Sacred and Civic Trust: Imam Calls Out Suspected Sexual Abuse In Friday Sermon

Imam Does Right By His Community, State and Islamic Law

What would you do if you thought a child in your community was being molested in the masjid? If you were Imam Nick Pelletier, Director of Outreach at the Islamic Center of Irving, you would talk about it from the mimbar. The Islamic Center of Irving has since issued an update to the situation here.

What if you were a masjid board member, and someone reported sexual abuse happening on the premises?

What if a child in your Scout Troop confided in you about being molested?

No matter your position or circumstance, what to do remains the same: call child protective services or law enforcement. Report it to them. Not only is it your Islamic duty, often times it is the law, especially if you live in the United States. In most states, any adult professional who works with children is a mandated reporter. This means that you are legally responsible for reporting suspected or disclosed abuse. In some states, all adults are considered mandated reporters.

One in 10 children will be the victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Despite this startling statistic, abuse remains a silent epidemic that people are afraid to talk about. Child sexual abuse is not limited to any specific socio-economic status, culture, race, religion, or gender. Unfortunately, it impacts EVERY community and EVERY person across the globe, including the Muslim community. 

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So, what do you do?

If you are in a position where you suspect or are informed or child abuse,  you may think you need evidence, but that’s not the case. Your responsibility is to report, not investigate or confirm. According to the law, mandatory reporters are required to report “the facts and circumstances that led them to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected.” You don’t need four witnesses, or any witnesses to report a sexual offense. The requirement of four witnesses in Islam is for the establishment of voluntary fornication or adultery, not crime – and rape, sexual assault and molestation are a crime.

Reporters are often the only link between a child and safety from abuse, say experts. It is vitally important that mandated reporters understand how to recognize child abuse and how to make reports that are timely, complete and accurate.

According to Darkness To Light, a leading child abuse prevention advocacy group, when a child discloses abuse, “it is very important to listen without expressing anger or suspicion. First, children need to know that the abuse is not their fault”. They urge adults to listen carefully and then ask only open-ended questions, such as “and then what happened?”  Focus on determining what happened, where, when and by whom. This is sometimes called a “good faith” report. They suggest that mandated reporters not ask leading questions nor try to conclude information, even if they are sure they know the answers. This can re-traumatize the child and contaminate the investigation.

They further recommend that you do not attempt to investigate further or probe for details – do not look for physical signs. “Promptly report to law enforcement agencies, child protection services, or both. Do not make false promises to the child such as maintaining the confidentiality of your report. Trained professionals need to collect facts and details, and this could include talking with the child.”

Mandatory Reporting is the Law

Many imams, Sunday school teachers, maktab assistants, camp counselors, masjid youth organizers, volunteers, even board of directors, don’t realize that they may be mandated reporters in their state.

 If you are a professional in any of the following fields, you are a mandatory reporter: ƒ

  • Social workers ƒ
  • Teachers, principals, and other school personnel ƒ
  • Physicians, nurses, and other health-care workers ƒ
  • Counselors, therapists, and other mental health professionals ƒ
  • Child care providers ƒ
  • Medical examiners or coroners ƒ
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Clergyman, imam, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization in most states
  • An individual paid or unpaid who, on the basis of the individual’s role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, accepts responsibility for a child
  • Directors, employees, and volunteers at entities that provide organized activities for children, such as camps, day camps, youth centers, and recreation centers, are required to report in 13 States.

There are strict penalties against employers who try to hinder the reporting by employees.

Any person, mandatory reporter or otherwise,  does not have the burden of providing proof that abuse or neglect has occurred. “Permissive reporters (adults who can file reports but are not mandated to) follow the same standards when electing to make a report. It is the job of Child Protective Services and other state institutions to conduct the investigation.” For more detailed information on mandatory reporting, please refer to this report.

Aside from it being the law, all of us have a sacred responsibility to make sure that the vulnerable in our communities are protected, especially if we hold a position of responsibility. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned us that, ‘Every one of you is a Protector and Guardian for those who are placed under your care’ [Bukhari and Muslim]. The heavy mantle of the sacred trust (Amanah) is further emphasized with the command of not betraying the trust in the Quran. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, ‘Betray not knowingly your Amanah (things entrusted to you). [8:27].”

