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Value Your Local Imam Even If He Is Not “Famous” | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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In December 2005, I formally took my first Imam position at Masjid Abu Bakr in New Orleans where I would serve for 6 years. With the recovery of the city after Hurricane Katrina underway, it was a stressful time with many other masajid not having their imams back. At that time, I was just a “local imam.” My national profile was minuscule and I used to routinely invite scholars and preachers to benefit our community.

All the while, I barely had a minute to myself. I was expected to do everything from keeping the library clean to marriages and divorces, and counseling, and funerals, and teach Quran, organize events and handle every little detail, and interfaith work, and assist in disaster relief, and still fundraise for our expansion projects, and of course save everyone’s kids from destroying themselves.

I had just gotten married in 2007 and lost my mom (may Allah have mercy on her) the same year. Living 2 houses down from the masjid, people would knock on my door regularly in the odd hours of the night when we had just put our first baby girl to sleep, block my driveway during salah times, and request drive-by marriage ceremonies at any time of the day. I felt like a doctor on call, all the time. But I definitely didn’t have a doctor’s salary.

And for some people, I still was falling short. I would be questioned for every salah I didn’t make at the masjid, usually because I was tending to someone’s needs. My khutbahs, recitations, and clothing style were constantly up for debate. And my boss would effectively change every year because of board elections.

Now, let me stop here and say that I loved my masjid and left on great terms to pursue other opportunities. I made friends that became family, and I wouldn’t trade those 6 years for anything. But the lifestyle I just mentioned certainly wasn’t unique to me. I know many imams who work tirelessly for their community only to constantly be deemed insufficient.

And in recent years, a particular critique has become common: “Why can’t you be more like (insert “celebrity shaykh” name). Suddenly, I find myself on the other side of that equation. Imams and scholars are put down in my name. And though I despise the term “celebrity shaykh” and certainly never asked for it, I fully recognize that scholars and teachers that don’t have my profile are abused by it. Hence why I’m writing this article in defense of the imams and scholars who do so much for their communities on the ground, only to be diminished because they don’t have an inflated online presence.

Most of my teachers would never be recognized by those who know of my work. My father-in-law was the imam of a masjid for over 2 decades and played a significant role in developing me not just with ijazas, but as a person (and of course, I owe both him and my mother in law for my wonderful wife who has helped develop me every day for the last 12 years).

Some of my most blessed teachers that reside right here in the United States hold regular classes that are underwhelming in attendance. This past weekend I had the blessing of sharing the stage with one of my beloved teachers and mentors, Dr. Hatem Al Haj. I would do anything for the opportunity to sit in his classes on a weekly basis even now. And when it comes to just sheer work being done for communities, the Imams in inner cities (particularly from the community of Imam WD Muhammad) have been torchbearers. I am put to shame when I compare my own work to Imam Rafiq Numan in New Orleans or Imam Khalid Shahid here in Dallas.

So a few points to consider:

  1. A person’s fame or lack thereof is not an indication of their knowledge level. That means that some scholars who enjoy a particular profile indeed do have the credentials to match that profile, while others don’t. And in more cases than not, the most knowledgeable gems are building communities away from public sight.

 

  1. Don’t belittle your Imam because he’s not someone else. Allah has given us all our own unique qualities. Build with and around your imam instead.

 

  1. An imam is not a Prophet. The expectations of an imam are usually entirely unreasonable, and they are ridiculously under-compensated. That creates bitterness on the part of both the Imam and the community. No other faith community invests less in the pieces around their clergy to build a successful community. You want your Imam to build right, let him focus on being a good imam as opposed to 7 jobs in 1. Part of that is a clear job description with clear expectations on both sides. What the imam does beyond that is part of his own personal growth in the sight of Allah, in front of whom we all must hold ourselves accountable.

 

  1. Don’t wait for someone to be discovered nationally to benefit from them locally. Many times we only recognize the blessings of a teacher after others recognize it for us.

 

  1. An imam having a national profile might actually be bad for your masjid due to time constraints, so be careful what you wish for. That’s not to say that there aren’t some who have done a wonderful job of maintaining commitments to both their local communities and the broader Ummah. But it does mean that you might be making a big mistake replacing your local Imam for his lack of prominence while he is fully committed to building your community.

 

  1. You want a secure imam, give him job security. That’s not to say that there aren’t reasonable grounds for the removal of an Imam, or that sometimes you just don’t have the right fit. But what type of caliber and commitment are you expecting when the position you hire for has a new boss every year or two through notorious masjid board elections. And this is not meant to demonize those boards since there are some really good ones out there, but to say there has to be a way to safeguard the imam from those cycles.

 

  1. Whoever does not thank the people, does not thank Allah. It means something to hear words of appreciation, especially when you’re so accustomed to criticism and overwhelmed by an unreasonable workload. So to the imams who teach our children, lead our prayers, represent us in our communities, bury our loved ones, perform our marriages, and do so much more…

 

May Allah reward you AND YOUR FAMILIES for all that you do for OUR FAMILIES. May you be celebrated by Allah and the inhabitants of the heavens. That is where true “fame” lies.

And to those who abuse their local Imams in the name of us “celebrity shaykhs”, please stop it. #NotInMyName

Imam Omar Suleiman is the Founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and an Adjunct Professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at SMU (Southern Methodist University). He is also the Resident Scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center and Co-Chair of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square. He holds a Bachelors in Accounting, a Bachelors in Islamic Law, a Masters in Islamic Finance, a Masters in Political History, and is currently pursuing a Phd. in Islamic Thought and Civilization from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Muhammad

    November 29, 2018 at 10:51 AM

    Excellent and well said. May Allah accept all your efforts for the sake of Islam.

