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Shaykh Power © – Righteous Leaders, Superheroes, Shallow Celebrities or Hungry Wolves?

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“With great power, comes great responsibility.” -Uncle Ben.

Clergy -or shayukh-  in Muslim communities hold sacred power in that their positions symbolize a representation of character and religious authority in their community.

The role of a shaykh is complex in that community members can turn to their him for financial advice, marital counseling, matchmaking, conflict resolution, religious classes, youth engagement, and pretty much anything else a community needs. You name it and a shaykh is approached for it. In most communities, the shaykh is a critical component of a healthy community, but in some cases – the great power is used to facilitate great abuse instead.

Understanding Shaykh Power©:

Shaykh Power© doesn’t mean the ability to bless or forgive,  it simply means the effect a shaykh can have on the general public for the very reason that he preaches about religion.

People subconsciously associate their spiritual growth with the shaykh, building a bond of love, respect and trust. It’s perfectly natural – someone who has helped you, taught you, or supported you through a difficult time is likely to become dear to you regardless of their position. As a result it’s natural for people to:

  1. Look up to a shaykh
  2. Become attached to the shaykh whose da’wah or lecture may have helped them find, or re-find Islam
  3. Trust a shaykh and hold him in honor
  4. Be influenced, which is a consequence of being held in honor
  5. Giving him a place of authority in their lives

Again, it is natural for people to attach themselves to a shaykh, and it is completely okay for a shaykh to be respected and trusted to that level. It is a relationship built on faith, in which the shaykh earns trusts by demonstrating trustworthiness, fearing Allah in the relationship with his congregants, and maintaining a consciousness of his actions and consequences with God.

There is no conflict in this trust when viewed alongside human fallibility. No one is sin-free, not even a shaykh. They are humans and humans are weak. A healthy community is not one with a sin-free shaykh. However, the line is between fallibility and abuse is crossed when the shaykh’s sins or inherent weakness start hurting others, and the authority they hold is abused to give into those weaknesses.

What is Abuse of “Shaykh-power©”

The abuse of a shaykh’s power happens if a shaykh uses his position, authority, or religious knowledge to manipulate people into compliance or obedience to his sin.

A very simple example of a shaykh using all three – position, authority, and knowledge – to manipulate someone into compliance came from a woman who covers her face. During a Skype call related to business -and not marriage at all- a well-known shaykh diverted from the agenda to convince her to remove her face-veil as he was a “shaykh” and it was okay for him to see her face. The shaykh tried to establish a religious basis for his exception to the rule and made his female student believe that as a shaykh he had “special privileges”.

There are common patterns of “special privileges” that emerge.

The Secret Marriage

Secret marriages occur where the shaykh uses his authority to wrongly legitimize a marriage without witnesses. Please be aware, there is no marriage valid without 2 witnesses, and in majority of the fiqhs, marriage is not valid without a woman’s wali (representative guardian) present.

While the term “marriage” is used, what happens in secret marriage is not what Islam recognizes as marriage. Rather than entering a serious, long-term commitment in which each party agrees to honor the rights and terms decreed by Allah, a secret marriage is usually the culmination of grooming and manipulation. The victim is led to believe that the shaykh is sincere in his pursuit of their marriage and future together, but cannot go public for whatever reason. He convinces the victim that their secret marriage is valid by manipulating Islamic information is his favor, and the result is that the victim consents to what is an otherwise shady arrangement.

After the “marriage” is consummated, the women are divorced – also in secret and without due Islamic process. They have no legal recourse – since they were not legally married. They don’t even have Islamic recourse since oftentimes there are no witnesses to the secret marriage.  Some shayukh misinform the women that they don’t need witnesses because as a person of knowledge, a shaykh is sufficient as a witness to finalize his own marriage contract.

Consider the difference between marriage as a communal celebration, a public declaration, and a legal protection of the rights of both spouses – and compare it to a verbal agreement with one man in a hotel room. Consummation followed by divorce, with no intention to sign a marriage-contract or honor the woman as a wife, is not a valid marriage.

