After numerous high-profile child-grooming cases that have involved Asian men who happen to be Muslim, community leaders, politicians and the right-wing media immediately made a link between the religion and the ethnicity of the perpetrators. 5Pillarz has issued some answers to frequently asked questions in relation to grooming and the “supposed” link to Pakistani men and Islam. Muslim activists and Islamic youth projects from Bradford, Rochdale and Manchester helped put this together.
If there is not a problem in the Muslim/Pakistani community, why were all the men arrested in recent high-profile grooming cases of that origin?
There are many cases of sexual abuse of women and girls perpetrated by men from various backgrounds and not simply just one community. However with the media and politicians focusing on the race element of these crimes it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there is a broad narrative of abuse in Britain which is not unique to one community.
According to the NSPCC, nearly a quarter (24.1%) of young adults experienced sexual abuse (including contact and non-contact), by an adult or by a peer during childhood. Of the 17,000 reported cases of sexual offences involving children under 16 just 4,000 went to trial last year, according to the CPS. That’s just under a quarter of all reported cases. And according to NSPCC research, a third (34%) of children who are sexually abused do not tell anyone at all about it, let alone report it to the police. Thus many crimes against young adults and children go unreported or fail to reach trial. The huge numbers of cases further underlines the point that sexual abuse of children and young adults is an endemic problem within British society and not simply isolated to one community.
Marai Larasi, a director of Imkaan and co-chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, warns: “An excessive focus on some cases of sexual exploitation with a primary focus on ethnicity rather than the exploitation itself is misleading and fuels racist attitudes which ultimately won’t help women and girls.”
Nazir Afzal, the newly appointed chief crown prosecutor for the North West, who was responsible for bringing the Rochdale grooming gang to trial, told the Guardian: “It wasn’t their race which defined them, it was their treatment of women.” Before adding, “There is no community where women and girls are not vulnerable to sexual attack and that’s a fact.”
So this is a wider issue than race, religion or culture. This is a discussion of “broken Britain”. It’s a discussion of what is going wrong in this society and why vulnerable women are exploited and even have a fear of reporting crimes against them to the authorities. Before the media and government ministers question the Muslim community about the actions of a small minority, it needs to ask broader questions about the society which we all live in.
Is there a problem within the Muslim/Pakistani community?
The problem that exists isn’t limited to some Pakistanis or Muslims, rather it already exists within the wider society. Therefore we do not deny that some depraved people have conducted these acts that may have come from a particular community. Nor do we say that we do not need to help to inoculate our communities from depraved behaviour. However such acts are not as a result of Islam nor intrinsic to one community. Therefore we need to identify the clear cause behind the problem in order to help address the issue.
Why did these Muslim/Pakistani men carry out such acts?
The fact of the matter is that what caused these Muslims to behave in such a manner is actually the abandonment of Islamic values. Alcohol, drugs, fornication, prostitution and rape are all forbidden in Islam and carry severe punishments under an Islamic authority. So indeed these acts could never be legitimised nor encouraged by Islam.
Instead, what they did was to adopt some of the values of the secular British society such as individualism and self-gratification as a means to happiness, with some cultural attitudes that exist across Asian cultures. Either aspect is not part of the Islamic culture, teachings or attitudes. Rather it is the total abandonment of Islam and the self-gratification of deviant desires that led to such depraved behaviour.
Even the UK Good Childhood Inquiry concluded that abuses against children were the results of beliefs of “excessive individualism” and “that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life.”
Abu Mas’ud ‘Uqbah bin ‘Amr al-Ansari al-Badri (ra) reported that Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: “Among the things that people have found from the words of the previous prophets was: ‘If you feel no shame, then do as you wish.”[Al-Bukhari]
However, the keen observer will know in reality that everyone who had an axe to grind against Asians, Pakistanis or Muslims came out of the woodwork to racialise and generalise these heinous crimes to entire communities, attributing it to their beliefs and cultures, and citing the case as definitive proof to justify their grievances against the community.
