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14 tips for Imams in the West for dealing with sexual abuse, assault and harassment

by Abdul Malik Mujahid

Sexual abuse, assault and harassment are awful crimes, usually perpetrated on women and small children. What makes this form of oppression difficult to deal with is the stigma attached to victims, as well as the hidden reality of it.

As an Imam, you may be confronted by someone who has been a victim of sexual abuse or harassment. Or you may sense something is not right in a family or between certain individuals. In this case, it is your duty, as the Imam and leader of the community to deal with this matter in a just, firm and proper manner. Here are some tips that may help, Insha Allah (God willing):

1. Know the definition of sexual abuse, assault and harassment

From an Islamic perspective, if Islamic rules of modesty and relations between men and women and families were respected, there would be no sexual abuse or harassment. However, Shaitan is always there.

Sexual harassment includes touching someone sexually who a person is not married to. Sexual assault includes rape or attacking someone sexually, even if sexual intercourse does not take place. Sexual abuse happens over a period of time. Often this includes incest, or sexual relations between family members like parents and children, or brothers and sisters.

You can find more information about sexual abuse, assault and harassment at a local police station, women's center or women's shelter.

2. Know that these sexual crimes are unacceptable and must be dealt with swiftly and justly

Reading the above definitions of these sexual crimes make their unIslamic nature very clear. This is why as an Imam, you must be ready to address the issue of sexual assault, abuse and harassment very seriously. As Muslims we must help our brothers and sisters. If they are oppressed, we must help them out of the oppression. If they are the oppressor, we must stop them from oppressing. This principle must be applied to sexual crimes as well.

3. Know the consequences of not addressing this

If you, as the leader of the community, do not address this issue and deal with cases of sexual crimes, Muslim children who have been victims of abuse will either continue to be abused or taken out of their homes and placed with non-Muslim foster parents. These children will also most probably be raised as non-Muslims.

Similarly, if a Muslim woman has been sexually harassed or assaulted and nothing is said to him by the community, or at least its Imam, then this is a signal to other men that such behavior is acceptable. Moreover, the sister who has been the victim of this crime may turn away completely from the Muslim community, where she was unable to gain any sort of justice.

4. Know what services exist in the community

You should give your name as a resource person to sexual assault and abuse hotlines and centers for victims, so that if a Muslim victim wants help from a fellow Muslim, you can be contacted.

You should also know and be in contact with social services and child welfare agencies, which often place children in foster homes. This way, by working in cooperation with them, you can ease placement of abused children in trustworthy Muslim homes.

5. Make yourself available

Contact information and Timings when you, the Imam, are available should be known to all in the community, either through announcements and/or newsletters and bulletin boards. All Imams should have a pager where people can easily reach them in emergencies. There should be one locked mail box which only you can open. There should be an email address for those who wants to seek guidance maintaining their anonymity.

6. Maintain confidentiality (Amanah)

This is extremely important, especially when it comes to victims of sexual crimes. Because Muslims, culturally, are usually very private and silent about these matters, the privacy of the victim must be respected. If it is not, not only is the victim likely to be humiliated and shunned, but you will lose the trust of this person, and possibly others as well.

More importantly, remember that when someone tells you their secret, this is a trust which you are required to keep for the sake of Allah.

7. Seek the help of a professional

Sexual abuse is an issue which must be dealt with by professionals like psychiatrists and psychologists, for example. Try to find a Muslim specialized in this field who can assist you in helping Muslims who are victims of sexual abuse and harassment, since it is very likely they may need counseling. If you know of no Muslim in your community, contact the Islamic Social Services Association (ISSA). They can recommend a Muslim professional. Also, you can seek non-Muslim professionals, but make sure to give them some Islamic parameters within which to work.

8. If you know a child is being sexually abused...

Then you must get the child out of that home immediately. From an Islamic perspective, a parent who does this to their child gives up all rights of a parent. The abuse must stop. If the child is not removed from the environment, some of the future outcomes could be: this child grows up and abuses other children as well; sexual dysfunction; mental and psychological problems.

