Abu Eesa's sexist tweet

Abu Eesa’s sexist tweet Abu Eesa's twitter

As with many other people in the Muslim community, I have been following the conversation around the sexist comments made by a teacher at the popular Muslim institute, AlMaghrib, by a “teacher” named Abu Eesa Niamatullah.

Abu Eesa made the comments on the occasion of International Women’s Day and made horrible “jokes” about women, FGM and rape.

Let’s call it what it was:  not merely some innocuous “sexist” attempt at humor, but an abashed articulation of male supremacy.

He went so far as to put out an image of himself with this quote on his social media.

womenhateeachother1-1

Fortunately, we are seeing some powerful responses:

The most helpful summary and scrutiny of this whole episode so far is the very helpful summary by Rabia Chaudry.   Here is a powerful response from Rabia Chaudry:

Rabia Chaudhry

Rabia Chaudry

“My day was ruined not by his juvenile tweets and old, lame jokes (women too hard to understand? oooh hahahah, it’s actually because you’re an idiot).  It was ruined when I read, and re-read, his pseudo fatwa to rape and beat women, FGM, child marriage, and a host of other oppressions that Muslim women do in fact suffer every single day in this world.  We’re not daft, it was widely understood to be a sarcastic remark.
But as someone who has lived through an abusive marriage, his words alone brought back black and blue memories and tears.  As the mother of of two young girls, it brought more tears because I thought of them and the fight they would inherit from us, a fight for simple dignity and decency from Muslim men as the norm.  I wonder if they’ll be able to hold on to the deen in the face of external and internal challenges, because not everyone is strong enough in their faith to reject the ugliness of some of our leaders.  Muslims are apostatizing, rejecting a religion that is made to seem harsh, hateful, misogynistic, angry, and judgemental by people like Abu Eesa.  Instead of using gentle speech and beautiful language to draw people to Islam, “scholars” like these burn bridges to faith.”

Hind Makki

Hind Makki

Hind Makki started a popular Twitter hashtag ‪#MuslimMaleAllies .

Dr. Ingrid Mattson, the former head of ISNA, responded:

If a non-Muslim made “jokes” like this ‪@almaghrib teacher we’d have every Muslim civil rights org sending out alerts

Imam Suhaib Webb stated that Abu Eesa should step down:

I believe he should step down. Sadly, I think some folks don’t appreciate how hurtful his words were.

Abdllah Antepli, the Muslim Chaplain at Duke University, simply said:

“Muslim men should take as much offense if not more by this stupidity.”

Here are six short observations about this controversy:

1)  The comments fail the test of Islamic ethics (adab).
Adab, refined manners, is not merely a luxury.    It is the very characteristic of the highest of Islamic ethics, and the identifying feature of a person (teacher or lay person) whose manners have conformed to the manners of the Prophet Muhammad.

2)  The comments fail the Prophetic test
At the simplest and most fundamental level, joking about rape, FGM, and alike is not what the Prophet would do.    One can have a mastery of prophetic traditions, and yet fail to actually live out the meaning of the Prophet’s teachings.   Antagonizing half of God’s creation is simply the very opposite of what the Prophet did, and what the Prophet would do.

 3)  The comments fail the institution and organization test
Abu Eesa is a teacher at AlMaghrib, which is one of the largest Muslim organizations in the West.  To put it simply, this is not how an organization establishes credibility.   In the professional world, when an employee makes a public statement that is racist and sexist, that employee is fired or put on probation.  Furthermore, the organization releases a statement stating that the foolish utterances of the employee do not reflect the values of that organization.    For AlMaghrib to retain their hard-earned credibility in the Muslim community, it is important to do this, and do it immediately.

AlMaghrib does a lot of good.   I might have some differences of opinion with their Dean of Academics (and one of their earliest instructors), Yasir Qadhi, but I respect him.   Many of us have watched and admired the public and honest way in which Yasir Qadhi has come to trace his own growth vis-à-vis his earlier Salafi leanings to his stance on the Holocaust.    That self-reflection and self-correction is a mark of a mature human being.  As an institution, AlMaghrib needs to do this, and do it immediately.

