How We Enable Abusers: Not My Community, Not My Problem

How We Enable Abusers: Not My Community, Not My Problem

We get outraged when we read about the infamous Vatican cover up of sexual abuse.  We thought a moral institution would do more about such heinous crimes.  We even expect more out of universities when they cover up abuse from star athletes. We find it morally repugnant that these figures are protected and allowed to perpetuate their abuse.

Well, we aren’t that different.  There are countless cases, like the non-Muslim ones mentioned above, in which Muslim religious abusers mysteriously left an organization and migrated to a new one.

If organization officials are asked why the individual in question left, they make vague references to “masjid politics” or “internal affairs.” Sometimes they will even praise the transitioning individual! The problem with not confronting the abuser is that the he/she is free to go elsewhere and start fresh.

Below are real examples from North America.

  • Shaykh was an instructor at an institution and starting exchanging sexually explicit messages (sexting) with female students.  The institution immediately fires the Shaykh but never explains to the students the reason for the Shaykh being fired.  The Shaykh moves to another state and establishes another institution.  When a victim of the Shaykh’s sexting comes forward to the new organization, the board members ignore the evidence and one board member even states that “the Shaykh is of another tariqa and this is not my problem.”
  • A relatively well- known imam misappropriates large amounts of funds from a mosque. He is forced to resign, is given a warm send off and a wish for the best of luck in his future endeavors.  He moves to another town, is easily hired and continues misappropriating funds.
  • A Quran teacher is caught sexting with a middle school girl.  A few other teachers in the community speak to him privately, and say he can only teach boys. They feel bad because he only has qualifications to work as a Quran teacher. The community is not made aware, and after two years the Quran teacher is teaching girls again and leading halaqas with boys and girls.
  • A well-known Islamic activist who served on the board of a well-known Islamic organization, used his fame to enter into secret polygamous marriages in various parts of the country, often telling the girls that the “secret” aspect of the marriage is only temporary.  One of girls came out publicly and the board told the girl they would investigate her claims.  Instead, before an investigation took place, after a private meeting with only the activist and two of the board members, the activist resigned.  In the official public statement by the organization, the organization praised the activist and stated that the activist would be sorely missed but is choosing to move on to other endeavors.
  • A shaykh is caught using his teaching platform for temporary secret marriages. He is made to resign. He is given a warm send off and this repeats three times in the next decade. He continues to teach. The new boards hire him, despite warnings of his history.
  • A teacher uses private tutoring to seduce a new convert. The board finds out, fires him privately. He relocates to another part of the US and continues the same behavior.
  • An imam in the US teaches a group of young women privately. He makes flirtatious comments and asks 3 of the women to marry him. Two reject, and he ostracizes them and shows more attention to other students. When the board finds out, they fire him and sign a non-disclosure agreement. He relocates to another part of the US and serves as imam.

The above scenarios all have one thing in common: keeping the actions secret, thus allowing the perpetrator to continue the same behavior, either in the same or a different setting. Because Islamic public figures, shaykhs, and da’ees have a lot of social clout, institutions often don’t dare vet them.  They may not have access to such information anyway since everything is kept secret. 

In many cases, organizations don’t care, because of the benefits they receive from the leaders. These speakers draw big crowds and help with fundraising. Sometimes, there is a purposeful cover up to protect the abuser. But people are hurt, and continue to get hurt, while the abuser is further idolized. Speaking out against him or her becomes more difficult and can lead to stigmatization of the victims. 

Instead, we should be clear about why individuals are asked to leave an organization, and be transparent where there are allegations of abuse. If we don’t address the issues, we set up Muslims in other communities for abuse. These are vices that repeat. They are not one time slips. We have to see ourselves as one ummah, and not think ‘not my community, not my problem.’