In connection to the heavy mantle of leadership and trusts, scholars relay the hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him): The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “When trusts are neglected, then await the Hour.”

He said: How would they be neglected, O Messenger of Allah? He said: “When positions of authority are given to people who are not qualified for them, then await the Hour.”

Do the right thing. And Allah Knows Best.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

19 / View Comments

19 responses to “Sacred and Civic Trust: Imam Calls Out Suspected Sexual Abuse In Friday Sermon”

  1. Rebecca says:

    May Allah SWT be pleased with this brother for standing up for justice. Shame on the community members involved in the coverup. It’s not their place to play judge and jury and decide on the punishment and aid the perpetrator in fleeing abroad. For shame. What about the other children impacted by this? It wasn’t your right to protect the perpetrator like this.

  2. Aisha says:

    All the people who advised the perpetrator to leave the country must be prosecuted because the sick act may continue and a lot of innocent children will be the victims in a place where there is no awareness of this crime and there is no help and rescue for the innocent this individual should get mental help instead he was asked to leave the country what a shame.

  3. Charles says:

    This link shows the condensed version of the video. Truly saddening what is happening at that center. May Allah help us.

    https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1325530040915588&id=218620054939931

  4. Shahid Azzam says:

    Suspending this Imam for saying the truth is immoral and very unislamic! This is not corporate America where you could run over people and nothing is done about it

    The suspect in this felony must be questioned and if proven to be true, must be prosecuted to the fullest extend and be banned from all Masjids and must register as a Sex offender.

    Board members who turned a blind eye and suspended the Imam for speaking the truth shouldn’t have the honor of being board members, must be removed from Masjid and not allowed to serve again.

  5. Muslimah says:

    Nobody cares about the victims, we are living in a society where reputations are more important than the damaged souls for life. And anyone who is saying that this is wrong to bring it out in the public, I ask you all, do you not want to be able to free of answering Allah SWT on the day of judgement for not speaking up and standing up for wrong? for Justice? What is wrong with this Muslim community? Where are we seriously headed? Shame on all of you who want to keep it all hush. I simply hate the fact that Muslim leaders and people of authority in Islam are using Islamic rules and regulations to suffice their agenda instead. Everyone makes mistakes, but if someone who is elderly couldn’t get his acts together even in the masjid clearly have a bigger problem that needs to be addressed. You cannot control yourself in the MASJID? IN THE HOUSE OF ALLAH? If I were part of the jury, I would definitely do what the Imam did. I am sick of these cultural norms. Nobody cares if a certain culture has such filthy practices. If they are cultural, keep them in your country period! Nobody cares about your culture that goes against Islamic practices.
    May Allah SWT protect each and every child, male of female and protect each and every Muslim brother and sister from such people, ameen.

  6. Bint Abdul-Hamid says:

    The community leaders at the ICI should acknowledge their huge mistakes, apologize to the entire community, humbly step down and resign, and bring back Imam Nick.
    Making the elderly man leave the country and then putting Imam Nick on an administrative leave, clearly shows that they are oblivious of the law and order of the city they reside in and the country they’ve immigrated to.

    Many Imams in a few masaajid across the United States, have had bad raps in the past. Imam Nick’s khutbah gave me hope that we still have some community leaders who continue to uphold the truth no matter what.
    May justice and truth continue to reign supreme in our places of worship, and not bogus cultural practices, prejudice, or sugar-coated sermons where the soul is not stirred to think about the after-life. Ameen.

  7. nabeela says:

    [8:03 AM, 11/1/2018] +1 (469) 371-1693: يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن جَاءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَن تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِينَ

    O you who believe! If a rebellious evil person comes to you with a news, verify it, lest you harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful to what you have done.