It is not enough to fire Abu Eesa.   Necessary, but not enough.   What we have to do is to vomit this virus of sexism out of our community.

 4)   The comments fail the Muslim community.

The comments of Abu Eesa are hurtful and demeaning.   For many people, women and yes some men who are rape victims, these are not funny comments, but old scabs being forced open to bleed again.    The comments objectify women, and also prevent Muslim men from participating in respectful and egalitarian communities.

5)   The sexism of the comments is linked to the racism of the speaker.

As always, a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.   Hatred towards one block of humanity tends to be linked to hatred towards other blocks.  While many have mobilized against the sexism of this speaker, it is perhaps telling—and a sign of how much work we still have to do on the racial front in our communities—that his earlier anti-black and racist comments failed to generate the same level of attention and controversy.

Abu Easa's racist rant

Abu Easa’s racist rant Abu Easa's Facebook page.

These type of racist language is reminiscent of the “humor” of Fuzzy Zoeller towards Tiger Woods, and is vile, unfunny, and again, a violation of Islamic teachings.

This pathetic, sad, racist commentary, again a very violation of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings on how there is no superiority for whites over blacks, Arabs over non-Arabs, has to be seen as what it is: part of the same legacy of anti-black racism that should have no place in Muslim communities.  Full stop.    It needs to be exposed, critiqued, attacks, and replaced by a genuinely Islamic social ethics.

6)   And lastly, at a much smaller level of significance, the speaker is simply not funny.  
He might deem himself the possessor of a “extremely dark sense of humour”, but these comments are simply not funny.   Hate is not humor.

We love humor.   Muslim community has nothing but love for Jon Stewart, for Stephen Colbert, for our own comedians (Azhar Usman, Axis of Evil Comedy tour, The Muslims are Coming!, etc.)   Abu Eesa is simply, sadly, pathetically, and unprophetically, not funny.

We deserve better teachers, teachers whose human to human relations actually embody the lofty ideals they espouse.

We deserve teachers whose command over the words of the Prophet actually bears a relationship with he who was the loveliest of examples (uswatun hasana).

And we deserve institutions that behave professionally and in a way that reflects high Islamic ideals.

We demand better.

Since we are a people who believe that beauty can come out of a crisis, let us hope that this whole painful episode can shine a light on the dark places in our communities, where we can come to rid ourselves of the viruses of sexism and racism, chauvinism and classism.    Some of this work has already started by the beautiful work that many Muslim women and a still too few Muslim men are doing.  May this work continue for us to create communities in which the full humanity of all of us can be lived out, and never up for assault.

 

 

 

 

 

31 Comments

  1. Well said!

    Although it should be enough that women have challenged his statements from day one, let’s be frank, as long as men remain silent, he might believe they support him. So all the more important is your response.

    Thanks Omid Baba

  2. Thank you for writing this. I agree with Amina Wadud that it should be enough that women have challenged his sexist and misogynistic remarks. Definitely important that more Muslim men show their solidarity, too.

  3. salam Omid
    I have admired many of your writings and shared them. Like Yasir, you have also “grown” in expressing views that have universal appeal. Your article here too has many learnings for Muslims of all grains.

    However, as Sana expressed in her article and tweets with you, the British Muslim community needs to lead this action because it is possible that our own context/biases color how we look at situations. When someone who founded a progressive organization in USA criticizes an AlMaghrib teacher (I have no doubt about your good intentions and that you not are being opportunistic), you can understand how students of AlMaghrib & the general conservative crowd might perceive such criticism. I fear that this only strengthens the divide.

    Not to say that people with different Islamic views should not or cannot engage on such issues, but it needs to be done in a more constructive and thorough manner. For example both the rape and black comments had a context. Now, that context might not excuse the comments, but they do change the entire picture. I urge you to look deeper into both these accusations and add context, even if as I said you continue to hold the same position. That is just fairness, which is should be at the crux of any dialogue and criticism.

    Finally, I would have expected someone in your position to talk directly to AE. Listen to him. He might not change your views an iota, but at least you could say that you listened and you were fair. If you wish to contact him, but have been unable to, I can try to find his contact for you.