  2. Avatar

    Omar

    November 29, 2018 at 11:33 AM

    Great article. I think it’s just the times we live in. People are more concerned about who makes them ‘feel good’ about their Iman as oppose to who is the one closer to Qur’an and Sunnah …Who is more known to the people rather than who is more known to Allah.

    So many times I’ve heard people say… You gotta hear the tafsir by such and such an “aalim” because he’s the most popular celebrity speaker in the world. While the person holds no credentials of being a scholar or an aalim. And their local Imam has more ijazahs in Hadith and tafsir and does more for their community than the celebrity Shaykh ever could.??‍♂

    The same kind of mentality is adopted by the other side of the spectrum where people with cultish attachment to their masjid and imams consider only their Iman to be rightly guided while every other people, imam or masjid whether it be across the street and the same “sect” as them but deemed to be misguided because they don’t follow “my” masjid.

    My sincere advise to all my brothers and sisters. Only Allah knows who is guided and who is misguided. The so called “celebrity Shaykh” that you follow *could* be the first to enter hell and the local Imam that spent his nights in secluded ibadah could be the closest to the Prophet in the Hereafter – and vice versa. So never show one down over the other because you could be slandering someone whose already got his place booked under the throne of Allah fifty thousand years before the creation.

    A dua I always make is for Allah to guide me to the one who is most pleasing to him. Not the one that makes me “feel good” about my faith, is well known or the one that inclines to my “cultish mentality”.

    If your ultimate goal is Jannah then stop attaching your faith to labels of speakers and seek the one that is most pleasing to Him. May Allah guide us all, ameen.

  3. Avatar

    Rafia

    November 29, 2018 at 11:59 AM

    Well written ma sha Allah – I think people particularly say this specially in our times because they need a BIG example to look towards OR they are not that much involved in the masjid to understand the situation of their scholars. In their own way of given circumstances and resources, they do their best – Alhamdulillah!
    And I totally agree, no one should abuse an imam in your name. You are a human too and might have ignored some areas that are needed by the community in many ways.
    Every Imam/Sheikh/Ustadh we learn from should be given enough benefit of doubt that in the end they are only humans like us.
    Personally I think #celebritysheikh phenomenon becomes “Iamyourfan” & “whatever they say is right” – which is wrong. We need to broaden our ilm enough to know deen ourselves.
    May Allah bless the scholars among us and make them beneficial for all, ameen

  4. Avatar

    Atif

    November 29, 2018 at 12:02 PM

    AsalamuAlaikum,

    Well written article ?. I’ve never really come across this in the UK. The imam’s here have always been looked up to by members of the community and myself (even when I don’t agree on issues like the mawlid). Although, I don’t about much about job security but given the imam has been the same for years, I’d say it’s must be okay.

    In general, you shouldn’t be like someone else or wish others to be like someone they’re not. If you give a person a job then you have the trust to let them do it.

    The imams job is to impart knowledge but it’s up to the listener to check and verify the knowledge is correct before implementing. It shouldn’t really matter how it is delivered. If the people are interested they’ll pay attention.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Avatar

    Hemiar

    November 29, 2018 at 2:02 PM

    Jazak Allahu Khayran. May Allah reward you for all your efforts; within the muslim communities, and without.

  6. Avatar

    Rayhaneh

    November 30, 2018 at 9:59 AM

    Well said and it’s the fact that us moslem we can do more in our masjid and pay more regularly and we hope some one else does it.i always witness how much others they do and pay for their churches and yes Imam of any masjid should have regular descent salary in order to have time to put it in Allah’s way to be able to teach our next generation . May Allah(swt) give us all the wisdom to do more.?

  7. Avatar

    Sabri

    November 30, 2018 at 1:46 PM

    Jazakumullahu Khayran. So True in the (anti)-social media era we live in. May Allah reward our local imams and those who support them with Al Firdaws.

  8. Avatar

    Saffia

    November 30, 2018 at 9:04 PM

    JazakAllahKhair. I completely agree with your points in this article. Our entire community has become engrossed with popularity and entertainment. Every organization has to spend 10-20 thousand dollars on their fundraiser just to get an audience to attend. Our community is spoiled on being entertained before they will consider supporting an organization, a mosque, an event of any kind, or a speaker.

  9. Avatar

    Jerome Yakubu

    December 2, 2018 at 3:51 AM

    My dear IMAM,
    As-salam Alaikum Wa rahamatullam, Wa barakatuh.

    There’s a lot you need to know about the MUSLIM congregation that you lead in prayers and the ISLAMIC COMMUNITY in which you are the IMAM.

    Please, read this from an AFRICAN, born into Islam from generations of ISLAMIC ancestry, who have been living in the United States of America for 43 years and counting, since July 1975, in a large city in the Midwest America with a very large population of MUSLIMS.

    Alhamdulilah Rabil Alamin, All glory be to the Almighty Allah (SWT) who had blessed me with good health and stability to be a CONTINUOUS member of the same mosque since March 1981 up till today.
    I AM A LIVING WITNESS TO ALL KINDS OF PRESSURE IMAMS GO THROUGH IN THE MOSQUE AND THE COMMUNITY THEY PRACTICE IN, HERE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
    My dear brother IMAM,
    Interestingly, your post herein ask fellow Muslims to RESPECT their IMAMS, …. Are you asking that the MUSLIMS that you lead in prayer should RESPECT you and regard you as their SUPERIOR in any circumstances?

    Please allow me to ask you this SERIOUS QUESTION.

    While leading a prayer in your mosque here in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
    Have you ever asked yourself which kind of MUSLIMS are lined up behind you while you lead the prayer? …. Have you?
    Have you considered the difference in their NATIONALITY, their TRIBES, their AGES, their PROFESSIONS and their backgrounds? …. Most importantly, their STATE OF MINDS at the moment they are praying behind you leading the prayer in the mosque.

