Which is worse, as far as preaching to the Muslim community is concerned?
A charlatan who hides his heresy while presenting to the Muslim community a facade of orthodoxy and righteousness?
An open heretic who feels no shame in promoting anti-Islamic views far and wide?
Don’t get me wrong. Both are bad. But which one is more destructive if allowed to preach to the community?
Recently I have been asked to comment on a case of Instagram celebrities who allegedly pretended to be devout, scholarly Muslim voices in order to amass donations and followers. I didn’t really feel a need to comment other than to make the following observation.
It is far more dangerous in terms of the health and state of iman of the Muslim community to have “sincere” heretics openly promoting deviancy than to have insincere munafiqin promoting orthodoxy. No question about it.
Obviously if it is established that a seemingly orthodox online preacher is going around offline telling people he is an atheist/agnostic working to dupe the Muslim community by pretending to be a Muslim online, that is a problem that needs to be addressed.
However, we have much bigger, more obvious problems with figures promoting all kinds of heresy online and offline yet being celebrated and promoted by what are supposed to be Islamic organizations and masajid.
If you look at many of the speakers in the major annual conferences in the US, Canada, and the UK, such as ISNA, ICNA, RIS, MEND, MAS, there are increasingly many problematic figures in their programming. But these individuals are given prominent platforms to spread very deviant ideas.
This is a much more serious problem for the community than an Instagram ruqya celebrity. This is because the open heretics are mingling in the same spheres as legitimate figures and scholars and, in some cases, the scholars remain silent on the deviance of the individual and thus give them legitimacy in the eyes of the Muslim masses. The recent case of MEND headlining Linda Sarsour in the UK for their “Losing My Religion” tour recently is just one example.
It could be said that the health of the Muslim community can be measured by its tolerance for open promotion of heretical ideas. For example, if I go to a masjid and I see that the community there is putting open zanadiqa on the mimbar, giving such individuals the green light to promote things that clearly and unequivocally contradict deen, then I know that this community has big problems.
The counter intuitive result of a healthy, strong community that does not tolerate heresy is that there will be more munafiqin, i.e., hypocrites hiding their heresy and kufr. This is natural. In midst of such a healthy community, the heretics have to hide their true beliefs. They have to pretend to believe in orthodoxy. This is a good thing. This is because the Muslim discourse and communal space remain pure of ideas and beliefs that could potentially misguide the believers. Only truth and justice are put on a pedestal and given respect and authority, while falsehood is shut down. On the other hand, when the communal space and collective discourse is polluted with heretical ideas that remain unchecked, then the iman of the Muslim masses is in acute danger.
And the proof of all this is to simply reflect on the sirah and the early generations. Munafiqin were far more of a concern in Madina as opposed to Makka. This may be explained by the fact that, in Makka, anyone who wanted to stand against Islam could easily do so by collaborating with the mushrikin without having to go to great lengths to hide their opposition. The young Muslim community was relatively weak and its enemies were strong, so no need to be covert. But this state of affairs changed dramatically after hijra. In Madina, the Prophet, peace be upon him, had established Islam as the dominant paradigm at every level of society. Anyone who wanted to stand against this paradigm had to do so in utmost secrecy or risk severe consequences.
Again, don’t get me wrong. Ideally, there would be no hypocrites. But this is an inevitable reality when Islamic values are being properly upheld. As I have said before, the far more serious problem are figures who promote LGBT normalization, reformist Islam, perennialism, feminism, etc., yet headline events that are supposed to be legitimate orthodox Islamic conferences organized by supposedly legitimate orthodox Islamic organizations.
So why do Instagram kids get blasted by the full force of online Muslim outrage, but the open heretics preach and tour with hardly a peep?