The impermissibility of secret marriages has been discussed in detail here.

https://muslimmatters.org/2017/10/06/secret-marriages-dr-shaykh-mohammad-akram-nadwi/

Some argue that women who are legally adults and gave their consent to the secret marriage have no claim to victimhood. It is true that secret marriage and serial marriage are not rape, but secret marriage is an abuse of the trust that our community places in a shaykh.

Women are deceived into marrying by means of the shaykh’s authority. The shaykh – a person of religious credibility with community trust – implies that something halal, lasting, and keeping with the Islamic sanctity of the family will happen. What happens instead is a woman falling victim to the shaykh’s pattern of marrying a variety of women to satisfy carnal curiosity, and then divorcing women once the desires are satisfied.

The abuse of women goes beyond just the women- the entire community is deceived when a shaykh abuses their religious credibility. They trust that the man committed to the spiritual betterment of their families will act in keeping with that trust. There is no way to legitimize the secret wooing, secret wedding, and immediate, premeditated divorcing of anyone in the community.

Divorce can happen under completely normal circumstances, just because a man is a shaykh doesn’t mean he has to stay in a bad marriage. However, when a pattern is developed to frequently marry and divorce, sometimes after a week or less, and a shaykh does so knowing that the position and reputation will help him replace the wife soon enough-  then this is not what either marriage or divorce is for. This is abuse.

A man on the podium, delivering the Message of God and helping people connect with their Lord holds enormous spiritual power over his community. Unfortunately, some shaykhs can and do use that power to satisfy their desires in religiously inexcusable ways.

Misuse of Polygamy through “Shaykh Power”:

Polygamy itself is not the issue here. Polygamy itself becomes abused when it is used to justify secret marriage and divorce of multiple women, without having any sincere intention or giving any marriage or divorce it’s due Islamic rights or process.

Shayukh who abuse polygamy paint a glamorous picture of polygamy, making it a special mission to “revive the sunnah”, and practicing polygamy almost a measure of a woman’s level of iman.

The delusional idea of becoming more religious under the wings of a shaykh as his wife is also used to entice women seeking closeness to Allah. A more intimate relationship to the shaykh is directly conflated with a more intimate relationship with Allah.

What the shayukh are luring women into is not a revival of polygamous marriage, as much as it is a revival of temporary marriage – without the decency of telling the women up front what they are consenting to. The woman believes she will be the shaykh’s second wife. Instead, she is third, or fourth, or fifth ex-wife.

Do We Have a Solution?

The first step towards resolving an issue is to acknowledge that problem exists. As a community, we have tried to conceal our dirty laundry in the name of gheerah and satr, only to suppress ‘adl instead. As an ummah, we need to address the harmful behavior of shayukh who abuse their our religion and their power to manipulate and use women – leaving them emotionally and spiritually broken in the name of a religion that is mean to protect them.

Stopping sisters-only sessions with shaykhs or banning sisters from contacting shayukh for personal or Islamic questions is not a foundational solution. Women have to consult knowledgeable men for a variety of issues: spiritual and marital counseling, for Islamic rulings on life matters etc.

Stricter segregation between shayukh and women, or building physical barriers in the masajid is a suggested preventative measure but not a solution either. Frankly, many shayukh have the dignity to respect their boundaries with women without a barrier in their masjid, while many have crossed all lines despite physical barriers.

It is women’s religious right to have access to a religious scholarship for knowledge and seeking verdicts, and the mistakes of few cannot outweigh the virtues of many.

1400 years ago, we– Muslim women — were given protection from a society that sold their daughters in exchange of money and loaned out their wives to other men.  Our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught and showed us how to treat women with honor, and he then entrusted the knowledge of Islam to his inheritors– the shayukh.

Consider the gravity of that abuse, when our scholars are trusted to carry forward the Prophet’s legacy, and instead weaponize the Prophet’s words to abuse us instead.

Needless to say, not every shaykh is abusive of his congregants. Alhamdulillah, the abuse is the exception and trust fulfilled is the norm. However, that doesn’t mean that silence should be the norm as well. As a community, we are responsible for each other, in standing up to our oppressors and standing up for our oppressed.

