Just to clarify: the title of this post is referring not to survivers of sexual abuse but to those who hear about sexual abuse. The following are some things *not* to say when you learn that a Qur’an teacher, an imam, or other religious community leader is sexually abusing people.
The post below is specifically in response to the recent sexual abuse by the Chicago imam, who — let’s all thank the Creator — now has been charged with sexually abusing an employee! May those whom he harmed, in any and every way, find love and strength to cope with the repercussions of the crimes this man has committed against them. And may those because of whom this man is now being punished be rewarded for their pursuit of justice despite the consequences. May all such criminals be brought to justice soon, aameen!
So here are some things that we should NOT say when we hear that a “respected” member of the community, especially a religious community leader, has been or is sexually abusing community members.
1. “He’s an IMAM! Muslims and people of faith would never do such a thing when they’re constantly preaching about how to be pious and stuff. They’re not Muslim if they do. Period.”
I don’t care if you think they’re Muslim or not. Because, first of all, they are Muslim. Being dismissed from the fold of Islam isn’t as simple as committing a crime. Especially when the Muslim in question is a Qur’an teacher who has crucial Islam-related roles in the community and maybe even the world.
But that’s not even the point. It’s not “period” just because they’re doing something that Islam wouldn’t approve of. That’s just the beginning of the problem, and we need to collectively do everything to condemn these sexual predators, punish them, and make sure that others note the consequences of such crimes.
2. “Listen, let’s first make sure that all these allegations are true before we punish the accused, ok? In fact, we shouldn’t even talk about this until we have evidence and proof that he’s guilty. This is a respected imam you’re accusing of.”
What? Why? Because respect = complete innocence? You see, particularly given the kind of communities most us Muslims belong to, it’s difficult to find absolute evidence of sexual abuses, and so we’ve to rely on the statements of those coming forward; it’s also insanely close to impossible to encourage people to come forward to speak out against their abuse(s) because of how much victim-blaming and victim-shaming takes place in our society. We saw this with the Chicago Muslims coming forward: While many Muslims responded in support (see, for example, this petition and letter that some wrote for Muslim scholars/leaders to address sexual abuse in their communities), some others are still defending the imam and accusing the survivors of lying. Our immediate response to abuse when we hear of it should be to send well wishes upon those who have been harmed and demand justice. Let authorities take care of the rest, but we cannot demand for the community’s silence “until it’s been proven.” That’s what we’re supposed to say to the survivors? Seriously? “I can’t stand with you until you’ve proven to me that he’s abused you.” There’s something seriously amiss here if this is our initial response.
3. Some of our community leaders have been writing long Facebook posts/statuses in response to the Chicago imam’s case expressing support for the victims. Great! Excellent! But these public statements also completely neglect to condemn the imam for what he’s done. And the writers/activists are calling this a “balanced approach.” Actually, there’s nothing balanced about choosing not to — maybe even refusing to — condemn the imam/abuser because you’d rather focus on the survivors only. You can’t support the survivors by refusing to recognize publicly that the person who abused them was wrong and should face consequences for what he did. You can focus on the survivors, their well-being, their safety WHILE also condemning the imam. Otherwise, your approach isn’t balanced at all.
4. “Look, imams, too, are human, just like everyone else. And everyone makes mistakes. You can’t let their mistakes define them.”
Okay, there’s everything wrong with this, and I refuse to go into this. (But it’s a real response, I swear! Someone said that to me when I shared my blog post on how my Qur’an teacher sexually abused girls in my elementary school.)
5. We always lose focus when talking about religious people’s crimes! Our focus shifts from “let’s make sure he’s charged guilty and send message to others that this is unacceptable and that we will take action” to “But why would an IMAM of all people do such a thing? Besides, Imams have no reason to do this. Catholic priests, yes, since they can’t get married and stuff. But that’s why Islam requires marriage especially for men.” Like what the hell? NO! Lets first talk about sexual abuse. Why is it so hard to believe an imam would do this? He has easy access to potential victims, is trusted, knows no one will believe the victims or anyone else if they tell on him. He knows that if the victims come forward, any of them, the community would destroy them in every possible way. Because imams = gods.
In other words, we’ll talk about ANYthing but the actual problem of the reality of sexual abuse especially by religious, respected members of the community. Or of condemning the abusers.
My Qur’an teacher sexually abused girls when I was in elementary school, and I’ve a friend who was sexually abused by a female Qur’an teacher. I will never, ever doubt it when anyone says they’ve been abused or knows someone who’s abused. None of us should ever doubt it. Especially when the accused is someone no one would ever expect to do such a thing. That’s when we should all open our eyes wider because something’s going on here because of the power dynamics in question.