Learning from charlatans

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

Imam Ibn Hazm has noted, those who cross the line when offering advice and help become a “seeker of submission and possession,” are wrongdoers and not advisers.

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Sometimes, you meet people with knowledge. These people both expand your horizons and strengthen your faith in God. Sometimes, you meet charlatans. At first, they seem to offer you sincere advice and assistance, and yet it turns out to be toxic.

How can we tell the difference, and what can we learn from charlatans?

Sometimes God puts you in the path of charlatans. This isn’t so they can teach you wisdom, but so you can learn gratitude and humility from those who—like Satan and Pharaoh—try to pressure you into pledging your allegiance to them instead of God.  They will encourage you not to give money to ‘XYZ’ to encourage you to give money to them.

Knowledge and wisdom are a form of power. However, when they are misapplied, as by charlatans, they can do serious damage. It’s important to learn from charlatans what not to do.

Charlatans often try to pressure us into being more and more grateful. It’s important for us to remember that none of us are sufficiently grateful. We can never enumerate the blessings of God, as they are infinite. We all have room to increase our gratitude—but this should be directed primarily at God, not someone who tries to force us to be their toady follower.

Charlatans who look like Satan: Lying by omission and vagueness

One of the characteristics of a certain type of charlatan is lies that operate on omission and vagueness. Obfuscating the truth is one of the most effective ways to manipulate others. But lies don’t always mean directly misleading another person or telling a direct untruth.

Satan, for example, used lies of omission when he deceived Adam. Satan didn’t come right out and say: “Adam, you should disobey God.” Instead, Satan approached Adam in a sneaky way, telling him, Eating from this tree will help you. Satan reminded Adam about God, but then distracted him when it came to the facts. He kept things hidden and surrounded Adam with a haze of misinformation.

Often, when people manipulate us through lies of omission, they are not operating on a level playing field: emotionally, socially, or spiritually. They know more than we do, and they hold back key details while pretending—like Satan—to be a sincere adviser. 

They claim to show us our reflections in the mirror, however, in reality, they are showing us their own inner reality and perverse souls which they keep projecting unto us – in the hope, we will submit to their foolishness.  They love for us to be anxious and depressed and offer us their foolishness as self-love.  Thanks, but I will pass.

This form of lying is sometimes called gaslighting, and it involves making the other person uncertain of the world around them. If someone treats you in this way, the first thing you can do is to level out the playing field. Ask the person in question to see a counselor or mediator with you, so that an independent person can listen to both sides and help the truth come out.

In our own lives, Satan keeps coming at us from every direction, trying to cause us to slip and fall by using deception. He’s not going to come right out and say: “Don’t pray.” Instead, Satan might say: “Pray now or later.” And then, he might say: “Wait another 10 minutes.”

Satan and his followers coming at us from every direction is not a reminder of who we are, but rather of who he is.

But his ultimate aim is to get you to obey him—instead of God.  Likewise, the aim of charlatans is submission to them—instead of God.  They can’t say we do not know.

Pharaoh’s emotional power: A different kind of charlatanism

Pharaoh didn’t withhold information, and create a haze of misinformation, as Satan did. Instead, Pharaoh counted on the fear he instilled in others and a web of emotional power. Sometimes, abusers huff and puff and make themselves super powerful to their victims, so that their victims live in perpetual fear.

Pharaoh counted on this sort of power, and that no one would ever stand against him. When the magicians stood by Moses, that was the first sign Pharaoh’s empire was crumbling. Pharaoh’s raw emotional power is also a form of charlatanism. Instead of using lies of omission, gaslighting, and obfuscation, Pharaoh used outright physical power.

What links the two forms of charlatans is that Satan and Pharaoh are both placing themselves in the position of God’s authority. They are placing themselves between humans and God.

Why?

Charlatans, like Satan, often act out of envy and jealousy. Deep down, Satan could not accept the honor that Adam had been given. We all suffer from various degrees of ingratitude, jealousy, and envy. The difference with Satan is that he felt he should be in the same station as God. Pharaoh, on the other hand, felt he was God.

As Susanna Barlow notes in, “Understanding the Healer Archetype,” sometimes a would-be healer can turn into a charlatan as they attempt to maintain control of a patient. The charlatan depends on “helping” others for validation and reinforcement. But ultimately, they put themselves in the place of God.

A charlatan is desperate for approval, and this need for approval keeps them worried and stressed. They can’t walk away from those they believe they are helping. Yet as Imam Ibn Hazm has noted, those who cross the line when offering advice and become a “seeker of submission and possession,” are wrongdoers and not advisers.  Do not give any money to such individuals.

It’s important to remember that God doesn’t need us to reach out and help somebody. If God wants to use you, he’ll use you. If God wants to use someone else, He will. It’s not for any individual to force their will and to compel others to submit to their advice and counsel. That kind of force is a sign not of an adviser, but of a charlatan.

How do you know if you’re acting as a charlatan?

Try to walk away.

Sometimes, we should ask ourselves: Am I acting more like an adviser or a charlatan? If someone rejects your advice or assistance, are you able to let it go? Or do you try to force people to accept your love and support?

If someone says no, then it’s time to walk away. You should not run after that person, or compel them to accept your help.

It’s impossible for us to say why our help wasn’t wanted or needed at that moment. Maybe God didn’t will for that person to be healed. Maybe, God wanted the healing to be through other means or through someone else.  Maybe, God showed them in a dream to avoid you.  In the end, you can’t enter the domain between God and his servant, nor can you interfere in someone else’s boundaries and force your will upon them.

That is the act of a charlatan.

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US.  She was the chair for the Interfaith Relations at Islamic Center of Minnesota.  She has completed training in restorative justice at the University’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking.  She was a 2008-2009 policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.  She is a public speaker and writer and lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

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© Copyright 2005-2018.  Fedwa Wazwaz, All rights reserved.

About engagemn

A Voice for Minnesotan Muslims

Posted on March 18, 2018, in Engage Minnesota, Fedwa Wazwaz and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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