The elders of the Chicago Muslim community tried to protect a school they had contributed to build for their children by not reporting the allegation a 23 year old girl had brought against its 75 year old founder, a graduate of Darul Uloom Deoband, the seat of orthodox Sunni school in North India. The school that offers courses for boys and girls in religious studies was paid by Muslims from all over the country. They tried to avoid the issue and advised people not to leak it to the media. But months later when the two leading newspapers of the country, the New York Times and the Washington Post published articles giving details of the accusation, the reaction of some of the elders as well as community members appeared even more irresponsible. Some of the people blamed it as a conspiracy against Islam and Muslims by Jewish and Christian Islamophobes who published this information to defame Islam so that the Hifz School can be closed down.
If they had any concern to the book they refer to as their source of guidance they should have at least known that the Quran asks its believers to stand for justice even if it is against oneself. "O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do." (Quran 4:135)
The right course of action should have been the following.
- Encourage the victim to report to law enforcement agencies.
- The board of directors of the school should have instituted an inquiry board to look into the matter.
- The accused should have been suspended until the completion of the inquiry.
- All those who knew about the incident in the school and did not report it to the board of directors should have been suspended too for not reporting it.
- Students should have been informed about this incident.
- An orientation session for the students and the staff should have been organized to ensure that they know their rights if their dignity is violated by any staff.
- The accused should have been restricted in his dealings with the student and staff of the school.
But what was done was different.
- Instead, a private arbitration committee was formed to mediate between the victim and the alleged perpetrator
- The recommendation was given to cover up the matter if the accused did not resume his religious activities such as giving sermons or speaking in public.
- The family and friends encouraged the accused to return to India.
- Stories were circulated by those close to the accused that the girl has apologized and the religious leader was gracious to forgive her.
- The arbitrary committee arranged a meeting between the accused and the family of the victim and elicited a confession.
- The accused promised not to give the Friday sermon or talks anywhere for two years.
- The accused later denied the charges and retracted his statement.
- The accused called a meeting of his advisory council and appointed his sons and grandson to be in charge of various positions in schools.
- The accused paid thousands of dollars (fund raised by Muslims as usual to save Islam)
Obviously, every norm of justice both secular and Islamic was violated by those who swear by Islam. They refused to empathize with the victim. Some of them believed her but tried to persuade her not to report the case to the police. They tried to act as a court and judge and arbitrator. They argued that their community would be defamed and their religious institutions would come under close scrutiny and Islam would become a target of Islamophones once again.
They did not bother to give any respect to the victim or her family or their feelings. They did not bother to refer to the norms of justice as taught by their holy book and lived by their Prophet. They forgot the teachings of the Prophet who is reported to have told one of his companions that "even if her daughter was involved in an act of theft, he would have punished her." They did not realize that ultimately it is to God Almighty they have to respond to for their deeds.
In another state, an Imam was sent back to the country of his origin once a man filed charges against him for sexual molestation. In another incident, a widow refused to file charges against an Imam who had allegedly sexually abused her in a mosque where she had gone to seek religious advice to raise her two daughters. The woman did not want anyone else in the community to know about it out of shame when she wanted some advice on how to deal with this trauma. Similar such cases are out there and yet many in the community leadership have been persistently refusing to take appropriate actions. Rather, it is defending its action by encouraging the people not to report it to the police.
In general there are no religiously defined policies for these situations that our community has established from its own resources. It is generally assumed that "holy men" are incapable of doing such acts as they are men of God. Our community does not want to face the reality that Muslims too commit acts of sexual abuse. They too are vulnerable to every vice that human beings have ever indulged in.
Of course the majority of the clergy are doing an honorable job of serving the community. But the absence of clearly defined and transparent policies leave room for incompetent actions.
The community leadership must act with responsibility if they are serious in their commitment to serve Islam and preserving it for their future generation. The protection of children as well as men and women is part of the social obligation that the leadership contracts with the community. It cannot act in an irresponsible manner by protecting the accused and denying victims the rights to seek redress.
There are some measures that Chicago community as well as the Muslim community in general must take if it really wants to effectively handle such situation.
Steps the Chicago Community should take.
- Ensure that victim and her family are provided full protection and access to legal help.
- The school that the community helped build should be taken away from his family and a group of Islamic academics from Chicago should be given the responsibility to run it.
- The matter should be left to the court.
- Even if the accused accepts his crime and apologizes, he should not be religiously rehabilitated in the community.
- Sensitivity training should be given to the staff and students as well as board members.
- Trained counselors should be hired to deal with such situations.
- General policy guidelines should be created to deal with these situations.
- Employees and students of the Islamic institutions should be given orientation on the policies.
- Any violation of law should be reported to the police.
- Muslim institutions should not be considered the property of a family or ethnicity if those institutions are built by Muslim resources.
- Rules of khalwa (privacy) should be elaborated and the community should be educated about them.
Let us hope that someone in the community listens to the cries of victims and do what is recommended and mandated by the Quran to establish justice for all.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor in chief of the weekly Muslim Observer and director of the Islamic Society of Nevada.
Related posts from similar topics:
Related posts from similar channels: