For Sidrah Ahmad-Chan, the moment felt surreal.
Listening to a Muslim psychologist speaking about patterns of abuse while on stage at the American Islamic College on Saturday (Jan. 11), she pulled up Twitter.
“First panel discussion and I am already reeling,” typed Ahmad-Chan, a Toronto-based researcher studying gender-based violence and Islamophobia, who was one of about 100 other attendees at the newly launched Hurma Project’s first conference. Started by prominent Canadian Islamic scholar Ingrid Mattson, the three-day research conference was the first to focus entirely on abuse in Muslim spaces.
“We are actually having conversations on spiritual abuse and sexual abuse in our community,” Ahmad-Chan wrote. “It’s actually happening. Been a long time coming.”
Over the past two to three years, scholars and advocates say, North American Muslims have risen up in an unprecedented movement to openly confront sexual and spiritual abuse perpetrated by Muslim religious leaders.
“I’m definitely seeing an increase in people willing to talk about these issues,” said Phoenix-based certified sexual health educator Angelica Lindsey-Ali, who founded the Village Auntie Movement two years ago and has worked with victims of Muslim religious leaders accused of sexual abuse. “The unfortunate part is that it isn’t necessarily by choice. In some cases, I think the recognition of the rampant spiritual abuse in the community has forced them to have to talk about these issues.”
The conference comes in the wake of several explosive scandals impugning well-respected Islamic teachers, including Bayyinah Institute founder and superstar preacher Nouman Ali Khan, who was caught in a sexting scandal and accused of luring women into sexual relationships disguised as secret marriages; Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Swiss Islamic scholar and author who is currently awaiting trial over charges of raping multiple women who accused him at the height of the global #MeToo movement; and Usama Canon, whose organization Ta’leef Collective published a statement saying the founder “deeply betrayed the sanctity of the position of spiritual teacher” through “verbal abuse and abuse of authority,” as well as actions of a “more serious nature.”