Gender & Identity, Life Stories, Life

I was abused by my Quran teacher and I’m not the only one

I was frozen. I did nothing. I didn’t even know how to process what had just happened.

Trigger Warning: Descriptions of physical and sexual abuse of minors. 

There are things about some Quran teachers that, unfortunately, are kept in the dark.

It could be because these issues are usually discouraged from being discussed in our circles. It could be that kids don’t think anyone will believe them, or, due to the power dynamic involved with speaking up against a teacher, are afraid of taking a stand. And so, these stories continue to be suppressed and ignored, leaving many children to deal with their torment alone.

When I was around 12, I had a Quran teacher who came to our house in the evenings.

My sister and I used to attend classes with him. A few months down the line, he brought a small bottle of ‘atar, the Arabic perfumes you pour on your fingers and dab onto yourself. He said he brought it especially for us and that he’d put it on us because we’d end up spilling it if we tried to do it ourselves.

He put some on my sister first, then put a bit on my wrists. Then he said, “it’s actually best to put it on your clothes,” and reached for my shirt.

I didn’t realize what he was doing.

When I started to feel his hands caressing my chest. He rubbed my chest much longer than was necessary to just put on some perfume. I don’t remember what my reaction had been, I think I told myself I’m just overreacting or imagining it. I didn’t say anything. And we went back to reading the Quran.

A few days later, it happened again. He brought perfume and said it was a new scent he wanted us to try. My sister was around 6 years old.

Too young to know or realize anything was unusual.

He put it on her first, then smiled at me and attempted to put some on my shirt. This time, there was no mistaking what he was doing. He didn’t even pretend to be passing his hands over my entire shirt. Instead, he went straight for my chest and grabbed me there. I was frozen. I did nothing. My mind didn’t even know how to process this.

Although I never told anyone about it, I never let him touch me after that day. He tried bringing perfume on other occasions, but I didn’t let him put any on me. When that didn’t work, he tried other techniques. Once, he tried to play-fight with me and reached out towards my chest. I dodged him immediately. All this time, my little sister just thought it was a game and played along with him. Maybe her innocence only served to encourage him. Maybe it didn’t matter at all.

But I never allowed him to touch me again, no matter what.

Years later, my youngest sister wanted to learn the Quran. My parents got her a tutor who came to our house. It didn’t last very long, though, because unlike us, our youngest sister had the sense to quickly tell my mom that he randomly started “tickling” her in the middle of lessons. He was fired immediately.

Over the years I’ve heard these kinds of unsettling accounts from more than one of my friends.

One guy told me his Quran teacher used to ask him to sit in his lap sometimes and then let his hand “fall” between his legs. One girl told me her Quran teacher used to give her uncomfortably long hugs. And so on.

And mind you none of these people recall these stories from when they were teenagers. These incidents occurred when they were little kids. Kids who might not even realize what’s really happening or who might be too afraid or confused to tell their parents about it. 20 percent of children who are sexually abused are under the age of eight.

I personally remember not even knowing how to have a conversation about it with my parents. The sad thing is I am not even sure how many parents would believe the kids or end up doing something about it.

Because these are Quran teachers! They are teaching you the religious word! How could they do such a horrific thing?

Unfortunately, there are teachers who do. It is more common than it should be. There are numerous articles online talking about these experiences. It is disgusting to think that these teachers of religion are abusing their positions to take advantage of little children, but it happens enough for it to not be overlooked or considered a lone incident.

So why don’t we talk about it? On top of that, why do these kinds of teachers get to make their own rules when it comes to the treatment of children?

That brings me to what parents need to know.

First off: Stop letting Quran tutors – no matter how trustworthy they seem – teach your kids in an isolated room or corner of the house. A lot of less-than-savory teachers do that under the guise of “wanting peace and quiet” or to “avoid seeing the women of the house.” Allowing that type of behavior to take place won’t head anywhere good, nor is that even a good enough excuse to let children be closed in a room with them. Make sure your children are taught in areas of the home that are open or within your view.

Teach children from a young age that it’s important to talk about these things. I remember when it happened to me, I was too embarrassed to bring it up with my parents. Don’t let that happen. Children need to know what type of touch is okay and what isn’t. If a touch makes the child feel uncomfortable, whether it came from a stranger or a relative, ensure that they know that they can say no. That the child has rights.

These kinds of conversations tend to be taboo in Muslim communities, but all that perpetuates is lifelong damage, shame, and concealed abuse. 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser. That’s a devastating statistic. If these incidents continue to be pushed under the rug, you’re only giving abusers a chance to keep going, because you’ve ensured that they know they’ll never be held accountable for it. Children should know, without a doubt, that they have a parent, relative, or friend who can serve as a safe place to turn to when they want to talk about something.

So, if that safe place can be you, be there for them.