Recently, during my last psychotherapy session of the week, I listened to a Muslim woman talk about the details of being sexually abused as a child. She talked about how the perpetrator was a family friend and molested her in her own home. She also went on to say that when another family member found out, instead of rescuing her, joined in with the perpetrator. Being a psychotherapist for some time now, I’ve heard countless stories of sexual abuse from men, women and children. Each narrative is so different in terms of how the abuse started and stopped, and yet so many elements are the same- like the trauma, secrecy and shame .
Her story was not the most difficult one I’ve heard by any means, but something about her narrative caused me to reflect in a way I hadn’t before. Maybe it was her resiliency and resolve to protect her own children from this happening again. Perhaps it had something to do with this past year of non-stop sexual abuse allegations in the news. Or maybe it had to do with my 7-year old daughter who is now getting older and Allah-forbid could find herself in one of these situations.
As I locked up my office and headed to my car, I started to reflect on the clients I had seen over the years. I began to think about the similarities and differences between the victims, or survivors rather, and their families. What patterns did I see first-hand, and what conclusions could I pass on to other parents to help prevent sexual abuse within our community?
Let me share some of those observations from the past 10 years with you:
- Sexual abuse happens in Muslim communities, just as it does in other religious communities – We are not immune in any way.
- Most sexual abuse happened at home or in the home of a trusted family member.
- Most sexual abuse was not from strangers, it was by immediate family members, extended family members and family friends.
- Sexual abuse is not always about an adult molesting a child. Sexual abuse can be perpetrated by peers and siblings (children and teenagers). I have worked with families in which one sibling sexually assaulted (including raped) another sibling.
- Sexual abuse doesn’t just happen to girls, but boys as well. Perpetrators are also not always male.
- Most of the adults who were sexually abused as children did NOT tell their parents or another adult.
- Of the adults who reported the abuse as children to parents, many were not helped or were blamed for what happened.
Of the hundreds of families affected by childhood sexual abuse that I’ve seen, only TWO intervened immediately and got help for both the victim and perpetrator – and neither of them were Muslim. The reason I wanted to share these observations is not to alarm people, but for parents to take heed and realize that sexual abuse can happen to their children and in their homes. Not only that, it happens more frequently than people think. According to The Crimes Against Children Research Center, 1 out of 5 girls and 1 out of 20 boys are sexually abused. Or put another way, these statistics indicate that about 4-5 girls and 1 boy in your child’s elementary school class will be sexually assaulted before they reach adulthood.
What You Can Do
While nothing can remove the risk completely as you’ll never be able to watch your child all the time, there are general precautions you can take to reduce risk likelihood of your child experiencing sexual abuse. Some of these precautions include:
- Not leaving your child with adults you don’t personally know (Remember just because the person is your uncle from overseas or your neighbor doesn’t mean you know them)
- Not leaving your younger child unattended for prolonged periods of time when playing with other children in non-public places
- Encouraging play in open areas versus behind closed doors
- Supporting your child when he or she tells you they feel uncomfortable with an adult
- Monitoring and inquiring about any sudden sexualized behavior or sexualized play that is not age appropriate (this does not include curiosity about one’s body or playing doctor, but adult actions that would only be learned if observed).
- Having a “Safe Touch, Unsafe Touch” talk with your children
While most of this is pretty straight-forward, I wanted to elaborate a little more on the “Safe Touch / Unsafe Touch” talk. The purpose of this talk is to educate your children about what is appropriate contact and what is inappropriate contact with others. Parents should not assume this is common sense information for children because it is not.
Is ok for a stranger to tickle you? Can a doctor touch your private part if it hurts? Can a sibling wrestle with you without clothes on? You must respect adults, but what do you do if an adult does something to hurt you? Answers to these questions are unclear to children and need to be taught at an early age.
