From the sister Aysha:
In the name of Allah, The Merciful, The Compassionate.
I pen the following letter with intention to share my experience as a way of healing, for myself first and foremost, and for others who might have similar experiences but wish to either remain anonymous or silent, but have experienced hurt and pain nonetheless. I have remained quiet, for a year and a half, one of the reasons for which was my own desire to veil a man, for we are all weak and flawed, and we too wish to be veiled by God. However, I have re-evaluated my stance of late; since I see others continue to be hurt as a result of this man’s actions, and feel that in accountability is also mercy. I understand he remains remorseless for his breach of trust, on so many levels with myself, despite my blunt confrontation with him, over an email exchange, about his conduct. I had hoped that with some time he would mend his ways and we would see his gifts and talent be put to some good use for the community. Rather, he remains cold and calculated.
What follows is an account of my personal experience with this man.
In December 2012, Imam Muhammad Abdul Latif (IMAL) was deported from Heathrow airport for disclosing to border control that he is on tour, but failed to produce a work visa. He was sent back to America on the next available flight. Shortly thereafter, in the month of March I received a message from IMAL asking for help to re-enter the UK. I was asked if I could ‘pull some strings’ since he was aware that I have a sibling who works as an immigration officer at Heathrow. This was not possible under any circumstance due to the sensitivity of the nature of what he was requesting. I suggested an alternative, more legitimate means, one which would require effort, research, and perseverance: I suggested he apply for a work visa. He expressed the barriers and difficulties he faced with this and so I took it upon myself to consult with my family to help him get out of his messy situation, since he was now blacklisted with immigration in the UK. On consulting with my family, my brother-in-law, a man of immense grace offered his full support in order to help this fellow brother in need. He offered him a full time vacancy (a need expressed by the imam himself) as minister of religion and requested that Imam name his salary. My brother in law, due to my reference and good word of the imam was impressed with his credentials (Zaytuna) and his ability to articulate deen to young people, so he offered any possible means of help if it was in his capacity. My family had never met IMAL but due to my track record with community work and dawah in general they trusted my judgement and reference for him. My family paid expenses pertaining to solicitors fees, visa costs, taxes on IMAL’s behalf for his summer visit (in order to alleviate the financial burden from his family), and paid him extortionate rates for a handful of lectures to be delivered at our local mosque. No money was made from him, since the audience was not charged an entry fee for his talks. My brother-in-law invested in this endeavour purely for the sake of dawah and to promote the Imam.
In the painstaking work required for his paperwork, I spent many weeks researching not only the best form of work permit for his circumstances but considered every avenue possible to help his case. In filling out umpteen amounts of forms, consulting with solicitors etc this required a couple of Skype meetings with Imam and his wife, Michelle, in order to discuss the possibilities. Agreements were made about the requirements of the organisation who agreed to sponsor him (later which were all breached once the visa came through, this was very embarrassing, but we will come back to that later). By now, I had commenced tarbiyyah with IMAL. In Tariqa Tijaniyya, tarbiyyah is a duration of intensethikr(meditation) undertaken by a student. The premise for this tarbiyyah process set by IMAL was that Musa was discouraged from questioning khidr since he was sent to teach Musa about Reality. This premise proved to be a dangerous one eventually. So, now (month of April/May) I am juggling tarbiyyah, legal advice appointments, and reams of paperwork, I was massively sleep deprived and overworked. IMAL and his wife had finals for their academic studies so he requested that I fill out all his paperwork on his behalf. During this process I endured abuse from his bookings team, namely from Ayaz Ilyas Rehman who repeatedly told me he’d ‘cut my face’ if I had any ideas about making changes to Imam’s preliminary summer itinerary. I raised this concern with both IMAL and his wife over Skype and they merely found his behaviour amusing and expressed that he was possessive over the Imam due to his attachment. IMAL, at first overjoyed at the prospect of being cleared by immigration via the sponsorship, expressed gratitude, but once the paperwork was pending he began to make demands. Initially he expressed desperation to reach UK shores explaining that since California was replete with scholars that he struggled to find work. He began at length to express his desire to open up the dawah in the UK, and explained that he had much to offer. Once the vacancy and sponsorship were offered to him his requests began to come through in drips and drabs, spilling over into viber calls, facebook and skype communication with me. I felt compelled to listen to him speak about his wishes, which I will list shortly, not only because he was my ‘murabbi’ but because I had unwittingly stepped into the realm of business with him, being the middle person between him and the sponsors.
