Connect with us

#Society

Unsolicited: Online Sexual Harassment Poisons Social Media For Sisters In Faith

The vast majority of Muslim men will be horrified by these stories and recognize how inappropriate and un-Islamic it is to contact any woman in a manner that is offensive or vulgar.

Muslim woman on laptop sexual harassment
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

By Laura El Alam

When Grace* started posting inspirational videos and articles on her public Facebook page, her intention was to reach a non-Muslim audience and show them the beauty of Islam.  After all, as a former agnostic who had considered organized religions “distasteful,” she could understand the mindset of many fellow Americans who were suspicious of – or misinformed about- Islam.  In her posts, Grace shared the story of her conversion to Islam, highlighted lessons from the Qur’an, talked about the pillars of faith, and generally tried to make Islam more accessible and comprehensible to non-Muslims.  While potentially thousands of non-Muslims benefited from her educational material, her noble efforts were derailed by an unlikely source: Muslim men. 

In public comments and private messages, Grace found herself receiving a surprising amount of unsolicited flirting, sexual comments and images, and even threats.  “All of this made me realize I couldn’t reach my target audience on social media,” explains Grace. “Nearly all the followers I was getting were Muslim men! I have 3,000 likes, and most are Muslim men. My target audience was non-Muslims, but Muslim men sabotaged my efforts and embarrassed me publicly through comments. It was frustrating and disheartening.” 

Perhaps she might have ignored and blocked the annoying messages and persevered in her mission, but one man took his online assault to another level.  He began stalking Grace (who blocked him), then her husband (who also blocked him), and finally her parents (who were shocked and terrified). Through online messages to all of those people, he called Grace vile names, sent explicit photos, and unleashed words that were both angry and sexual. It caused Grace and her entire family an enormous amount of stress and anger.  “My parents were so shaken up that once they found mysterious cigarette butts behind their house and they truly thought the guy had come to their house and was outside it at night smoking cigarettes.”

After the ordeal, Grace’s husband stopped supporting her online dawah efforts. “My husband didn’t like me being a public presence,” she said. “He asked me to stop making videos because he felt it was soliciting unwanted attention. He clearly put the onus on me. He didn’t shame me or anything overt, but in his mind, my face being in the public was the obvious reason I was receiving unwanted and inappropriate attention and contact.”

Some people might think that Grace’s example is an extreme one. Surely not every Muslimah who has a social media presence experiences such offensive treatment from Muslim men or people pretending to be Muslim men?

Unfortunately, the phenomenon is extremely common. Umm Ibrahim of the United Kingdom is another example of a Muslimah who found online sexual harassment in an unlikely place:  an Islamic website.  “I’ve seen messages of a highly sexual nature sent to an Islamic page which I help admin,” she reports.  “A few times I have encountered men posing as women in order to have chats of a sensitive nature with other women. They will pose as a woman having marital problems and will ask to have a chat via Messenger. Usually, this chat will ask for advice regarding intimacy.”

In addition to being an administrator of a website, Umm Ibrahim is also a writer. “If I have been involved in an online discussion or if I have had an article published, I can anticipate an increase in messages,” she says.   “Discovering the spam folder on Facebook Messenger was somewhat of a revelation. I had dozens of messages from Muslim men asking to chat, asking if I was married, and asking if I was interested in getting married. I also get a lot of friend requests from men. They are always Muslim men, based on name and location.”

Professional writer Ameera* shares a similar story.  “I never used to receive unsolicited messages from Muslim men until I started having articles published on Islamic websites,” she says.  “Suddenly, shortly after my first article was published, my inbox was full of men wanting to ‘discuss Islam with me,’ ‘ask me a few questions,’ or compliment me on my hijab.  Unfortunately, it didn’t stop at flirtation. Once I opened a pending message that I thought was from a local Facebook buy and sell group, but this one particular message turned out to be a pornographic video sent by a man in Egypt, whose FB profile picture had words from the Qur’an! I closed and deleted the message immediately and blocked the man, but the disgusting image is seared in my brain.  I felt — and still, feel — violated.”

“I have received unwanted flirting and a lot of sexual innuendo from men I don’t even know,” confides Salama,* a 20-year-old graduate student in the United States. “I received messages from one person, specifically talking about how he wanted to have sex with me. Granted I didn’t even have any [profile] pics. He was a complete stranger. It was completely unwarranted. I cannot think of a particular reason for why I was targeted,” she adds. “I do know that he asked a simple question on a Muslim forum, and I answered it. I guess that’s when he decided it was okay to privately message me.” 

These anecdotes might seem like an indictment of Muslim men in general; however, I believe that those individuals who harass women online constitute a tiny minority of Muslim men. The vast majority of Muslim men will be horrified by these stories and recognize how inappropriate and un-Islamic it is to contact any woman in a manner that is offensive or vulgar.

Online sexual harassment is certainly not unique to the Muslim community. It is a global problem with women, universally, experiencing sexualized forms of abuse at much higher rates than men. According to a 2017 Online Harassment study by the Pew Research Center, “Some 21% of women ages 18 to 29 report being sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than double the share among men in the same age group (9%). In addition, roughly half (53%) of young women ages 18 to 29 say that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for.”

Muslims, whose religion’s main characteristic is modesty, should be completely disassociated with any form of depravity, online or in face-to-face interactions.  Such behavior is antithetical to our core beliefs, so it was with confusion and disappointment that I embarked upon this necessary but unpleasant exposé. 

Unfortunately, there are many brothers who, while condemning online harassment per se, still manage to place the blame anywhere but on their fellow men.  They are quick to assume that the woman in question has provoked the harassment in some way. When Muslim women speak up about being abused online, the primary response they receive is, “If you don’t want comments and messages from men, then don’t show your face online.”

This thinking is unfair for several reasons. First of all, even women who do not show their faces on social media still sometimes experience unsolicited and unwanted contact. As Salama points out, “It has been proven many times, that regardless of what a woman does, some men are just predatory and will use whatever opportunity they have to try to prey on her. Covered women get harassed. Women who haven’t posted profile pics have been harassed. Uncovered women get harassed. Women from all over the world have been harassed.”