When your child is about the age of three you can start having conversations about safe touch and unsafe touch. This is not a one-time conversation and should be revisited periodically (1-2 times a year) or as needed since children are prone to forgetting. Use age appropriate language and don’t make a huge deal out of the conversation to avoid making it uncomfortable and stressful. Below are some tips on what the conversation can include:
- Explain the difference between safe touch and unsafe touch. Safe touch is shaking hands, patting on the back, hugging (in certain situations), and kissing on the cheek (in certain situations). Unsafe touch is when someone touches your private parts OR when someone touches you in a way you don’t like without your permission.
- Teach your children about different categories of people and how touch relates to them.
- Talk about confusing touch- that they should come to a trusted adult and share their experience if a particular type of touch confused them, or they aren’t sure if a touch was accidental or intentional.
Strangers: Children should not stay alone with strangers, and strangers should never touch children in any way (good or bad) if a parent is not present, unless a child is in extreme danger of course and the stranger is trying to save them.
School Friends, teachers, extended family and family friends: Tell your children that they can shake hands and hug when he or she wants to. Discourage older kids from sitting in adult laps. Talk to older children about not showing their awrah to others and not allowing anyone to touch their awrah.
Immediate Family and doctors: Tell your children they can cuddle, wrestle, hug and kiss parents, siblings and grandparents, but these immediate family members are generally not allowed to touch private parts. Explain to them there are very few and specific situations in which a parent can touch a private part like when putting diaper rash cream on a baby, wiping a toddler’s bottom after using the bathroom or when there is pain and a parent needs to decide if the child should go to the doctor. Make it clear that beyond these circumstances nobody should ever touch their private parts.
- Talk to your children about consent using words they can understand. Tell them they never have to touch, hug or kiss someone if they don’t want to. Tell them if they ever feel uncomfortable being in close proximity with someone that they have every right to distance themselves. Practice with them appropriate ways they can turn down affection if they don’t like it.
- Explain to your children that if someone touches them inappropriately, it’s ok to push them or yell at them to get away- even if the person is a grown-up or an authority figure. Teach your children that they should scream as loud as they can, run away and tell a grown-up immediately. If they are at a friend’s house when this happens then they should call you right away.
- Teach your children that the person might tell them to keep it a secret and that this is not ok. Instruct your children that they should always tell you no matter what the person tells them or who they are.
- Emphasize to your children that you will never be mad at them or punish them for telling you what happened, even if the person who did the unsafe touch or confusing touch says so.
The last two points are extremely important as the majority of the adult victims that I see in my office tell me that they never told their parents. That means these parents interacted on a day-to-day basis with their children (eating dinner with them, running errands with them, tucking them in at night, etc.) for years without having a clue of what happened. Could you imagine that heavy invisible burden these children, and later adults, carried around with them day after day, year after year, and in some cases decade after decade?
It might be uncomfortable talking to your child about safe touch or unsafe touch. You might even wonder if you are giving the talk correctly. These feelings are ok and totally normal, but the key is to make sure you have this conversation, as it will be irreplaceable in the case that something happens. If you feel like you can’t have the talk for whatever reason then seek out resources online, consult with your child’s guidance counselor, talk to your child’s pediatrician, or find a mental health therapist to help you.
One thing to remember is that if one of your children has been sexually abused, know that it is not their fault or yours. Seek professional help as soon as you can to mitigate what happened and begin the healing process. The sooner you can get treatment the better, but also know that it’s never too late to get help either.
Sexual abuse cannot be eradicated completely but when we teach our children how to prevent abuse and intervene early we can make a big impact for generations to come. I sometimes wonder how much better life would have been for my clients, had people taught them these skills or intervened properly right away. How much of their trauma would be lessened and how much easier would their lives have been for them to know someone believed them and cared? It’s too late to go back and change childhood circumstances for my adult clients, but it’s just the right time for us to educate our children.
May Allah give us strength and the means to teach our children all the skills they need to protect themselves and thrive, and may Allah heal all those individuals and families affected by abuse.
