Hate imams are well-documented in the United States, but they often skirt away from responsibility because of their status as clergymen — at least, that was the case until FACE (Facing Abuse in Community Environments) charged in as the Muslim cavalry for victims of abuse.
Over the last year, American Muslims dealt with hateful imams preaching apocalyptic genocide against the Jews, but they haven’t dealt openly with direct attacks against their own.
Holding a woman hostage against her will was a problem people assumed that Third World women dealt with. Fears of sex grooming vulnerable young girls were also a world away, nested in part within some of Britain’s Pakistani community. These were “over there” stories — until a story came out about a Texas imam grooming a young woman through gradual and escalating degrees of sexual violence.
On October 18th, 2018, BuzzFeed’s Hannah Allam reported a case about a young Muslim woman who filed a lawsuit and police report alleging sexual misconduct against Texas imam Zia Ul-Haq Sheikh. For privacy reasons, the 18-year-old woman is referred to as Jane Doe.
Here’s what we know so far:
As Allam points out, according to the lawsuit, “What happened in the motel room … wasn’t a romantic tryst but the culmination of years of exploitation, an influential religious leader taking advantage of a struggling teen.”
Doe’s story was facilitated by a yearlong investigation by FACE, a Texas-based non-profit organization spearheaded by Muslim women. It focuses on transparency and victims’ rights in handling abuse claims against religious and community leaders, as well as the institutions protecting them. FACE covers sexual, physical, financial and spiritual abuses. The organization also empowers the community through free research and educational materials.
For Muslim women, who suffer deeply from honor and shame dynamics, the presence of a Muslim-led organization that champions their dignity is instrumental. Leadership among Muslims, especially when it is led by women, is critical when it comes to holding corrupt religious leaders accountable and restoring balance within a community that has thus far failed to hold itself accountable.
As the #MeToo movement grew, documenting an avalanche of testimony of sexual abuse, some of those stories began coming from the Muslim community. Muslim women, as many others, were encouraged by the sense of sisterhood and support among women (and many men). The taboo of shame felt by many victims of sexual abuse was finally at bay, as was the fear that women wouldn’t be believed — or that coming forward would risk a woman’s reputation and standing in society, including her chances for marriage.
This was a safe space, one that included Muslim women.
The groundbreaking narratives of Muslim women boldly coming forward reached all the way to Mecca, the site of Islam’s holy pilgrimage, with shocking stories of sexual misconduct in what would be presumed as the safest place for Muslim women. (It wasn’t.)
Instead, what we are seeing is that the safest place for Muslim women in this context are organizations like FACE and the authorities and law enforcement personnel that aide them.
As shocking stories of sexual violence surface across both Christian and Catholic churches in the United States, Muslims can continue with courage in doing one of the hardest jobs there is for a believer: challenging the authority of clergy.
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