Many Muslima women — including some of the world’s most esteemed female Islamic lecturers and scholars — choose to show their face on their website, videos, and promotional brochures. They may have various reasons for doing this — Allah knows best — but it is very likely that they use their image on marketing materials or websites for the same reason that many professional men do: consumers trust a product (lecture, book, article, blog, program) more if there is a human face associated with it. People want to see who is behind the words and ideas, and this is why most flyers for Islamic lectures show pictures of the speakers, and why most articles, blogs, and books show photographs of the authors. For Muslim women, showing one’s face online is hardly ever about seduction, temptation, or loose morals. After all, it is the same face we are revealing when we walk down a public street. 

Finally, there are many women who choose to show their faces online simply because they believe they should have as much of a right to feel safe and respected in the virtual world as they do in the real world. 

Of course, as Muslims, the responsibility is on each of us to obey our Creator’s guidelines.  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded women to be modest, but He has commanded the same of men. A man who is tempted by a woman’s photograph — whether or not she is dressed according to Islamic mandates — should lower his gaze. If he purposely keeps looking — and more so if he takes inappropriate action — the sin is upon him. 

In one hadith from Al-Bukhari, we learn that the Prophet was traveling with a Companion named Al-Fadl, who was a handsome youth.  A young woman from the tribe of Khath’am approached, and Al-Fadl started looking at her because her beauty attracted him. The Prophet caught al-Fadl’s chin and turned his face so that he would stop gazing at her.

It is noteworthy that the Prophet did not scold the woman for showing her face in public, nor for being too attractive. With his impeccable manners, he wordlessly and gently instructed Al-Fadl on the correct action to take when tempted by a woman’s beauty. The onus for modesty was on Al-Fadl, not the woman from Khath’am, who had approached to ask the Prophet a question.  

As Grace explains, “Men should be held responsible for their actions and be recognized as creatures capable of self-control and morality. Women have a right to exist online as they do in the real world.  What’s shameful is that Muslim men still don’t follow the advice of the Prophet Muhammad when it comes to how they view and treat women. Women never deserve to be treated [as] objects or be blamed for the actions, feelings, or frailty of men’s character.” 

She concludes, “The idea that a woman speaking about Islam is an invitation for flirting, sexual innuendos, or stalking is so wrong I don’t even know how to describe it.”

This article, I am sure, will not solve the problem of online sexual harassment of Muslim women.  It will likely not be read by the men who engage in such behaviors, and I do realize that if they have the audacity to defy their Creator, they are certainly not going to listen to me.  However, I do hope that readers will take away a few key points:

  1.  If you are tempted to blame a woman for being harassed online, think deeply about who is really at fault.  Is there any justification for sending porn, threats, or inappropriate messages to a woman?  If you truly care about the safety and morality of Muslim women, you will call out the men who are behind the harassment and do whatever you can to educate yourself and others and/or oppose the behavior when you see it.
  2. If you have young Muslim women in your life, do not assume that they will not encounter inappropriate material or receive unsolicited communications just because they primarily visit Islamic websites.  In fact, these sites seem to be a breeding ground for Muslim perverts. Teach youngsters not to open filtered or suspicious messages and not to trust strangers online, even if they appear to be their brothers in faith.
  3. If you are a convert to Islam, be especially wary of any messages you receive from unknown Muslim men. It is best to delete and block without opening them. Know that some men prey on converts in particular. Be aware that a sincere Muslim would never send sexually suggestive images or messages to a stranger, and one who does will not be a suitable husband for you. 
  4. If you are a Muslim woman who is considering having an online presence for the purpose of dawah,  be aware that online sexual harassment is a likely occupational hazard. Set strict privacy filters whenever possible, avoid opening messages from unknown people, and be prepared to block, delete, and unfriend, unapologetically.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abu Laith Althary

    October 3, 2019 at 8:08 AM

    i think that is inapropriate by some muslim men.

    what sisters have to do in my own view, not to use videos,look upon the kind of dress,voiceless and write no men is allowed. i understand it is hard to escape from these kind of goats in the social media, but most of all keep on asking Allaah to protects you from all evil.

    may Allaah protects all.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 3, 2019 at 11:57 AM

      Asalaamu alaykum. Based on your comments, it sounds like you believe that Muslim women should not use their voices or videos on social media. As I said in the article, I find it interesting that so many Muslim men put the responsibility squarely on women to limit themselves in ways that Islam does not even command. While there are definitely standards of “haya” or modesty that ALL Muslims, male and female, are required to observe, there is no ruling against a woman speaking in a mixed audience or videotaping herself in an appropriate way. What is wrong with a Muslim woman giving a lecture online, for instance?

  2. Avatar

    Mustafa

    October 3, 2019 at 8:47 AM

    “Many Muslimas — including some of the world’s most esteemed female Islamic lecturers and scholars — choose to show their face on their website, videos, and promotional brochures. They may have various reasons for doing this — Allah knows best — but it is very likely that they use their image on marketing materials or websites for the same reason that many professional men do: consumers trust a product (lecture, book, article, blog, program) more if there is a human face associated with it. People want to see who is behind the words and ideas, and this is why most flyers for Islamic lectures show pictures of the speakers, and why most articles, blogs, and books show photographs of the authors. For Muslim women, showing one’s face online is hardly ever about seduction, temptation, or loose morals. After all, it is the same face we are revealing when we walk down a public street. ”

    This is pretty far fetched. Why is it so often the promotional ads show Muslim women relative to Muslim men? The answer seems pretty obvious.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 3, 2019 at 11:58 AM

      Asalaamu alaykum. Can you please explain what part of that paragraph you find “far fetched?”

      • Avatar

        Mustafa

        October 3, 2019 at 12:49 PM

        There’s an obvious trend or whatever you want to call it of putting a young women on promotional material. Obviously different if she happens to be the one actually doing the teaching but how often is that the case? It doesn’t help to be delusional about it. A pretty young woman’s face even in hijab sells, and Islamic education in the west is basically a business. Businesses know what they’re doing.