    Your post here lays more emphasis on ‘RESPECT FOR IMAMS’ by the Muslims around him.
    You only know RELIGION, you actually don’t know much about HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY.

    Please note that I keep capitalizing the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
    It is a very different world here in the USA to practice ISLAM as known in other parts of this world away from the USA. Too many MUSLIMS are in your mosque praying behind you because they are there ONLY to pray to the Almighty Allah (SWT) to relieve them of their PAIN as they suffer on that particular day.l

    As an IMAM anywhere here in the United States, You have THREE things working against you.

    1. RACISM
    2. TRIBALISM
    3. NEPOTISM

    RACISM has to do with the country (USA) where you practice ISLAM as an IMAM.
    Wherever you may come from, be you an Arab, an African, an Indian, a Pakistani a Chinese, an American (White or Black) or others, THERE IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE A MUSLIM BROTHER OR SISTER, LINING UP BEHIND YOU IN PRAYER ROOM, WHO LOOKS AT YOU DIFFERENT FROM HIM INSTEAD OF LOOKING AT YOU AS A BROTHER MUSLIM AND ACCEPT YOU 100% AS ISLAM ASKS US TO DO…. Truth told.
    Those kind of people come with different, different PERSONAL PROBLEMS, they are NOT in the mosque to RESPECT any IMAM, they are in the mosque to just pray to the Almighty Allah to EASE them off of their personal problems and just leave.

    U.S. IMMIGRATION SERVICES have messed up so many Muslims badly, here in the USA.
    Among those that line up behind you are ‘SOMEBODY’ who were ‘SOMEBODY’ from their countries of origin before they migrated to the USA to seek greater pastures.
    They are the DOCTORS, the LAWYERS, the ENGINEERS, the ACCOUNTANTS, the PhDs and others who were successful in their trades back in their home countries before migrating to the United States.

    Trust me ….. TOO MANY OF THEM ARE NOT HAPPY PEOPLE AT ALL.
    UNHAPPY PEOPLE NEVER HAVE TIME TO RESPECT ANY IMAM.
    They come to the mosque to pray to the Almighty Allah to ease them of their unhappiness, and that is all about it.

    Here in the United States of America, THINGS HAVE CHANGED FOR THE WORSE FOR MUSLIMS PRACTICING ISLAM, it gradually started since 1992 or so, when the USA went to war with Saddam Hussain in Iraq and the Arab world have not been in PEACE since then till today.

    Things TOTALLY got completely bad for Muslims after the sad event of September 11, 2001 when those two Towers in New York were destroyed, so many lives lost and it was concluded that the Arabs (MUSLIMS) were the perpetrators of such evil acts. Since then, MUSLIMS, regardless of what their professions may be, were LESS respected anywhere in the USA and the western world.

    My dear brother IMAM,
    How do you expect any unhappy Muslim Medical Doctor, an unengaged Muslim Lawyer, a not-so-happily-employed Engineer or a least-paid Muslim accountant and others who are treated with absolutely NO RESPECT at their places of employment, just because they are MUSLIMS to have time to RESPECT you when they have such PAINS in them when they come to the mosque?

    UNHAPPY MIND IS A WICKED MIND WITH NO RESPECT FOR ANYBODY.

    How do you expect a MUSLIM brother who migrated to the USA from his home country to seek a greener pasture or SECURITY for his life because of all kinds of WARS raging in his country which have destroyed almost everything he may have in his country, who then get here in the USA to find it difficult to get a well-paying job here in the USA, to be respectful of any IMAM, whose job, to him, is to lead the prayer for the 20 minutes or so and let him go back home.

    Nothing destroys a home and family in the USA more than the INABILITY of the MAN OF THE HOUSE to provide for the family. …. This happens EVERYDAY here in the USA, due to poor EMPLOYMENT that pays almost nothing or UNEMPLOYMENT itself that renders the man of the house so weak in the management of his own family…. How do you expect such a MUSLIM praying behind you to have time to RESPECT you as an IMAM?
    UNHAPPINESS IN ONE’S SELF ALWAYS BRINGS THE WORSE OF EVERYBODY EASILY.
    Not every MUSLIM that lines up behind you is a HAPPY MAN …. That is another TRUTH told.
    It is what living in America brings to the lives of immigrant Muslims.

    All the above narrations is based on RACISM,
    Now, allow me to remind you that you will also go through TRIBALISM every day.

    As of today 2018,
    TRIBALISM is another problem with ISLAM and among the MUSLIMS who practice ISLAM here in the USA.
    Do you think if you are a YEMENI and an IMAM that leads prayers in any mosque in the USA, every SAUDI ARABIAN in your congregation will give you the RESPECT you think you deserve as an IMAM? …. I don’t think so.
    Somewhere in his mind will be the thought of the war currently going on between his country and yours.

    Same goes with if you are an AFRICAN, who probably studied so hard and very knowledgeable in Quranic verses than most Arabs themselves, having graduated from a university in an Arab country and excelled higher than your Arab classmates, Do you expect 100% RESPECT from those non-Arab MUSLIMS who you lead their prayers every day in the mosque? …. Please DO NOT EXPECT such respect, There is ISLAM and there is REALITY.
    Same goes for an INDIAN Imam expecting 100% respect from any PAKISTANI brother Muslim in his congregation and so on and so forth.

    Here in the USA, every MOSQUE is MULTI-NATIONAL, MULTI-TRIBAL, and MULTI-CULTURAL that houses CHARACTERS of all kinds …. A very high percentage of them are still STRUGGLING to make ENDS MEET here in the USA and they are aging faster and faster, almost making them feel hopeless in succeeding in whatever they do in the USA.

