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.
- 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.
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 probably 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, 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 Muslims, specifically new Muslim converts in the United States. 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.