One of the challenges to our religion that we are starting to contend with in the United States, is the appearance of false sheikhs claiming to have divine powers and divine connections to Allah that no one else has. This is something that we do not need and it seems to be spreading. They are starting to pop up all over the place seeking followers and disciples. Many people are steering clear of them but many others are falling for the hype. Some of so-called sheikhs are making outrageous claims about having knowledge of the unseen, infallibility, celestial travel and possessing supernatural powers. Some of them claim statuses that compare them to the divine which makes it hard for some people to look at them with a critical eye because, who wants to criticize someone who is divine, or who they believe has divine power? The truth of the matter is that they are not divine, they are not licensed paradise brokers and many of them are con-men.
So how can you tell a real sheikh or scholar from a pretender or a false one? Below are seven different traits to look for that may reveal that your sheikh is actually a fake or a con-man. The scholars of Islam are the inheritors of the Prophet ﷺ, and the legitimate Imams, du’aat and teachers of Islam work to preserve and pass down this religion, our principles, our values, and the prophetic message. The fake sheikhs and con-men are getting in the way. Allah knows best as to who is real and who is fake but below are a few points to consider when trying to figure it out. It might help you to clear up doubts you might have about the person who you take knowledge from, or whose picture you might have hanging up on your wall, or whose shrine you might have in your living room.
Firstly, does your sheikh use his real name? The first thing to do is to find out his real name. Many con-men sheikhs use pseudonyms or aliases, and conceal their real identities. Some of them are wanted criminals and others are con-men. Some are even demons looking to swerve you away from true Islam. Ask him to reveal his real identity, his real name that he uses legally. There have been cases where people were following a so-called sheikh for years and didn’t even know his real name! Ask him to show his identification. If he has a new name that he uses that is different from his legal name, then does he reveal his former name? Even the Pope does clarifies his current and former name. If your sheikh is legitimate then he will want you to know his real name so that you can make du’aa for him at the very least. If he refuses to reveal his real legal name, reveal his former name or refuses to prove his identity even by the display of a driver’s license or a passport, or has multiple aliases, then this is a sign that he might be a fake-sheikh.
Is he honest about his origin? Does he claim different origins to different people?Who was his father? Who was his mother? Find out about where he is really from. Many imposter sheikhs say they are from one place, when they are really from another place. Where was he born, what is his home town? Does anyone know him. If he is secretive about his origin, or not forthcoming with such information, then it is a strong possibility that he is a fake-sheikh. Real scholars and shuyookh are very clear about their origin, where they were born, where they grew up and what schools they attended.
Did the sheikh just pop up out of nowhere? Or is he well known for a time? Does he have history? Or does he appear, circulate a little, and then disappear [often leaving fitna behind], and no one can find him? Does anyone know where he lives? If he suddenly appears out of nowhere without a trail or no verifiable history, or if no one knows him previously, then this is a sign that he might be a fake-sheikh.
Does the sheikh have any writings, or recordings of his words or speeches? Does he have any recorded lectures or sermons? One of the things that fake-sheikhs do today is prevent people from recording them, claiming that they are teaching secret knowledge that others cannot handle. Any real sheikh or scholar is going to be open about what he teaches. He will have a history of teaching, classes, sermons, writings or students who have studied or taken knowledge from him. If he has no verifiable history as a teacher, as a khateeb, as a scholar, or as an author, then it is likely that he is a fake-sheikh. When they say that only special people can handle their teachings, then that is another sign that he might be a fake-sheikh.
Does he accept daleel [proofs] from the Quran and the Sunna? Or does He claim that he is not subject to the Kitaab or that he has superior knowledge above the Quran and the Sunna and therefore not subject to our religious texts? Doe he use Quran and hadith to come up with his claims or does he only use unproven statements of his own sayings or his real or imagined teachers to support his teachings? If he doesn’t use the Kitaab, or the Sunna, or the teachings and understanding of the companions of the Prophet ﷺ and of our Salaf [early scholars], then there is a good possibility that he is a fake-sheikh.
Is he a magician? Does he perform or teach magic spells? Does he call upon the jinn or claim that he has power over the jinn? If he performs magic spells, then it is likely that he has already performed one over you if you are a disciple of his. Also, if he a is a magician then he is also a mushrik [polytheist]. If he calls upon the jinn or claims power over the jinn, then it is likely that he himself is a demon. If he does any of the aforementioned then he is very likely a fake-sheikh or worse, a demon or dominized
Does your sheikh claim that he and he alone, or only his sheikh can insure your salvation? Does he claim to have the keys to the unseen? “And with Him [Allah] are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except Him”. Does your sheikh claim to traverses in and out of the celestial world, or offers you special seating as his guest on the Day of Judgment? If he does any of these, then it is likely that he is a fake-sheikh.
Does he teach in privite, in secret rooms, or does he teach publicly for all to hear? Real shuyookh make their teachings available to the public, and open to public scrutiny. They know that if what they are teaching is the truth, it will stand up to challenge, and that it will obliterate falsehood. If they teach telling you that only you will understand, because you are special, then it is because you are a fool and they know it.
