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OpEd: King, Ramadan, Establishment Hostility, and the Echoes of History




By El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan

The year was November 1964. Personal indiscretions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the form of extramarital affairs, came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation through the agency’s illegal surveillance protocol – part of a practice that would later be known as COINTELPRO. The FBI would use that information in its attempt to destroy Dr. King. They almost succeeded.

What follows is the opening paragraph of the FBI’s transcript of the letter sent to Dr. King on that fateful day in 1964. (The letter was camouflaged as coming from another ‘Negro leader’ in the movement. It encouraged Dr. King to commit suicide as the only way out of the shame that would come his way once his infidelities were publicly divulged!)

“King: In view of your low grade, abnormal personal behavior I will not dignify your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr. And, your last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry the VIII and his countless acts of adultery and immoral conduct lower than that of a beast.”

To say that this poison pen letter was all downhill from there would be an understatement. This is how the final paragraph read:

“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is… There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

This ended up being a very dark and depressing period for Dr. King and his family. However, because Martin Luther King, Jr., was essentially a good man – a man of faith, and a man who despite his indiscretions both loved and was committed to his family, and his mission – with the forgiving support of his wife, Coretta Scott King, he successfully fought through the darkness of that period to grow into the most impactful period of his short life; with the most challenging and significant year being April 1967 – April 1968!

Now we come to Dr. Tariq Ramadan, a man with decades of service to his faith community and to the community-at-large. In October 2017, Dr. Ramadan was formally accused of raping a “feminist activist” by the name of Henda Ayari in a Paris hotel in 2012; shortly thereafter another woman came forth with a similar charge of rape in a hotel room in Lyon (southeastern France) in October 2009. Then there was a third woman (who would later have her charges dismissed).

It is important to note that these accusations were publicly made in the immediate aftermath of the official launch of the #MeToo Movement of 2017, and thus, acquired immediate socio-political currency. It is also worth noting that in the yearlong investigation that ensued, there has been no evidence of rape in either of these cases! However, there has been evidence of illicit affairs, which I accept are morally reprehensible offenses unworthy of a religious scholar.

However, as a result of the consensual skeletons found in this internationally renowned Muslim scholar’s closet, not only do we have an assortment of openly Islamophobic individuals and agencies within the French and broader European establishment calling for his isolation, there are a number of Muslims doing so as well. Is this prudent? Is this the morally correct thing to do? Who stands to gain from a permanently silenced Tariq Ramadan?

Of all the stellar accomplishments of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. (and there were many), we remember him most for his courageous and extremely challenging stand against the Vietnam War. While he was excoriated for this principled stand throughout American mainstream society, from President Lyndon B. Johnson on down – and even many of his once close allies in the “Civil Rights Movement” distanced themselves from him in that final year of his life – he was on the right side of history. There is a monument in downtown Washington, DC, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials to prove it!

Dr. Ramadan (like King) has acknowledged the errors made in his personal life. He too wants a chance to redeem himself and continue the work he’s been known for. On November 12th of this year, while still behind bars he wrote a piece of commentary titled, “Meditation, from behind and beyond the bars” – in which he stated:

“There were mistakes, errors. I do not deny anything, and nothing justifies them. I know and understand that some people are troubled, disappointed, and even angry. Some are inhabited by incomprehension, others treat it as treason. I understand this profoundly and I am sorry and sad.”

Ramadan further noted,

“In going through this ordeal, I returned to the center, inevitably: I was unfair to myself, as the Qur’an states, and the apparent paradox is that the injustice, both judicial and political, that I suffered, finally allowed me to do justice to my heart and to my being, spiritually.”

In Islam, as in other major religions, there is something called repentance (in Arabic, Tauba). Of this spiritually revitalizing process, Shaykh ibn Taymeeyah is reported to have said: “A catastrophe [of any type] that brings us closer to Allah is better for us than a blessing that causes us to forget the remembrance of Allah.”

Like Martin Luther King, post-1964, Tariq Ramadan has the potential to come out of this self-inflicted tragedy stronger and more impactful than before. It would go against the principles of Islam – in a time of great challenge for Muslims around the world – not to give him the opportunity to do so!

El-Hajj Mauri Saalakhan is a Metro-Washington, DC, based human rights advocate. He serves as Director of Operations for The Aafia Foundation, Inc.


