Note: Despite the timing, this article is NOT about the latest scandal. Rather it is advice that applies in all situations were the sins of teachers affect your faith. I only wrote this because I read comments on social media from good people about how recent scandals have affected their faith.
The sins of teachers and the hearts of students
As humans, we all look up to someone or the other.
In our spiritual journeys, we tend to latch onto the people who were most instrumental in bringing us closer to Allah. Sometimes we latch on too closely and stop treating them as human.
We build an ideal image of them in our minds, and when they fail to live up to that image, our faith in the religion itself is often shaken.
This is not a new and unique scenario. It happens all the time across multiple religions. We know that a large portion of Christians left Christianity because of the sins of priests. Likewise, I have met many Muslims who have suffered crises of faith due to the sins of teachers and heroes.
Whenever the private sins of teachers are made public, or discovered by a student, we witness the following reactions:
“This is why all scholars are not trustworthy!”
“I will leave Islam if this is true!”
“How can I be sincere if my teachers are not!”
and so on, and so forth.
While these reactions are understandable. They are also quite extreme and easily avoidable.
I too have dealt with such people
You see, I too deal with cases that shake my faith, more often that I wish.
I have been a full-time student of Islamic knowledge since the age of thirteen.
Since then, over the past eighteen years, I was dealt with teachers who were frauds, egomaniacs, vulgar, violent (Edit: I initially had a very long list here of every sin and crime I had seen scholars and duaat commit. I decided to delete the list as it was too long, detailed and depressing for most people to handle).
So why am I still Muslim and still dedicated to Dawah and teaching Islam?
Because my faith is not attached to these people.
My faith is based on my conviction that the Quran is the word of Allah and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final messenger of truth. There is no sin that a person can commit today that can shake my faith is these two fundamentals.
But it wasn’t always like this.
The first time I was mistreated by an Islamic teacher, it shook my faith.
I was only thirteen years old, when my great grandmother passed away. I missed a day of class because I had to attend her funeral.
My teacher (a highly respected scholar in my community) punished and humiliated me the next day in front of the entire class. My crime: skipping class to attend a funeral.
That was the first time I doubted my faith. My young heart wondered what kind of religion would produce such a hard and cruel-hearted man.
It was only years later that I would realize that the religion didn’t make him cruel. It was him who made the religion seem cruel.
Since then, I have had too many incidents to list and eventually became immune to the sins of teachers.
So what can you do?
My story and experiences aside, the purpose of this post is not to make you feel hopeless and despondent.
It is to lift your spirits and strengthen your faith.
Over the years, I have developed a series of steps that has prevented me from having my faith shaken by scandals and revealed secrets. I want to share these steps with you so you can implement them too.
Here is what you can do:
Have a balanced view of your teacher
Love your teacher. Respect your teacher. Give your teacher the benefit of the doubt.
But do not elevate him/her to the level of sainthood. Do not expect him to be sinless and perfect.
Every single human being, religious scholars included, are being tested every day. Sometimes we pass, sometimes we fail. Just like you have your secret sins, so do your teachers. They too have at times failed to pass a test, and fallen into fitna. But just as often, they have repented and grown stronger in their faith through repentance.
So treat your teachers with respect, but do not expect perfection from them.
Rather ask Allah to forgive and conceal their sins and accept their Dawah.
Do not pry into their private matters or look for fault in them. Focus on benefiting from their knowledge, while keeping in mind that they are human.
Base your faith on scripture, not people
If your faith is dependent on a specific charismatic teacher, then your faith is built on shaky grounds.
Rather your foundation should be your relationship with Allah.
Make time daily to connect with Allah through Salah, Quran, Dhikr, reflection and Istighfaar.
Build a direct relationship with Allah through His Revelation and let that be the basis of your faith. If your faith is based on Allah and His Revelation, then the sins of man cannot shake it.
For private and personal sins, forgive and overlook
Every single teacher has personal sins. Everybody is struggling to obey Allah.
So if you discover a personal sin of a teacher, ask Allah to forgive him and overlook it. He is struggling, just like you are.
Personal sins refer to sins that do not affect the public or the Dawah. Examples include a teacher being addicted to smoking or vulgar music, or a teacher who fails to lower his gaze at times, or struggles with Fajr Salah. These are personal and private sins, and do not reflect his intentions or sincerity.
These sins should not make you look down upon the teacher. Rather conceal their faults, forgive, and overlook.
When the Dawah is affected, run away
There are three main wrong intentions why some men get involved in Dawah: money, fame and women.
Most Islamic teachers are sincere and dedicated to Allah.
Yet there do exist some teachers who use the religion to gain access to fame, money or women, and in some extreme cases: all three.
As we cannot see the hearts of people, it is very hard to know the intentions of teachers.
So what should we do?
We should assume a teacher is sincere unless Allah exposes otherwise.
I believe a hypocrite cannot abuse the religion forever. Eventually he will be exposed and his intentions made public. So do not worry about your teacher’s intentions unless their actions indicate otherwise.
Focus on having good thoughts about your teachers. Ask Allah to grant you access to teachers who are righteous, sincere and authentic. And Focus on benefiting from their knowledge.
But if it is made clear to you that a certain teacher is a fraud. If it becomes very clear that an individual is using the Deen solely as a business, means to fame or access to women (or all three)…Then to protect your faith, take your knowledge from someone else, whom you do not have these doubts about.
There is a fine line between having Husn Dhann (good thoughts) about our teachers, and making sure we only take knowledge from sincere students of knowledge.
The key is to make dua. Over the years, I have found that dua always revealed the truth to me.
Whenever I was doubtful about a teacher, sect, school of thought, specific institute or da’ee, I made dua for clarity and guidance.
I believe it was because of this dua that I have witnessed terrible hypocritical teachers whom I learned to stay away from. And also because of this dua that I have been blessed with sincere righteous teachers whom I benefit from.
Simply put: when in doubt, make dua, and Allah will guide your heart to the truth.