Umm Reem (Saba Syed) has a bachelors degree in Islamic Studies from American Open University. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi. She was one of the founders of Daughters of Adam magazine and remained the publishing director until 2007. She had been actively involved with MSA, TDC, and other community activities. She has also been actively involved with the Muslim women of her community spiritually counseling with marital and mother-daughter issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities, including special workshops regarding parenting and issues related to women.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abu Hamza

    December 31, 2018 at 3:52 PM

    I find it strange that the women in question are never held responsible. Somehow they are just so gullible that they will fall for anything. Until and unless you put the blame where it lies, you will never find a solution to the problem. Throughout history shuyukh had power, but women had haya and gheerah. We didn’t have these problems.

  2. Avatar

    Umm Isma'el

    December 31, 2018 at 8:40 PM

    Assalamou alaykoum,

    You are talking about who? Is this Nouman Ali Khran? Can he defend himself of these accusations? How can you know theses secrets marriages were meant to be temporary? Sometimes, they struggle to find the right partner. And because polygamy is forbidden, they have to make it secret. But I agree this issue has to be addressed, but it should not be in a very aggressive and accusative way like this paper. Wa Allahu allam.

  3. Avatar

    Leila

    December 31, 2018 at 9:26 PM

    Jazakumullah khair for this article, I married one of these powerr shaykhs unfortunately. He was abusive of his power inside the masjid, within the community, and inside the home. I realized what he was doing (using his power to get away with horrendous acts) and he didn’t care about me or his children and I finally built up the courage to leave. He was abusing me physically, mentally and emotionally and this has been going on for seven years. He refused to pay for his childrens’ needs saying I ran away from the marriage and so I am not entitled to financial support— an abuse of his Islamic knowledge. But alhamdulillah I live in a country where the law will protect me and my children from this monster. I couldn’t imagine what would have happened to us if I agreed to marry in an unlawful way. He has a 4 month old daughter he’s never seen and is already married since two months! I feel sorry for that woman whoever she is because he will dump her like trash when he’s done with her. He is the imam of masjid Aisha in downtown Montreal and people respect him for his khutbahs but I cannot stand the idea that someone who is a complete hypocrite teaches people their religion. Don’t do it ladies! Never accept to marry someone without legally registering the marriage. Thank you again for this much needed article.

  4. Avatar

    Umm Isma'el

    December 31, 2018 at 9:50 PM

    The problem is not the ‘secret marriages’. The problem, indeed, as Leila said, is that some sheikhs are abusive in their private life, while they show another face in public. They are not fit for the job. A sheikh should have an irreproachable character and behavior. Some mistakes can be overlooked, but after a certain point, they should lose their position. This is the role of the community leader to take these decisions and to protect the community against these wolves.

  5. Avatar

    Um Nour

    January 1, 2019 at 10:35 AM

    I am amazed by this paper who is attacking in a very insidious way men who practice polygamy, and on the same website (Muslims Matters) we can find a paper who is taking the defense of an adulterer (and maybe a rapist), I am talking about Tariq Ramadan, and who compare him to Martin Luther King ! What is halal is disgusting, and what is haram is OK. The firsts are wolves the seconds are only human beings who have to be excused.

  6. Avatar

    Mustafa

    January 3, 2019 at 10:45 AM

    This article is a bit incomplete. Spends a good deal diagnosing the problem and doing so well, but then

    “Stopping sisters-only sessions with shaykhs or banning sisters from contacting shayukh for personal or Islamic questions is not a foundational solution. Women have to consult knowledgeable men for a variety of issues: spiritual and marital counseling, for Islamic rulings on life matters etc.

    Stricter segregation between shayukh and women, or building physical barriers in the masajid is a suggested preventative measure but not a solution either. Frankly, many shayukh have the dignity to respect their boundaries with women without a barrier in their masjid, while many have crossed all lines despite physical barriers.”

    Yes preventative measures are not a complete solution-there may not ever be in this life because Allah has allowed thulm to happen here and He seizes or forgives the oppressor in the next life.

