The Case For The North American Muslim Community To Divest From Darul Uloom Al Madania And Darul Uloom Canada
Endorsed by Mufti Abdullah Nana
Published November 10, 2021 By Umer M. Sheriff, Guest Contributor
Trigger Warning: physical abuse, spiritual abuse, sexual abuse
Introduction and Background
The latter half of the 20th century saw successive waves of immigration from Muslim lands into North America. The nascent immigrant Muslim community quickly realized that for Islam to continue in its offspring, it was imperative for it to establish its own schooling, whereby the tradition could be transmitted to future generations. An integral part of this effort was establishing institutions of learning that imparted the higher Islamic sciences with the aim of producing homegrown traditional Islamic scholars. To further this goal, the South Asian immigrant community began establishing schools modeled after the madrasas common in that part of the world. For over a century, these madrasas produced rich scholarship in South Asia which eventually grew into a global phenomenon. A key feature of these madrasas is that they are predominantly boarding schools. Initially, they tend to start off as male-only institutions and as the institutions grow and become established, many, especially in the West, commonly expand their operations to include women’s schooling as well.
The early 1990’s Muslim community in North America saw the establishment of the first full-fledged madrasa of this kind in Buffalo, New York called Darul-Uloom Al-Madania (“DUM”). This institution was founded by Dr. Ismail Memon and his sons, mainly, Maulana Mansoor Memon and Maulana Ibrahim Memon. Though Dr. Ismail Memon was a medical doctor by profession, he had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in the company of one of the foremost Hadith scholars and sufi shaykhs of the latter half of the 20th century, Shaykh-ul-Hadith Zakariyya Kandhelwi (d. 1982). Through Shaykh Zakariyya’s mentorship, Dr. Ismail himself earned his ijaza in tasawwuf. His sons, Maulana Mansoor, Maulana Ibrahim, and Mufti Husain, all attained ijazaat in the advanced Islamic sciences from leading Islamic institutions. With this type of background, the family presented impressive credentials representing authenticity, authority, and erudition. From Darul-Uloom Al-Madania in Buffalo they expanded to Chatham, Canada and opened Darul-Uloom Canada around 2009. These two institutions represent North America’s oldest institutions offering the world-renowned dars-e-nizami curriculum that are still in operation.
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As a former student, someone who keeps in touch with Darul-Uloom alumni, and its happenings, I would like to inform the Muslim community unequivocally, unambiguously, and emphatically, that we as a community need to completely divest our support from any institutions connected to the Memon family. We need to stop supporting them financially, and most importantly, we need to stop sending our children to their institutions. Muslims are not immune from the type of corruption and abuse that commonly occurs in non-Muslim boarding schools. Sadly, these North American madrasas headed by the Memons are rife with corruption and abuse. This article’s aim is not to shut down the positive religious services these madrasas provide. Unfortunately, however, given the problematic nature of the Memon family’s administration, they, and their loyal acolytes, must be excised from the management and stewardship of the institutions they founded. Until this happens their institutions are not worthy of being supported by the North American Muslim community.
My Personal Experience as a Student
In the roughly three decades since the establishment of DUM, the Memons’ administration has cemented a track record of abuse and corruption. The Memons leverage their religious authority to take advantage of their students and their parents, employees, and even their benefactors for personal gain. The list of their violations includes brutal physical abuse of children as young as 6–7 years old, sexual abuse of both male and female students, sexual improprieties with female students, and misappropriation of donations[i].
Although much of the misconduct was done openly, students failed to recognize it because immediately after walking through their doors, a brain washing process occurred. Dr. Ismail Memon was presented as one of the great spiritual sages of our time, someone whose very presence was a boon for mankind, and who had been divinely gifted with an awareness of realities that were veiled from the rest of us. His son, Maulana Ibrahim, was presented as being among the foremost Hadith scholars and jurists of our era. Therefore, even if on the surface the actions of the said individuals, and even the other school administrators, seemed to oppose Prophetic teachings, there was a Khidhr/Musa dynamic at play[ii]. They were operating privy to hidden realities and with a higher wisdom that we could not fathom. This brainwashing allowed us to make sense of the obvious tension between the sublime Prophetic character on the one hand and the vile conduct displayed by the Memons: conduct that included teachers, mainly Maulana Ibrahim and Maulana Mansoor, meting out vicious daily beatings on students until they were bloodied and bruised, by using a wide array of items found at hardware stores from extension cords to various types of flexible and solid piping to 2x4s[iii].
