May God forgive me for what is in my heart; for entertaining suspicions and doubts, negativity and assumptions. God knows that I feel bad that my heart harbours ambiguity about the innocence of a man well respected and admired.
Many of my friends frequently recommend his writing and laud his insight. Other friends know him personally and have spent quality time in his company. I once gave him a lift in my old banger and thought him a decent chap. When I listen to his speech, I think to myself, “This is a good man.” When I read what he has written, I think to myself, “He is wise and true.”
For those reasons, and many others, I have every reason to think the best of him, and to dismiss the allegations made against him as preposterous inventions, borne of malicious intent. I ought to be of those in the “benefit of doubt” or “innocent until proven guilty” camp.
But try as I may, my heart is not with him. Instead, when asked, I reply, “Allah knows best”. Or I say, “May Allah compensate and grant justice to whoever has been wronged.” I pray that he is innocent, but in truth my heart hesitates. Scripture reminds me to think good of my brother, speak no ill and shun suspicion. But instead the pendulum swings between good opinion and ill.
Why is that, other than a disease in my heart? Perhaps it is because I am all too well aware of the level of abuse perpetuated by men in leadership positions in the Muslim community and beyond. Whether it’s our preachers who collect women (preferably converts who can be serially married and divorced) or faith leaders engaged in sexual harassment, the environment surrounding celebrity religious personalities leaves a lot to be desired.
People entering these environments may have perfectly honourable intentions. They may have brilliant minds and be learned and wise. But the human psyche is not built for fame, and most people cannot cope with it. Even the humblest of sages can become a megalomaniac in the wrong environment.
The masses are taught to observe strict boundaries in the interactions between men and women in Muslim communities. Unrelated men and women are strongly discouraged from spending any time alone together in a room. Women are typically asked to cover their hear and wear loose fitting garments. Men and women are taught to lower their gaze in each other’s company. And the list of expectations goes on.
Our faith recognises that humans are born weak. Rather than leaving us to our own devices, it tries to minimise the risk of the untoward occurring. If we are in any doubt about this, recall that the Qur’an addresses us, “O you who believe…” when it sets out our boundaries — meaning that it recognises absolutely that Muslims have the propensity to commit crimes, and are not the paragons of virtue we often assume.
It is hardly surprising then that men who enter an environment in which they become the focus of all attention are susceptible to indiscretion. Suddenly they have access, by virtue of their fame, to those they ordinarily wouldn’t. Suddenly they have vast followings who can attest to their piety, such that nobody ever believes a person wronged. Suddenly they have strangers contacting them and asking them for advice, building intimate relationships of trust. All of a sudden, the rules that apply to the masses no longer seem applicable. And soon enough boundaries are transgressed.
Perhaps it is familiarity with the potential stumbling blocks of a celebrity lifestyle, combined with an intimate knowledge of the darkest reaches of my own soul, that provoke my reluctance to believe in the innocence of the accused. Perhaps I am simply projecting my own evils onto another, imagining how I might fall if cursed with fame.
Undoubtedly such a projection is unfair. Most scholars, imams and preachers are not predators. Finding oneself thrust into public life does not necessitate a descent into immorality. Good men may rise above their base desires. The sincere often reach great heights, perpetuating great good in the earth and putting forth magnificent deeds.
He who stands accused could easily be such a person. Certainly all who know him testify to this fact, delivering fine eulogies about him as a man of God, preacher of peace, defender of the oppressed, voice the voiceless; a man who is both humble and persistent, hard working and kind, respectful of both women and men, Muslim and non-Muslim. The testimony of his supporters point to him being innocent of the allegations put to him, and merely the victim of malicious slanders. And I hope so.
And yet my heart interferes. Conscious that abuse of fame and power are unfortunately widespread amongst men in positions of leadership, my heart petitions me otherwise and forces me to lend my ear to the complaints of alleged victims whenever they arise. Yes, even when those complaining hold beliefs totally contrary to my own. I cannot help listening to what they say and being moved by their accounts.
May God forgive me for what is in my heart, if I am mistaken. I know it is terribly sad, but unfortunately I find such complaints and accusations made against even the most respected soul entirely plausible. How I wish it wasn’t so, but my heart has spoken. All of us, I fear, however good we may appear to others are capable of injustice, brutality and cruelty. May God preserve us from the opportunity or means to perpetrate evil, and not leave us to our own devices even for the blink of an eye. And may He make us truly good, in our reality as much as our appearance.
As for the accused, all I can say is that Allah knows best: may He compensate and grant justice to whoever has been wronged, and have mercy on us all. May He make truth be known and justice served, whether for or against us. May God make us truthful, sincere and rightly guided, witnesses to truth and all that is good and virtuous.