Abu Eesa is on fire. Why shouldn’t he be? After all, it pays to be in a position where you are tantamount to being untouchable. Despite the overwhelming numbers of comments on his Facebook wall pleading for him to realize how deeply offensive and hurtful his words were, the hundreds of thousands of upset Tweets, the tens of thousands of shares of my previous post and many others, he stands firm. He has weathered just fine a storm that began with many protests on his wall, his mocking rebuttals to them, and an escalation to demands that he be fired.
He issued many apologies, over 450 private ones, and about half a dozen public ones. But there doesn’t seem to be satisfaction in us, his critics. Why is that? How depraved are we that the sheer number of apologies is not satisfying us? It may be because sincerity can be spotted with your eyes closed and insincerity stinks to high heaven. It may be because he never once retracted his statements, or admitted they were inappropriate. Saying you are sorry you offended someone is different than being sorry for what you said. We learn these semantic games by the time we’re teenagers. I’ve played that word game many times, I’m married for God’s sake. It may also be because every public apology included a disclaimer embedded in it, and excepting from the apology an enemy du jour (or du hour). Sometimes it was feminists, sometimes feminazis, sometimes liberals, and finally, and most sadly, scholars who reprimanded him. He always saved a special paragraph or two to call out a group that he was currently praying a certain demise for.
The point being in the end he stuck by his words, so we turned our attention to Al Maghrib, his employer and waited for something, anything. That something came in the form of this statement that said very little because to actually take a stand would mean a break in the old boys club, throwing one of their own under the bus, a crack in the circled wagons. And it just wasn’t worth it to them. Why should it be? Abu Eesa gained 5000 followers in the past two days. That’s how palatable and profitable being shockingly inappropriate can be.Abu Eesa is not going to get fired, and I fully expected that. Losing your job because of such comments is what would happen in any other context in the Western world, but Muslims can’t differentiate between when to make 70 excuses for another person and when to demand a certain level of excellence in behavior and performance. Its reflected in our communities, in our masjid Boards, in poorly run Islamic schools, in weak organizations, in failed advocacy, in our lack of real influence on greater society. Give 70 excuses, and look the other way as your house burns down.
So what are we left with, what am I left with, after three difficult days? I’m left with hundreds of comments and messages, by both men and women, thanking me and sharing their grief at Abu Eesa’s comments. I’m left with stories by strangers who felt compelled to share their accounts of domestic violence. I’m left with awe at the fruit of Abu Eesa’s scholarship, comments by his students and followers, some of the ugliest comments I’ve ever read. A God-fearing person, a person not driven by his ego, would carefully examine the harvest of own hands. But piety and arrogance can’t share a bed. It’s one or the other.
Most importantly I’m left, and we are all left, with an immediate opening to many badly needed conversations. This issue forced numerous scholars to speak up and speak out, compelled either by their conscience or their constituents. They fell on different sides of the issue, toed different lines, and the benefit in it for us mere mortals is we can now gauge where they stand in our own estimations. As Imam Suhaib Webb said, the hadith is clear that the people must choose their imam, we are entitled to this. These conversations have made it easier.
@TheOmaRamo Yes it is. Sound hadith stipulate that an Imam is chosen by his people.
— Suhaib Webb (@ImamSuhaibWebb) March 12, 2014
Scholars silence on this issue only reaffirms to a community that women’s issues can be set aside as drama or not important.
— Suhaib Webb (@ImamSuhaibWebb) March 12, 2014
We have movement – people are talking, people are planning. Those in our communities who are always compelled to action feel no option but to move onward and upward. They can’t look away from the proof in written form that will be forever preserved on the internet that institutional sexism, one that allows jokes at the expense of the dignity of women, is part and parcel of the Muslim experience. Not just the Muslim experience in Muslim majority countries, but everywhere. We have evidence, not just anecdotes. Abu Eesa may always be around, but so will his comments. His relevance is temporary though, we just got woken up with a slap to the face and our focus has broadened. Dawud Walid said it best, our community’s internal issues are now clear: racism, sexism, and sectarianism. All healing begins by first naming the illness. Abu Eesa was just a symptom.
Most importantly we have a line, a firm line we drew between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Will Abu Eesa be more careful in the future with his jokes, or will he anxiously await International Women’s Day 2015 to regale his legions with more humorless humor? I suppose he has no reason not to. But we’ll still be here too. And as Muslims we’ll still respond to the Prophet’s (saw) call to stop injustice with hands when possible, with our tongues when possible, and in our hearts if nothing else is possible. Even though it may not seem like much, sometimes saying “enough” is enough.
Join me now in wishing Abu Eesa and his family in welcoming their newest addition, a baby girl born this week. I am certain Abu Eesa is grateful for the female doctors, nurses, and attendants that helped deliver this bundle of love, who not only took time away from baking, but could do their jobs better than they could drive. May Allah swt make her of the women of Jannah and cause her to be a source of rahma and respect in his heart for the rest of us. May she be protected from all the ills and abuses he mentioned. May she teach him that addressing women respectfully and protecting their dignity is not a feminist or Western value, it is a Prophetic and Godly value. Ameen.
*To the hundreds of people who have reached out, thank you, may Allah swt bless and reward you. To the #MuslimMaleAllies a special thank you for refusing to accommodate your brothers’ sexism, to my husband thank you for being patient and kind (it’s not easy being married to a DV survivor), and to the gentle soul, a community leader and icon, who reached out to me to assure that he and many others would always be at the defense of his sisters even if it meant physical defense, thank you Mu’tasim. To the women who were left as rattled as me, for who black and blue memories surfaced, and whose days felt haunted by Abu Eesa’s words, prayers and love. It’s true that he knows not what he does. But this can serve as an excuse.