Side profile of African American man with beard wearing a winter hat

Are You Worshipping Your Imam or Sheikh?

I was both shocked and heartbroken when I found myself on the receiving end of my community’s slander and character defamation, and it had all been incited when I chose my soul over blindly following the community imam.

As I mentioned in my blog “Be Prepared To Be Alone:” I was in my mid-twenties at the time, and I had just begun my own spiritual journey of studying Qur’an and the prophetic teachings and striving my level best to do what I sincerely believed Allah required of me… Even as the imam tried to change the Islamic rules regarding who could marry whom (in this case permitting a disbelieving man to marry a Muslim woman). Even as the imam tried to change the Islamic rules regarding hijab (in this case permitting a woman to uncover so long as she dressed “modestly.”). Even as the imam tried to change the Islamic rules regarding who could enter Paradise (in this case claiming a pagan could be Muslim in his heart). I was supposed to go along with it and never speak the truth about what Allah said on these matters.

At the time, I was completely dumbfounded. Why were so many people attacking me when the imam’s statements were clearly against the teachings of the Qur’an and prophetic Sunnah? Why was I being painted as some crazy person or aggressor (depending on the story they preferred at the moment) when all I was doing was reminding Muslims to be very careful, lest they harm their souls in listening to these false teachings?

It would take years and years of emotional and spiritual confusion before I came to this painful realization: Most humans are more devoted to certain people than they are to God Himself. Most humans are more committed to following beloved personalities than they are to following spiritual truth. Most humans couldn’t care less whether you speak the truth. If that truth even suggests that someone they love is wrong, then you are the problem, not the problematic beliefs themselves. Thus, they are willing to make a zillion excuses for a person obviously lying on the Creator Himself, but they won’t make a single excuse to uphold religious truth.

In fact, most humans will adjust “religious truth” until it fits what this beloved person is saying, instead of adjusting their own thinking and beliefs to fit what God requires of them.

In other words, most humans are committed to personalities over principles, not principles over personalities—and they are willing to sacrifice their very souls in this cause.

Allah speaks about this in the Qur’an when He says what has been translated to mean, “When it is said to them, ‘Follow what Allah has revealed,’ they say: ‘Nay! we shall follow the ways of our fathers.’ What! Even though their fathers did not understand anything nor were they guided?” (Al-Baqarah, 2:170).

I’ve always thought of this as referring to disbelievers only, but I’ve come to realize that it also refers to professed Muslims who will staunchly support religious falsehood—which is sometimes innovation and sometimes kufr (disbelief)—so long as it comes from someone they love and admire. This mirrors how the disbelievers remain committed to obvious falsehood (even as they recognize the truth of Islam in their hearts) due to their love and admiration for their fathers, families, and cultures.

Are You Refusing an Invitation to Paradise?

No one wakes up thinking, “I don’t want to enter Paradise.” But somehow, most never will—by choice. How? Through disbelief—while convincing themselves they are rightly guided, even when they imagine themselves to be Muslim.

“Are you falling into disbelief?” It’s a question few professed Muslims would dream of asking themselves. But in today’s world, where misguidance is more common than guidance—even amongst professed believers—it’s a necessary soul-wrenching inquiry.

Some misguidance is major sin, but some misguidance is kufr (disbelief). Shirk, the most grievous and unforgivable sin if one dies upon it, is not only in bowing to physical idols. It is also in assigning God’s attributes and sole rights to His creation—including the right to declare what is or is not allowed in believers’ lives.

Thus, if you follow your spiritual teacher, imam, or sheikh in forbidding what Allah has made lawful or permitting what Allah has made unlawful, then according to Allah Himself, then you are worshipping that man. It doesn’t matter what “good excuse” this imam or sheikh gives for his new rules, and it doesn’t matter what “good excuse” you use for supporting him. If you are shown the truth of what Allah says and you knowingly choose the words of your spiritual teacher over your Creator, then you have committed major shirk, and it takes you outside the fold of Islam.

Allah says what has been translated to mean, “They have taken their rabbis and monks as lords besides Allah” (At-Tawbah, 9:31). When ‘Adee ibn Haatim, a Companion who’d converted to Islam from Christianity, heard this ayah, he said, “We didn’t worship them.” The Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, responded, “Did they not make haraam (forbidden) what Allah had made halaal (permissible) and you made it haraam too? And did they not make halaal what Allah had made haraam, and you made it halaal [too]?” ‘Adee replied, “Certainly.” The Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, said, “That was how you worshipped them” (Al-Tirmidhi).

So dear soul, be careful.

In this age where there’s a new interpretation of everything from who can marry whom to what sexual “orientations” are permissible lifestyles, we could be walking headlong into kufr while thinking we’re Muslim—by embracing an entirely new belief system under the guise of Islam.

You Can’t Call Muslims Disbelievers!

“But no one has the right to call me a disbeliever!” you say. But this isn’t about anyone calling you a disbeliever. This is about the very real, terrifying possibility of actually being one—even if no one knows this spiritually destructive truth, except Allah.

Be careful, dear soul. I caution you to be very, very careful.

No matter what excuses you use in front of the people, Allah knows the truth of your heart better than you do. And by Allah, ghuroor (self-deception) is very, very real.

Allah says, “O mankind! Be afraid of your Lord [by keeping your duty to Him and avoiding all evil], and fear a Day when no father can avail aught for his son, nor a son avail aught for his father. Verily, the Promise of Allah is true, let not then this [worldly] present life deceive you, nor let the chief deceiver (Satan) deceive you about Allah” (Luqmaan, 31:33).

