In light of the recent discovery that a “high-profile Chicago imam” has been sexually abusing women, men, and children, I decided to share a post of mine I wrote a few years ago on the old blog. When I wrote it first on the old blog, the comments were surprisingly supportive in response to it; scroll down to see them if interested – kudos to humanity! We’re going somewhere!
Pasting from there. I’m sure there are plenty of typos and stuff, but I cannot read this to correct any errors.
Many people have witnessed and/or experienced and/or heard of the sexual abuse and molestation of young kids, but few talk about it. Even fewer acknowledge that someone with the important role of teaching religion/Quran, the Holy Book of God, could be capable of doing such a shameless, such a cruel, such an indecent thing. So, here. It’s time I shared exactly what I saw my school qaari, the Qur’an teacher, doing to his female students daily for 3-4 years of my elementary/primary schooling. And so the reason I have included “Quran teacher” in the title of this post, sort of highlighting the profession of this filthy, vicious man, is not to attack mullahs/qaaris and other religious teachers. I instead am trying to make a statement–that someone many of us might trust the most, someone we would least expect such a crime from, someone who teaches us our religion, someone who touches the Word of God (the Qur’an) several times day, someone we respect so much we can never imagine would do such a thing … actually does do such things (no, he’s not the only type of person who’d do such a thing, but he’s not the angel we all think he is either); he’s not incapable of sexually abusing a child just because he teaches us God’s Word! And he knows he’ll always get away with it, he knows no one will trust the child if the child speaks up, he knows he can abuse his authority and report the child to his parents to keep the child quiet (e.g, to tell the child’s parents that “Your child doesn’t respect me!” or “Your child needs disciplining!” or “Your child isn’t doing well and doesn’t listen to me,” etc. etc.) and he knows that the parents will trust HIM and not their own child. And so this continues to happen, and we think ignoring it will eventually make it go away. But we’re so wrong. And we know we’re wrong.
Because I have a lot to say and because this is a problem prevalent all over the world, in different ways, committed by different people, faced by different victims, I think it requires the time and space of more than just one blog post. It needs to be talked about a lot more. More people to talk about what they have witnessed and/or experienced. I can completely understand the discomfort in talking about personal experiences of this kind of abuse, but please, please do whatever you think might help even a little bit another child who is going through this. When someone tells you they’re being abused, they have been abused, they know someone who’s being or been abused, or they know someone who’s doing the abuse, PLEASE believe them! And help them. One of the most important reasons people don’t come forward to report or tell or share their stories is because no one believes them. Especially if their abuser is/was someone who’s respected by their families or communities.
Feelings of Shame and Guilt
I was born and raised in Swat, Pakistan (northwestern parts of the country) until I was about 12 years old. For my schooling, I was initially enrolled in a public girls-only school (there, we would call private schools public and public school private. I don’t remember why). I was later transferred over to a co-ed school in our village that had an excellent reputation. And so, I attended this private school (again, considered “public” in Pakistan) all of my elementary school (KG to 5th grade). There, we had a Qur’an teacher who sexually abused girls, the same girls for at least 3 years–and I knew these girls. This was when I was between ages 7 and 11 (or maybe 10, but 11 sounds more correct). Some of my friends would ask me or someone else during recess if they had seen him. I once asked one of them why she was asking, and she blushed and said, “He asked me to meet him in the restroom during recess, but he’s not there.” [Side note to those who might not know: our restrooms were not gender-specific; everyone used the same restrooms, and there were very few.] My reaction and her look are still very vivid in my mind, as is everything that took place during class–during our Qur’an lessons with him. I feared I knew where he would be because of where I always saw him (near some restroom!) if he was not in a classroom, in the morning assembly, or talking to another teacher. I hated that man so much. It always seemed to me that I was seeing him everywhere, but, really, I always stalked him to see which girl he was going to be molesting next.
When he did it in class, I was at least a witness to his crime, but he did not know or realize that anyone would notice his filthy acts. Adults don’t always realize that kids are far more keen-minded, far more observant than they might expect. I’m quite certain that others saw him doing it as well, but they were just as scared and ashamed as I was, maybe also in denial like I was, to tell someone or to report it to someone we could trust. Let me now explain how the class setting was that allowed him to carry out his filthy, shameless, cruel acts.
Our classroom had about 21-28 students, depending on the year. Our seats looked like what you see at the right… well, not exactly, because ours didn’t have any space underneath it where we could keep our stuff. Our 2-person benches/desks only had a top. In the classroom I studied in for about 2 years, anyway. There were three columns of these benches, two students per bench. The teacher’s chair was located at the front of the classroom, usually to the left side of the blackboard and right side of the bathroom, almost totally against the wall. When our Qur’an period would come and the teacher would enter our classroom, he would almost always immediately move the chair VERY close to the second column of the benches–in fact exactly against the desk, the front part. He would approach a female student, force her out of her seat if she wasn’t sitting where he would have liked her, have her sit between the two male students who were sitting in the front-row, third-column seat, he would be sitting in his chair with his feet and lower body under the table so that nothing was showing, and … he’d do things to her and have her do things to him. He was doing this with his right hand on the qaida, a small book with Qur’anic verses and chapters as well as lessons for how to read the Qur’an; his other hand would be under the table. Right under that table. With the girl sitting between two male students, who couldn’t be older than six years old. Every single day for at least 3 years, during our Qur’an period. This, of course, doesn’t take into consideration what he’d do to girls when he had them inside the bathrooms with him. We can all expect what may have taken place there, and we don’t need a wild imagination for that.
