She Speaks We Hear

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He said, she said: why are the Nouman Ali Khan allegations of impropriety, so difficult to believe?

“I will never engage in victim blaming.”

My heart feels so heavy at the news of the Nouman Ali Khan scandal. It leaves me disappointed, angry, but not surprised or shocked. We live in a patriarchal world, and the status quo supports the oppression and misuse of women, so it comes as no surprise that a man in a position of considerable amount of power (fame, money, influence) has been accused of inappropriate behaviour. I have such a low level of trust of men (especially men of religion) that I am not shocked nor do I want to jump to blindly defending Khan nor is it something that seems far-fetched or impossible, is a testament to my lived experience as a woman and the saddest part of this ordeal.

I should be livid, but ironically I’m not; as I’ve come to expect very little of men in our society.

My stance on this on this scandal is that:

  1. I will never engage in victim blaming.
  2. There is sufficient evidence leaked against him yet his die-hard fans still continue to defend his alleged behaviour. In fact, they are unwilling to even accept that such a thing could have happened. This evidence could very well have been doctored, but let’s not be 100% positive that such abuse could not have occurred.
  3. Many are shutting the conversation down by claiming that this is slander. Let’s be clear, that this is NOT slander, especially if true. Slander would be that it was just a false case built against him.  Our religion asks us to be just, even if it is against our kin. Our religion also teaches us to search for the truth and hold those in places of power accountable. Khan being a public figure and a religious teacher/leader, is prone to more scrutiny than an ordinary person. If he is being framed as he claims; a due course of the law must be followed and insha Allah truth shall prevail. I do not say that we presume guilt before proof, but what we need is to be open to the possibility that he too could have fallen, as after all he is human and prone to flaws.
  4. This is not backbiting. Our religion teaches us to stand for the oppressed and to always stand up for justice. Many argue that this is an act between two consenting adults and that it may be immoral behaviour, but it isn’t a crime, nor are the women involved, victims. We must recognize why this is problematic. He is a teacher and in a place and position of power, he had a greater onus of responsibility than his students who might be adults but there is a power differential between him and the women involved. There is a reason why there are strict rules of conduct between therapists and their clients, doctors and their patients, professors and students, coaches and athletes etc. The same also applies to clergy such as Priests and Imams.
  5. If the relationships were consensual and the two were in a legitimate Nikah (muslim marriage), then the marriages didn’t need to be secret. They needed to be publicly declared because the very act of Nikah safeguards the right of a woman to be publicly known as the legitimate wife of an individual. Allah is aware of our fitrah, He knows, a woman wrongfully attached to a man, will be slaughtered by our tongues and hands.
  6. There is also the issue of there being multiple marriages. Some argue this may not be islamically immoral, (although there are near impossible criteria around polygamy); however, it is legally prohibited in the country of his residence. We need to adhere to the lawsof our adopted homelands. A man, who is a man of religion and owns a public platform accessible to everyone, has a greater responsibility to lead by example to not break the law of the country. Yes, the law of Allah trumps the law of the country, but the law of Allah also prescribes us to follow the law of the land. If we all decided to not follow the law of the land we live in, the world would be in absolute chaos and there would be no checks and balances in place.
  7. I don’t believe the story because other so called reputable and religious men are sharing it. I believe it, because in cases of abuse, I choose to believe the victims. I recognise this is my bias, but the statistics suggest that very rarely do people lie about being victims of abuse. It is a difficult task to come out and speak about being a victim and the repercussions are usually for the victims as our patriarchal culture will place more trust in the oppressor than on the victim.
  8. We need to accept that no one is above inappropriate behaviour. You could have the book of Allah in your heart and still fall from grace (how else do you explain imams involved in child abuse)? The whispers of shaytaan and the tug of our nafs, makes us prone to sin. None of us can claim perfection, nor can we claim to be without sin. Let’s at least accept the premise that the allegations being a reality is a possibility before jumping to an absolute defence of Khan.
  9. We should make 70 excuses and verify the accusations against someone before believing them to be the absolute truth. The die-hard fans have refused to extend that courtesy to the victims of this ordeal. It seems the 70 excuses are only for the accused (man) here.
  10. We need better checks and balances within our systems. We need equal spaces for women with qualified religious and social counsellors where women can go and discuss their personal difficult circumstances.
  11. Personally, I do not need to know the victims’ names to believe the truth, anyone demanding to know the victims are purely doing this to satiate their own curiosity. The way the blind herd is following Khan, no amount of proof will convince them otherwise. Exposing the names of the victims will only vilify and further victimise them. We can already see that the response from members of our community is not only vile, but often violent. Imagine the risk to the safety associated with disclosing the identity of the women.
  12. The biggest issue in my opinion has been the way this was disclosed by reputable members of our community. The allegations are vague, with enough being said indirectly on the topic (without naming Khan) by other religious figures such as Navaid Aziz, Yasir Qadhi and Omer Suleiman, leading us all to the worst possible conclusions. This is not a sign of wisdom, or good for community cohesion or development. The silence since last Friday from our leaders is deafening. If anything is slanderous, it is this behaviour. It does little to protect the victims or increase our understanding of abuse.

