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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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#Life

Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware

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Mindful

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfull

“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”

[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]

Mindful or Mind-full?

Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.

A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.

For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.

Autopilot to Aware

Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?

Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.

Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.

Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.

Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”

Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.

Mindful

Real Life in the Present Moment

You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.

The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.

You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.

The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.

You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.

This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.

The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.

In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims

Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.

[Imam Al Ghazali]

Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.

Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.

  1. Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  2. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
  3. “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

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A Code of Conduct To Protect Against Spiritual Abuse

Danish Qasim

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Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, Institutions

When there is a claim of spiritual abuse, the initial reaction of concerned Muslims is often to go to another Muslim leader and expect that leader to take care of it.  Most of the time, however, religious leaders in the community have no authority over other religious leaders who are found abusing their position. Many of these leaders feel a foreboding sense of powerlessness to exert change, leaving those who abuse, to do so freely and with impunity. 

There have been attempts by some leaders to take action against abusive religious figures. However, when this happens, it is usually followed by a public or ‘in-group’ campaign against the abusive figure, and the abusive figure and his supporters return in kind. This becomes messy, quickly. There is name-calling, mud-slinging, and threats, but in the end, it amounts to nothing, in the end, leaving everyone involved to make their own decision as to whether or not to continue support for the alleged perpetrator. Other religious leaders may know the accused is guilty, but due to friendships or programs they wish to continue doing with the accused, they will cover for them, especially when there is only a perceived low level of evidence that the public could ever discover it. 

There are several methods and excuses through which abuse is covered up.

The Wall of Silence

In cases of tightly knit groups, whether Sufi tariqas, super Salafi cliques, activist groups, or preachers who have formed a team, the abuser will be protected by a wall of silence, while the victim is targeted, maligned, and ostracized for speaking out against the leader. They, not the abuser, are held accountable, liable, and blamed. While the abuser is expected to be ‘forgiven,’ the victim is socially shamed for a crime committed against him or her. More often than not, the victim is intimidated into silence, while the perpetrator is left free to continue abusing. 

The Kafir Court Rationale

There have been countless situations when there have been legal claims made against a transgressing spiritual leader, but through coercion and pressure, the shaykh (or those close to him) will be able to convince his victim that they are not allowed to go to kafir court systems to solve issues between Muslims. Ironically, these same shaykhs see no difficulty signing legally binding contracts with other Muslims they do business with, or when they give classes, which stands to reason, they are perfectly fine accepting the same ‘kafir court’ as a source of protection when it is for themselves. 

Stop Hurting the Dawah Plea

In other cases, when the disputes are between fellow students, or representatives of the shaykh and those lower ranking students, the shaykh himself is able to get on the phone with the disgruntled victim, give him or her special attention, and convince the person to drop it and not pursue justice, as that may ‘hurt the dawah.’ Sometimes, the shaykhs will ostensibly push for Islamic mechanisms of justice and call for arbitration by other religious figures who they know will decide in his favor. It is critical not to fall victim to these arguments. 

Your Vile Nafs Culpe

Far too often in these groups, particularly the more spiritually inclined ones, everyone will acknowledge the abuse, whether illicit sexual behavior, groping, financial fraud, secret temporary marriages, or bullying by a Shaykh, but steadfastly invoke the ‘only prophets are perfect, and our Shaykh is a wali–– but he can make mistakes’ refrain. Then, when those seeking recourse dare disclose these issues, even when there is no dispute about the factuality of their claims, they are browbeaten into compliance; told their focus on the negative is a sign that they are ‘veiled from the more important, positive efforts of the group, and it is they who should overcome their vile nafs.’ With such groups, leaving may be the only solution. 

Pray it Away Pretext

Sometimes, a target of abuse may go to other teachers or other people in the community to seek help, guidance, or direction. The victims hold these teachers in high regard and believe that they can trust them. However, instead of these teachers acting to protect the victims, the victims are often placated, told to pray it away. They are left with empty platitudes, but nothing concrete is ever done to protect them, nor is there any follow-up. 

The Forgive and Forget Pardon

They are told to forgive…

Forgiveness has its place and time, but at that critical moment, when a victim is in crisis and requires guidance and help, their wellbeing should remain paramount. To counsel victims that their primary job and focus at that pivotal juncture is to forgive their abuser is highly objectionable. Forgiveness is not the obligation of the victim and for any teacher or religious leader to invalidate the wrong that took place is not only counterproductive but dangerous––even if the intention behind the advice came from a wholesome place.

The Dire Need For A Code of Conduct

It is very easy to feel let down when nothing is done about teachers who abuse, but we have to understand that without a Code of Conduct, there really isn’t much that can be done when the spiritual abuse is not considered illegal. It is the duty of Islamic institutions to protect employees, attendees, and religious leaders. We also must demand that. 

