Have you read this article, Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari? The article was published by the website, Muslim Matters just several days ago. Sister Zaynab has shed light on something that’s very serious and heartbreaking which is happening in Muslim communities across the country but many of us were unaware until reading her article. There are hundreds of comments in the comment section with many people expressing their thoughts of disgust, anger and disappointment. What was discussed in the article?
Here are two paragraphs that can serve as the summary of this article and the main topics it discusses:
I contend that we have created a toxic environment for our religious leaders: an environment in which the proper boundaries between student and teacher have become blurred, an environment in which misuse of power is rife, and an environment in which women, in particular, are subject to deception and spiritual abuse. I raise this issue, not to cause dissension (fitna) in the ranks of the Muslims, but to warn our leaders, our elders, and our masses that we have to address this social ill before we lose all credibility when it comes to the Qur’anic injunction.
It has recently come to my attention that there are well-known individuals who are using their platforms for more than the dissemination of Islamic teachings. There is evidence demonstrating that these individuals are using their positions in circles of sacred learning to groom, recruit, and entice female followers with promises of marriage, access to Shuyukh, study abroad opportunities, and entrée to exclusive socio-spiritual networks. Under the guise of mentoring, these individuals are engaging in private, unsupervised conversations with marriageable members of the opposite sex. These conversations, carried out in the relative anonymity of cyberspace, appear to run the gamut from fairly innocuous exchanges of biographical information (à la pen pals in the pre-computer era) to material that is merely suggestive to thoughts and sentiments that are wildly inappropriate. For those who want to make the excuse that the conversations are a prelude to marriage, I would merely remind them that the individuals involved in this scenario are teachers of Islamic law and, hence, know full well that there are rules surrounding courtship in Islam. I would also point out that when said teacher is engaging in conversations with multiple women at the same time, we also have a math problem. Islamic law only allows a man to marry four wives, so if the already-married teacher is “courting” multiple women at once, only a certain percentage can expect the relationship to become licit. What then of the remaining percentage? Again, a math problem.
That’s just the some of the main points of the article. To get a better understanding of the entire topic, you’ll have to read it in its entirety here.
When I first read the article, I was saddened that some women are becoming victims of ‘celebrity sheikhs’ by getting stuck in a marriage where she’s not given her full rights as a wife and mother. It angered me. I wondered whose fault is it truly that some of our sisters in Islam are in such predicaments. Is it the so-called sheikhs? Is it the women themselves?
I’ll be honest; in the beginning I blamed the women. Why would a woman put herself in a situation that will make her become a victim? Why did she agree to become a “secret second, third or fourth wife?” were some of the questions that immediately came to my head after I finished reading the article? I felt as though the author put the blame on the men only and did not address the responsibility or lack thereof of the women who put themselves in those bad situations. In reading the comments, I saw that some people felt the same way I did. But I have changed my mind.
I think I have judged these poor women too quickly. Perhaps these are women who were only after gaining knowledge. Maybe they were looking for good, religious husbands to teach them about Islam. Whatever the case, I should’ve thought carefully and looked at things from all angles before casting my judgment. May Allah forgive us all for our mistakes. And may Allah help our sisters in Islam no matter what their struggles or mistakes are. It’s sad to be deceived by someone who calls himself a teacher, leader or scholar of Islam.
Whether we believe the women are responsible for putting themselves in bad marriages or other bad situations or the men, the “celebrity sheikhs,” are the ones who should blamed, the truth is, this entire problem came about due to lack of Islamic education in women. If more women were educated about their rights in Islam and about Islam in general, some of our sisters would not find themselves in such situations where they are becoming “spiritually abused” by anyone.
What can we learn from this as parents?
I really don’t want to put blame on anyone else,again. However, I think if you are a parent and you have read this article, you see the consequences when there’s lack of proper Islamic knowledge. This is even more important for parents with young girls. It is extremely important that you teach your daughters their rights in Islam as a wife, as a human being. In many cultures, young women are left to find their own husbands when it is the responsibility of the parents to be involved in that process. Even worse, some parents don’t even bother talking to their daughters and sons about what is accepted and what is not in a marriage. We should at least provide the correct resources for them to learn from about these topics.
It is up to us parents to teach our kids when they are still young, what is right and what is not right in Islam. To be alone with a “sheikh” is never OK. Alhamdulilah my mother always told me this from a very young age. She would tell me never be the last one to leave a classroom or stay after class even if the teacher asked me unless there were other people there. For that reason, alhamdulilah I always knew when or if one of my male teachers was getting out of line with me. My mother gave me the guidelines to follow and what to do if I ever faced that type of situation.
Technology has made it even easier now days to target young kids. That’s why parents need to give their children clear rules to follow so that even as adults, those rules and guidlines will stay with them. they will recognize when someone is out of line, shaykh or not. They will protect themselves. They will not become victims of any sort, inshaaAllah!