One day, one of the female students, sitting in a first-column, maybe third-row bench, who normally sat by the isle seat, switched her place with her bench-mate and sat by the window seat instead. The Qaari entered the classroom for our lessons, did his usual sick routine, approached the girl … but she had her head lying on the desk. He first tried nicely to get her to come to the front, but she wouldn’t go with him. He violently pulled the girl sitting on the isle seat, but she, too, didn’t let him have access to her bench-mate… well, at first, anyway. Because the teacher eventually managed to force his target out of her seat, even as she held on tightly to her bench, moving the bench with her, but eventually falling onto the ground, where the teacher kicked her with his huge feet for several minutes. He picked her up and slapped her on the face until her face looked had turned bright red. Of course, everyone in the class witnessed this scene. But they were all young, and no one could speak up. Plus, our teachers had (still have?) the authority to beat, as harshly as they would like, any student they feel like any time they feel like.
The same activity would take place after we had transferred to another classroom for I think 1st or 2nd grade. (We had the same classmates in every level. This was (is?) normal in our schools there. You had different classmates only when you skipped a grade or fell behind.) Except, another scene I remember is the same Qur’an teacher doing things to a female student, this in addition to the repetition of the scene I’ve described above, while the student was standing up, reciting the Qur’an to him during an oral exam, and he was sitting in that chair of his that was very close to the front wall of the classroom, close to the whiteboard.
At age 7, I knew that everything I was witnessing was wrong. That this was a sin, it was unjust, it was shameful, and I knew the teacher was wrong. That, I’m very happy I never thought was not true; I knew the man was the one at fault, and I knew that the victims were innocent and should not be going through this. I thought about telling my mom once, but then I’d hear all these women around me talking about a certain girl had been raped and how she shouldn’t have walked alone or been in that particular place where she was raped and how she’ll never get married and how she’s brought dishonor to her family and how miserable she’s going to be for life, etc., etc. And I’d think, “What if I tell and then the girls this is happening to in school are never able to marry? What if they’re bringing dishonor to their families? What if everyone blames them? What if they won’t be allowed to come to the school anymore and we can’t be friends anymore?” I’d think like this from age 7 till at least age 11, and this is what kept me from telling anyone. I thought like this because of the way others around me behaved and talked and thought. Again, I doubt any elder would think that a child is paying attention to what they–these adults–are saying. And it’s not that I was a nosy child. It’s that adults around me talked very openly about these things (sex, abuse, childbirth, menstruation, their bodies, etc.) and thought a child would be too stupid to understand what was going on. I’d go to people’s houses with mother and aunts and other influential women in my life, and, according to custom, I would be sitting with them like the guest that I was, not getting up and lolling around and doing things, just sitting quietly among these women and listening to them talk and laugh and all. And I still very clearly remember some of their conversations, the expressions they used, the words they used, the language they used–I remember their responses, reactions, expressions to certain issues being discussed among them (usually women’s private experiences), and I’d understand the entire conversation. If I didn’t, I’d imagine it.
My point is: if you’re an adult and you talk about rape and rape victims when children are around, PLEASE make sure to condemn the rapist before anything! Please, please make sure to say that you wish and hope that the rapist is caught and that justice is served, even if you know this won’t happen. The kids are listening, and what you say influence their mentality … and their decisions, decisions that can ultimately break them and destroy them in every way.
Why else did we/I not report this guy or his acts? The thing was, this was our Qur’an teacher, our Qaari, the person who was teaching us religion (Islam), the Qur’an – he was supposed to be our role model. He was supposed to be a pious, God-fearing man who was supposed to make sure that these kinds of things didn’t take place, that we were always safe at least in his company. No one was going to believe us when we told on him. They would’ve instead beaten us up, thinking we’d fabricated a serious lie against him. It’s really sad to think that we knew this at such a young age — not to tell on him because of the long-term consequences. Plus, I felt so guilty all those years (and even today), and I feel so much shame even today … how did I witness that and not tell an adult? No child should ever have to go through that. Witnessing it is also abuse, but I think the witness doesn’t suffer as much as the victim does.