    Before my Quraan quote comment becomes a political punchbag, know that my intentions were pure. Such issue should (NOT) have been discussed in such way on a Friday where 65% of the congregation is does not live in the Irving area. The way this Friday sermon was posted, in my opinion, is to draw attention to an issue that could have been done in a different manner using wisdom and compose.

    The way it was portrayed “publicly”, though it was necessary, is wrong. It has nothing to do with Imam Nick, whom is my friend, but it has everything to do with the dramatization of his speech.

    It’s one thing to be passionate about an important subject and use the situation to educate the masses; it’s another when emotions are involved to use a public pulpit to (vent and rant), to an uncontrollable level as to say, “I don’t care if I get fired”, and shame the administration, his employer, in such manner.

    “Imam” Nick, hence the title, thus the behavior and delivery style should match the speech in a way to educate the masses not induce fear in the hearts of parents and school children’s parents.

    Keep in mind, this incident was not a pandemic. It was a-one-time issue. The word “Molesting a child” was used. The ramifications of the word Molesting carries a heavier meaning than to just be used (loosely), in a way that put fear in the congregation’s hearts?

    Again, the way the speech was delivered, portrayed a systematic problem with the Masjid, which is not true. Accusations, were lobbed publicly without proof nor full facts.

    The reason I put the verse, is to advise all of us, to please watch what we say. It’s not an accusation of anyone or person, it’s purely for the public to watch out for would be saboteurs of our Muslim community. The last thing we want is to be compared to the heinous crimes committed at the hands of the Catholic church clergyman.. this was not such case and I was offended that our community was compared accordingly.

    Not all intentions are pure and Allah Always brings out the truth at due time. This was not the way to do it!
    [8:03 AM, 11/1/2018] +1 (469) 371-1693: Ridwan Saleh ☝
    [8:12 AM, 11/1/2018] +1 (214) 518-1177: My today’s reading passage happened to be Sura Ash-Shura (42:36-43). It’s so beautiful and relevant that I thought to share with y’all hoping and praying to الله سبحنه وتعلى that He showers His Mercy on all of us in these apparently difficult times. Aameen
    ***
    36What you have been given is only the fleeting enjoyment of this world. Far better and more lasting is what God will give to those who believe and trust in their Lord; 37who shun great sins and gross indecencies; who forgive when they are angry; 38respond to their Lord; keep up the prayer; conduct their affairs by mutual consultation; give to others out of what We have provided for them; 39and defend themselves when they are oppressed. 40Let harm be requited by an equal harm, though anyone who forgives and puts things right will have his reward from God Himself– He does not like those who do wrong. 41There is no cause to act against anyone who defends himself after being wronged, 42but there is cause to act against those who oppress people and transgress in the land against all justice– they will have an agonizing torment– 43though if a person is patient and forgives, this is one of the greatest things.

  8. Naheed says:

    I moved to Irving community in 2008. My daughter started attending ISI from Prek3. My son regularly attends ICI,pray and play with friends. we have had any issue all these years and ICI was one of the safest environments for my family No one in the current or past leadership would have thought clearly this would become an opportunity for throwing stones at them, everyone’s best interest would have been how to find a solution for the mentioned issue. Yes, the final decision may not be the best compare to , after all, people could put opinion, it could have been like this , like that etc. However, it may be ICI leadership, collectively took a decision that cannot be considered self seeking, on the contrary, Imam Nick’s action could be correlated to self-seeking. So in my view ICI needs to go through the protocol and take decision that is warranting to the situation, it should not be based on public interest, it should be based on principles. Imam Nick should not have done what he has done. He should have provided his POV to board and seek action. What he has done is completely supporting the people who wants to grab the opportunity to blame ICI. Now see some of the folks are asking shutdown and convert to Library. Did he made his position clear what he wants, also look at his speech – he said he will break bones, for whatever situation, is not that violent enough ?. I was not comfortable with his style of Khutbhas as I felt always he was showing aggressiveness that may not have warranted in those context, and I shared my view with few as well. This fundraising itself is the best evidence for self-seeking. Please check the definition of “administrative leave” Lastly, this is entirely my personal opinion. Thought of sharing when i saw the video circulating in social media.
    ICI community, Alhamdulillah is very large, there are about hundreds of kids studying in school. ICI has protocols and policies in place to govern and protect all worshiping, visting and studying at ICI. ICI has a group of people elected by members as Shura. It has a process to govern and address issues. ICI has employees and they have roles and responsibilities. ICI provides opportunity to scholars and leaders to conduct Khutbhah and enlighten worshippers spiritually and peacefully. Imam Nick is ICI employee with the role of Dhawah Outreach. It is not logical to believe that all ICI elected members are immoral and culprit and wanted to protect criminals. That is the way now social media is painting things just becuase an employee went to his Khutbha stand and created a fear in about more 2000 worshippers with some information he had without consulting any of the leaders in the Masjid. It seems well organized plan with the result and people comments in social media and it definitely created a negative image and inadvertantly pulling other people into wrong interpretation. He had the oppotunity constructively address the issue and even guide governing body to the right way before he going wild. He created something like Isalmaphbia, I call it Molestophobia.