America is a free country, and people are free to follow whomever they wish, in whatever they wish, and however they wish. However, if you happen to be a Muslim and your goal is to follow the Prophet (SAWS), to practice original Islam, to worship Allah without partners, and to understand your religion correctly, then following a fake-sheikh is not the way to go. And Allah knows best.
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad
American born Luqman Ahmad is a Sunni Muslim, the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, defender if the faith, advocate for the disenfranchised, and top notch Islamic political consultant, He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation, a founding member of COSVIO, (the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), and the author of the book “The Devils Deception of the Modern day Salafiyyah Sect”, a detailed look at modern extremist salafiyyism, the ideology which forms the mindset of ISIS. He blogs at, imamluqman.wordpress.com. The sentiments shared in this article are his own and not representative of any of his professional affiliations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
[The purpose of this article is not to disparage the legitimate wali [ولي], plural; awliyaa [اولياء] of Allah whomever they may be. This writing is a defense of the awliyaa of Allah [friends of Allah, or saints] and to clarify what a wali is and what wilaaya [ولاية] of Allah means based upon textual evidence [the Quran and the Sunna], the statements of our scholars, and the recognized standards of tawheed [monotheism] upon which the religion of Islam is based].
The first question is; is there a such a thing as a wali of Allah or a Saint? Do we have saints in Islam? The answer is yes, there is such a thing as awliyaa [friends] of Allah, based upon the verse; “Now surely the friends [awliyaa] of Allah– they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve. Those who believe, and are god-fearing”. So who and what are the awliyaa [plural of wali] of Allah, who are the saints, and why is it important for people to know about them? Firstly, it is not incumbent for a Muslim to know all the recognized awliyaa of Allah or saints. It is not a requirement of religion. Your knowing them, knowing their names, and their history will not by itself bring you closer to Allah, raise you in degrees, or secure for you a place in paradise.
Faith and knowledge are what raises people in degrees; “Allah will raise those who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge, by degrees. And Allah is Acquainted with what you do”. Knowing the awliyaa of Allah can be a means to expand your understanding of islamic history and broadening your options in how you pursue knowledge of the religion, and knowledge of suluk [inner character]. Knowing and understanding who are the awliyaa of Allah is a tool of the many tools available to a Muslim in pursuing his or her path to Allah, which is a path that each of us must take. “Verily, this is an admonition, therefore whosoever will, let him take a Path to His Lord!”
We all have our shuyookh, our teachers, our imams, or our elders who we take from or have taken knowledge and examples from. If you are a murid [seeker]on the Sufi path, then it is very likely that there will be those regarded as awliyaa in your chain. The reason that some people follow a particular school of fiqh or take a particular tariqa or Sufi path is to help them in their journey to Allah and an understanding of Islam. The problem occurs for some when they take their madhhab, or their Sufi path as an end goal in itself, and not simply as a means to an end. The confusion sets in when a person believes that his sheikh, or his chosen wali or saint has knowledge and spiritual gifts that exceed that of the Prophet ﷺ, or they come to believe that Islam alone is not enough for them. One of the things that I have heard said to me by some of the followers of these paths isay and that you hear more and more from impressionable new Muslims who decide on a Sufi path, is that Islam is not enough for them; they need something more than Islam. This underscores the potential danger and of being lead astray, by the promise that there is something greater than Islam to aspire to.
Belief in awliyaa
What is incumbent upon the Muslim, is to believe in Allah and His Messenger ﷺ, to obey Allah and His Messenger, to establish the prayer, pay his or her zakat, observe the month of Ramadan, and make pilgrimage to Mecca if and when they are able. Knowing and learning from the learned and righteous awliyaa of Allah, that which will help in seeking Allah, is what benefits a Muslim, not simply knowing of them. Still we should keep in mind that the best example for the believing Muslim is the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. “Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much”. The highest, most authentic form of religious knowledge is the Book of Allah, and the authentic ahaadeeth [traditions] of the Prophet ﷺ.
Although knowing awliyaa is not incumbent upon the Muslim, the belief that there are such persons who are the awliyaa of Allah is a requirement of deen simply because the Quran affirms it. Furthermore, seeking and acquiring knowledge of religion is incumbent on us based upon the hadith; “Seeking knowledge [of religion] is mandatory upon every Muslim”. With respect to that, there is no doubt that amongst the awliyaa of Allah were scholars of Islam and individuals in whom Allah has preserved the knowledge of religion, and placed examples of how to obey Allah and His Messenger, how to understand and practice the principles and injunctions of the Quran in detail, how to follow the Sunna, and how to persevere when tested in our faith. Thus knowing and attaching to the awliyaa can be a great source of benefit. Just like knowing and attaching oneself to the Salaf of our ummah has benefit, or knowing and attaching yourself to your teacher has benefit, or knowing and attaching yourself to your parents could be a benefit.
