#MeToo, Muslim Youth & Masajid – Protecting Children from Sexual Assault

#MeToo, Muslim Youth & Masajid – Protecting Children from Sexual Assault October 30, 2018
Islamic Center of Irving; image source – Wikimedia Commons

Editorial note – this is an edited guest post from Umar Lee regarding the recent events and khutba at the Islamic Center of Irving in Irving, Texas. Since this video aired and Imam Nick Pelletier was put on administrative leave, ICI issued this statement. The original post was published here.

This past Friday Imam Nick Pelletier delivered a powerful khutbah at the Islamic Center of Irving in Irving, Texas. Imam Nick called out the masjid board and security for failing to report an alleged incident of sexual-abuse that had occurred at the masjid. To calm the post-salat (prayer) crowd, board member named Asif Mohammed got up and said there was no need to worry, that the masjid along with the family of the alleged victim had conducted their own investigation.

Irving also happens to be the same place where Imam Zia Sheikh was fired last year for “grooming” an underage victim.

Since the events of last Friday, the local Muslim community of North Texas has been in a state of uproar (see my video). Muslim social media in the U.S. is abuzz about this. This issue is clearly hitting close to home for many. The dirty little secret that the sexual abuse of children, including at the masjid, happens in the Muslim community is increasingly a hard secret for “masjid uncles” and retrogrades to keep secret.

Since this news broke three different people have contacted me. Two of them told a very similar story: They were sexually abused at the masjid, and the masjid and their families conspired to keep things quiet. The masjid was worried about its reputation in the community; the family worried about the “honor” of their child. Lurking in the background is the “mashaAllah, he’s a good brother” mentality. These are all hallmarks of a culture of toxic-shame and “honor culture.”

These are things that most often just lead to guilt-ridden sexually-frustrated adults. Other times this culture leads to depression and the lifetime effects of untreated trauma. It can also lead to murder in the name of honor.

The third person contacted me and stated that while at the masjid, he entered a room in which a Quran teacher and student were present. They couldn’t see him. He said that the teacher threatened to squeeze his pupil’s “weiner” really hard if he didn’t memorize the assigned verses. I called the authorities with the reminder of Imam Nick in my mind.

For too long predators have known they can hide behind a culture of secrecy, distrust of non-Muslim authorities, often for good reasons — victim shaming and gender separation. They knew if they got caught, the “mashaAllah brothers” would have their back.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

In the western suburbs of St Louis, a Muslim school teacher named Mohsin Baghazal was arrested and convicted of molesting two boys. Thankfully he was convicted and sentenced to a very long time in prison. However, even then there was a campaign against the boys and families from a group of fundamentalist men. This also included steadfast support for Mohsin.

Another situation I knew of was far worse. It was at an East Coast masjid where a security guard had molested several boys. The masjid and the families of the boys, not wanting their reputation sullied, conspired to keep the boys from cooperating with law enforcement. The security guard was told to attend another masjid where, of course, he was then free to do the exact same thing. This is precisely what the Catholic Church did as they shuffled predator priests from parish to parish.

Just as the Harvey Weinstein affair has been the catalyst for an entire #MeToo movement, perhaps the Irving fiasco can be the catalyst for a #MeToo movement for masjid/mosque kids and others. Now can be a time for those to come forward who were abused over the decades and are currently being abused. Perhaps so many wouldn’t be “unmosqued” is the mosques were purged of predators.

A lot of us have seen problematic stuff over the years and said nothing. Me too. I’ve attended unregistered weddings of teenage girls as young as 13 and known of others to be married off to middle-aged men already married. I have also at times helped further attitudes that aren’t helpful. I was wrong.

Today there are hardly any masjids where you can conduct such marriages. The culture moved on that issue. When I first started writing about perverted and sexually predatory imams, I was vigorously attacked by Muslims. But now it’s become more normal to call out Imams. Indeed, some of my biggest critics are doing just that now. Once the culture moves things become safer. Let’s make things safe for masjid kids and sex-abuse victims.

About Umar Lee
Umar Lee is an activist, blogger and writer based in St. Louis, Mo. You can read more about the author here.
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