Richard Kerbaj/Times Online
Muslim spiritual leaders could be denounced publicly by their own community as part of a campaign to expose imams whose silence on domestic abuse is leading to women being burnt, lashed and raped in the name of Islam.
Muslim scholars are to present the Government with the names of imams who are alleged by members of their own communities to have refused to help abused women. Imams are also accused of refusing to speak out against domestic abuse in their sermons because they fear losing their clerical salaries and being sacked for broaching a “taboo” subject.
Some of Britain’s most prominent moderate imams and female Muslim leaders have backed the campaign, urging the Home Office to vet more carefully Islamic spiritual leaders coming to Britain to weed out hardliners. A four-month inquiry by the Centre for Islamic Pluralism into domestic abuse has uncovered harrowing tales of women being raped, burnt by cigarettes and lashed with belts by their husbands, who believe it is their religious right to mistreat them.
At least 40 female Muslim victims and many social workers from northern England – including Bradford, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham – were interviewed as part of the inquiry, which is expected to be published next month.
All we ask is that you treat your wives equally:
During its investigation the organisation – the British arm of a longestablished US think-tank – received a number of complaints about imams who had turned a blind eye to cases of domestic violence, many of whom are followers of Wahabbism, a puritanical interpretation of the Koran espoused by Osama bin Laden.
There have also been similar complaints about clerics from the Tablighi Jamaat movement, which is accused of radicalising young British Muslims with its orthodox teachings.
The organisation’s international director, the Muslim scholar Irfan al-Alawi, told The Times that he would be forwarding the names of the imams to the Home Office, which has promised to investigate the allegations. He called for them to be stripped of any government grants that they may be receiving. He is also seeking legal advice about exposing the imams at public lectures and forums throughout the country.
“I have to make sure that I don’t end up with a lawsuit on my hands but at the same time expose what is going on in the community,” he said.
Yousif al-Khoei, spokesman for the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (Minab) – a government approved body set up to improve the standards among British imams – admitted that some clerics condoned domestic violence although he said it was a “minority practice”.
He insisted the problem was to do with specific cultural beliefs rather than religious ideology, but said that the board was determined to tackle the problem by promoting “proper Islamic guidelines in the public arena”.
However, he gave warning against the idea of publicly identifying imams, saying that would risk turning them into “martyrs” within their own community.
“Instead, we should encourage women to seek advice from proper imams,” he said.
While the number of domestic violence cases has almost doubled in the last three years, according to the Crown Prosecution Service, the figures fail to reflect the physical abuse cases within the Muslim community.
Such cases, on which there is no data because they are largely unreported, are driven by cultural and religious beliefs instead of alcohol and drug abuse, said Shahien Taj, director of the Henna Foundation, which deals with honour crimes and domestic abuse victims.
Ms Taj, who is a member of the Government’s Muslim Women’s Advisory Group, said women were reluctant to come forward about the abuse they experienced because they were “groomed and brainwashed” into becoming interdependent on their direct families and not encouraged to take their complaints to the outside world.
Dr al-Alawi said there were cultural and religious reasons why some imams would not want to raise the issue of domestic violence in the mosque. “A lot of women who are brought from foreign countries to join their spouse here, firstly they cannot speak English and the imam is very reluctant to have a conversation with a woman because they feel there is a barrier and the woman should not be approachable to the man.
“There’s a lot of sexual abuse as well, which is apparently considered taboo for Muslims to talk about, whereby husbands are forcing themselves on women after they had been out with other women – rape case,” he said.
Sheikh Irfan Chishti, director of the Light of Islam Academy and a former member of Tony Blair’s Preventing Extremism Together taskforce, said there was “religious justification” among some imams for the abuse and subjugation of women.
He said female victims were in many cases afraid of seeking help because they feared retribution and being accused of tarnishing or disobeying Islam.
“Women don’t speak up and if they do speak up they can get battered,” Sheikh Chishti said.
“Some men are brought up to believe that because they are superior therefore inadvertently or by default women are inferior and therefore submissive.”
He said that female Muslims needed to be empowered by moderate community leaders and the younger generation should be encouraged to condemn and report domestic violence.
Sheik Chishti also said young and British-raised community members should be encouraged to take over mosque committees. “You will not have change in the mosque until you change the culture of the leadership.”