Those who came before and have preceded us in faith and the believing people preceding us is faith, is part of the generational continuity of Islam. As Muslims, we are required to take a certain disposition regarding those who preceded us in faith; “O our Lord, forgive us and and forgive those who preceded us faith, and make not any rancor in our hearts towards those who believe”. Therefore, we take a disposition of love, respect, and fraternity and the absence of rancor with those who have came before us in this religion. We take the approach of having husnul thann [good assumption] or [حسن الظن] as far as they are concerned. This good assumption is due for all Muslims, not just those regarded as awliyaa. Which is why the Prophet ﷺ said; “Do not revile the dead for they have already went to face what they put forth”. However, with respect with those who change the religion, those who insert detestable innovation, set themselves up as idols to be worshipped, obeyed, or venerated above Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala, we tend not to be as generous with them.
The connection that most people have with a wali of Allah is the result of their taking a spiritual [Sufi] path. Outside of the community of Sufism, not a whole lot is said concerning the awliyaa of Allah. Within each Sufi tariqa, there are personalities who are considered to be awliyaa of Allah. Usually the one who founded that particular Sufi order was himself considered a wali of Allah as in the case of Sheikh Ahmad al-Badawi [d. 1276 C.E.] who was the founder of the Badaawi order, or Ibrahim ad-Dasuqi [d. 1296] the founder of the Dasuqi order, or Abu Hasan al-Shaadhili, the founder of the Shaadhiliyya order, and the famous wali of Allah Junayd al-Baghdaadi [d. 910 C.E.] Some of the awliyaa were very strict in following the sharia, others, not so much.
What is it that makes a person a wali of Allah?
All of the aforementioned were considered to be awliyaa of Allah. All of them were scholars of Islam who possessed great insight about the religion, about Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala and the path to become close to Allah. They all were high examples of piety, steadfastness and taqwa, but how, and why were some considered awliyaa of Allah and others were not? The answer is more than anything else, the appearance of karamaat [miracles]. The appearance of karamaat in most cases is a condition for conference of the title wali of Allah. When such persons would die, their students and the people who knew them would remember their lives, their piety, their teachings, their benefit to others, their sacrifices for the religion, and most notably, their miracles, or miracles attributed to them, and confer upon them the title wali of Allah or saint.
The miracles, called karamaat would be what put them over the top in obtaining recognition as a wali of Allah. Sometimes the people of knowledge in that time or region would come to that unanimous conclusion. More recently there was Sheikh Aamadu Bamba [d. 1927], who is becoming particularly popular these days and considered by many to be a wali of Allah. My father Sheikh Abdulkarim, first told me about him about 30 years ago. He was the founder of the spiritual city of Tuba in Senegal. He himself was a disciple of the Qaadiriyya order founded by the great scholar and mystic, sheikh Abdul-Qaadir al-Jailaani [d. 1166 C.E.], and many miracles are attributed to him. Such as, while in chains on a boat, he broke his chains and prayed upon the water without sinking. Many other miracles are attributed to ones whom I have mentioned and to other awliyaa of Allah from amongst the companions of the Prophet ﷺ down to our present age.
Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali places awliyaa into two categories. The first are those who become awliyaa of Allah by dutiful performance of the faraa’id [incumbent acts]. This includes the five prayers, zakat, observance of Ramadan, the Hajj, kindness to neighbors, fulfilling our social responsibilities to our family, our brethren, the poor, the wayfarer, and everything else that would constitute that which Allah has made incumbent upon His servants. In fact, there are no better paths to Allah except by what Allah has commanded and deemed praiseworthy. Umar ibn al-Khattaab said; “the best of deeds is to perform what Allah has made incumbent, respecting away from what Allah has made prohibited, sincere intention about what Allah be He Exalted, has in store”. In this sense, anyone who does what Allah commands, avoids what Allah says to avoids, and fulfills the rights of others as Allah has prescribed and the rights over himself and the rest of creation as prescribed by our religion is a wali of Allah.
This is why ibn Taymiyah said that; “Anyone who believes in Allah and has taqwa is a wali of Allah”. Based upon the evidence, this is correct. “Allah is the guardian of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light;”. This is also why we should not overstate the status [maqaam] of the awliyaa of Allah over what is mentioned in the Quran and authenticated in the Sunna of the Prophet ﷺ. Amongst this first category are perhaps millions upon millions of believers who have come and gone, and have fulfilled their obligations to Allah and gained the status of wilaaya with Allah.
Most of these awliyaa of Allah we will never know about, and not even know their names. Abu al-Farj Ibn Jawzi [d. 1201 C.E.], in his well-known book, Sifatul Safwa [صفةالصفوة] tells the story of unknown, unnamed, righteous people and their examples. He calls them maj’huloon [unknowns]. He demonstrates by their mention that amongst the pure-minded and righteous are these who are famous, such as the companions of the Prophet ﷺ, and the Taabi’een, those who are well known, such as our early scholars, those who are hardly known and those who are not known at all, even their names.
The second category of awliyaa are those who by performing the extra, supplemental duties, the nawaafil [نوافل] they become closer to Allah. This is based upon the statement of Allah; “And My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with supererogatory (nawaafil) prayers so that I shall love him. When I love him, I shall be his hearing with which he shall hear, his sight with which he shall see, his hands with which he shall hold, and his feet with which he shall walk. And if he asks (something) of Me, I shall surely give it to him, and if he takes refuge in Me, I shall certainly grant him it”. This is the classical and correct description of a wali of Allah. When people talk about the well-known and famous awliyaa of islamic history, they are usually referring to people of this category, except that they add to that, the attribution of miracles to them.
A person does not become a wali of Allah except by the means that are explained in our sacred texts i.e. the Quran and the Sunna. Each well known wali of Allah has their own history of struggle, or leaning, of faith and of action. No two is exactly alike. If we do not use the Quran and the Sunna to understand what a wali of Allah is, then anyone can declare himself or anyone else to be a wali of Allah and use that distinction to reign over the ignorant like lords. Such as we see today. This amongst other reasons is why we have to look at the Kitaab and the Sunnah regarding what is a wali of Allah, and what it takes to become close to Allah. After all, we are Muslim, and Allah has not revealed any other religion for us except Islam.
That being the case, we are bound by law to look at matters from the view of the Quran and the Sunna and not make up religion or religious practices. The Prophet ﷺ said, “anyone who introduces in this affair (religion) of ours that which is not [originally] from it, then it is rejected”. Scholars of Islam paid special attention to not allowing the awliyaa of Allah to become some sort of elite, protected class of people who reign over other people. Because that’s not what wilaaya is all about. Wilaaya is not a public thing; it is a personal thing. According to the Quran, the qualities of a wali of Allah are two; faith and taqwa [piety]; Those who believe, and are god-fearing. The Prophet ﷺ when asked about who is a wali of Allah said; “They are whom when they are seen, [people] are reminded of Allah”.
Walking on water does not make a person a wali of Allah. Flying or floating in the air does not make a person a wali of Allah. Walking through walls, telling your fortune, self-transport to far away lands, claiming knowledge of the unseen [ghaib], or accurately surmising what someone had for breakfast that morning does not make a person a wali of Allah. If that was the case, then demons, who claim the same abilities and possess some of them, would be awliyaa of Allah. The famous magician David Copperfield walked on water and you could get a local soothsayer or Tarot card reader can tell your fortune. Magic is prohibited in Islam, as well as getting your horoscope read, and none of these things makes a person a wali of Allah. Neither does being a descendant of the Prophet ﷺ make a person a wali of Allah. A wali of Allah is first and foremost exactly what Allah has described in the Quran; “those who believe and have taqwa”. Anything above that should be subject to scrutiny and proofs because there is a fine line between miracles and magic. Some of the Sufi’s that are floating around today practice magic, advocate the use of magic spells and openly proclaim that magic is permissible to achieve one’s objectives. Many brothers, and sisters have found themselves caught up in this.
Performing a miracle or a supernatural action does not make one a wali of Allah. However, awliyaa of Allah are recorded as having performed actions that are regarded as miracles. These miracles are divided into two categories; mu’jizaat [miracles], and karamaat [blessed feats]. Miracles for Prophets are called mu’jizaat, and for the righteous and the awliyaa, they are called karamaat. Sheikh Bin Baz (RA) explained this issue succinctly by saying that what is regarded as a karaama is when Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala renders His assistance to save someone from his enemy, or lifts off a burden from them or extracts them from a bad situation in a way where it is not normal, or in some way defies physical laws. This happens by the grace of Allah and sometimes it happens in full view of witnesses. Such events are called karamaat and yes karamaat of the awliyaa is something real and factual according to the consensus of our scholars.
It is important to understand just who are the awliyaa of Allah and something about their history and teachings because to take an adversarial position to a wali of Allah without just cause is considered a sin based upon the Qudsi hadith where Allah says; “Whoever shows hostility to My wali, then I have declared war upon him”. Since hostility towards the awliyaa is considered a sin, love and religious fraternity with the awliyaa is a virtue. Here is where a lot of people become confused. Loving the awliyaa is a virtue but so is loving a Muslim. Loving the awliyaa does not mean elevating them above what Allah has granted them, and it does not mean deifying them, worshipping them, worshipping through them, or ascribing to them unique powers to grant you superior status with Allah.
A lot of people misunderstand what it means by loving the awliyaa. It’s not a matter of a metered comparative love where people are tested by the degree how much they love a certain wali of Allah over another, or over another Muslim. For example, you can’t test a person and ask him; “who do you love more? Sheikh Abdul-Qaadir al-Jaylaani [d. 1166 C.E.], or the black woman who used to sweep the masjid during the time of the Prophet ﷺ? Or test a person and ask; “who is preferable? Ibn Ataa Allah, or Hasan al-Basri? Or ask them; who do you love more? Ahmad ibn Ajiba [d. 1809], or Moinuddeen Chisti [d. 1230 C.E.]? Such associative comparisons are nonsensical and totally out of sync with what is meant by love for the awliyaa of Allah.
