The Compassionate Imam® has become the standard by which all Muslim public figures are judged. There is nothing wrong with compassion, of course. What is a major problem is being exclusively compassionate at the expense of deen.
The Compassionate Imam himself often cites figures like Gandhi and MLK as models for his own soft, accommodating approach. And they claim that the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him was also like them. But the Prophet ﷺ was nothing like these figures. Yes, at times the Prophet ﷺ had compassion. But at other times, he was angry, stern, uncompromising, and harsh. After all, the Prophet ﷺ at times was in the role of a judge. At other times he was in the role of a warrior. At other times, he was in the role of a mediator. At other times he was in the role of political leader. To be exclusively compassionate means to be ineffective in these roles because these roles at times require meting out justice rather than mercy and turning the other cheek.
Indeed, the Prophet peace be upon him expressed the most anger when the commandments of Allah were violated. But is showing anger or being stern a weakness or somehow less than ideal? Of course not. A blanket state of compassion is what is weak and, in fact, inhuman. The Prophet ﷺ, on the other hand, was the complete human being who manifested a variety of modes of engagement, including harshness, throughout his prophetic mission.
The Compassionate Imam is an inversion of this in that he accommodates and turns the other cheek when it comes to modern liberal immorality but acts tough and stern when the liberal feminist culture tells him to be such (viz., the White Knight who denounces polygamy and repeats feminist platitudes like, “No man has the right to tell women how to dress!” ignoring the fact, of course, that the Prophet, a man, ﷺ was commanded by Allah to tell women exactly how to dress (Quran 24:31), etc.).
The Muslim as Perpetual Counselor
Here is an important clarification about my writing and speaking. I have made this disclaimer in the past but it is worth repeating.
I am not a counselor. I am not writing, speaking, and teaching as a personal adviser, life coach, or mental health professional. I do not address modern ideologies in the same way that an imam counseling troubled youth in one-on-one settings would address them.
The reality is there is a big difference between the context of personal counseling versus public discourse. The two domains should never be conflated. Why?
Because the context of public discourse is oftentimes a context of ideological warfare. And ideological warfare is just that. The enemies of the believers are not pulling any punches. They are gunning for the annihilation of iman and the Umma. And public discourse is nothing other than a “battle for hearts and minds.”
There are some who will deny that such a battle exists or will deny that Muslims should be fighting an ideological war. These people say that Muslims today are like the early Muslims in the Makkan period and should, therefore, avoid any and all conflict. But this attitude betrays an acute ignorance of the sirah. Allah says in Surat al-Furqan, a Makkan surah:
“Do not obey the disbelievers, and strive against them with it [the Qur’an] a great striving.”
This was the ideological fight that Allah commanded the young Umma to undertake in the Makkan period. It was not an armed struggle at that time, but it was still an important fight that Allah characterized as “jihadan kabira,” i.e., a great jihad.
So how should believers struggle in this cause? How should believers fight back?
This is decidedly not the context for personal counseling. One-on-one personal counseling between an imam and a troubled soul requires gentleness, care, compassion, understanding, etc. All that is very important and necessary, but it has its place.
The peak of folly is to send counselors to the front lines of ideological battle. Ideological enemies can only smile, maybe chuckle to themselves as they pummel the Muslim community while some confused Muslims preoccupy themselves with making sure they are always kind, sensitive, deferential, etc. This is not wisdom. This is not adab. This is the opposite of wisdom and adab.
Take as an example the issue of MuslimGirl, which I wrote about in depth recently. As I described it, this outlet is waging ideological war on the Muslim community. They are promoting the most vile ideas, sheer kufr, and passing it off to impressionable youth. This needs to be called out. This needs to be blasted. This needs to be dismantled.
Counselor-mode, however, is NOT the appropriate response. First of all, MuslimGirl is not a person, it is an organization. A well-funded organization that is being backed by very shady, highly questionable funds and individuals who clearly do NOT have the best interests of the Muslim community at heart. To promote a kind, gentle counseling approach to deal with them is an absolute betrayal of the Muslim community thinly disguised as “compassionate hikma.”
