Abu Eesa

Abu Eesa from his Facebook page

So by now much of the Muslim social media has heard about the controversy by the AlMaghrib instructor, Abu Eesa, in context of his atrociously vile comments about women and blacks.

His institution, AlMaghrib, has issued a tepid apology.

Here is what a real apology from Abu Eesa should have read like:

“I am sorry.
I was wrong.
I hurt many people.
My words were deeply offensive, and caused real injury to people.
My actions and my words, were a violation of the very teachings of Prophet.
My so-called apology was anything but.

To all the people that I have wounded, I offer my profound apologies.

I will, effective immediately, remove myself from any and all public religious instructions, and enter a professional counseling program to help me get to the root of my assumptions of male supremacy.

I need to learn why I would harbor such bitter resentment towards women, towards blacks, and probably towards other groups I have not even come to terms yet.

I will not carry on any religious instruction until the above issues have been sufficiently dealt with.
I hereby resign immediately from all affiliation with AlMaghrib institute.

Let me end the way I began:  I apologize to all the people whom I hurt.
May God heal the injury I caused you, and forgive me. “

And here is what a response from AlMaghrib should have looked like:

“We at AlMaghrib are committed to transmitting the depth of the Islamic tradition.
In order for us to do so, we need to actually embody the example of the Prophet through our instructions.

The words and actions of a former instructor, Abu Eesa, are demeaning, sexist, racist, and inconsistent with the prophetic ideals we espouse.

We profusely offer our apologies for the real injuries that he has caused women and men.

These injuries are real, and we take them seriously.
We have, effective immediately, terminated all association with Abu Eesa, who will never again work with AlMaghrib.

We make an immediate commitment to review and improve the participation of women in every aspect and level of our community and leadership.

And we will hire a professional company to conduct workshops for all of our teachers on issues of sexism, racism, and more.

We are also reaching out to everyone who has been injured through the words of Abu Eesa, and we are going to cover all the expenses of their counseling and therapy services to process the harm of these words.

We must do better, and with God’s grace, we will do better.
May God forgive us for our complicity, and we ask for your forgiveness as well.”

Let me end with a caveat:   As a man, even an ally, it is ultimately not my place to tell Muslim women what apology they should demand, or they deserve.  Far too many men–and even myself at times–have usurped women’s voice and occupied the space in which women can state the demands of their own conscience.

I hope I can write these words as an ally, to simply push the conversation forward, to offer one example of what a real apology might look like, and to move us beyond the focus on one individual to dealing with the systematic and institutional challenges that we face in our communities.


  1. Honestly, I find it a bit disheartening that this line:

    “My actions and my words, were a violation of the very teachings of Prophet.”

    had to be included. That people were hurt is a fact. That the Imam was wrong and offensive to many is a fact. Even if Muhammad himself appeared at a press conference and fully endorsed the comments, all of the criticisms made of them would still be valid. So why give any opening to turn this into a religious argument over an opinion (what Muhammad taught) that cannot be won or proven?

    The thing about Islam (and I can’t believe that I have to point this out) is that it is vast, it contains many different traditions that date back to ancient times and is composed of many voices, some of which sound pleasant to us, others of which sound offensive or poisonous. All of these traditions and voices have history and legitimacy. As much as we would like to establish as a premise that Islam must be purely good and just (as some of us today define good and just) and completely deny the validity of the traditions and voices that we personally find distasteful, it is something that is simply not in our power to do, because we as individuals are only responsible for our own relationships with God.

    Making the argument at all over what the Prophet Muhammad would or would not condone just allows the discussion to go around and around in circles over competing hadith and competing traditions and competing verses and competing faiths. This is not the way progress happens. As an example, slavery wasn’t banned (officially, at least) in Islamic countries because religious arguments were made that it was un-Islamic, it was banned because of foreign intervention, and then religious arguments that it was wrong were promoted and became (somewhat) popular. When it comes to such things as sexism or racism, societies (ideally with a sense of ownership of the process) need to first promote favored behaviors, and then wait for religious consensuses to develop. This is already working, as can be seen by this very article and others like it. But the lack of self-awareness in this article, that clubs its targets with “correct” Islam in much the same way reactionary radicals do, shows that there is much more work that needs to be done. Many scholars point out (correctly) that fundamentalist Islam is in many ways a modern creature; we should remember that liberal Islam is just as much.