This is how people get tricked up into sheikh jousting and find themselves defending this or that sheikh or wali of Allah or cutting off relationships because you feel that someone is not showing enough reverence for your chosen wali of Allah [because there are tens of thousands of them]. This is madness. Some of the Arabs tried to get the Prophet ﷺ to specify his love and affinity for one tribe over the other but he wouldn’t.
Sufism is a legitimate pursuit and many of the great scholars of Islam following a Sufi past. However, Sufism has great trial in it as well because it is so varied, and some of its branched ideology goes directly into shirk [polytheism]. We live in a time where we are pressured to be politically correct in everything, even in holding on to our faith. To accept anything and everything regardless of what our scripture says about it. I get it, but I don’t subscribe to it. I believe that we should follow the Quran and the Sunna to the best of our ability and that Islam by itself, is enough for us as a religion.
The fact is that we are Muslims. We love what Allah loves and we hate what Allah hates or tells us to hate. We love those who love Allah, who support Allah, who support our religion and religious principles, who are just, who are kind, who are patient, who are benevolent, and who are merciful to others, and we hate those who hate Allah, who slaughter the innocent, those who are unjust, those who murder, and spread fitnah amongst the earth. We don’t get into who they are specifically, that’s not our job. Nor it is our job to be judge and jury over people by person unless we are real judges and real juries in courts of law. We leave the righteous in the hands of Allah; He will give them their due, and we leave the wicked in the hands of Allah, He will give them their due. In the meantime, we love Allah more than anyone else, and our greatest enemy is the devil, and we ask Allah to make us from amongst the rightly guided. This is how it goes beloveds. We are all just passing through this world; we don’t want to get stuck on personality, except the personality of the Last Prophet of Allah, Muhammad ibn Abdullah ﷺ, Rasoolullaah. We’re stuck on him, we love him, our hearts are attached to him ﷺ.
Unfortunately, we hear more and more these days about people who claim that their sheikh or their teacher is a wali of Allah or that they are following, or a disciple of a wali of Allah, which is fine, but now there is competition. As more and more people are gaining and even competing for disciples based upon their alleged close connection [wilaaya] to Allah, people have the right and obligation to know just who and what is the wali of Allah. Some people are selling choice seating on the Day of Judgment by following this or that sheikh, and this is wrong. This is completely wrong. Reported claims of some awliyaa border on the outrageous. Such as the ability to self-transport themselves every Friday to either Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina or Masjid al-Aqsa to perform salaatul Jum’ah, or the claimed permission granted to them to commit fornication, lie, steal and kill based upon their alleged closeness to Allah.
One common exaggeration about the awliyaa of Allah is that they are infallible. For example, Abdul al-Wahhaab al-Sha’raani [1565 C.E.], who incidentally was a Shaafi’ee jurist from Egypt as well as a Sufi said that; “Of the more splendid miracles of the awliyaa is their divinely granted success to be in a constant state of obedience to Allah where they enjoy total protection is’mah [عصمة] from committing acts of disobedience [to Allah] or doing anything contrary [to the religion]. The idea that a wali of Allah is infallible is a widespread notion. Even questioning their infallibility makes some wali lovers go ballistic. Unfortunately, wali’ism [new word, meaning loving and accepting anything from awliyaa without question] is a new fad that is on the rise. Muslims of today have no idea what they are getting into when they embark on blind discipleship of so-called awliyaa of Allah that takes them outside of the boundaries of scripture. Many are attracted to the mystique and novelty of wali’ism but end up committing shirk.
Superfluous sheikh veneration has become an industry in many parts of the world and has now come nearly full throttle to the United States. Some people erect shrines in their homes and plaster their walls with pictures of individuals claiming that he is a wali of Allah. Some people travel hundreds or thousands of miles just to see or touch a so-called wali of Allah or someone associated with him; to kiss his hand, or be in his presence, to benefit from his touch. Some of them argue and fuss with each other on behalf of their sheikh who claims to be a wali of Allah, or the disciple of a wali of Allah. This is not only incompatible to the principles of our religion which promotes individual striving and accountability before Allah, not accountability through the sheikh, it is incompatible with American culture and the culture of the convert to Islam. We were never really that good at sheikh veneration, and I doubt if we ever will be.
Imam Luqman Ahmad
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a writer, a researcher and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Northern California. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation (NAIF), and the CEO of ‘Mosque Without Borders’, an organization that address Muslim sectarianism in the United States. He is also and the author of the new book, “Double Edged Slavery “, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States, and the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect “, a look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at email@example.com.
