Interview with Mufti Nawaz: Addressing Sexual Abuse of Children

Interview with Mufti Nawaz: Addressing Sexual Abuse of Children

This is part 1 of our interview with Mufti Nawaz Khan. In this part we focus on spiritual abuse as it pertains to children and protocol we can establish to avoid its occurrence.

Mufti Nawaz studied in South Africa where he obtained ijaazah to teach the traditional Islamic sciences and an ijaazah in iftaa (issuing legal opinions). He currently serves as religious director for Masjid al-Hilaal in California and is a founder of Darus Suffah.

Danish: Are you aware of cases of child sexual abuse by imams or Islamic teachers?

Mufti Nawaz:

Bismillahi Al-Rahman Al-Raheem (In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)

Yes, it’s a reality and a very sad one.

I’ve learned a lot by sitting with reliable imams, and have known of a few perpetrators who were proven to be guilty.

Danish: In your experience, what happened when a teacher was caught?

Mufti Nawaz: One of two things happened:

  1. It was swept under the rug- especially in the cases of big names, a large following, with people saying “His reputation,” or “the Shaykh’s reputation will be tarnished.” You can just imagine how this makes it so much harder for the victims to come forward.

Or

  1. It was brought to people’s attention and he was stopped. Stopped either by their teachers annulling their ijaazaat, other imams, the community, or through legal action.

Unfortunately, I’d say sweeping the problem under the rug is more common. Even as imams we often don’t hear about cases.

Danish: Is child sexual abuse something your shuyukh (scholars) would talk about?

Mufti Nawaz: Yes- absolutely. Our shuyukh would often talk about the harms of being in seclusion with women/children and the issues that can stem from that. They were very strict in this matter and when we’d be in their company they would talk about this often.   Honestly, at times it didn’t make sense and we sometimes thought it was strange. It wasn’t until serving as an imam and learning of horrible stories that I truly appreciated their strictness and discipline in this arena.

For example, our teachers told us not to teach kids Quran at their homes. Just by eliminating that as an option, we prevent one situation that easily lends itself to abuse. I understand the convenience it gives parents, and that teachers view it as a way of private in-home tutoring that is much more lucrative, but this approach is a preventative.

Danish: What other precautions do you take?

Mufti Nawaz: In our institute, Darus Suffah we have made it a rule that all of our classes will be held in open spaces, preferably in masjids. When we were sending drawings for our new building, our board sat with us and asked about classrooms. We said that we don’t want classrooms, and that we’ll just sit in the masjid and get dividers for a classroom type set up. Children and teachers are both safer in an open space and also the masjid has more barakah. We do not want any seclusion- for everyone’s protection.

Danish: What is your advice to the community?

Mufti Nawaz: Take this issue seriously. We often over-trust imams, teachers, and community leaders and assume them to be free of such vices.   Even parents who are otherwise aware of children being abused will say “he’s our imam, we can leave our child alone with him.” These are common assumptions, and that’s why I was very happy when I saw this website. We need to raise awareness of spiritual abuse.

As I mentioned, we have imams going to people’s houses to teach kids the Quran in seclusion. No one is supervising. Just remember that imams are humans and prone to sin, especially when they have been given that authority. Nafs and shaytan are always active.

For more on child sexual abuse, please watch our video on grooming.


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