As for his demands, they began light: ‘I must be allowed to give Tariqa to people if I want, I only say this because Zaytuna were not happy about me giving Tariqa to people’ was part of his initial conditions. I told him that it would be fine. He then expressed that he was a polygamist, explaining that his wife was accepting of this, and that he is not allowed to be questioned about his wives by the organisation sponsoring him, also adding that currently he only had the one wife. He cracked some cheesy jokes in order to test my thoughts on the topic. ... ‘a feminist and an imam walk into a bar’ (seriously). Yet, this particular demand and broaching of its topic with me made me very uncomfortable. I responded by saying this was an issue he would have to raise himself with the committee when he arrived, and that I was not prepared to do it. He agreed but expressed his grievances with Zaytuna Institute for having dropped him from their staff list due to their concern over his polygamous marriages. ‘When people ask me about my wives it makes me wanna punch them in the face’ he said. ‘They had a problem with my marriages so they dropped me, Zaytuna is a punk ass institution like that’ is what he had to say. My contention with Imam on this issue remains till this day: marriage ought to be a public affair and not a secret matter. Anyhow, I didn’t challenge him on this since I was in tarbiyyah. But within minutes of the same conversation I was being extolled with praise for the work I had done for him and was told he liked this and that and the conversation was becoming rather inappropriate...I immediately shut this conversation down because GODDAMN I WAS IN TARBIYYAH. I wrote him an email requesting that he not allow the business relationship jeopardise my progress in the tariqa. He was cold from this point on, and my tarbiyyah was wholly neglected, henceforth.
In weeks which ensued, all agreements which had been made over Skype and email were breached. He was due to report to our organisation upon arrival into the UK but refused to do this and traveled elsewhere. I was not permitted any direct contact with IMAL, his bookings team expressed that I deal solely with them. When I contacted him directly via facebook about the urgency of checking in with his sponsors in order to complete his paperwork, he arrived unannounced on a Friday and I was sent the bill from his team for his travel expenses for his visit (to complete HIS OWN PAPERWORK!). It got worse as days went by, and he was an utter nightmare to deal with. He behaved like a Diva, and couldn’t be bothered to find out which of the people welcoming him when he arrived was my brother-in-law, and he never thanked any of my family and was rather rude to all my people. These people had bent over backwards and they had waited a LONG time to meet him since they heard good things about him, from me. He did not give a damn about anyone, and made no effort. He wanted them to make him financial offers on the day he arrived; this is what he spoke to me about when he turned up unannounced and no contact number! Thereafter, the evening before his first public talk his booking team made contact with me and requested an upfront payment on the day of each talk. This was not the agreement which was made over Skype. I had made it clear to him that since we were going to pay taxes etc on his behalf we were going to deposit a large sum in his account towards the end of the month; I explained in detail why this needed to be done this way (he was supposed to be on a salary for the work permit). This was all dismissed, bookings claimed they were not in the loop about this agreement and so it doesn’t stand. After speaking to them at length about this they consulted IMAL, called me back and said: ‘we have just spoken to Imam and he says that he is struggling to pay rent and is facing eviction back in Cali. If you don’t pay him upfront he’s going to have to find alternative bookings in order to make money and send it back home’. Consequently I was making visits to my personal bank account in order to fund him and his personal circumstances and to deal with the cut throat demands of his bookings team. I did this to save face with my own family. Before his visa, over Skype I had requested that he give some of the juma’a khutbas (in the context of promoting his work) he agreed and I had fought tooth and nail at my local mosque to facilitate this for him, yet, after his arrival into the country the booking team got in contact to inform me that back in America he gets paid a minimum of $350 per khutba, otherwise he would have to find alternative bookings. My dilemma was that his name was already on pamphlets, social media and people were anticipating him. There was no way I could tell my family about all these charges I was being billed with left right and centre because I was guilt ridden that I had got them into this hideous mess in the first place. I felt very exploited, stressed, and suffered ill-health as a consequence.
