In the Name of God: The Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord
I am very proud to add my name as a signatory to the letter below. My heart cries out in anguish and terrible anger at the alleged abuse by a Chicago-area Imam.
Dear Muslim Sisters and Brothers:
In light of recent sexual assault allegations in Chicago, we submit the following.
As scholars and religious leaders, we write to address the very grave matter of sexual abuse and criminal, predatory behavior perpetrated by religious leaders within our community. We must bear witness to the spiritual and legal teachings of our faith. We must denounce this heinous form of oppression and violation. In our traditions, we have higher objectives that require us to protect lives and children. We must turn our hands against the perpetrators. We must hold the criminals to account before God and the American judicial system. We must work for the healing of the survivors, their families, and loved ones. And, we must put in place new checks and balances to protect current and future generations from such appalling, and soul-tearing violation.
It is important to note at the outset that this is not merely a legal issue. It is about the rescue and rehabilitation of souls that have been violated in the worst imaginable way. Their trust has been betrayed. Their bodies and souls have been violated. And, because these crimes have been perpetrated by religious leaders, their relationship with their faith and with God has been poisoned. The scars of sexual violence are life-long. The survivors must bear them for the rest of their lives.
This letter, then, first and foremost, is written in a spirit of loving support and prayerful solidarity with the survivors. Second, it calls for a community-wide revolution in the way we respond to this evil within our communities.
In this spirit, then, we humbly offer a few points.
1. As Muslims and people of faith, we must stand for justice.
O you believers! Hold up justice, as witnesses to God, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, regardless of whether he be rich or poor. God is a better Protector to both (than you). [Surah al-Nisa 4:135]
Thus, regardless of what our families or the community might say, regardless of the position or status of the perpetrator, we must stand together as witnesses before God. To do otherwise is to ignore God’s clear teaching as well as betray the victims.
2. Seek immediate help.
If you know or are a victim of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or sexual assault, seek immediate help. We often think that sexual violence is only rape. For further examples, please check here.
If you do not know how or where to seek help, begin with a trusted family member or friend or teacher, who can help you access the professional resources that exist for victims within and beyond the community. Qualified and compassionate people are waiting to help, and so we have both a personal and collective obligation to ensure that the victims get help, immediately.
Even if the incident(s) you experienced were from long ago, seek help. The effects of such trauma are long lasting.
3. Inform law enforcement.
We must never hesitate to inform law enforcement when a crime has been committed, especially one of such a heinous and serious nature. Officers are given special training for the care, interviewing, and protection of victims of sexual violence. They have strict rules for confidentiality. The police have the power to intervene so that the victim will be protected from further abuse. Law enforcement must be part of our community’s collective strategy for combatting this criminal behavior within our mosques, schools, and families.
Even if the abuse and violation occurred a long time ago, law enforcement should be informed immediately, as there may still be time for investigation, prosecution, and protection for both the survivor(s). We must also protect others who are in danger of being violated by the sexual predator. For the importance of consulting local law on such matters, please check here.
4. Support the victim.
As believing women and men, we must stand together for the sanctity and beauty and innocence of the victims. The prominence, fame, or power of the perpetrator should not affect our support for the victim. God says very clearly that His covenant does not include oppressors [Surah al-Baqarah 2:124]. Our compassionate focus must be on the victims of oppression.
If you have been affected or have a family member who was affected by sexual violence, we urge you to stand with and for the survivor. We urge you to seek help by way of professional counseling and legal intervention. We urge you to cling to hope; for all things, including healing, are possible with God. The perpetrators should seek their own repentance with Allah, but we must support the victim.
5. Do not blame or shame the victim.
Allah does not like the public mention of evil except by one who has been wronged. And ever is Allah Hearing and Knowing. [Surah al-Nisa 4:148]
We must support and protect the victims. It is unacceptable to blame, shame, or silence the victims. As mentioned in the above ayah, Allah does allow victims to make public mention of evil.
We must protect the victim and pursue justice. It is never the victim’s fault for getting abused. There is nothing s/he could have done to invite such behavior, as sexual violence is a matter of the perpetrator abusing his/her power against another.
Victim blaming is one of the main reasons survivors do not come forward and seek justice. Community silence allows abusers to continue their crimes in their homes and communities. Let us not be responsible for silencing those who have been oppressed.
Sending sincere prayers of God’s peace, mercy and blessings to one and all.