VIEWPOINT: Muslim Immigrants, Sexual Norms and Family Counselling
By Ishtiaq Ahmed *
The Muslim minority remains isolated and alienated from the
host societies; it creates suspicions and fears in the majority.
Recently, a number of disturbing events have brought into
the limelight the tensions that exist between Muslim
immigrants and host societies in the contemporary west.
Two very recent cases illustrate this phenomenon. In early
May, The Guardian reported nine middle-aged men, all of
Pakistani-origin, except one who is an Afghan, found guilty
of sexually assaulting minor girls in Rochdale, Greater
Manchester. They were sentenced and sent to prison for
different lengths of time. Apparently, the exploitation had been going on for years. The prosecutor alleged that the men had been tempting girls as young as 13 with fast food, drinks and drugs in return for sexual gratification.
The police reportedly had known it for years but was unwilling to act because ‘they were petrified of being called racist and so reverted to the default of political correctness. They had a greater fear of being perceived in that light than in dealing with the issues in front of them.’ However, Muslim community leaders were quick to condemn the outrage. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi of the Conservative Party remarked, “They think that white teenage girls are worthless and can be abused without a second thought.” Data released by media suggested that 83 percent of the people involved in these ‘child grooming’ gangs were of Pakistani origin.
A friend of mine who believes in a grand conspiracy against Islam and Muslims by the west argued that the Muslims were deliberately targeted; child grooming was widespread in the west, and at any time, one can watch and download pornographic films featuring mature men and young girls. This is of course true. Billions of dollars are involved and made in the pornography industry.
The argument is flawed, but is it? There is a difference between watching and participating. However, not long ago, watching pornography was also a criminal offence. Therefore, what constitutes criminal behaviour can be discussed. It is a reflection of prevailing opinion rather than strict objective definition.
The second case is less dramatic, but more interesting. A Swedish television investigative team called Uppdrag Granskning (Task Scrutiny) has been for a long time exposing corruption scandals, prostitution, oppressive Christian sects, and abuse of power by politicians, big business, and so on. It is one of the most popular and respected quality programmes. The latest was a sting operation against double standards of family counsellors, called imams or religious counsellors at mosques. All mosques receive funding from the state to help Muslims integrate with Swedish society.
For scrutiny, ten leading mosques — Sunni and Shia — were selected in major Swedish cities and towns. First, some members of the team met the imams officially to find out the rights and status of men and women in Islam. Not surprisingly, they were told that Islamic law was in perfect harmony with Swedish law on equality and rights of men and women. Two women — one a believing Muslim and the other born a Muslim but who no longer adhered to the faith — dressed up in black burqas, covered from head to toe, met the imams by prior appointment. The two women were carrying hidden cameras and voice recorders. They met the counsellors and posed questions on family affairs.
The first question was if a Muslim man could marry four wives simultaneously and nine out of 10 imams, Sunni and Shia, confirmed that they could. The second was if a man could demand sexual service from his wife even if she was not willing. The majority said yes. Under Swedish law, this constitutes rape. The third was if a Muslim woman whose husband beat her should inform the police. They were told not to. Such advice too was in conflict with Swedish law and practice.
The team then met the spokesmen for the mosque committees and showed them the recorded interviews. Most of them conceded that the advice was wrong; some suggested that the imams gave advice in their personal capacity (even though mosque committees had appointed them for family counselling appoint!). Later, Muslim representatives and women rights activists took part in another popular discussion on Swedish television called ‘Debate’. Some of the representatives tried to hit back by alleging that the programme was unethical, hidden cameras were unacceptable, and the responses of the imams had been edited to suit the biases of the documentary producer. One female Muslim imam (a novel innovation) supported the investigation.
The most interesting outcome was that a Swedish minister said that there was a need to have Muslims, born and brought up in Sweden, trained as imams. This I believe is a very useful observation, and I hope it also becomes government policy. First generation immigrants come from countries where there is no tradition of gender equality or respect for democratic values. The immigrant communities need to be properly informed about not only their rights but also obligations. Special courses can be arranged on the premises of mosques for worshippers and local residents.
In the aftermath of the Oslo carnage last year, it is being realised increasingly that the policy of letting immigrant communities violate the law has inadvertently created grounds for anti-immigration and anti-Muslim movements and parties to gain popularity. The Muslim minority remains isolated and alienated from the host societies; it creates suspicions and fears in the majority.
On the whole, it must be said that the liberation of Muslims is impossible if they continue to subscribe to moral standards of the pre-modern age.