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Misconduct by the Clergy

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-chief

We are repeatedly  reminded by our scholars to cover the mistakes of others so that God could cover ours. Each one of us is vulnerable to make mistakes as said by the Prophet (s) “Every son of Adam makes mistakes, and the best of those who make mistakes are those who repent.” (At-Tirmidhi)

The Quran strongly recommends that evil should not be publicized except in situations where heinous acts of deviation have been committed.

One of the most heinous acts of deviation as defined in the Quran is hypocrisy. The Quran reminds us that the most reprehensible sin in the eyes of Allah is a word that is not substantiated by actions. For this reason Prophet Isa (Jesus) once said referring to the clergy ‘do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach” He elaborated that ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

The sexual misconduct of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious leaders is often reported in our newspapers and other media networks. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker and Ted Haggard are a few names that every one remembers for their gross deviation from the values they espoused.

Are Muslim religious leaders immune from this deviation? A recent case reported from Southern California suggests that human beings regardless of their religious labels often show signs of weakness in their social behavior. The services of a very popular religious figure who had attracted hundreds of Muslim youth to his congregation were terminated suddenly  because of his alleged sexual misconduct. It is reported that the religious scholar had allegedly sexually harassed and abused girls and women who had come to him for counseling or learning the faith. The alleged victims reported the matter to the law enforcement authorities and presented their case before the Board of the Masjid through their attorneys. The evidence was so compelling that the Board terminated the services of the accused without having a second thought.

It is really sad to see the fall of a religious scholar who had always emphasized the supremacy of a divinely ordained moral code of conduct in every aspect of life. It is really sad to find a preacher violating his own preaching and reportedly using his religious position to mislead his disciples. Human beings always find them in a tempting situation and true servants of Allah are those who turn away from those situations returning to the values they hold supreme.

However this brings up a very serious issue that Muslims have so far felt shy addressing openly. How should our Islamic centers and Masajid deal with issues of sexual harassment and abuse or misconduct and financial misappropriation and other violations of basic Islamic principles by its office bearers of board members?
Here are a few suggestions to ensure that such issues are dealt effectively.

1. Masajid and Islamic Centers must have clearly defined policies integrated in their by laws or other officially adopted documents that define misconducts and appropriate procedures to deal with them.

2. Board members must act responsibly and refrain from assuming any office if they have been involved in any misconduct as defined by the Masjid by laws and policies.

3. The Imam and religious directors must go through a process of background check.

4. Directors and employees of the masjid or centers or Islamic organizations must never be allowed to be in privacy with members of opposite sex or minors.

5. Masajid should have proper dress codes for all those who attend it for prayer and other services.

6. Masajid should also have Islamically approved attire for those who are visitors.

7. Masajid must also adopt rules of conduct among those who attend the masjid focusing on modesty and decency.

8. If and when these deviations take place, the management must not feel shy of announcing it to the community so that the future victims can be protected.

9. In case of a flagrant violation, law enforcement authorities must be contacted and the matter must be dealt with according to the law of the land.

10. Masajid and Muslim organizations should develop an intensive course on sexual harassment to be attended by the members of board of directors, trustees and all the employees.

11. It should be made clear that the fall of an individual is not the fall of an entire faith.

These policies will help us develop a comprehensive program to deal with the situation, but we must not forget that the real urge to follow the divine guidance come from our own inner strength. Without that nothing works, as was evident from the case reported.

Religious leaders owe it to their congregation to be a role model in values they preach and propagate and not the opposite.


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