Further Reading: Meditation, from behind and beyond the bars

On November 12, in prison, I wrote these thoughts. From the inside, for yesterday, for today, for tomorrow.

It’s late, it’s dark. Between the four walls of this cell. Silence. I am alone, I am not alone. I see images of my life, of my past. This long road that brought me to prison. Nothing happens by chance. I seek meaning, the lessons.

Growth. For this, one must face the facts; refuse to feel sorry for one’s fate, to accept one’s mistakes without looking for excuses. As the Qur’an says, “O you who bear faith, you are accountable for yourselves” (5/105).

There were old wounds, tears and defeats. There were mistakes, errors. I do not deny anything and nothing justifies them. 

I know and understand that some people are troubled, disappointed, and even angry. 

Some are inhabited by incomprehension, others treat it as treason. I understand this profoundly and I am sorry and sad.

In going through this ordeal, I returned to the center, inevitably: I was unfair to myself, as the Qur’an states, and the apparent paradox is that the injustice, both judicial and political, that I suffered, finally allowed me to do justice to my heart and to my being, spiritually. 

They wanted to stain me through the media, externally; but in reality, God offered me cleansing and resilience, internally and intimately. 

Some trials are blessings.

This experience is, and will be, my liberation.

I promise you that, insha’Allah, I will come out of it stronger.

For some of you, the challenge is a little different. It is important, with wisdom, to attach oneself to the Message, and not, emotionally, to the person; this is learned through difficulties and life’s suffering. This is how one can forgive and move on.

What does this message tell us today? First, we must remember that trials are reminders and spiritually, signs of love.

Then, human beings must beware of any definitive judgment: only God knows the facts and their meaning. 

Finally, one must remain upright, refuse injustices, and fight with dignity against lying accusations for one’s innocence, dignity, honor, right and freedom. To never let that go. 

It’s late. Silence. The heart calms down, confidence grows. Prayer. I am alone, I am not alone. We are not alone. Let’s do this!



  1. Avatar


    December 26, 2018 at 5:35 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    I found this article disturbing. The basic message I read from it is that if you are an activist doing great things in the world, then, sexual indiscretions are minor and should not be a big deal.

    This was not the attitude of the Prophet (s) and the Sahabah (RA). Yes, the door of repentance is always open, but Allah and his Prophet (s) are very clear in delineating zina for the grave sin it is.

    Zina is a big deal, and destroys families and societies. Activists who behave in such a manner maybe doing a great service to society on the political front while secretly poisoning that same society.

    Moral character and strong families are the building block of any society; and if these elements fall apart, I’m not sure all the political activism in the world will do much good.

    I think most of us are aware that sharia has a very strict code for admitted or proven adultery. I am not aware of leniency due to the fact that someone is a political activist doing great things in the world.

    And Allah knows best.

    • Avatar


      December 27, 2018 at 12:54 AM

      @sheena khan; We fall into the trap indeed. Are you speaking for the Muslims? you are not speaking for the Muslims, you do not have the rights to tell the muslims what to do and who to listen.
      To @spirituality:
      There’s a Chinese proverb which says: “When a wise man is pointing out to the moon, the foolish is looking at the finger”. However, you mentioned the prophet pbuh and his companions. Guess what, the prophet was different, but do you know some of the companions made some mistakes? We read in the seerah. Now I’m inviting you to reread the article with open heart and open mind. Understand the nature of the article, the example he pointed out about Dr. King before he moved to Dr. Ramadan. The article is clear, read and understand, don’t just read to respond.

      • Avatar

        Sheema Khan

        December 27, 2018 at 8:04 PM

        Assalaamu alaikum,

        I repeat – the author of the article has accepted T Ramadan’s claim that the violence in these illicit affairs was consensual. The court cases have not come to any conclusion. It is premature to conclude his innocence of the very serious charges. Furthermore, if you follow the court proceedings over the past year, in detail, at every step of the way (until just last month), T. Ramadan has lied repeatedly, while accusing the plaintiffs of being pathological liars. He emphatically denied any physical contact with the three initial accusers. Then provided dozens of texts/images to prove that he had a consensual affair with one of them – a high-priced escort. He provided a false itinerary to provide an alibi in one of the other cases. The organizers of that conference testified under oath that the itinerary had been changed, and that they had physically picked him up at the airport and brought him to the hotel during early afternoon – thus destroying the “alibi”. I could go on and on, how during 99.5% of the court proceedings, he lied, under oath, denied, accused, etc. And now, all of a sudden, we are to believe him as a man of truth.