Justice is a process. It is not a net result. This means that sometimes we will follow the process of justice and still come up short. The best thing we can do to hold abusers accountable for our institutions is to set up a process of accountability. A code of conduct will not eliminate spiritual abuse. Institutions that adopt this code may still cover up abuse, in which case victims will need to take action against the institution for violating the code. This code of conduct will also protect teachers who can be targetted and falsely accused.

As members of the community, we should expect more.  Here is how:

  •  Demand your Islamic institutions to have and instill a code of conduct. 
  •  If you are in a group outside of an institution, get clarity on the limits of the Shaykh.
  •  Understand that anyone, no matter their social status, is capable of doing horrible things, even the religious figures who talk about the importance of justice, accountability, and transparency. 
  • When it comes to money, expect more from your leadership than emotional appeals. Fundraising causes follow trends, and while supporting good causes is a positive thing, doing so without a proper audit or accountability is not. It lends itself to financial abuse, mistrust, and misappropriation.  

Establish a Protocol

A lot of hurt can be saved and distrust salvaged if victims are provided with honest non-judgment. Even in the event that there is a lack of concrete evidence, a protocol to handle these kinds of sensitive situations can provide a victim with a safe space to go to where they know they won’t be ignored or treated callously. We may not be able to guarantee an outcome, but we can ensure that we’ll try.

Using Contract Law to Hold Abusers Accountable – Danya Shakfeh

In cases of spiritual abuse, legal recourse (or any recourse for that matter) has been rare due to there being no standard of conduct and no legal means to hold abusers accountable.  In order to solve this problem, our Code of Conduct creates a legal mechanism of enforcement through contract law.

The reason why contract law is important and applicable is that the law does not always address unethical behavior.  You have heard the refrain “Just because it is legal, it does not mean it is ethical.” The law, for varying reasons, has its limits. Although we associate the law with justice and morality, the law and justice and morality are not always interchangeable and can even be at odds with each other.  

Ultimately, specifically in a secular society, the law is a set man-made rules and sometimes those rules are arbitrary and actually unfair. For example, there is a class of laws called ‘strict liability’ laws. These laws make a defendant liable even if the person committed the offense by accident.  One example of strict liability law is selling alcohol to a minor. In some states, even if the person tried to confirm the minor’s legal age, the seller could still be held liable for the offense. On the flip-side, there are is a lack of anti-bullying laws on the books in the United States. This allows employers to cause serious emotional damage to employees, yet the employer can get away with such offensive behavior.  Accordingly, the law does not always protect nor is it always ‘just.’

On Power, Boundaries, And The Accountability Of Imams

This is one of the reasons that victims of spiritual abuse have had little success in having their claims addressed at a legal level.  Because abuses are not legally recognized as such, there is often no associated remedy. For example, when a woman enters into a secret second marriage only to find that the husband is not giving her all her Islamic legal rights, that woman’s recourse is very limited because the law does not recognize this as abuse and does not even recognize the marriage.

Further, if a victim of spiritual abuse is abused due to religious manipulation unless the abuser engaged in a stand-alone crime or civil claim, the victim also has no legal recourse. For example, if a religious scholar exploits a congregant’s vulnerabilities in order to convince the congregant to turn over large amounts of money and the congregant later learns that the Islamic scholar did not really need the money, he or she may have no legal recourse.  This is because manipulation (as long as there is no fraud) is not illegal and depending on how clever the religious scholar was, the congregant would have no legal recourse. Our way of solving this problem is by using contract law to set and enforce the standard for ethical behavior.

Use of Institutional Handbooks

Whether people realize it or not, institutional handbooks are a type of contract. Though an attorney should be consulted in order to ensure that they these documents are binding, policies do not necessarily need to be signed by every party nor do they need to be called a “contract” in order to be legally binding.  By creating institutional handbooks and employment policies that relate to common issues of spiritual abuse, we can finally provide guidelines and remedies.

When an employee at an institution violates the institution’s policies, this is a “breach of contract” that can result in firing or even monetary damages. In other words, the policy is that document which victims and institutions can use to back their cases when there are allegations involving abuse.  Policies can also hold institutions themselves liable for not enforcing the policy and remedies as to victims’ abuse. Policies also serve the purpose of putting the community and their beneficiaries and patrons on notice as to what is expected of them.

Our Code of Conduct is the most comprehensive of created ethical guidelines for Muslims leaders and institutions for making spiritual abuse remedies actionable. We believe it will provide remedies to victims that would otherwise not be available through other legal means.  By binding the parties to a contract, victims and institutions can take these contracts, along with the abusers, to court and use the contract to fill in the gap for appropriate behavior that the law otherwise does not fill.

Download the Code of Conduct For Islamic Leadership By In Shaykh’s Clothing

Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

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The Environmental Cost Of War With Iran

Abu Ryan Dardir

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war with Iran

Report after report shows how planet Earth may reach a point of no return. An analysis written by Ian Dunlop claims the planet cannot be saved by the mid-century if we continue on this path. And yet here we are marching towards a war with Iran.