Perhaps, the purest, and most poignant narrative of what Islam really stands for at its core, is the visual takeaway and the reality of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, (called Hajj). Every sane, adult Muslim who is physically and financially able, is required to perform the Hajj at least once in their lifetime. A religious scholar, an illiterate farmer, an international banker, a tribal Bedouin, a head of state, a decorated soldier, a dignified carpenter, and a cab driver, each are all required to perform the Hajj in the exact same manner. Everyone performing the Hajj are equally required to wear the exact same style and color of clothing, donned and draped in the exact same way, to perform the exact same ceremonial rites and to repeat from their mouths, the exact same words;
“labbaik Allahumma labbaik, unna al-hamda, wa ni’mata laka wal shukr, laa shareeka lak. (Here I come oh Lord here I come. Here I come you have no partners here I come, surely all praise, all grace and good, and all thanks belongs to You, You have no partners)”
May Allah accept the Hajj of the people who were fortunate enough to make it this year. While people are circumnutating around the Ka’ba, Islam’s, holiest Mosque, it is impossible to distinguish the rich from the poor, the immoral from the virtuous, the farmer from the engineer, the convert from the born Muslim, or the PhD from the illiterate. Nor is it possible to define with any accuracy just by looking, what a person’s ethnicity, group, nationality, or language is. The only considerations which determine incongruence between one pilgrim and the other during Hajj is their faith, their god consciousness (taqwa), each person’s individual physical, emotional, and spiritual challenge, and the personal prayer of each pilgrim as they perform the required rites of the Hajj as guests of God.
Hajj is the only place on earth, and the only season of the Islamic calendar year, where race, power, occupation, status, ethnicity, or politics have no standing. There are no lands to conquer, no identities to define, no Islamophobia to fight, no images of Islam or Muslims to defend, no organizations to speak on your behalf, no counter narrative to advance, no talking points to memorize, no television cameras to prep for, and no one to convince of your legitimacy or sincerity except the Almighty God. During the Hajj, all that is left is submission to Allah, and the reality that every Muslim has the same rights and obligations as every other Muslim. The only recognized enemy and the only object of aggression during Hajj are the shaitaan [devil] himself, and the three stones that pilgrims throw against him. As Muslims, we are not taught to be enemies of each other, but instead to take the shaitaan as our greatest enemy.
It was during the Hajj, that the Prophet (SAWS) delivered his farewell sermon. In it, he unequivocally declared, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action. Know that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves. Remember, one day you will appear before ALLAH and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.”
The words of the Prophet are as relevant today as they were spoken more than fourteen centuries ago. Perhaps even more so. The Hajj is a yearly reminder that we all are equal in the sight of Allah and that we only excel above one another through taqwa [piety]. The Hajj also reminds us that we do not judge a book by it’s cover. The Prophet (SAWS) said, “Verily Allah does not look at your shapes or your bodies but He looks at your hearts”. The only other time where the entirety of the Muslim ummah and of humanity will stand in such uniformity is the Day of Judgment. In this sense, the Hajj gives us a glimpse of what it will be like standing before Allah in that our race, our wealth, our family or our status will not matter. “The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, Except him who comes to Allah with a heart free (from evil)”. [26:88-89]
The type of equality embodied in the Hajj, is the type that the Prophet (SAWS) spoke of during his Farwell sermon. This is the kind of justice that makes us unafraid to look in the mirror at our selves, the kind of justice that depoliticizes our religion, and the type of justice where we do not simply move from campaign, to campaign, but stand firmly on solid principles. This is the type of justice upon which Allah created human beings: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”. 49:13
Indeed, Islam has been hijacked, not only by groups like ISIS, and al-Qaeda, but also by nationalism, racism, elite, ethnocentricity, political Islamism, war-mongering propaganda, violent extremist, and sectarian demagoguery each claiming to represent the totality of Islam. Islam is the religion of Allah, He owns it, we are all His slaves. We can only choose to submit or not submit Islam and to its higher ideals. We can reclaim our faith by returning it to its rightful owner, and that is God Almighty, and no one else.
Resurrecting the Hajj paradigm and picking up the cause of justice and equality in and outside our faith is a daunting proposition for many Muslims, but its time has come and we will be much better off for it. It all comes down to being fair and just as individuals and as an ummah. One of the most difficult things about upholding justice, is that you sometimes have to stand up against your own self, and against people who are just like you, who belong to your group, who share your ideology, your race, your nationality, in defense of someone who is different than you.