        • Avatar

          Laura El Alam

          October 3, 2019 at 1:43 PM

          Brother, with all due respect, your comment applies to a different topic. My article is not about whether Muslim women are being used to sell or promote merchandise. It’s about Muslim women who use social media to give dawah, publish Islamic articles, give Islamic lectures, or comment on Islamic pages. Many of those women have received unsolicited and inappropriate contact from Muslim men. Some have been threatened, harassed, and sent pornographic images that they certainly did not ask for. I am trying to raise awareness of this particular problem.

          Perhaps you could write an article supporting your opinion. I don’t disagree that women — including Muslim women who wear hijab — are often objectified in order to sell things. But there is a difference between a woman choosing to show a photo of herself in which she is dressed in a way she considers modest and in accordance with Islam, and a woman having her image used without her consent to sell a product she doesn’t even endorse. One of my main points is that Muslim women– including those who choose to use their photo online –do not deserve to be harassed. I wish the emphasis could go back on the men who are doing the harassing, instead of the women who are being harassed.

          • Avatar

            Mustafa

            October 3, 2019 at 2:05 PM

            We live in the most oversexualized culture in the history of human cultures, ever. There is no accountability online, not really. Not only that, marriage for a myriad of reasons (one of them being bad men/husbands) is possibly more difficult then it ever has been in the Ummah history. Every worst combination has combined here.

            Exactly how successful do you think a message like this will be? Seems akin, but obviously a degree different, to telling people not to steal food during a famine.

  3. Avatar

    Laura El Alam

    October 3, 2019 at 4:31 PM

    Brother, to answer your question, “Exactly how successful do you think a message like this will be?” I can only say that all writers and journalists hope that their work will have some impact on the world. No, we absolutely cannot solve all the profound problems in the world, or even in our Ummah, but we must try to do what we can, within our power.

    As the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “When you see an evil act, you have to stop it with your hand. If you can’t, then at least speak out against it with your tongue. If you can’t, then at least you have to hate it with all your heart. And this is the weakest of faith.”

    I cannot change the over-sexualized culture we live in. I cannot force men to stop harassing women. But I can raise awareness of this problem, and I hope that through this article, I will accomplish a few things:

    1. Remove the stigma of reporting harassment — When a Muslim woman complains about being harassed, she is often blamed. People (often men, but also women) assume she was “asking for it” in some way. The women I interviewed were not flirting online, visiting inappropriate websites, posting seductive photos, or doing anything that compromised their modesty. On the contrary, they were actively involved in spreading the message of Islam, yet they still experienced sexual harassment. Perhaps my article will make some people think twice before blaming a woman who is harassed. Maybe they will listen to the sister’s story first and place the blame where it belongs — on the harasser.

    2. InshaAllah some Islamic teachers, lecturers, or imams will read this article and realize that online sexual harassment is a genuine, widespread problem in our Ummah. They might give a khutba on the importance of modesty and adaab in social media. They might talk to the youth and remind them that Allah SWT sees what they do online just as He sees what they do in everyday life.

    3. I hope parents who read this will have a wake-up call about what happens online, even on Islamic websites (tragically).

    Writers’ words can potentially reach thousands upon thousands of people, and if Allah SWT believes their intentions are pure, then inshaAllah they are rewarded exponentially. I will not let defeatist thinking stop me from using my skills to try to make the world a slightly better place.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 3, 2019 at 6:36 PM

      And I would also like to add that NO woman deserves to be harassed, no matter how she is dressed.

    • Avatar

      Mustafa

      October 5, 2019 at 5:42 PM

      Woa nice answer

  4. Zeba Khan

    Zeba Khan

    October 3, 2019 at 7:01 PM

    To the people doubting the existence of this, or undermining the content of her piece please know this:

    I maintain a public Facebook page for the purposes of my work as at MuslimMatters.org, my public speaking, and special needs advocacy. My inbox is always INUNDATED – literally – flooded with notifications from people like Haji So-an-So with messages like “So cute flower,” phone numbers, and every possible misspelling of “I love you” imaginable.

    Instead of blaming Muslim women for daring to work publicly for the edification of the Ummah, or their business, or their hobbies, or the right to exist without being harassed, let’s be real. Some Muslim men behave badly. They need to behave better. Other Muslim men can help correct their behavior by:

    1. Holding them accountable for their own actions

    That’s literally it. You can’t fix a problem by refusing its due ownership.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 4, 2019 at 4:13 PM

      Thanks for letting me know. There was some good discussion going on, and then I saw how I was slandered by one brother, and the thrill was gone.

      • Avatar

        Siraaj Muhammad

        October 5, 2019 at 9:05 AM

        Appreciate you stopping by and responding. I think it’s good for everyone to hear those raw differences in real time and respond to one another’s difficult questioning about the others positions.

  5. Avatar

    Danielle

    October 4, 2019 at 8:03 PM

    Great article! Thank you for spreading awareness of this deep problem. I love the action items you have at the end. I feel bad that you had to do some explaining and sort of apologizing in your article. And even with that, the comments reflect the fragility and blindness some men seem to possess regarding this issue. I applaud you for writing this. May Allah ease the way for you and help you to continue to enrich the internet with your insights and important topics ❤️

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 4, 2019 at 8:26 PM

      Thank you so very much, sister! 💕 Your supportive words mean a great deal. May Allah SWT also bless you in your endeavors.

  6. Avatar

    Ussif

    October 4, 2019 at 9:48 PM

    Great article. I admire the courage of women that despite such harassment continue their work fi-sabbil-llah. Please continue to be vocal about this situation, it’s not acceptable in any way in our dine.
    I as a man stopped interacting in social media a long time ago, couldn’t handle all the negativity so I can’t imagine how bad it is for woman.
    Maybe this type of reminder against online or on life harassment would be more impactful in real life, in mosque or big Muslim convention.
    May Allah protect and strengthen your Iman.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 5, 2019 at 4:20 PM

      Ameen and thank you for your supportive words.