Some, however, insist that MuslimGirl and friends should be treated gently, kindly. “These are just wayward youth who need our support,” we are told.
I agree. They need our support by being stopped. As is related in the famous hadith, the Prophet peace be upon him said, “Help your brother whether he be the oppressor or the oppressed.” The companions asked, “O Messenger of Allah, we help the oppressed but how do we help an oppressor?” The Prophet ﷺ replied, “By restraining him from committing injustice.”
This is how to support such oppressors, not by ignoring them, smiling and nodding at them, encouraging them, quietly tolerating them while they unabashedly attempt to corrupt an entire generation of Muslim youth.
This so-called compassionate approach, treating every context as if it is about pastoral accommodation has single-handedly created an opening for every deviant, zindiq, murtad, and fasiq to push their agenda unhindered into the mainstream Muslim community. The enemies of Allah are feasting while some of us are working hard to serve the Umma up on a platter.
Ignorance or Feigning Ignorance?
So, why are some blindly insisting on this faux mercy and faux compassion? Two main reasons.
For one, many of them don’t even recognize that what the Umma is facing is ideological warfare. They have no clue. These misguided figures believe that fundamentally there is no conflict between the ideological underpinnings of modern Western society and Islam. I mean, they don’t really believe it despite any lip service they might supply.
They don’t really believe it because many of them have been welcomed by the Western establishment. They enjoy lucrative positions in the political, media, academic, and (recently growing) social justice activist establishment. They hobnob with tech moguls, current and former presidents, sports stars, celebrities, and state dignitaries. They get the red carpet treatment as representatives of a newly-tokenized minority group, a group that certain leftist movers and shakers are keen to appear to be tolerant and accepting of. How could such figures who enjoy the upper crust of Western modernity truly appreciate the depth of the conflict between Western modernity and Islam?
So, in their delusion, they maintain that modern Western liberalism, secularism, capitalism, etc., are at root compatible with Islam, or compatible for all intents and purposes. And this is why, according to them, Muslims first and foremost have to be “good citizens” of the secular countries in which they reside. This is why it is so important from their perspective to push assimilation and to constantly project the image of the Muslim who is “truly American” or “truly British” or “truly European.” “There is no contradiction between being a good Muslim and being a great American!” they plead. They ignore or sweep under the rug the fact that being a “good American” in this day and age means being and upholding many things that deeply contradict Islam.
One simple but telling example: Being a “good American,” according to the political and media status quo means honoring the national military establishment and “supporting the troops.” Some American Muslim figures and organizations fall into this by, for example, celebrating/commemorating Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, two holidays dedicated to the American military complex. Or, consider how many American Muslim organizations celebrated Khizr Khan, the father of the US Army captain who killed Iraqi Muslims in the US invasion of that Muslim country. Why would Muslims celebrate the family of a cold-blooded Muslim killer? Could it be their sad attempt to prove their American-ness by partaking in the American ritual of praising US militarism, an attempt to prove their American-ness by trumpeting the fact that some Muslims are in the Army killing the “bad Muslims,” too?
There is no ideological warfare in the minds of these Compassionate Imams® advocating American Islam®, British Islam®, European Islam®. According to them, the only problem with the West is islamophobia/racism from the right wing. If it were not for the islamophobic, racist right wing, the modern West would be a utopia of tolerance, justice, and prosperity. Does it not occur to them that the problems of modernity are deeper than the superficialities of partisan politics? Does it not occur to them that there is an underlying ideological war targeting iman and Islamic values? Does it not occur to them that the liberal secular feminist agenda is constantly attacking virtually every aspect of the Sharia and true Islamic spirituality? Does it not occur to them that there are government agencies, NGOs, and think tanks quite literally plotting strategies on how to secularize and liberalize the Muslim world? How could they not see all this? And if they do see, why do their actions indicate a blissful ignorance?