    I have written an article on this as well. Hope you have a chance to read it.
    http://muslimmatters.org/2014/03/11/abu-eesa-humor-overload-and-apologies/

    thanks.

    • Aslamu-alaikum: Amad, i did read your article and i dis agree with you on many levels. I didnt’ leave any comments on that post bcse i knew i would be getting many hate comments from making comments on that post from many men on that blog probably even women. I having nothing against you btw you have been very respectful of men when i met you in person. My opinion doesn’t have anything to do with you. Firstly, your opinion about talking to him in private does not hold weight, because abu-esa’s comments were made in a PUBLIC forum to many women instead of deescalating the situation he continuously barraged the women on his post that disagreed with his comments. Rabia btw did so with utmost etiquette and adab. She also said something to the effect that he could apologize and women have a big heart and they forgive easily. Instead of realizing that he was hurting them he exasperated the situation and continuously made remarks to arouse everyone around on his post to make comments agains women. That is a tactic indicative of bullies on public forums and classrooms. It is a very common line that people who abuse use when they are doing it. Words such as “take a chill pill” “chi lax” etc when they are public belittling anyone and the bystanders also slowly start to participate. Many people that come from abused homes see that same exact rhetoric used, the rhetoric he was using and the comments made by the other men. One can call it a form of harassment. Thirdly, speaking of Al-Maghrib, many people have called them and no one has spoken let alone pick up the phone. I also know of one of my very close relatives that went to an Al-Maghrib class and did not enjoy it in that the instructor made many comments that were offensive and she came out not wanting to go and than she did bring it up to that professor’s attention and it was done in the most politest of manners. The next thing she saw was that he blocked her from making any comments. Dont’ agree with many of your opinions. I am sure more is to come out of Al-Maghrib. Lastly, you are saying that this is matter for uk to take care of faulty logic. I really don’t want to argue on that matter because it will be lengthy. The professor she was talking about, my close relative that is, was a class in the states. All the best to you are your wife. salam

  4. Thank you for writing this. As a British muslim woman, I and others have been shouting out against the Imam ‘ s terrible and demeaning comments. However, in the UK we have not had the traction that American colleagues have had. It’s not complex- he made vile sexist and racist remarks and needs to apologise as well as put in place some remedial action. All maghrib need to institutionalised training on violence against women for all of their imams.

    I disagree with Sana’s view on letting the British lead the way. Hate is hate and should be tackled.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to address this serious issue.
    I especially liked how you pointed out that any other Western community/organization in this situation would make it their job to respond on behalf of their employees rude comments.

    I also think it’s scary how despite having a massive amount of knowledge about deen(religion), some people can still not fully rid their hearts of hate. That’s really something to fear.

  6. Respect for women and compassion are at the core of every major faith and Islam is no exception. It is extremism and hatred that perpetuates rhetoric against women in any faith tradition. It is time to honor the spiritual wisdom that women carry.

  7. good to see an apology on al maghrib website; thank you Omid and all those who spoke out loud on those shmeful comments by one of their instructors.
    http://almaghrib.org/

  8. This article sadly suffers from a number of flaws, errors, inaccuracies and (no doubt unintentional) misrepresentations which could have been avoided had the author borne in mind the statement of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam), in which he said: “It is enough lying for a man to speak of everything that he hears” [Muslim], the Qur’anic imperative to verify news that reaches them, lest they harm a people out of ignorance, as well as the Islamic advice to hold a good opinion of our brethren, where it is possible to give their words and/or actions an acceptable interpretation. I will give some detail below inshaAllah:

    – You have not explained how he has exhibited bad adab. If it is by posting sexist banter in the spirit of good humour (which is what banter is), then I’m not sure about the US, but this is quite acceptable in the UK and I don’t see how it is bad adab. Perhaps there is a cultural difference between the US and UK at play here. I would also refer to the incident where the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam) jokingly told the old woman who asked him to pray for her entry to paradise that no old woman would enter paradise, after which she went away weeping, before the Prophet then sent someone to explain. Of course, it cannot be considered bad adab for the Prophet to have joked like that.