Najwa Awad is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW-C) that has provided psychotherapy to individuals and families in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area for over 10 years. She obtained a Bachelors degree in Psychology at George Mason University in 2005. In 2007 she received a Masters in Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University specializing in the clinical treatment of individuals and families. Najwa also has post graduate education in the treatment of complex psychiatric trauma and telemental health (online counseling). Her experience in the field is diverse and includes providing services at group homes, schools and in the foster cares system. Most recently Najwa has been working and supervising in outpatient mental health settings providing psychotherapy to women, children and families. Commonly treated issues include trauma, mood disorders, behavioral disorders and anxiety. In addition to giving regular mental health workshops in the community, Najwa is also Fellow at the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research.
What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.
The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.
In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.
It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.
Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.
With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:
“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”
The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.
The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.
While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.
First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.
The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:
One Hundred and Twenty Days:
The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.
This view is shaped by the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..
“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”
The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.
This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…
“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”
Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.
Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.
No Excuse Required:
The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.
Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.
Only Under Extreme Risks:
The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.
As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.
Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.
For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.
The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.
This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.
Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.
Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:
Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:
((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))
“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)
Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.
Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.
As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.
How Do Muslims Plan for Disability
Families with children with disability have an extraordinary set of challenges and blessings. Disability (or special needs) is a broad term.
Many disabilities will prevent what we often think of as “normal.” It may hinder or prevent educational opportunities, and employment. Many people with “special needs” can get educated, get married and live long and productive lives. The problem for many parents of younger children with special needs is that they typically have no certainty about their children’s future needs. Even if the situation looks dire, it may not stay that way.
How do parents plan for a world where they may not be around to see how things will end up for their special needs children? What can they do to help their children in a way that does not violate Islamic Inheritance rules?
Certain types of disability, especially the loss of executive decision-making ability, could also happen well into adulthood. This can be a threat to a family’s wealth and be the cause of internal conflicts. This is the kind of thing every adult needs to think about before it happens.
The issues are not just that parents believe their special needs child will need more inheritance than other children. Muslim parents usually don’t think that. Some parents don’t want their special needs child to get any inheritance at all. Not because of any ill-will against their special needs child; just the opposite, but because they are afraid inheritance will result in sabotaging their child’s needs-based government benefits.
Many, perhaps most special needs children do not have any use for needs-based benefits (benefits for the poor). But many do, or many parents might figure that it is a distinct possibility. This article is a brief explanation of some of the options available for parents of special needs children. It won’t go over every option, but rather those that are usually incorporated as part of any Islamic Estate Planning.
Please Stand By
Example: Salma has three daughters and two sons. One of her children, Khalida, 3, has Down Syndrome. At this point, Salma knows that raising Khalida is going to be an immense challenge for herself, her husband Rashid and all the older siblings. What she does not know, however, is what specific care Khalida is going to need through her life or how her disability will continue to be relevant. She does not know a lot about Khalida’s future marriage prospects, ability to be employed and be independent, though obviously like any parent she has nothing but positive hopes for her child’s life.
In the event of her death, Salma wants to make sure her daughter gets her Islamic right to inheritance. However, if Khalida needs public benefits, Salma does not want her daughter disqualified because she has her own money.
Her solution is something called a “stand-by special needs trust.” This type of trust is done in conjunction with an Islamic Inheritance Plan and is typically part of a living trust, though it could also be a trust drafted into the last will. I will describe more about what a special needs trust is below. For Salma, she is the Trustee of her trust. After she dies, she names her husband (or someone else) the successor Trustee. The trust is drafted to prevent it from becoming an “available resource” used to determine eligibility for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid and other benefits that go with that.
If it turns out that Salma passes away when Khalida is 5, and her assets are held in trust for her until she is 18 and her Trustee determines she does not need a special needs trust, she will get her inheritance precisely like everyone else based on their Islamic right. If she does need benefits, the Trustee will only make distributions to Khalida that would not harm her eligibility.
