A series of allegations regarding inappropriate conduct by popular speaker Nouman Ali Khan hit a tipping point earlier this week.
A number of prominent Muslim-American community leaders have released statements through social media, with a substantial fraction of them asserting the claims of his gender-based and sexual misconduct to be true. Inappropriate messages with a number of women, most of whom were also being led to believe he was interested in marrying them, have surfaced in a series of screenshots on a website, that is authored by a group that says, “We are the victims of the womanising and lying of Nouman Ali Khan” on the homepage.
The photos in the screenshot conversations, which include photos of his body and other racy content, escalate in their aggressive, womanizing nature by direct references to multiple women about getting married simultaneously. In one of the messages, he threatens a woman’s job. There are also screenshots of what is believed to be a payment transaction as a bribery for silence about the matter.
The photos have also been widely circulated on Facebook, as seen on the profile of prominent community figure Rabia Chaudry, who says she has been in contact with victims and speaks to the veracity of the images.
This recent uproar is the latest and most viral addition to the unfolding story of Nouman Ali Khan’s indiscretions. It geared into full force this past Thursday, with statements including a long Facebook post by Omer M. Mozaffar, a Chicago-based chaplain.
Navaid Aziz, a well-known Canadian Muslim speaker, sheikh and Director at Al-Maghrib Institute, confirmed, “The accusations against him have been verified by multiple people, and some of them have even been confessed by him.”
Mozaffar was asked to investigate early allegations once they began to surface in Khan’s Dallas community. What began as a more quiet investigation turned into a larger ordeal when Khan himself violated the terms of the investigation, which included ceasing professional speeches, as well as contact with the women affected. Khan had admitted to some of the claims throughout these early stages, says Mozaffar.
Later, however, Khan began to pursue legal action against the various involved parties, including other community figures such as Mozaffar himself, escalating into the situation at hand. He has now denied all allegations. His major Facebook post in response began with, “I want to first thank those persons who have seen through the falseness of these allegations.”
Facebook and Twitter are exploding with reaction. While some deny the truth altogether – citing jealousy as a motivating factor for those who are posting in support of the accusations – others acknowledge that though the conversations may be authentic, there is nothing “threatening” about the messages. That they may, in fact, be dialogue between two consenting adults.
As is always, true, Allah knows both the best and the truth. That being said, many defenders of Khan claim such a divine “Allah knows best” ethic while disregarding the harm that is done by simply denying without examining the depth and complexity of the allegations.
Considering that Khan did verify a portion of these claims earlier in the investigation, these allegations must have some truth to them. Those who condemn figures like Mozaffar, Chaudry and the harmed women as liars fail to see the power dynamics that are at play in the situation.
Consent is more complicated than a legal age or saying “yes” – it’s about the agreement between two people on fair, equal conditions. Any man with this amount of power, fame and wealth cannot engage in such clandestine and, frankly, sketchy activity and be considered of an “equal playing field” as with these women who don’t have a cult following. Khan’s threat to terminate one woman’s job and his bribe to silence another is a testament to the power-dynamics that were set in motion once he entered these relationships.
That’s why rules exist against teachers and students engaging in intimate relationships.
That’s why rules exist about bosses and employees engaging in intimate relationships.
The full spectrum of reactions defending Khan in this situation speaks greatly to the Muslim community’s attitudes toward the ideas of relationship and emotional abuse, along with sexual violence and assault.
His believers want evidence, which has been provided, yet they continue to deny the possibility of the misconduct. People are blaming Photoshop. This is the shield of fame and a cult-following at work. It is the human susceptibility to corruption, against whom no one, not even one’s favorite scholar, can be totally immune.
As Mozaffar said in his post, it is important to believe the stories of the victims, while still not sentencing the accused to a sealed fate. The culture of our communities is revealing itself to be inadequate of exploring this paradoxical state, at the entire expense of the voices of the victims. What this seeming contradiction is meant to foster, however, is less of a reaction to sorting through this exact NAK situation itself, and more about offering the tools for our community, especially its survivors, to navigate this desolate territory.
The judgments to this case are coming from a need to parse these accusations immediately. What it is missing from this approach is acknowledging that assaults of this nature are more than isolated events – within our community and beyond. Silencing women and our narratives to save the face of figures we trust is a cultural crutch that we’ve been socialized to lean on, and should no longer accept.
A common reason to refute the claims also speaks to the hypocrisy of our community in who we are willing to undercut as a price for safety.
Tackling narratives of sexual violence and misconduct cannot be equated to “airing the dirty laundry” while Muslims are already trying to live through a tough time of names, demonization and assumptions. That is simply sacrificing our values to pitch ourselves to Islamophobes or others of the like who simply wish to take any information about our community to use against us. If we fail to address issues of abuse at the price of seeming harmless to others, we are doing a disservice to survivors and non-survivors alike. If we think that covering up these allegations for the sake of protecting the name of the Ummah only damages a minuscule amount of women, then we are incorrectly gendering the victims of assault, as well as reducing the pain and struggles of fellow Muslims.
As Amanda Quraishi wrote on Facebook Saturday afternoon, “If the ‘Unity’ of your community depends on denying wrong-doing and suppressing the voices of people who have been hurt, marginalized or taken advantage of… guess what? You don’t have Unity. You have Oppression.”
This isn’t the first time an issue of this nature has hit the Ummah on such a scale. A little over two years ago, Mohammad Abdullah Saleem of the Chicago-area was accused of sexual abuse allegations, soliciting a report from a variety of national sources including the New York Times.
Though options are somewhat scarce and we must do more to provide more, please refer to the below references if you or a loved one wants to know more about resources relating to sexual violence and assault, especially for Muslim survivors:
Edited by Naaz Modan