        Yes, we are all in need of Allah’s mercy, and must always do tauba. But it should be done in seclusion, in private, in sincerity. And with the awareness that in the eyes of many, he has lost all credibility.

        The issue is not just about T. Ramadan, but about two French women who claim to have been violently raped; and a number of former female Swiss students who claim abuse. These issues have to be settled in a court of law. Too many are rushing to dismiss them.

        We have many, many women who suffer in silence after abuse from men in power. The #Metoo movement is giving a small impetus to stand up. I for one, will not dismiss these women’s claims. I have worked too long in the Muslim community to see the contempt that is directed at women. But that is another story.

      • Avatar


        December 28, 2018 at 3:07 PM

        As Salamu Alaikum, Ahmad,

        I think we’ll have to agree to disagree!

        I do agree that the Sahabah made mistakes. Some even committed zina…

        However, when they admitted this to the Prophet (s), his verdict was that they should be executed by being stoned to death. This was their tauba…

        Note, their tauba is not something we should minimize, any more than their zina…in the case of one Sahabiyya, who was executed for adultery, the Prophet (s) specifically declared that her repentance was accepted.

        • Avatar


          December 28, 2018 at 3:13 PM

          Here is what the Prophet (s) said about the Sahabiyya’s repentence:

          “…She has made such a repentance that if it were to be divided among seventy men of Medina, it would be enough. Have you found any repentance better than this that she sacrficed her life for Allah, the Majestic?”‘


  2. Avatar

    Sheema Khan

    December 26, 2018 at 9:15 PM

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    What is so disturbing about this article is the complete acceptance of T. Ramadan’s admission that these relationships were consensual. A trial is to take place. At least 2 women in France and others in Switzerland allege non-consensual violent rape. These are very serious charges. I will not dismiss these accusations – I will wait for the trials to conclude. Also – hypocrisy is one of the greatest sins in Islam. T Ramadan, professor in Islamic Ethics at a University in Qatar. Yes, as a Muslim, I will no longer believe a word he says, and warn others to stay away. In our faith, words must match deeds.

  3. Avatar

    Mr ab

    December 30, 2018 at 9:17 PM

    It is simple. Zina is Zina and if he was in Acheh that would be the end of him. The fact he has a brand name is insignificant. For even Adam a prophet had to compensate for an error of disobedience. A public apology does not equate to an apology from god. And if god forgave him or not is not up to us to decide. God has his laws. If everytime we would selectively chose mercy just because this or that man came with a brand name then.. Many Muslim women who have been killed in the name of honor killing would remain alive today. We live in a society where there is no shariah law. Sentimental as it is the shariah is clear as day and shouldn’t be applied selectively just for sentimental reasons. Because we do not live in such times.. HE JUST HAS TO DEAL WITH THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION. And may he serve as a lesson to all other Muslim men who intend to harm their families and the entire community with their licentiousness.

  4. Avatar


    January 1, 2019 at 11:31 PM

    My my, our community is full of double standards. We host, recognize, and celebrate non-Muslim public figures at our fundraising events and our masajid, never inquiring about their (often very public) un-Islamic behavior. But let’s burn Tariq Ramadan at the stake. One does not have to condone Dr. Ramadan’s moral failures. Nevertheless, he’s still entitled to justice and the presumption of innocence (from a criminal standpoint), unless one feels Muslims should be punished by Western courts for adultery. The rest is between Ramadan, his family, and Our Creator. In the meantime, perhaps the holier-than-thou Muslims in the West should stop claiming Muhammad Ali as our hero, and stop quoting MLK in our interfaith gatherings…and stop voting for adulterous politicians.

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#Current Affairs

Zahra Billoo Responds To The Women’s March Inc. Voting Her Off The New Board

Zahra Billoo



Women's March Board

Earlier tonight, I was voted off the Women’s March, Inc. national board. This followed an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination.

The past 48 hours have been a spiral of bad news and smear efforts. Part of the smear campaign is motivated by opponents of the Women’s March, because the organization has traditionally challenged the status quo of power and white supremacy in our country. However, much of the campaign is driven by people who oppose me and my work challenging the occupation of Palestine, our country’s perpetuation of unjust and endless wars, and law enforcement operations targeting the American Muslim community.

