Archive for the ‘abuse’ Category

Safeguarding of Muslim children must be improved

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme shown on 14th February 2011, ‘Lessons in Hatred and Violence,’ showing children suffering physical punishment at the hands of madressa teachers did not surprise me. It reminded me of why I send my children to a little old lady at her home to learn the Quran.

A leading Muslim intellectual, Dr Ghayussudin Siddiqui, published a report in 2006 that highlighted the levels of abuse taking place. Although increasing numbers of mosques and madressas have adopted child protection procedures since then, the incidents in the programme show that so much more needs to be done to safeguard Muslim children. The standards vary considerably across the country from those who are doing an excellent job in protecting the children in their care to those who don’t have any procedures at all or have them in place but don’t put them into practice.

Examples of both physical and sexual abuse continue to surface. Recently an imam in Stoke on Trent was found guilty of sexually assaulting two boys. Muslim communities are not holding religious teachers and institutions to account. They are held in such high esteem – making it difficult for those who do want to speak out against them. Muslim parents would not tolerate abuse in state schools, so why accept lower standards of behaviour from religious institutions? I have heard of situations when abuse has come to light, parents have simply removed their child or the teacher has been allowed to move on.

Corporal punishment may be a common teaching method employed in other parts of the world and parents themselves may have grown up here experiencing physical chastisement in mosques but continuing to accept violence as part and parcel of how these institutions operate, must stop – children have rights too too in Islam which certainly does not allow child abuse. All corporal punishments were outlawed in state schools 25 years ago and in private schools over ten years ago. It is about time the law is extended to protect children attending faith schools too. When the Labour Party was in power they refused to close the loophole in the legislation despite a number of MPs campaigning for the change. It seems that Muslim votes were more important than the safety of Muslim children. I hope the Coalition government acts swiftly to amend the law to prevent smackingin faith based educational settings.

I welcome the NSPCC’s timely national conference to be held on 17th March aimed at improving the safeguarding of Muslim children. The conference is the first of its kind and has been planned with input from a number of Muslim organisations including the Muslim Women’s Network UK. This could act as a catalyst for more voluntary, community and statutory organisations to work together to promote the welfare of children.

The Dispatches programme also showed footage of a preacher at Darul Uloom School in Birmingham promoting religious intolerance and encouraging sectarianism. The school claims they had no knowledge that offensive remarks had been made and as soon as they were aware, action was taken. However, it is worrying that hate preachers, who are often charismatic speakers, are gaining access to young impressionable minds which may not always be through faith schools or mosques. I am concerned as there is small but growing band of youth who are intolerant towards people of other faiths and other Muslims who are regarded as too liberal. Anti-female rhetoric is on the rise too and advancements that have been made on women’s rights are also being undermined.

Although the programme was well intentioned, the likelihood is that Islamophobes will use it as a tool to stereotype all Muslims as intolerant and violent while Muslim communities will go on the defensive and see this as another attempt to slander them. In the debate and discussion, Muslim children will be forgotten once again, with no one focusing on how best to protect them from both violence and extremist preachers.

The hypocrisy of child abuse in many Muslim countries

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

(First published in the Guardian – Comment is Free,  24th April 2010)

Child marriage and pederasty are tolerated in Muslim societies where homosexuality is strictly condemned.

Some Muslims are fond of condemning western morality – alcoholism, nudity, premarital sex and homosexuality often being cited as examples. But Muslims do not have a monopoly on morality. In the west, child marriages and sex with children are illegal. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Muslim countries.

I recently saw the documentary on the Dancing Boys of Afghanistan. It exposed an ancient custom called “bacha bazi” (boy for play), where rich men buy boys as young as 11 from impoverished families for sexual slavery. The boys are dressed in women’s clothes and made to dance and sing at parties, before being carted away by the men for sex. Owning boys is considered a symbol of status and one former warlord boasted of having up to 3,000 boys over a 20-year period, even though he was married, with two sons. The involvement of the police and inaction of the government means this form of child prostitution is widespread.

The moral hypocrisy is outrageous in a country where homosexuality is not only strictly forbidden but savagely punished, even between two consenting adults. However, men who sodomise young boys are not considered homosexuals or paedophiles. The love of young boys is not a phenomenon restricted to Afghanistan; homosexual pederasty is common in neighbouring Pakistan, too. In my view, repression of sexuality and extreme gender apartheid is to blame.

And in the Middle East, it’s young girls who are considered desirable and men are able to satisfy their lusts legally through child marriages. In Yemen, more than a quarter of girls are married before the age of 15. Cases of girls dying during childbirth are not unusual, and recently, one 12-year-old child bride even died from internal bleeding following sexual intercourse. In another case, a 12-year-old girl was married to an 80-year-old man in Saudi Arabia.

So why is the practice of child marriage sanctioned in Muslim countries? Unfortunately, ultra-conservative religious authorities justify this old tribal custom by citing the prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha. They allege Aisha was nine years old when the prophet married her. But they focus conveniently on selected Islamic texts to support their opinions, while ignoring vast number of other texts and historical information, which suggests Aisha was much older, putting her age of marriage at 19. Child marriage is against Islam as the Qur’an is clear that intellectual maturity is the basis for deciding age of marriage, and not puberty, as suggested by these clerics.

Whatever one’s view on the prophet’s marriage, no faith can claim moral superiority since child marriages have been practised in various cultures and societies across the world at one time or another. In modern times, though, marrying children is no longer acceptable and no excuse should be used to justify this.

I find the false adherence to Islamic principles and the “holier than thou” attitude of some Muslim societies similar to the blatant hypocrisy and double standards of 19th-century Victorian Britain, where the outward appearance of dignity and prudishness camouflaged an extreme prevalence of sexual and moral depravity behind closed doors. In those days, too, there were many men willing to pay to have sex with children – until a plethora of social movements arose that resulted in changes in laws and attitudes in society.

A similar shift in social attitudes is also required in traditional Muslim societies. Having boy sex slaves or child brides should not be seen as badges of honour. Instead, Muslims need to do more to attach shame to such practices; otherwise, acceptance of this behaviour will make them complicit in the sexual exploitation of children. I fail to understand why Muslims are so vocal on abuses by the west in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Iraq and Afghanistan, but display moral blindness when it comes to children? It’s about time this silence was broken, so these violations of innocence can be stopped.

A too-passive attitude in dealing with child abuse has rubbed off on Muslim communities in Britain, too. I have heard many stories at first hand of child sexual abuse and rape, which show that the issue is not being addressed at all. Those who have had the courage to speak out have been met with reactions of denial and shame. Such attitudes mean that children will continue to suffer in silence. Sexual abuse of children happens in all communities, as has been revealed by the recent Catholic church scandal. At least, they have finally started to take action. Muslim communities should learn from this and also start being more open, instead of continuing to sweeping the issue under the carpet.

I am finding that more and more Muslims feel it is their duty to criticise others for actions they consider sinful – quoting the following popular saying of Muhammad to justify their interference:

“If you see something wrong, you should correct it with your hand and if you are unable to, then speak out against it and if you cannot do that, then feel that it is wrong in your heart.”

I wonder how, then, Muslims can remain silent when it comes to the sexual abuse of children?