    – He did not joke about rape and FGM, as has been claimed. Again, one should investigate and verify claims before accepting them, as promoting unverified false claims about somebody who is innocent of those claims can be unfairly damaging to their reputation. The reality of his comments about rape and FGM is explained in the third paragraph of this comment: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=278503418979499&set=a.164105940419248.1073741828.145643265598849&type=1&comment_id=542716&offset=150&total_comments=191

    – You perhaps were not to know this, but he has stated several times that his page is intended to be for people who know him well such as family, friends, students and those who have been engaging with him online for a long time. The overwhelming majority of those who do know him well, including the women amongst them, were aware that what he posted was characteristic banter on his part, and took it in the spirit of good humour in which they knew it was intended, many of the women actually finding it funny and having a good laugh. However, since his page is publicly viewable and can be seen by anybody, it would perhaps be a good idea for him to look into alternative page options that limit the availability of his posts to the audience that they are intended for.

    – Those who are familiar with him and know him well, know that he is not sexist. This is by the testimony of many women who have studied under him, and is also proven (not that it needs to be) by this beautiful post (in my opinion) of his from last June: https://www.facebook.com/AbuEesaPersonal/posts/191409391022236

    Sexist banter in the spirit of good humour, on the other hand, does not a sexist person make.

    – The idea that he is racist is entirely false, and the apparently “racist” Facebook post that you referred to was actually parodying a racist attack made by somebody else, applying British-style satire to the episode. This was explained in this comment: https://www.facebook.com/AbuEesaPersonal/posts/176441819185660?comment_id=505507&offset=0&total_comments=88

    Yet again, these kind of allegations, of which he is innocent, are unfairly damaging to his reputation and need to be corrected.

    – What is considered funny is a subjective matter. Many people, including females, especially those are are familiar with him, did find his banter funny.

    Finally, I would like to draw your attention to this petition in his support, and urge you to read the text of it as well the comments underneath it left by many sisters who are actually familiar with him, know his reality, and are therefore supporting him:

    http://www.change.org/petitions/al-maghrib-institute-canada-u-s-a-u-k-support-shaykh-abu-eesa-niamatullah-for-almaghrib-institute

    I then urge you to sign the petition since you are now aware of the truth of the matter, and to please, as a matter of urgency, write an article which clarifies the truth, particularly about the allegations that he is sexist and racist, since there is no telling how many people will have been led to believe these untruths as a result of reading your article.

    Thank you for reading.

  9. Salaam,

    You know what…
    I am a female.
    I wear hijaab.
    I am part of the youth.
    I am a Muslim.
    I from multiple ethnic ‘minorities’.
    And I stand by Abu Eesa.

    Disclaimer

    First off, im not the sort of old ass hijabi that clings to the next imam they see like a ‘imam groupie’ jumping on the next religious leader that spits knowledge and cracks you up on the side….no. Just no.
    #oops did i just say that.

    Second i dont always agree with the way in which he says some things. But he is no where near claiming the title of Mr.Misogynistic-racist-that-endorses-rape-in-islam…im fairly certain you my friend are infact a groupie. (refer back to first disclaimer, old peoples memories tend to go quickly)

    Finallyyy, everything i am about to say…purely MY views. All backlash is to me, and me only.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Guys…If you actually listened to any of his lectures without all the hate and animosity you would probably realise that, hey, he’s trying to reach out to the youth. He has changed a lot of peoples views, yeh some of his jokes are borderline to some people. but take it with a pinch of salt BLOODY HELL. whats up with people. He’s as much a racist as Dave Chappelle. And if you dont understand that reference then im 95% certain that you are not going to understand the sly jokes that Abu Eesa slips into his work. Fair enough his adab is not to the standard of the great imam, Malik ibn Anas, mAbp #notamaliki and mayyy-beee he wouldn’t sit through 17 stings without stopping dropping knowledge on his youth, but surely we have some scorpions amongst us now who have had a dig wheeeeey more than 17 times. Also….Wtaf. Give up his job?! ‘You off your ead?’ He made an apology as well?!!