  7. Avatar

    Ahmad

    October 5, 2019 at 2:58 AM

    No doubt women suffer from this a lot more than men ever will. Hence why Allah has given us different guidelines. Hence why it is usually more encouraged for women to be home and let the man be the breadwinner. The outside world isn’t as safe for women as for men, and it will never be. Thats just the plain truth. The Internet itself is like the outside world, where you can interact with people from all over the world. I think women should continue to do as much good as they can wherever they are, but try to be realistic aswell. Don’t be over-idealistic. The reality is not always pretty and over-optimism never helps. If you know having a profile picture of your face will drag that many more lude comments to you, then perhaps remove it? Allah will deal with those that harm you, but do something to lessen the attention from them.

    For example, i study Uni from a distance. I will never choose campus over studying from a distance (from home) because i know campus reeks of imodest women that are looking for fitnah. No matter how much i curse the situation at campus, it won’t change, atleast not in a long run. So i will try to avoid those places and stay home and study from there.

    Barak Allah feeki for the article, it gives some insight to us men who don’t go through this as much.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 5, 2019 at 4:40 PM

      Asalaamu alaykum. I appreciate your perspective, brother. It’s nice to hear that you’re taking steps to minimize the temptation you feel at University by studying at home. We should all know our own limitations and weaknesses and act accordingly to protect our adherence to Islam, which it sounds like you’re doing, Alhamdullilah.

      Islam does not prohibit women from working, studying, and doing other necessary (or even enjoyable) things outside of their home. Women want to contribute their talents to the world, andthey should have the right to expect courtesy and respect from their brothers in faith, no matter where they are (in the street or online).

      The emphasis should not be on sisters taking more preventative steps (because we already do, and they don’t always work). The onus is on men to stop harassing. Pure and simple.

      Imagine this: a Muslim woman is giving a speech about Islam in an auditorium. There are men and women in the audience. Then, out of the blue, one man shoves a very innapropriate photo right in her face. Another man tells her he wants to have sex with her. Another man calls her vile names. She did nothing to provoke or invite their behavior.

      Would anyone just ignore or trivialize this scenario? No, it would be shocking and wrong. Everyone would condemn the men, right? Clearly the harassers are in the wrong; all she’s doing is giving a pious lecture. And yet, this happens ALL THE TIME on social media. Men do those exact same horrible things to Muslim women, and yet when the women complain, they are told that somehow they share the blame. That they need to be more careful, or less noticeable. Why?! Why is online harassment tolerated and blamed on women?!

      No, we are not naive to expect to be safe from harassment from our brothers in faith. In fact, Muslim men are required to be our defenders! We should absolutely be able to count on them to treat us as sisters with dignity. It is THEIR job to fix themselves, not ours.

  8. Avatar

    Faraz

    October 6, 2019 at 1:19 AM

    Assalamalaikum

    I pray for all your wellbeing.
    I usually dont comment but somethings i would like to point out. I keep on reading that responsibility/onus is on men. I think, as men, we do not deny that! Yes, men should lower their gaze. I do believe men are mostly to blame in this context. As you pointed out, those who want to be perverse dont need photos. We are not denying that.
    Yet at the same time women should not give opportunity for men to gawk or peek. Sometimes, as you mentioned there is the need to have a face to the author, scholar etc but quite often its not needed. As one commenter mentioned, picture of a young good looking woman on a poster or ad for some Islamic purpose is hardly Islamic. She is neither the author or scholar or anything yet she is the “cover photo” Its quite disheartening to come to an Islamic website or article or video and to be started up with a picture of a beautiful woman in “hijab” whats the point of that? Why? Isn’t it beating the purpose?
    Even if men who dont want to gawk and be perverse the image does have a negative impact, undeniably.
    And this goes for men as well! Posing and trying extra hard to appear attractive. Why? And Allah knows best the intentions!
    Once again, I have to reiterate that Yes quite often in these situations men are wrong. Yet to say that some women dont add fuel to the fire is disregarding the reality.

    Anyways this is my take. I might be wrong. I am open to being disagreed with and am open to alternative or opposing views
    🙂
    May Allah grant you all, all the best and May Allah purify our hearts!

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 6, 2019 at 12:43 PM

      Asalaamu alaykum. Brother, I know that “haya” or modesty is really something that many Muslims (male and female) lack these days. There are probably hundreds of reasons why men and women are interacting with less modesty online and in real life, and surely we are all compromising our own souls when we do this.

      I think it comes down to this. We are all accountable to Allah SWT for our actions. The woman who purposely seduces men will have to answer to her Rabb. The administratiors of Islamic companies or websites that use blatant sex appeal to get more clicks or customers will also have to answer for their actions. The Muslims who purposely watch material that they know will be full of inappropriate images are not fooling Allah SWT. In fact, many Muslims are making the problem exponentially worse by surrounding themselves with sexual material purposely, and then every single woman they look at — even if she’s covered — becomes an object of desire. It’s awful.

      There is no doubt that we are all surrounded by temptation every single time we open our computer, turn on TV, or swipe our phones. Men absolutely can count on being exposed to women they find attractive both online and in the street, and it may or may not be the woman’s actual intention to attract them.

      But men are not animals who must respond to basic instincts. They can choose what to do when they are aroused. And since they might very well feel attracted to women a dozen times a day or more, they should form a game plan.

      It is 100% clear that contacting them inappropriately is NOT a valid option in Islam. Harassing them in any way is even worse. Those women are human beings, not objects, and whatever feelings they inspire do not entitle men to act with impunity. So men need to do their part to purify their hearts, and we women must do our part too.

      • Avatar

        Faraz

        October 6, 2019 at 11:40 PM

        Agreed!

  9. Avatar

    Fritz

    October 10, 2019 at 6:39 AM

    “Holding them accountable” – realistically social media is a free and open platform. Its freedom gives muslim women the opportunity to speak in the first place. Its not palatable but that is the reality.

    There is no rectification to this solution. You don’t think the people doing this know they are wrong? and its mostly – from what you say – through private messaging. I think you need to get real and stop whining. No muslim men are out there condoning or promoting this kind of behaviour.

