June 5, 2015


“There has been nothing greater in my life after the shahada than following the tariq”
-Sheikh Nuh

There are real sheikhs out there who abuse their students. I think most of the abuse is spiritual and sometimes marital –if a student becomes a wife, and despite some reactionaries I think it is rarely sexual. A simple reason is that men and women have such strict boundaries that physically inappropriate behavior is very unlikely. A man and woman being in a closed room together would ring off alarm bells in the Muslim community. And both parties involved know that sex outside of marriage is blatantly impermissible. This is something we take very seriously in the Muslim community. But men do take advantage of their students through emotional and spiritual manipulation. How often does this occur? I don’t know. Many criticized Ustadha Zaynab for not naming names but I think it is as wise of her not to do so. To name names would be to give the false illusion that if we just get rid of a few bad apples the problem will dissolve itself. But the problem isn’t (just) the particular men engaged in spiritual abuses but the behavior that all men in that position and the women in their lives should be very aware of and make the ultimate effort to carry themselves with adab and avoid the pitfalls of “shaykhy crushes”.

As someone in a tariqa I believe in the value of having a personal guide. I think it’s unfortunate for Ustadha Zaynab’s article to be used as an excuse to “cast suspicion over our teachers” or to no longer venerate them. There are few things greater than taking baya (oath) with a sheikh and dedicating one’s self to a spiritual path. It is not for everyone, but for some like myself would be incomplete without it. People will say bad things about any sheikh, especially if he is popular, as a mureed I would advise anyone considering a tariqa to watch their potential sheikh closely for themselves. When I wanted to become a mureed I went to my sheikh’s wife and she advised me to wait; read the sheikh’s book, listen to his lectures and make istikara before making the decision. Our trust is in Allah and following a sheikh –someone more knowledgeable than you who has been on the path longer than you, is a means to do so.

“Whoever thinks the path is closed should wonder if he has not therefore closed it on himself”
-Sheikh Nuh

Some are under the mistaken belief that there simply are no true sheikhs left. That’s not how God works, the doors of mercy are always open and saints are always among us. There are a lot of rotten people who want mureeds to follow them for their own desires but there are still sheikhs who are teachers only for the sake of Allah. I remember before becoming a mureed listening to a lecture with Sheikh Nuh where he said “Ask Allah to guide you, that is one dua that is always answered”. The solution to the problem of spiritual abuse is not to simply “turn away from our sheikhs” as I’ve seen some readers comment on Ustadha Zayab’s article; it is to turn back to Allah. The Sheikh is a means, not an end. Before I left for home (from Jordan) I went to the Zawiya for the Latifiyyah lecture. As I walked up the steps I became almost frightened, “Where is Sheikh Nuh?!?” I thought. The prominent voice broadcasted throughout the Zawiya wasn’t his. I turn back and started to make my way home until I came across a friend who said to me “You’re coming back, right?” In that moment I said to myself “What are you doing? The tariq is not about Sheikh Nuh it’s about Allah” And I went up and made my dhikr.

“The shariah is higher than the sheikh”
-Sheikh Nuh

One of the signs of a true sheikh is his knowing that the law is above him. And you should know the law is above him. We all have, now more than ever, practical means to learn fiqh. If someone claims to be a sheikh (of any kind) and does not sacrilege shariah, leave them. The very least anyone of us can do is avoid the haram and do the obligatory; a sheikh should be an example and avoid the makruh as well. God’s law is higher than any sheikh and if you want to protect yourself from spiritual abuse you must know the law by which to judge the sheikh’s behavior.

Our community is in desperate need of a religious revival. Anyone who takes Ustadha Zaynab’s article as a means to turn away from shuykuh has come to a dangerous conclusion. The solution to poor human interaction is to improve it, not to end it, especially when what’s at stake is the acquisition of Islamic knowledge, and knowledge is the right of every believer, wherever he finds it, he takes it.


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