Injustice is our Berlin wall whose mortar is an amalgamation of racism, nationalism, elitism, denial, political Islam, violent extremism, tribalism, and various forms of sectarianism added to the mixture of our faith over a course of centuries. On the other side of the wall is the true Islam, which belongs to no one, except Allah be He Exalted and Just. There can never be any true Islam without justice, and there can never be justice without equality. In order for Muslims to move forward as a civilization, we will have to tear down the Berlin wall of injustice that exists in our faith practice. It may have to be dismantled brick by brick, section by section, pebble by pebble, but sooner or later, Allah be my witness, I believe that eventually, it will come down. –
American born Luqman Ahmad a Sunni Muslim, is the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, consultant, patriot, and until recently, has been the Imam of a Northern California mosque for twenty years. Recently he headed up a new organization (Islamic Center of Del Paso Heights) to address the needs of Muslim converts. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation, a founding member of COSVIO, (the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), and the author of the book “The Devils Deception of the Modern day Salafiyyah Sect“, a detailed look at modern salafiyyism, the ideology which forms the mindset of ISIS. He has written blog posts challenging ISIS, Anwar Awlaki, and BOKO Haram on his blog, imamluqman.wordpress.com. The sentiments shared in this article are his own and not representative of any of his professional affiliations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a socio-economic sense, most African Americans live in a second-class, plantation-like existence. Don’t get me wrong, it beats outright slavery, but it’s a slave-like existence nonetheless. Even if an African American gains power and influence in this country and decides to use it for other than entertainment purposes, he runs the risk of being brought down. No one really likes the uppity Negroe, especially if they get too “uppity”. Even many other Black Americans have problems with the uppity Black man.
Through the criminal justice system, unequal housing and banking practices, the inner-city public school system, and a seemingly endless list of discriminatory statutes, regulations, and institutional norms which keeps African Americans in the United States of America relegated to a plantation-like existence. Whether you agree or not, there is no doubt about that. The facts speak for themselves.
Within the Black Church, there is almost complete autonomy when it comes to the practice of Christianity, and the way that African Americans run their churches and religious institutions. Even mega churches and pastors who make millions of dollars a year are pretty much left alone. Whatever issues that go on in the African American church are worked out internally. It is unheard of that a Christian scholar in Africa, Europe, Canada, or even the Pope himself would launch a personal attack against a Pastor or a group of Christians in America. We don’t get Christians from Africa, Asia, the Middle East or Europe coming to America and running rough-shod over a Church or church congregation in the United States. If they did, the congregation, after they finished laughing at him for having such audacity, would run him out of town on the same horse he came in on. They might even take his horse.
On the other hand, within African Muslim mosques, there is a great deal of foreign influence that is present and constantly pumped in. Almost every mosque in the United States, has an undue foreign ideological influence that affects the issues they work on, how they work on those issues, how AA Muslims see themselves and how they subordinate to the immigrant Muslim community on so many levels. People will literally walk in off the street into a masjid attended by African American Muslims and jump up to lead the prayer, tell the people how to run things, render legal edicts, or challenge their leadership. The problem is that there are people who actually let them do it. Otherwise it is a preposterous notion.
Very little has been written on the topic of the colonization of the African American communities and how they exist as a second class Muslim community in the United States behind the immigrant Muslims. However, it is real and the spiritual, psychological and trajectory effects of this relationship is felt far and wide. (See The Tale of the Two Muslim Americas). No American Muslim can go to a traditional Muslim country, visit the local mosque and proceed to tell the local people how to run their community, how to deal with their local imam, or try to run the affairs of the local people. The mere idea of it is absurd, and such a person would probably be arrested as a spy and thrown out of the country. Many African American Muslims have been conditioned to think not as free men and women, but as a religious colony here in the United States.
Here’s what boggles the mind; African American Muslims, and African American Christians are the same demographic group. They come from the same ethnic stock, and the same socio-economic backgrounds. They live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same public schools, and endure the same institutional oppression. They are housed in the same jails, play on the same basketball courts, and go to the same colleges and universities. So how is it that African American Christians can build their religious institutions and act autonomously in pursuit of their self-interests, and African American Muslims have such a difficult time in establishing congregations, building masaajid, or acting in their own self-interests without outside interference?
The answer to this question is that African American Muslims by and large, exist as a sub-group of second class Muslims under the greater immigrant community. That’s the first reason. The second reason is that there are too many spheres of influence, all coming from abroad, and all in competition with each other for control of African American Muslims. These outside influence come in the guise of religious sects, Sufi tarqas, islamic political ideologies, and ambitious individuals who seek their own stronghold in american society through affiliation and control over clusters of African American Muslims all across the country. These outside influences are not always entirely islamic either. Oftentimes they represent a regional ethnic, cultural, or political concern emanating from outside of the United States. These outside influences affect the way that many African Americans practice Islam, set their priorities, and determine their beliefs about Islam.
You have the Salafi influence which takes their orders from scholars abroad. If the Salafi sheikh states that the priority is to fight against deviants, then everything else; unemployment, spousal abuse, crime in the neighborhood, the dysfunction of the family and so on, falls to the side. The you have the Sufi influence which comes from all over the place. If a certain Sufi sheikh says to not to bother this or that group, or this or that masjid, or that a certain person is a saint and therefore infallible, then the Sufi sphere of influence prevails in many cases. Then there are the competing interests; political groups, Sufi tariqas, Qaadiri, Tijaaniyya, Naqshabandis, and movements such as the Shehu movement, as well as the Tablighi jamaa’aat. Each of these groups exercises a sphere of influence and in some cases absolute and control over indigenous American Muslims so it is difficult for African American Muslims to establish independent congregations, or to even think independently for fear of being in disagreement with their outside colonial type leadership.