So I hated this man. I feared him. He was at least 55 years old, but he had a brother about 12 years old in our class (yeah, we had students of all ages in our 1st, 2nd grades), wen I was maybe 8? And I used to pull this kid’s hair, pinch him really hard, give him really evil stares, and tell him, “Do you know what your filthy brother–our Quran teacher!!!–does to little girls? You should know! He’s your brother. Does he not have a wife?” I don’t know why I’d attack this poor guy for what his brother was doing. It was so wrong of me, and I’m so sorry for doing it. But I was angry, and his brother was the closest thing I could find that was related to the molester and something that I could actually do something about! I would hope and pray that he’d tell his mother or someone else. But now that I think about it, that wouldn’t have helped at all: it would’ve only made things worse, and the kid would’ve told that I’m the one who’s telling him these things! I also don’t know why I’d ask him, “Does your brother not have a wife????” I didn’t know what the husband’s and the wife’s roles in marriage was. But I guess I was thinking that, clearly, this filthy man of a teacher needs a woman in his life–and why do this woman have to be a young girl of my age? And this young brother of his was so quiet and shy, and he’d never answer my questions. He never hit me back, he never fought me back. I feel so, so sorry for him, and I wish him luck in his life and I wish him peace … because, psychology tells us, most sexual predators / child molesters / pedophiles were sexually abused themselves when they were kid. And thus runs the cycle of sexual abuse everywhere in the world. (I’ll talk about this in the next part of this series.)
I used to cry at nights sometimes thinking about how, when I grow up and become like other women (what! I didn’t know how body development worked, okay?!) and am supposed to get married, what if this Quran teacher of ours wants to marry me? I would cry so hard thinking about this. I’d offer so many rakahs of nafl (extra voluntary prayer) begging God never to let that happen. I’d worry myself sick thinking, “What if my parents can’t say no to him since they think he’s such a good man, and he’s a Quran teacher, and he taught our class the Quran and he’s so pious and …. ?” I remember crying at night as a child, praying constantly for this fear to never turn into reality, that one day I’ll wake up as a woman (again, no idea of how the human/female body actually gradually develops into what it does, thinking that it was an overnight thing) and this man would do things to me and that I’d be able to do nothing about it because he’s my Qur’an teacher and people would take his side. I can safely say that this was my ultimate fear as a child.
But you know what? One day, an aunt of mine said to me, “Did you know that one of your teachers sexually abused a girl and so the school fired him?” I remember feeling so excited, so relieved, thinking it was our qaari, our Quran teacher. But it was unfortunately someone else, as I painfully discovered the next day. It hurt to know that there were more than one sexual predators, pedophiles in our school. The person who told me and my female classmates of this other pedophile said she’d heard some girls talking about it her school. If people were talking about it, clearly it was known! People knew this sort of crime existed! But no one ever asked me if that man had ever hurt (“touched”! not “hurt”!!!) me or any other girl I knew. I wish they had. I had so much to tell them I would’ve blurted it all out to them. The abuser they had kicked out of our school, though, was not a religious teacher. He had another role in the school. But he was my teacher, too.
I shared the above story (the religious teacher one) with an adult a few years ago who said: “This is why Islam has sanctioned gender segregation and imposed the hijab on women.” Note that the abuser or his act was not condemned at all, and the blame went to the females.
When I told a group of three girls, one of them said, “If he did it for that long to the same victims, his victims definitely enjoyed it; otherwise, they would have refused.” Note that the blame here, too, went immediately to the victims.
Other than this, any time I’ve mentioned this to anyone, most of them respond with, “This happened to me” (or “to my sister/brother”), also by our Qur’an teacher.”
And while we’re on the topic of religious teacher doing completely un-religious, hypocritical things, I’ll add this, too: when I was forcefully transferred over to the girls’ section of our school (still private), our Qur’an teacher was … well, always weird around girls. He’d touch himself, bring up inappropriate topics every now and then. Like, he once commented on a female student’s chest, which was not flat anymore–and she wore a huge shawl like all the other girls in her grade level did, and the younger girls and I wore a smaller hjab, triangular ones. This same qaari also once mentioned how my classmates’ and my bodies will “one day” develop into … I hated being around this filth, too. But it was his touching himself in front of us girls that would really disturbed me.
And speaking of “teachers” 🙂 I had a teacher (he was our main teacher, teaching us every subject except Islam/Qur’an) who’d tell his favorite female student, “I brought you some candies. I’m going to go the restroom right now and leave those candies for you there. As soon as I come out of there, you raise your hand and ask me if you can use the restroom, and I’ll say yes, and you get the candies.” He would also leave her money in the restroom. As far as I know, he never molested her, and this was not a bribe for any sexual favors for him. This teacher was in his early 20s at the oldest, no older than 22. When the girl would refuse, he would abuse her (verbally), insulting her, telling her how pathetic she was, telling her how stupid she was for not appreciating his kindness, etc. One day, he went back to the bathroom when she wouldn’t go after him and returned the candies–and split them among the rest of the students. He made every student laugh at her, mock her for rejecting his kindness, and eat the candies in his face.
I know the above last paragraph isn’t completely related to this topic of sexual abuse, but I honestly, honestly believe that this teacher would’ve done sexually abused his female student had he ever gotten a chance. I know this in my heart.
And now for a Pashto song (with English subtitles – it’s a poem written by Ghani Khan) the music video for which stunningly captures a case of sexual abuse. In the video, three children are abused by their Qur’an teacher. Watch how each one turns out – and watch how the poet describes what happens to him as a result of the abuse. (I’m not sure if Ghani Khan originally intended it to be read this way, but considering his issue with the clergy, I won’t be surprised if it was.) Everything about this song kills me. May there be a world where our children are safe in every way, aameen.