“The Spotlight of Shame”

“The award-winning film Spotlight illustrated how the culture of secrecy and lack of accountability led to the destruction of so many lives by abusive clergy. As the Muslim community begins to confront this problem within its own institutions, it must remember its duty to protect the well-being of its most vulnerable members, while holding offenders to account. The spotlight of shame belongs on offenders and their enablers, not the victims.”

This is how Sheema Khan concludes her excellent opinion piece on Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE), a group which aims at breaking the all-too-familiar culture of silence that revolves around sexual abuse in our communities.

Founded in 2017, FACE focuses on abuse by religious leadership in the US and Canada. That same year, FACE seemed to have helped convict an Imam in British Columbia, who in 2013 had sexually assaulted a married woman who was suffering from depression and who had sought his help. In another instance, in 2019 FACE helped a female victim win her case against an Imam in Dallas who had sexually exploited her. That Imam, too, was supposed to counsel the young woman.

There is clearly a pattern here. Female victims approach respectable men of religious authority for help, before they are taken advantage of by the very same. One can only imagine the pain and anguish of these victims. That deep sense of betrayal when the very person you desperately seek help from, uses your helplessness to slash a larger and deeper wound on your soul. Who are you going to turn to then?

We covered a similar dynamic involving another “pillar of community”, Hassan Shibly of CAIR-Florida, who recently resigned after his wife accused him of domestic abuse that went on for years. I am pleased to see that FACE has opened a file on Hassan Shibly.

Before Shibly, there was Tariq Ramadan, before that Nouman Ali Khan, and before that was my Qari saheb whose stick I remember only too well, as I wrote previously:

If I close my eyes, I can re-experience it like it was yesterday. I am a child at the madrassa in our masjid. We kids are being taught rote memorization of Koranic verses – we come every day for half an hour after school. Qari sahib paces with a stick. If one of the children in the classroom forgets the correct pronunciation of an Arabic letter… THWACK! A hard hit to the back.

No one was safe (although children from poor families were beaten more than the others). All of us were beaten. The stick would sting our back. Once when I was hit, I couldn’t stop a tear from falling down my cheek. I was hurt and humiliated.

We ought to remember that we are not as helpless as our “pillars of communities” think we are. We won’t be silenced any longer. We are turning the spotlight of shame to where it belongs: shining upon the face of our abusers.

(اعدلوا هو أقرب للتقوى واتقوا الله إن الله خبير بما تعملون)