Not as I say

Sitting on a couch, the sheikh addresses his students:

“One of the problems amongst modern Muslims is that they read hadith, and they’re not trained to read hadith. The collections of hadith were written for scholars; they weren’t written for common people.”

Yes, but there is a problem. Amidst the twenty thousand copies and clips of lectures and speeches he has given through the years, hoarded on the internet by his millions of admirers and accessible to all, he frequently cites hadith, both the well-known and the obscure, bringing them to the attention of common folk everywhere.

Sitting before a crowd of knowledge seekers in a beautiful mosque, he speaks of the prohibitions of the tongue: “Guarding the tongue is one of the most important aspects of our religion,” he tells them. Wise words.

Yes, but look up the sheikh’s lectures in your search engine and it will return 180,000 pages devoted to his monumental heap of words in the public domain, both the good of it and the questionable. The one who petitions us to heedfulness himself is the author of vast volumes of speech, replicated and amplified all over by his followers and supporters, lectures of twenty years ago reappearing without his say, long lifted from VHS or audio-cassette and injected into the digital realm.

No longer does he have control over words he uttered long ago, which he may have withdrawn or disowned. No longer can he guard against what his tongue uttered a decade ago, as it chatters on without him to a new audience he cannot see.

The sheikh is wise, and we love him. But sometimes he does not seem to see himself in his declarations addressed outwards to the world. A critique delivered inwards is the hardest critique of all.

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