Sexual Abuse in Religious Education Institutions

August 30, 2012 by  


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

No, no, I should not write about it. No, no you must write about it. I was torn inside when I thought of writing about it. Why are you showing your dirty linens to the world, especially to those who are waiting for any opportunity to pounce on the community? Why do you want to be critical of your own community? Why not focus on other issues that are more relevant and important?

But then I thought of the scars that are carried by people who are traumatized by this and I felt an uncontrollable urge to write about it. The problem I am going to write about it is not on the table for discussion among Muslims. It is off limits. It is considered a taboo. People do not talk about it or do not want to talk about it. But for the sake of those innocent souls who suffer silently and then carry their wounds to the rest of their life, this subject must be dealt with, hoping that people in our religious institutions would address this problem and prepare guidelines that would ensure that such practices do not take place ever anywhere.

It is about those young and innocent children who suffer sexual abuse during their early years of education in many religious institutions throughout the Muslim world. Regardless of the country, where these schools are located, there are untold stories many young children keep to themselves throughout their lives about the abuse they suffer in the early stages of life.

I personally met several such students in the Indian-Pakistan-Bangladesh sub-continent, in Iran, in Malaysia and Indonesia and in several places in Africa as well as in the Middle East who are now young adults but who are bitter and wounded about what they went through. A teacher, a senior student or a physically stronger person turned their vulnerability to his advantage. They were coerced to take care of the sexual urges of such people. They were forced to do all sorts of acts that would please their controller. They were afraid to tell others because they were threatened of dire consequences.

How could a six year old kid literally abandoned by his parents and left at the mercy of people at the religious institutions defend himself against his attackers when they are the ones who control his future destiny?

There is no need to go into details. The details would hurt. The wounds are ugly and the stories are horrible. Suffice to say that religious institutions, by and large, have no policy to deal with this kind of wide spread abuse. When someone comes up with an accusation authorities either hush up the matter or force students to be quiet. 

While intellectuals and scholars are focused on raising funds and drawing up new curriculum, it is important that they address the issue of sexual abuse of children in a bold manner. I am referring to those in the age group of 5 and under18 coming from poor and vulnerable families often abandoned by those who brought them in this world. I am talking about those who were inducted in the Islamic education system as the families were unable to afford their livelihood. I am talking about those who are afraid to complain about anything as it might jeopardize their future.

It is good to say that Islam promotes an ethics that prohibits this kind of abuse. But how should one deal when this abuse takes place and what measures one must adopt to ensure that they do not recur. 

This is an issue that we have ignored and neglected for ages. No one wants to talk about it. But we must ask the religious scholars and clergy running these institutions to look into the matter seriously. Each institution must find its internal mechanism to deal with the problem. But there must be some overall guidelines for institution not only to deal with the perpetrators but to rehabilitate the victim. The scars and the shame that one carries haunt him throughout the life influencing his behavior and attitude towards life. And it often leads to an unending chain of abuse.

There are several cases that can be published with names of the institutions and individuals, but it would not serve any purpose except initiating furious allegations with no end in sight. But silence is no more an option. The Quran talks about the day when all the secrets would be open: “that day when all things would be tested.” (86:9) That day has arrived.

Before the issue goes out of control and things become unmanageable, it is better to look into the issue seriously and take appropriate measures to deal with them openly and honestly keeping in mind the future of the generations that would one day lead us in religious matters.

14-36

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