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Stop Worshipping Muslim Scholars Who Lie, Judge And Abuse

The message of the Qu'ran is one of freedom, not one of enslavement. It condemns those who fail to listen, to see and to speak out.

09/26/2017 13:00 EDT | Updated 09/26/2017 13:32 EDT
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They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah ~ 9:31

Noted Muslim male leaders have accused celebrity preacher Nouman Ali Khan of sexual misconduct towards his female followers in the U.S. Khan denies the allegations and his thousands of followers seem to be supporting him.

One Muslim imam felt that such cases of moral corruption are becoming more prevalent and emphasized the responsibility of "a shepherd to protect his flock." He is concerned about the spiritual crises such incidents can cause.

Many Muslims are suggesting that religion should not be blamed for the actions of one individual. They are concerned about how Islamophobes exploit such news to further their agenda.

However, such incidents should not surprise us. Our grandmothers warned us about the misconduct of some maulvis (clerics). Many mothers are careful to monitor the Qur'an study of their children with private tutors. Past exegetes like Ibn Kathir also noted how some huffaz (Qur'an memorizers) and clergy members sexually used young boys.

Nouman Ali Khan/Facebook
Celebrity preacher Nouman Ali Khan has been accused of sexual misconduct towards his female followers in the U.S.

The only difference in this case is that the alleged celebrity perpetrator is young, educated and a fluent speaker of English, who caters to an audience in North America.

A simple Google search easily shows many cases of physical and sexual abuse by clerics in Muslim communities across the globe. According to African American Muslim and writer Nakia Jackson, "so-called imams and scholars have preyed on new, young female coverts for decades."

Often such cases are hid based on applying the debauched teaching of satr (privacy on consensual conduct) towards harassment and predatory behaviour of the "pious."

As such, in a culture of victim blaming, it takes a great deal of courage to come out with sexual assault charges. That is perhaps one reason why the Alberta government "I believe you" campaign emphasizes an offer of support to the victim. This is reminiscent of strategies to start conversation with the bullied and ignore the bully to stop feeding his importance.

It should not have to take other cisgender, heterosexual Muslim males to hold Muslim leaders accountable.

This incident teaches us about the responsibility of male privilege, for it is only when other high-profile male speakers isolated one of their own that this case has come under Muslim social scrutiny.

In similar incidents, including high-profile leaders who have made rape jokes, the perpetrators have often been protected against women, caricatured as rabid "feminists" bent on changing the religion of Allah.

However, it should not have to take other cisgender, heterosexual Muslim males to hold Muslim leaders accountable.

It is important to recognize that such a high-profile incident should not be about scapegoating one individual. It should allow us to focus on institutional change against bullying and harassment, especially when high-profile speakers threaten Muslim women and LGBTQ Muslims with apostasy charges for expressing their honest understanding of faith.

It is also important to recognize that the oft-beaten argument against airing dirty laundry and concern on Islamophobia should not paralyze the Muslim community from undertaking much-needed internal change.

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A Muslim wearing rainbow cloth takes part in London's Gay Pride, July 7, 2012.

As such, the issue is as much about change in religious discourse as it is about institutional change. Take for instance, the contempt some Muslim academics and motivational speakers hold against consent.

They frame consent as a Western value and reduce the Islamic equivalent to a paternalistic "not harming the wife" value. This arises from binary thinking as Islam is pitted against Western values.

An intersectional perspective would actually allow neo-traditionalist Muslims to let go of religious supremacism and recognize how the values affirmed by Islam can be recognized under different names.

Islamic religious discourse on consent is available, based on the hard work of many Muslim women academics. Unfortunately, they are often sidelined.

When Muslim scholars like Habib Ali Jifry pontificate that Muslim women should become jurists to claim their rights, they also need to admonish their male counterparts to resist from disrespecting women scholars of Islam.

When barely pubescent boys disrespect academics like Dr. Amina Wadud, who is technically our mother and grandmother's age in the Muslim community, what does it bode for future incidents of harassment?

It speaks volumes when neo-traditionalist Muslims promote lies against Dr. Wadud for receiving a three-year grant to disrupt traditional teachings of Islam.

Jeff Christensen/Reuters
Dr. Amina Wadud (center right) leads a group of women at the first public, mixed-gender Muslim prayer service that was held in New York City, March 18, 2005. Dr. Wadud, is a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. The service was held at the Synod House in New York.

Dr. Wadud is clear in her words that she has received no such grant, that her work is on human dignity, to unveil nuanced readings of the sacred texts and that she would never prioritize conservative interpretation over the texts.

Neo-traditionalist Muslims need to urgently look into the caustic discourse they are promoting. It is like putting lipstick on a pig.

They need to let go of privilege, power and control by letting their minions think for themselves. Indeed, it is this inability to think for oneself that allows followers to mindlessly support their motivational speakers, be it rape jokes or sexual harassment.

Bullies and predators have a knack for projecting themselves as victims. This is true for celebrity preachers when they are called out for their homophobia or sexism.

Often, such celebrities are preaching about issues they themselves grapple with. Khan himself has asserted in his spiels on LGBTQ Muslims that, "how many crazy thoughts go through a teenage boy's mind ... you are saying he the right to act on all of his feelings."

But the message of the Qur'an is not one for sheep. It is a message of freedom, not one of enslavement.

As such, much of Islam that is preached in the cult of celebrity preachers is about quelling inner demons instead of genuine regard for the other. That is why you often find them cautioning against the "dangers" of feminist or LGBTQ Muslims.

In such spaces, people are viewed as sheep that need to be flocked. But the message of the Qur'an is not one for sheep. It is a message of freedom, not one of enslavement. It condemns those who fail to listen, to see and to speak out.

This leaves neo-traditionalist Muslims to decide: When they will they abandon the worship of scholars who themselves are struggling with inner demons? When will they stand up for justice even if it is against themselves?

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