    The reality is much like I am sure muslim men will have racial/religious abuse directed at them, you will just have to deal with it. Dont like it, then leave. I am afraid thats the nature of the twisted beast that is social media.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 10, 2019 at 5:03 PM

      Fritz, I can’t help but wonder what kind of people have so much time on their hands that they make time to comment “get real and stop whining” on someone’s article?

      Everytime someone speaks up against injustice, oppression, corruption, or wrongdoing, there is someone else (almost always someone in a privileged position who does not feel directly affected by the problem) who tells them to “stop whining.” It accomplishes *nothing” to act so sanctimonious and insensitive . . . unless you’re the kind of person who enjoys kicking others when they’re down.

      Someday you might actually take the time to stand up for something you believe in, or try to right a wrong. If you do, I actually hope no one tells you to stop whining. I don’t believe in kicking people when they’re down.

      Why don’t you save your energy, Fritz, for something that makes a positive impact on the world?

      And by the way, if you’re just here to troll me, I won’t take the bait any longer.

  10. Avatar

    Tami

    October 12, 2019 at 9:47 AM

    I am on matrimonial websites and Muslim dating apps to find a husband. Even though I have a modest picture and a profile, I get unserious men contact me for fun. It makes me uncomfortable. I feel scared to think are there very low quality of decent men out there who see’s everything sexual. I am a non-hijabi but I am more hijabi than most hijabi worn ladies (not sounding arrogant). I see flirtatious and deceitful hijabis able to find a man they wish to get married to easily. Whereas I have always lived a modest life with haya and I can’t find/get a decent guy that’s attracted to me for my personality but is only attracted to my face. I know this is not related to the topic on this forum but had to share my thoughts.

  11. Avatar

    Uzair Zubairi

    October 21, 2019 at 4:17 AM

    Salam 3lyki sister.
    Thanks for the great article. Its definitely a big problem which needed some spotlight.

    I Just wanna point out though that words like “unfortunately” “luckily” or “unlucky” are shirk as explained by the mashaikh.

    Other than that its definitely a great article. I think it ties into the wider debate of the role of internet in our lives and how to harness its potential while curtailing its harms. Its clear that internet is like a knife. You can use it to stab your neighbour or you can use it spread peanut butter on your toast. In other words it makes it easier to achieve your aim wether that aim is good or bad. Bad people can hide behind the mask of internet and do things which theyre scared to do openly.

    And I guess this problem/blessing that internet is will only grow as we become more and more connected to internet and technology. So i think the only solution is for us to educate ourselves on how to keep ourselves safe online because the truth there are bad people out there who wish you harm and they are not few in number. So you have to get better at recognising them, reporting them, or taking other defensive measures.

  12. Avatar

    Jennifer

    November 1, 2019 at 2:16 AM

    I am not a Muslim and I’m not even sure why this page showed up in my Google feed but I am a woman and I know exactly what the author is talking about. I have found in my 53 years that men are men are men are men-some of the most disgusting men I’ve ever met were married churchgoers with kids at home. I’ve known atheist men and Jewish men and mormon men who can’t help but comment on a woman’s looks or size or whatever. I used to attend a meet up with my husband and made several good friends there, but then a college age man started coming and was stalking me. It got so bad that I just had to stop going to the meetups. No matter what I or my husband said to him it made no difference and when it was obvious I was not interested in him as a boyfriend he decided to post horrible things about me on the communities website. I used to have a neighbor who everyone thought was the most upstanding amazing husband and father. Then one evening when my husband was away on work he came over and proposition to me and when I told him to go home he told his wife that I had flashed him and come on to him. She believed him and not me and so I had to live with the neighborhood thinking that I was a Jezebel throwing myself at this woman’s husband while my own husband was out of town. So yeah, it’s men. It doesn’t matter what we wear or how we act, in their minds it’s never their fault for being creeps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

#Society

The Culture Debt of Islamic Institutions

The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Our community institutions are in debt – cultural debt. And the bill is due.

There are major consequences when the bill comes due on a debt you owe. Personal debt can lead to bankruptcy or foreclosure and the loss of your home.

If paid off before the bill comes due, debt can be a tool. Many communities in North America have utilized the qardh hasanah (goodly loan) as a way to expedite construction projects and then pay people back over time. When businesses fail to pay debt back, they are forced to liquidate and go out of business to satisfy their creditors. In extreme cases, like the economic crisis of a few years ago, major institutions repeatedly utilizing debt as a tool became over-leveraged, creating a rippling collapse.

Financial debt is not the only type of debt an organization carries. Every decision made by an organization adds to a balance sheet of sorts. Other types of debt can be technical, or even cultural.

Consider a new company that keeps making the decision to cut corners with their technology infrastructure – creating ‘technical’ debt. At a certain point, the infrastructure will need to be replaced. If not properly planned for, the cost to fix it could cripple the company.

Put another way, impatience and short-term decision making create (non-financial) debts that can destroy an organization.

The cultural debt for an organization, especially Islamic organizations, can be the most devastating.

These decisions may appear rational or well-intentioned compromises, but they come at a cost.

For example, if a community prioritizes money into a construction project instead of an imam or youth director, what is the cost of the compromise? A 5-year construction project means an entire segment of youth who will be aged anywhere between 13 and 18 risk being disconnected from the masjid.

What about the cost of marginalizing the one sister on the board multiple times such that other sisters become disenchanted and unengaged. Or what if the marginalized board member is a youth, or a convert, or a person of color? How is the collateral damage to those segments of the community assessed?

What about when the same 2 or 3 people (even without an official title) remain in charge of a masjid and aggressively push out people not in line with their agendas? Dedicated and hard-working volunteers will end up leaving and going to other communities.

What about when a few people are responsible for creating an environment so toxic and exhausting that volunteers don’t want to come to the masjid anymore? And they get so burned out that they refuse to get involved in a masjid again? Who is going to pay the bill for all the talent that’s been driven away?

What is the spiritual debt on a community that refuses to invest in an Imam or scholar for over 10 years? An entire generation will grow up in that masjid without a local resource to take guidance from. What is the impact on those kids when they grow up to get married and have their own children?

What is the cost of having overly-aggressive daily congregants who yell at people, make people feel uncomfortable, and ultimately make them want to stay away from the masjid?

