Posted by: Dawud Israel | March 4, 2018

Muslims in the Courtroom

Whether in America or Australia or the UK, Muslims have not gotten along with each other and often ended up in the court-room.

I heard on the radio today that when there are no substantive issues that a political party is working for, then it becomes a battle of egoes and personalities. That is much the same situation with masjid conflicts. There are very few people with grand visions for the Muslim community in the West. No one has ever articulated a hope or a dream for Muslims to strive towards. And yet, there is a river of money that keeps flowing into each masajid. Sooner or later, that river of money attracts scam artists and corrupt individuals until these corrupt individuals outnumber the righteous dedicated folks. And even these righteous people come to feel entitled to a masjid they have devoted decades to as if it is their backyard.

Civil courts generally do not get involved in masjid disputes or financial mismanagement. The way they see it is much like how corporations govern themselves, likewise, mosques often have corporate status and thus are responsible to fix their own problems. Arbitration and mediation from neutral third parties are the best solutions. Civil suits are useless since a secular judge is not in a position to interfere with a religious organization or charity. In any case, a Muslim suing a Muslim and airing our dirty laundry is seen by other Muslims as treason against Muslims. And yet, it is when non-Muslims get involved that Muslims feel ashamed and try to resolve to save face in the broader society.

We don’t have a response to these situations because we isolate ourselves away from mainstream society that we forget our sins are not isolated too; they are public. Likewise, our money cannot be isolated from the non-Muslim society around our mosques we treat as islands and fiefdoms. The government monitors whether our charity ends up in the hands of militants. Most Muslims don’t realize they have a legal right to see how Muslim charities spend their money. In America you can look up online the Form 990 of 501(c)(3) corporations and get an idea of where the money goes and how much scholars earn. Most Muslims may not also realize they have online access to all the legal cases of Muslims suing Muslims or Muslims at criminal trial. Google your country’s name and legal database and search for a Muslim charity or Muslim organization and see what you find.

The courts will get completely involved if there is any criminal activity especially if its sexual assault or fraud like Hajj scams or Islamic banking scams. And the courts are not neutral and unbiased when it comes to minorities. And they do not see care if the suspect is a Muslim scholar. What they are more likely to see is a vindication of the evil portrayal of Islam in the media. And there are hundreds of Muslim names in criminal cases in Western countries. The question should be why we Muslims do not talk about these issues. I recall only one masjid program on violence in the Somali community which is a problem in Canada. How many Youtube bayaans are there for UK Muslims to hear about grooming gangs? Very few, if any.

So when it came to the Nouman Ali Khan controversy we didn’t know how to handle it. Islam has a broad definition of zina and this does not align with sexual assault or rape. A glance can be zina or a woman with perfume could Islamically be considered zina…but for it to be sexual assault or sexual harassment legally in the West, it has to be more than that. The problem with the smear campaign of Nouman Ali Khan’s character is it was couched in language vague enough to suggest anything from a glance or a flirtation to  children out of wedlock. In other words, it was all insinuation and left to the dirty imagination of those who hear the allegations. That is the nature of ifk (slander). There was no way of knowing what the allegations were precisely. Now, if NAK manipulates people, that may be a sin but it is no crime, since that is common in many organizations and workplaces. Islamically, a pushy shaykh is not sinning. If we put a shaykh on a pedestal and then they fall from that, that’s not the shaykh’s fault – its ours. Islamically, many great righteous mashaykh were rough and harsh, because this was part of their tarbiya to their true students. I have heard more than one aalim say that people today are like children – sensitive and fragile – compared to the Muslims of the past. Legally, NAK can burn his organization and alienate his students all he wants. But its the Muslim community that suffers with distrust and alienation. Poison is spread through generations of Muslims and we may not recover. Our deen stays intact but our iman may be weakened, if it wasn’t strong enough to begin with.

That is the formula shaytan will utilize to shake Muslim communities up. And shaytan will likely push our leaders to fall into criminal actions. How we respond is the question.

Recently, I heard that a few of the khulafa of a very famous Naqshbandi shaykh have abandoned him. This disheartened me a great deal since the sufis are the great source of purification for our ummah. When I heard about that and when I hear about the increasing criticism of famous ulema in a time where the Internet hides nothing, I remember learning how Imam an-Nawawi would make sadaqa everyday on his way to his lessons and make dua, “O Allah, veil the faults of my teachers” so that he can benefit from them. And I remember the story of Shaykh ad-Dabbas, the teacher of Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani (rahimullah) would push him into a cold river as part of his tarbiya and how Shaykh Abdul-Qadir wouldn’t say anything. Or how Khidr’s actions were what we would consider criminal actions and Musa (alayhi salam) was justifiably outraged. All in all, there are limits to what our iman can take or what our understanding of deen can tolerate. We don’t know the haqiqa but operate based on our diminutive understanding of what we think the Shariah is supposed to be.

There are 3 questions I believe one should ask when it comes to any Muslim-on-Muslim conflict or criminal allegations/convictions:

  1. Would things have gone differently if the person(s) involved were fasting?
  2. Was istikhara utilized at any point?
  3. Was communal tawba or individual tawba ever done?

Chances are fasting, istikhara and tawba were never even considered. The followers of Musa would all repent together in times of crisis and this is something our righteous do with their congregations. Istikhara is how we navigate the forks in the roads and unchartered territories. And fasting is a shield for us from being pierced by sins and from the poison of our nafs. This are the cures our deen gives us to deal with conflict and avoiding crime.

For my part, I believe we need more Muslim lawyers. And they should be Muslim lawyers that are practicing Islam and studying tasawwuf. Tasawwuf is important because lawyers are prone to arrogance, greed and literalism. Conflict is tempered by reason and morality which are tools of tasawwuf teachings. Sins are surrounded by slippery slopes and human errors. Islamic law can be more merciful and hands-on than secular legal regimes which prefer a hands-off approach. That is because Allah is more encompassing than the state. A famous example of this is the story of Imam Abu Hanifa intervening and defending his alcoholic neighbour before the Sultan. So practicing Muslims are very likely to bring this mercy and healing to their practice of law. Practicing Muslims who understand halal and haram, fiqh, tazkiya/tasawwuf and the grey areas of life already have the cognitive machinery for law school. The courtroom is one place where Muslims need to get the confidence to enter. Courtrooms are places of adab and procedures and it is often adab that can make all the difference when it comes to how we deal with conflict. Our religion talks non-stop of the Day of Judgment when we are summoned to the Divine Courtroom. There is no law of evidence or legal standards on that day nor is there any elaborate legal argument. Only the factual argument of our life story and our heart can sway the Judge that Day. It is full 100% scrutiny and hisab of our entire life. Our lawyer on that day is Sayyidina Muhammad ﷺ. He is the only one licensed before Allah. And only the Qur’an, the Awliya and righteous deeds have intervenor status and can act as character witnesses for us before Allah. And so I say: if a practicing Muslim is conditioned for the Day of Judgment, then being a lawyer in a dunyawi courtroom shouldn’t be hard at all.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.

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