Trigger warning. This post has child sexual abuse content that may be triggering to some.
Since April is National Child Abuse Prevention month, it is an important time to raise awareness in the Muslim community about child abuse, especially sexual abuse, which, unfortunately, is often a taboo topic.
A little over a year ago, I shared publicly of how I was sexually abused by my Quran teacher when I was a child. I was overwhelmed by the support, love and messages from people as they shared and reposted my story all over social media. My inbox was filled with messages from friends, colleagues, and Facebook friends who wrote to me about their own personal stories of how they were sexually abused as children and how brave I was for talking about it. It wasn’t easy but I felt it was so important to write about it to raise awareness.
I thought, wow, this happens so much in our communities, but it’s such a taboo topic. A couple of years ago, a Muslim religious leader in Chicago was accused of sexual abuse. And over the years many Muslims have talked about how they were sexually abused by family members, teachers, imams. But many people in our community ignore that it happens or even worse, try to hide it if it does because “we should hide our brother’s and sister’s faults/sins.” I’ve heard people use the Quran verse that Muslims would hide another Muslim’s sins. This is problematic because this verse if meant to hide a sin that a person does that does not harm others.
It’s been over 20 years since I was sexually abused, but I remember so much details of the incident and it still affects me until today, especially now that I have children of my own. I still remember how the old Quran teacher called each student up behind his desk and asked each one to individually recite a surah (chapter) from the Quran. He would praise the child and tell her great job on the recitation. I would see the child smiling and wonder if he was doing the same to her, which he was, obviously, and doing a great job of hiding his hand while he fondled the poor little innocent girls.
When I told my parents that night, I remember my parents making phone calls and we drove to the school late at night and I saw police cars at the masjid. He was arrested and fired. And that was that. The incident stayed buried and hidden in my memories for decades until I had children of my own and it was time to enroll my child to school and Sunday school and Quran school.
I’m writing this to remind parents that Muslims are not immune to sexual abuse and that imams, teachers and sheikhs can sexually abuse children. I am trying to raise awareness about this taboo topic by writing about my own personal experience in hopes that parents will realize that yes, Islam is perfect, but religious leaders are not. And that 93 percent of sexual assault victims know the attacker.
Having conversations about correct terms of body parts, teaching them the difference between shame and modesty, teaching consent and boundaries and about bad touches is so crucial in helping to prevent sexual abuse.
I’m writing this to gently ask Muslim parents to talk to their children openly about sexual violence. I’m writing this to plead to parents that if your child tells you they were sexually abused, that you, as a parent, should take action and to believe them. This is a reminder that 44 percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. Having conversations about correct terms of body parts, teaching them the difference between shame and modesty, teaching consent and boundaries and about bad touches is so crucial in helping to prevent sexual abuse.
Further, it’s also important to hold workshops, programs and trainings in our mosques and Islamic schools about sexual violence and abuse. HEART Women & Girls is an excellent resource as well as Outburst Movement.
My goal of this essay is not to be fear mongering or to ask you take your child out of Quran or Sunday schools. Rather, that sexual abuse happens more than you think in the Muslim community and that we should be talking about it, trying to prevent it, and working on solving these issues. May God protect all of our children from harm and give us strength if we have dealt with such a horrible experience and to heal.