Please also note: if you are having doubts about whether a child is telling the truth or not, consider that children usually do not lie about sexual abuse. It's not something in their experience unless they are exposed to it. Your first instinct should be to believe them.

9. Bring the issue of sexual abuse, assault and harassment to the community's attention

This will be difficult but it must be done if this topic is to be addressed in the appropriate manner. This can be brought up in a subtle way during a Juma Khutba (Friday sermon) by discussing the Islamic perspective on how men and women should interact: what is Islamically appropriate behavior and what is not.

Similarly, the topic of incest can be dealt with by discussing Islamic guidelines of interaction within the family and the concept of "Mahram" in Islam. Also, discussing the issue of privacy, (i.e. the importance of knocking before entering a room, even within the home) can be a way of addressing this topic without becoming too graphic or shocking.

A note of caution: if you do decide to use a case study from the community when talking about sexual harassment and abuse, make sure not to disclose details which will make it obvious to listeners who is being discussed. This is a violation of privacy. Also be extremely careful in generalization. Don't put down the whole community because you noticed a few cases.

10. Talk about this topic in your study circle

If you teach classes and Islamic study circles, make sure this topic is openly discussed, but once again with wisdom. You can bring it up in the same manner as in the Khutbas.

11. Establish a social services system or committee

In cooperation with Muslim social service professionals in your community, establish a committee which will develop a system for social services in your community to tackle issues like sexual harassment and abuse.

12. Offer premarital counseling or "talks"

When you are approached to conduct the marriage of a young couple, do more than officiate the ceremony. Counsel the potential couple. Spend some time alone with the groom-to-be and discuss issues related to married life, including sexual relations. Get a knowledgeable sister to do the same for the bride-to-be. This is one preventative step to take when dealing the issue of sexual harassment and abuse.

13. Shun the abuser

If you know someone has abused a child, or harassed or assaulted a woman, this person should first be educated. If this does not work, they must be shunned. A clear message has to be sent to them that this behavior is completely unacceptable.

14. Make Dua

As a leader of the community, the well-being of its members is part of your responsibility. Make Dua that Allah helps you in this heavy task and that He eases the difficulties of all those suffering in the community, men, women and children.

May Allah bless you and your family for all the time you give to the community for the sake of Allah.


Muslim Social Services Page @ SoundVision

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Take a Domestic Violence Survey
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Presentation Request on Domestic Violence



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Your Comments

Rodney, Ottawa - wrote on 5/3/2012 3:44:50 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: Your comment "if Islamic rules of modesty and relations between men and women and families were respected, there would be no sexual abuse or harassment." is false. Sexual abuse / assault happens regardless of how someone is dressed. To make this statement is almost to blame the victim for the abusers 'inability to control their attraction'. Modesty or not, does not give any abuser the right to abuse. Period. And for you to suggest the abuser is "shunned" is unforgivable. The abuser should be charged with assault and thrown in jail.


Muslimah, Minneapolis - wrote on 4/28/2011 11:43:56 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: To JPI: May Allah reward you for your courage. Please do report him. That man must be put behind bars to ensure he harms no one else. And Allah is very generous. He will bless you with abundant happiness and insha Allah, a great spouse who will love and respect you for your bravery. An abuse victim is never guilty or "dirty". In Islam. abusers are punished for their crimes and no social stigma should be attached to the victim (although I am sorry to say Muslim cultures or individual families may not follow this practice). May Allah reward you for standing up for justice and give you the courage to report him so that he may never harm another child again. And may He bless you with happiness, ease, and joy for the rest of your life.