Will the construction committee that decided to build a customized dome instead of a more adequate women’s prayer space ever make it up to them?

What is the cost on a community of building a massive albatross of a school that can’t cover its own overhead – and yet services less than 5% of a community’s children?

What is the cost on a congregation when the Friday khutbah becomes associated entirely with fundraising instead of spiritual development?

Did anyone plan to repay this cultural debt when they were making decisions on behalf of the community? Who is paying attention to it?

Some communities are able to shift, and make strides. Some communities are able to recognize a larger vision for growing and developing a community spiritually.

For other communities, they are now over-leveraged. The culture debt is due. To continue the financial analogy, they’re at the point of declaring bankruptcy.

These are the masjids that are empty. These are the ones where, pardon the crassness, after a few people die off, the masjid will most likely die out as well because there is no community left to take over.

These are the communities that people avoid, where they refuse to volunteer, and eventually where people stop donating.

The culture debt of the community is that people no longer feel a part of the community, and therefore the infrastructure they worked so hard to build will crumble.

Cultural bankruptcy is the loss of people.

Can the culture debt be repaid? Is there a way out? How do you undo the loss of people?

I was really hoping to have a nice and tidy 5-step action plan to fix this. The reality is, it’s not going to be easy. People don’t realize the collateral damage they’ve caused over the course of 10-20 years despite the good intentions they had.

How do you get them to accept responsibility, much less change?

It’s not going to happen. The change will be outside the masjid. This means there will be a continued rise in third spaces. Parents are using online tutors instead of Sunday schools, making their children even less attached to the masjid. There will be an increase in small groups of families getting together in their homes instead of the masjid to try and build a sense of community. There will be an entire generation of new adults who will not even desire an attachment to the masjid beyond the Friday and funeral prayers.

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them)

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them).Click To Tweet

We all see the masjids in our community that have been hit hardest by this culture debt. They’re the ones that used to be full and are now empty – while the same 2 or 3 people remain in charge for literally decades. They’re the ones that we fear will eventually close down or be sold off due to a lack of any real community – because the community was never invested in to begin with.

Those in positions of influence should seriously take account of the consequences of their actions on the community. Recognize the wrongs that were done and do your best to rectify them. At the least, seek forgiveness for the ramifications of your actions.

We can no longer make the excuse of having to do what we had to do in order to get institutions up and running from scratch. As the saying goes – what got you here won’t get you there. The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

And now we see the consequences of those decisions. The culture debt is due, and we might not be able to pay it back.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

#Life

I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

A predator on Instagram posing as a hijab modeling consultant, going by the name of @samahnation, tried to prey on me- an underage, 16-year-old. We don’t know if the photos on Instagram page have been stolen from a victim. These predators operate under various names.

instagram predator
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal  account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me. 

I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility. 

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company. 

Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet

I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make. 

I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.



I decided to play along with it and test her. 

I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime. 

hijab modeling scam

Thankfully, I was apprehensive during the entire ordeal, but as you can see, this type of manipulation is so real and possible for young women and girls to fall prey. This experience was honestly quite scary and jarring for me. I was so easily distracted by what she was portraying herself as on her profile. She had a GoFundMe for a masjid in her bio and posts of photos depicting her love for her baby.
predator

I began to do some research. I stumbled upon an article about a ‘Hijab House’ model scam. Using the title of ‘consultant director’ for a well-known hijab company, Hijab House, predators were allegedly preying on young girls in Australia. Hijab House has denied any link to this scam. 

Hijab House model scam

 

The predator went as far as to blackmail and pressure their victims into sending nude photos, or doing crazy things like smelling shoes! Eerily enough, @samahnation’s Instagram bio stated that she was based in Melbourne, Australia.


The more I engaged with this predator, the more ludicrous their responses and questions got. And this happened within the span of 24 hours. 

She went as far as to ask me if I would answer questions for a survey, saying all that mattered was honesty and that the purpose of the survey was to make me uncomfortable to see if I “won’t fall under pressure.”

Clearly, this last statement about being a speech analysis specialist was a complete fabrication. Again, may I reiterate that even older people can fall prey. You don’t have to be young and impressionable, these manipulative perpetrators will do anything to get what they want.



As shown below, the situation reached an obscene level of ridiculousness. You can see clear attempts to gaslight me and pressure me into answering or changing my stance on my replies.


This was the last thing I said to the predator before I blocked and reported them in an attempt to get them caught. Observe how as soon as I called this person out they immediately became defensive and tried to manipulate me into thinking that what they were doing and asking me was completely normal- that I was the crazy one for asking for proof. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. They had asked me questions I found too lewd to even answer or take screenshots of.

This bizarre encounter was honestly astonishing. I do not even know if I was talking to a man or a woman.

Alhamdullilah, I am so glad because even if I was a little bit gullible, I was aware enough about predatory behavior that I didn’t fall victim to this perpetrator. I am especially grateful for my mother, who has educated me about predators like this from a very young age; whom even in her drowsy state was able to tell me it was a preposterous scam.

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

I am grateful for having an open channel of communication, that my relationship with my mother is based on trust and I could go to her when this occurred. This is a reminder and a learning opportunity for all of us how these scary things can happen to anyone. We must learn how to take caution and protect ourselves and our (underage) loved ones against such situations.

Sis, please talk to your parents. They love you and will be your first line of defense.

Grooming

Grooming is a very common tactic online predators use to gain the trust of their victim. According to InternetSafety101, young people put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know on a personal level. “Internet predators intentionally access sites that children commonly visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.

If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate it to the child.”

These tactics lead children and teens to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.

Predators will:

* Prey on teen’s desire for romance, adventure, and sexual information.
* Develop trust and secrecy: manipulate child by listening to and sympathizing with child’s problems and insecurities.
* Affirm feelings and choices of child.
* Exploit natural sexual curiosities of child.
* Ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography.
* Flatter and compliment the child excessively, send gifts, and invest time, money, and energy to groom the child.
* Develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling, and upon which the child becomes dependent.
* Drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents and friends.
* Make promises of an exciting, stress-free life, tailored to the youth’s desire.
* Make threats, and often will use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into silence.”