    I genuinely dont understand.

    Why waste time on something you clearly dont understand when we have starving children, go help a brother in Syria, go help a sister in palestine. Put all of that negative hateful energy into helping the ummah. If all you can honestly do is slate a imam. Then you my brother and or sister are the reason this ummah is going down the drain.

    Also im prrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeettty sure that when this blows over Imam Abu Eesa is just gonna have to spit ‘dry’ knowledge for a while. Incase somewhere out in the world someone may or maynot be offended by what he says.

    So thanks.

    Asalaamualykumwarahmatullahewabarrakatuhu.

    • Omid Safi

      salam alaykum “That Sister”
      I am grateful that you have beauty and meaning in your life. And that you feel like you “get” AE’s humor. Alhamdulilah.
      Here is what I always say: None of us should speak for others.
      If you find what he says humorous, good on you.
      But also look around you, and you’ll see that there are many women (and men) who are deeply wounded by what this teacher has said.
      You want people to respect your experiences. Right on.
      To have that, you also need to extend the same courtesy to others.
      Take seriously the injured hearts of others.
      May God bless you, and shower you with rahma.
      omid safi

    • As a middle-aged male Muslim guy, I have no right to say what “that sister” or other sisters should find humorous or offensive. (Omid underlined this point.) But I have the right to feel offended by male-dominant or racist discourses by another middle-aged male Muslim guy. Misogyny and male-dominant discourses create not only oppressed women, but also pathetic men who need serious therapy.

  10. I thank AE because this debate was much needed. Hopefully in the future scholars would be more careful about the wordings they use in their talks or online postings.
    I hate going to talks by many religious leaders because I am almost always offended by something they say. There is a deep rooted misogyny in the practice of our religion that needs to die out. Many are stating that being fun loving and jokey attracts a younger crowd, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of women (feminists or otherwise).

  11. Most Muslims I know have been polite to me. I of course wish to continue to be polite also. And it may not be polite sounding to point this out but Islam is not so kind to people such as me who do not believe in any God – and it is very unkind to women at least BY THE BOOK:

    WOMEN are officially RANKED lower than Muslim men….

    The Quran in Sura 2:228 says: . . “Wives have the same rights as the husbands have on them in accordance with the generally known principles. Of course, men are a degree above them in status”. . . (Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, vol. 1, p. 165)

    WOMEN may be HIT by the man.

    The Quran in Sura 4:34 says: 4:34 . . . “If you fear highhandedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, THEN HIT THEM. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great.”

    Thankfully, I hope most Muslims ignore their Quran more than they follow it.

  12. Astaghfirullah, may Allah guide us all. Attacking a man’s entire character, a man who devoted his entire life to Islam based on comments he made. What happened to an Ummah that used to love each other, forgive each other, look for the best in each other. I’m ashamed at how divided we are. And by the way, Abu Eesa sent hundreds of letters of personal apologizes, all to people who barely knew him and attacked him without thinking twice. I advise you to delete this post, and make Tauba, because its likely you haven’t ever spoken to him in your life either. Islam isn’t a corporation where you’re simply fired when you’re not being a profitable employee. We are an Ummah, if we are not united we are nothing. Shame on this post.

    • Omid Safi

      The Islamic tradition that I know thrives through vigorous (yet adab-infused) exchange of informed ideas. I am not in favor of using “fitna” accusations to shut down debates. But if there is a real fitna, it is belittling half of the humanity that God has created, belittling people used on their gender and race. I did send my message to Abu Eesa directly as well. May God bless you, and forgive all of us for our own mistakes.

    • Phantom….You talk about “peace” but you are divisive and insistent on enforcing Ummah.
      Let us at least allow each other to think for ourselves. Religion is nonsense and some of us know this.
      These faiths; Islam, Christianity, Judaism are cultural, traditional delusions we pass on from one generation to the next. It does not good to tell people they must ‘toe the party line’ and be united. We are individuals. If we have no evidence that God is real we must abandon these things for the sake of honesty.

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    A great read. I’ll definitely be back.

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