This way, there is no need to deny Khalida her inheritance because of her disability, and she is also making sure giving her daughter inheritance would not harm her daughter’s healthcare or other necessary support.
The Shape of Special Needs Trusts
A stand-alone Special needs trusts, which is sometimes called a “supplemental needs trust” the kind without the “stand-by” variation I described above, are a standard device for families that have children with special needs. A trust is a property ownership device. A Grantor gives the property to a Trustee, who manages the property for the benefit of a beneficiary. In a revocable living trust, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary are typically the same person.
When the trust is irrevocable, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary may all be different people. In a special needs trust, the person with a disability is the beneficiary. Sometimes, the person with a disability is also the Grantor, the person who created the trust. This might happen if there is a settlement from a lawsuit for example and the person with special needs wants it to be paid to the trust.
In many if not most cases, the goal may not be to protect the beneficiary’s ability to get public benefits at all. Many people with a disability don’t get special government benefits. But they do want to protect the beneficiaries from having to manage the assets. Some people are just more susceptible to abuse.
The structure of the arrangement typically reflects the complexity of the family, the desire of siblings and extended family to continue to be involved in the care and attending to the needs of the person with a disability, even if they are not the person directly writing checks.
Example: Care for Zayna
Example: Zayna is a 24-year-old woman with limited ability to communicate, take care of her needs and requires 24-hour care. Zayna has three healthy siblings, many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her father, Elias, earns about $70,000 per year and is divorced. Zayna’s mother Sameena cannot contribute, as she is on social security disability. However, Zayna’s adult brother and sisters, brother in laws, sister in law and several aunts, uncles want to help Zayna meet her needs E.lyas creates a third party special needs trust that would ensure Zayna has what she needs in the years to come.
Zayna receives need-based public benefits that are vital to her in living with her various disabilities and her struggle to gain increasing independence, knowledge and dignity. So the trust needs to be set up and professionally administered to make sure that when Zayna gets any benefit from her trust, it does not end up disqualifying her ability to get any needs-based benefit.
Contributions to the special needs trust will not go against Islamic Inheritance rules unless made after the death of the donor.
If Zayna dies, her assets from the special needs trust will be distributed based on the Islamic rules of inheritance as it applies to her.
When disability planning is not about Public Benefits
Perhaps most families with special needs children do not use any needs-based public assistance. They are still concerned about special needs and planning for it.
Example: Khadija, 16, is on the autism spectrum. For those familiar with the autism spectrum, that could mean a lot of things. For her parents, Sarah and Yacoob, other than certain habits that are harmless and easy to get used to, it means Khadija is very trusting of people. Otherwise, she does well in school, and her parents don’t think she needs way more help than her siblings and she has just as good a chance of leading a healthy and productive life as any 16-year-old girl.
The downside of being too trusting is that the outside world can exploit her. If she ends up getting inheritance or gifts, she may lose it. The parents decide that when she gets her inheritance, it will be in a trust that would continue through her life. There will be a trustee who will make sure she has what she needs from her trust, but that nobody can exploit her.
In some ways, what Khadija’s parents Sarah and Yacoob are doing is not so different from what parents might do if they have a child with a substance abuse problem. They want to give their child her rights, but they don’t want to allow for exploitation and abuse.
Considering your own needs
There are many people who are easy marks for scammers, yet you would be unlikely to know this unless you are either a close friend or family member, or a scammer yourself. While this often happens to the elderly, it can happen at just about any age. Everyone should consider developing an “incapacity plan” to preserve their wealth even if they lose their executive decision-making ability.
There is this process in state courts known as “conservatorship.” Indeed, entire courtrooms dedicate themselves to conservatorships and other mental health-related issues. It is a legal process that causes an individual to lose their financial or personal freedom because a court has essentially declared them not competent to handle their affairs. Conservatorships are a public process. They can cause a lot of pain embarrassment and internal family strife.
