Let’s start this conversation one hundred percent honest. I am always wary of Imams, Sheikhs, Scholars, etc. Muslims are always shocked when I say I don’t go to a specific masjid and I don’t follow a particular scholar. But it’s the truth. In my years of being Muslim, I can name on one hand the number of Imams that I personally trust. Unfortunately, I am not alone in my distrust of those in charge of our communities.
My distrust for leadership did not develop in a vacuum. Our community has a problem with our and we don’t want to talk about it. It’s like the elephant in the room; but this elephant is juggling, on a unicycle. Too often our communities act as if our leaders and scholars are infallible teachers. That they can never be wrong, because they have memorized Quran and Hadith. We believe that their knowledge is so strong that their ability to sin, must be next to nothing. I was raised in the Church. It is not exclusive to the Muslim community to have blind faith in leadership. I would see this often with other members of my mother’s church. However, my mother never put her whole faith in her leadership. She always reminded me that man is man. And that though they man know God; they might know KNOW God.
About a month ago the American Muslim community had a scandal come to light. It came out that there was a huge controversy involving speaker, scholar, and teacher Nouman Ali Khan. Nouman is known for his work with his company Bayyinah; as well as his many speeches, lectures and talks. Allegations have been brought against Nouman, about him abusing his power and having improper relations with various women. Though we haven’t heard from these women directly, we have heard from people who were directly involved from the beginning of this situation; including Nouman himself.
Immediately after this story broke, I did what you aren’t supposed to do, and I looked in the comment section. It was what I expected. For the most part, people refused to believe that there was even a chance that Nouman could have done what was being brought against him. Instead, blame was laid at the feet of those who were the potential victims of Nouman.
Whether or not Nouman is guilty the charges brought against him, the comment section proves that our community needs to do some deep reflection. I mean, look at these comments! We hold these teachers, these human beings, up in such a way that is clear shirk. One brother in the comments said the whole world could bring proof against NAK and he would not believe them. Really sir? The whole world? Everyone? You sure? We have become a community that refuses to follow the tenants of our own faith. The Quran mentions several times this is a religion for those who think and reflect. Everything for us is a thinking matter. However, we clearly have fallen into the ways we were warned of.
اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ وَالْمَسِيحَ ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا إِلَٰهًا وَاحِدًا لَّا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ سُبْحَانَهُ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ
They (Jews and Christians) have taken their religious scholars and monks as lords besides Allah, and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him.
These Imams, Scholars and Sheikhs are human beings. They are totally and completely fallible. They can fail us, our communities, our faith, at any time. And they have, often. They can have the best recitation, the best lectures, the best jokes, but that doesn’t stop them from being trash. They can know the Quran backwards and frontwards and still not abide by it. I have literally sat in a room with Imams from around the country and heard an Imam say that domestic abuse doesn’t happen in our community. From his own mouth. I have seen Imams go through wives like a ferris wheel. With no concern for the women or children they threw away. I have seen scholars misbehave. And I’m never surprised because at the end of the day they are all human. I remember their humanity when they are giving lectures. I remember their humanity when they are quoting Quran. Because while the Quran will always be truth, how you use it can enforce a lie. How you use your status and power can be abuse, even if it’s not rape.
But I am surprised that we never hold them accountable. We never ask for better. We never demand more. Often we are told to “hide their sins”. Or lay the blame with victims to save our teachers. I’ve heard people say we should keep things quite so that we look better to non Muslims and they don’t see our problems. We need to stop and we need to do better. Our teachers need to be held at higher standards than we hold the most vulnerable in our communities. Our leaders also have to know that it’s ok to be human. It’s ok to have and make mistakes; but to step away from their positions of power when they do. Not continue to lead when they are in crisis. We need healthy understanding in both directions. Or we are forever lost.