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Monday, June 11, 2007

How to recognize scams aimed at Muslim women, and how to protect yourself (and others) from them??

A number of "cyber scams" aimed at exploiting Muslim women have popped up on the net over the last few years. By request, Modern Muslima presents you with a list of those scams, how to recognize them, and how to protect yourself (and others) from them. We'd like to thank all of the sisters who shared their experiences, sometimes painful and embarrassing, with us so that we could provide you with this information.

Veil (Hijab) Fetishists

There are two types of Hijab Fetishists out there: the kind who "have fun" simply looking at pictures of veiled women (and who build websites and swap veiled photographs), and the kind who enjoy writing stories and initiating correspondence about veiling. Very often, these fetishists are not Muslim and do not pretend to be.

The first kind are relatively innocuous. All the photographs of women on their website are likely to be women in full (face) veils. The e-mail exchanges they have tend to center on swapping nothing more than photos. Their pages (one of which is very popular with Muslim women) tend to focus solely on photographs. Any text on their sites will deal with historical and socio-cultural views of veiling, and almost completely leave out religious writings, such as ayat (verses) from the Qur'an. Links on their site will take you to more pages (Islamic and not) about veiling, or even to pages of a sexual nature.

The second kind are not as harmless. They exchange stories of a sexual nature, centered on the female character being veiled, and swap photographs of both veiled and...shall we say, partially veiled women. They sometimes engage in "role playing" on e-mail lists and in chat rooms. Again, most of them don't even bother with religious (or even historical) ideas about veiling, and most of them can't be bothered to pretend they are Muslims.

However, there are a few fairly active Veil Fetishists out there who do pretend to be Muslim women. They try to get Muslim women to write things or send photographs that they would never knowingly share with a man, much less a man (or woman) who is sexually aroused by veiling. What these Veil Fetishists do is create a Yahoo! or AOL id with a Muslim woman's name. They then "troll" various e-mail groups, message boards, and chat rooms looking for Muslim women to talk to about veiling.

One individual is known for pretending to be a new Muslim woman who needs "help" learning how to pin the hijab. This individual tries to find sisters who have web-cams and asks them to turn the camera on, and do a step by step demonstration of how to put the hijab on so "she" can learn. This person has been at this for more than a year as of this writing (August 2003).

Another group of people are far more extreme and much more insidious. The things that they say and engage in online could be extremely damaging to an unsuspecting Muslima's heart and mind. This group includes several individuals who pretend that they are "extremely conservative" Muslim women, although they almost never use the word "Salafi" (probably because they aren't familiar with it).

They set up web pages and Yahoo! groups about "Extreme Conservative Veiling," "Silent Niqaabis," and so on. Not all members of these groups are Muslims, nor do they claim to be. For example, some claim to be "conservative Christians," while others are just "secular conservatives" who are into veiling for "social reasons." These people then join authentic Muslim women's groups, troll for very conservative and / or fully veiled women, and invite them to join their groups. Unfortunately, a number of sincere and innocent Muslimas have joined these groups.

These Veil Fetishists, who are both men and women, get some sort of sick sexual fulfillment out of pretending to be Muslim women and encouraging Muslim women to talk about veiling, their relations with their husbands, and practices that might be classified as "sado-masochism." All of their conversations and posts focus solely on veiling and the overwhelming sexual power of women's bodies and voices, and how it must be contained through extreme measures.

For example, these individuals have encouraged Muslim women to tie their legs and ankles together when walking outside (so that the stride is not too "large" and "unfeminine") and to wear gags (so that they do not knowingly or unknowingly arouse men outside of the home by talking). They swap photographs of various types of gags and binding garments. They also encourage these Muslim women to engage in a type of purdah that includes never going out of of the home, blacking out windows, and being locked into a room by the husband / male partner when he is not home. They share stories about being in full niqab all of the time, including at home alone or with the husband / male partner, and claim it is "more Islamic" to do this.

They also tell these Muslimas that it is "more Islamic" to engage in a practice known as "domestic discipline." "DD," which is practiced by some Christian conservatives, but mostly by secular conservatives and fetishists, is the practice of regular light (or not so light) spanking and hitting of the wife / female partner by the husband / male partner in order to "keep her in line."

The easiest way to recognize these people is to realize that beneath the rhetoric about "good conservative" Muslim women being "silent and feminine," these individuals exhibit absolute ignorance about Islam, its teachings, its beliefs, and so on. Nor is any of the content of their posts or websites Islamic in nature. One can also peruse the members lists of these groups and see that most members have IDs that contain words and implications of a sexual nature.