Gaslighting 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? 

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. “Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” writes Dr Stephanie Sarkis. 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? Click To Tweet

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

Second guessing. Are you constantly second guessing yourself when talking to this person or questioning your own morals that you wouldn’t have thought twice about otherwise? For example, when this person popped up in my inbox I wouldn’t have thought twice about blocking or just deleting the message if it was a man but, since it seemed to be a woman I was duped into thinking that it was more acceptable or I could trust them more.

Feeling as if you are being too sensitive. Again I cannot emphasize this enough that you must trust your instincts, if you are feeling uncomfortable and your internal alarm bells are ringing- listen to them! Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting or manipulation. 

Feeling constantly confused. Another sign that you may be falling victim to gas lighting is when you are constantly confused and second guessing your thoughts and opinions.

Three takeaways:

1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

#Society

Are You Accidentally Supporting Corrupt Nonprofit Organizations and Charities?

Muslim Nonprofit fiefdoms
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Former Pennsylvania State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell has a compelling story.  Even the State Attorney General, who recently charged her with several crimes, alluded to the pain she experienced in her life.  It was a remarkable story of perseverance after being affected by gun violence, triumph and helping others. Yet, there she is, facing time in prison for using a charity called “MECA” for assorted alleged acts of theft, fraud, and other crimes of dishonesty.

According to the Attorney General, Johnson-Harrell has accepted responsibility for her crimes and is pleading guilty.  She has also resigned from her public office.  Johnson-Harrell has stated she may dispute some charges. She like any other defendant is innocent until the state proves her guilty.

What is also undeniable is that many of the kinds of things the Attorney General accused Johnson-Harrell of are common with nonprofits, both Muslim and non-Muslim.  Indeed, the President of the United States has also done egregious things with his “charity” in New York, undetected by law enforcement despite his public profile, until news media started asking questions. The President faces no criminal charges. 

My purpose here goes beyond Johnson-Harrell’s legal troubles. Instead, it is to help nonprofits and their leaders stay out of trouble and to give donors an essential tool in being a thoughtful donor. We often donate because of “social proof.” Someone invites you to donate online; a friend invites us to a fundraiser, we hear a good speech or testimonial, and we give.

 We often don’t particularly care about accountability. We should. Let’s dig deeper to understand how charities work so that we can be better donors with the limited funds we have to give with excellence. 

The Role of Government Oversight in Charities 

What state a nonprofit is in makes a difference.  The state attorney general typically has regulatory authority over the nonprofit sector.  Charities have tax benefits because of the social good they theoretically provide. But what happens if the charity is not keeping faith with its beneficial role?  If a CEO of an environmental charity pilfers funds for personal use, you cannot reasonably expect a family of ducks to sue. The Attorney General is there for the ducks, the trees, the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the beaches, the works of art, the future poor patients who are not yet poor or sick, and everything else charity should benefit.  At least that’s the idea 

Abuse by nonprofits is a violation of the public trust.  It is public corruption against society and not merely cheating a donor. 

Because of this role, from time to time, you see lawsuits and even criminal prosecutions by state attorneys general for corruption by nonprofit leaders. A high-profile state representative like Johnson-Harrell is an obvious target since prosecuting her lets the rest of us citizens know law enforcement is paying attention. But these lawsuits and occasional criminal prosecutions are rare compared to how rampant nonprofit corruption is. Attorneys General typically don’t put adequate resources into regulating the more than trillion-dollar nonprofit sector. 

Religious Charities Can Usually Get Away With More

In some states, for example, California, religious corporations are exempt by statute from oversight for things like breaches of fiduciary duty. The lack of accountability is remarkable since religious charities can be extremely corrupt, something known to Americans for much of its history.  Exposing religious charity corruption has long been fodder for documentaries and movies. Certain Christian preachers on TV are known to abuse nonprofit status to flaunt extreme wealth with no negative consequences.

People who run religious nonprofits, including Executive Directors and board members, can still be criminally prosecuted, but you usually would not expect it. Various taxing authorities also have authority over charities. The IRS is the primary regulator for charities nationally. For the most part, though, the IRS has been leaving nonprofits, even obviously bad ones, alone. Religious nonprofits, like those classified as “churches,” don’t need to file Form 990s, annual disclosures required for other nonprofits. Therefore much of what these groups activities are opaque to both the government and the public. 

With some notable exceptions, governments and law enforcement at all levels mostly ignore nonprofit corruption. The times they do is typically the exception that proves the rule. 

For the most part, then, sorting out the good nonprofits from the bad ones is left to donors. We all contend with hard-sell data-driven marketing tactics from social psychology.  We don’t usually don’t know how to distinguish between good organizations and bad. 

Look Beyond The Pitch

Stories of nonprofits and their leaders can be compelling. But narratives can also be used to manipulate, distract, and hide. The raw charisma of a speaker quoting Quran and Hadith can be waived up to donors to make them think they are doing good work in the path of Allah when they may sometimes be enabling criminality. Charisma and the power of stories can get us to contribute to causes better than just about anything. 

There are various red flags to look out for, but I will focus on perhaps the most obvious one, an executive of a charity acting as a member of the board. 

No Real Board Accountability

Johnson-Harrell was on her own nonprofit board while also serving as an executive.  This practice was also present at scandal-plagued Ta’leef Collective. State law does not typically forbid a CEO or other employee (like an imam) from being a board member, despite it being a glaring conflict of interest. It has never been nonprofit best practices to have employees oversee themselves since it is a horrible idea on its face.  The only possible real justification for this is when a nonprofit is new, small, all volunteer-run, and there are not enough volunteers or funds available to make accountability a priority.  While there is potential for abuse here, we tend to ignore it out of practicality. 

Now larger nonprofits can have employees, as well as others, with personal, family or business interests with the charity (like a vendor) on the board might point to a “conflict of interest policy.”  Of course every nonprofit should have one in case unexpected conflicts come up.  They are not, however, solutions to self-created problems the organization never needed to have.