    People were hurt, and people were offended, and objectively incorrect things were said. This is what should be focused on first, and if we win that argument, we will inevitably find that the spirit of the Prophet’s message will come to back us up.

    • He didn’t apologize. And we should not let it go. He claims to be a scholar of Islam. If I, as a woman, go to him for education, and behind my back he says things as he as been saying on Facebook, how can I trust him to have my best interests at heart? I can’t. I should be able to trust Imams and Sheiks. I should not be afraid and wary of them.

  2. I left this comment underneath he previous article that was posted on this, and am leaving it here too as well inshaAllah so that there is a greater chance of it being read by the author as well as others:

    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. For example, see this post: https://www.facebook.com/AbuEesaPersonal/posts/278045079025333?stream_ref=10

    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:


    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.

    • Omid Safi

      dear Uthman, wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmat Allah.
      I think you are perhaps mistaken about how social media and public dissemination of ideas works. Once you post an idea on Twitter/Facebook (something that AE does frequently), you are part of public discourse. As such, your ideas impact others and can be responded to, critiqued, engaged, or refuted. What one does not have the option of saying is to say: “I am going to say something that might be offensive, but only people that I decide can read it, critique it, respond it.” IF that’s what any of us want, then don’t make it part of public discourse. May God bless you, omid

  3. Astaghfirullah, how could you create such Fitna within our Ummah with this article. This looks much more like self promotion masked over with self righteous indignation over sexism and racism, two controversial topics which you knew would get people to read your article. Shame on you for posting this article, I advise you to delete it and make taubah and if you have a problem with Abu Eesa go say it to his face instead of hiding behind the internet.

    • 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.

      • You’re an embarrassment to this ummah. People like you, who promote their own selfish agendas at the expense of honorable men are the reason this world is in the shit hole it is in. Shame on you. May Allah have mercy on you.

  4. I’m not surprised to see that what happened in these comments was pretty much exactly what I predicted. Tying up the acceptability of something with declarations about how objectively Islamic it is or isn’t, even in passing, harms the debate and stalls progress.

    In popular Islam right now it is very common to claim that the Qur’an has scientific miracles that are only now being brought to light. Apologists claim that Islam gives lessons on embryology, the speed of light, the origins of iron, and literally hundreds of other topics that they claim are only being discovered now, thereby proving the Qur’an’s miraculous nature. (I’ve also observed this happening in other religions, such as some Christians attempting to show that science proves creationism)

    Unfortunately, not only is every example without exception that they give easily shown to be completely wrong and non-miraculous, and not only is it based on a mentality of paranoia that otherwise “western science” would disprove Islam, it falls apart on the simple observation that none of the supposed scientific miracles in the Qur’an or the Bible actually led to scientific discoveries. They were all “discovered” after the fact. And now that they have been “discovered,” they have not promoted any innovation at all. They simply confirm what we think we know and promote stasis and complacency.

    I am sure that Professor Safi would agree that looking for scientific miracles in the Qur’an leads to incorrect conclusions in some cases and in even more cases undermines the spirit of scientific progress and inquiry. Why then, does he seem so insistent to follow the same trail of thought with regards to social issues? These claims that Muhammad actually promoted equal rights and status between men and women as we today would understand it, that he actually intended slavery to end, that he actually intended polygamy to end, and so forth and so on, are essentially just a search for “social miracles” in Islam, trying to retroactively show that some advances made outside of Islamic thought were predicted by the Qur’an. And the problems that afflict the scientific miracles search still apply.

    The difference, I will grant, is that Islam provides frameworks to innovate theologically in ways it does not in regards to science. However, these frameworks are, at the end of the day, conjectural. When we try to extrapolate what is there to apply to today, it is impossible to do so in a rigorous way that is provable to others, in part because it is so hard to tease out where our moral convictions come from and how our pluralist societies have influenced us. As a result it is very hard to innovate effectively. This, I hope, explains my initial objection to well-written arguments being (in my view) marred by the inclusion of an opening to focus on not whether people are hurt now, but whether the Prophet’s teachings are being followed or not. If anyone thinks I am wrong, I welcome a chance to learn from others.