    ARE YOU GETTING PAID ANY SALARY AS AN IMAM?
    Never expect the RESPECT you think you deserve from everyone, IF YOU ARE PAID ANY SALARY WHATSOEVER AS AN IMAM, regardless of your knowledge about the religion of ISLAM.
    You are an EMPLOYEE in a take-it-or-leave-it job, replaceable at any moment.
    Have you ever asked yourself if any prayer was ever POSTPONED because you were absent?
    That should tell you how easy it is to replace you, because there’s always an equally learned Muslim that can lead the prayer flawlessly.

    Now, let’s talk about NEPOTISM.
    As described in the dictionary, NEPOTISM is …. “Favoritism shown to relatives or close friends by those in power (as by giving them jobs)”.

    Unlike back home where each and every one of us migrated to the USA from, HERE in the USA, the mosque is OWNED, MANAGED AND FINANCED BY THE COMMUNITY. …. You are just an EMPLOYEE of the establishment.
    Unless you build your own mosque and manage it, you can’t dictate to anyone whatsoever.
    Any Muslim can pray five times a day WITHOUT an IMAM, an IMAM is not an IMAM if he has nobody lining up behind him in prayers.

    I am from Africa, Our mosques are run like they run the CHURCHES here in the USA, whereby the IMAM and the PASTORS are allowed to take home a certain percentage of the DONATIONS made to the MOSQUES on Fridays or the CHURCHES on Sundays.

    Here in the USA, You are EMPLOYED as an EMPLOYEE to lead the prayer and perform other duties as laid down in your letter of appointment as an IMAM and that is it! …. you get paid your SALARY and the Board of Directors determine whether to renew your contract or not. …. Here in the USA, being an IMAM is a JOB, not a ROYALTY whatsoever. …. There is nowhere in the Qur’an that all Muslims must look at their IMAM as their SUPERIORS, here in the USA, that will be too difficult, the FREEDOM and the LIBERTY is so much practiced and enjoyed by everyone …. In any country where they have no respect for their PRESIDENT, an IMAM of an Islamic mosque should be very happy he still have a job and not push it, because he leads prayers for so many UNHAPPY PEOPLE who are not as COMFORTABLE living in the USA as you may think they are …. TOO MANY PROBLEMS OF DIFFERENT KINDS FOLLOW EVERY MUSLIMS TO THE MOSQUES IN THE ISA EVERYDAY.

    Some Muslims here in the USA are OLD PEOPLE who are retired, some migrated to the USA at a very OLD AGE from Arab countries with good knowledge of the practice of ISLAM and more importantly the knowledge of the contents of the Holy Qur’an, Some can even boast that they are more knowledgeable in ISLAM and the Holy Qur’an than the IMAM himself … but they are UNEMPLOYABLE in most American JOB MARKET due to lack of educational qualification or OLD AGE. …. Those ones are ready to take your job for a FRACTION OF HOW MUCH YOUR SALARY IS TODAY.

    Not only that,
    Those OLD, UNEMPLOYABLE and JOBLESS ones are RELATIVES of some prominent members of the BOARD OF DIRECTORS of your mosque …. That is when and where NEPOTISM comes in.
    So many of them want your job as an IMAM for their OLD, UNEMPLOYABLE and jobless relatives for HALF THE AMOUNT PAID YOU AS YOUR SALARY. … Be very, very careful how you demand RESPECT from those who are JEALOUS of you as IMAM of the mosque.

    Personally, I have witnessed IMAMS come and GO, they all lost their jobs as IMAMS because of those reasons I listed above…… This is AMERICA, a CAPITALIST country, believe it or not, DOLLARS come first before RELIGION. Some will intentionally commit un-Islamic sins and go to the mosque and beg the Almighty Allah (SWT) for forgiveness.

    CONCLUSION.
    Try as much as possible and practice INCLUSION.
    A mosque is NOT a good mosque if anyone feels NOT included.
    A mosque, here in the USA is supposed to be a place where everyone is TOTALLY welcomed, regardless of race, ethnicity or age. …. That is what ISLAM should mean.
    Make everybody feel welcomed around you.
    Although, they are seeing you different, preach ISLAM, preach BROTHERHOOD and SISTERHOOD and you will receive the RESPECT you deserve.

    Ma a salam.

  10. Avatar

    Youshay Siddiqui

    December 18, 2018 at 2:47 PM

    Its as usual graceful to listen to you and learn from you my beloved Sheikh Omar Sulaiman. I remember you in my prayers. I have benefited a lot from you, by the will of Allah.

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Obituary of (Mawlana) Yusuf Sulayman Motala (1366/1946 – 1441/2019)

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier.

Dr. Mufti Abdur Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera

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Dar Al Uloom Bury, Yusuf Sulayman Motala

A master of hadith and Qur’an. A sufi, spiritual guide and teacher to thousands. A pioneer in the establishment of a religious education system. His death reverberated through hearts and across oceans. We are all mourning the loss of a luminary who guided us through increasingly difficult times.

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier. (May the Almighty envelope him in His mercy)

His journey in this world had begun more than 70 years ago in the small village of Nani Naroli in Gujarat, India, where he was born on November 25, 1946 (1 Muharram 1366) into a family known for their piety.

His early studies were largely completed at Jami’a Husayniyya, one of the early seminaries of Gujarat, after which he travelled to Mazahir Ulum, the second oldest seminary of the Indian Sub-Continent, in Saharanpur, India, to complete his ‘alimiyya studies. What drew him to this seminary was the presence of one of the most influential and well-known contemporary spiritual guides, Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi (d. 1402/1982), better known as “Hazrat Shaykh.” He had seen Mawlana Zakariyya only briefly at a train stop, but it was enough for him to understand the magnitude of his presence.