Accountability is Hard 

It still begs the question:  Why engage in the reckless practice of having an executive overseeing himself or herself?  Are there no sufficiently qualified people in the Muslim community capable of helping with the board of an organization?  Unlikely. 

What we do know is the main reason Muslim leaders (non-Muslims as well) chose to police themselves is that real accountability is hard, maybe even a little messy. 

You may have heard this story before: An Imam and a Masjid Board have a conflict, resulting in the Imam leaving.  The Imam does not go quietly, though, since he is angry with the board. He tells his supporters (of which he has many in the local community) that boards are incompetent, imbecilic, don’t understand the “youth” or whatnot.  The best way to run a Masjid, you see, is for the Imam to call all the shots. He will usually adorably say all this with the earnestness of someone who feels he is the first person who ever had this insight. Plenty of Muslims believe him and are hurt by whatever petty drama took place at the Masjid last week. They will join his new storefront Masjid, sometimes across the street from the Imam’s former Masjid. 

These are often pop-up institutions born out of vainglorious temper tantrums, built on the foundation of one man and some upset donors who soon move on to chase the next shiny thing, or simply rejoin their old Masjid. Such places typically do not last over the long haul. If you have been around a Muslim community for a few decades, you have seen several come and go.

Badly Governed Respected Institutions 

More of a long-term threat for the Muslim community is when real institutions with staying power with endowments, employees, and buildings go the route of slipshod accountability-free governance where an executive gets to oversee himself.  Eventually, when you set up institutions with plain-as-day opportunities for corruption and abuse, everything can collapse. It happened in a spectacular style for Christian institutions with no real accountability for the people running it (many are still like that).  Many Muslim institutions we all respect that do good work have nonprofit governance so poor they almost seem custom-built for corruption. 

The beautiful Crystal Cathedral outside Los Angeles once boasted a massive endowment, a global TV viewership for its “hour of power” and donor memorials that would last forever.   It fell into bankruptcy because of the same kind of nonprofit governance increasingly common in the Muslim community. Inadequate or non-existent board oversight is a form of structural corruption, even if no abusive practices are currently taking place.  It should be enough of a red flag that someone can abuse authority with no real accountability. Unless we start demanding accountability from Muslim leaders, those we trust our donations to, we should reasonably expect more criminal charges as we saw with MECA, scandals like Ta’leef, and spectacular failures like the Crystal Cathedral. 

Other Board Members May Not Be Much Help

One response by self-interested board members may be to point to the existence of “independent” board members to keep insiders (like the CEO or equivalent) in check.  You should never assume this creates accountability. We cannot stereotype nonprofit boards, of course, and many operate in different ways. I have seen Muslim institutions were board members: 

  •  Have no visibility into the organization’s operations, budget, or much of anything else important. Though they do have meetings and manage to argue about things. 
  •  Never attended board meetings despite being members for many years and did not know if the charity has been having meetings all these years.
  •  Were never informed they were members of the board, despite their names being on public information filings with the state.
  • Helped start the organization as Ph.D. students and got a lifetime membership on the board, but that was decades ago when they lived in the United States.

Those who dislike accountability prefer “straw” board members who are either not present or can be “handled” by management.   A well-known example of this is Theranos, a Silicon Valley “unicorn” startup with a fake blood-testing product. Many supposedly sophisticated investors were reassured when the company stacked its board with famous octogenarians and nonagenarians. None of them knew and did not bother to ask if the entire operation they were overseeing was a fraud

These kinds of board shenanigans generally take place where there is a CEO who is also a board member and would prefer to run things without dealing with pesky difficult questions.  Board members are there for the appearance of accountability but are often little more than seat-warmers. 

It’s Not About a Leader’s “Integrity”

Some Muslim leaders will take a call for accountability as a personal insult to their integrity.  This sentiment is misguided. Instead, it is about building systems that make our institutions sustainable. I don’t know Johnson-Harrell.  However, no Muslim can honestly claim to be better than her, either in intent or commitment to the community.  Yet, without a system of accountability, the fallibility of decent men and women magnifies.

 You need to have a Shura (mutual consultation) in leadership, that is how the Quran advises us to handle our affairs.  A nonexistent or fundamentally insincere “Shura” designed to not hold anyone accountable is asking for trouble.

Muslim nonprofit leaders can find their freedom to spend charitable dollars without meaningful accountability intoxicating. Leaders who you would never think can make severe errors in judgment start to make them.  It only gets worse from there. 

Work in an Islamic charitable institution is bigger than one man or woman.  If you create a charity with no meaningful checks and balances, your work won’t be sustainable. 

Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the first Khalifah, could not determine his salary as the leader of Muslims.  He was always accountable, and as I pointed out in a previous article, he preferred it that way. Muslim leaders should welcome accountability and not think of it as a personal slight when asked about the issue from within the community.

What Board Members Should Do 

If someone entrusted you with oversight of a charity, there are helpful educational resources that can help you be excellent. Use them.  Remove board members with conflicts of interest, especially employees and vendors. 

You need to prepare for and be present at meetings.  Hold the organization and each other as board members accountable.  Don’t be on the board to win anyone’s favor, least of all the CEO or Imam. You have an Amanah (a trust), to make sure the charity is operating with excellence in everything it is doing.   Ask difficult questions that donors will rarely know to ask. Read all financial statements and reports, that is where the mischief happens.  Make sure no executive can “handle” you into submission.  If you cannot do these things, don’t be on the board. 

The common denominator in virtually all nonprofit corruption cases is executive domination. Don’t be used.

What Donors Should Do

Encourage charities you like that have weak governance to change their practices. Uncritical support can enable structural problems, which can be destructive to the organization over the long term. Sometimes, the best contribution you can make to an organization is to encourage them to reform their governance. You can do this as a small donor. Don’t expect major donors to request such changes. 

You may not know much about the organization’s finances or how good or bad the organization’s operations are. However, you do know an employee or vendor is on the board of a charity is a signal the organization is uninterested in holding its leaders accountable. There are plenty of good charities worth supporting. If the charity remains stubborn about not allowing accountability, move on to the next one. 

 

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

Trending