I pray that Allah protect us all. There is a lot we need to do as a community. This is a difficult conversation to have, but a conversation that is a MUST. We are supposed to be the best of examples, and to follow the footsteps of the best of Creations, Muhammed (SAW).

In order to do that, we need to be balanced in our approach especially when searching for the truth. Let us weigh what has been presented without making judgements either way. Let’s demand the leaders to be more transparent, and forthcoming than they have.  The evidence needs to be presented without the need for exposure of the victims. If this is a matter that cannot be dealt within the confines of our community, we must follow the process of law of the country.

“We also need to learn and understand abuse, grooming, harassment and how power dynamics play a role in that as a community.”

The leaders have a public responsibility to squash these rumours and be clear in their allegations. Khan, has every right to defend himself and to offer his narrative. But, we as a community also need to learn that if this can be an elaborate plan to trap/defame Khan, that it is an equal probability (if not more) that the allegations against him are true and that there are victims. We need to afford that same level of opportunity to speak their side of the story to those he allegedly has wronged. We also need to learn and understand abuse, grooming, harassment and how power dynamics play a role in that as a community. We need to actively engage in learning, and teaching this cycle, if we want to protect and safeguard those who are vulnerable in our society before perpetuating the cycle of abuse through blind following. The biggest lesson from this scandal is that we must not place any human being on a pedestal nor should we idolise them to the point where we assume no fault on their part. Idol worship comes in many forms, and this falls under that category. The word of Allah is true and perfect, but the vessel through which it is delivered can be imperfect and be full of flaws. This is a reality we must thoroughly accept.

Most of all, in our defence for Nouman Ali Khan, let us not engage in victim blaming and shaming. How we behave tells other victims (of physical, sexual, mental and emotional violence), that it is better to stay silent if ever abused. Through our actions, we also signal that we side with oppressors and abusers. This would be the biggest irony given that it is the month of Muharram-a month that commemorates the greatest injustice of our Islamic history. We have a choice to make, are we with the oppressor or will we be a voice for those who are wronged in our society and I choose to be the latter.

By Maheen Nusrat

Maheen Nusrat is a Pakistani born Canadian currently residing in the UK. She has also lived in Bahrain and in New York. She has a degree in Communications. Her portfolio includes working in politics, print and broadcast media, life sciences and the public sector. Maheen is the co-founder of Uplift Connections-a platform for women from all faiths and ethnicity to come together, and to help them succeed in business. Follow them @Uplift_connect.  Maheen has a real passion for social justice, equality and believes that our talents are meant to be shared with the world. Follow her @fireyfury1 

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Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the websbite


Talking Taboos #Porn

by Sabrina Mahmood

'Hot Girls Wanted' promotional poster

‘Hot Girls Wanted’ promotional poster

Yep.  You heard it. It’s time we all stopped blushing and avoiding the hugely important topic of porn. By chance I came across a documentary called ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ about how young women (aged 18/19/20) break into the amateur porn industry in America. It was scary but gave an insight  into the mindset of some of the young  women who wanted to ‘make it’, have ‘freedom away from home’ and ‘make money’. It’s a perfectly normal aspiration to want to be successful and to be known for something, and everybody is entitled to their own lifestyle choices. Let’s be totally honest, porn is never going to be eradicated, especially not in the digital age that we live in.