The Women’s March, Inc. is an organization I once held dear. I spoke at the first march, spoke at regional marches every year after, spoke at the convention, participated in national actions including the original Kavanaugh protests, and worked to mobilize Muslim women for their efforts.

During the past few years right-wingers, from the President’s son to the Anti-Defamation League and troll armies, have targeted the Women’s March, Inc. For so long, I’ve admired their resilience in speaking truth to power, in working together, and in never cowering. Over and over again, the co-founders of Women’s March, Inc. put their lives on the line, winning power for all women in all of our diversity. The Women’s March, Inc. that voted me off its board tonight is one that no longer demonstrates the strength that inspired millions of women across the country.

To see and experience its new leaders caving to right-wing pressure, and casting aside a woman of color, a Muslim woman, a long-time advocate within the organization, without the willingness to make any efforts to learn and grow, breaks my heart. This isn’t about a lost seat, there will be many seats. The Women’s March, Inc. has drawn a line in the sand, one that will exclude many with my lived experiences and critiques. It has effectively said, we will work on some women’s rights at the expense of others.

To be clear, anti-semitism is indeed a growing and dangerous problem in our country, as is anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia, ableism, sexism, and so much more. I condemn any form of bigotry unequivocally, but I also refuse to be silent as allegations of bigotry are weaponized against the most marginalized people, those who find sanctuary and hope in the articulation of truth.

In looking at the tweets in question, I acknowledge that I wrote passionately. While I may have phrased some of my content differently today, I stand by my words. I told the truth as my community and I have lived it, through the FBI’s targeting of my community, as I supported families who have lost loved ones because of US military actions, and as I learned from the horrific experiences of Palestinian life.

In attempting to heal and build in an expedited manner within Women’s March, Inc., I offered to meet with stakeholders to address their concerns and to work with my sisters on the new board to learn, heal, and build together. These efforts were rejected. And in rejecting these efforts, the new Women’s March, Inc. demonstrated that they lack the courage to exhibit allyship in the face of fire.

I came to Women’s March, Inc. to work. My body of work has included leading a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization for over a decade, growing it now more than six-fold. In my tenure, I have led the team that forced Abercrombie to change its discriminatory employment policies, have been arrested advocating for DACA, partnered with Jewish organizations including Bend the Arc and Jewish Voice for Peace to fight to protect our communities, and was one of the first lawyers to sue the President.

It is not my first time being the target of a smear campaign. The Women’s March, Inc., more than any place, is where I would have expected us to be able to have courageous conversations and dive deep into relationship-building work.

I am happy to have as many conversations as it takes to listen and learn and heal, but I will no longer be able to do that through Women’s March, Inc. This action today demonstrates that this organization’s new leadership is unable to be an ally during challenging times.

My beliefs drive my work, and I am not seeking accolades or positions of power. These past few days have been the greatest test of that. My integrity, my truth, and my strength comes from God and a place of deep conviction. I will continue my work as a civil rights lawyer and a faith-based activist, speaking out against the occupation of Palestine and settler-colonialism everywhere, challenging Islamophobia and all forms of racism and bigotry in the United States, and building with my community and our allies in our quest to be our most authentic and liberated selves.

Onward, God willing.

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#Current Affairs

The Duplicity of American Muslim Influencers And The ‘So-called Muslim Ban’

Dr Joseph Kaminski



As we approach the beginning of another painful year of the full enforcement of Presidential Proclamation 9645 (a.k.a. ‘the Muslim ban’) that effectively bars citizens of several Muslim majority countries from entering into the United States, the silence remains deafening. As I expected, most of the world has conveniently forgotten about this policy, which thus far has separated over 3,000 American families from their spouses and other immediate relatives. In June 2019, the Brennan Center of Justice notes that: The ban has also kept at least 1,545 children from their American parents and 3,460 parents from their American sons and daughters. While silence and apathy from the general public on this matter is to be expected— after all, it is not their families who are impacted— what is particularly troubling is the response that is beginning to emerge from some corners of the American Muslim social landscape.

While most Muslims and Muslim groups have been vocal in their condemnation of Presidential Proclamation 9645, other prominent voices have not. Shadi Hamid sought to rationalize the executive order on technical grounds arguing that it was a legally plausible interpretation. Perhaps this is true, but some of the other points made by Hamid are quite questionable. For example, he curiously contends that:

The decision does not turn American Muslims like myself into “second-class citizens,” and to insist that it does will make it impossible for us to claim that we have actually become second-class citizens, if such a thing ever happens.