    • David, you’re in the wrong forum it seems. This is a discussion within the Muslim community, between and about Muslims. We cannot divorce Islam from what was said and done, but beyond that, I believe you are naive in your assumption that somehow, by removing Islam purifies the debate, and allows people to correct themselves without feeling like “bad” Muslims for admitting mistakes. If that were true, then the West should no longer have any racism or sexism problems, considering how far they’ve separated themselves from their religions. Of course, we know this isn’t true.

      Your comments re: the scientific miracles in the Qu’ran are odd and confusing. The Qu’ran does contain insights into the world which we could not have recognized unless we had discovered them before hand. That’s what makes it a miracle. Your argument sounds a lot like that of “creationists” who believe that science and religion have no common ground. I don’t know why you suggest that only “apologists” would believe that the Qu’ran illuminated current scientific fact long before we discovered it.

      • I am sorry, I assumed this was a public forum. I will keep that in mind for the future. I would like to reply to you though, if that is all right.

        I think that if we are going to accept the premise that Islam is varied and composed of many voices and traditions, we are going to have to accept that some of those voices will be disagreeable to us, even offensive, and that we do not possess authority to prove them illegitimate. I cannot prove objectively that the Aga Khan is or is not who Ismailis claim him to be, for example. All I can do is make personal judgments about it. And when I advocate for what I believe about what religion says, I need to be clear that I am speaking only for myself. However, we can’t live like this all the time, we need to be able to call out injustice with some kind of authority. So what kind of argument is actually effective?

        While the West is not free of racism or sexism (and, incidentally, is also not separated from religion), Western countries have made huge strides in combating these evils by a variety of means. Religion has played a major role, but what has swayed people’s hearts religiously has not been people arguing “God is really on my side” but rather “I am inspired by God too.” When we put the words “I violated the teachings of the Prophet” into someone’s mouth, all we do is just spark a defensive reaction, as some of the replies to this article have shown. No one can dispute that the Imam’s comments hurt real people, and this is indeed the key point of Professor Safi’s article, but because internet opposition has consistently included this argument about what the Prophet would think and what is good for “Islam,” it completely distracts from the debate. Do you think that the uproar over the Imam’s comments has led to positive change? And if so, what was it that caused this change – the realization on the part of some that such jokes were actually very painful for some people, or the argument that Abu Eesa’s behavior “violated the teachings of the Prophet.”? I would argue that no one changed their views about what the Prophet taught as a result of this. Some people, however, hopefully realized that these comments hurt people, and that therefore, the comments did not conform to their image of the Prophet. The second part, however, must be a personal realization, it does not happen from other people blithely insisting on what the Prophet does or doesn’t approve of.

        I hope that this makes it clear that I do not think Islam should (or can) be removed from such debates, but rather that I think that we just can’t impose our orthodoxies on others, even if we think we sound really great and progressive. We need to trust that God will open people’s hearts religiously, and focus our arguments and legal efforts on building safe spaces and empathy.

        I am still kind of thinking through these ideas myself so I appreciate your engagement.

        As for the scientific miracles, I am referring to a specific modern phenomenon that is based around showing that the Qur’an is provably miraculous. One popular example that you can find in many places online is this idea that the Qur’anic verses referring to human development after conception contain scientific facts that Muhammad could not have known, and that scientists have only proved recently. This argument is, of course, faulty. The verses in question contain knowledge known to the Greeks centuries before, are vague to the point of actually seeming to make false claims (science has improved on Greek understandings), and in any case they have not inspired any discoveries or scientific insights into embryology. This is why you find internet apologists arguing for it, and not classical tafsirs. Every other example of such scientific miracles is similarly easily shown to be not miraculous.

        When Islam entered India, Muslim scholars disputed with Brahmins and others, who questioned the idea of prophecy. If truth can be known through reason, then why have prophets? One of the arguments made in response was that Prophets revealed truths that could not be attained through human intellect. To the extent that the Qur’an contains “miraculous” truth, I would argue that it contains specifically that kind of truth. Realizing these truths, though, has to be an individual effort, and trying to tell others – authoritatively – what these truths are defeats the purpose of having a Prophet at all. It follows then, that the attempt to find objectively provable miracles in the Qur’an is not helpful, and we can see in practice, that these bits of popular apologetics only serve to do harm. Thus there is a backlash starting to form from Muslims against them. The Qur’an does not need to be a science textbook to be supportive of science.

