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Disclaimer: The author writes this article in his personal capacity. He does not hold any official or unofficial position in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The views presented represent his own, and not of any other person, entity, or organization.
By Qasim Rashid in Medium
A private conversation recorded without consent, a recording illegally leaked, and a predictable social media firestorm that’s generated little more than mistrust and confusion — all while British police continue a thorough investigation of an alleged victim’s claims.
But none of this is why I’m writing this particular blog post.
Years ago, when I served in a volunteer but formal capacity as a national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, I wrote an article for the Independent titled, “How the teachings of Islam could help us prevent more sexual abuse scandals.” In that article, I argued an important point I stand by today:
“[t]he cancer of sexual abuse against women that we see in Christian majority America is just as prevalent in Muslim majority Pakistan, but also in Hindu majority India and state atheist China. This proves that men worldwide are failing in our responsibility to end sexual abuse and gender based violence.”
University of Wisconsin-Plattville Professor Muhammad Afzal Upal cites my 2017 Independent article in a recent blog post of his own. Professor Upal does this while divulging his own trauma from child sexual abuse, and while addressing the aforementioned recorded and illegally leaked conversation. So let me be clear. I write this blog post not to comment on Professor Upal’s childhood trauma. Indeed, I am sympathetic to his narration and pray he’s able to pursue any critical therapy and support he may need. Nor do I write this blog post to comment on the person who recorded and leaked the private conversation.
Instead, I write this post because Professor Upal has misleadingly cited my article to suggest shortcomings to His Holiness the Khalifa Mirza Masroor Ahmad, spiritual head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Professor Upal’s actions and claims in this respect are academically indefensible, demonstrably false, and potentially damaging to the alleged victim and to other unknown possible victims.
In a moment I’ll address how Professor Upal selectively and unfairly edited my words to prop up his points, even excising my written words mid-sentence in a manner that alters the meaning of my statement. But first, having already linked my full article above — a courtesy the Professor did not afford me in his blog post misquoting my words — I summarize my article in these four easy to follow bullet points:
- Sexual abuse against women is an epidemic and global phenomenon that transcends race, religion, culture, and nationality.
- Men are statistically the main culprits of sexual abuse against women, and men must be more accountable to recognize and stop sexual abuse.
- The detailed example and guidance of Islam’s founder, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), provide an effective model that, when followed, works to decrease and hopefully eliminate sexual abuse against women.
- In the modern age, the Khalifa and head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad has exemplified Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) practical model in word and in deed.
My article cites relevant Islamic jurisprudence from the Qur’an and hadith to support my positions. Feel free to pause and take a read if you’d like. Thankfully, Professor Upal appears to agree with my first three bullet points, so I won’t discuss them again at any length. Indeed he almost verbatim agrees with my article, writing:
“Abuse does not have a religion, despite claims to the contrary by some.”
The crux of the misrepresentation from Professor Upal is on the final bullet point above, which addresses the Khalifa’s response to the alleged victim’s claims. Unfortunately, Professor Upal attempts to support his smear against the Khalifa by misquoting a sentence from my Independent article. My full sentence in my Independent article states:
“According to Islam, every man is accountable to stop abuse of women — by their word and by their acts.”
On the contrary, Professor Upal includes only,
“According to Islam, every man is accountable to stop abuse of women…”
The Professor’s sleight of hand is intentional and significant. My statement posits a responsibility upon men, and then defines what accountability looks like to fulfill that responsibility. Professor Upal deliberately leaves out the critically important qualifiers of what accountability looks like. Instead, by leaving the statement as a broad, open- ended statement of unqualified accountability, Professor Upal creates an unattainable standard of responsibility that I never endorsed. He defines a new standard to his own whims, and then alleges without evidence that the Khalifa failed to meet that standard. This isn’t integrity. This is propaganda. Words matter, and Professor Upal’s attempt to misrepresent my words by censoring my ultimate point is irresponsible.
This point is critical and cannot be overstated. While the Professor may be well trained in computer and cognitive science, he appears uninformed on effective practical or legal representation and support of those who have suffered physical and sexual abuse. I am a human rights attorney who has represented hundreds of survivors of domestic and sexual violence for well over a decade. I or any of my colleagues can tell you the plain truth that while every honest person seeks meaningful accountability of abusers, accountability cannot exist without complete due process. Put another way, if we dismiss accusations without due process, no alleged victim would ever receive justice. On the other hand, if we convict the accused without due process, we decimate the foundational principle of justice and order in criminal law of “innocent until proven guilty.” The Qur’an provides clear guidance on this matter by admonishing us to seek accountability through investigations and due process. The Qur’an declares in Chapter 4 Verse 95:
“O ye who believe! when you go forth in the cause of Allah, make proper investigation and say not to anyone who greets you with the greeting of peace, ‘Thou art not a believer.’ You seek the goods of this life, but with Allah are good things in plenty. Such were you before this, but Allah conferred His favour on you; so do make proper investigation. Surely, Allah is well aware of what you do.” (emphasis mine)
Professor Upal instead wholly excises the part of my sentence which speaks about accountability through words and actions, and establishes a straw man argument of unqualified accountability. He then follows up with this statement in his very next paragraph to falsely portray the Khalifa as having failed to meet his made up and (unattainable) standard. Professor Upal writes:
“In an open letter addressed to the Khalifa, the alleged victim talked about how the Khalifa who had initially seemed to support her withdrew his support when she demanded accountability.”
