sacrifice self for child) while men are far more conscientious (task-oriented, industrious). The point here is not that women should never work, but that they should never feel their work at home is inferior, or that the father can substitute just as well.
Where Do Men Need to Man Up?
- Revisiting Authority. Men must own the task of trimming their own feathers and dieting their own egos. Allah entrusted you with this leadership, to invoke it for the betterment of the family, not for selfish interests. Even if your heart may be in the right place, people rebel without breathing room and under excessive constraints. Remember that the same man (ﷺ) who deemed you head of the family showed us that this is a duty to serve and protect. Would he (ﷺ) not milk for himself, and stitch for himself, whenever he could? Would he (ﷺ) not outdo everyone in forgiving infringement on his rights, and outdo everyone in restraining anger? Would he (ﷺ) not simply say “Then I’m fasting,” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim] when food was not available in the house?
Leaders complain least and get served last. Leaders lead by example. What made people accept Umar ’s strict leadership? Simply put, they were compelled by his genuineness, for they saw him tougher on himself than he was on them. Certainly, a wife may be wrong for defying you, and is defying Allah in the process, but are you so certain you did not encourage this, perhaps by missing prayers, uttering profanity, watching obscenity, or acting violently? When this is the case, then you come along and selectively cite an ayah or hadith, do not be very hopeful. You may have denied your own request, and failed your family in the process. Leaders lead by example.
- Valuing Affection. Allah made receiving His mercy contingent upon having mercy on people at large, and youngsters in particular, for obvious reasons. Withholding expressions of love and affection from the kids, or leaving this to the mother alone, is devastating and merciless. When al-Aqra‘ b. Ḥābis (rA) witnessed the Prophet (ﷺ) kissing his grandson, he boasted of never kissing any of this ten sons, to which the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “What can I possibly offer you if Allah has pulled the mercy from your heart?” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri] It is sad to see that in the United States alone, 20 million kids have no physical father present, but also millions more with a father who is physically present but emotionally absent. In Muslim communities, all too often do I encounter fathers who are not only callous with their children, but even mock the mothers for being tender with them.
At times, fathers employ roughness with their sons to avoid them becoming “softies”. Ironically, this very behavior is actually conducive to becoming a “softy” for belligerence breeds a lack of self-respect (succumbs to force). And at times, it purges from the child all traces of empathy, numbing him/her into a rebellious menace, and thus 70% of adolescents in juvenile correctional facilities come from fatherless homes. Albert Bandura, professor of psychology at Stanford University, observed as early as 1959 that delinquents suffer from an absence of the father’s affection. (See: Albert Bandura and R.H. Walters, Adolescent Aggression (1959))
- Sacred Financial Duty. We have already established that in 40% of US homes, the mother is the primary breadwinner, and why that is dangerous, but why does it exist? We must recognize that no sensible woman wants to make her child choose between their emotional and financial needs, and that many only assumed the breadwinner role after the man neglected it. Here are two major reasons why men fall into this:
First, many men stipulate appreciation for service, so ingratitude yielded interruption of service. Certainly, the Prophet (ﷺ) severely cautioned women against being ungrateful to their husbands, but from the perspective of male duties, this is where the consistency of working for Allah comes into play. You are not earning money for them because they are thankful, but rather because you are bankrupt for Allah’s pleasure. Never forget that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Out of the dinar (gold-currency) that you spend in Allah’s path, that which you free a slave with, that which you donate to the needy, and that which you spend on your family, the one yielding the greatest reward is that which you spend on your family.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim] A person may wonder why spending on one’s own family is a highly rewarded act of devotion in Islam. This is only fully understood by those who lived firsthand the fatigue of worrying about the family’s finances as they lay to sleep and once they open their eyes, whether healthy or sick, whether thanked or spited. For the stability of the home, Allah is telling the providers that I know your work behind closed doors may not be appreciated, but I appreciate you.