When I left the school at the end of 1997, the Memons were going through a bit of an existential crisis. Their religious authority and integrity were in serious jeopardy. Parents of some students from New Jersey, including my own, discovered the extent of their devious conduct. Maulana Ibrahim had viciously attacked a student from my locality caught in possession of a cell phone. Around the same time, this very student, who was a child then, was being molested by a senior student over the age of 18[iv]. The senior student may have been lightly reprimanded, if at all[v].When the victim’s father confronted the school’s administration about the molestation incidents, Dr. Ismail tried to diminish the gravity of the perpetrator’s infraction by saying something to the effect of, “Forgive him, he succumbed to a heat that we all feel”[vi]. Maulana Ibrahim eventually found himself on the verge of serious legal trouble and the school was at threat of being shut down[vii]. Around this time, the same New Jersey parents discovered a dispute between the Memons and a senior teacher that had recently been recruited from overseas. The Memons were trying to take advantage of this teacher by attempting to coerce him, and even his wife, into performing duties beyond the scope of his teaching agreement. They were leveraging his immigration status that was soon to be in flux and threatening to throw him and his pregnant wife out onto the street with nowhere to go[viii]. When the New Jersey parents became aware of this situation, in an effort to save face, Maulana Ibrahim attempted to blackmail a student who was caught having engaged in homosexual activities into maligning the character of and lying about the teacher. Notwithstanding his own flaws and grave mistakes, the student did not allow himself to be blackmailed and spoke the truth when asked about the teacher’s character[ix].
In light of this tumultuous situation, all of the New Jersey students, including myself, left the school. In the following years, we moved on from this experience with the thought and hope that although these people demonstrated wayward character in the past, they are learned in the Prophetic tradition (even if only in an abstract sense) and they are connected to the righteous; maybe they would mend their ways.
Ibrahim Memon’s Inappropriate Relations with Female Students
Unfortunately, about 10 years later in 2007, allegations of sexual improprieties between Maulana Ibrahim and at least 2 female boarding school students came to light.[x] Their stories are similar. They were both enrolled in the boarding school from before they reached age of majority. During their tenure, they had direct private contact with Maulana Ibrahim, which one of them now describes as grooming. When they reached legal adulthood, Maulana Ibrahim married them in a secret nikah. Upon finding out about the secret marriages, the parents of these women were confused, angry, and hurt, and they intervened for their daughters. The women eventually ended up realizing that they were taken advantage of and that Maulana Ibrahim had no intention of treating them as real wives. They subsequently obtained Islamic divorces. This new set of troubles involved people from the Muslim community in Binghamton, NY. The elders of that community apparently resolved the matter with a written agreement, signed by Maulana Ibrahim, where he agreed to step down as DUM’s principal and stop teaching female students.[xi] The Binghamton community likely moved on with the same hope and thoughts that the parties involved in the incidents a decade earlier had. However, the women involved in these secret marriages and their families were left scarred by these traumatic experiences.
This article was prompted by new recent allegations against Maulana Ibrahim involving sexual improprieties and abuse of authority. Ibrahim Memon ended up circumventing the agreement with the Binghamton Muslim community, which required him to desist from teaching female students, by teaching female students online. He ended up taking a liking to one of his online female students, Asmaa Naviwala[xii]. who also happens to be related to him through marriage. Unlike the circumstances of his previous secret marriages, this time he married her with the consent of her parents. However, this consent was obtained by making false promises, which his second wife and her family soon came to realize he had no intention of fulfilling. When it became clear that he had no intention of fulfilling his promises nor would he maintain her equally with his first wife, as Islamic Law demands, the marriage ended in divorce[xiii]. After the dissolution of their marriage she gave birth to Ibrahim Memon’s daughter whom she is currently raising as a single mother.
Again, Ibrahim Memon was leveraging his teaching platform and his position of authority to court young female students into unviable marriage situations. From this it is reasonable to conclude that marriage is not the true intent of Ibrahim Memon when he enters into these relationships; rather, it is merely to satiate a carnal desire.
How the Muslim Community Should Respond to the Infractions of the Memons
The purpose of this article is not meant to exhaustively recount all, or even most, of the grievances former students have against the Memons. It is not even meant to recount the most atrocious of their indiscretions. I am merely conveying my own first-hand experience and that of other former students, who myself and some other colleagues are in direct contact with, that will adequately demonstrate that the Memons and their institutions are not worthy of being supported by the Muslim community.