What do they say when Allah says: “They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah will perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it”? Do they think that only the disbelievers of the past had this goal and that the disbelievers of the present love Islam or are indifferent?
The purveyors of compassion are blissfully ignorant of all this. Or the more troubling possibility: they are not ignorant but they consciously decide to act as if they were ignorant to the detriment of the Umma.
What can we conclude, then, when Compassionate Imams actively ally and collaborate with these attackers? That is what we see: Muslim figures and organizations constantly advocating partnership with the Left, endorsing Leftist politicians, propagating Leftist policy positions, etc. And they justify all this with the nonsensical retort, “But the Right Wing is islamophobic!!!” Yes, of course they are. No doubt. But so is the Left Wing. Just because Left Wing politicians tolerate the token liberal Muslim hijabi woman does not mean that they don’t despise the Sharia, that they don’t despise the Quran, that they don’t despise the Prophet peace be upon him, that they do not seek to eviscerate traditional Islamic religious institutions and strip iman from the Umma, etc. This is not difficult to understand, yet it seems to completely escape those activists and Compassionate Imams who work very hard to push left wing political affiliations onto the Muslim community.
Trauma or Drama?
The second reason some denounce anything other than a counseling, pastoral care approach to public discourse is that they foolishly believe that Muslims are leaving Islam primarily because those Muslims have had some traumatic experience. According to them, the random youth who apostatizes only does so because a mean bearded uncle at the masjid shouted at him or because an abusive father treated him poorly or because a backwards mulla with a heavy accent failed to teach him compassionate American Islam® or British Islam® with all its peace, love, and tolerance. All this falls under the umbrella of “trauma.”
This analysis of apostasy in the Muslim community is extremely naive and irresponsible, partly due to the manipulative and equivocal use of the word “trauma” and “abuse.” I agree that a seemingly religious person, like a father, violently beating his child is abusive and causes trauma. No doubt. But is teaching ayat of the Quran that, for example, condemn sodomy traumatic? Well, hearing these ayat could indeed cause emotional and psychological distress to someone hearing them. But that kind of “trauma” is not something that is the fault of the reciter of the ayat or the teacher of those Islamic values.
Now if it were the case that apostasy in the Muslim community was primarily due to the ignorant actions of bad Muslims, then yes: Exclusively broadcasting “counselor mode” to soothe people’s trauma would be justified. But the reality is that the loss of faith in the Muslim community is primarily due to ideological conflicts and doubts arising therefrom.
But some in the community are blind to this reality because they mistakenly confuse iman with Muslim self-identification. The two are not the same thing. A person could very well think he is a Muslim and identify as such but have zero iman. This is the real problem of apostasy in this day and age: People who think they are Muslims but have not actually met the conditions of iman or have nullified their iman by adopting kufr beliefs.
It would be foolish to gauge the loss of faith in the Muslim community by only focusing on the handful who openly declare that they are leaving Islam. Usually people like this want to openly disassociate from Islam exactly because of bad experiences with the community. But these individuals are a minuscule slice of the bigger pie.
As a simple example, consider the Pew survey that says over 50% of American Muslims think homosexuality should be accepted by society. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this survey is accurate, though there are reasons to doubt it and view it as a way to manipulate Muslim attitudes toward pro-homosexuality. That being said, is not the iman of this 50% of self-identifying Muslims in danger? Absolutely. Yet, these 50% still consider themselves Muslims. Shouldn’t the source of such dangers to iman be analyzed? Shouldn’t it be addressed? Shouldn’t it be seen as a dire situation?
But guess what: There is no trauma involved here. This is about kufr ideology, namely liberalism, individualism, etc., infecting the Muslim mind. And in the realm of ideological warfare, trauma counseling is not only ineffective, it is downright dangerous.
Don’t get me wrong. Yes, there are certainly some Muslims who have undergone traumatic experiences at the hands of rude, ignorant, or abusive Muslims. Those victims have been left in a vulnerable state. Those Muslims absolutely need a wise imam (the older and more experienced he is, the better) or absent that, a knowledgeable, pious mentor to help them with their particular situation. And utmost care is needed because their iman is at a low point.