Mawlana Yusuf remained in Saharanpur for two years. Despite being younger than many of the other students of Shaykh Zakariya, the shaykh took a great liking to him. Shaykh Zakariya showered him with great attention and even deferred his retirement from teaching Sahih al-Bukhari so that Mawlana Yusuf could study it under his instruction. While in Saharanpur, Mawlana Yusuf also studied under a number of other great scholars, such as Mawlana Muhammad ‘Aqil (author of Al-Durr al-Mandud, an Urdu commentary of Sunan Abi Dawud and current head lecturer of Hadith at the same seminary), Shaykh Yunus Jownpuri (d. 1438/2017) the previous head lecturer of Hadith there), Mawlana As‘adullah Rampuri (d. 1399/1979) and Mufti Muzaffar Husayn (d. 1424/2003).

Upon completion of his studies, Mawlana Yusuf’s marriage was arranged to marry a young woman from the Limbada family that had migrated to the United Kingdom from Gujarat. In 1968, he relocated to the UK and accepted the position of imam at Masjid Zakariya, in Bolton. Although he longed to be in the company of his shaykh, he had explicit instructions to remain in the UK and focus his efforts on establishing a seminary for memorization of Qur’an and teaching of the ‘alimiyya program. The vision being set in motion was to train a generation of Muslims scholars that would educate and guide the growing Muslim community.

Establishing the first Muslim seminary, in the absence of any precedent, was a daunting task. The lack of support from the Muslim community, the lack of integration into the wider British community, and the lack of funds made it seem an impossible endeavour. And yet, Mawlana Yusuf never wavered in his commitment and diligently worked to make the dream of his teacher a reality. In 1973 he purchased the derelict Aitken Sanatorium in the village of Holcombe, near Bury, Lancashire. What had once been a hospice for people suffering from tuberculosis, would become one of the first fully-fledged higher-education Islamic institutes outside of the Indian-Subcontinent teaching the adapted-Nizami syllabus.

The years of struggle by Maulana Yusuf to fulfil this vision paid off handsomely. Today, after four decades, Darul Uloom Al Arabiyya Al Islamiyya, along with its several sister institutes, also founded by Mawlana Yusuf, such as the Jamiatul Imam Muhammad Zakariya seminary in Bradford for girls, have produced well over 2,000 British born (and other international students) male and female ‘alimiyya graduates – many of whom are working as scholars and serving communities across the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, the US, Canada, Barbados, Trinidad, Panama, Saudi Arabia, India and New Zealand. Besides these graduates, a countless number of individuals have memorized the Qur’an at these institutes. Moreover, many of the graduates of the Darul Uloom and its sister institutes have set up their own institutes, such as Jamiatul Ilm Wal Huda in Blackburn, Islamic Dawah Academy in Leicester, Jami’ah al-Kawthar in Lancaster, UK, and Darul Uloom Palmela in Portugal, to just mention a few of the larger ones. Within his lifetime, Mawlana Yusuf saw first-hand the fruit of his labours – witnessing his grand students (graduates from his students’ institutes) providing religious instruction and services to communities around the world in their local languages. What started as a relationship of love between a student and teacher, manifested into the transmission of knowledge across continents. In some countries, such as the UK and Portugal, one would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim who had not directly or indirectly benefited from him.

Mawlana Yusuf was a man with deep insights into the needs of Western contemporary society, one that was very different from the one he had grown up and trained in. With a view to contributing to mainstream society, Mawlana Yusuf encouraged his graduates to enter into further education both in post-graduate Islamic courses and western academia, and to diversify their fields of learning through courses at mainstream UK universities. As a result, many ‘alimiyya graduates of his institutes are trained in law, mainstream medicine, natural medicine and homeopathy, mental health, child protection, finance, IT, education, chaplaincy, psychology, philosophy, pharmacy, physics, journalism, engineering, architecture, calligraphy, typography, graphic design, optometry, social services, public health, even British Sign Language. His students also include several who have completed PhDs and lecture at universities. His vision was to train British-born (or other) Muslim scholars who would be well versed in contemporary thought and discipline along with their advanced Islamic learning, equipping them to better contribute to society.

Despite his commitment to the establishment of a public good, the shaykh was an immensely private person and avoided seeking accolade or attention. For many decades he refused invitations to attend conferences or talks around the country, choosing to focus on his students and his family, teaching the academic syllabus and infusing the hearts of many aspirants with the love of Allah through regular gatherings of remembrance (dhikr) and spiritual retreats (i’tikaf) in the way of his shaykh’s Chishti Sufi order.

During my entire stay with him at Darul Uloom (1985–1997), I can say with honesty that I did not come across a single student who spoke ill of him. He commanded such awe and respect that people would find it difficult to speak with him casually. And yet, for those who had the opportunity to converse with him, knew that he was the most compassionate, humble, and loving individual.

He was full of affection for his students and colleagues and had immense concern for the Muslim Ummah, especially in the West. He possessed unparalleled forbearance and self-composure. When he taught or gave a talk, he spoke in a subdued and measured tone, as though he was weighing every word, knowing the import it carried. He would sit, barely moving and without shifting his posture. Even after a surgical procedure for piles, he sat gracefully teaching us Sahih al-Bukhari. Despite the obvious pain, he never made an unpleasant expression or winced from the pain.

Anyone who has listened to his talks or read his books can bear testimony to two things: his immense love for the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his love for Shaykh Mawlana Muhammad Zakariya Kandhlawi (may Allah have mercy on him). It is probably hard to find a talk in which he did not speak of the two. His shaykh was no doubt his link to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) in both his hadith and spiritual transmissions.