Though the majority of the unbecoming conduct mentioned above pertains to Maulana Ibrahim, his father, Dr. Ismail, and brothers, Maulana Mansoor and Mufti Husain, cannot be completely absolved from any wrongdoing. Students are coming forward with separate allegations against Dr. Ismail[xiv]. With regards to Maulana Mansoor, he meted out his own vicious beatings on students in the early- to mid-90s. I am unaware if Maulana Mansoor’s beatings continued beyond that. Furthermore, even if these allegations against Dr. Ismail remain unconfirmed and Maulana Mansoor repented and sought forgiveness for his indiscretions, they are still guilty of enabling Maulana Ibrahim to engage in his egregious behavior, particularly related to female students. However, I can empathize with Maulana Mansoor. Notwithstanding some of the beatings Maulana Mansoor inflicted on students 25 years ago, it seemed like they were done with a twisted but sincere desire for the betterment of the students. Also, from what I have been told by loyal disciples of the Memons, behind closed doors Maulana Mansoor disapproved of his younger brother’s conduct. However, this type of ‘behind-the-door’ disapproval is woefully inadequate. On one hand, I can empathize with Maulana Mansoor’s efforts in trying to balance his loyalty to his family with his personal disapproval of his younger brother’s conduct. However, on the other hand, as representatives of the Prophetic tradition, Maulana Mansoor’s and Mufti Husain’s loyalty to Rasulullah ﷺ demanded that they publicly call out their brother or take some other action to prevent him from preying on the students.
The Memons and their institutions are currently in their fourth decade of operation. Throughout that time, they have produced numerous huffadh and graduates of the alim course. At the same time, they have victimized, traumatized, and scarred a far greater number of students and their families. What is even more disappointing is that after being in operation for so long with a great number of loyal students and disciples, similar types of allegations of abuse and sexual improprieties are emerging against DUM graduates and its offshoot institutions. These recent allegations, including Maulana Ibrahim’s latest secret marriage, were the tipping point for many former students who know the reality of the Memons and their institutions. This article is an effort to help protect the Muslim community from further harm.
We want the Muslim community of North America to know that it is a great travesty that people with such aberrant character are associated with the tradition of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ. Our commitment to Allah and His Messenger ﷺ demands that we expose their unbecoming conduct so that they be divested of any religious authority and from being able to use this deen as a means for their own personal gain. Furthermore, the purpose of this is not to attain justice or revenge. With over thirty years of victims, attaining justice and avenging all their wrongdoings is an unrealistic goal. That is something that will be achieved in the court of the All-Mighty on the Day of Reckoning. For now, allegiance to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ demands that the Muslim community be warned about the dangers posed by the Memons and their institutions because the most beloved thing in this world to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ was his Ummah. Protecting its honor and dignity, in whatever capacity we are capable of, is a great deed. If your children are currently enrolled in their schools, pull them out. If you are thinking about sending your children to their institutions, do not do it. If you are a student in their online programs, unenroll and find another online program. The sublime nature of the Prophetic knowledge demands that it be taken from a righteous source. If you are a donor to any of the institutions connected to the Memons, terminate your donations and find another, more worthy institution. You owe it to yourself to entrust your hard-earned income given as sadaqa to trustworthy people of taqwa. If you value the honor, dignity, mental, spiritual, and physical health of yourselves and your children, you will heed this warning.
Guidance About Boarding School Madrasas In North America
To the parents who are interested in sending their tender-aged children to a boarding school madrasa, you should know that in our current time this is probably not a wise decision. We live in an era that is quickly moving towards the era of Dajjal. As such, we are surrounded by unprecedented levels of evil and corruption that are only going to get worse. Therefore, even when we are dealing with the “pious” and the “righteous” we cannot afford to let our guards down and assume that these people are divinely protected. This is not to say that truly pious and righteous people do not exist, but that the status of someone’s heart and their rank with Allah is veiled from us in this world. Therefore, prudence demands that we be cautious in protecting ourselves, our iman, and our families at all times — even when dealing with the pious and the righteous.
Undoubtedly, these types of boarding school madrasas have done a great deal of good; however, they are also susceptible to corruption by providing ample opportunities to take advantage of vulnerable populations. Boarding school administrators possess unique power positions and there can be considerable temptation to take advantage of this power even for those who have spent extensive time in self-purification and rectification. This is not to say that all madrasas have these types of problems, but before deciding to send your children to a boarding school madrasa, it is the parents’ responsibility to thoroughly investigate the madrasa. If parents start uncovering stories of abuse and other improprieties in their vetting process, even if they cannot be confirmed, it is better to err on the side of caution and forego enrolling your children.
