Sometimes a quest for truth is really just a quest for the self-esteem that’s lost every time the inconsistencies of life bulldoze our metaphysical house of cards. Like when we realized that that woman dressed in a skirt appears more innocent and less sexualized then some of the Hijabi women we know. Or, when your beer-drinking colleagues prove to be more honest and righteous then the card-carrying Muslims who never touched the stuff.
Or, when we discover that our hero, mentor, teacher, Imam, or the pillar of our community is a fraud, a charlatan — an imposter.
When we are confronted with visual or psychological contradictions to what we believe to be true, our mind’s automatic response is to recalibrate its moral compass in the direction of moral relativism. We have no choice but to conclude that appearances are not a sufficient indication of truth and goodness.
Hypocrisy is a common human deformity. We all take some measures to avoid negative scrutiny. We have all been hypocritical at various points in our lives. But this is often done innocently, out of weakness or insecurity, and is not premeditated.
An imposter or spiritual abuser, on the other hand, is intensely and methodically dedicated to the cultivation of an image, a disguise, a false personality — not necessarily to perhaps conceal their true selves from others but worse, to control them.
What Constitutes a Spiritual Abuser?
Spiritual abusers leverage religion as a way of securing personal power over our consciousness. They use God as the basis for their claims against our will, and use the community’s needs as a claim against our rights.
And, they will not be interrupted by those who suspect their motives, because their status as spiritual giants silences and casts doubts into the hearts of those who can question them. Even when they are exposed, they will invoke high minded ideals, like radical mercy, and caution you against becoming judgmental or jealous.
Spiritual abusers will convince you that this is just a pop quiz from God, so sharpen your pencils and remember what you have learned from them. And, if they become really desperate, they will download the file on “conspiracy theories” that they have already programmed into your previously fragile psyche.
They will confuse you by blurring the lines between your garden variety hypocrite (which they will claim you are) to the charlatan spiritual abuser that you suspect them of being, so that you will not be able to be critical for fear that you will appear hypocritical.
Spiritual abusers mutilate our perceptions so that the only way to recover and not feel vulnerable is to either never trust anyone again or, to trust everyone by embracing the idea that all are worthy of forgiveness no matter how evil.
Spiritual abusers destroy a believer’s ability for discernment, leading them to spend a life time searching for guidance like a blind man in need of a guide dog.
A religious imposter is someone who has no identity independent of the perception of others and feels that he is a victim of their expectations, which he must fulfill to secure the attention and praise that has become his addiction and fix.
Redemption and Recovery
Both good and evil are made of truth. But good cannot tolerate any degree of falsehood and survive, while evil cannot survive without being disguised by some truth
I feel that the damage done by charlatans is often further exacerbated by well-meaning leaders who advise the victims to bear the matter with patience, as opposed to giving them the license to have a normal healthy emotional reaction. Feeding them the same spiritual language that they heard their abuser preach on countless occasions is counterproductive.
Invocations to patience and reminders that your trust should have been with God and not with this or that person, only lays blame on the victim and shames them for what you are implicitly suggesting is their stupidity.
Victims are entitled to a normal human response and do not have to feign piety and patience for the benefit of our communal redemption. When an injustice is inflicted, the advice to deal with it like a saint, to absorb the pain and pretend that it has made us into a better person instead of a bitter one, is often the very thing that leads grown men to atone for their emotional deprivation through the emotional manipulation of others.
Asking someone to take the high road after having been victimized by a low life is not only denying them the right to be human but it’s doing violence to their already injured soul.
The sooner we learn the signs to recognize spiritual abusers around us and support victims in whichever way they need, the sooner we focus on the messages of faith and spirituality that will sustain us.
Inas Younis is a Kansas City-based freelance writer and commentator. Her opinion pieces and personal essays have been published in various websites and magazines. Inas is an active volunteer in several interfaith initiatives and serves on the board of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. She is also a contributor to a forthcoming 400-page community-led guide, aimed at mobilizing Muslims to take a stand against violent extremism and develop narratives of peace. Her work was featured in an anthology titled “Living Islam Out Loud.” Her column, “The Muslim Monad,” appears in Altmuslim during the first week of every month.