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Podcast: Uncovering the Wolf in Shaykh’s Clothing | Danish Qasim

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Spiritual abusers are con-artists, and if they were easy to spot then they would be far less successful. In this episode, we talk to Danish Qasim about how to recognize spiritual abuse, what behaviors make us susceptible to it, and what knowledge can protect us from it. Danish Qasim is the founder of In Shaykh’s Clothing, an organization dedicated to cult exit and recovery for Muslims worldwide.

“If we think the way that an average person thinks, this won’t make a lot of sense, but you have to think as someone who loves attention, loves to be adored, and is themselves spiritually deluded, because spiritual delusion is very common in these groups. The whole job of a shaykh murabbi, a guiding shaykh, in correct sufism is to guide someone through spiritual experiences. If a person is not guided, or does not remain humble or grounded, they become deluded.”

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“As Muslims we have the Shariah. Sticking to the canonical religion- something that everybody has access to, which everybody is under, is what allows a religion to function without being a cult. You get into cult stuff when the rules are haphazard, they can change based on dreams, or based on the whims of the leader.” 

Spiritual abusers are con-artists, and if they were easier to spot then they would be less successful.Click To Tweet

“You have people who end up thinking they’re the Mahdi, or one of the great awliyyah, and things of that nature because they have high levels of spiritual experience. But spiritual experience is not limited to Muslims, you can have Hindus and Buddhists and mushrikeen who have these “unveilings,” but that doesn’t mean that one is closer to Allah. People will use these experiences as some kind of proof of being closer to Allah, when that’s nowhere at all in our Shariah. It’s nowhere at all, but they’ll have these experiences and then try to feel it into existence.” 

“If we think the way that an average person thinks, this won’t make a lot of sense, but you have to think as someone who loves attention, loves to be adored, and is themselves spiritually deluded, because spiritual delusion is very common in these groups. The whole job of a shaykh murabbi, a guiding shaykh, in correct sufism is to guide someone through spiritual experiences. If a person is not guided, or does not remain humble or grounded, they become deluded.

I tell people to look into what a demagogue is. Just like you can recognize that in Trump, you should be able recognize it in a shaykh as well. Never give up your better judgement.Click To Tweet

You have people who end up thinking they’re the Mahdi, or one of the great awliyyah, and things of that nature because they have high levels of spiritual experience. But spiritual experience is not limited to Muslims, you can have Hindus and Buddhists and mushrikeen who have these “unveilings,” but that doesn’t mean that one is closer to Allah. People will use these experiences as some kind of proof of being closer to Allah, when that’s nowhere at all in our Shariah. It’s nowhere at all, but they’ll have these experiences and then try to feel it into existence.” 

Related Reading

Spiritual abuse often begins with hard-to-spot precursors, with manipulators exploiting grey areas and blurring boundaries to confuse targets.Click To Tweet

Spiritual abuse often begins with hard-to-spot precursors, with manipulators exploiting grey areas and blurring boundaries to confuse targets. For example, when setting someone up for illicit relations or secret marriage, teachers may begin with inappropriate jokes that lower boundaries.

They may touch others in ways that confuse the person touched as to permissibility, for example, men touching women on their hijabs rather than direct skin. They may inappropriately touch someone in ways that leave him/her wondering whether or not it was intentional.  Who Can we Trust? | Danish Qasim


We need to come to terms with the reality that shaykhs can be abusers. In some cases when we hear of spiritual abuse we attempt to comfort ourselves that it was not perpetrated by a ‘real shaykh.’ Or we may tell ourselves that the abuse was the doing of a daai (preacher) or someone who is called shaykh, but would not be considered a scholar in the Muslim world. Or we may tell ourselves that this person has a lot of knowledge, but lacks suhba (companionship) of a true shaykh, and thus did not take the means to spiritually develop along with his knowledge. Is the Knowledge Tainted? | Danish Qasim 


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. A Code of Conduct to Protect Against Spiritual Abuse | Danish Qasim


We need to come to terms with the reality that shaykhs can be abusers. In some cases when we hear of spiritual abuse we attempt to comfort ourselves that it was not perpetrated by a ‘real shaykh.Click To Tweet

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


The scenario is becoming more prevalent: the person you trusted with your spirituality, inspiration, and maybe even secrets, turns out to be tragically corrupt. The man who gives lectures about how to treat women is a vicious womanizer. The televangelist who inspires millions to be better people can’t find the inspiration in his own personal life to not exploit vulnerable fans or oppress his family.

This is one of the most difficult tests to one’s faith: how could someone who embodied the faith to me be so corrupt despite all of his knowledge? Is something wrong with the religion? What Do I Do When I Find Out My Favorite Preacher Is Corrupt? | Imam Omar Suleiman

The very idea of a secret marriage defeats the purpose. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to publicize the marriage for so many different reasons. One of them is that the man with a secret second wife often may have seven or eight other “second wives.” In a very awkward scenario that I witnessed a few years ago, a brother in the community sought the help of an Imam to pursue a sister who was secretly married to that very same Imam. Infidelity and Misplaced Blame in the Muslim Community | Imam Omar Suleiman

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Zeba Khan is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org and the producer of the newly launched Muslimmatters Podcast, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate. In addition to having a child with autism, she herself lives with Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, Dysautonomia, Mast-Cell Activation Disorder, and a random assortment of acronyms that collectively translate to chronic illness and progressive disability.

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