Over the last decade, he had retired from most of his teaching commitments (except Sahih al-Bukhari) and had reduced meeting with people other than his weekly dhikr gatherings. His time was spent with his family and young children and writing books. His written legacy comprises over 20 titles, mostly in Urdu but also a partial tafsir of the Qur’an in classical Arabic.

After the news of his heart attack on Sunday, August 25, and the subsequent effects to his brain, his well-wishers around the world completed hundreds of recitals of the Qur’an, several readings of the entire Sahih al-Bukhari, thousands of litanies and wirds of the formula of faith (kalima tayyiba), and gave charity in his name. However, Allah Most High willed otherwise and intended for him to depart this lowly abode to begin his journey to the next. He passed away two weeks later and reports state that approximately 4,000 people attended his funeral. Had his funeral been in the UK, the number of attendees would have multiplied several folds. But he had always shied away from large crowds and gatherings and maybe this was Allah Most High’s gift to him after his death. He was 75 (in Hijra years, and 72 in Gregorian) at the time of his death and leaves behind eight children and several grandchildren.

Mawlana Yusuf educated, inspired and nourished the minds and hearts of countless across the UK and beyond. May Allah Almighty bless him with the loftiest of abodes in the Gardens of Firdaws in the company of Allah’s beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) and grant all his family, students, and cherishers around the world beautiful patience.

Dr Mufti Abdur-Rahman Mangera
Whitethread Institute, London
(A fortunate graduate of Darul Uloom Bury, 1996–97)

*a learned Muslim scholar especially in India often used as a form of address

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Shaykh Hamza Yusuf And The Question of Rebellion In The Islamic Tradition

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

In recent years, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a notable Islamic scholar from North America, has gained global prominence by supporting efforts by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to deal with the fallout of the Arab revolutions. The UAE is a Middle Eastern autocracy that has been the chief strategist behind quelling the Arab revolutionary aspiration for accountable government in the region. Shaykh Hamza views himself as helping prevent the region from falling into chaos by supporting one of its influential autocratic states. However, more recently, he has become embroiled in another controversy because of comments he made regarding the Syrian revolution in 2016 that surfaced online earlier this week and for which he has since apologised. I will not discuss these comments directly in this article, but the present piece does have a bearing on the issue of revolution as it addresses the question of how Islamic scholars have traditionally responded to tyranny. Thus, in what follows, I somewhat narrowly focus on another recent recording of Shaykh Hamza that has been published by a third party in the past couple of weeks entitled: “Hamza Yusuf’s response to the criticism for working with Trump administration”. While it was published online at the end of August 2019, the short clip may, in fact, predate the Trump controversy, as it only addresses the more general charge that Shaykh Hamza is supportive of tyrannical governments.

Thus, despite its title, the primary focus of the recording is what the Islamic tradition purportedly says about the duty of Muslims to render virtually unconditional obedience to even the most tyrannical of rulers. In what follows, I argue that Shaykh Hamza’s contention that the Islamic tradition has uniformly called for rendering obedience to tyrannical rule—a contention that he has been repeating for many years—is inaccurate. Indeed, it is so demonstrably inaccurate that one wonders how a scholar as learned as Shaykh Hamza can portray it as the mainstream interpretation of the Islamic tradition rather than as representing a particularly selective reading of fourteen hundred years of scholarship. Rather than rest on this claim, I will attempt to demonstrate this in what follows. (Note: this article was sent to Shaykh Hamza for comment at the beginning of this month, but he has not replied in time for publication.)

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

Shaykh Hamza argues that “the Islamic tradition” demands that one render virtually absolute obedience to one’s rulers. He bases this assertion on a number of grounds, each of which I will address in turn. Firstly, he argues that Islam requires government, because the opposite of having a government would be a state of chaos. This is, however, to mischaracterise the arguments of the majority of mainstream scholars in Islamic history down to the present who, following explicit Qur’anic and Prophetic teachings, opposed supporting tyrannical rulers. None of these scholars ever advocated the removal of government altogether. They only opposed tyranny. For some reason that is difficult to account for, Shaykh Hamza does not, in addressing the arguments of his interlocutors, make the straightforward distinction between opposing tyranny, and opposing the existence of any government at all.

A complex tradition

Rather than support these tyrannical governments, the Islamic tradition provides a variety of responses to how one should oppose such governments, ranging from the more quietist—opposing them only in one’s heart—to the more activist—opposing them through armed rebellion. The majority of later scholars, including masters such as al-Ghazzali (d. 505/1111), Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795/1393), and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449) appear to have fallen somewhere between these two poles, advocating rebellion only in limited circumstances, and mostly advising a vocally critical posture towards tyranny. Of course, some early scholars, such as the sanctified member of the Prophetic Household, Sayyiduna Husayn (d. 61/680) had engaged in armed opposition to the tyranny of the Umayyads resulting in his martyrdom. Similarly, the Companion ‘Abdullah b. Zubayr (d. 73/692), grandson of Abu Bakr (d. 13/634), and son of al-Zubayr b. al-‘Awwam (d. 36/656), two of the Ten Companions Promised Paradise, had established a Caliphate based in Makkah that militarily tried to unseat the Umayyad Caliphal counter-claimant.