A Message to the Loyal Students Defending the Memons
Before concluding, I would like to address some of the common defenses that are normally raised by supporters of the Memons. The first, is that as long as Ibrahim Memon’s subsequent marriages met the Shariah requirements for a nikah it was Islamically valid and therefore his relationship was beyond reproach. The second, is that we are obligated to hide the sins of our brothers, therefore this type of expose is contrary to Prophetic guidance. The third, is that these types of issues should be handled by aggrieved parties and the alleged perpetrators in private. Making a public display of this is a sign that this is motivated by a hidden agenda of revenge.
This first contention demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue. The issue is not whether a valid nikah took place or whether the alleged conduct was haram or halal. The issue is: was Maulana Ibrahim’s conduct consistent with the ethos of Prophetic teaching? Prophetic teachings promote the path of taqwa, i.e. what one ought to do to please Allah. It is possible for conduct to be in opposition to what one ought to do but also be situated in the grey area that immediately precedes the boundary between halal and haram. This is the realm of the undesirable act (makruhat). To simply ask whether or not there was a valid nikah when assessing the morality of these secret marriages is disingenuous. What about the entrustment of the parents who expected the school and its administrators to assume the role of a guardian for these young girls, only to have that trust violated when they were secretly married without their consent? What about the trust that these young girls placed in Maulana Ibrahim upon marrying him that, of course, this learned man who claims to be an inheritor of the Prophetic legacy, would at least try to fulfill their rights? After assessing the whole situation, it is abundantly clear that Maulana Ibrahim’s dubious conduct was opposed to the ethics of Prophetic teachings. Someone who habitually operates within this grey area, for his own personal gain at the expense of others, demonstrates questionable character that is inadequate to be perceived as a religious authority and scholar.
The second and third contentions fail to consider the fact that madrasas are public institutions entirely reliant on public support. Even if their finances are taken care of by private sources, their success is still largely dependent on the public to entrust them with their other most valuable resource — their children. This type of trust and support is built on the assumption that the religious scholars and leaders running these institutions are wholly committed to upholding the ethics of Islamic teachings. When they engage in actions that would directly impact the public’s willingness to support them that information is legitimate for public consumption. The public has a right to know who they are donating their money to, to whom they are assigning guardianship over their children to, and from whom they are taking their deen from.
The loyalty and support that the Memons receive from many former students and disciples is understandable when considering the high status that Allah and His Messenger ﷺ assigned to teachers. Knowledge, especially Prophetic knowledge, is so valued that when the teacher enlightens the student with this knowledge, the student becomes forever indebted to the teacher similar to how children are forever indebted to their parents. These loyal students and supporters are understandably conflicted by the fact that they have received this treasure of Prophetic knowledge and are connected to the Prophetic inheritance through them. On the other hand, these very teachers have been engaged in conduct so egregious that it could undermine the validity of their own religious credentials. These loyal students and supporters need to realize that nobody is demanding that they now take the Memons as their enemies and actively work against them. However, they also have to realize that allegiance to Allah and His Messenger ﷺ supersedes all other loyalties. This reality demands that the students of the Memons address their teachers’ indiscretions while maintaining their love and support for them, similar to how we would be expected to handle a situation where a dear parent is involved in egregious conduct. Blindly supporting them, covering up their misdeeds, and continuing to present them as religious authorities to the public is actually not a sign of love or respect, but rather it is helping solidify their ruin, if not in this world then definitely in the Hereafter.
In the end, this is not about demanding perfection from our scholars and mashaikh. That would be an unrealistic and unjust expectation. We understand that Prophethood is the sole repository of human perfection, of which Rasulullah ﷺ is its crowning jewel. However, what we do expect from our religious scholars and mashaikh is a sincere and wholehearted commitment to uphold the Prophetic ethics, a commitment that is demonstrably absent when assessing the conduct of the Memons. For this violation of the public trust they need to be divested of any religious authority conferred to them by their own fraternity of religious leaders and the Muslim public. We must withdraw any support, financial or otherwise, to their institutions. Any Muslim community that is currently working with them to develop religious institutions needs to seriously reconsider their association. Islam is the deen of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ. Allah is not in need of any institution, family, or individual to effectuate its spread and preservation.
