Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hollywood Imams

I must be a bigger fuddy-duddy than I thought because I'm finding the rich-and-famous lifestyles of many religious scholars quite scandalous.

Moving into upscale neighborhoods, driving fancy cars and jet-setting first class, a growing number of scholars preaching in American mosques are definitely living it up as they fulfill a strong demand for spiritual leaders for a burgeoning Muslim population.

I didn't realize how widespread the posh living was until I joined facebook--where many of them post photos, status updates as well as personal notes--and got a glimpse of their celebrity-like personas and ritzy ways.

Some examples:
  • Hot Wheels. "Sh. (Sheikh or scholar) picks me and some brothers up in a Rolls Royce!!!" one scholar boasts in his photo caption.
  • Swanky Hotels. Another scholar invites friends to his next speaking gig: The Fairmont San Jose Luxury Hotel.
  • Gourmet meals. This note accompanies a close-up picture of one scholar's dinner plate: "Crab, shrimp, green peas, mushroom and vegetarian stir-fry sauce. Bismillah (In the name of God) & al-Humdulillah (All praise is due to God)!" he writes.
  • Bold and Beautiful. "Tall, dark and handsome father of three and voted coolest imam (religious leader)" is how one scholar is described in the About section of his facebook page. 
  • Outrageous fees. Some are demanding up to $20,000 per lecture!
Wow. How did this happen?*

Religious scholars are supposed to draw our attention towards the Divine and away from  materialism, consumptionism and other worldly attachments that distract us from God. They must do so by emulating the lifestyle of Prophet Muhammad (S), who led a simple and humble life dedicated to fighting oppression and establishing God's system of social justice on earth.

But how can these scholars do that when they are neck-deep in chasing the "American Dream," unable to detach themselves from the materialistic allurements of this world?

"Anyone whose heart is overpowered by the love of this world is ruined," says scholar Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr. "But when love of this world overpowers the hearts of us, the students of theology, we not only ruin ourselves but we ruin others also."

That's because they lead us away from God. Scholars blinded by such materialism can't make the pure connection to God needed to understand, interpret and apply His teachings correctly, and that is why we should not follow them (regardless of how charismatic their personalities or entertaining their speeches).

God to Prophet David: Do not make a world-loving scholar a medium between Myself and you because he would take you away from My path. These people are robbers on the path of those who love Me.

Once accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, these scholars often end up compromising their God-given responsibility to speak the truth--weary of jeopardizing their popularity and material support--and give a blind eye to the injustices around them.

Hussain, the son of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times), condemned such scholars, who have been present in every time.

"O scholars, who are celebrated and enjoy good repute on account of your learning! You have taken lightly your duty as leaders. You have neglected the rights of the oppressed and the lowly, but have assidously pursued what you regard as your personal rights."

To lift ourselves and the world out of oppression and injustice, Muslims must recognize and turn to the true scholars (those with correct knowledge, piety and insight) for guidance and leadership on attaining success in this world and the Hereafter.

"Let's redefine the terms," says scholar Abbas Ayleya. "Let's not even call the person who does not practice his knowledge an aalim (religious scholar)."

I tried to get such a debate going after reading a series of congratulatory comments under the so-called scholar's Rolls Royce picture.

"Isn't it an oxymoron for a sheikh to be driving a Rolls Royce?" I asked.

"Nop3," came the swift response.**

I'm still confused. Was that a typo--or is the "3" the new "e"?
* While these scholars by no means represent the religious leadership across America, they are significant in that they head mosques in big cities and hold posts in major institutions. They have a huge following and influence on Muslims not only locally but also via the Internet.

**He later deleted my comment.


Samira said...

Totally agree with you. And Maulana Abbas Ayleya is right - we shouldn't even call them aalims.

There is plenty of discussion on the so-called glitzy lifestyles of the rich and learned. And I might even think that they deserve that much because of what they know, how they spread knowledge, etc.

However when you meet some scholars who are humble and simple, despite their high caliber, then you realize that these "Walmart" imams are just all talk, and no walk.

Yes, there are scholars who live in America and are not destitute while serving as alims and they don't feel the need to travel only via first class or drive swanky cars.

May God give us all the vision to see through these fake alims and give us tawfeeq to follow the righteous.

Taahira H. said...

A1/S, this is a great article. Thank you for bringing this important and controversial issue up and doing so much research. I have so much respect for scholars who live humble lifestyles because that means they are truly dedicated to Islam and spreading knowledge.

I wanted to say something else but I forgot what it is...

Last thought: I can't believe he deleted your comment--my jaw almost dropped open reading that! Tsk tsk.

Taahira H. said...

A/S again. Oh yeah, I was going to add that I don't even think Muslims allowed to eat crab, are we?

Salina Khan said...

Thank you, Sisters Samira and Tahira for your comments. There are so many people who sincerely seek guidance but never get it because they keep running into these types of imams, who are being heavily promoted all across the country. They need to be exposed and replaced with imams who are humble and insightful.
PS Tahira, I think some schools of thought allow crab meat.

Anonymous said...

Salaam Salina,
Again a very thoughtful and beautifully compiled blog. Congrats for that. Yes I agree with everyone else that there is need to open our eyes to see who is a true scholar and we should have the heart to follow them and most of all to support real alims and try to bring such topics to public more often as Salina did. Allah bless her.

Salina Khan said...

Thank you for the encouragement, Susan! May Allah help us recognize and seek guidance from the scholars He is pleased with, insha Allah.

Anonymous said...

It is incredible because prophet muhammad peace be upon him spoke of a time in which if we wanted to praise somebody we would prefer to them in a word that meant low in temperature... or cool... tell me that's not crazy! And not only that the person who they are praising would not have an ounce of faith in their hearts

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