        I hope I made where I am coming from more clear and if anyone wishes to discuss these questions in a more appropriate forum I would be happy to do so.

  5. Since my comments are extremely long (curse graduate school for making me this way!), I’ll try to summarize:

    Imposing orthodoxy is bad even when the positions sound obvious and right. Arguments made about faith should be in the spirit of sharing rather than lecturing, to not distract from the issue at hand. Authoritative arguments should be based on objective and empirical evidence.


  6. “Are you saying the Quran is wrong? Are you saying that Islamic nations must curb thier speech about disbelievers in order to make you comfortable? That tongues must be held from speaking the truth?”

    Well, depends what you want to accomplish. If you were buying house paint, for example, from a non-Muslim, you might want to say what color you wanted instead of just calling him or her a disbeliever. Otherwise, how would you paint your house?

    “And who says you have to live with them?”

    What a quote.

    The thing about amputations is, arms don’t grow back. The body might survive but it will never be whole again.

    “Of course I said have a nice day. Are you a muslim? Have you read the Quran? See 4:86”

    I know, I appreciated it :) And sorry for the confusion – I do not identify as Muslim. I have, though, read the Qur’an many times.

    ““I’d like to think God still loves the worst of creatures.” So why did He create hell?”

    The possibility of hell is a logical conclusion of free will (which I know, is a theologically iffy concept in Islam). It is not necessarily incompatible with a loving God, though I personally think most specific depictions of Hell are incompatible with a loving God.

  7. “OMG, do you step on your own tongue speaking in circles? Is hell compatable with a loving God or not? Should be a simple yes or no question.”

    If hell is a place where God sends people to burn forever with no escape – No.
    If hell is a state where people continually choose to reject God with full free will – Yes.
    If you have another definition of hell besides these two, I will be happy to answer about it too.

    “As for the book of jihad. Do you not think a body is better off (no pun intended) without a diseased limb than it is whole with a cancer. Or are you saying that Islam is not the one true religion. And sharia is not the cure for all mandkind. You speak in riddles.”

    I take the idea of “last resort” seriously, regret when it is used and hope to be wiser in the future so it is not used again.

    I am not a Muslim and I do not believe Islam is the one true religion or that sharia is the cure for all mankind. Especially once you start asking “whose Islam” and “whose Sharia.”

    “So you have read the Noble Quran many times. How would you define “spreading corruption” or sometimes translated as “mischief””

    A helpful verse for me is Qur’an 7:103: “Then after them We sent Moses with Our signs to Pharaoh and his chiefs, but they wrongfully rejected them: So see what was the end of those who made mischief.”

    So here it is defined as “wrongfully rejecting” the signs of a Prophet. Now, there’s a breadth of meaning to the “spreading corruption” phrase in the sources but I think this is the particular definition you are aiming for, right?

    Ok, so, what does it mean to “wrongfully reject” the signs of a Prophet? Is any rejection allowed?

    Qur’an 2:49 mentions that Pharaoh did not simply reject Moses but visited many tortures on the Israelites, such as rape and murder. Would he have been called a mischief maker if he had rejected but hadn’t been violent?

    Of course, this is more complicated when we start looking at hadith and the tafsirs of scholars. But just focusing on the Qur’an for a second, it seems to me that mischief implies some nasty force coming with the rejection. So even if you think I am sowing disbelief (that is not my intent), I wouldn’t count as mischief making because I am not using force.

    However, I can understand if you think that just the act of showing disbelief is enough now to warrant being called mischief. I’d appreciate it if you would show where you are getting that idea from, though.

  8. So if I am a Hindu, and in the past I worshiped my Gods honestly, can I convert to Islam, or am I lost forever? Dying in a state of shirk doesn’t mean they have to actually be praying at that moment, it is more general I think. Unless you think that a Muslim is only a Muslim when he is praying. So I think my fiqh is not so unreasonable.

    Islamic Empires never had much problem finding slaves. The history is largely forgotten or whitewashed (in America, at least) but the Islamic slave trade was gigantic and is still influential in both actual human trafficking and in the treatment of guest workers.

    Can you show some Islamic source that says that zina is defined as “mischief” or the spreading of disbelief? Otherwise, how is it worth killing over?

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