Sheikh Faraz Rabbani vs Ustadh Abu Eesa: Moral highgrounds

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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.”

[al-Hujuraat 49:11]

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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23 thoughts on “Sheikh Faraz Rabbani vs Ustadh Abu Eesa: Moral highgrounds

  1. The problem is not with how Sheikh Faraz Rabbani reacted this time. The problem is that Seeker’s Guidance is consistently politically correct, whether it agrees with the truth or not. Hence, it gives those who would like to side with the out-of-character humour reason and justification to dismiss the criticism as disingenuous.

    • It’s this comment that sounds disingenuous. I love the smear of “politically correct” as it used by redneck right-wing thugs and reactionary Muslims and self righteous members of the commentariat so easily to dismiss attempts at reasoned and measured debate, It begs all kinds of questions, but takes away from the only issue at hand: the profound daftness and lack of adab displayed by someone who claims the mantle of Adab Director for a major global Muslim organisation (Almaghrib).

      • Wow, how many slurs can you put in a single comment? Instead of discussing the issue at hand, you mudsling. Bravo!

      • (to moustafa) there may have been a slur in this, but there is also a lot of reason.

        ignore the labels for a moment and consider what the brother has to say.

    • Slurs? I don’t think so. But we’ll just disagree on that. You made comments which call for qualification and explanation and you offer neither. Don’t throw around the catch-all, lazy “slur” of political correctness if you are not willing (or able) to talk it through. With respect.

      • I am most definitely willing to talk it through. However, I don’t want to hijack this particular article with a criticism of SG, especially since the good that they do far outweighs any harm. Yes, I stand by what I said: they have promoted political correctness at the cost of academic honesty more than once. Usually, I reply directly to them immediately. If you follow the Sheikh on Facebook, you will notice my comments. That is the correct, context-sensitive place for such a discussion.

  2. I think your article has made some interesting points. However, just to err from the topic of discussion if I may, you touched on the topic of scholarship. To quote you…

    ‘No criteria in which officially qualifies someone to be given the right to sit in front of students and teach’.

    And herein lies a side point which I feel needs to be explored further by Muslims in the West. What is it that makes somebody a Scholar? What is the yardstick that we as lay people measure Islamic Scholarship? What qualifies somebody to teach others?

    Unfortunately, much if the problem lies with us as lay Muslims. Because we cannot recognise true scholarship (perhaps because few of us have experienced it), we don’t know what it is. I think this is something Muslims need to grapple with.

    • Salaam Alaikum,

      Your comment is a vitally important question that people unfortunately seem unable to tackle.

      What makes someone an Ustad or Sheikh? What learning to they need to undertake to obtain this title?

      If we want an Ulema which is representative of our community (and we sorely do), the path to becoming one of the Ulema needs to be clearly signposted.

      The next huge issue is one of accountability. Let us say that 99% of Shayukh are good. What do we do about the 1% who may be harmful and abusive? What mechanisms are in place to protect the community from abusive leadership?

      Finally, returning to the excellent main post, someone in Abu Eesa’s fb comments saw fit to make the following comment:
      “If women stayed in the kitchen more, they wouldn’t get raped”.

      Not only is such a comment completely ignorant of the high rates of rape occurring in domestic situations, but it illustrates exactly why rape is nothing to joke about.

      • ASA.

        I think the idea that scholarship can be “obtained” or “bought” is the problem. This is not a Muslim problem, but a very global and academically present problem. Scholarship is earned. This is my biggest qualm with the idea of scholars today; a scholar does a PhD. not make. If we want to tackle this problem, Muslims should begin reading history, and what the true ideal of scholarship was.

        I’ll give you a hint, the title was earned in a similar fashion to how the title of “man” was earned. We have a lot of boys today, but little men.

        Secondly, you are very generous to our community if you think the percentage make up of good:bad Shuyukh is 99:1. If this was the case, we wouldn’t be discussing the point you made of how to hold the bad ones accountable.

  3. Perhaps Abu Eesa’s jokes do more than you think to snap Muslims out of the narratives of “negative stereotypes and misogynistic projections” that have been forced upon us. If there’s anything to be sad about, it is the unquestioning, irresponsible acceptance of those very enforced narratives that give rise to such an attack of his chosen method of defiance. It is a great victory for those working against Islam and Muslims to paint him (and others who have done far more at the grass-roots level for women’s REAL rights than their armchair critics) as a misogynist proper in the eyes of the ignorant and foolish masses on account of such statements.