Second, many men simply exploit their wives, emotionally guilting them for staying home all day and “not helping the family with anything”. Such men have unwittingly bought into the “only worth is financial contribution” hype, in addition to the “all women sit at home idle all day watching soap operas” stereotype. This is particularly sad, especially coming from a Muslim, and even more so after his wife has undertaken the jihad of motherhood. “Working mother” is a redundant statement; a full time job and then some. Also, the mother is the child’s first teacher, who educates through her mundane yet profound daily interactions with the child, and through the earliest conversations with that child when they are discovering under mom’s wings what it really means to be human. Expecting mothers to earn wages outside for many hours, as the norm, is unfair to them and to the children, just as expecting fathers to be stay-at-home dads, as the norm, is unfair to them and to the children. And from a biological angle, we cannot ask mothers to work because we are not asking fathers to bear children. Again, this is not arguing that a mother should never contribute outside the home, but rather that men should never expect her to, just as she should not choose to at the expense of her children.
A Final Plea
Nothing can save our children from the storms they face and will face after us, not even two fully-functional parents. Only Allah can do this, and our appeal to Him starts with appreciating and embracing without resistance the definitive guidance He privileged us with.
The biggest threat to your children is not poverty, nor homelessness, nor drugs, nor prison, nor suicide. These tragedies are all dwarfed by the fact that 23% of US Muslims no longer identify with their childhood religion. It was for that very reason that Nūḥ , pleaded with son before the waves separated them by calling out, “O my dear son! Ride with us, and be not among the disbelievers.” [11:42] Notice that he did not say, “and do not be among those who drown”, because even the loss of life can be compensated for, while meeting Allah a disbeliever is the ultimate doom. This is what is at stake, and yet we are still trying to experiment and run away from our duties, selfishly pursuing our self-defined individuality at the expense of our family and community. Each of us needs a moment of pause; to swallow our pride a bit, and renew our confidence in Allah a bit. Allah will never disappoint us. We must look up to the heavens for guidance, not around to those equally in darkness.
It is quite possible that I failed at articulating my thoughts here. Forgive me if that be the case, and kindly extend your feedback on how this can be better explained, because the next batch of children are not waiting for us to get our act together. And all praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.
After Allah, special thanks must be extended to Dr. Hussam al-Harash and Dr. Zara Khan for their guidance on this paper. I pray Allah repays you in ways that I never could for your time.
Who Can We Trust?
Spiritual abusers are con-artists, and if they were easy to spot then they would be far less successful. That is why you must exercise vigilance and your own judgment above that of public opinion. Never let the person’s position make you trust them more than you would without it.
Spiritual abusers work covertly, present themselves well, and use their service as a cover beneath which to operate. The way to avoid them is to recognize their tactics and avoid being caught by them.
Spiritual abuse often begins with hard-to-spot precursors, with manipulators exploiting grey areas and blurring boundaries to confuse targets. For example, when setting someone up for illicit relations or secret marriage, teachers may begin with inappropriate jokes that lower boundaries.
They may touch others in ways that confuse the person touched as to permissibility, for example, men touching women on their hijabs rather than direct skin. They may inappropriately touch someone in ways that leave him/her wondering whether or not it was intentional.
There may be frivolous texting while the premise of engagement is ‘work only’. Boundaries may be blurred by adding flirtatious content, sending articles praising polygamy, or mentioning dreams about getting married. The recipient may struggle to pinpoint what’s wrong with any of this, but the bottom line is that they don’t have to.
While these tactics may be hard to prove, you don’t need to prove that you don’t want to be communicated with in this way and that you will not tolerate it. You can withdraw from the situation on the basis of your own boundaries.
One of the key challenges in standing up to spiritual abuse is the lack of confidence in calling out bad behavior or the need for validation for wrongs. We may be afraid to a question a teacher who is more knowledgeable than us when he is doing clear haram. However, halal and haram are defined by Allah and no human has the right to amend them. If a religious leader claims exemption to the rules for themselves or their students, that’s a big, bright, red flag.
Beware of Bullying
When you witness or experience bullying, understand that a Muslim’s dignity is sacred and don’t accept justifications of ‘tarbiyah’ (spiritual edification/character reformation) or breaking someone’s nafs (ego). If you didn’t sign up for spiritual edification, don’t accept any volunteer spiritual guides.
If you did sign up, pay attention as to whether these harsh rebukes are having a positive or negative effect. If they are having a negative emotional, mental, or physical effect on you, then this is clearly not tarbiyah, which is meant to build you up.
When abuse in the name of tarbiyah happens, it is the shaykh himself or the shaykha herself who needs character reformation. When such behavior goes unchecked, students become outlets of unchecked anger and are left with trauma and PTSD. This type of bullying is very common in women’s groups.