One of the benefits of a well-drafted living trust is to protect privacy and dignity during difficult times.
Example: Haris Investing in Cambodian Rice Farms
Haris, 63, was eating lunch at a diner. In the waiting area, he became fast friends with Mellissa; a thirty-something woman who was interested in talking about Haris’s grandchildren. The conversation then turned Melissa and her desire to start a business selling long distance calling cards. Haris was fascinated by this and thought it made good business sense. Haris gave Mellissa $20,000.00. The two exchanged numbers. The next day, Mellissa’s number was disconnected.
Haris’s wife, Julie became alarmed by this. It was out of character for her husband to just fork over $20,000 to anyone on the spur of the moment. What was worse is that the business failed immediately.
Three months later, Haris meets Mellissa at the diner again. She then convinces Haris to invest $50,000 in a Cambodian rice farm, which he does right away. His wife Julie was pretty upset.
How living trusts helps
As it happened though, Haris, a few years before, created a living trust. It has a provision that includes incapacity planning. There are two essential parts to this: The first is a system to decide if someone has lost their executive decision-making ability. The second is to have a successor Trustee to look over the estate when the individual has lost this capacity. This question is about Haris’s fundamental freedom: his ability to spend his own money.
If you asked Haris, he would say nothing is wrong with him. He looks and sounds excellent. Tells the best dad jokes. He goes to the gym five times a week and can probably beat you at arm wrestling. Haris made some financial mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes.
Julie, and his adult children Haroon, Kulsum, Abdullah, and Rasheeda are not so sure it’s just a mistake. The living trust created a “disability panel.” This panel gets to vote, privately, in if Haris should continue to act as Trustee of his own money. If they vote that he should not manage his own money, his wife does it for him.
The family has a way to decide an important and sensitive issue while maintaining Haris’ dignity, privacy and wealth. Haris’s friends don’t know anything about long distance calling cards or a Cambodian rice farm; they don’t know he lost his ability to act as Trustee of his trust. Indeed the rest of the world is oblivious to all of this.
Planning for everyone
Islamic inheritance is fard and every Muslim should endeavor to incorporate it into their lives. As it happens it is an obligation Muslims, at least those in the United States, routinely ignore or deal with inadequately. However, there is more to planning than just what shares go to whom after death. Every family needs to create a system. There may or may not be problems with children or even with yourself (other than death, which will happen), but you should do whatever you can to protect your family’s wealth and dignity while also fulfilling your obligations to both yourself and your family.
Should Spiritual Leaders Who Violate Our Trust Be Forgiven?
Some people want to move past the indiscretions of community leaders quickly as though they never occurred while others wish to permanently blacklist them. This article examines a third option between the two that can be a win-win for the fallen leader, the victims, and the community.
In the past couple of years, a number of simmering scandals among spiritual leaders became public knowledge and the subject of vigorous and often painful public debate. As someone who has worked in the community dawah space the past 15 years, often acting as a bridge between past and present microcelebrity as well as non-celeb teachers to the community at large, one question I’ve been asked repeatedly – should community leaders who violate our trust be forgiven? I’m often asked by people who aren’t fanboys / fangirls taken by microcelebrity dawah culture or wearing spiritual blinders for non-celebs, and often don’t even understand what has occurred. Below I share answers I have heard as well as what I believe is fair and pragmatic in many (not all) situations.
Answer #1: Yes, We Must Forgive Them
One group of people argue we should completely forgive them. No one is perfect, everyone is human and makes mistakes. If we assume the mistake was truly made, then we should also forgive them and move on. Our faith is replete with statements about Allah’s Mercy, and if we want His Mercy, surely we should also give it to others. Oftentimes, members who fall into this group don’t actually believe the person in question is at fault and are trying to convince others either on the fence or against the individual to let it go. Of course, there are some who believe the violation occurred and not think it a big deal, while others may think the violation indeed was a big deal, and should still be forgiven. I can agree with some aspects of this, but not completely.
