Disillusionment with the Community and the Self
Originally published at Safa Center
When Religious Leaders Fail: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
The second level of disillusionment is with the community at large. Here are the aforementioned points that deal with this level:
- You may feel disappointment with the masses for following such people with the same ‘blindness’ that you once did. Some of their fans may even continue to defend the religious leader and blame the people who were harmed for daring to speak up.
- You may feel a general lack of hope for the Muslim community. If corrupt or complicit are the leaders, and blind are the followers, what if anything can be done toward progress?
- You may feel isolated and disconnected because this issue doesn’t seem to bother others around you as much as it bothers you.
In other words, you feel like a total stranger within the Muslim community because you choose to take a principled position on this type of thing. You have the courage not to lie to yourself about the reality of what has occurred in front of you. At the same time, it feels horrible to be at odds with people who are supposed to be your ‘community.’ Ignorance—at least while it lasted—seemed more blissful than disappointment. For personal healing, just as it takes courage to stand for truth, it also takes courage to have a higher level of compassion and mercy toward those who are just not there yet, without compromising your own position of integrity.
When the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) died, this was truly the greatest test of our ummah (community). People simply did not know how to cope or deal with the news. Abu Bakr radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) as a true inheritor of the Prophet ﷺ directed people when no one else could: “Whoever worships Muhammad ﷺ let them know Muhammad ﷺ has died, but whoever worships Allah, let them know Allah lives and never dies.” The companions were in total disbelief and their pain needed guidance and direction for healing. You may need to take a similar position of wisdom and compassion in your community as an expression of your loyalty to truth. “Whoever worships the religious leader, let them know the religious leader is human and capable of great sin. Whoever worships Allah, let them know only Allah is absolutely perfect and only He is above accountability.” When you meet the defensive fan, the blind supporter, the aloof community member, or the complicit ally, realize that they are also part of the test but they do not all bear the same levels of responsibility.
Have as much compassion and mercy as you can for the fan, supporter, and aloof community member. You may have been exposed to the issue before them for a purpose. It’s not to condemn them, but to help them through dealing with the unbelievable, the depressing, if they are open to that lesson from you. If they are not open, be confident that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) will guide them from a source better than you if they are sincere. If they are not sincere, they are still in the hands of Allah (swt). Our job is not to control everyone or judge their hearts. It’s to invite everyone to a better way, in a better way. You cannot help a people you are disgusted with. You must return to compassion and mercy. Furthermore, you are disgusted with a people when you attribute the source of your ‘correctness’ to yourself.
If Allah (swt) had not favored you with the blessing of insight, you could have just as easily been the blind fan, even the complicit ally. Have compassion and mercy from a place of gratitude and humility with Allah– because Allah (swt) had compassion and mercy on you by letting you recognize falsehood as falsehood. Guidance is the true blessing, not ignorance. Let your sense of hope for progress come from your gratitude to Allah for everyone who does behave responsibly toward the situation including yourself. Always magnify the good in your mind and express it to Allah and magnify Allah’s infinite ability to help your community grow stronger through this test. Your eyes may have grown accustomed to the dark, but you won’t be able to see again unless you focus on the light, even when uncomfortable.
Recognize a fan in denial may accuse you of all sorts of horrible things. Realize that is their pain speaking. Don’t internalize it, don’t allow it to cause you to doubt yourself, don’t take it personally, and realize truth is always known in due time. Imagine Abu Bakr (ra) rising above that most painful situation, not taking to heart Umar’s threats to kill anyone claiming the Prophet’s death. Abu Bakr remained loyal to his responsibility in front of Allah (swt). Witnessing people reacting the wrong way does not mean the situation is “out of control.” The situation is always under control because Allah al-Qadeer (the Powerful) is ever present. Exercise your control over your immediate choices without fearing for what is outside of your scope of influence. Your responsibility is only to Allah (swt).