However, the model of outright military rebellion adopted by these illustrious scholars was generally relinquished in later centuries in favour of other forms of resisting tyranny. This notwithstanding, I will try to show that the principle of vocally resisting tyranny has always remained at the heart of the Islamic tradition contrary to the contentions of Shaykh Hamza. Indeed, I argue that the suggestion that Shaykh Hamza’s work with the UAE, an especially oppressive regime in the Arab world, is somehow backed by the Islamic tradition can only be read as a mischaracterisation of this tradition. He only explicitly cites two scholars from Islamic history to support his contention, namely Shaykhs Ahmad Zarruq (d. 899/1493) and Abu Bakr al-Turtushi (d. 520/1126), both of whom were notable Maliki scholars from the Islamic West. Two scholars of the same legal school, from roughly the same relatively peripheral geographic region, living roughly four hundred years apart, cannot fairly be used to represent the swathe of Islamic views to be found over fourteen hundred years in lands as far-flung as India to the east, Russia to the north, and southern Africa to the south.

What does the tradition actually say?

Let me briefly illustrate the diversity of opinion on this issue within the Islamic tradition by citing several more prominent and more influential figures from the same tradition alongside their very different stances on the issue of how one ought to respond to tyrannical rulers. Most of the Four Imams are in fact reported to have supported rebellion (khuruj) which is, by definition, armed. A good summary of their positions is found in the excellent study in Arabic by Shaykh ‘Abdullah al-Dumayji, who is himself opposed to rebellion, but who notes that outright rebellion against tyrannical rule was in fact encouraged by Abu Hanifa (d. 150/767) and Malik (d. 179/795), and is narrated as one of the legal positions adopted by al-Shafi‘i (d. 204/820) and Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855). As these scholars’ legal ideas developed and matured into schools of thought, many later adherents also maintained similar positions to those attributed to the founders of these schools. To avoid suggesting that armed rebellion against tyrants was the dominant position of the later Islamic tradition, let me preface this section with a note from Holberg Prize-winning Islamic historian, Michael Cook, who notes in his magisterial study of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong that “in the face of the delinquency of the ruler, there is a clear mainstream position [in the Islamic tradition]: rebuke is endorsed while [armed] rebellion is rejected.”

But there were also clearly plenty of outliers, or more qualified endorsements of rebellion against tyrants, as well as the frequent disavowal of the obligation to render them any obedience. Thus for the Malikis, one can find Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi (d. 543/1148) who asserts that advocating rebellion against tyrants is the main position of the madhhab; similarly among later Hanafis, one finds Qadi Abu Bakr al-Jassas (d. 370/981); for the Hanbalis, one may cite the positions of the prolific scholars Imam Ibn ‘Aqil (d. 513/1119), Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201), and in a more qualified sense, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali. Among later Shafi‘is, I have found less explicit discussions of rebellion in my limited search, but a prominent Shafi‘i like the influential exegete and theologian al-Fakhr al-Razi (d. 606/1210) makes explicit, contrary to Shaykh Hamza’s claims, that not only is obeying rulers not an obligation, in fact “most of the time it is prohibited, since they command to nothing but tyranny.” This is similar in ways to the stance of other great Shafi‘is such as al-hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani who notes concerning tyrannical rulers (umara’ al-jawr) that the ulama state that “if it is possible to depose them without fitna and oppression, it is an obligation to do so. Otherwise, it is obligatory to be patient.” It is worth noting that the normative influence of such a statement cited by Ibn Hajar transcends the Shafi‘i school given that it is made in his influential commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari. Once again, contrary to the assertions of Shaykh Hamza, there is nothing to suggest that any of the illustrious scholars who supported rebellion against tyrannical rulers was advocating the anarchist removal of all government. Rather they were explicitly advocating the replacement of a tyrant with a just ruler where this was possible.

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

A final example may be taken from the writing of Imam al-Ghazzali, an exceptionally influential scholar in the Islamic tradition who Shaykh Hamza particularly admires. On al-Ghazzali, who is generally opposed to rebellion but not other forms of opposition to tyranny, I would like to once again cite the historian Michael Cook. In his previously cited work, after an extensive discussion of al-Ghazzali’s articulation of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong, Cook concludes (p. 456):

As we have seen, his views on this subject are marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism. In this Ghazzālī may have owed something to his teacher Juwaynī, and he may also have been reacting to the Ḥanafī chauvinism of the Seljūq rulers of his day. The duty, of course, extends to everyone, not just rulers and scholars. More remarkably, he is prepared to allow individual subjects to have recourse to weapons where necessary, and even to sanction the formation of armed bands to implement the duty without the permission of the ruler. And while there is no question of countenancing rebellion, Ghazzālī is no accommodationist: he displays great enthusiasm for men who take their lives in their hands and rebuke unjust rulers in harsh and uncompromising language.

Most of the material Cook bases his discussion upon is taken from al-Ghazzali’s magnum opus, The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Such works once again demonstrate that the Islamic tradition, or great Sufi masters and their masterworks, cannot be the basis for the supportive attitude towards tyrannical rule on the part of a minority of modern scholars.

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

But modern times give rise to certain changes that also merit our attention. In modern times, new technologies of governance, such as democracy, have gone some way to dealing with challenges such as the management of the transition of power without social breakdown and the loss of life, as well as other forms of accountability that are not possible in absolute autocracies. For their part, absolute autocracies have had their tyrannical dimensions amplified with Orwellian technologies that invade private spaces and facilitate barbaric forms of torture and inhumane degradation on a scale that was likely unimaginable to premodern scholars. The stakes of a scholar’s decision of whether to support autocracy or democracy could not be higher.

Modern scholars like Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1345/1926), someone who Shaykh Hamza’s own mentor, Shaykh Abdullah b. Bayyah (b. 1353f./1935) considered a teacher until fairly recently, has advocated for an Islamic conception of democracy as a possible means to deal with the problem of tyranny that plagues much of the Muslim world. He is hardly the only scholar to do so. And in contrast with some of the scholars of the past who advocated armed rebellion in response to tyranny, most contemporary scholars supporting the Arab revolutions have argued for peaceful political change wherever possible. They have advocated for peaceful protest in opposition to tyranny. Where this devolved into violence in places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen, this was generally because of the disproportionately violent responses of regimes to peaceful protests.

