Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why We Left Damascus

Shaykh Muhammad al Yaqoubi al Hasani's students say that he comes from a long line of spiritual masters, descended directly from the prophet Muhammad (saws). This is one of his main claims to fame and authenticity and one that has had a direct effect on the many young people who have chosen to follow him in the past five years. He has been known as someone who is very exacting and strict about following Islamic law and adhering to orthodox doctrines. Sometime around 2004, several groups of us moved to Damascus to study Arabic and Islam with him, and one student's family bought him a large house outside of Damascus. This is on top of the many things all of us bought him before, such as first class plane tickets and stays in luxury hotels.

In 2007, many of his mureeds suddenly left Syria in great haste and returned to our homes in the US and UK. Several came forwards with allegations of emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse directed at his third wife (who was a student), another female student, and at least two housekeepers, as well as the public secret of his physical and emotional abuse of his first two wives – abuse that was documented.

The remaining mureeds were subjected to intense pressure to cut all contact with those who had left Syria. Anyone who asked questions about what happened in Damascus was kicked out of the tariqah, as were those who were deemed to be ‘possibly weak’ in their loyalties to Yaqoubi. Possibly because one of the victimized students talked to the authorities, as well as Yaqoubi’s past speeches where he had expressed support for suicide bombers, insurgents, and anti-American sentiments, Yaqoubi has not visited the United States or Canada since 2004.

Although many of his mureeds quit in 2007, he has continued to travel to the United Kingdom, where admiration for him among traditional Asian religious leaders means that he has built a new base of followers. Because of the Syrian government’s dislike of foreign Muslims, most of his students have been unable to go to Damascus and live near him.

Many of the traditional Islam mashaykh know about this but remain silent. Why so quiet boys? The leadership of Muslims fails once again.

The reason we followed him was to enrich ourselves with the sunnah of the prophet (saws). The person who teaches you this sunnah must embody what the prophet (saws) himself brought - the perfected character. When it became evident - and the clues piled up over years - that this person did not have it, we had no choice but to quit him. Do yourself and your soul a favour when you are looking for someone to impart the wisdom of the sunnah to you - skip this guy and keep looking.

When they tell you that we who left were bad Muslims with weak character, then ask yourselves, why was he praising us - even on recorded sessions - just weeks before? Why were those who now condemn us telling others to take advice from us and find companionship from us? Ask yourself, if we are such bad people, then what does it say about his judgment that the majority of his mureeds from that time were bad people that he invited into his home? Some of us were the caretakers and teachers of his children -- do you entrust your children into the hands of people who are of weak character and evil mind?

This wasn't easy to write and the decision wasn't easy to make. I did see the advice of some of the wiser men I have known. You have the right to know what we didn't know. You can make your own decisions, but do it wisely and with your eyes open.

Adaab is Not an Excuse

The whispers of wrongdoing are increasing. People are tired of being abused and taken advantage of.

Is there an imam or shaykh or mufti out there who hasn't been corrupted?

I was inspired by the courage of a few friends who left the tariqah in Jordan to tell our story. For those for the future who might be taken in, I recorded the story of us in Damascus. It's not a long story, but it is important that it is out there.

They speak of adaab. It is adaab that allows them to abuse us. Adaab forces us to keep their secrets. Adaab obliges us to look the other way.

Because of adaab, women and children have been abused, money has been taken, and precious minds have been led to insanity. When anyone raises a voice, or asks a question, they are told, 'Brother! Have some adaab! Istaghfirullah!'

If you believe in Allah know this - someday soon these people will have to answer for the things they have done and allowed. I believe that time is now. If the leaders who know about these thngs choose to remain silent, we should not. Let us warn one another, that we may save someone from falling in to something they can't get out of.