  4. Logical breakdowns always amaze me. So, it’s not ok to correct publicly-made misogynistic comments by a so-called Muslim scholar… but it IS ok to correct the sound scholar addressing the teachings inconsistant with Islam? The Prophet (sali wa salam) told us to joke with truth, and not to criticize others. Perhaps Abu Eesa forgot heaven is at the feet of mothers (i.e. a woman). Furthermore, to claim that Abu Eesa was actually challenging negative stereotypes by making comments with negative stereotypes is ridiculous. It’s not about being “politically correct” or standing with your teacher (even when they are wrong). It’s about standing with what is true and good and praiseworthy. May Allah reward Sh. Faraz Rabbani and continue to benefit the ummah through him and his sound example.

  5. In my short life I have had a few instance of knowing Sheikh Faraz. It’s hard not to notice the prophetic fragrance that is spread from his private and public behaviour. May Allah bless him and his family.

  6. I respect their honesty and I don’t think they should be corrected. To do so is disingenuous. Bigotry is bigotry, better it have a public airing than be kept under the table. A common prank teenagers pull is to steal road signs warning people of danger and some people drive into water, drive over bridges that are damaged, etc. These comments are warning signs of hate disguised as holiness…why on earth would any one want to remove the warning.

  7. My problem is not that Faraz Rabbani criticized Abu Eesa, but the fact that it came off more as being opportunistic rather than taking a moral high ground. Lets face it, both scholars come from competing Islamic Educational programs (Seekershub and Al maghrib). Both have armies of online muslim followers who would defend them or attack another til the ends of the earth. Both have facebook pages where 1000s of people hang on their every word.

    Islamic scholarship in the west is no longer scholarship but entertainment where our Scholars are seen as celebrities. And like celebrities when they say something crazy and when they go back and forth we gasp and hang on to every word.

    • Sheikh Faraz merely posted an article that explained the harm caused by Abu Eesa’s morally repugnant words. He did not even comment on the article. The problem isn’t that Sh. Faraz “criticized” anyone. The problem is these types of self-proclaimed “scholars” will not accept ANYONE questioning their religious “authority.”

      That is because they never set foot in the classroom except that they were the teacher!

      They have not been properly trained, nor have they been transformed by what they have learned. That is why you have these celebrities with 41,000+ followers on Facebook claiming religious scholarship while they speak and act in a manner inconsistent with the shari’ah and most-beautiful example of our blessed Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace).

      May Allah help this ummah and increase us in [sound] knowledge!
      (Allahuma zidna `ilma)

  8. Nigel, I don’t agree that it was opportunism from Shaykh Faraz Rabbani. I’ve been in touch with him through email since he was a student of knowledge in Jordan, roughly 15 years ago. He has remained the same since then. He took a stand that is consistent with his behavior and with the teachings he has been passing on to us.

  9. Issue is very simple. If Sh Faraz was so hurt/shocked – best course of action from an Islamic perspective is to first seek clarification directly. If Sh Faraz had allowed himself to check, Abu Eesa has a clear disclaimer on his page stating that he ‘walks the line at times’ and if anyone is in any doubt, they should seek clarification (again, in line with Islamic principles). Abu Eesa has personally replied to over 300 private messages over last 2 days to those who have genuine grievances.

    Even then, to allow Sh Faraz benefit of the doubt, he could have written a general comment on correct manners of joking or the dangers of joking exceedingly, etc as other scholars have done.

    However what is wholly irresponsible is for a man of Sh Faraz’s standing to link to an article which is clearly inflammatory and biased in its insinuations and its selective referencing of Abu Eesa’s posts and his character in general. It is also an article which constituted very little religious legitimacy and instead pandered to the usual sickening partisan arena of ‘us vs. them’ (e.g. comparing Imam Suhaib Webb vs Abu Eesa and degrading British scholars in light of American scholars). All in all it was quite a juvenile article written by an obviously hurt sister with liberal feminist leanings. I doubt she bothered to message Abu Eesa privately either.

    In linking to this article, Sh Faraz only added fuel to the fitnah in a very public way without actually trying to redress the issue at heart and that is really sad. It belies, at best, a lack of wisdom and, at worst, an opportunistic dig at a scholar from a rival institution. Years of hard work building his own institution which outwardly teaches students about the manners of differing and excellence in faith can be undone in moments such as these.

  10. All these American “Imams” make me laugh. Got a following ? who call you shaykh or imam? there ya go! Very few scholars in the West have made it through ‘scholar 101 training’ so to set people like Abu Isa off against people like Shaykh Faraz, who have been recognized between the east and the west? well. The West to date has produced a number of remarkable teachers/shaykhs. The number remains small, since the general view is that West is Best and we can all do it so much better than the East? They throw out the baby with the bathwater, as is their wont. So much “Western Islam” chooses to ignore humility in the learning process and work with people who may know more than them, but in a different cultural context. And for what it’s worth? nothing Abu Isa said is actually funny, so how does humor and joking fit into it again?

  11. Pingback: Linksies: Misogynies, Fauxpologies – We Deserve Better Than These

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