BUT it would be absolutely insane to calibrate the entirety of Muslim public discourse, da`wah, communal Islamic instruction, etc., on the basis of what would or would not appeal to Muslims at the very lowest point of iman. Think about how destructive such an approach would be. What about the rest of the community, the vast majority of which is not on the brink of apostasy alhamdulillah. What about their needs? What about what needs to be offered and taught to the wider Umma?
If we are self-censoring what we speak about publicly on the basis of what will or will not scandalize weak Muslims, then not before long most of the Quran cannot be publicly spoken about. And we are already moving in that direction. Seriously. Think about it:
- No teaching the ayat on hell-fire, since hell is traumatic and triggering.
- No teaching the ayat on the Day of Judgment because Judgment is judgmental.
- No teaching the ayat on Adam because that raises questions about the first of humanity being a man and not a woman (a cis man to boot).
- No teaching the ayat on qital because violence is toxic masculinity.
- No teaching the ayat on Qawm Lut because #LoveIsLove.
- No teaching the ayat on Bani Israel because that might make the interfaith picnic at the synagogue awkward.
- No teaching the ayat on hudud because the Salahaddin of Our Times, Ilhan Omar, says hudud are draconian and barbaric.
- No teaching the ayat on Dawud and Sulayman because they were kings and that’s contrary to democracy.
- No teaching the ayat denouncing the Trinity and condemning its proponents because then how are we going to make those viral videos about Muslims and Christians getting along peachy?
- No teaching the ayat about zina because that is slut shaming.
- DEFINITELY no teaching the ayat about “what your right hands posses.”
- No teaching the ayat about hijab because that is telling women what to wear.
- No teaching the ayat about Allah being the All Mighty Master and us being His slaves because, well, that’s slavery and slavery is the opposite of freedom and equality.
You get the idea. In one recent case, a very popular speaker addressing a Muslim audience in Ramadan did his best to avoid using the word “hell.” Rather than hell, he glossed it as “pain in the afterlife”!
So, the Compassionate Imams are well on their way. Post 9/11, many values and concepts were fully excised from the teaching of these imams: jihad, al-wala’ wa al-bara’, hudud, hisba, etc. These ideas do not exist within “American Islam.” Now we know that that was just the beginning of the whitewashing that the Compassionate Imams are dutifully carrying out.
Literally, the majority of the Quran could not be taught if the sensitivities of the traumatized and the confused were to be prioritized. Forget about hadith, the sirah, a large portion of fiqh, etc. What’s left? Publicly speaking about Islam becomes exclusively about regurgitating the same Christianized, liberalized platitudes about love, mercy, peace, tolerance or, in the case of the Relevant Imams®, overly dramatic grandstanding about social justice, Palestine, and the Bad Orange Man Who Is Bad.
In reality, the Compassionate Imam is far from compassionate. How can he be considered compassionate when he ignores most of the Umma just so that he can play the role of gentle counselor to a slim minority on the public stage? It is all too convenient, of course. Accommodating those self-identifying Muslims who have little iman left just happens to also coincide with accommodating a wider society, media, and political establishment that has no iman. Go figure!
