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FACE Confronts Issues in the Muslim American Community

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Muslim Women protest in Chicago (Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Muslim Women protest in Chicago (Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

FACE (Facing Abuse in Community Environments) is an organization whose mission is to serve as an independent first line of defense for victims in the Muslim American community who have experienced abuse and neglect at the hands of religious and community leaders.

Founded in 2017, FACE offers victims the opportunity to confidentially report abuse—be it sexual, physical, financial, or spiritual. FACE performs formal investigations with the goal of preventing further abuse, as well as assisting victims in moving forward both legally and emotionally.

FACE has a four-prong approach in its goal of eliminating abuse within the Muslim community:

  • STOP: Procedures for the confidential reporting, independent investigation, and litigation of claims.
  • EDUCATE: Deliver programs to empower mosques and other community partners to prevent abuse as well as provide tools necessary to address current instances of abuse.
  • NOTIFY: Based on the outcome of completed investigations, issue reports which serve to notify and protect Muslim communities from corrupt leaders’ ability to continue their abuses.
  • SECURE: Maintain an independent and financially sustainable organization that does not benefit from masjid or organizational sponsorship of any kind.

In just its first year, FACE has investigated and exposed the abuse of Zia ul-Haque Sheikh, an imam at the Islamic Center of Irving, Texas (ICI), who sexually exploited a young girl in his congregation. The investigation also uncovered he engaged in inappropriate activities in other states as well.

The girl initially reported the abuse to Nouman Ali Khan, the head of the ICI. Khan did nothing to help the girl, instead telling her to keep quiet because it would damage Sheikh’s reputation. Fortunately she was not deterred and continued to pursue redress, ultimately coming to FACE, which issued its first Misconduct Report on the case. With FACE’s assistance, in July of 2018, the girl filed a lawsuit against her abuser.

Creating awareness is crucial in the attempt to alleviate abuse. Accordingly, through its website, FACE reports on many cases of abuse by those in positions of power. One such example is the case of Mohammed Abdullah Saleem, an Islamic leader who pled guilty to molesting an underage girl and a female employee at the Institute for Islamic Education.

Another is the story former imam Mohammed Rabani, who was jailed for three counts of assault against a 12-year- old boy. However, these reports are not limited to cases involving Muslims. Notably, the case of Larry Nassar, the former doctor of the American gymnastics team who was convicted of sexually assaulting hundreds of young women, is also reported, among others.

The more a light is shined on the abuse and the more information available, the more likelihood that victims will feel empowered to come forward and perpetrators will find no safe quarter for their behavior.

The Muslim community is coming to terms with the fact that there are people who serve as leaders–including clergy, teachers and religious scholars–who abuse their positions of power and violate their ethical responsibilities. Until now, there has been no effective and standardized means by which to collectively hold these abusive leaders accountable and prevent them from going from community to community to gain access to vulnerable populations.  Now there is FACE.

 

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Sarah Bandujo

Sarah Bandujo is a student at the University of Texas at Austin studying International Relations and Global Studies.