On one occasion, I, being fed-up with the bullying tactics of his team along with the emotional blackmail which stemmed from him, put my foot down by reminding them of the circumstances of his sponsorship and, with subtlety, suggested we had powers to deport him at any time. I only did this because I was backed into a corner and was being bled dry. At this point the whole team including IMAL were extremely apologetic and offered to make amends by offering to take my family out to dinner to greet them and thank them. I accepted their apology, but politely turned down their request for dinner. I was desperate to done with the agreements I had made. A woman of my word, I kept to all my agreements despite being utterly disgusted with the way in which they conducted themselves throughout the whole business. They were altogether unprofessional, ruthless, cut-throat, bereft of basic manners, and overwhelmingly callous.
So a month after his arrival, the bookings team inform me that he cannot meet the date for our final talk (the fourth weekly lecture of a mere 1.5 hours) since IMALs wife is now in the country and they are going on holiday to Paris. You get the general picture. The examples of atrocious and callous behaviour are too numerous to list here. No doubt, I left his circle as soon as I possibly could, I was wounded from the torment of walking out on a pledge I made through him with God and His messenger, and I was done with Islam and anything related to it. I was done. Emptied out.
I did not indulge IMALs whims and challenged him on his conduct from time to time. I was excluded from attending student classes which took place in London and he completely neglected my progress in the tariqa. It seems if you were one who raised questions or challenged in any way (which I did on only a few occasions) you were excluded from the inner click. I confronted him with these issues and it resulted in a full blown argument. He accused me of attempting to control him, emotionally blackmail him, and expressed that he was extremely busy due to his large number of students and that it was my job to ensure that my development was on track since he cannot possibly be expected to keep up with all students. In truth, he didn’t do anything unless someone was paying him to do it (especially if he didn’t like you). This was what I experienced with him. He would deflect all of his own misconduct onto whoever raised issue with him. If he felt criticised in any way he would lash out and behave as if he was a victim of abuse. It was utterly perplexing; I have never in my life encountered an ‘adult’ like him. Worse still, I was horrified at the way in which he befriended other younger unassuming students. An example of this is my nieces friends (all of whom I invited to attend his lectures) indulged in the undue attention he gave them. I am aware of this since some of the giddy young girls would screen dump private messages and sent them to each other as a way of boasting. I am told that one them was invited to meet him for coffee in London. And since these were young impressionable girls, I was not at all impressed with the tone being set. I have felt immense shame and responsibility for exposing my family and young friends to such misconduct. I withdrew from him as a student as soon as I fulfilled the business agreements on my end. We accommodated him as a guest and took care of him. Yet, I hear from mutual friends that speaks ill of my family claiming they mistreated him. This is an outright lie, and his claims are unsubstantiated. They showed him immense kindness and support.
The reality of IMAL is that he airs an incredulously strong sense of entitlement and is dependent upon the goodwill of his students for a living, and deems this to be standard practice. In a blunt conversation over email I expressed my feelings about being exploited financially by him, his response was something along the lines of he has a family to take care of and sometimes it’s just how it is. He also said that everything I did for him was of my own volition. So, these are just examples to illustrate his callous demeanour, as a way of warning to others. He is in dire need of his students rather than the other way round. A class act in playing the victim, spinning narratives in order to gain sympathy from people, he feels justified in his cruelty. He may well be an ‘arif billah, for he often makes subtle claims about this, but I’ll let you all in on a secret: Ma’rifa is the first stage for students in the tarbiyyah in Tariqa Tijaniyya, so almost every Joe Bloggs in Tariqa Tijaniyya, and their cat, is an ‘arif billah. It’s standard. The difference is they don’t talk about it and they don’t mystify it, market it, or capitalise on it. Real Lovers exhibit service, they walk the walk. A true murabbi adheres to shariah and lives a life of transparency and accountability. They don’t have secret wives, secret lives, and their sources of income are known and legitimate. The reality of IMAL is much like that of the wizard from The Wizard of Oz; a mighty and bold persona behind a facebook screen but puny and pathetic in real life, when the smokescreens are not there. If we want to see change in our communities we need to set a higher standard than this, and outright refuse to glorify such ‘leaders’ and request that they step down from their pedestal, and fear God."
From the sister https://www.facebook.com/notes/aysha-sundrenched-fazil/an-open-letter-exposing-the-reality-of-imam-abdul-latif-finch/10152883508372351
My short comments:
I sympathise with this sister and adamantly declare that what IMAL did is the trademark of fake Sufism and fake Islam which has been condemned by the real Sufi masters of all times and ages.