    However, preventative measures do have some net benefit. And these net benefits do not need to be at the detriment of women. It’s not harmful if a woman consulting a Shaykh or Imam has two other trustworthy women (perhaps counselors?) present during the interaction-if she can confide confidential information with one professional she can do so with two other professionals as well. Developing a class of female Muslim professionals who can be witness or help in cases like these would go a long way-like having women be OBGYNs and encouraging the field to be dominated by women. It should also be noted, seclusion, which can be in many different forms in the modern era, between two non mahrams is itself HARAM-this is not up for negotiation.

    It’s just not practical or sensible to diagnose a problem then dismiss (in tone or reality) clear preventative measures that have a net benefit effect and then provide no solution apart from

    “As a community, we are responsible for each other, in standing up to our oppressors and standing up for our oppressed”

    How exactly??

  7. Avatar

    Umm Aasiyah

    January 4, 2019 at 5:17 PM

    @Um Nour. The author was not “insidiously” attacking polygamy. Far from it. Could you please read the piece again with an open mind?

  8. Avatar

    Alkalaam

    January 25, 2019 at 2:24 AM

    The men are made of Shahwaat, the Quran clearly states it…the love for women, children, horses,gold , silver, is inbuilt in men….all men, we need to strictly adhere to Shariyah in all sectors of our life and solutions will start coming in, In sha Allah.

    Well written, Barak Allah

  9. Avatar

    S

    May 9, 2019 at 6:47 AM

    Definitely a discussion that needs to take place but I was expecting to see some practical steps at the end.

  10. Avatar

    usman

    May 11, 2019 at 5:13 PM

    Umm Raba , you have issues with ignoring the many Muslm males who are also victims of Muslim men.

    Man…

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#Islam

What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.

Reem Shaikh

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The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.

In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.

It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.

Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”

The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.

The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.

While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.

First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.

Web MD

The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.

This view is shaped by  the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..

“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”

Forty Days:

The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.

This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…

“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”

Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.

Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.

No Excuse Required:

The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.

Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.

Only Under Extreme Risks:

The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.

Other Views:

As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.

Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.

For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.

The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.

This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.

Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:

((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)

Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.

Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.

As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.

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#Life

How Do Muslims Plan for Disability

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Families with children with disability have an extraordinary set of challenges and blessings.  Disability (or special needs) is a broad term.

Many disabilities will prevent what we often think of as “normal.”  It may hinder or prevent educational opportunities, and employment. Many people with “special needs” can get educated, get married and live long and productive lives.  The problem for many parents of younger children with special needs is that they typically have no certainty about their children’s future needs. Even if the situation looks dire, it may not stay that way.  

How do parents plan for a world where they may not be around to see how things will end up for their special needs children?  What can they do to help their children in a way that does not violate Islamic Inheritance rules?

Certain types of disability, especially the loss of executive decision-making ability, could also happen well into adulthood.  This can be a threat to a family’s wealth and be the cause of internal conflicts. This is the kind of thing every adult needs to think about before it happens.  

The Problem

The issues are not just that parents believe their special needs child will need more inheritance than other children. Muslim parents usually don’t think that. Some parents don’t want their special needs child to get any inheritance at all.  Not because of any ill-will against their special needs child; just the opposite, but because they are afraid inheritance will result in sabotaging their child’s needs-based government benefits.    

Many, perhaps most special needs children do not have any use for needs-based benefits (benefits for the poor).  But many do, or many parents might figure that it is a distinct possibility. This article is a brief explanation of some of the options available for parents of special needs children.  It won’t go over every option, but rather those that are usually incorporated as part of any Islamic Estate Planning.

Please Stand By

Example:  Salma has three daughters and two sons.  One of her children, Khalida, 3, has Down Syndrome.  At this point, Salma knows that raising Khalida is going to be an immense challenge for herself, her husband Rashid and all the older siblings.  What she does not know, however, is what specific care Khalida is going to need through her life or how her disability will continue to be relevant. She does not know a lot about Khalida’s future marriage prospects, ability to be employed and be independent, though obviously like any parent she has nothing but positive hopes for her child’s life.   

In the event of her death, Salma wants to make sure her daughter gets her Islamic right to inheritance.  However, if Khalida needs public benefits, Salma does not want her daughter disqualified because she has her own money.