When we think of climate change, we rarely think of war. On June 12th, 2019, Brown University released a report declaring the Department of Defence to be “the world’s largest institution to use petroleum and correspondingly, the single largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world.” Burning jet fuel for transportation of troops and weapons make up 70 percent of the Pentagon’s emissions.  Ironically, earlier this year the Pentagon released a 22-page report to Congress stating the ⅔ of their mission-essential installation in the US are vulnerable to flooding, and ½ are susceptible to wildfires. To no surprise, Trump rejected those findings at the time. The Pentagon is now concerned with the impact climate change has on their “foreign missions.”

war, iran, America, Climate change, pentagonWith tensions high with Iran, and several thousand troops are expected to be deployed, if war with Iran is to happen, it may lead us to a more damaged planet that may not recover. This makes the Pentagon guilty of killing people and the earth. The Department of Defense has consistently used between 77-80% of the entire US energy consumption. We see spikes during times of massive war (since America is in a constant state of war), like in 1991, 2001, and so on.

Here is a list of the seven significant sources of greenhouse emissions done by the Department of Defense:

  1. Overall military emissions for installations and non-war operations.
  2. War-related emissions by the US military in overseas contingency operations.
  3. Emissions caused by US military industry   — for instance, for production of weapons and ammunition.
  4. Emissions caused by the direct targeting of petroleum,   namely the deliberate burning of oil wells and refineries by all parties.
  5. Sources of emissions by other belligerents.
  6. Energy consumed by reconstruction of damaged and destroyed infrastructure.
  7. Emissions from other sources, such as fire suppression and extinguishing chemicals, including   Halon, a greenhouse gas, and from explosions and fires due to the destruction of non-petroleum targets in warzones.

This impact on the climate is just the portion from America, in the Iraq war, 37 countries fought alongside America, and 60 are allied against ISIS. There is a way to calculate those emissions as well.

The Rules of War

Before engaging in battle, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) instructed his soldiers:

  1. Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elder or sick person. (Sunan Abu Dawud)
  2. Do not practice treachery or mutilation. (Al-Muwatta)
  3. Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees. (Al-Muwatta)
  4. Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food. (Al-Muwatta)
  5. If one fights his brother, [he must] avoid striking the face, for God created him in the image of Adam. (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
  6. Do not kill the monks in monasteries, and do not kill those sitting in places of worship. (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal)
  7. Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle. (Sahih Bukhari; Sunan Abu Dawud)
  8. Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy; pray to God to grant you security; but when you [are forced to] encounter them, exercise patience. (Sahih Muslim)
  9. No one may punish with fire except the Lord of Fire. (Sunan Abu Dawud).
  10. Accustom yourselves to do good if people do good, and not to do wrong even if they commit evil. (Al-Tirmidhi)

A verse in the Holy Qur’an

4:75 (Y. Ali) And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?- Men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!”

How does this potential war against Iran play into all this?

Our first call to action is to organize an anti-war rally. This type of work is weak in America, and virtually non-existent within the Muslim community.

فَقَالَ أَبُو سَعِيدٍ أَمَّا هَذَا فَقَدْ قَضَى مَا عَلَيْهِ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَنْ رَأَى مُنْكَرًا فَلْيُنْكِرْهُ بِيَدِهِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِلِسَانِهِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِقَلْبِهِ وَذَلِكَ أَضْعَفُ الإِيمَانِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ ‏.‏

Abu Sa’eed said: ‘As for this, he has fulfilled what is upon him. I heard the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saying: ‘Whoever among you sees an evil, then let him stop it with his hand. Whoever is not able, then with his tongue, and whoever is not able, then with his heart. That is the weakest of faith.”‘

War with Iran will be a Greater Mistake than War with Iraq

Historically, anti-war sentiment in America has grown over the years. When the Iraq war first started only 23% thought it was a mistake, today it is close to 60% that believe the war is a mistake. Yes, this is in hindsight, but that it is also growth. The reason the anti-war movement is feeble in America is that there is no platform for the campaign to grow. Both parties are guilty of starting wars or taking over the wars from the past administration. Whether we do it alone as an individual or as a group, we should do everything we can as privileged members of this planet to save and protect those that can’t defend themselves.

There is a famous quote of the famed boxer Muhammad Ali when explaining why he wasn’t fighting in the war. He said, “…I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.”

Fighting Earth

With that said, there is a significant interest in the region for more than just fuel and resources. It is truly a problem, our operations in the Gulf is to address our dependency on Persian oil, and the fuel that is used to address our dependence is to protect those resources and access to them. One estimate is that America spends $81 billion annually defending the global oil supply. They do this because the DOD feels its dependency will make it vulnerable on a larger scale.

In 1975 America decided to take away the fear of losing the resources and developed the “Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” and in 1978, they created the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). Their only purpose was to defend US interest in the Middle East. This, in turn, leads to extractivism of resources and supplies. (Which will be explained in a future article).

This war can be the end of all wars as it can accelerate us to the point of no return in regards to climate change.

A war with Iran is a war with Earth and all who live on it.

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