Circumcision Fetishists

Even worse than hijab fetishists are the circumcision fetishists. One individual has been extremely active in trying to fool Muslim women over the last year or so. He has created a number of seemingly Islamic Yahoo! IDs; he always poses as a woman. He finds pictures of fully veiled Muslim women on the 'net and puts it on his sites / groups, claiming that is him. He creates groups relating to the idea of female circumcision in Islam, and then trolls genuine groups in search of seemingly naive members or simply spams genuine groups with invitations to his group.

The Circumcision Fetishist seems to possess a fair amount of knowledge on what various Islamic sources have said about female circumcision, which is why it seems that some poor sisters have taken him at face value. Unfortunately, he has simply pulled these quotes off of a (get ready to gag) circumcision fetishist website.

He also posts articles or "testimonials" allegedly from Muslim women all over the world about how wonderful it is to be circumcised. His only goal is to convince women to get circumcised and to encourage them to talk about their genitals. A number of well meaning, naive Muslim women (esp. new Muslimas) have joined his groups. A quick scan of the members lists of his group show that along with the sincere Muslimas, there are a large number of people whose IDs have words of a sexual nature.

Fortunately for Muslimas, this individual exhibits a gross lack of knowledge about anything else to do with Islam, which always gives him away. He does not know what the five pillars are, does not use the greetings of peace ("Salaam Alaikum"), and none of his messages have any religious content whatsoever. New Muslimas should know that under almost no circumstance (actually, none that I can think of) would a Muslim woman discuss her genitalia in a public or semi-public forum. If you join a group or receive an invitation of this nature, it is almost certainly a cyber scam.

As of this writing, we do not know of any other individual who pretends to be a Muslim woman; however, there are a number of websites, e-mail groups, and picture / story swaps out there which fetishize the circumcision of both men and women. If you are looking for information on male infant circumcision in Islam, you may come across some of their sites by accident. You will almost immediately recognize these sites for what they are, since they feature quite a large number of inappropriate photographs.

The Abandoned Muslima

Another common scam is the "Abandoned Muslima." Regrettably, it is fairly difficult to tell the scammer from the person who genuinely needs help. The Abandoned Muslima is a woman, almost always claming to be a convert, who says that she has been abandoned by her husband, usually with a child or two (or three or four or five...). She almost always says that her husband has abused her in some way. Abandoned Muslima simply can not get a job; she alleges that absolutely no Muslim in her community, whether it is at the masjid, or just fellow community members, will help her. Usually a claim that they made fun of her or made racist comments about her is tossed in. Abandoned Muslima will spend several weeks, months even, bombarding members of various Muslim e-mail groups with her tales of woe and hardship.

After Abandoned Muslima has warmed up her audience, she will make a "reluctant" plea for members of the group to send her money. Offers of jobs or other types of assistance (such as directing her to social service agencies) will always be rejected for various reasons.

Abandoned Muslima is looking for cold hard cash (or money orders). After she has received money from well meaning members, she will disappear. Some Abandoned Muslimas may also start to create trouble after they've received their money, usually by launching personal attacks on other members, before disappearing.

Abandoned Muslima will disappear from the e-mail circuit for about six months to a year. Later on, she will reappear on other groups, often using the same name, but a different e-mail address or Yahoo! ID. Group members who recognize her from previous experiences and who try to warn others may be "hand slapped" as being mean to the new member. Abandoned Muslima may "apologize" and claim she was "going through a rough time" when she suddenly disappeared without a trace or word of thanks from the previous group.

Unfortunately, it does happen that real Muslim women with real financial difficulties reach out to their sisters online for help. So how do we tell Abandoned Muslimas apart from the real sisters? Most of the time, you simply can't. Abandoned Muslima has got her story down pat.

The only difference between a real sister and an Abandoned Muslima is that the real sister who is in dire straits is going to be willing to take a job or visit a social service agency. Remember, Abandoned Muslima is after cash, not a job, and she is going to reject these other forms of help using various excuses. Abandoned Muslima is also likely to disappear quickly if a potential donor exhibits interest in talking to those community leaders who are alleged to have rejected her for racist reasons.

If you want to help struggling Muslim women, the best thing to do is look within your community. It is highly likely that some woman in your community or one nearby is struggling to pay the bills. There are also several Islamic social service agencies across the country that provide financial and housing assistance, as well as job counseling, to Muslim women. You would be doing a lot of good to put your money with them.