Her solution is something called a “stand-by special needs trust.” This type of trust is done in conjunction with an Islamic Inheritance Plan and is typically part of a living trust, though it could also be a trust drafted into the last will.  I will describe more about what a special needs trust is below. For Salma, she is the Trustee of her trust. After she dies, she names her husband (or someone else) the successor Trustee. The trust is drafted to prevent it from becoming an “available resource” used to determine eligibility for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid and other benefits that go with that.

If it turns out that Salma passes away when Khalida is 5, and her assets are held in trust for her until she is 18 and her Trustee determines she does not need a special needs trust, she will get her inheritance precisely like everyone else based on their Islamic right.  If she does need benefits, the Trustee will only make distributions to Khalida that would not harm her eligibility.

This way, there is no need to deny Khalida her inheritance because of her disability, and she is also making sure giving her daughter inheritance would not harm her daughter’s healthcare or other necessary support.  

Munir Vohra is a special needs advocate and an athlete

The Shape of Special Needs Trusts

A stand-alone Special needs trusts, which is sometimes called a “supplemental needs trust” the kind without the “stand-by” variation I described above, are a standard device for families that have children with special needs. A trust is a property ownership device. A Grantor gives the property to a Trustee, who manages the property for the benefit of a beneficiary. In a revocable living trust, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary are typically the same person.  

When the trust is irrevocable, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary may all be different people. In a special needs trust, the person with a disability is the beneficiary. Sometimes, the person with a disability is also the Grantor, the person who created the trust.  This might happen if there is a settlement from a lawsuit for example and the person with special needs wants it to be paid to the trust.  

In many if not most cases, the goal may not be to protect the beneficiary’s ability to get public benefits at all. Many people with a disability don’t get special government benefits.  But they do want to protect the beneficiaries from having to manage the assets. Some people are just more susceptible to abuse.

The structure of the arrangement typically reflects the complexity of the family, the desire of siblings and extended family to continue to be involved in the care and attending to the needs of the person with a disability, even if they are not the person directly writing checks.   

Example: Care for Zayna

Example: Zayna is a 24-year-old woman with limited ability to communicate, take care of her needs and requires 24-hour care.  Zayna has three healthy siblings, many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her father, Elias, earns about $70,000 per year and is divorced. Zayna’s mother Sameena cannot contribute, as she is on social security disability. However, Zayna’s adult brother and sisters, brother in laws, sister in law and several aunts, uncles want to help Zayna meet her needs E.lyas creates a third party special needs trust that would ensure Zayna has what she needs in the years to come.

Zayna receives need-based public benefits that are vital to her in living with her various disabilities and her struggle to gain increasing independence, knowledge and dignity.  So the trust needs to be set up and professionally administered to make sure that when Zayna gets any benefit from her trust, it does not end up disqualifying her ability to get any needs-based benefit.  

Contributions to the special needs trust will not go against Islamic Inheritance rules unless made after the death of the donor.

If Zayna dies, her assets from the special needs trust will be distributed based on the Islamic rules of inheritance as it applies to her.

When disability planning is not about Public Benefits

Perhaps most families with special needs children do not use any needs-based public assistance.  They are still concerned about special needs and planning for it.

Example:  Khadija, 16, is on the autism spectrum. For those familiar with the autism spectrum, that could mean a lot of things.  For her parents, Sarah and Yacoob, other than certain habits that are harmless and easy to get used to, it means Khadija is very trusting of people. Otherwise, she does well in school, and her parents don’t think she needs way more help than her siblings and she has just as good a chance of leading a healthy and productive life as any 16-year-old girl.  

The downside of being too trusting is that the outside world can exploit her.  If she ends up getting inheritance or gifts, she may lose it. The parents decide that when she gets her inheritance, it will be in a trust that would continue through her life.  There will be a trustee who will make sure she has what she needs from her trust, but that nobody can exploit her.

In some ways, what Khadija’s parents Sarah and Yacoob are doing is not so different from what parents might do if they have a child with a substance abuse problem.  They want to give their child her rights, but they don’t want to allow for exploitation and abuse.

Considering your own needs

There are many people who are easy marks for scammers, yet you would be unlikely to know this unless you are either a close friend or family member, or a scammer yourself.  While this often happens to the elderly, it can happen at just about any age. Everyone should consider developing an “incapacity plan” to preserve their wealth even if they lose their executive decision-making ability.   