I don’t know— being forced to choose exile in order to remain with one’s family certainly does sound like being turned into a ‘second-class citizen’ to me. Perhaps the executive order does not turn Muslims like himself, as he notes, into second-class citizens, but it definitely does others, unless it is possible in Hamid’s mind to remain a first-class citizen barred from living with his own spouse and children for completely arbitrary reasons, like me. To be fair to Hamid, in the same article he does comment that the executive order is a morally questionable decision, noting that he is “still deeply uncomfortable with the Supreme Court’s ruling” and that “It contributes to the legitimization and mainstreaming of anti-Muslim bigotry.”

On the other hand, more recently others have shown open disdain for those who are angered about the ‘so-called Muslim ban.’ On June 6th, 2019, Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, a Senior Faculty Member at Zaytuna College, Islamic scholar and the founder of the Lamppost Education Initiative, rationalized the ban on spurious security grounds. He commented that,

The so-called Muslim ban, of course, has us on edge about his potential. But, to be fair, a real Muslim ban would mean that no Muslim from any country should be allowed in the US. There are about 50 Muslim majority countries. Trump singled out only 7 of them, most of which are war torn and problem countries. So, it is unfair to claim that he was only motivated by a hatred for Islam and Muslims.

First, despite how redundant and unnecessary this point is to make again, one ought to be reminded that between 1975 and 2015, zero foreigners from the seven nations initially placed on the banned list (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) killed any Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and zero Libyans or Syrians have ever even been convicted of planning a terrorist attack on U.S. soil during that same time period. I do not think these numbers have changed over the last 4 years either. If policy decisions are supposed to be made on sound empirical evidence and data, then there is even less justification for the ban.

Second, Bin Hamid Ali comments that ‘the so-called Muslim ban, of course, has us on edge about his [Trump’s] potential.’ Whoa… hold on; on edge about his potential? For the millions of people banned from entering the United States and the thousands of Muslim families connected to these millions of people, this ‘potential’ has been more than realized. To reduce the ‘so-called Muslim ban’ to just targeting ‘war torn and problem countries’ is to reduce our family members—our husbands, wives, and children—to (inaccurate) statistics and gross stereotypes. Are spouses from Syria or Yemen seeking to reunite with their legally recognized spouses or children any less deserving to be with their immediate family members because they hail from ‘problem countries’? How can one be concerned with stereotypes while saying something like this? Is this not the exact thing that Abdullah bin Hamid Ali seeks to avoid? Surely the Professor would not invoke such stereotypes to justify the racial profiling of black American citizens. What makes black non-Americans, Arabs, and Iranians any different when it comes to draconian immigration profiling? From a purely Islamic perspective, the answer is absolutely nothing.

More recently, Sherman Jackson, a leading Islamic intellectual figure at the University of Southern California, King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and Culture and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity, also waded into this discussion. In his essay, he reframed the Muslim ban as a question of identity politics rather than basic human right, pitting Muslim immigrants against what he calls ‘blackamericans’ drawing some incredibly questionable, nativist, and bigoted conclusions. Jackson in a recent blog responding to critiques by Ali al-Arian about his own questionable affiliations with authoritarian Arab regimes comments:

Al-Arian mentions that,

“the Muslim American community seemed united at least in its opposition to the Trump administration.”  He and those who make up this alleged consensus are apparently offended by Trump’s so-called Muslim ban.  But a Blackamerican sister in Chicago once asked me rhetorically why she should support having Muslims come to this country who are only going to treat her like crap.

These are baffling comments to make about ‘Trump’s so-called Muslim ban.’ Jackson creates a strawman by bringing up an anecdotal story that offers a gross generalization that clearly has prejudiced undertones of certain Muslim immigrants. Most interesting, however is how self-defeating Jackson’s invocation of identity politics is considering the fact that a large number of the ‘blackamerican’ Muslims that he is concerned about themselves have relatives from Somalia and other countries impacted by the travel ban. As of 2017, there were just over 52,000 Americans with Somali ancestry in the state of Minnesota alone. Are Somali-Americans only worth our sympathy so long as they do not have Somali spouses? What Jackson and Bin Hamid Ali do not seem to understand is that these Muslim immigrants they speak disparagingly of, by in large, are coming on family unification related visas.

