In a conversation with a potential spouse when exploring the topic of family life and expectations, I matter-of-factually said, “I would never leave my kids with anyone regardless of how trustworthy they come across and it may come across a bit extreme but I would be cautious even at the back of my mind with my own partner”.
He was left dumbfounded by my comment and eventually responded, “That’s ridiculous, my friends would take care of my children from time to time if me and my wife wanted a date night. I trust them, they are good people…and how can you think like that about your husband? That’s not right…”
I did not blame him for his response as this is normal but he did not know what I knew and he needed to change his way of thinking as do we as an Ummah to protect our future generations.
One by one, horrific stories surfaced as my Muslim peers shared their accounts of their traumatic experiences with me whilst studying at a Central London school for girls:
“When I stayed over at my cousin’s house we would all sleep on a mattress together in the living room. At night, when everyone was asleep, I woke up to feelings of being touched down below and I shot up….I saw a figure crouched down at the end of my foot. He quickly got up and went back to his room”
(Ayaan, at age 6)
“…..he took me into the bathroom after my class and he started touching me….and when it was over, he took me back to the class…I always had stomach aches… I told my mum but she didn’t believe me and told me that I was being silly”. When we were older, Sameena talked about her two friends she went to University with saying, “….it even happened to Sufia and Rasheeda”.
(Sameena, at age 7)
“…my Uncle came over but my Mum was asleep….when we were in the living room, he was talking away to me and I felt strange….he slowly came over to me and as he was speaking with that wicked smile on his face… he slipped his hands into my trousers and into my knickers…I didn’t understand what happened, all I knew is that I felt dirty and I couldn’t tell my Mum”
(Jasmine, at age 9)
(Names have been changed)
These accounts deeply affected me andI became fascinated by human behavior and early childhood experiences and have thus far dedicated my life to the plight of vulnerable people. My purpose as a Muslimah is to raise awareness and empower men and women alike through spreading beneficial knowledge with a core belief that applied knowledge is power and our circumstance can change by a simple shift in our way of thinking.
Islam places responsibility on the shoulders of every individual- no one person is left out. The Ideal Muslimah never forgets that the mother’s responsibility in bringing up the children and forming their characters is greater than that of the father, because children tend to be closer to their mother and spend more time with her. She understands the psychology of her children and she tries to penetrate their innocent world and uses the best and effective methods of parenting. She takes time to seek beneficial knowledge and effectively applies them to her daily life.
“Prophet Muhammad salallahu aleyhi wasallam said, “Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The ruler is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of his family and is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s household and is responsible for her flock”
In this series of articles I will explore:
1) What is Child Sexual Abuse?
2) Forms of Sexual Abuse
3) What is the scale of the problem within the Muslim Ummah?
4) Who abuses children?
5) How do perpetrators behave?
6) What are the signs of sexual abuse?
7) What are the consequences of child sexual abuse?
8) How do we prevent sexual abuse?
9) What must parents do to prevent child sexual abuse?
10) Protecting you children from child sexual abuse: What to do
11) Tips on effective communication when a child wants to make a disclosure
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse involves having inappropriate sexual relations with children. It means involving a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully understand, is unable to give informed consent to or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and that violates the Islamic and Civil laws or social taboos of society.
All sexual activity between an adult and a child is sexual abuse. Sexual touching between children can also be sexual abuse especially when there is a significant age difference (usually 3 or more years) between them, or if the children are very different developmentally or size-wise. Sexual abuse does not have to involve penetration, force, pain or even touching. Any sexual behavior (looking, showing, or touching) with a child to meet the adult’s interest or sexual needs is sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse includes both harmful contact and non-contact behaviors.
Sexual abuse happens when an adult pressures, forces, or tricks a child into taking part in any sexual activity. It can also occur when words of an explicit nature are communicated to (or about) children.
Forms of Sexual Abuse
In the Muslim Ummah, sexual abuse can happen in different ways. Many forms of sexual abuse are linked to religious or cultural practices. Others are facilitated by the use of modern means of communication including mobile phones and the internet. Sexual abuse can occur as a result of parents’ negligence. No matter the cause, sexual abuse can have long term, devastating consequences on children.
1) Physical Sexual Abuse
Abusive physical contact or touching includes:
Touching a child’s genitals or private parts along with penetration is abusive. Making or encouraging a child to touch someone’s genitals or play sexual games such as putting objects or body parts (like fingers, tongue or penis) inside the vagina, in the mouth or in the anus of a child is also abusive. Kissing, touching or fondling a child’s breasts, sexual assault and molestation are further forms of sexual abuse. These are termed physical sexual abuse.