Your excuses might work on the people—and even on your own misguided heart, should you let Shaytaan deceive you—but trust and believe, they do not work on Allah.

Tread carefully.

And be very mindful of what you’re defending before fixating on whom you’re defending.

Learn Your Religion

What is upon each and every one of us is to know our deen, no matter where we are learning it and whom we are learning it from. Beautiful explanations of forbidden things don’t make those things okay, and offensive labeling of those who uphold the Sunnah don’t make these people wrong.

Allah says, “O you who have believed, fear Allah. And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow—and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do. And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. Those are the defiantly disobedient. Not equal are the companions of the Fire and the companions of Paradise. The companions of Paradise—they are the attainers [of success]” (Al-Hashr, 59:18-20)

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Everyone of my Ummah will enter Paradise except those who refuse.” He was asked, “Who will refuse?” He said, “Whoever obeys me shall enter Paradise, and whoever disobeys me has refused” (Bukhari).

He also said, “No one’s feet will move on Judgment Day until they are asked about four things:

1) What they did with their youth.

2) How they earned and spent their wealth.

3) What they did with their knowledge.

4) And how they spent their lives (Al-Tirmidhi, authentic).

 The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) further said, “I leave behind two matters which will never lead you astray as long as you hold to them: the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet” (Al-Muwaṭṭa 1661, sahih by Ibn Abdul Barr).

How To Protect Your Soul

In closing, I share with you this heartfelt advice that I gave to my own struggling soul, as I shared in my book I Almost Left Islam: How I Reclaimed My Faith:

photo of Umm Zakiyyah looking down with trees in background, cover of I Almost Left Islam

During your lifetime, you’ll be invited to the Hellfire many times. For the sake of your soul, refuse every time. In guarding your heart from accepting the invitation, be sure to focus more on principles than people—and don’t be naïve enough to believe that this destructive invitation will always come in the form of obvious evil.

So how do we protect ourselves? Here are five points to remember:

1. Authentic Islam is based on the teachings of the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as understood by the Companions and earliest Muslims, as there is no new Islam. Bear in mind that believing that it is allowed to introduce new interpretations of foundational principles, obligations, and clear matters of halaal and haraam is what laid the path for the People of the Book making entirely new religions with no connection to the teachings of the Prophets Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them).

2. No human being other than the Prophet (peace be upon him) has authority to teach commandments or prohibitions in the religion or introduce concepts that promise specific reward or punishment in this world or the Hereafter—no matter how knowledgeable, righteous, or saintly we imagine them to be.

3. The role of the Islamic scholar is to teach what was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) of the Book (Qur’an) and the Wisdom (the Sunnah), nothing more, nothing less.

4. No Islamic teacher or believer (other than the Prophet himself) has perfect knowledge of Islam, even if his or her foundational understanding of the religion is correct. Thus, when we are studying our faith, we must constantly supplicate to Allah to allow us to benefit from what is truthful and to protect us from what is mistaken, no matter who our teacher is and no matter how much we love, trust, and respect him or her.

5. Know that Allah has made the truth of His faith so clear that every human being who hears the message of Islam, whether illiterate or scholarly, has the capacity to recognize it as true. Likewise, every human being who accepts Allah’s religion has the ability—and the obligation—to recognize and reject religious falsehood being taught as Islam, no matter whom or where it comes from. In this vein, know that we will all be held accountable on the Day of Judgment for our beliefs and actions, and we will not be able to blame our spiritual teachers or scholars for our own misguidance.

When in doubt, pray for guidance. Allah hears and answers all prayers.

And remember this: Many who rejected the Messengers in history were resentful that the Prophet whom Allah sent to them did not have the qualities they felt made him honorable and worthy of such a noble role, whether it was wealth, power, or a certain lineage. And many who followed misguidance in history were pleased with the “noble” traits of the one leading them to Hellfire, whether it was because the inviter was a parent, a “righteous” person, or someone they deemed honorable in some worldly way.

Today, we find history repeating itself in Muslims rejecting obvious spiritual truths because the person speaking the truth does not have a lofty scholarly title, did not study overseas or in an Islamic university, or is not part of our favored group, sect, or culture.

Be careful.

Many times Allah tests us by placing the truth on the tongue of one who will reveal to us the very depths of our hearts—and our response to this divine truth will make plain to us whether it is Allah or our pride that is most beloved to us in this world.

O dear soul, be careful.

My Du’aa for the Ummah

O Allah! I ask You to return manhood to our men!

O Allah! I ask You to return scholarship to our scholars!

O Allah! I ask You to return true leadership to our imams!

And O Allah! I beg You to purify our hearts, guide us to self-honesty and repentance, and help us to never use our tongues to recite your Name publicly with the secret intention of calling Your servants away from You!

May Allah purify our hearts such that we recognize spiritual truth, wherever we find it; and that we sincerely and humbly submit to spiritual truth, no matter who speaks it. And may He increase us in beneficial knowledge of His deen, and protect us from misguidance and falsehood, even when it has been beautified for us and taught to us by those we love, respect and trust. And may He grant us right guidance, sincerity, and tawfeeq upon the right path until we meet Him, no matter what obstacles or struggles we face as we strive upon this blessed path.

cover of Prejudice Bones in My Body, photo of half face of black woman in hijab looking to the side

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. In 2019, she launched UZ Soul Gear, a passion project fueled by her love of both art and inspirational reflections. offers apparel, wall décor, and more, aimed at supporting and inspiring the soul-centered lifestyle.