Ahmadi women seek leadership's explanation on rapes, ask tough questions
In the wake of several allegations of rape and sexual assault at the highest tiers of the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, as many as 136 members of the community, the majority of them women, have sent an open letter to their global head, raising concerns over the Jamaat’s handling of cases being reported.
The cases went public last December when Nida Ul Nasser, 36, the grand-daughter of both the third and the fourth Ahmadi leaders, revealed a long history of alleged sexual abuse by her father and close family members of the incumbent global leader of the community, who was recorded as telling her to produce four witnesses to prove rape or stay silent, otherwise the Jamaat’s system would take its course to deal with her.
Although some of the signatories of the open letter are ex-Ahmadis, this letter is the first of its kind as no culture of questioning policies of the Jamaat has existed to date. The Jamaat office bearers closely monitor members on social media and issuing warnings to those liking, tweeting, retweeting, or quoting tweets of sex abuse survivors, including Nida and Dr Afzal Upal or those endorsing hashtags such as #AhmadiMeToo or #JusticeForNida.
A copy of the five-page letter started floating around on social media and particularly in WhatsApp groups Monday when the initiator informed all signatories that it had been sent electronically to the community head’s office in the UK, and national executive bodies of the Jamaat in the US and Canada.
A US-based female Ahmadi initiated the move, drafted the letter and put it on a forum on Reddit on December 26 with a deadline for people to sign it by January 10. Only Ahmadis could access this letter by putting information about their affiliation with the Jamaat. In the introductory post on Reddit, the initiator said, “While I hope that Nida gets the justice she deserves, this open letter calls on Jamaat leadership to address issues of rape and sexual abuse more broadly. As the letter states, only registered Ahmadis are permitted to sign the letter in order to protect our members who reside in countries where Ahmadis are persecuted.”
The signatories of the letter, out of whom 91 are women, belong to different cities in the US, the UK, Canada, Pakistan, Germany, Mauritius, and Scotland.
The letter says, “We believe that (the) recorded conversation has revealed important considerations that extend far beyond this individual incident.” Our concerns represent our desire to understand the community’s official interpretation to facilitate allegations of sexual abuse – a universal topic of concern, the letter said. We ask the central administration of the Ahmadiyya community to provide answers to the questions like:
i – Do rape survivors have to submit a requisite amount or type of evidence (e.g. four witnesses) to bring forth a rape allegation?
ii – Does this standard differ for other types of sexual abuse claims like child molestation?
iii – Are such allegations time-barred?
iv – What protection, if any, does community leadership believe is providing to minors who engage in community programming and events?
v – Are there any preventive measures taken in situations where adults have access to minors, such as screening and training?
vi – Are there any examples of how community leadership reacted to reported instances of sexual abuse to minors?
vii – Are there any internal community policies or safeguards on sexual abuse conduct that run parallel to the criminal justice system?
viii – Are there any protocols on handling such allegations outside of reporting to local law enforcement? If yes, do these policies apply differently if the suspected abuser is an office holder?
The draft of the letter expect answers to all these questions through a statement published on an official community website such as alislam.org; an email from national community presidents; and in a Friday sermon by Mirza Masroor Ahmed, the community head.
The Reddit post so far has 40 comments most of them expressing fear of consequences if they sign the letter. One comment read, “I would never sign that letter because once they find out who you are, I would dread to think how you would be treated. I feel that the Jamaat has never made anybody feel as though they have a voice. One rule fits all whether you like it or not.” Another comment said, “People are too scared to sign it. The problem with women rights in our jamaat is deeply rooted and embedded in our system.” A comment says, “Qaza (Jamaat’s internal court system) was a nightmare for domestic abuse victims. A Lajna lawyer tried to get misogynistic 'qazis' to ensure the women get their rights but she wasn’t very successful. Men in our Jamaat have a hard time listening to women about anything, especially women rights. Lots of times women went to the community head and typically nothing was done. Of the women I know personally, they ended up going to courts to get their rights. But many were in homeless shelters with no support from qaza.”
Another comment said, “I want to organize a protest outside Bait ul Islam mosque in peace village (Jamaat’s Canada headquarter). Anyone who wants to join me from the GTA, please inbox me.”
Another comment said, “I signed it. Come what may. The worst of they can do is kick me out for asking questions. I don't want to be a part of a system that can't withstand constructive criticism.”
The writer is based in Canada. He can be reached @RanaTanver