Trust Built and Trust Destroyed
There are different levels of trust, and as it relates to religious leaders, one does not need to investigate individuals or build trust for a perfunctory relationship. You do not need a high degree of trust if you are just attending someone’s general lectures and not establishing any personal relationship.
If you want to study something with an Islamic teacher, do so as you would with a school-teacher, understanding that their position does not make that person either exceptionally safe nor exceptionally harmful. Treat religious figures as religious consultants who are there to answer questions based on their knowledge. Give every teacher a clean slate, don’t have baseless suspicions, but if behavior becomes manipulative, exploitative, cultish, or otherwise abusive, don’t justify it either.
Personal accountability is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith and we have to take responsibility for our own faith and actions. There is no need to be suspicious without reason, but nor is there a justification for blind trust in someone you don’t know, just because they lead prayers or have a degree of religious education.
It is natural to ask ourselves whether people can be trusted after experiencing or learning about spiritual abuse. The answer is yes – you can trust yourself. You can also trust others in ways that are appropriate for the relationship. If you know someone well and they have proven over a long period of time to be trustworthy, keep secrets, and do not use you or take advantage of you, then it makes sense to trust that person more than a stranger or someone who has outward uprightness that you do not know well. That level of trust is earned through long-time demonstration of its characteristics.
Seeing someone on stage for years or relying on testimony of people impressed by someone should not convince you to lower your guard. Even if you do believe someone is pious, you still never drop your better judgment, because even saints are fallible.
Don’t Fall for Reputation
Never take other respected leaders praising or working alongside an individual as proof of his or her trustworthiness. It is possible that the teachers you trust are unaware of any wrongdoing. It’s not a reasonable expectation, nor is it a responsibility for them to boycott or disassociate themselves from another religious figure even if they are aware of them being abusive.
Furthermore, skilled manipulators often gain favor from respected teachers both overseas and domestically to gain credibility.
If one shaykh praises another shaykh, but you witness abusive behavior, don’t doubt yourself based on this praise. The praise may have been true at one time or may have been true in the experience of the one giving the praise, but no one knows another person’s current spiritual state as spiritual states can change.
Even if the abusive individual was previously recognized to be a great wali (saint), understand that there are saints who have lost their sainthood as they do not have isma (divine protection from sin or leaving Islam) like the prophets (upon them be peace) do. What was true yesterday, may not be true today.
Often praises of integrity, courage, and inclusiveness are heaped on men who support influential female figures. However, men who are praised as ‘allies,’ and thanked for ‘using their privilege’ to support female scholarship and the participation of women in religious organizations and events are no more trustworthy than those who don’t.
Abusers are often very image-conscious and may be acting to improve their own image and brand strength. Influential male and female religious figures also help one another with mutual praising and social-proofing. That is how the misdoings of men who are supportive of women are ignored, as long as they support the right politicized causes such as inclusive spaces and diverse panels.
Don’t be tricked into trust through a person’s credentials. An ijazah (license) to be a shaykh of a tariqa is purportedly the highest credential. It’s a credential that allegedly has a chain that goes all the way back to the Prophet , but that does not impart any of the Prophet’s character or trustworthiness in and of itself. A shaykh has to continuously live up to the ijaza and position. The position does not justify behavior outside of the sharia or any form of abuse. Scholars are inheritors of the Prophet only to the degree to which they embody his character.
When a teacher who hasn’t spent adequate time with righteous shayukh abuses, they are said to lack suhba (companionship of the pious), and that is why they are abusive.
The truth is many of the worst abusers in traditional circles are highly certified, have spent adequate time with shayukh, are valid representatives of them, and are able to abuse because the previously mentioned credentials lead to blind trust.
Don’t let certifications about spiritual abuse, ethical leadership, or the like mean anything to you. Skilled narcissists will be the first to get such certifications and take courses because they know this will make people trust them more. You will see courses on ‘healthy leadership’ and ‘spiritual abuse prevention’ being taught and designed by them. There is a false premise behind such certifications that if religious leaders knew how abuse occurs and the damage it causes victims they wouldn’t do it. The fact is they know how abuse works, know how damaging it is, and don’t care. In a way, it’s good to have lessons on spiritual abuse from purveyors of abuse, just as learning theft prevention from a thief might be the most beneficial.
