It is very traumatic to find out that the person you’ve been listening to for years has changed or is now expressing increasingly deviant views.
If you recognize this deviance, consider yourself one of the fortunate ones. Most of the fans of the person won’t even understand the problem because their entire source for learning Islam is the preacher himself. So these fans don’t even have an objective measuring stick needed to know what is or isn’t corruption. Their understanding of Islam completely depends on whatever the celebrity teaches. If he changes, they change.
I have gone through this trauma myself. People that I thought were upright scholars of deen that I loved and respected turned out to be unabashed sell outs. It wasn’t one or two “off the cuff” remarks that made me realize this, but an extended pattern of behavior, associations, and private correspondence. When I talked with the preachers in question about these issues, rather than assuage the worry, they compounded it by doubling down, excusing their behavior, making ugly accusations against me, accusing me of disloyalty, etc.
What I have seen is that when fans of celebrity compassionate imams find out about corruption and deviance, they go through the 5 stages of grief.
Stage 1: Denial
The first thought is, “This is nothing.” The fans don’t want to hear anything bad about the preacher. So they ignore all the evidence and try to shield themselves from seeing anything incriminating so that they can maintain the pristine image of their beloved preacher. Sadly, many do not leave this stage, no matter how much evidence there is.
Stage 2: Anger
In this stage, the fan lashes out at anyone pointing out the corruption/deviance. It is very sad to see these individuals because you can hear it in their voice how tortured they are. They view the celebrity as a family member. Sometimes they love the preacher more than their own family members. But they also are confused and can sense that something is not right. This contradiction causes mental anguish and they release this frustration by lashing out at others and defending the preacher at all costs.
Stage 3: Bargaining
Eventually the fans cannot deny that there is something off with the preacher. By now, multiple independent sources have brought up the same problems and the preacher himself has done nothing to satisfactorily address the issues, much less resolve them. Sometimes he might even double down. The fans start to bargain with themselves: “Well, there has to be an explanation. It must have been out of context, it was an innocent slip,” etc. They tell themselves, “Ok, so maybe he did make a mistake. But so what? No one’s perfect!” They bargain with themselves, “I’ll just take the good and leave the bad. No problem.”
Stage 4: Depression
This stage hits like a ton of bricks. The previous stages of coping could not stop the inevitable realization. Now they have reached full-on grief and it can be very ugly. For some, their Islam is threatened. They have so closely associated Islam with this preacher that they transfer feelings of betrayal to Islam itself or ulama and scholarship as a whole. Some fans, in their grief, make dramatic pronouncements like: “I will NEVER listen to another scholar again!” This stage can last for weeks or months.
Stage 5: Acceptance
If Allah wills, the now ex-fans reach a stage of maturity. They now understand that not every preacher today is trustworthy, to say the least, and some of them may have the external trappings of traditional Islam when in reality, they are nothing more than faux-traditionalist wolves. They have moved past blind fandom and start to distinguish between the feel-good fluff version of Islam taught by compassionate imams from the kind of Islam taught by traditional scholars for centuries. They may have scars, but the healing process is well underway.
An excellent example comes from the Sahabi Salman al-Farsi. He spent his early adulthood leaving the religion of fire-worship to become Christian. He would find a Christian scholar to study with, learn all that he could until the scholar would die and then he would move to study with the next scholar. In some cases, he found out that one of the Christian scholars he was studying with was corrupt, literally stealing from people. He didn’t give up or say, “Well, we can only follow the dead!” He moved on and sought the truth. Eventually that led him to RasulAllah ﷺ and he became one of the greatest Companions, may Allah be pleased with them all.
Be like Salman. If one preacher burns you, there are many righteous scholars in our day and age who stick to the truth and don’t sell out. Seek them out and Allah will guide you to Him bi idhnillah.