Chicago community rocked by arrest of imam
By Hesham Hassaballa
The recent arrest and charging of a well-revered and respected Chicago Imam for sexual abuse has rocked our Muslim community in Chicago. It has divided families and caused consternation among many. For me, after the shock wore off, it caused unmitigated rage. That someone can do such a thing – all the while teaching the Word of God – renders me completely speechless.
Yes, it is now in the hands of the judicial system, and we should wait for this process to bear itself out. In the meantime, however, something must be done so that such horror cannot be meted upon someone else’s son or daughter and brother or sister. And such work has already begun.
First and foremost, the fact that this came out in the open is ultimately a good thing. Indeed there are many who say that we should not air such “dirty laundry.” But sexual abuse and sexual violence cannot be swept under the rug. It cannot be hidden and “mediated” away.
Our Lord told us: “God does not like any evil to be mentioned openly, unless it be by him who has been wronged [thereby]. And God is indeed All-Hearing, All-Knowing” (4:148). Those victims have been terribly wronged, and it is their God-granted right to mention what happened to them openly. And in the process, all of the community will benefit.
The statement made by scholars and community leaders is a great step. It affirms that we, as Muslims and people of faith, must stand up for justice, no matter the perpetrator. It encourages the seeking of immediate help, including the notification of law enforcement, rather than internal “mediation” by scholars. And it stresses the importance of supporting and not shaming the victims of sexual abuse and sexual violence. I am blessed and proud to be among the signatories of this statement.
The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, an umbrella organization of over 60 Muslim organizations, has brought experts together to formulate policies to protect the community from further incidents of sexual abuse in Muslim institutions. In a statement, CIOGC Chairman Dr. Muhammad Kaiseruddin said, “we…called a summit meeting to have a consultant present the best practices in policies and programs and established a task force to develop a generic policy for their adoption.”
This incident also helped highlight the tremendous work of advocacy groups such as HEART Women and Girls, which “seeks to promote the reproductive health and mental well-being of faith-based communities.” Co-founder Nadiah Mohajir said in the New York Times that “educating Muslim women about sexual health could make people so uncomfortable that she did not talk about her job with some family members.” Yet her work – and the work of others like her – is extremely important. We must support it as much as possible.
Why is it with human beings that, too frequently, it takes a terrible tragedy to motivate communities to do the right thing? Yet, the fact that this incident and others have come to light must motivate all of us to do the right thing: have absolutely zero tolerance for sexual abuse and sexual violence; support and not shame the victims of this terrible crime; and put in place policies and procedures so this does not happen again. It is good for the victim. It is good for the community.