Meanwhile, the underlying cause of loss of faith in the Muslim community is ignored. It has to be actively ignored if one does not want to risk running afoul of the dominant liberal secular status quo and, thereby, risk all the perks — in terms of status, popularity, access, and, sometimes, cold, hard cash — of being a token “good Muslim.” But it becomes easy to justify such a gross dereliction of duty by portraying oneself as a gentle soother of troubled souls, a sage upholder of “Prophetic mercy” shepherding his flock with utmost care. Invariably, ayah 159 in Surat Aali `Imran is cited:
It is part of the Mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them Wert thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee: so pass over (Their faults), and ask for (Allah’s) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs (of moment). Then, when thou hast Taken a decision put thy trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him). [3:159]
The context of the ayah is not explained, of course, because apparently context is only necessary for ayat that are contrary to modernist norms. Some may be surprised to learn, however, that, according to the tafasir, this ayah is not referring to delinquent Muslims toying with apostasy or zanidiqa working day and night to change the deen. Rather, it refers to noble Sahaba some of whom made a critical mistake in the heat of the Battle of Uhud, Sahaba who nonetheless had given everything they had, including their lives, to fight for the sake of Allah. That is a very specific event that occasioned the revealing of the ayah as applicable to very specific people, yet some faux-traditionalists on social media want to use this ayah carte blanche to justify their cowardly selective silence in the guise of “gentle wisdom.”
What the Compassionate Imam will never cite is this ayah:
O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh upon them. And their refuge is Hell, and wretched is the destination. [9:73]
The command from Allah is wa-ghludh, i.e., be harsh, which is the same exact term used in the preceding ayah: “…had you been severe and ghalidh, i.e., harsh…” So, is this a contradiction? In one ayah Allah is saying not to be harsh but in another he is commanding harshness? There is no contradiction. Allah commands harshness in certain circumstances. In the tafasir for this ayah, the hadith is cited where the Prophet ﷺ says, “Wage jihad against the disbelievers with your hands and your tongues.” And the jihad of the tongue means speaking and writing.
Allah also says:
O you who believe, fight those near you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous. [9:123]
Again, the word for harshness here is ghildha.
Furthermore, Allah issues a clear warning to the Muslims who reject His way:
O you who have believe, whoever of you should revert from his religion – Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him [who are] humble toward the believers, powerful against the disbelievers; they strive in the cause of Allah and do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favor of Allah; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. [5:54]
Note the importance of humbleness towards the believers, not the hypocrites, not those who change the message of Allah with their hands and their tongues, not the zanadiqa who shamelessly promote every deviance and immorality.
As far as ideological warfare and compromising deen is concerned, this ayah is abundantly relevant as well but seldom mentioned by the saccharine crew:
They wish that you would soften [in your position], so they would soften [toward you].
The tafasir of this ayah (68:9) describe how the disbelievers push towards softness and compromise in particular aspects of Islam that should never be compromised or “softened.” This is manipulation of the most insidious variety. Yet this is what some have fallen for hook, line, and sinker. And they claim that wisdom and the Sunna is on their side!
For example, the mushrikin in the time of the Prophet ﷺ offered a compromise: We will worship Allah on certain days of the week and on other days of the week, the Muslims will worship our idols. “Let’s meet half way! Seems fair, right? We don’t have to be so black and white about it. We can accommodate each other, right?” But this deal is rejected in no uncertain terms is Surat al-Kafirun. “To you [polytheists] your religion and to me my religion.” No compromise.
And we see similar ploys up to this day where Muslims are told to soften their position on LGBT, on salvific exclusivity, on taking the disbelievers as awliya [5:51], etc., in order to achieve inclusion and acceptance. The Compassionate Imam has proven himself to be only too willing to strike such deals (usually misusing and misapplying the Treaty of Hudaybiyya to justify their spineless, self-interested behavior).
In sum, taken altogether, these sources clearly establish how, at times, harshness is not only appropriate, it is absolutely necessary. Therefore, those Compassionate Imams who maintain that only soft accommodationism is sanctioned by the Quran and Sunna, especially when it comes to liberal secular feminist deviance being forced onto the Umma, are brazenly distorting the religion.
So, no. We cannot all be counselors. And, no. All our public discourse cannot be gentle and kind, contrary to what the Compassionate Imam would have us believe. Is all medicine sweet? Is all medical treatment painless? Those who refuse the bitter, the unpalatable, the uncomfortable, the inconvenient, the unpragmatic are destined for a premature and unceremonious demise of the soul.
O Prophet, fear Allah and do not obey the disbelievers and the hypocrites. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise. [33:1]