2) Non-Contact Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse does not also have to be physical such as penetration or touching. Any of the form of sexual behaviors is termed as non-contact sexual abuse.
• Looking or showing to meet their sexual needs or interest
• Showing pornography to a child
• Deliberately exposing an adult’s genitals to a child
• Photographing a child in sexual poses
• Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
• Inappropriately watching a child undress or use the bathroom
• Viewing and downloading child pornography
• Using sexual words in conversations with children or when talking about children
• Sending letters, emails, text messages of a sexual nature to children
An adult who engages in any of the above activities is sexually abusing children.
3) Culture and Child Sexual Abuse
Certain African cultural and traditional practices are harmful and abusive to children. Female Genital Mutilation is the act of mutilating the female genitalia and thus constitutes abuse towards children. Sometimes called female circumcision or female genital cutting, FGM is the cutting of the clitoris of girls in order to curb their sexual desire and preserve their sexual honour before marriage. The practice, prevalent in some Muslim countries, has a tremendous cost: many girls bleed to death or die of infection. Most are traumatized. Those who survive can suffer adverse health effects during marriage and pregnancy.
New information from Iraqi Kurdistan raises the possibility that the problem is more prevalent in the Middle East than previously believed and that FGM is far more tied to religion than many Western academics and activists admit. There are indications that FGM might be a phenomenon of epidemic proportions in the Arab Middle East. While some clerics say circumcision is not obligatory for women, others say it is.
In some cultures, young girls are made to undergo “virginity tests” to ascertain their sexual “cleanliness”. This involves inserting the fingers inside the child’s private parts to ascertain if the hymen is intact.
Culture should never be a reason to abuse children.
4) Religion and Sexual Abuse
There are known cases of children being sexually abused in places of worship throughout the world. Many people claim that sexual abuse in places of worship is largely unreported and well hidden due to a culture of silence which persists in faith settings. Many victims of abuse by faith leaders, for example might not report their experiences as a result of the possible repercussions, including ostracisation and stigma.
In January 2013, a UK Channel Four TV documentary “Hidden Children” showed a Jewish faith leader discouraging a victim of sexual abuse from reporting his ordeal to the Police. In March 2011, a popular Nigerian Pentecostal faith leader was convicted and jailed for sexually abusing a young boy in his church in Kent. In March 2013, Nabila Sharma tells how she suffered years of abuse from an Imam at the mosque she attended as a child. The 36-year-old sales rep, from the Midlands, hopes her story will help to stop others from having to ‘suffer in silence’.
Allegations of child sexual abuse in faith settings therefore cut across different religions. This subject has generally been considered taboo and therefore there has been little discussion taking place at any level. When child sexual abuse happens, members of the congregation fear to denounce perpetrators for fear of bringing shame on their church or mosque.
Mut’ah Marriages (Temporary Marriages)
The temporary marriage, or nikahmut’ah, is an ancient Islamic practice that unites man and woman as husband and wife for a limited time.Mut’ah is an Arabic word which literally means enjoyment, delight, or gratification.
Historically it was used so that a man could have a wife for a short while when travelling long distances during times of war. Umar ibn Khattab ibn Nufay libn Abdul Uzza was the second Caliph of Islam. He was a companion of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Upon Him) and succeeded Abu Bakr (RadiAllahuanhu) some 1400 years ago. Umar (RadiAllahuanhu) was affectionately known as “Al Farooq” (The one who distinguishes between truth and falsehood). The second Caliph himself said that the mut’ah was lawful at the time of the Prophet salallahu aleyhi wasallam but he banned it and said he would punish everyone who does.
In the context of history, the Prophet salallahu aleyhi wasallam allowed it as a step towards the acceptable framework of marriage which would not have otherwise been possible to achieve with the pre-Islamic Arabs who were barbaric and oppressive towards the women and at large used them as objects for pleasure and entertainment. Time is of the essence for a society to change in a way which can be sustained for future generations.
Prophet salallahu aleyhi wasallam said: “While I was sleeping, I saw in a dream that a cup full of milk was brought to me, and I drank (from it) until I saw the milk coming out of my nails. Then I gave the remaining milk to `Umar.” The Companions may Allah be pleased with them asked:
‘What did you interpret it (i.e., this dream) to mean?’
He sallallaahu`alayhiwasallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) replied:
However there is a sectarian divide among the Muslims, whereby Sunni Muslims are against it because they follow the interpretation and the suggestion made by the second Caliph whereas the Shia Muslims choose to stick to a weak interpretation of the Quran and the practices at the time of the Prophet. The revival of the ancient Mut’ahmarriage, is nothing more than a legalized form of prostitution which is destroying the very fabrics of Islamic societies.
