The more I reflect on the Nouman Ali Khan scandal, it seems that it’s real meaning is more complicated than just a Salafi version of Anthony Weiner. Clerics abusing their impressionable followers – and having leaders cover up those abuses – is nothing new or unique to Muslims. Just look at the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals that were hushed up for decades.
Sure, for those of us who are turned off by the Islamist clan that dominates our community, it’s fun to watch Nouman Ali Khan have his “hypocrisy” exposed in full view. But the real scandal is not the sexual escapades, but the poisonous hardline Islamist ideology Nouman Ali Khan spouted with such charisma. The essence of their message is that there is only one true way, and anyone who deviates from it will be damned.
I watched Nouman deliver this message to an audience of thousands at the ICNA convention. You can watch the “money shot” (pardon the pun) right here (min 5:02)
“In times of fitna hold on to this book [Qur’an], hold on tight to this book because it will give you confidence. It will give you strength. And while everyone else is deviating, you can stand straight. And the people who are not holding on tight to the Book of Allah are just going to get washed away. They will just get washed away…”
Let’s unpack what Nouman is saying here to hundreds of impressionable young American Muslims: Everyone who is not holding onto the book of Allah is a deviant. If you don’t hold on to the book, you deviant will eventually be cleansed from the earth. So you better get with the program!
And the program of course is understanding the “Book of Allah” the way Nouman and his Islamist ilk explain to you: with one absolute truth as they define it. The real message here is not to non-Muslims but to “deviant” Muslims: the rest of us who refuse to buy into their reductionist message.
He presents all this as a message of empowerment, but actually it’s a threatening message and a supremacist message. It makes you scared, and it makes the rest of American society and the modern world a scary place due for damnation. This is how a cult leader talks when he wants to manipulate impressionable people with a fragile identity seeking fulfillment.
There is no nuance in this message: Hold onto the Book or be washed away. This is poison. It eats away at the souls and brains of young people in our community. This is the core poison of Islamism.
But now… when one of their own transgresses – when Nouman loses his grip on The Book to grope some girls – suddenly the Islamist leaders who put him up on stage are all full of nuance and the importance of appreciating complexity and human frailty.
The example that really got me was the a long cryptic reaction by Yasser Qadhi of Al Maghrib Institute, arguably the premiere American Salafi institution, who played a huge role in Nouman’s rise to prominence. While he refuses to address the Khan scandal directly, Qadhi posted on his Facebook page a long-winded statement about appreciating human beings who sin:
“There is little benefit in the average person reading up on the scandals that I or any other person might have been involved with. If for some reason you do have a legitimize need to know, find out only enough that will suffice your need, then move on to more productive matters”.
The preacher who railed against all those deviants getting washed away in the end times is now exposed as a deviant. And the man who helped make him is suddenly sounding like an old-time Christian preacher pontificating on man’s sinful nature and “judge not lest ye be judged.” Hallelujah, Jesus!
The real sin of Nouman Ali Khan and Yasser Qadhi is poisoning the minds of young American Muslims with absolutist supremacist garbage, scaring them into obediently following them down a very dark path. Some of the women who followed them found in the flesh where it leads. Other young men have followed their path of perdition to ISIS and Al-Shabab. And thousands of others are stuck in the Islamist purgatory.
To paraphrase Nouman Ali Khan himself, maybe it’s time for these Islamists to get washed away. The question is whether the community can get rid of these people – and how quickly.