Last Friday, Muslim leaders across the country united in openly condemning instances of child grooming and trafficking gangs within their communities. Organised by the non-profit group Together Against Grooming (TAG) and supported by the Muslim Council of Britain, a sermon delivered in around 500 mosques highlighted both the “moral depravity” and Quranic condemnation of such acts, which have no place in the Islamic faith.
There is no doubt that the intentions of the lectures were amicable, particularly in light of recent cases involving grooming gangs in Oxford and Rochdale. Yet in attempting to disassociate the wider Muslim community from such deplorable acts, they may have instead found themselves contributing to the toxic narrative often espoused by anti-Islamic groups such as the English Defence League, who argue that paedophilia and abuse are inherent within the religion. Further, while the gesture may have been widely praised by the media, it will have achieved little in getting to the roots of the problem, or preventing further such cases.
That’s largely because the relationship between Islam and grooming gangs is spurious at best. Some may argue that while these men were far from pious, Muslim leaders have a civic duty to address these issues. Where mosques are integral parts of local communities, they should play an active part in addressing issues that affect wider society. But we shouldn’t simply place pressure onto mosques and imams, for in reality they can do little but continue stating the obvious: that such acts are abhorrent and impermissible. In fact, a more effective way of tackling the epidemic of grooming gangs lies in encouraging the quieter voices within Asian communities – residents, community groups and local business owners – to speak out. Victims of abuse often find themselves at the mercy of the perpetrators, who are empowered simply because those around them are more than willing to keep quiet and look the other way. In fact, their silence highlights a far more complex cultural issue – notably the cult of shame and honour that forms the basis of social organisation within many South Asian communities. Indeed, it is not just the young victims of abuse that these grooming gangs were exploiting, but also the sensitivities of their cultural heritage.
The truth is that beyond the names of the perpetrators, Islam has little to do with these crimes. The real problem instead lies with cultural taboos and a hesitance by traditional communities to engage with such sensitive topics, which is readily exploited by criminal groups. The result of this continued silence is more victims of abuse and further hostility toward the majority of law abiding Muslims.