There is this process in state courts known as “conservatorship.” Indeed, entire courtrooms dedicate themselves to conservatorships and other mental health-related issues.  It is a legal process that causes an individual to lose their financial or personal freedom because a court has essentially declared them not competent to handle their affairs. Conservatorships are a public process.  They can cause a lot of pain embarrassment and internal family strife.

One of the benefits of a well-drafted living trust is to protect privacy and dignity during difficult times.

Example: Haris Investing in Cambodian Rice Farms

Haris, 63, was eating lunch at a diner.  In the waiting area, he became fast friends with Mellissa; a thirty-something woman who was interested in talking about Haris’s grandchildren.  The conversation then turned Melissa and her desire to start a business selling long distance calling cards. Haris was fascinated by this and thought it made good business sense. Haris gave Mellissa $20,000.00. The two exchanged numbers. The next day, Mellissa’s number was disconnected.

Haris’s wife, Julie became alarmed by this.  It was out of character for her husband to just fork over $20,000 to anyone on the spur of the moment.  What was worse is that the business failed immediately.  

Three months later,  Haris meets Mellissa at the diner again.  She then convinces Haris to invest $50,000 in a Cambodian rice farm, which he does right away.   His wife Julie was pretty upset.

How living trusts helps

As it happened though, Haris, a few years before, created a living trust.  It has a provision that includes incapacity planning. There are two essential parts to this:  The first is a system to decide if someone has lost their executive decision-making ability. The second is to have a successor Trustee to look over the estate when the individual has lost this capacity.  This question is about Haris’s fundamental freedom: his ability to spend his own money.

If you asked Haris, he would say nothing is wrong with him.  He looks and sounds excellent. Tells the best dad jokes. He goes to the gym five times a week and can probably beat you at arm wrestling. Haris made some financial mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes.

Julie, and his adult children Haroon, Kulsum, Abdullah, and Rasheeda are not so sure it’s just a mistake.  The living trust created a “disability panel.” This panel gets to vote, privately, in if Haris should continue to act as Trustee of his own money.  If they vote that he should not manage his own money, his wife does it for him.

The family has a way to decide an important and sensitive issue while maintaining Haris’ dignity, privacy and wealth.   Haris’s friends don’t know anything about long distance calling cards or a Cambodian rice farm; they don’t know he lost his ability to act as Trustee of his trust.  Indeed the rest of the world is oblivious to all of this.

Planning for everyone

Islamic inheritance is fard and every Muslim should endeavor to incorporate it into their lives.  As it happens it is an obligation Muslims, at least those in the United States, routinely ignore or deal with inadequately.  However, there is more to planning than just what shares go to whom after death. Every family needs to create a system. There may or may not be problems with children or even with yourself (other than death, which will happen), but you should do whatever you can to protect your family’s wealth and dignity while also fulfilling your obligations to both yourself and your family.

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Should Spiritual Leaders Who Violate Our Trust Be Forgiven?

Some people want to move past the indiscretions of community leaders quickly as though they never occurred while others wish to permanently blacklist them. This article examines a third option between the two that can be a win-win for the fallen leader, the victims, and the community.

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In the past couple of years, a number of simmering scandals among spiritual leaders became public knowledge and the subject of vigorous and often painful public debate.  As someone who has worked in the community dawah space the past 15 years, often acting as a bridge between past and present microcelebrity as well as non-celeb teachers to the community at large, one question I’ve been asked repeatedly – should community leaders who violate our trust be forgiven?  I’m often asked by people who aren’t fanboys / fangirls taken by microcelebrity dawah culture or wearing spiritual blinders for non-celebs, and often don’t even understand what has occurred.  Below I share answers I have heard as well as what I believe is fair and pragmatic in many (not all) situations.