Don’t judge by rhetoric
Don’t look at the rhetoric of groups or individuals to see how seriously they take abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs in all groups. It is common for members of one group to call out abuse that they see in another group while ignoring abuse occurring within their own group.
Sufis who will talk about the importance of sharia, label others as ‘goofy-Sufis,’ and insist that real Sufis follow sharia, will very often abuse in private and use the same justifications as the other Sufi groups they publicly deride.
Many imams and religious leaders will talk publicly about the importance of justice, having zero-tolerance for abuse, and the importance of building safe spaces, while they themselves are participating in the abuse.
Furthermore, female religious leaders will often cover up secret marriages, and other abuses for such men and help them to ostracize and destroy the credibility of their victims as long as their political views align. Muslim mental health providers often incorporate religious figures when they do programs, and in some cases they involve known abusers if it helps their cause.
In some cases, the organization does not know of any abuse. Abusive individuals use partnerships with Muslim mental health organizations to enhance their image as a “safe person.” This is especially dangerous due to the vulnerability of those struggling with mental illness and spiritual issues, who may then be exploited by the abuser. It is a community responsibility to ensure the safety of these vulnerable individuals and to ensure that they do have access to resources that can actually help them.
Don’t judge by fame
One false assumption is that the local-unknown teacher is sincere while the famous preacher is insincere and just wants to amass followers. This contrast is baseless although rhetorically catchy.
The fact is, many unknown teachers desire fame and work towards it more than those who are famous. Other times the unknown and famous teacher may have the same love of leadership, but one is more skilled than the other. They both may also be incredibly sincere.
Ultimately, we cannot judge what is in someone’s heart but must look at their actions, and if their actions are abusive, they are a danger to the community. Both famous and non-famous teachers are equally capable of spiritual abuse.
Look for a procedure
Before being involved in an organization, look for a code of conduct. There is no accountability without one in non-criminal matters. Never depend on people, look at the procedures and ensure that the procedure calls for transparency, such as the one we at In Shaykh’s Clothing published and made free for the public to use.
Procedure also applies to an organizations’ financials. Do not donate money to organizations based on personalities, instead demand financial transparency and accountability for the money spent. There is great incentive for spiritual abusers to win the trust of crowds when it means they can raise money without any financial accountability.
But what about Husne-Zann? Thinking well of others?
Allah tells us يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ
“O You who believe, leave much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sinful” (Quran 49:12).
From this verse, we see that some – not all negative opinions are sinful. The prohibition is partitive, meaning some bad opinions are permissible.
If someone punches you, it is not hunse-zann to assume that person just happened to stretch with a closed fist and did not see your face was in the way. This kind of delusion will lead to you getting punched more. To be wary of their fist isn’t a sinful level of suspicion.
Part of why spiritual abuse is difficult to detect is that its purveyors have a reputation for outright uprightness. They are thought well of in the community, and in many cases they are its pillars and have decades of positive service to their defense. Assuming that someone cannot be abusive simply because they have been a teacher or leader for a long time is not husne-zann. When facts are brought to light- like a fist to the face – it is delusional to assume they didn’t mean it that way.
If someone does something that warrants suspicion, then put your guard up and don’t make excuses for those actions. Start with a general guard and be procedural about things which require a procedure. For example, if you are going to loan someone money, don’t just take their word that they will pay you back but insist on a written record. If they say they are offended, just say “it’s my standard procedure to avoid any confusion later on.” A reasonable person won’t have an issue with that. If someone mentions on the phone they will pay you $100 for your work, write an email to confirm what was said on the phone so there’s a record for it.
Lastly, and most importantly, never leave your child alone with a teacher where you or others cannot see them. Many cases of child sexual assault can be prevented if we never allow children to study alone with adults. There should never be an exception to this, and parents much uphold this as a matter of policy. Precaution is not an accusation, and this is a professional and standard no one should reject.
OpEd: Why We Must Reconsider Moonsighting
Ed. Note: We understand that this is a matter of debate in many communities, MM welcomes op-eds of differing points of view. Please use this form.
When the Crescent Committee was founded in 2013, the Muslim community of Toronto was hopeful that this new initiative might resolve the long-standing problem of mosques declaring Eid on different days. This moonsighting organization was to follow global moonsighting as a methodology – if the crescent were to be sighted anywhere in the world, they would declare Eid. Global moonsighting was seen as a potential way of solving the yearly moonsighting debate which local sighting had been unable to solve thus far. It was hoped that this approach would also ensure congruence with Fiqh Council of North America’s (FCNA) lunar calendar which determines the Eid day in advance based on astronomical calculations.