The only logical conclusion from this statement is that Professor Upal expects the Khalifa to act, without evidence or due process, to punish those the alleged victim had accused. No court or logical person on Earth would accept this illogical position. Professor Upal does all this to proffer a claim that is a demonstrable lie. Yes, a lie. As the public record makes clear, the Khalifa did not “withdraw his support” at any point. Instead, the Khalifa dispensed spiritual advice based on Islamic teachings as a family elder to someone residing in Pakistan and acted to support the alleged victim in word and by his actions. Despite his immense and pressing daily responsibilities to lead and serve the needs of tens of millions of Ahmadi Muslims across 200 plus countries and territories worldwide, the Khalifa spoke extensively with the alleged victim about her allegations, expressed sympathy with the pain she expressed, reviewed the evidence she provided to support her claim, offered her spiritual advice for her well being, undertook an internal investigation into her claims, referred the matter promptly to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in the U.K. to conduct its own investigation into her claims (which it did) and take any necessary immediate actions, including reporting her allegations to the police (which it did).
To be clear, the Khalifa’s actions were completed well before the alleged victim recorded and apparently leaked her phone call to anti-Ahmadi outlets. The Khalifa wasn’t motivated by public criticism of a private conversation. Instead, as has been his example for nearly two decades in this role, he was motivated by absolute justice and fear of God. Keep in mind, the alleged victim makes her accusations against members of the Khalifa’s extended family. Despite this, the Khalifa did not hesitate, but acted to conduct investigations, precisely as the Qur’an Chapter 4 Verse 136 requires:
“O ye who believe! be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do.” (emphasis mine)
By his word and by his action, the Khalifa ensured due process for the alleged victim and for the accused — successfully upholding his sacred responsibility of justice. Contrary to Professor Upal’s meritless assertions, the public record demonstrates that at no point did the Khalifa engage in any sort of victim shaming, silencing, censorship, or bullying. Those parsing through the audio recording — often through fallacious mistranslations of the Urdu transcript from virulent anti-Ahmadi bigots — insist on objecting to the Khalifa’s advice to the alleged victim to leave the matter alone for now, or for pointing out the fact that this is allegedly a three-decade-old case of abuse and the alleged victim has provided inconclusive evidence, or advising her that her honor is in maintaining confidentiality and pursuing formal channels for her concerns. Those who object to these statements remind me of the famous piece of wisdom from Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642) when he declared, “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”
Context is crucial, even with the most honest of men, the Khalifa.The Khalifa’s words and actions were not only in line with Islamic teachings to protect both the alleged victim and those who may be potentially falsely accused, but they are precisely in line with modern day criminal investigative procedure.
While parroting the claim that the Khalifa “withdrew his support” from the alleged victim, Professor Upal offers no evidence of this allegation. None. On the contrary, he curiously cites the alleged victim to say,
“You stepped up in this situation like a Knight in shining armour but then you took your lance and plunged into my heart.”
The Professor obviously has no knowledge of what the alleged victim is referring to here — and tellingly does not even fairly describe how the Khalifa “stepped up like a Knight.” What exactly is the Khalifa’s “withdrawal of support”? Not validating the alleged victim’s claims prior to completion of an internal or police investigation or commencement of any actual criminal charge?
So, what then is the real motivation behind the Professor’s insinuations as to the Khalifa? The answer can be found from his own words in the article. At one point he strangely refers to Ahmadiyya Missionaries as “sent abroad by the community to convert heathens to Ahmadiyyat.” The Professor’s casual and meritless smear at the intentions of Ahmadiyya Muslim missionaries reveals what has been his long-standing personal grievances against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Even a cursory glance at his 2017 book reveals full throated invectives referring to the Community as a “cult” and implying that its founder was a “charlatan” — all the while he purports to be a member of the very community. While writing, “Abuse does not have a religion, despite claims to the contrary by some,” Professor Upal then deliberately uses “Ahmadiyya” in the descriptions of the places and people who allegedly abused him 45 years ago to conflate the alleged abusers with the Community itself — a plainly defamatory tactic.
