I recently wrote a personal and emotional piece on being sexually abused by an imam when I was a child. I was nervous when it was published and was afraid there would be negative reaction from readers. However, it was such a relief to receive an enormous amount of support, encouragement and love. I also received many messages by women who shared their stories of being sexually abused when they were young. Many were surprised that a religious leader would commit such a horrendous act and thanked me for raising awareness to such an important topic.
Recently there was a story regarding a mosque in Queens where a teacher was met with charges of molesting a student.
Last year an imam was charged for sexually abusing a woman in Chicago.
And there are countless other victims and stories like these in the Muslim community.
Yet this topic is still a taboo in our communities. And we still use silly words for private parts and act like they’re shameful parts of our children’s bodies. And we still force our children to give hugs and kisses to aunties and uncles so we don’t embarrass them.
It’s time to address sexual abuse in our Muslim communities. Anyone can be a victim. And anyone can be the abuser.
Here are some important steps parents and community members to help prevent and address this important issue.
- Use proper names for private parts when they’re as young as two.
- Be open and honest with your child. Tell them if anyone ever touches them in their private area to tell you immediately and that you WILL believe them.
- If your child tells your someone touched them inappropriately, believe them. This someone could be an imam, uncle, grandpa, teacher or coach.
- Don’t force your child to hug or kiss someone. It’s their body. They should choose who they want to kiss or hug. Teach them that they are the ones to control their own body. Yes, even that well-intentioned aunt at the masjid who makes a sad face because your sleepy toddler doesn’t want to give her a hug.
- Educate others about this issue. Unfortunately many people just don’t believe that Muslims, especially Muslim leaders likes imams, will sexually abuse someone. Share statistics, share other people’s stories. Address these issues.
- Host an Anti-sexual Violence Training for Faith Communities by HEART Women and Girls.
- Support organizations like Heart Women and Girls who “sexual health and sexual violence awareness in faith-based communities by developing culturally-sensitive health education, advocacy, research and training,” according to their website. Contact them for more resources and information.
I truly hope we take this issue seriously in our community and stop making it a taboo topic. And I ask God to always protect all the children from facing this life-changing, horrible situation I went through as a child that will continue to affect me forever. And if it does occur, I ask God that justice be served and for there to be healing.