This year, however, all those hopes were put to the test. Early afternoon on June 3rd, the 29th of Ramadan, the Crescent Committee (CC) started receiving reports that the moon was sighted in Saudi Arabia. Given that it was not possible for it to be seen there based on visibility charts, the committee required corroboration from another country in order to declare Eid. As the day progressed, they got reports from Iraq, Nigeria, Brazil, Mali and even from Maryland in the US. All those reports could not be relied upon because either the committee was unable to get in touch with their contacts in those countries or because the reports did not satisfy the criterion they laid out.
As they were sifting through the reports, the CC was shocked to learn that one of its founding members, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto (IFT), had already declared Eid! IFT is one of Toronto’s oldest and biggest mosques and their leadership decided to declare Eid based on the announcement from Mauritania. Mosques following FCNA’s calendar were already celebrating Eid the next day, so IFT thought it best to join with them with hopes of preserving unity.
With one of its own members having declared Eid and mounting pressure from the community given it was past 10 pm, the CC decided to wait to receive the final (hopefully positive) reports from California. This meant having to wait till sunset on the West Coast which would mean midnight on the East Coast. Unfortunately, even from California, there were no confirmed reports. Finally, at midnight, the Committee declared that they would complete 30 days of Ramadan and celebrate Eid on the 5th of June.
Alas, after spending a frustrating day waiting for an announcement till midnight, Toronto Muslims were told that this was going to be another year with two Eids in the city. This year, however, the split was not between proponents of astronomical calculations and moonsighting, but been proponents of the exact same moonsighting methodology!
Solving a 50-year old problem
This year’s debacle in Toronto represents nothing new. There have been numerous failed attempts to unite the moonsighting community. In 1995, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Ministry of Warith Deen Muhammad joined hands to form the ‘Islamic Shura Council of North America’ with hopes of having a unified Eid declaration. Just like the Crescent Committee, this too was eventually disbanded due to dissenting voices. Other examples to unite and better organize moonsighting include the 2007 National Moonsighting Conference in California and the 2009 National Hilal Sighting Conference in New York. These attempts simply haven’t worked because there are far too many independent mosques and far too many moonsighting methodologies – uniting everyone in the absence of a governing authority is nearly impossible.
The story also highlights the three main problems that proponents of moonsighting have struggled to solve for nearly half a century in North America and other parts of the Western world. These can be summarized as follows:
1) Mosques declaring Eid on different days based on differing moonsighting methodologies. This has created notorious divisions within the community and has led to the awkward situation of families, often living in the same city, not being able to celebrate together. It can also lead to endless argumentation within families as to which mosque to follow with regards to this issue.
2) The unpredictability of the Eid date means that Muslims continue to have difficulty taking time off from work and planning family vacations. This problem is particularly challenging for the hourly-waged working-class individuals who work in organizations with little flexibility. The process of having to explain to an employer the complications surrounding Eid declarations can be a source of unnecessary hardship for many. It is not uncommon for many to take off a day which ends up being the ‘wrong day’.
3) Delayed announcements, especially during the summer months, due to process of receiving and verifying reports after sunset. Not knowing whether or not the next day will be a holiday, often until the late evening, has been a continued source of distress for families every year.
It was the desire the solve these very problems that brought together a group of visionary Muslim jurists and astronomers in Herndon, Virginia in 1987. Organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Lunar Calendar Conference was one of the first attempts to find an innovative solution to the problems posed by traditional moonsighting. A detailed history of the events leading up to the conference and its aftermath have been documented before. In short, Muslim scholars and mathematicians continued work on the astronomical lunar calendar for nearly two decades after the conference and it was finally adopted by FCNA and ISNA in 2006.
A valid methodology from the Shariah
While opposition to FCNA’s lunar calendar was quite strong when it was first introduced, there has been growing acceptance of astronomical calculations over the past 15 years as a result of continued research and education on this subject.
