Concerning “Blurred Lines: Women, ‘Celebrity’ Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

Ustadha Zaynab Ansari has written an article concerning some of the injustices that female scholars and students of Sacred Knowledge experience.

It can be difficult to believe some of the things mentioned since they tend to occur in private. While there are good reasons to be suspicious of an individual report, the fact that there are numerous reports from unrelated women concerning different men is a very strong indicator that something is going on.

It is very easy and convenient to dismiss the types of behavior mentioned in the article or to shift the blame to the women involved out of our ḥusn al-ẓann towards teachers. We feel a strong bond with our sheikhs and teachers. We do not feel a similar bond with a girl who is a stranger. But suppose if, instead of a strange girl, it was your own daughter or sister came to you, bruised and crying, claiming that Famous Sheikh Fulan had abused her? Would you callously write it off as the crazy and vindictive rantings of a spiteful and no-longer-so-naive little girl? No. Your blood would boil. Ustadha Zaynab is no stranger and neither are the women she writes about. Rather, she and they are our sisters and daughters.

My point is not that you should now go out and give Famous Fulan a taste of vigilante “justice” – because that is both unlawful and unjust. Rather, my point is that before invoking ḥusn al-ẓann we need to humanize both the accuser and the accused, and we need to place them on equal ground. We will never fix this situation so long as people continue to sweep our sister’s stories under the rug and to automatically side with our brother just because of a position he holds in our hearts and communities.

Something else to keep in mind is that Ustadha Zaynab’s message is not to call women to abandon teaching and studying Sacred Knowledge from male teachers. Neither does she say that most males in the community engage in these activities. She continues to interact with male scholars. Clearly, that’s not the outcome she is after.

None of us wants Ustadha Zaynab to have written this article. But there’s something wrong here when the people see the very existence of her article as the problem – and not the occurrence of the types of events that are the article’s subject. A wrong is a wrong even if it remains concealed or uncaught.

You should read Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse. When you do, your focus should not be on identifying the people involved. Instead, focus on what we need to do to ensure that these things stop.

  • Salam Alaykum,

    Not sure where this “lands” with regards to the above, but there is something of the opposite as well: Young girls and women who really do fall in love with “celebrity Shaykhs” or “celebrity speakers”, or who throw themselves at the feet of their already married teacher (spiritualist or ‘exoteric’, whichever one) – we hear of this also more than what we would like. But yes, even this has to do with the interconnection of modernity [technological and ideological] with Islamic teachers and followers.