The news last week of an imam being implicated in a sexual abuse case shocked Canadian Muslims, who feel betrayed by the man they trusted their children with. It has also highlighted the need to discuss such issues in an open and honest manner to prevent their occurrence in the future.
The accused man, 48-year-old Mohammad Masroor, is of Bangladeshi origin, a father of five and taught the Koran at an Islamic center and privately at homes in a Toronto suburb, according to a Canadian newspaper. The identities of the children he is accused of abusing have been kept confidential, in accordance with Canadian laws, but police did say the alleged victims are both male and female.
The Muslim community has expressed shock, and disbelief, at the news.
That’s the only disbelief surrounding the case. Comments on various blogs have spoken of the investigators’ “double standards” in the handling of this case because the accused in question is Muslim and authorities are acting out of political correctness. Commentators argue that had this been a priest, all the details of the ages of his victims would have been released and he would have been labeled a pedophile, whereas Masroor is being treated with “kid gloves” so as not to appear that the Muslim community is being victimzed.
My own disbelief is the reaction, or lack thereof, from the Muslim community and the management of the Islamic center. While Masroor is innocent until proven guilty, and not deserving of an outright condemnation until charges are proved, this was an excellent opportunity for the community to discuss sexual abuse among children and remind everyone that it adheres to a zero-tolerance policy towards it.
Instead, what we appear to be witnessing is a shoving of the issue under the carpet. This has almost become commonplace in Muslim communities, many of whom refuse to face up to ugly incidents that take place under the guise of religion or, worse, see everything as a western-manufactured conspiracy against them.
Rarely do we hear such strong words against the tribal custom of child marriage being un-Islamic as we do about the world being out to “get us”. Child protection takes a backseat to western foreign policy, as if discussion of the ugly issues of child marriage, female genital mutilation, incest and other assaults committed against children was tantamount to an actual crime.
There is no greater crime than the abuse of a child.
It bears remembering that when allegations of abuse first surfaced against Catholic priests in the United States, there was a silence surrounding the issue until more and more victims stepped forward. Ultimately, the issue could no longer be ignored by the Church and had to be addressed. A similar strategy is needed in the Muslim community: first, there needs to be an acceptance that sexual assault can be committed by people in positions of authority (i.e. imams) after which mosque authorities need to assure their communities that, when discovered, such acts will not be tolerated.
At the heart of the matter is the need for a shift in social mores, as argued by Shaista Gohir in an article on a similar issue last year in The Guardian. She said sexual crimes against children deserve the same outrage Muslims show when fellow Muslims are discriminated against by western societies or when they feel their religion is under attack. The anger should be directed toward imams who abuse the very pupils they are morally bound to protect.
Masroor is not the first to be charged with sexual assault, and Canadian authorities believe there are other victims and hope they will come forward and press charges. Imams like Masroor cannot be allowed to taint the reputation of all clerics, but for that to happen, clerics and the communities they serve need to step forward and send a loud message that such grotesque acts will not be tolerated.