Does Islam view women as “second class citizens” and does it encourage crimes against women?
Women in Islam are not regarded as “inferior” or “second-class” citizens. Islam has a rich heritage in enhancing women’s quality of life. Islam gave women the right to her own wealth, property rights, rights in marriage and divorce as well as an active and central role in society. Islam punishes the criminal who slanders the honour of women with mere words, and the one who grooms and uses women for his own desires has strayed severely and deserves punishment.
Islam addresses men and women as human beings, not commodities. They have the same worth before Allah (swt) and both are encouraged to do good and stay away from evil.
“Whoever commits a sin is requited for just that, and whoever works righteousness – male or female – while believing, these will enter Paradise wherein they receive provisions without any limits.” [TMQ Ghafir 40:40]
Prophet Muhammad (saw) told the people that Paradise lies under the feet of the mother, not the father, and that the man who raises two daughters in piety enters Paradise, something which He (saw) did not say for a man who raised two sons.
Does Islam think non Muslims are “trash”?
Islam mandates that all humans must be treated with respect and justice: “Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is well acquainted with what you do”. [TMQ Al Maida 5:8]
Furthermore we know of Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) example in which he would treat his non-Muslim neighbours with respect and kindness and would visit them when they were ill. The narrative used by some newspapers to explain that somehow Islam considers white non Muslim women as “trash” and that this was part of the causal factor leading to abuse is utter nonsense and underlines the prejudicial nature of the reportage of the grooming cases.
What’s so wrong with western society and its approach to the respect of women?
The Independent on the 25 May 2012 reported that, “Nearly half of young women in London were sexually harassed in public last year, with many forced to endure unwanted male attention on buses and trains, a new study shows.”
It is well versed that the sexual exploitation of women’s bodies in the beauty, entertainment and sex industries has devalued and dehumanized them into objects for male gratification. This has generated an environment conducive for sexual abuse. In the UK there are thousands of brothels and reports of up to 18,000 sex workers. And it is no surprise then that according to the Department of Health website, a woman is raped every 10 minutes in the UK.
Is there a problem with over-sexualisation in British society?
Yes. According to an official Home Office report into children’s exposure to sexual imagery, author Dr Linda Papadopoulos said there was a clear link between sexualised imagery and violence towards females. She further mentioned, “Both the images we consume and the way we consume them are lending credence to the idea that women are there to be used and that men are there to use them.” This effect according to her, distorts young girls views about themselves: “Unless sexualisation is accepted as harmful, we will miss an important opportunity to broaden young people’s beliefs about where their values lies,”
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, said society as a whole and adults were to blame. He said: “The whole of society is hyper sexualised – sex becomes the common currency through which adults make their way in the world and continually send a signal to children that sex is all that matters. One of the big problems that we are faced with is that increasingly adults have lost the capacity to draw a line between their own attitudes and those of children and increasingly we’re recycling adult attitudes about sex through the prism of children.”
Quite clearly then there are deep problems within British society with the early sexualisation of children that distorts their views about where their value lies and leaves them susceptible to abuse by some deviant adults.
What should be the response of the Muslim community?
The Oxford case and other similar cases highlight the severe dangers of leaving Islamic values and adopting values alien to the beliefs of Islam. There will continue to be more cases like this unless there is safeguarding of the defined Islamic values against liberal ones within our communities. We need to help develop strong Islamic institutions (mosques and madrasas) that help inoculate against corrupting ideas while teaching the Islamic ideas of respecting other people, treating women and girls with respect and having the fear of Allah (swt).
As Muslims living in the West, we must reject the devastating values that treat women like objects which drive men to satisfy their own desires. We must develop strong Islamic personalities that not only enable the rejection of non Islamic values but also demonstrate the beauty of Islam and the strength of its values for all people in this society.
As a community, the debate needs to move away from the heavily polarised and internalised discussion that seeks to make us feel guilty for the issue. Rather, the debate should be widened and explored further onto the real underlying problems which created these sexual predators in British society.