Other people with large online followings have praised the comments offered by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali and Sherman Jackson. The controversial administrator of the popular The Muslim Skeptic website, Daniel Haqiqatjou, in defense of Jackson’s comments, stated:

This is the first time I have seen a prominent figure downplay the issue. And I think Jackson’s assessment is exactly right: The average American Muslim doesn’t really care about this. There is no evidence to indicate that this policy has had a significant impact on the community as a whole. Travel to the US from those four countries affected by the ban was already extremely difficult in the Obama era.

What Haqiqatjou seems to not realize is that while travel from these countries was difficult, it was not as ‘extremely difficult’ as he erroneously claims it was. The US issued 7,727 visas to Iranian passport holders in 2016 prior to the ban. After the ban in 2018, that number dropped to 1,449. My own wife was issued a B1/B2 Tourist visa to meet my family in 2016 after approximately 40 days of administrative processing which is standard for US visa seekers who hold Iranian passports. On the other hand, she was rejected for the same B1/B2 Tourist visa in 2018 after a grueling 60+ day wait due to Presidential Proclamation 9645. At the behest of the Counselor Officer where we currently live, she was told to just finish the immigration process since this would put her in a better position to receive one of these nearly impossible to get waivers. She had her interview on November 19, 2018, and we are still awaiting the results of whatever these epic, non-transparent ‘extreme vetting’ procedures yield. Somehow despite my wife being perfectly fine to enter in 2016, three years later, we are entering the 10th month of waiting for one of these elusive waivers with no end time in sight, nor any guarantee that things will work out. Tell me how this is pretty much the same as things have always been?

What these commentators seem to not realize is that the United States immigration system is incredibly rigid. One cannot hop on a plane and say they want to immigrate with an empty wallet to start of Kebab shop in Queens. It seems as if many of these people that take umbrage at the prospects of legal immigration believe that the immigration rules of 2019 are the same as they were in 1819. In the end, it is important to once again reiterate that the Muslim immigrants Jackson, Bin Hamid Ali and others are disparaging are those who most likely are the family members of American Muslim citizens; by belittling the spouses and children of American Muslims, these people are belittling American Muslims themselves.

Neo-nationalism, tribalism, and identity politics of this sort are wholly antithetical to the Islamic enterprise. We have now reached the point where people who are considered authority figures within the American Islamic community are promoting nativism and identity politics at the expense of American Muslim families. Instead of trying to rationalize the ‘so-called Muslim Ban’ via appeals to nativist and nationalist rhetoric, influential Muslim leaders and internet influencers need to demonstrate empathy and compassion for the thousands of US Muslim families being torn apart by this indefinite Muslim ban that we all know will never end so long as Donald Trump remains president. In reality, they should be willing to fight tooth-and-nail for American Muslim families. These are the same people who regularly critique the decline of the family unit and the rise of single-parent households. Do they not see the hypocrisy in their positions of not defending those Muslim families that seek to stay together?

If these people are not willing to advocate on behalf of those of us suffering— some of us living in self-imposed exile in third party countries to remain with our spouses and children— the least they can do is to not downplay our suffering or even worse, turn it into a political football (Social Justice Warrior politics vs. traditional ‘real’ Islam). It seems clear that if liberal Muslim activists were not as outspoken on this matter, these more conservative voices would take a different perspective. With the exception of Shadi Hamid, the other aforementioned names have made efforts to constrain themselves firmly to the ‘traditional’ Muslim camp. There is no reason that this issue, which obviously transcends petty partisan Muslim politics, ought to symbolize one’s allegiance to any particular social movement or camp within contemporary Islamic civil society.

If these people want a ‘traditional’ justification for why Muslim families should not be separated, they ought to be reminded that one of al-Ghazali’s 5 essential principles of the Shari’a was related to the protection of lineage/family and honor (ḥifẓ al-nasl). Our spouses are not cannon fodder for such childish partisan politics. We will continue to protect our families and their honor regardless of how hostile the environment may become for us and regardless of who we have to name and shame in the process.

When I got married over a year prior to Donald Trump being elected President, I vowed that only Allah would separate me from my spouse. I intend on keeping that vow regardless of what consequences that decision may have.

Photo courtesy: Adam Cairns / The Columbus Dispatch

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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



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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