"First panel discussion and I am already reeling," tweeted Sidrah Ahmad-Chan, a Toronto-based researcher studying gender-based violence and Islamophobia. "We are actually having conversations on spiritual abuse and sexual abuse in our community," she continued.
Ahmad-Chan was one of around 100 other attendees at the newly launched Hurma Project's first conference at the American Islamic College in Chicago, Illinois on Jan. 11, 2020. The conference aimed at speaking out entirely on the abuse faced by Muslims in their very own spaces.
The fact that sexual abuse finally became a dialogue worth discussing is a huge step forward and a big milestone in the Muslim world, especially for those living in the West, where Muslim religious leaders have been accused of sexual and spiritual abuse.
After a worldwide campaign launched by women under the hashtag #MeToo became a catalyst that created a sense of urgency, Arab and Muslim women took part to remind the world that sexual harassment knows no religion, no limits, and no dress code.
The #MeToo movement created a snowball effect that aided in breaking the once sacred glass of holiness and impeccable piety of so-called religious leaders and preachers, for there are several big names that came under the spotlight. Examples would be: Bayyinah Institute founder and preacher Nouman Ali Khan, and Tariq Ramadan, prominent Swiss Islamic scholar and author currently awaiting trial over rape charges by multiple women.
Earlier this month in Chicago, at the Muslim American Society and Islamic Circle of North America's annual conference, a panel was also held to discuss breaking the taboo of sexual and domestic abuse.
"I'm definitely seeing an increase in people willing to talk about these issues," Angelica Lindsey-Ali, a Phoenix-based certified sexual health educator, told Religion News. Ali founded the Village Auntie Movement two years ago and has worked with victims of Muslim religious leaders accused of sexual abuse.
"The unfortunate part is that it isn't necessarily by choice. In some cases, I think the recognition of the rampant spiritual abuse in the community has forced them to have to talk about these issues," Lindsey-Ali explained.
After Nouman Ali Khan's name stood out, the rest came tumbling down like dominoes
Nouman Ali Khan became somewhat of a superstar in the Muslim world for his eloquent speech in addressing millennials and their issues, which was part of the reason why calling him out was an earthquake that shook the entire community. Khan was under fire after screenshots that allegedly show him "bribing, threatening and misbehaving" with different women surfaced online. The screenshots, which were originally posted by Rabia Chaudry and have since been deleted, revealed conversations of an inappropriate nature.
Khan reiterated that all conversations in question took place "between consenting adults" and that they have been "distorted and manipulated way out of proportion and turned into something it isn't," in a Facebook post on his page. "All such communications took place between consenting adults and there was nothing malicious or predatory about them. I fail to see how such interaction can render anyone a victim," he added.
Next came Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Swiss Islamic scholar at Oxford University who is currently awaiting trial over charges of raping multiple women who accused him at the height of the global #MeToo movement.
Tunisian-Algerian feminist campaigner Henda Ayari filed a complaint against the professor, detailing criminal acts of rape, sexual assault, violence, and harassment. Ayari - a Salafist-turned-secular activist - alleged the details in a series of Facebook posts in 2017, in which she outed Ramadan for sexually assaulting her in 2012.
Other prominent names include Chicago-area imam Mohammed Abdullah Saleem, who was charged with committing sexual assault and battery against minors at the Islamic school he had founded.
Although victims received death threats and scrutiny from people online and off, many Muslims are doing everything they can to create a safe haven for those who have stories to tell but fear the repercussions that come with spilling their secrets.
In Shaykh's Clothing, a resource website for spiritual abuse in the Muslim community, was created nearly three years ago "to document incidents of spiritual abuse and offer resources addressing the root causes of the problem."
Muslim poet-turned-rapper Mona Haydar's 2017 song Dog speaks a story of similar tones.
"Sheikhs in my DM / begging me to shake it on my cam in the PM," she sings. "Spiritually violent/ Deviant but hiding it," sounds too similar to the thousands of stories shared by Muslim victims all over the world.
Muslim women have also spoken out about being sexually harassed during Hajj
It's difficult for Muslim women to unearth all the skeletons in their closet while already being put under the microscope due to the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment across the globe.
Still, pointing out the predators and abusers in the community actually prove that Muslim women are intolerant when it comes to such acts and that they have agency and a leadership role to be fulfilled and set as an example.
Pakistani Sabica Khan shared a heartfelt Facebook post in 2018 in which she detailed being harassed while performing tawaf, after which women began sharing their own encounters with sexual harassment in Mecca during Hajj.
It's been a long time coming, but it's finally here. Doubt them all you want, throw stones at them all day, but Muslim women have finally realized it's their right and responsibility to make their voice - the same one that's been silenced for centuries - heard, and there's no stopping them.