The Lonely Brother

The Lonely Brother is a Muslim man who is looking for a little "haram" (forbidden) interaction online. He may also be seeking something in real life. He always targets convert women, especially new sisters. His scam is pretty straightforward. He is a Muslim man who says that he is looking for marriage. He claims to be very, very lonely. After only one or two e-mail or Instant Message conversations, he finds himself "deeply in love" with the sister. What he does after this depends on his level of depravity.

Some Lonely Brothers try to encourage the woman to engage in cyber-sex or phone sex, claiming that it is "halal" (permissible) because they are online and "it isn't real." Or they may try to appeal to her sense of pity and guilt by playing the "but we're in love and I can't wait, it's too difficult" card.

Other Lonely Brothers will convince the sister to meet them in person. They will first suggest a public place, such as a museum, park, or mall. He will take her around, be semi-charming, pay for her lunch. He will then almost always, somehow, "awkwardly" suggest that they begin to have sex. He will claim that it is permissible because they are "engaged" and "really in love." Or he will tell her that Islam allows a sort of "temporary marriage," or muta'h that will allow them to "marry in secret" (i.e., without witnesses or even an imam to officiate) and engage in sexual relations. After the sister does what he wants, he simply disappears, or he gives her the excuse that "he's not ready to marry after all," or that his family won't let him marry a convert, and then takes off.

Unfortunately, there are enough new Muslimas out there who don't know enough about Islam, who are confused and who are lonely themselves that they fall for this stuff.

Sisters! No sincere, good Muslim man is going to ask you to engage in cyber or phone sex, or ask you out on a date, or ask you to engage in "temporary marriage," which is NOT permissible. Lonely Brother, more often than not, is actually engaged or married to a Muslim woman already, OR fully engages in haram behavior outside of his scamming Muslim women (and here, we mean openly dating and having relationships with women, going to bars, smoking marijuana, and so on). If you have doubts about a Muslim man you have met online, talk to a knowledgeable Muslim whom you trust. Ask your imam. Ask him to visit the imam with you. If he declines or backs out, you know he's not for real.

The Friendly Shi'a

The Friendly Shi'a is a Shi'a man or woman who joins general or Sunni-specific Islamic groups in order to "learn" and "promote Islamic unity." He or she (for our purposes, it is she) will exhibit an intense desire to learn about various aspects of Sunni law and belief. She is friendly and seemingly open. She will repeatedly assure the members of the group that her aim is not to convert them to Shi'ism.

However, she soon slips in questions about various ayat (verses) in the Qur'an, hadith from the Sunnah, or historical incidents. The question may be cloaked with the intent that she wants to "learn the Sunni perspective" or "get a deeper grammatical understanding" of the matter in question. A quick visit to any one of the large number of Shi'a missionary sites will clue you in to the fact that these are the very same questions Shi'as are encouraged to ask Sunnis when proselytizing them.

When confronted with a Friendly Shi'a, my recommendation is to do a simple Google or Yahoo! search on the individual, using their e-mail address or Yahoo! ID. One will almost certainly pull up articles from websites or posts from Shi'a lists / message boards that speak to the individual's true intentions and feelings.

In my experience, Friendly Shi'a will pull the "who me?" wide-eyed innocent act when confronted or asked about her intentions, even when told that the confronters have found evidence of those true intentions. It has also happened that at the same time Friendly Shi'a is interacting on the given group, there are several other Shi'a on the same group who are engaging in 'taqiya,' or dissimulation. This basically means lying, and in our case, means pretending and claiming to be Sunni Muslims. The Friendly Shi'a will disavow any knowledge of these individuals, even though that quick Google search showed you that they interact together, openly, on Shi'a boards using the same names and IDs.

Individually, the Friendly Shi'a targets those who are new to Islam, those who exhibit a desire to become students of knowledge, and / or those who express some confusion about various Islamic concepts. Friendly Shi'a also exploits those whom she perceives to be overly friendly, quiet, or weak. Such individuals may be targeted for a more "individual" proselytizing off list. Members should be wary when Friendly Shi'a starts asking questions about the personalities and biographies of various other members.

Now, because the Shi'a has been so friendly and open until this point, there will be other members of the group who feel bad exposing her or trying to have her removed, saying that it adds to the "disunity" of the Ummah. It ends up creating a significant amount of fitnah for group / message board owners and members. This does not mean that all Shi'a are "bad," or even that most online Shi'a engage in this or approve of this. Most Shi'a 'netizens out there stay on Shi'a groups and the Shi'a 'web and are not the slightest bit interested in doing what Friendly Shi'a does. What it does mean is that message board and group owners need to be both aware and wary of Shi'a members, and protect the rest of the group by hiding the membership lists or member e-mail addresses.

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