Whilst writing this, Rabia Chaudry from Patheos wrote a great piece on the Abu Eesa dilemma, and expressed excellently sentiments that we too feel strongly about. But like it or not Abu Eesa is hilarious. Except the reason we were laughing were not from his comments, but out of disbelief that this man is bold enough to say what he did. Abu Eesa, in case you haven’t been following online, is a teacher to who recently wrote a status on the International Women’s Day:
Int’l Women’s Day is great, but starting tomorrow, it’s 364 International Men’s Days again, so stick that in your oven and cook it.
Anyway I don’t care how much you hate it or think amazing International Women’s Day is, y’all still can’t drive.
The argument is, in the current climate Muslims are subject to negative stereotypes and misogynistic projections from those outside the fold of Islam, jokes from those within it that exacerbate these misconceptions are just not acceptable. If it is okay for a scholar to be saying such callous comments why can’t everyone else?
The problem of joking (sarcastic or not) in this manner is that it implies sexist connotations through a comedic veneer. The result of such a crass miscalculation is that it normalises misogynistic narratives as acceptable facets of social behaviour. In fact, the effect is so subliminal that impressionable minds don’t even realise the cognitive effect it has on them. Just look at the amount of comments posting similar disrespectful ‘jokes’ on his page. For a religious teacher with a following of 40,000 to think his rogue comments do not have an impact on the countless impressionable minds that look up to him for guidance is reflective of a graver problem in our community.
There are simply no means to regulate the accountability of religious leadership. No criteria in which officially qualifies someone to be given the right to sit in front of students and teach. No accountability when someone errs off the track of what is acceptable and what is not. It’s not difficult to acquire 40,000 followers on social media these days; it is difficult however, to know the adab in fulfilling such a role.
But Shaykh Faraz Rabbani stepped up the plate; Shaykh Faraz posted the link to an article from Patheos discussing the problems one blogger had with Abu Eesa’s posts (an article which the Honesty Policy happens to think SMASHED it). Why is it that commenters are criticizing Sh Faraz for apparently poor judgement in sharing an article that was critical towards Abu Eesa? Why are they telling him that no, perhaps he should have privately messaged Abu Eesa instead of making a public post on his page which might send the wrong message to followers? Why is Sh Faraz being censured in this scenario when Abu Eesa is the one who spoke recklessly in a public forum? Even posting that link was brave of Sh Faraz in light of the resounding silence of other scholars with regards to this matter. Yet, people are actually criticizing Sh Faraz, when Abu Eesa’s words are the ones that are actually problematic, which are being sidelined, ignored or downplayed. I mean really? Why should Sh Faraz or any of us be afraid to speak openly and honestly about how we feel if Abu Eesa does not? Why should we be afraid of how we will be received when he was not? Sh Faraz took a moral stand, when many other Sheyukh didn’t. He’s showed that if we do not stand for something we’ll fall for everything. For those that have the fortune on knowing Sheikh Faraz personally, know that there are few men with such good morals and adab. For him of all people to stand up speaks volumes.
Some say, “but he made those comments jokingly! It doesn’t reflect what a great teacher he really is! It’s been completely taken out of context!” We might accept this if it was a one off slip up; a first time offense demonstrates he is human. But, the second, third and fourth rants demonstrate he is persistent with his insensitivity despite the continued disapproving comments. The cherry on top of the cake, the CREAM around the rasmallai, the SYRUP on the baklava is his attempt to justify his comments after the public outrage. His dire attempts to intellectually back peddle are testament to him personally acknowledging his misconduct but also his stubborn, obnoxious and lack of humility in publically admitting his faults. The sign of a real man is accepting when he has done something wrong or offended others and accepting the responsibility.
The recent LSE atheist who made a t-shirt depicting the Prophet (pbuh) did so because he thought it was a harmless ‘joke’. The subsequent uncontrollable outrage from Muslims proves the ‘idea’ that jokes are ‘harmless’ as a faulty argument. So if we expect others to show us some decorum with regards to things we deem important, we should show respect and sensitivity to theirs too.
O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former.”
Some say “but he says his page is a private space!” Come off it. It is a PUBLIC fan page, where anyone is privy to your updates whether or not they like the page. And he is a TEACHER, an USTADH and an aspiring SCHOLAR. Behaviour such as that is not appropriate of aspiring Ulama. Becoming an Aalim, is a recognition of your status as a guide, teacher and most importantly a role model. It is accepting moral criteria that are superior to those around you. Being bigger for the sake of God. So behaviour that might have been tolerable for some is not under the tenants of religious responsibilities as a teacher.
My immediate contention was that Abu Eesa’s page likes had increased by 5000 since he published his remarks. I did not initially want to write anything out of the fear of giving him more attention than he deserves. But people like this only exist because of the support they get from some of the community and the lack of opposition they face from the rest. If this is true, we need to gather as a community to publicly condemn comments such as this as unacceptable. Jokes like this are toxic, and if we as a community remain passive and do not speak against it then we too are passively sexist.
I shudder to think what Sayyida Khadija the first convert to Islam, Sayidda Summaya the first martyr in Islam, Sayidda Aisha the greatest scholar of her time, and Sayyida Fatima the Prophet’s (pbuh) favourite daughter would have had to say to such ‘harmless’ jokes of being told their places were in the kitchen.
So here’s a call to all Muslims out there, be true to yourselves and speak that truth to power. Do it with respect, with humility, seek out excuses for your brother as we have been taught by our beloved Prophet (pbuh) to do—but remember, our leaders and our scholars are held to a higher standard than you or I. They will be judged by their intentions, as will we, but that doesn’t mean we can condone behaviour like this from those who purport to knowledge. So let us hold each other and ourselves to higher standards. And let us support those leaders who meet them.
Love and blessings to all!
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