JPI, Private Island (haha) - wrote on 3/13/2011 4:15:02 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: Hello, I was sexually abused by my father and it was for a long period of time. The abuse happened from a young age like 4 or 5 until I was like 8 or 9 it stopped for a while and then it happened again when I was 11 before he left the country. At the time I didn't understand what he had done to me. I kept it a secret from my family just because he told me to. He also would lure me in for presents for doing these things. When he left I told my mom like 2 years later. She was shocked (they were divorced) The good thing is she believed me. My parents had been divorced for years and my mom had custody whule he only had visitation rights. The sad part about all of this is he got married and had a another daughter in another country. He came back to this country and tried to visit us but I refused for him to be near my brothers (im the oldest). He went crazy and told the police a bunch of lies about my mother and then she was investigated. My mother was cleared but he was sent to jail he constantly harassed us by calling this house, and tracking us down. He even comes to my school too. One day he went to the police and turned himself in for the abuse he put me through but for the sake of my mom's reputation and my own I didn't say anything. The good news is that the other family is in another country so he can't do anything to the daughter. The bad news is he's still free in this country. I want to be brave and report him. To a point where I don't care if I don't get married. Honestly I know how much I'm worth. I'm PRICELESS because I know none of this is my fault and I know somehow Allah will help me find justice. I was a little kid and I didn't understand much but now I'm almost 19 and an adult who fully understands the situation. I truly believe that we need male and female Muslim psychologists that could potentially help us in these types of situations. I did a second ago start to question this faith but knowing that there are people who can understand my situation it helps me keep my faith. The media has butchered my religion to a T and I am sick and tired of it. There was a point that I believed the trash because of my lack of knowledge. It's sad really that people don't understand that this doesn't ONLY happen in Islamic families but it happens to 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men in THE WHOLE WORLD. To those who have read my story I hope it gives you strength to believe in the religion and to know that there is a difference between the Shaytan and Allah. Allah exists and he will bring justice if you have FAITH. Keep your faith and be strong. Don't lose faith in yourself or this beautiful religion rather than taking it on Islam look back at it study it carefully. You'll find that there are rules against domestic violence, sexual harassment, assault, or abuse. As well as many other things that can hurt you. Men and women need to constantly be reminded that the religion was put here as a means to protect you from evil. Sometimes the evil can get the best of people and that needs to be differentiated from the religion itself. I know Allah didn't want this to happen to me aand I completely blame my father and the shaytan for the entire incident. My justice will come one day so long as I pray to Allah and believe in this religion. I KNOW I don't have to ask for forgiveness because I didn't do anything wrong. So to those who are going through something similar FORGIVE YOURSELF. This is the first step to recovering.


Fatima, Colonia - wrote on 6/3/2010 10:53:33 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: I was being sexually assaulted and ended up pregnant by an Imam in NYC for months. I tried to tell a few male members of his mosque but no one wanted to be involved. I have e-mailed different USA Muslim Organizations, With no response. I have called this Imam to tell him I was pregnant. He told me a story about how he was going back to his country. Well. I might live in New Jersey but im not stupid. He never went back to his country. He is still The Imam at his mosque and teaches women and girls. Its ashame that this will probably end up happening to one of them because everyone is afraid to speak out against an "Imam".


A Muslim, - wrote on 9/9/2004 9:29:29 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: Not bad, but could do more to address sexual abuse by clerics against students. Also doesn't address the issue of same sex abuse, it seems to suggest that it doesn't exist.


bint yusuf, Leicester - wrote on 7/20/2003 5:56:35 AM
Rating: Rating

Comment: AlhamdulliAllah. A brilliant set of articles and useful advice, dealing with an issue that is all to often pushed under the carpet. May Allah reward you for your efforts Ameen.


student of islam, london - wrote on 5/17/2003 9:20:12 AM
Rating: Rating

Comment: i have just been informed by someone close of her childhood trauma. i'm glad to see that this is being recognised and addressed by muslim brothers and sisters. I'm sure this information will help those that have to deal with such a sensitive issue, InshAllah. Allah's strengh is what we need. Thank you.


s, - wrote on 2/14/2003 8:19:37 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: It's great to see this topic taken seriously - far too often it is hushed up or denied by the community. May God bless the author, and this website, for speaking out against abuse and reminding us that we all have a responsibility in stopping it!


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