Dallas-based Salafangelist preacher Nouman Ali Khan’s alleged sex scandal is still reverberating in American Muslim circles after screen-shots revealed the preacher with 2 million followers having raunchy and threatening conversations with a host of unmarried women.
While his supporters and detractors are debating the details of the case, it seems clear that Khan was using his position as a charismatic preacher to seduce impressionable young women. He was acting like a sleazy rockstar hooking up with groupies after performances, getting off on being able to pick up easy chicks with his dashing delivery and fiery preaching about haram and halal. Only in his case, the haram became a harem. And No-Man is an island!
It’s amusing to watch this burlesque play out, taking down the one-time golden boy of the American Islamist scene. But at the same time, it’s actually a painful moment. Because for every Nouman Ali Khan there are dozens of small-time clerics working the same gig: using their authority to prey on vulnerable women to fulfill their sexual urges – and thus sucking the spirituality out of our community. Only in those cases, the scandals go unexposed.
Here is one scandal that got hushed up by a local community. I am only able to reveal some of the details because the victims are not yet ready to step forward and there are no Whats App messages, as in the Khan case. The local community in this case imported an imam from Egypt who supposedly had high credentials (good ijaza, etc.). But it soon became clear something was wrong with “Imam A7a.” (pronounced a-h-a).
Several young women, some of them converts, went to the imam seeking help with personal challenges. The imam told each one in a one-on-one counseling session that they had become possessed by a jinn (demon) and then he needed to exorcize it. The question was who really was possessed by demons! Because, get this, the way he performed the “intervention” was to grope the young lady on the chest under her shirt and begin massaging while reciting Qur’an. (“Grab ‘em by the breasts!” is a halal Trumpian rip-off!)
Because these all happened in private sessions, each young woman had no idea the imam was a serial molester. They actually thought at first that this was a legitimate clerical counseling, especially the impressionable converts. Eventually the women revealed to each other what was happening and began to piece together the pattern of abuse. (I suspect that’s what happened with the women Nouman Ali Khan was fooling around with – they learned about each other and decided to call him out.)
They finally worked up the courage to bring the complaints to the mosque board. So what did the Islamist men running the mosque do? They bullied the young women, threatening the women with excommunication if they went to the police with their case. Even more infuriating, the women were made to formally apologize for coming forward with the complaints. Not only did the mosque board abet the preacher’s abuse, but they helped him relocate to another town and kept the whole matter under wraps.
The women in that case never got justice. The community wounds linger. What should have been a holy space turned into a house of abuse. And the Islamist leadership allowed it all to happen and never took responsibility. The poor young women are still shaken.
If you look closely at Nouman Ali Khan’s scandal, you realize that at first his abuses were willfully covered by Islamist leaders. Nouman’s behavior was known to his eventual accuser, Omer Mozaffar, Muslim Chaplain at Loyola University, per his own statement. Mozaffer and a group of other Salafi scholars agreed to keep the situation quiet on the condition that Nouman refrain from making any new public appearances:
When rumors spread of possible indiscretions by Nouman, the local community of Dallas scholars investigated the matter to protect possible victims and to work toward justice and community healing… In a meeting with the above scholars and myself, Nouman agreed to stop public speeches until further notice, to get professional and religious counseling, and to cease all contact with those women. I had the responsibility to determine when he would be ready to speak again.
What Mozaffar doesn’t dwell on is that the Muslim community was left entirely in the dark about the alleged abuse. The whole matter was handled behind closed doors among the men. A closer look at his own statement shows that clearly: “It was the responsibility of our team to inform the Muslim community leadership of Dallas and the nation, in order to protect anyone else from becoming a potential victim. Leaders and scholars across the nation were informed immediately, free to spread the news.”
But of course they did not. The news remained under wraps. The first the nation heard of this matter was in a Facebook post. Who knows how many other women were taken advantage of in the meantime?
And then there are all the other abusive clerics out there in our communities who continue to grope and hook up with starry-eyed women after lectures… Even if I were a hardcore Salafi believer, knowing what I know I could never let my daughter attend these guys’ lectures or go them for counseling. It’s an endemic system of abuse without accountability.