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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

Danish Qasim graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 2010 with a B.A. in Religious Studies. He began a formal study of the Islamic sciences in 2006 with local teachers and served as an Arabic translator while in college. Upon graduating he dedicated himself to full time traditional Islamic studies. Most of his overseas studies were in Teumerat, Mauritania in the school of Murabit al-Hajj (رحمه الله) where he studied fiqh (jurisprudence), Arabic, tazkiya (spiritual purification), hadith, and aqida (theology). He is now working on his doctorate on the topic of spiritual abuse in Islam at the Western Institute for Social Research in Berkeley, CA. Danish has been working with victims of spiritual abuse for 9 years as well as adults facing bullying and relationships with narcissists. He teaches Arabic and Islamic studies privately and is a certified assertiveness and performance coach.

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    Spirituality

    July 5, 2019 at 12:36 PM

    Jazakum Allahu Khayran for all your efforts! Much needed today.

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Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure

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How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?

If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.

My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.

On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.

I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.

When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand.  Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?

I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.

That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.

I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:

Host an open house

Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.

Expand your circle

Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.

Delegate

You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.

Squeeze in

Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.

Outsource Eid Fun

If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.

Flock together

It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend.  If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.

Give gifts

The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا‏ “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.

Try, try, try again…

Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.

While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.

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Broken Light: The Opacity of Muslim Led Institutions

Rehan Mirza, Guest Contributor

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muslim led institutions

Habib Abd al-Qadir al-Saqqaf (may Allah have mercy on him and benefit us by him) explains how we are affected by the spiritual state of those around us.

Every person has rays which emanate from their soul. You receive these rays when you come close to them or sit in their presence. Each person’s rays differ in strength according to the state of their soul. This explains how you become affected by sitting in the presence of great people. They are people who follow the way of the Prophets in their religious and worldly affairs. When they speak, they counsel people. Their actions guide people. When they are silent they are like signposts which guide people along the path, or like lighthouses whose rays guide ships. Many of them speak very little, but when you see them or visit them you are affected by them. You leave their gatherings having been enveloped in their tranquillity. Their silence has more effect than the eloquent speech of others. This is because the rays of their souls enter you.

The Organizational Light

As a Muslim organizational psychologist, I know that organizations and institutions are a collective of these souls too. Like a glass container, they are filled colored by whatever is within them. So often Muslim organizations have presumed clarity in their organizational light and looked on with wonder as children, families, and the community wandered. The lighthouse keepers standing in front of the beacon wondering, “Where have the ships gone?”have

Our Muslim led institutions will reflect our state, actions, and decisions. I do believe that most of our institutional origins are rooted in goodness, but those moments remain small and fade. Our challenge as a community is to have this light of origin be fixed so that it can pulsate and extend itself beyond itself.

Reference is not being made regarding any specific type of institution and this is not a pointed critique, but rather a theory on perhaps why the effect our variety of institutional work wanes and dissipates. Any type of organization or institution — whether for profit or nonprofit, whether capital focused or socially conscious — that is occupied by the heart of a Muslim(s), must reflect light.

Our organizational light is known by an ego-less assessment of intentions, actions, and results. We must move our ‘self’ or ‘selves’ out of the way and then measure our lumens. If the light increases when we move out of the way, then it is possible that we — our ego, personality, objectives, intentions, degree of sacrifice, level of commitment, and possibly even our sincerity — may be the obstructions to our organizational lights.

The Personal Imperative

What will become of our institutions and their role for posterity if we neglect to evaluate where we stand in relation to the noble courses they mean to take? We may currently be seeing the beginning what this may look and feel like.

When was the last time you walked into a Muslim led institution and felt a living space that drew you in because of the custodians, leadership, individuals, and community that made up its parts? It was probably the last time you and I looked deeply inward at our lives — our intellect, our relationships, our purpose, our spiritual state, our work, our decisions, and our intentions. If we cleanse our hearts so infrequently the dust which settles can become thick making them opaque. And perhaps this individual and collective state is what limits the reach and impact of our communal work thus, resulting in the opacity of Muslim led institutions. Note: Lighthouse keepers clean the lens of the beacon every day.

We must consistently assess the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual loci of our individual and organizational states. They are not fixed givens. Rather, they are capricious states that necessitate vigilance and wara’. Being aware of this will help in our organizational design and work.

The Collective Affect

When we are prepared to evaluate the efficacy of Muslim led institutions with the inclusion of some form of spiritual assessment, we will give ourselves a better opportunity to determine where, how, and why we may be missing the mark. The inefficiencies and inattentiveness we have on an individual level can permeate our relationships, our work, and our organizations. As organizational leaders, we must critically assess the amount of light our work emanates to illuminate the lives of the people we serve.

These inward evaluations should be in the form of active and ongoing discussions we have internally with our teams and colleagues, and ourselves. If done with prudence and sincerity it will not only strengthen our organizations but our teams and us God-willing. This collective effort can lead to a collective effect for those we serve that inspires and guides. We — and our institutions — can then return to the Prophetic example of being beacons of light that help ourselves and others arrive to a place of sanctuary.

And Allah always knows best.

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The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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Janazah, funeral, legacy, Omar Suleiman, Edhi

Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (may Allah be pleased with him) in the midst of the torture he endured at the hands of his oppressors used to say: baynana wa baynahum aljanaa’iz, which means, “the difference between us and them will show in our funerals.” The man who instigated the ideological deviation that led to his torture was an appointed judge named Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad. At the moment of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal making those remarks, it appeared Imam Ahmad would die disgraced in a dungeon but Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad would have a state funeral with thousands of mourners. Instead, Imam Ahmad persevered through his struggle, was embraced by the people, and honored by Allah with the biggest Janazah ever known to the Arabs with millions of people pouring in from all over. Ahmad Ibn Abu Du’ad was cast aside and buried without anyone attending his janazah out of revulsion.

Now sometimes righteous people do die in isolation, and wicked people are given grand exits. There are people like Uthman Ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) who was murdered by the people of fitnah, then buried at night far away from the people out of fear of the large numbers that would’ve poured out to his janazah and potentially mobilized against his oppressors. But it may be that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)  inspired Imam Ahmad with the vision to see his victory in this life before the next. To elaborate a bit on his statement though, allow me to reflect:

A wise man once said to me,

“Always put your funeral in front of you, and work backwards in constructing your life accordingly.” 

With the deaths of righteous people, that advice always advances to the front of my thoughts. When a person passes away, typically only good things will be said of them. But it’s important to pay attention to 2 aspects about those good things being said:

1. Is there congruence in the particular good quality being attested to about the deceased.

2. Are those good qualities being attested to actually truly of the deceased. 

The first one deals with consistency of character, the second one with sincerity of intention which is only known by the Creator and His servant. In regards to the first one, take our sister Hodan Nalayeh (may Allah have mercy on her) who was murdered tragically last week in a terrorist attack in Somalia. Everyone that spoke of her said practically the same thing about how she interacted with them and/or benefitted them. There is complete harmony with all of the testimonies about her. And in that case we all become the witnesses of our sister on the day of judgment, testifying to her good character.

For many that pass away, neither the deceased nor the community fully appreciates the way they benefitted others until that day. It was narrated that when Zainul Abideen Ali Ibn Al Husayn (may Allah be pleased with them), the great grandson of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) passed away, he had marks on his shoulders from the bags he used to carry to the doorsteps of the poor at night when no one else was watching. The narrations state that the people of Madinah used to live off his charity not knowing the source of it until his death.

How many people will miss you when you die because of the joy you brought to their lives? How many of those that you comforted when they were abandoned by others? That you spent on when they were deprived by others? That you advocated for when they were oppressed by others? 

Will your family miss you because of an empty bed in the home or a deep void in their hearts? Will it be the loss of your spending only that grieves them, or the loss of your smile? Will it be the loss of the stability you provided them only, or the loss of your service and sacrifices for them?

But Zainul Abideen didn’t care for the recipients of his charity to know that he was the source of it, because He was fully in tune with it’s true Divine source. He didn’t want to be thanked in this world, but in the next. He didn’t want the eulogy, he wanted Eternity. 

He understood that if you become distracted by the allure of this world, you may merely become of it. Focus on bettering the future which you cannot escape, rather than the present that you cannot dictate. Focus on the interview with the One who needs no resume, rather than the judgments of those who are just as disposable as you. 

اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْ خَيْرَ زَمَانِيْ آخِرَهُ، وَخَيْرَ عَمَلِيْ خَوَاتِمَهُ، وَخَيْرَ أَيَّامِيْ يِوْمَ أَلقَاكَ

“O Allah, let the best of my lifetime be its ending, and my best deed be that which I seal [my life with], and the best of my days the day I meet You.”

Which brings us to the second aspect of your funeral, the sincerity of the good you’re being praised for. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “increase your remembrance of the destroyer of pleasures.” Death only destroys the temporary pleasures of this world, not the pleasure of the Most Merciful in the next. Keeping that in perspective will help you work towards that without being distracted. If it is the praise of the people you seek, that is as temporary as the world that occupies both your worldly vehicle ie. your body, and your companions in this world who shall perish soon after you.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned the one who passes away with the people lavishing praise on him that he is unworthy of. In a narration in Al Tirmidhi, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “No one dies and they stand over him crying and saying: ‘Oh what a great man he was! Oh how honored he was!’ except that two angels are appointed for him to poke him and say: Is that really you?”

But if it is Allah’s praise that you sought all along, the deeds that you put forth shall await you in your grave in the form of heavenly ornaments. Those that were known to the community, those that were known to only a select few, and those that were known by no one but Allah and you.

May Allah give us all a good ending, and an even better eternity.

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