Dr ESHAAM PALMER dealt with the prevalence and seriousness of sexual abuse of children and adolescents in the Muslim community, in the first part of this series. In part two, he covers the issue from an Islamic perspective, how to avoid sexual abuse and what to do when abused sexually.
ABUSE occurs within all communities, and Muslim communities are not exempt. A possible reason for such acts being ‘swept under the carpet’ is the misinterpretation of relevant provisions of the shariah.
There is a belief that if someone commits a sinful act then one should keep it a secret and seek forgiveness from Allah. Allah says in Surah al-Nisa (verse 148): ‘Allah does not like that evil should be uttered in public, except by one who has been wronged.’
Imam Bukhari states that the Prophet (SAW) said that whoever keeps secret a shameful deed done by a Muslim, Allah will grant him His cover on the Day of Judgment.
Sexual abuse is a major sin in Islam, and if the abuse survivor does not forgive the abuser, he risks being punished in the hereafter.
Sexual abuse of children and adolescents may not be hidden as parents, teachers and medical practitioners have both a legal and religious obligation to report such acts to the authorities.
If they do not report such acts, they can be seen as complicit in the crime or covering it up. The shariah contains a comprehensive criminal justice system to deal with all types of crime if committed in an Islamic state.
Muslims have a greater responsibility than others to deal with this type of abuse when they become aware of it. The Prophet (SAW) said: ‘Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest of faith.’
This hadith enforces the obligation on all people to take action when they become aware of sexual abuse, especially of children and adolescents. If abusers are not brought to justice in this world, Allah will deal with them in the akhirah.
Allah obliges all Muslims to stand up for justice when He says in Surah al-Nisa, verse 135: ‘Believers, stand up for fairness as Allah witnesses, even if it is against yourselves, your parents or your relatives, and regardless of whether a person is wealthy or poor, Allah has more right to your loyalty than they.
‘Therefore, do not follow your desire instead of being just. If you distort the truth or refuse to give testimony then remember, Allah is aware of what you do.’
According to the shariah, an act of sexual abuse of a child or adolescent may amount to zina, which according to the circumstances may be punishable by death, life imprisonment or whipping.
Although such penalties can only be implemented in an Islamic state, these severe penalties are an indication of the seriousness of the crime.
How to prevent sexual abuse or avoid being sexually abused
- Be aware that anyone, friend or relative, may be an abuser.
- Try not to be alone in the company of an adult male or sleep alone with him in the same room. Make sure that there is a third person, that you know and can trust, that is also in the same room.
- When on school or social camping trips, stay in the company of your peers.
- Do not reveal your personal details or private parts of your body on social media. Don’t be fooled by men who show an interest in you by complimenting and making conversation with you as sexual predators use social media as tools for baiting children and adolescents.
- Be cautious of drinking liquid from a glass that you haven’t poured yourself as an abuser may ‘spike’ your drink.
- Do not go out alone with people you do not know.
- No one has the right to touch you or say words to you in a manner that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Amongst the long-term effects of sexual abuse on children and adolescents are: impaired brain development, learning difficulties, poor physical health, like hypertension and cardiac disease, psychological damage, difficulty in socialising, behavioural problems, juvenile delinquency and abusing other children.
Steps to be taken in the event of sexual abuse
- Sexual abuse of any form must be reported to the parents, and if it happened at school, it must also be reported to the teacher. If you don’t speak out, you will remain a victim.
- The parents/ teacher must provide comfort and support to the abuse survivor.
- If a parent or teacher takes no action, it must be reported to a family member whom the child trusts or report directly to the police.
- The parents/ teacher of the abuse survivor must report the incident as soon as possible to the police. There are special units in the police who will deal with the matter sensitively.
- If the parents do not report the incident to the police, they may be charged with aiding and abetting a serious crime.
- The abuse survivor must be referred to a professional counsellor or social worker.
- The parents must prohibit the abuser from contacting the abuse survivor.
Dr Eshaam Palmer is a constitutional law consultant.
- This article was first published in the January 2021 print edition of Muslim Views.
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