If the Memons are sincere in their work for this deen, then they will take the steps necessary to preserve and maintain the valuable aspects of their operation. They will remove themselves from the leadership of their institutions; they will institute policies that will preemptively address the issues highlighted above; and they will hand the leadership and management of their institutions to others who are competent enough to take its reins. However, if after becoming aware of this article they launch a defense against its allegations, which we know to be true, then it is indicative of a lack of sincerity and that they are more motivated by self-preservation than the preservation of the deen of Allah. The onus is on them to take the corrective measures needed to continue with the valuable work that they so incompetently have been engaged in.
As of now, a number of lawsuits have recently been filed[xv]. Other victims have been talking to various media outlets about their stories. If you come across them, do not write them off as some sort of CVE or Islamophobic conspiracy to undermine Islam. Nor is this being pushed by those with a liberal progressive agenda. They are real stories of real people that many former students can attest to. Even if after becoming aware of all this information if you are still unsure about the truth of the matter, wisdom still demands that you err on the side of caution and refrain from supporting the aforementioned individuals and their institutions with your wealth and your children. If after publicizing this information, the support that these individuals and institutions receive from the Muslim public does not change, we will still be satisfied knowing that at least now the Muslim public has full disclosure about the individuals and institutions they are dealing with.
[i] During my tenure at DUM from November 1993 — December 1997, items donated to the school by parents intended for distribution among the students routinely found their way to the school’s store to be sold back to the students. One instance that I can clearly recall is when parents of an alima student from NJ donated socks with the intention of having it distributed to the students. After taking possession of the socks the they were made available to the students for purchase.
[ii] This is in reference to the Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim wherein an incident from the life of Musa (alayhis) is recounted. Musa (alayhis) was to accompany Khidr (alayhis) while he performed his divinely ordained tasks. On the surface, these tasks contravened the shariah of Musa (alayhis). When Musa (as) could no longer tolerate the open contravention of God’s law they parted ways. Upon parting ways, Khidr (alayhis) revealed to Musa the purpose of each task. In reality, each task served the purpose of furthering the aims of God’s law. http://qaalarasulallah.com/hadithView.php?ID=3266
[iii] The number of eye-witnesses to these incidents are numerous to the point where it is mass transmitted by former students. I myself attest to the vicious nature of these beatings as well as their daily occurrence.
[iv] This student has filed a lawsuit under the NY Child Victim’s Act against DUM.
[v] This senior student eventually graduated and has remained close to the family and their institutions to this day.
[vi] This is an English translation of the approximate statement he uttered in the Urdu language. I was in the presence of the student’s father after he informed us of what Ismail Memon had said.
[vii] According to the student’s parents, they had initially pressed charges against Ibrahim Memon. The parents dropped the charges after Dr. Ismail and Maulana Ibrahim came to their house seeking forgiveness. This incident of the Memons seeking forgiveness was witnessed by my own parents.
[viii] This teacher had directly relayed his predicament to a few of the madrassah students including me.
[ix] The student who was being blackmailed had informed myself and a few others directly of what Maulana Ibrahim was attempting to do. The other student who was involved in these homosexual acts has just filed suit against DUM.
[x] A number of former students of DUM and I are currently in contact with one of these women. She has asked to remain anonymous. The other woman’s story was publicized by a local news outlet: Islamic principal ousted over sex allegations He may have taken student as second wife | Latest Headlines | buffalonews.com
[xi] We are currently in possession of a copy of this signed agreement.
[xii] We have obtained her permission to use her real name.
[xiii] Asmaa Naviwala has provided screenshots of her text messages with Maulana Ibrahim that corroborate her account.
[xiv] Two lawsuits have been filed by former students directly against Dr. Ismail under the NY Child Victim’s Act alleging sexual abuse.
[xv] Lawsuit of former students Nida Makhdoom and Jane Doe can be found here: ViewDocument (state.ny.us). Law suit of former student Muhammed Khan can be found here: Mohammed Khan Complaint FINAL.pdf (state.ny.us). Lawsuit of former student Usman Makhdoom can be found here: Usman Makhdoom Complaint FINAL (state.ny.us). Lawsuit of former student Abdullah Islamovic can be found here: Abdullah Islamovic Complaint FINAL v2 (state.ny.us). Three separate students, male and female, have anonymously filed lawsuits that can be found here: ViewDocument (state.ny.us); ViewDocument (state.ny.us); ViewDocument (state.ny.us). There may have been many more students with legitimate claims and adequate grounds to file suit but the extended deadline to file suit under the NY Child Victim’s Act expired on August 14, 2021. The lawsuits that are posted above are from the former students who were able to file suit in time. The actual number of students who suffered sexual abuse at the schools is likely much greater.