Former K-Towners who leave Islam

Recently sister Safiya (Outlines) posted an article about the situation of women who got hurt in the Kharabsheh or “K-Town” community in Jordan; this is the community of Shaikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller’s students who settle in or around his zawiya. One recurring theme, in a comment on that entry and on a blog linked off that entry ([1], [2]), is that there have been a few women who have left Islam after having a miserable time there.

I don’t think this is a convincing argument. For the most part, you can’t blame the people who treated someone badly for them leaving Islam, because the case for Islam is unrelated to the behaviour of any given group of its adherents. A person who leaves Islam in reaction to, say, a husband mistreating her, may think she is spiting her husband but is not really harming him, but only herself. There are, after all, Muslims who bomb underground trains and who have flown planes into buildings, and do far worse things than have been alleged of the two women who are at the centre of most of the allegations about K-Town.

Two of the three women mentioned who left Islam (assuming that one of the two whose stories are on Umm-ah — [1], [2] — aren’t the same person who writes the Tree Dreamer blog) were having doubts about Islam anyway. A brother (presumably) called Albedo linked an article at Tree Dreamer, noting that the author had become an atheist but had once been “one of our best & brightest” while she was in Jordan. However, I read the article before she withdrew it, and it is clear that she never really believed anyway:

So did I believe in the silly practices of my religion? I’d say I pretty much didn’t. It all struck me as somewhat silly, even at my most fervent. Like the commands about how to sleep. I just slept however I wanted to, without regard for how my head and arms were positioned, or which direction I was facing, and so on. I wanted this religion to be true, and when I was younger I thought it was. Speaking strictly for myself, I knew that if this religion turned out not to be true then it would be my exit from all theism. Core basics like deity and scripture were easy for me to accept – society largely conditions us to be god-believers so that even if we are questioning or disagreeing with our cradle religion or organized religion in general, many of us still say that we believe in some god out there.

The theme of someone leaving Islam after coming to associate it with a particularly unpleasant or rigid variant is not new — the essay The Wahhabi who Loved Beauty gives an example from Saudi Arabia — but it’s not an excuse at the end of the day; a person may be forgiven for it if it’s temporary, but at the end of the day accepting Truth is a duty and this means accepting that the extreme behaviour of one group is not the same as Islam itself. However, the majority of those who have defected from the community in Jordan appear not to have left Islam. I’ve been in contact with one of them. She’s still Muslim and still bringing her kids up Muslim. She’s also quite close to the group which has been bringing scholars from the Middle East to the UK (and perhaps North America) for years. It’s not a conspiracy against Sufism or traditional Islam, which is what I thought it might have been when the allegations started surfacing on Umar Lee’s blog and later on Salafi Burnout early this year. Even if most of the “speaking out” is done anonymously, I know who this woman is and I have no reason to disbelieve her.

Of course, wearing niqab and abstaining from TV are quite legitimate positions in Islam; Shaikh Nuh’s tariqa is not the first I’ve come across who hold to them. It’s not that women are being told to wear niqab and otherwise unostentatious clothing or obey their husbands. The problem seems to be the backbiting and spying, and the fact that serious marital problems, often the men’s fault, are blamed on the women, some of whom have been deceived into marrying in the first place. I can’t personally accuse Shaikh Nuh or the two women involved of anything because I have only met them briefly and my encounters with them were pleasant, but these problems are real and cannot be brushed under the carpet for much longer, even though this is not a cult, let alone a Jonestown type affair, but a dysfunctional tariqa group. It’s not about women leaving Islam; it’s about Muslim women getting hurt, and it risks undoing a lot of the good work that has been done to promote classical Islam and Sufism since the 1990s.

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