Answer #2: No, They Should Never Be Forgiven
Another group believes that once a person commits a violation of trust, they are no longer to be trusted again. They should leave their positions and be ostracized from the community permanently. They are to be tarred and feathered and made an example of for life. Members within this group oftentimes don’t need to wait for evidence to arrive at any conclusion – they were judge, jury, and executioner well before there was a trial. Not all members are like this, of course – some waited for evidence and then reached their conclusions that the gravity of the charges was too much and therefore the person should never be forgiven.
Answer #3: It Depends – Forgive Them If They Take Ownership and Make Amends
In my view, the problem with the first group is they don’t often see that the person did anything wrong, or if they did, it’s trivial relative to the khayr, the good and benefit they bring to the community. They keep citing that Allah is forgiving, so we should forgive automatically, but in their haste, they forget that part of the process of making restitution is first sincerely regretting what one has done.
To sincerely regret, one must also move out of denial and into acceptance that they made a mistake. Once one admits failure, they can then ask to be forgiven, and then the aggrieved party is in a position to grant it. The community forgiving and re-integrating a person who refuses to take responsibility for their wrongdoing does neither them, their victims, nor the community any good. We continue to distrust the person and they continue to believe they can get away with whatever they wish because they are “special”. Victims fear community integration, everyone becomes cynical about religion, and the cause of calling people to become better worshippers of Allah is harmed.
On the flip side, the second group is far too extreme in their view of justice. To ostracize that person and leave them no path of return means they have no means to redeem themselves, and de facto their families are casualties who must deal with the fallout of being pushed out of the community. I agree that none of us are perfect, and we all often make egregious mistakes. In my own experience, there are many instances where activists who advocate publicly for better are often involved privately in worse than those they go after.
That being the case, there is no person that can’t be forgiven, and I would say we shouldn’t leave aside this possibility in our dealings with those who fail us just as we expect it when we ourselves fall short, sometimes seriously so. I would add that we would lose the skills and talent of that person – if we believe in allowing people with criminal histories back into the general population and providing them with opportunities to become productive, reformed citizens, I don’t see why we wouldn’t offer the same to our community and religious leaders.
The key I believe is in following a process which includes the following for the individual:
- Taking Responsibility: They own responsibility for the mistake and acknowledge it was made. No amount of denial, minimization, and spin will suffice.
- Make Restitution: First and foremost, they apologize and make amends as best they can with the victims. If the issue went public, then they should apologize to those they were serving as a leader for their mistake as well. This includes handling financial compensation.
- Remediating Oneself: Enroll in counseling, therapy, mentorship, and / or group support programs to help them overcome their issues.
- Being Held Accountable: Work with others on concrete milestones of both behavior and programs that demonstrate their commitment to change. Be able to show the community that they take reformation seriously and are committed to coming out of their mistake a better person, one who can even advise others of the mistake and how not to repeat it.
As someone who has worked in dawah and supported the ascension of numerous modern-day microcelebrity spiritual scholars and teachers, I and others like me act as a bridge between them and the community. I do not speak for all of them, certainly, but I know that any leader who tries to re-integrate into the community without taking responsibility will continue to find that many will not support them. Most, in this case, feel a sacred duty to oppose their elephant-in-the-room integration to protect the community at large.
Likewise, I know that many like myself would be willing to overlook and forgive such individuals if they took responsibility for their behavior and demonstrated they were taking concrete steps to make amends for their mistakes. The month of Ramadan is upon us, and sometimes one just has to rip the band-aid off, go through the process of feeling the pain of scrutiny for owning up, and then moving forward to forgiveness. I won’t promise it’s easy or that everyone will change, but I can at least say many of us would have an easier time accepting individuals back into the community.
What’s your view on these situations?
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