Ramadan Reflections '13, Day 20: Scholars, Money, and Online Fame

I've been seeing a variety of requests on my Facebook Newsfeed of where I should be giving my zakat (note: zakat is the mandatory giving of financial charity by Muslims and comprises 2.5% of what someone owns). Some requests are from agencies and organizations that one would expect (i.e. overseas relief funds, local Muslim-geared charities, US Muslim charities, etc). But then I came across one request today that somewhat baffled me.

A well known Muslim educator is asking for charity. I clicked on the link and this person is asking for $20,000 to build a media studio so that he is better able to record and transmit his videos all over the world. In his words, he wants to "shake Muslims out of spiritual poverty" and he needs a 21st Century media-room to do this. Judging from the hundreds and thousands of dollars that people are pledging, his request is working and the money is rolling in. MashAllah, this person raised over $18,000 with 209 donations in just a few hours. And thus the power of social media is shown.

While I am somewhat questioning this educator's plea for money (there's no breakdown of cost and details are lacking about his big future plans), I'm also praying that this is all going towards the needs he stipulates. What also worries me is how many brothers are leaving comments for this person, stating how much for the sake of Allah they love him and would do anything for him. Just as I blogged about Muslim girls become groupies of hijab styling superstars, it would seem that some brothers have fallen over head over heels for this educator. And he's not the only one I see brothers pining for.

So yes, I am very hesitant to give zakat to a well known Muslim figure. Especially when their project isn't described in much detail. ALL CAPS WORDS and the use of multiple exclamation marks!!!! doesn't sell me. Neither does the promise to raise my spiritual poverty. My red flags go up when the marketing campaign is better than the substance.

Have we created our own version of a Muslim Hollywood? While it's one thing to look up to a scholar/educator and see them as a good role model, I think it's another to be stalker-ish in wanting to emulate their every move, their words, and their character. There's one that really scares me, since he uses an over-enthusiastic voice, wild hand gestures, wide eyes and slick speeches that would make any car salesman shrink into the background. The messages brothers and sisters alike post towards him are of deep reverence...bordering on worship, which is Islamically not allowed. Some of these well-known names are SO darn good at marketing what they're doing that they can hook anyone in. And it makes me wonder what they are doing: trying to reach out to Muslims for education purposes, or trying to make a decent living? While it's usually a combination of both, I worry about how much money Muslims are dishing out for Islam-based knowledge. And what the impact of these figures are on common Muslims such as you and I.

There is one thing I somewhat disagree with and that is how many Islam-oriented educational programs ask for money for something that could be significantly discounted. While I attended a few Al-Maghreb courses a while back, I stopped when I realized how much I'm paying and how much time was spent in class with off-topic jokes and brother vs. sister competitions. Judging from the number of courses this organizations holds in how many cities, and the sheer number of people who attend, I wouldn't doubt that Al-Maghreb is at least a multi-million dollar organization. Just think...most courses are around $160 to attend with at least 200 students attending. From one course in one city, you've made at least $32,000. Now think of all the Canadian and American cities (and British, Malaysian, Australian, etc) that these courses are held in and the frequency...yup, multi-million dollars. Yet the prices of the courses don't seem to be going down. While I am sure an organization such as this one has good intentions of wanting to educate students, you'd think they could be a little more transparent about where all this money goes. And while I really enjoy listening to some of their speakers, I don't know that I want to shell out that amount of money for Asif and I to attend their courses a few times a year. We also don't do well sitting for long periods of time in university non-ergonomic chairs...we're tall!

SubhanAllah, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) must have held multiple free "classes" every DAY for large and small groups of people from the moment the Quran was revealed to him until the time of his death. Allah only knows, but I don't think our Messenger charged people money...and we all know how little our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) owned and how selfless he was. And there are Imams and scholars who place A LOT out on social media for free: Nouman Ali Khan, Khalid Latif, Navaid Aziz, Yasir Qadhi, and Hamza Yusuf to name a few. This free material does seem to balance out other endeavours in which they do charge money. They are balancing how they make a living and how they are working for the sake of Allah. I wish more Muslim figures and educators would do the same. The bonus for these aforementioned names is they don't outwardly market their programs or speeches heavily...the quality of what they are producing speaks for itself. There's also a non-celebrity like humble demeanour about them. Again, I don't know these educators/scholars myself, so I could be wrong. I'm just going off the impression I receive from their online presence.

While I know that in the 21st Century we have to make a living, why the use of fancy acronyms, flashy program names, long trailers, and two-weekend costly seminars that could be condensed into one for a lower price? Do we need to make Islam sparkly and appealing? Perhaps for some we do, or perhaps they are trying to earn our money and need to market. And can we really place a price tag on Islamic knowledge? Why not opt for optional donations, such as what Seekers Guidance does? Their courses are all mostly free, but if you'd like to donate, then you can. Also, stop making me click through 5 links and sign up for your newsletter, only to spin me around and confuse me so I lose sight of that FREE downloadable PDF something you promised I could get for free and benefit from.

Sigh...

And Allah knows best.

Note: for more information on how to determine where to give your zakat to, check out Imam Khalid Latif's blog at the following link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/imam-khalid-latif/ramadan-reflection-day-17_b_3653952.html

May Allah guide us all and accept our zakat, InshAllah.

Comments

  1. You shouldn't be bashing a sheikh who is done so much for ummah.
    I agree with the higher course cost
    Also keep in mind, almaghrib has benefitted over 60,000 students worldwide

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment. Bashing is a subjective term. I like to provoke others to critically think about what's before them rather than blindly accept it because someone well known is asking for something. And yes, they have benefitted many students and done great things for Muslims around the world, I don't doubt that. They're just not everyone's cup of tea and Alhamdilillah, thanks to the internet and print books, there are many ways to gain information rather than from one source.

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