    • Ahmed says:

      The collective decision seems to have been an illegal decision, and seems to have broken the law.

      If you had a molestor (what the elderly man is said to have done would be considered molestation) in the masjid, how would you know if there were additional victims without making the matter public?

      If the khateeb is an employee, then he has more right to be protected from retaliation. In companies, if an employee exposes criminal wrongdoing, they have protections against employer retaliation.

  9. Fuizam says:

    Please get the facts. Spreading information without verifying is leading to chaos and dividing the communities.
    This is not seeking justice and it’s not about justice as portrayed.
    Please do the needful and take this out.

  10. Usman M says:

    I was just banned from a mosque/hutbah on Friday for speaking out on a much milder way about victims of abuse , especially women, in our community.

    I’m a Khatib/Hafiz in Calgary, Canada and gave this pretty straightforward khutbah on Friday about the victimisation and marginalisation of Muslim women in our communities and general alienation from Muslim men. It’s not super awesome or anything, but it seems talking about the underserved and even oppressed in our community is something or misogyny can’t handle.

    This morning at Fajr, the Imam of the relevant mosque, the Islamic Association of NW Calgary in Calgary (Canada) told me 3 Arab men had complained about my topic. As a result, I am (1) banned from talking on any of my own topics, and (2) now restricted to speaking once a month on a prepared topic given to me.

    This is the same Imam who has swept aside the concerns of past victims of abuse as children in the community, so I’m really just done with being diplomatic with the misogyny and victim-blaming mindset of Muslim men as Imams or on mosque boards.

    After the incident with Imam Nick being booted from Irving mosque in TX because he exposed the cover-up of abuse of kids there, I just want to throw my hat in the ring. For awareness, nothing else. So, please share.

    Here’s the khutbah, and excuse the ridiculous shaky-cam.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9E1z7z5JSo

    Wassalam, Usman M, Calgary, Canada

  11. Sam says:

    Salam.

    I would caution against getting emotional and charged at the accusations against ICI and it’s board.

    I want you to critically think about the situation presented to you. Did you hear the other side’s point of view? Did you spend time to look into what happened? Or did you take a single lens, a single bias, a single voice and use that to construct your opinion?

    As Muslims it is our DUTY to be just in our thoughts and opinions. Make SURE you look at both perspectives and sides before casting judgment.

    At first I was in full support of Imam Nick’s bravery and voice. But after looking deeper into the situation I think what he did was rash, exaggerated, and was an irreversible blow to the trust of the Muslim community.

    WaAllahua3lam.

    • Sam says:

      For those who don’t know, from a third party source:

      Imam Nick went to the police. They asked for what the accusation of molestation was. It turned out to be a kiss on the cheek from an old uncle. The police dismissed it as at most a misdemeanor, and ended up not pursuing the case.

      Was this really worth the outbreak? Was this really worth fracturing the community? Couldn’t this have been handled without the public outcry of molestation? When he shouted MOLESTED in the khutbah, our minds all went to the worst.

      Shame on you Imam Nick. Your decision was not wise.

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