However, our approach to it needs to change. If we look at the girls in the documentary, they were looking for jobs through an online advertising site called ‘Craigslist’. The advert was entitled ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ and immediately drew their attention to a ‘new life in the city’. After a quick search on Google myself, I found the UK ‘Craigslist’ and went to the TV/film/radio section where the adverts, as in the documentary, are centred on adult film work. One push of the button and it is so easy to source work like this. Imagine young and vulnerable people who are looking to ‘make it big’ and they find adverts like this. Where are the regulations to safeguard people from exposure to these adverts and similar content? Surely if people wanted to find adult work, it should be posted within specific adult sites or adult job search engines, rather than the wider search engines.

“Where are the regulations to safeguard people from exposure to these adverts and similar content?”

Sex EducationTo break down some of the key issues from the documentary, one of the first things I noticed is that the young women believe sex is just a part of modern society and no longer has any value or meaning. And that’s where sex education  comes, our children are taught about the mechanics of sex and porn, but not the principles and values. If as a society we are so adamant for them to learn, let’s at least teach them the crucial things. When did we actually ever learn about the mechanics of a healthy and normal relationship both emotionally and physically? And the emotional connection between a couple or the huge amount of trust and respect involved? When did we have an understanding of a woman’s role in porn and subsequently a woman’s role in society? If we aren’t taught about respect, and if we aren’t shown it, we will never learn it or have it.

One of the young women was subjected to ‘facial abuse’ porn which uses sexual humiliation of the partner and physical violence towards them during sexual acts and involves forcing them to vomit. She said that ‘acting’ in scenes like this were ‘harmless’ as people were watching it on their screens rather than committing the acts in person. In the UK crime and statistics release from 2013/2014, the number of sexual offences recorded was ‘highest recorded’ in over ten years (64,205)–2013-14/index.html.

“One of the young women was subjected to ‘facial abuse’ porn which uses sexual humiliation of the partner and physical violence towards them during sexual acts and involves forcing them to vomit.”

So, evidence shows otherwise, when young people consume these violent and graphic portrayals of ‘normal’ sex, there is a greater chance of replicating the violence they have seen. In the Prevent Together report on impact of pornography on youth, results from meta-analysis show that there is a “significant overall relationship between pornography consumption and attitudes supporting violence against women”. And all of this is available freely by typing the word ‘porn’ into Google.

A hugely concerning issue raised in the documentary was the lack of protection for the women in terms of contraception and sexual health. Without the use of condoms, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS is significantly high. The young women in no way were warned of the dangers associated with their sex work and they were led to feel a false sense of security in the routine fortnightly testing for STIs. As with any job, health and safety issues should always be prioritised and there should be safeguarding protocols in place to allow these women sufficient training and education to understand the great risks they are face whilst performing sexual acts. As a society we have an obligation to protect our vulnerable women and girls regardless of the choices they make. Sadly they are often misinformed or coerced as shown in the documentary.

Some of the women discussed having breast enlargement as they also felt it was more desirable in the industry. On the other hand the documentary states that the word ‘teen’ is the most common one used in porn searches. So there are two main desirable pornographic ideals, a young under-developed female, and a woman with big breasts and a curvy figure. Both of these images cannot relate to real life women, who all vary in shape and size. When the viewers of porn are looking for gratification in these images, they become disillusioned with real life women and therefore real life sex. And isn’t it a horrific thought that grown men are increasingly looking to watch porn that involves young females?

It’s time we muster up the courage to speak up about the issues surrounding violence against women and girls every day. We need to be brave enough to challenge the abuse our young people endure in a culture created to view porn as a norm.  We must give appropriate and relevant sex education to our young people before they start seeking answers themselves on the all too familiar Google search box.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image credits: ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ promotional poster; ‘Sex Education’;‘Girl with heads in hands’