The use of calculations to determine the dates of Ramadan is something which numerous reputable scholars have allowed throughout Islam’s history . While this has always been the view of a small minority, championed mainly by scholars in the Shafa’i legal school, it is still based on a sound interpretation of religious texts. The difference of opinion on this issue arises from hadith of the Prophet where he stated, “If [the crescent moon] is obscured from you, then estimate it” (فإن غم عليكم فاقدروا له ). A detailed exposition in support of calculations from a classical perspective was recently presented by Shaykh Salahuddin Barkat.
Shaykh Musa Furber, one of America’s leading Shafa’i jurists, also comments on the towering figures from our tradition who supported calculations: “Since the time of Imām al-Nawawī, there has been an evident trend within the Shāfiʿī school of law for acceptance for the personal use of calculations for fasting. While a small number of earlier Shāfiʿī scholars did accept it, it seems to have been confined to a small minority within the school. It was not until the time of Imam al-Nawawī (may Allah grant him His mercy) that the opinion amongst scholars of the school started to shift towards accepting calculations as valid and even binding — even if limited to the calculator and whoever believed him. Although al-Subkī (may Allah grant him His mercy) is usually accredited with causing this shift, some scholars credit Imam al-Nawawī’s himself with starting this trend. The opinion was accepted by both Shaykh al-Islām Zakariyā al-Anṣārī and Imām al-Ramlī, though not by Imam Ibn Ḥajar (may Allah grant all of them from His mercy). These imams form the basis for reliable opinions in the late Shāfiʿī madhhab.”
Understandably, this opinion was considered weak and ignored through much of Islamic history. Some limited its scope and allowed it only when the moon was obstructed or for use by experts in astronomy. There really is no need for calculations in Muslim lands where there exists a centralized authority to sight the crescent and there are public holidays for the entire populace. However, in secular countries with Muslim minorities, this position must be revisited as it offers a very practical solution to the crises we find ourselves in.
Only one way forward
According to a 2011 survey of over 600 mosques in the US, the adoption rate of FCNA’s calendar stood at 40%. At the writing of this article nearly 8 years later, this number has likely increased to over 50%. The survey indicated that about 40% of the mosques followed local sighting while the remainder followed global sighting. Given the recent shift towards global moonsighting, it is likely that the moonsighting community is evenly split between the two positions at this time.
These statistics represent the only logical way forward to solve this decades-old problem: the most efficient way of achieving unity is by converging behind FCNA’s lunar calendar. This methodology is the only real solution to the crises we currently find ourselves in. Not only does it address all our needs, but this approach has also shown to provide immense ease and facilitation for Muslim communities that have followed it in the past 15 years.
The moonsighting leadership has failed to unite despite a half-century of effort; it is inconceivable at this point that this would ever happen. Even if it did miraculously happen, 50% of the community would still be following FCNA’s calendar and all three of our main problems will remain unaddressed. Additionally, with the current trend of uniting behind the approach of global sighting, ‘moonsighting’ has largely become an administrative exercise. It involves the hilal committee simply waiting for reports from abroad and trying to ascertain their veracity. Only a handful of communities go out looking for the moon and establish the sunnah of moon sighting in a bonafide sense.
In large communities where differing Eid dates is a reoccurring problem, advocating for the adoption of the lunar calendar must come from the grass-roots level. Muslims most affected by this problem should lobby their local mosques to change their positions and unite behind FCNA’s lunar calendar.
While it may seem impossible to get the leadership of mosques to abandon an old position, it has already been done. In 2015, nine major mosques in the Chicago area set aside their differences and put their support behind the lunar calendar. This is an incredible feat and has created ease in the lives of thousands of people. If similar initiatives are taken in other cities split along lines of lunar dogmatism, it is conceivable that the moonsighting issue could be resolved in North America within the next five to ten years.
The Prophet told us to calculate the moon if it is obscured by clouds. Today, the moon is not obscured by physical clouds but it is clouded by poor judgment, distrust, egotism, disunity, and pride. We must resort to calculations to determine the birth of the new moon, not because it is the strongest legal position or a superior approach, but because our status as minorities in a secular land necessitates it.
 From SeekersGuidance: Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgment of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgment of a judge.
Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure
How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?
If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.
My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.
On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.
I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.
When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand. Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?
I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.
That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.
I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:
Host an open house
Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.
Expand your circle
Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.
You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.
Outsource Eid Fun
If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.
It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend. If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.
The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.
Get out of your comfort zone
If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.
Try, try, try again…
Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.
While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.
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