By HIBBA MAHMUD
September 25, 2017
“With the glorification and “celebrity” status of Imams and Sheikhs, people often hold them on a pedestal and don’t realize that these people are humans at the end of day.”
This article intentionally mentions no names of the people and figures involved in this case in order to protect their privacy and not to further sensationalize this issue.
At this point, I am sure that all of the Muslim community on Facebook has seen the “scandal” involving a very public Muslim figure and very large accusations. While these accusations have been spreading for some time, this is the first time they were made public, condemning the speaker and attacking his character through a lengthy Facebook status by an “old friend”.
Immediately, this post was shared throughout Facebook and various people had their own commentary and input. The Facebook post stated how the speaker had inappropriate relationships with women and violated many contracts and trusts that he had within the community.
The fact of the matter is that no one except the parties involved know what actually happened. In a matter of minutes, people began to post visceral commentary about the speaker and condemning him to possibly being a sexual predator.
The post itself was vague describing the speaker to have inappropriate relations which implied a plethora of things, while people assumed the worst.
One day later, a website was made to expose the speaker with screenshots of alleged conversations between the speaker and the various women including his current wife. These screenshots seemingly showed the speaker threatening the women to stay quiet, flirting with the women and telling multiple women that he is serious about them. Some even involved shirtless images.
To the non Muslim reader: flirting or having any sort premarital or extramarital relationship is considered inappropriate and forbidden by most scholars and Islamic sources.
Now, this is an extremely charged topic and very personal for many as it involves alleged abuse and misconduct from a teacher and mentor. The prominent scholar has a large social media following of millions of people who support him and look to him as a mentor and advisor in all matters of Islam. He was particularly popular with the youth as people found him relatable and friendly regarding religious topics.
The original post claims that he shared the issue because it was a breach of contract and he needed to alert the world about the dangers of the speaker and his “predatory” nature.
Since then the speaker released his own statement claiming that these are false accusations and this matter is being handled legally.
After the exposing website was made, the online fight between supporters and accusers became even larger as this became just another war between social media users. Many people claimed that the conversations and screenshots were doctored and altered to incriminate the speaker of his misconduct, while others were shocked and horrified after seeing this evidence.
The sharing of this post created a social media frenzy as people were attacking his integrity without knowing any of the facts and even after proof was released, the fight was magnified to a global scale even airing on major tv channels in Muslim majority countries.
Some people point out that the text messages and relationships were mutual so the women are not victims. They knew very well who the speaker was and his position. They also accepted the bribery he offered. While some counter that by discussing the power dynamics and the position of the male speaker. They say he abused his power.
However, another question to ask is, though the societal power dynamics are at play, why is a woman always seen as weak, helpless and prone to victimization? Especially by vocal feminists?
We need to question whether the “dragging” of this figure is beneficial in any way, shape, or form? Will attacking the alleged party bring any justice to the women and shed light into their struggles? Both the supporters of the figure and the condemners are viciously involved in a discourse where there isn’t any right or wrong.
His crime was inappropriate flirtation, blackmail, bribery and abusing his power and influence. According to Islamic principles and law, that sin is not worth public exposure and not enough to say that the public must be warned. Majority of the Muslim population has been involved in relationships that would be considered inappropriate. They are simply not exposed.
People were throwing in claims of homophobia, anti-trans, Anti-Shiaism, Wahabism, when those issues and conflicts had nothing to do with the accusations at hand. People attacked his character and those like him, condemning all men to trash, which frankly is not a suitable fix to the problem. Generalizing about all men and calling them names will not stop the men who commit heinous acts against women.
It is no secret that abuse and sexual misconduct is prevalent within religious institutions in all faiths and often times it is brushed aside and silenced. Particularly in the Muslim community, a lot of cultural practices are known to scrutinize a woman who is abused and to dismantle her narrative. Women are constantly silenced while enduring abuse as many people believe that their integrity will be tarnished if they speak up.
This is wrong and we need to make women feel accepted to speak up regarding abuse and misconduct. We should listen to their narrative and take measures to protect other women from the same situation.
We need to create safe spaces for women to share their experiences but also have training sessions for all figures in Mosques and community centers.
However, attacking this figure and shaming him for this will not reverse the abuse of power those women endured, but it will attempt to ruin the man’s career, destroy his family and create a divide, if it already hasn’t between the Muslims. This is a time that we need to unify and devise collective solutions for all local Mosques and community centers in the United States, not have social media wars.
These were all social media commenters who added fuel to the fire and simply escalated a private matter that should have been disputed with the parties involved and not an audience of millions.
Whether we admit it or not, we did shame the speaker for matters in his own personal life and that shouldn’t be justified. His actions shouldn’t be justified either and he should be held accountable if guilty, but commenters who have no association to him cannot make that happen. With every issue that occurs, we should use rationale as to how to approach the matter and what changes we should make in our lives to prevent these issues in the future.
While social media has many benefits it has many dangers as in a matter of seconds, someone’s dignity can be destroyed through a single comment.
With the glorification and “celebrity” status of Imams and Sheikhs, people often hold them on a pedestal and don’t realize that these people are humans at the end of day.
All humans are erroneous and prone to making mistakes. It just happens to be that a public figure’s mistakes are cinematic for the whole world to see and criticise. The issue arises when we celebrate these people so much that we don’t realize that they too have good days and bad days and they aren’t immune to error.
We simply shouldn’t hold anyone on a pedestal and expect them to stay away from sin and misjudgement.
There were people leaving death threats to the users sharing the original post as they couldn’t handle anyone incriminating their favorite scholar. The idolization of this public figure is wrong in so many ways, but mainly because people are blindly defending him without knowing him but also the people who have invalidated what he stood for.
His 20 years of work can still be valid and correct even if he himself is guilty and immoral. His message and what the listeners took away, should still hold relevance and ground as he did study the words of God and promote his message. With all scholars and teachers, we should take away from their message without idolizing them and associating the beliefs with the person.
We shouldn’t treat any Imam as a celebrity for this very reason and anyone committing crime or mistakes shouldn’t ruin the message even if the person is corrupt.
Perhaps he didn’t practice what he preached, but the preached message was important and we shouldn’t change what we learned because of what he did. The speaker may be considered hypocritical and fraudulent, but his message and life’s work is still valid and correct.
There was a contract of some sort stating that the speaker will stay away from all religious centers and seemingly disappear off social media. But if he did indeed breach the contract, why not succumb him to legal ramifications without publicly blasting him?
These conversations and the abuse of power should not be excused in any way at all, but it also shouldn’t be revealed for the public to gawk at, just as they would gawk at any celebrity gossip. Facebook was not an appropriate platform for the accuser and the speaker to release their respective statements.
People used this as an excuse to bash each others and Islam without realizing that these women involved aren’t going to benefit from this.
While none of us will ever know the full truth, we can only pray for a change in the community and a chance to rectify what we have concealed for years. We should stand by our community but also question whether our actions are providing anything positive. We should stand by women in our communities who feel like they can’t speak and provide them with support and counseling through their trauma.
It is very easy for us to sit behind a keyboard and get heated and escalate the issue, without knowing what fully happened. People on both sides have been throwing words and spewing rhetoric without fully exemplifying the legitimacy of their claims. Again, no one knows the truth but the damage is done. There is new evidence and developments to the case consistently, so there is no conclusion to this piece. What comes with publicity and fame, is the airing out of all your personal business both factual and fallacious.
Click HERE for all victims and survivors of abuse to seek possible counseling and help with trained professionals.