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

For Shaykh Hamza, the fault here appears to lie with the peaceful protestors for provoking these governments to crush them. Such a conception of the dynamics of protest appears to assume that the autocratic governmental response to this is a natural law akin to cause and effect. The logic would seem to be: if one peacefully calls for reform and one is murdered in cold blood by a tyrannical government, then one has only oneself to blame. Governments, according to this viewpoint, have no choice but to be murderous and tyrannical. But in an age in which nearly half of the world’s governments are democracies, however flawed at times, why not aspire to greater accountability and less violent forms of governance than outright military dictatorship?

Rather than ask this question, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf appears to be willing to defend autocracy no matter what they do on the grounds that government, in principle, is what is at stake. Indeed, in defending government as necessary and a blessing, he rhetorically challenges his critics to “ask the people of Libya whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Yemen whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Syria whether government is a blessing?” The tragic irony of such statements is that these countries have, in part, been destroyed because of the interventions of a government, one for which Shaykh Hamza serves as an official, namely the UAE. This government has one of the most aggressive foreign policies in the region and has been instrumental in the failure of representative governments and the survival of tyrannical regimes throughout the Middle East.

Where do we go from here?

In summary, Shaykh Hamza’s critics are not concerned that he is “supporting governments,” rather they are concerned that for the last few years, he has found himself supporting bad government and effectively opposing the potential for good government in a region that is desperately in need of it. And while he may view himself as, in fact, supporting stability in the region by supporting the UAE, such a view is difficult if not impossible to reconcile with the evidence. Given his working relationship with the UAE government, perhaps Shaykh Hamza could use his position to remind the UAE of the blessing of government in an effort to stop them from destroying the governments in the region through proxy wars that result in death on an epic scale. If he is unable to do this, then the most honourable thing to do under such circumstances would be to withdraw from such political affiliations and use all of his influence and abilities to call for genuine accountability in the region in the same way that he is currently using his influence and abilities to provide cover, even if unwittingly, for the UAE’s oppression.

And Allah knows best.

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Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj

Dr. Hatem El Haj M.D Ph.D

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children drawing crayons

This is called a pre-operational period by Jean Piaget who was focused on cognitive development.

Children this age have difficulty reconciling between different dimensions or seemingly contradictory concepts. One dimension will dominate and the other will be ignored. This applies in the physical and abstract realms. For example, the water in the longer cup must be more than that in the shorter one, no matter how wide each cup is. Length dominates over width in his/her mind.

Throughout most of this stage, a child’s thinking is self-centered (egocentric). This is why preschool children have a problem with sharing.

In this stage, language develops very quickly, and by two years of age, kids should be combining words, and by three years, they should be speaking in sentences.

Erik Erikson, who looked at development from a social perspective, felt that the child finishes the period of autonomy vs. shame by 3 years of age and moves on to the period of initiative vs. guilt which will dominate the psycho-social development until age 6. In this period, children assert themselves as leaders and initiative takers. They plan and initiate activities with others. If encouraged, they will become leaders and initiative takers.

Based on the above, here are some recommendations:

In this stage, faith would be more caught than taught and felt than understood. The serene, compassionate home environment and the warm and welcoming masjid environment are vital.

Recognition through association: The best way of raising your kid’s love of Allah and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is by association. If you buy him ice cream, take the opportunity to tell them it is Allah who provided for you; the same applies to seeing a beautiful rose that s/he likes, tell them it is Allah who made it. Tell them stories about Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Statements like: “Prophet Muhammad was kinder to kids than all of us”; “Prophet Muhammad was kind to animals”; ” Prophet Muhammad loved sweets”; ” Prophet Muhammad helped the weak and old,” etc. will increase your child’s love for our most beloved ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Faith through affiliation: The child will think, “This is what WE do, and how WE pray, and where WE go for worship.” In other words, it is a time of connecting with a religious fraternity, which is why the more positive the child’s interactions with that fraternity are, the more attached to it and its faith he/she will become.

Teach these 2-7 kids in simple terms. You may be able to firmly insert in them non-controversial concepts of right and wrong (categorical imperatives) in simple one-dimensional language. Smoking is ḥarâm. No opinions. NO NUANCES. No “even though.” They ate not ready yet for “in them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people.”

Promote their language development by speaking to them a lot and reading them books, particularly such books that provoke curiosity and open discussions to enhance their expressive language. Encourage them to be bilingual as learning two languages at once does not harm a child’s cognitive abilities, rather it enhances them.

This is despite an initial stage of confusion and mixing that will resolve by 24 to 30 months of age. By 36 months of age, they will be fluent bilingual speakers. Introduce Islamic vocabulary, such as Allah, Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), masjid, Muslim, brothers, salaat, in-sha’a-Allah, al-Hamdulillah, subhana-Allah, etc. (Don’t underestimate the effect of language; it does a lot more than simply denoting and identifying things.)

In this pre-operational period, their ability of understanding problem solving and analysis is limited. They can memorize though. However, the focus on memorization should still be moderate. The better age for finishing the memorization of the Quran is 10-15.

Use illustrated books and field trips.

Encourage creativity and initiative-taking but set reasonable limits for their safety. They should also realize that their freedom is not without limits.

Between 3-6 years, kids have a focus on their private parts, according to Freud. Don’t get frustrated; tell them gently it is not appropriate to touch them in public.

Don’t get frustrated with their selfishness; help them gently to overcome this tendency, which is part of this stage.

Parenting: Raising a Child from Age 0 to 2 | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

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