When it comes to compassion and mercy, the expression of that to the complicit ally is different. The complicit ally knows deep down what they are doing is wrong, but they may be in denial as to the heaviness of their crime. They are usually unfortunately opportunists who believe anyone they are close to is deserving of a different standard of treatment or they might just be cowards, fearing the famous and influential more than they fear Allah (swt). On rare occasion, they are actually just incredibly confused people because of the inability to negotiate the disconnect between their own gratitude toward the figure and the very harmful actions the figure is involved in. In any case, they actually need to see the failed religious leader held accountable to learn that crime doesn’t pay and there are no worthwhile perks to assisting powerful people who abuse their position. Depending on how complicit they were, they may also need to be held accountable in a public way. If their role was limited to silence, it may be that they hated it in their heart and thought that was enough. For the silently complicit, if deliberate support cannot be proven legally, I would leave them to Allah (swt) and pray for their guidance.
This seems like a lot of compassion and mercy for those who don’t deserve it, right? We don’t practice mercy and compassion because we have judged that people are worthy of it. We practice mercy and compassion because Allah (swt) loves for us to do so. This mercy and compassion takes different forms depending on the circumstance. Private mediation is best sometimes, while other times public accountability is required. If it’s coming from a place of mercy, it will naturally fall in the best place. We allow it to come from mercy and not revenge to liberate ourselves from residing in a place of continued suffering. Mercy in our hearts toward others is mercy toward ourselves.
Many times, when people find it hard to turn a soft heart toward others, it’s because they are also being extremely hard on themselves. They keep replaying their own mistakes and weaknesses in their own mind relentlessly without forgiveness. They do the same with others, which creates ‘hiqd’—the hateful grudge that is disdained in Islam. If you have hiqd towards others, you very likely also have it toward yourself.
This leads us into the discussion of the third level of disappointment, that of your own self. Here are the related points:
- As a once devoted student, you may now feel nothing when you hear about Islamic lectures, classes, and events featuring other speakers and religious leaders. After all, they could be corrupt as well. Why risk the pain of getting emotionally ‘burned’ again?
- You may also feel disappointment in yourself for not being ‘smarter’, wiser, for not seeing through the deception. This may also mean you lack trust in your own judgment and don’t trust yourself to trust again.
The first point is an illusion. It seems like you are not trusting other teachers, but in fact you don’t trust yourself to identify them. You are protecting yourself from your own perceived lack of judgment. Additionally, you blame yourself for being in this place of apathy and numbness toward learning and growth as well. The first two points are actually one and the same. You may be blaming yourself for not listening perhaps to the ‘bad vibes’ that warned you before about the religious leader, blaming yourself for being so gullible, for not being able to practice husn al-thann (thinking well of others / things / situations) properly. In essence you are saying, it’s your fault this happened to you and you don’t deserve the right to trust yourself again and make yourself vulnerable. As easily as you wrote the community off as being a failure, you’re also writing yourself off. The problem with this entire line of thinking is that it is framed so incredibly wrong.
Let’s reframe it correctly. Personal mistakes in judgment are not failures and do not mean you are not worthy of trusting yourself to trust others. Think of Google maps on your phone. You have a map with only so much detail on it until you zoom in. Difficult situations in life help us to zoom in and take note of where we are. If you take a wrong turn, you are redirected. In other words, your map gets upgraded. A wrong turn only gives you more information on what to look out for in the future. Maybe you find an app for an even more detailed map just to cross-check your chosen path or for additional features like nearby amenities, etc. that you didn’t have before. These are the many priceless lessons and fueling stations we need on the journey. When we head toward something we can’t find, the upgraded map allows us to change direction and find a better alternate destination. We are getting stronger, wiser, better, and are more prepared than before. You don’t need to throw away the first map altogether, you are simply upgrading, adding, and fine-tuning.
If you can retain the lessons, let go of the pain, and redirect your focus once more, you enter into a place of increased blessing and vision and are *better* equipped to trust yourself than you were before. So have mercy on yourself and recognize you didn’t fail, you simply upgraded your map. Our maps will need upgrades periodically throughout life, and it only makes us better travelers. Have mercy and compassion on yourself by trusting yourself as a stronger traveler. When you do so, you will be empowered to have mercy and compassion with your community as fellow travelers you hope to help.
In the fourth and last part of this series, we will deal with the final level of disappointment and disillusionment. Until then, I pray Allah makes us all ever stronger travelers on the path to Him. Ameen.
Thank you so much for writing this – I have been grappling with this state of mind building to an existential crisis for the past several years. This really helped to feel like I was not alone and just to wrap my head around the struggle of how to cope with it and overcome it, to still maintain my faith despite it all. It has been a long and gradual journey, but I guess it also might be a never-ending journey.