As far as National Islamic Organizations, like ICNA, ISNA, and MAS, the membership and focus of these groups are almost entirely exclusive to immigrant Muslims. Although they routinely claim to speak or represent all Muslims in America, they in fact do not. When a CAIR report characterizes American Muslims as mostly middle class , they are not talking about African American Muslims; they are talking about another Muslim America.
The Black church despite whatever criticism we may have of their beliefs, their liturgical habits, their Pastors, their choirs, or what we call their misguidance or delusion, still acts in accordance to what they view are their best interests, and the interests of their institutions, their congregations, their own moral trajectory, and their own sense of purpose. This has nothing to do with the merits or demerits of the Black church. It has more to do with how we can become Muslim and now that we have the Quran and the Sunna, all of a sudden we are paralyzed, and afraid to think for ourselves.
Brothers and sisters cannot even make a thikr without someone inciting an argument amongst us while they sit back thousands of miles away watching a soccer game. Somebody says ‘happy birthday’ and there is a flurry of condemnation based on a fatwa that we’re following the kuffar while the same folks will hardly make a move without kuffaar instruction and approval.
The plight of the Black American deserves prioritization not because they are black, but because they are the poorest and most oppressed people in our country. Prioritizing attention to the poor and the most oppressed in your midst is the Sunna of our Prophet (SAWS). This was also the way of Jesus (AS) and the way of Moses (AS). Just in case you’re wondering.
The black church, and its leadership, does not generally grant license to anyone, be it a government agency, a remote ecclesiastical authority, a foreign agent, a religious scholar not of their midst, or a state or local politician, to speak on their behalf, represent them to our government, or assign for them a reality not their own. Many African American Muslims actually believe that we cannot use the Quran and the Sunna without getting permission and sanction.
THE POINT IS: THAT THERE ARE TOO MANY COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE SPHERES OF INFLUENCE IN OUR COMMUNITY COMING FROM ABROAD
No religious group or sub religious group can engage in forward motion if they have no leader, no congregation, and are splintered into dozens of sub-colonies or plantations where their leader or master is not present nor cannot be held accountable. If Black Christians can build churches, establish institutions of faith and despite their problems, act independent of interlopers acting from abroad, then so can we. If Christians can speak for themselves, then so can we. If Christians can establish local religious congregations that act in their best interests, then so can we.
The ranks of our community should not split up simply because of an email, a fatwa, or at the behest of someone who does not even live in your county, does not understand your condition, and who is not around to be accountable for his statements, or there to pick up the pieces after we’ve splintered our communities, and who’s only contribution is rhetoric. I have never in my life seen an indigenous African American Muslim community split in two or become racked by fitnah except that there was a foreign agent, not from their midst involved.
Let me be clear. I do not support Back Nationalism. I am a Muslim. I follow the Quran and the Sunna, and no race of people is superior to the other. And if a day ever comes when another group becomes the most oppressed, most marginalized, and most victimized group of people in our country, I’ll stand up for them too. I don’t care what race or color they are. Black people are no better than anyone else. But the point is, nether are any other people.
THE BOTTOM LINE IS:
For the African American ex-slave generations, there is nothing that binds us together more than Islam. More than race, more than nationality, more than cities of origin, more than class, tribe, clan or lingo. Islam trumps everything for us. This is why it is imperative that we not fight the ideological proxy wars imposed on us from abroad. I know this is a hard pill for some to swallow, but it is the truth nevertheless. American Muslims need to stop being suckered into neglecting their own self-interests, because of outside meddling and outside interests. Support is not a one sided deal. We’ve supported every Muslim cause that came down the pike. We deserve reciprocal support when we are in the trenches and we are in the trenches now. We fight each other over the positions and statements of scholars from abroad, where in most cases they could care less about our positions or statements, even when our views are supported by the Quran, the Sunna, and the very same texts that they use against us.
STILL DON’T GET IT?
Okay I’ll give it to you raw. We’ve been had, flimflammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked, conned, molly whopped, suckered, taken for a ride, hijacked, used, and still being used. Is that clear enough?
Imam Luqman Ahmad
[Taken partially from the upcoming book, Double Edged Slavery, Deconstructing African American Muslim Moral Dysfunction, by Imam Luqman Ahmad, will be available at Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble on November 1st, 2016 [in sha Allah]
American born Luqman Ahmad is a life long Sunni Muslim, the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, consultant, patriot, and until recently, has been the Imam of a Northern California mosque for twenty years. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation, a founding member of COSVIO, (the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), and the author of the book “The Devils Deception of the Modern day Salafiyyah Sect”, a detailed look at salafiyyism the ideology which forms the mindset of ISIS. He has written blog posts challenging ISIS, Anwar Awlaki, and BOKO Haram on his blog, imamluqman.wordpress.com. The sentiments shared in this article are his own and not representative of any of his professional affiliations. He can be reached at email@example.com.