In 2009, PujionoCahyoWidiyanto, 43, a Muslim Cleric from the Central Java city of Semarang, sparked nationwide controversy over his decision to marry the girl, LutfianaUlfa, who comes from a poor family. He defended the arranged and unofficial marriage, his second, on the grounds that the girl had reached puberty which is considered acceptable in Islam. Prosecutors charged the cleric under a 2002 child protection law with forcing or trading a child into sex. The cleric faced a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment. Indonesian law carries strict penalties for pedophilia, however, unregistered “marriages” between older men and under-age girls are common in rural areas where poor families sometimes sell their daughters to wealthy suitors. The mental age of a child in modern society in comparison to a child 1400 years ago is reported to be significantly different. Muslims are expected to also be governed by the laws of the land and to understand societal changes and the Islamic historical context in which it has been considered acceptable in the past.
5) New Technology and Sexual Abuse
With increased access to the internet in homes, schools and cafes, children are now spending considerable periods of time online. Muslim children may be on Facebook and go onto different social networking sites. Many child sex abusers gain access to their victims through the internet.
There is also a growing problem of people making and downloading sexual images of children on the internet. To view sexually abusive images of children is to participate in the abuse of a child. This is because the child is the central victim. The downloading of child pornography is a strict liability offence, rendering the culprit liable to prosecution.
As an Ummah, we have to develop strategies to keep our children safe online, particularly, from being groomed by adult sexual predators who they might meet on social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo, and MySpace or on Blackberry Messenger.
6) Child Sexual Exploitation
Children can be transported across countries or internally for the purposes of being sexually exploited or prostituted for money.
Even though in Islam sexual relations should only exist within the confines of a legitimate marriage, sex trafficking still occurs in the Muslim world. Unequal access to education, war, dire poverty, limited opportunities, and other forms of gender discrimination increase women and girls’ vulnerability to being trafficked. For instance, many women and children who fled Iraq to Syria during the US invasion into Iraq, have been forced into prostitution.
7) Gang Culture and Gang Rape
The Rochdale sex trafficking gang was a group of men who preyed on under-age teenage girls in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, England. They were convicted of sex trafficking on 8 May 2012; other offences included rape, trafficking girls for sex and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child. 47 girls were identified as victims of child sexual exploitation during the police investigation. The men were all British Pakistanis (except for one from Afghanistan) and from Muslim backgrounds, and the girls were White.
In June 2013, Imams in 500 mosques across Britain gave the same sermon in Jummah prayer denouncing the grooming and sexual abuse of children. The co-ordinate effort followed the convictions of Muslim men in British courts for a series of horrific cases. Organizers say it is the first time that so many Imams delivered the same sermon before hundreds of congregations. The sermons urged people to report those suspected of involvement in sexual abuse offences, and opened with a quotation from the Qur’an which forbids Muslims from “sexual indecency, wickedness and oppression of others”. It was organised by a group called Together Against Grooming, and backed by bodies including the Muslim Council of Britain, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, and the Islamic Society of Britain.
One of the organizers is Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, who serves as an Imam and Scholar, expressed that: “This is an abhorrent issue … that spares no race, religion, as perpetrators or victims. We are not required to do this, it is our religious and civic duty. The Qur’an calls on us to speak out against injustice.”
8) Child Sex Tourism (CST)
Child Sex Tourism (CST) is the commercial sexual exploitation of children by men or women who travel from one place to another, usually from a richer country to one that is less developed, and while there engage in sexual acts with children. Child sex tourism is child sexual abuse and can involve both physical and non-physical contact. It is estimated that more than one million children are sexually abused by tourists every year within the global child sex tourism industry. Victims of CST often come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. However, this is not the only characteristic; some come from ethnic minorities and displaced communities. Victims are both girls and boys, some of whom may also have been victims of other forms of child abuse and neglect.
Authored by – Fateha Majid is a seeker of knowledge, a philanthropist and an activist. She is a Psychology Graduate from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and Development Studies Postgraduate from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Fateha is fueled by human empowerment and development and truly committed to making a positive difference to individuals in the UK and internationally. She is psychologically trained working as a Social Worker for the Child Protection Safeguarding and Support Team for Local Government. She successfully completed NSPCC (National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children) Key Skills Counselling training. Fateha is a Director for a Not-For-Profit charity, Wishful Smiles, which has‘a vision to see hunger, pain, poverty and social injustice eradicated from the world ; as it acknowledges that every human life matters and deserves a chance to flourish. Fateha is fascinated by the psychological dimensions of the Quran and is drawn to the writings of Imam-Al Ghazali on purification of the soul. She aspires to be a talented writer producing inspiring books to educate and empower the Muslim Ummah.
Edited by Nuzhat Shaikh