Answer #1:  Yes, We Must Forgive Them

One group of people argue we should completely forgive them. No one is perfect, everyone is human and makes mistakes.  If we assume the mistake was truly made, then we should also forgive them and move on. Our faith is replete with statements about Allah’s Mercy, and if we want His Mercy, surely we should also give it to others. Oftentimes, members who fall into this group don’t actually believe the person in question is at fault and are trying to convince others either on the fence or against the individual to let it go. Of course, there are some who believe the violation occurred and not think it a big deal, while others may think the violation indeed was a big deal, and should still be forgiven. I can agree with some aspects of this, but not completely.

Answer #2:  No, They Should Never Be Forgiven

Another group believes that once a person commits a violation of trust, they are no longer to be trusted again. They should leave their positions and be ostracized from the community permanently. They are to be tarred and feathered and made an example of for life.  Members within this group oftentimes don’t need to wait for evidence to arrive at any conclusion – they were judge, jury, and executioner well before there was a trial.  Not all members are like this, of course – some waited for evidence and then reached their conclusions that the gravity of the charges was too much and therefore the person should never be forgiven.

Answer #3:  It Depends – Forgive Them If They Take Ownership and Make Amends

In my view, the problem with the first group is they don’t often see that the person did anything wrong, or if they did, it’s trivial relative to the khayr, the good and benefit they bring to the community. They keep citing that Allah is forgiving, so we should forgive automatically, but in their haste, they forget that part of the process of making restitution is first sincerely regretting what one has done.

To sincerely regret, one must also move out of denial and into acceptance that they made a mistake. Once one admits failure, they can then ask to be forgiven, and then the aggrieved party is in a position to grant it. The community forgiving and re-integrating a person who refuses to take responsibility for their wrongdoing does neither them, their victims, nor the community any good. We continue to distrust the person and they continue to believe they can get away with whatever they wish because they are “special”. Victims fear community integration, everyone becomes cynical about religion, and the cause of calling people to become better worshippers of Allah is harmed.

On the flip side, the second group is far too extreme in their view of justice. To ostracize that person and leave them no path of return means they have no means to redeem themselves, and de facto their families are casualties who must deal with the fallout of being pushed out of the community. I agree that none of us are perfect, and we all often make egregious mistakes. In my own experience, there are many instances where activists who advocate publicly for better are often involved privately in worse than those they go after.

That being the case, there is no person that can’t be forgiven, and I would say we shouldn’t leave aside this possibility in our dealings with those who fail us just as we expect it when we ourselves fall short, sometimes seriously so. I would add that we would lose the skills and talent of that person – if we believe in allowing people with criminal histories back into the general population and providing them with opportunities to become productive, reformed citizens, I don’t see why we wouldn’t offer the same to our community and religious leaders.

The key I believe is in following a process which includes the following for the individual:

  1. Taking ResponsibilityThey own responsibility for the mistake and acknowledge it was made.  No amount of denial, minimization, and spin will suffice.
  2. Make Restitution:  First and foremost, they apologize and make amends as best they can with the victims.  If the issue went public, then they should apologize to those they were serving as a leader for their mistake as well. This includes handling financial compensation.
  3. Remediating Oneself:  Enroll in counseling, therapy, mentorship, and / or group support programs to help them overcome their issues.
  4. Being Held Accountable:  Work with others on concrete milestones of both behavior and programs that demonstrate their commitment to change.  Be able to show the community that they take reformation seriously and are committed to coming out of their mistake a better person, one who can even advise others of the mistake and how not to repeat it.

As someone who has worked in dawah and supported the ascension of numerous modern-day microcelebrity spiritual scholars and teachers, I and others like me act as a bridge between them and the community.  I do not speak for all of them, certainly, but I know that any leader who tries to re-integrate into the community without taking responsibility will continue to find that many will not support them. Most, in this case, feel a sacred duty to oppose their elephant-in-the-room integration to protect the community at large.

Likewise, I know that many like myself would be willing to overlook and forgive such individuals if they took responsibility for their behavior and demonstrated they were taking concrete steps to make amends for their mistakes.  The month of Ramadan is upon us, and sometimes one just has to rip the band-aid off, go through the process of feeling the pain of scrutiny for owning up, and then moving forward to forgiveness.  I won’t promise it’s easy or that everyone will change, but I can at least say many of us would have an easier time accepting individuals back into the community.

What’s your view on these situations?

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