Furthermore, for as much as Professor Upal speaks about victims’ rights, his blog post offers no sympathy for the victims of the false and defamatory accusations made by journalist Rana Tanveer — accusing people of rape without a shred of evidence. He appears to make no demand for accountability for Mr. Tanveer, who could very well have ruined the lives of innocent people with malicious and dangerous lies. A journalist who, by launching defamatory accusations of sexual abuse and rape, gives fodder to those who maliciously dismiss accusations without due process — a devastating consequence for victims of abuse. Yet, Professor Upal remains inexplicably quiet about Mr. Tanveer’s obvious defamation. Worse, he now appears to be supporting Mr. Tanveer with further dangerous and meritless rhetoric.
And this brings me back to the point I made earlier about the consequences of Professor Upal’s approach here. In his article, he rightly reveals and condemns the historic abuse he suffered (as do I). But in so doing, he also fails to defend the importance of complete due process for everyone involved. He further ignores the need to take great care not to malign an entire community or its leaders without evidence — to ensure true justice and accountability. In fact, his approach risks potentially harming the alleged victim, and potentially harming future or unknown victims, by making it harder to achieve justice and accountability. This should be obvious to any unbiased observer.
Those who suffer abuse must feel confident that their rights, confidentiality, and integrity will be protected from unwarranted public scrutiny. They must feel certain that criminal investigations conducted by law enforcement against their abusers will not be confused, compromised, or nullified due to wild and demonstrably false accusations published on the Internet. They must know for certain that the jury pool in a criminal investigation will not be tainted with false information floated by individuals basing their unqualified opinions on privately recorded, illegally leaked, decontextualized conversations never meant for public consumption. Unfortunately, and whether Professor Upal recognizes it or not, his factually bankrupt quest to malign the Khalifa and ignore the Khalifa’s documented words and acts for justice succeeds only in complicating the investigations with misinformation.
It is ironic, then, that Professor Upal concludes his blog post by demanding:
“It’s about time that all of us (community members and outsiders) started listening to the voices of survivors such as the alleged victim. As she makes it clear to the Khalifa, staying quiet is no longer an option for us. The safety of our children and their children depends on us raising our voices and holding our leaders accountable.”
Literally none of these demands are unfulfilled. The Khalifa unhesitatingly listened to the alleged victim who approached him as a family elder. He then referred her claims to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK for immediate action. Professor Upal launches empty slogans of objection, knowing full well that the Khalifa’s documented actions to listen to the alleged victim (despite her interrupting him dozens of times), investigate her claims internally and externally, and to protect her from public scrutiny, are exactly what a righteous, God-fearing man committed to upholding sacred justice would do in this type of a situation.
Incredibly, in his 1267-word post, Professor Upal offers exactly zero examples of what the Khalifa did wrong, zero examples of what the Khalifa could have done differently, zero pieces of evidence to support his conclusions, zero condemnations of journalists who make dangerously false accusations of rape and the harm that has on the accused and on victims alike, and makes zero calls for due process or thorough investigations. Professor Upal envisions a world where a mere accusation (let alone a formal criminal charge) results in an immediate conviction and a where a thorough investigation is akin to victim blaming and withdrawing support. This unfortunate rhetoric inflicts damage on victims and foments mistrust in society.
The Khalifa’s compassionate, consistent, and justice-based actions beautifully reflect the high standard of justice Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) set forth to combat and eliminate sexual abuse. In line with the Islamic precepts of avoiding suspicion and public spectacle, the Khalifa has since maintained confidentiality of the alleged victim’s private life, consistency in upholding justice and due process, and transparency for law enforcement to conduct their investigation unhindered. The Khalifa has given us every reason to maintain our trust in him, and zero reasons to doubt him.
But for those still battling lingering doubts, consider this fact. Eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later, law enforcement will conclude their criminal investigations into the alleged victim’s claims. If they decide, based on the evidence and due process of law, to charge and arrest a person(s) as a result, then history will record that the Khalifa had appropriately referred the matter for investigation, an action that led to arrest and accountability. If, however, law enforcement decides based on the evidence and due process of law, not to charge or arrest any person(s) as a result, then history will record that regardless, the Khalifa himself proactively trusted the alleged victim, balanced the rights of the accused, upheld justice as the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) require, and sought a thorough internal and external investigation.
In either situation, the end result will be built on verifiable evidence, due process of law, and a thorough investigation — exactly as Islam teaches and exactly as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) demonstrated — all implemented proactively by the Khalifa himself. Those who seek true justice need not accept judgment from a private illegally leaked and decontextualized audio recording. Instead, those seeking justice will find it in observing how the Khalifa has unassailably upheld the high standard in Islam for accountability through due process of law, truth, and justice — by his words and by his actions.