Within the spring of 2017, 29-year-old N.M.’s life was unraveling.
Her mother and father’ nasty breakup had left her and her mom homeless, forcing them to go away London and crash with a relative in northwest England. The transfer value her the job she liked at an Islamic faculty. Broke and adrift in a brand new metropolis, she was determined for a religious increase.
That’s when she heard about Dropping My Faith, a close-by convention the place a few of Islam’s hottest audio system would talk about huge political and spiritual points affecting Muslims. She was particularly desperate to see one headliner: Nouman Ali Khan, the Texas-based famous person preacher who’s earned tens of millions of followers — and amassed a fortune — via his plainspoken Qur’an classes aimed toward millennials. Unofficial recordings of his lectures, corresponding to one about materials wealth titled “I really feel sorry for Justin Bieber,” break the half-million mark for views.
On the convention in April, N.M. and some different girls approached Khan with questions on Qur’an interpretation. He shortly zeroed in on her, she recalled, and requested about her private life and her work as an Islamic instructor. She was thrilled when he supplied to share a coveted syllabus from his suburban Dallas-based institute, Bayyinah, by far essentially the most profitable of a handful of for-profit Islamic studying facilities in america.
“For years, I’ve listened to him,” N.M. mentioned, referring to Khan’s lectures on YouTube. “He was a really, very pious individual, and I already sort of trusted him, I suppose.”
N.M. left the convention buoyed by Khan’s encouraging phrases. They saved in contact by way of textual content. Later, when he realized N.M. was unemployed and coping with household turmoil, he supplied her a job working from England for Bayyinah. Lastly, she thought, her life was on the upswing.
“He’d say, ‘Name me anytime, I’m right here,’” N.M. mentioned. “I appeared to him as a father determine, a instructor. Then the texts obtained an increasing number of frequent.”
The findings depict a person who used his status to groom feminine followers for “secret sham marriages.”
Because the tone of his contact modified, N.M. mentioned, she began to listen to “alarm bells.” At first, she dismissed the concept he is likely to be desirous about romance — it was well-known that 39-year-old Khan had a spouse and 7 kids. However then he confided that he was going via a divorce and floated the thought of marriage, N.M. mentioned. Startled, she informed him she’d take into account the proposal. Privately, although, she had considerations that solely deepened when he began sending her sexually suggestive texts and shirtless selfies, surprising conduct for a preacher who’s discouraged single women and men from even shaking fingers.
By that point, N.M. mentioned, she and her kin now not felt flattered by the movie star’s consideration. As an alternative, they had been suspicious, and commenced to make calls to america to determine: Who, actually, is Nouman Ali Khan?
Their digging would assist flip a quiet investigation into the largest scandal to hit the nationwide US Muslim management in years: a story of secret marriages, hush cash, and threats. Months earlier than N.M. met Khan, 4 Muslim clerics already had begun wanting into reviews about his conduct with girls and had found that Khan’s personal life didn’t match the moralizing he does on the lecture circuit.
A written abstract of the clerics’ findings, which was obtained by BuzzFeed Information and hasn’t been beforehand disclosed, depicts a person who used his status to groom feminine followers for “secret sham marriages,” basically sexual relationships that don’t have any US authorized standing and solely doubtful spiritual cowl. The panel, which included a few of Khan’s longtime buddies and colleagues, discovered that Khan “lies and manipulates” girls as he courts them for such undercover unions. Some culminated in intercourse; others, just like the one he pursued with N.M., didn’t. Khan remains to be legally married to the mom of his seven kids, two associates of his spouse mentioned, although the couple is in divorce proceedings.
“He has urged them to lie to at least one one other when he’s discovered. When he tires of them, he divorces them,” the clerics’ abstract states. “At any step alongside the way in which, in the event that they name him out on his manipulation, he apologizes and makes an attempt to purchase their silence or threatens them.” Included within the clerics’ report was a screenshot of an almost $7,000 financial institution switch from Khan to N.M., which she described as hush cash. N.M. spoke given that solely her initials be used, to guard her household’s privateness.
“In the event that they name him out on his manipulation, he apologizes and makes an attempt to purchase their silence or threatens them.”
A broad define of the claims towards Khan was made public in a mediator’s Fb put up in September, simply 10 days earlier than reviews about Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein triggered the #MeToo explosion and revealed the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct, from off-color feedback to rape. Within the weeks since, nevertheless, Muslim girls’s voices have been largely lacking from the cascade of tales about highly effective males crossing boundaries, and the Khan scandal helps clarify why.
For any faith, acknowledging leaders’ flaws is painful; the Catholic Church, for instance, remains to be wrestling with its historical past of defending abusive monks. For US Muslims, that defensiveness is compounded by many different elements that contribute to a tradition of silence on the subject of addressing misconduct claims.
For starters, Islam frowns upon publicizing the sins of others, with delicate issues usually dealt with quietly to guard all concerned. The concept of harmless till confirmed responsible is enshrined in Islamic legislation, with an particularly excessive burden of proof for illicit intercourse.
In conservative circles the place status is staked to girls’s chastity, girls are afraid to talk up for worry of wounding marriage possibilities or shaming their households. And in the event that they do converse up, their claims are typically shrugged off as a result of what is likely to be taboo to them — corresponding to holding fingers or being requested for a photograph with their hair uncovered — pales as compared with the tales of ladies getting groped and attacked. And if the controversial situation of secret marriages is added to the combo, there’s even much less incentive to return ahead.
Muslim neighborhood figures who’re requested to look into misconduct claims lack the coaching and assets to do an intensive job, in keeping with advocacy teams finding out the problem. Plus, there’s a monetary danger in calling out well-known figures who’re very important to fundraising, to not point out the social fallout within the clubby world of nationwide Islamic activism. The few Muslim leaders who’ve dared to criticize Khan on social media have been hit with a vicious backlash from his followers.
On prime of all that, there’s the grim political backdrop, with many Muslims against “airing soiled laundry” at a time of rampant hostility towards Islam.
“The truth is, in most Muslim establishments, there may be so little oversight of the spiritual management,” mentioned Ingrid Mattson, an Islamic research professor and former president of the Islamic Society of North America who was a part of an inquiry into Khan’s conduct. “There’s no simply accessible mechanism for reporting violations.”
Suffice it to say there’s little to realize in coming ahead, particularly to reveal a determine as well-known as Khan. Nonetheless, N.M. agreed to talk publicly for the primary time, in a collection of interviews this month with BuzzFeed Information, to supply a cautionary story in regards to the risks of failing to carry spiritual figures accountable. She’s alarmed that Khan is already easing again into public talking with little outcry from the US Muslim management, which she says sends a chilling message to any lady grappling with whether or not to report inappropriate conduct.
“I don’t need anybody slipping into the identical entice as me,” N.M. mentioned. “The rock-star Islamic audio system have entry to so many ladies and in the event that they’re corrupt, that’s a serious hazard for lots of ladies.”
BuzzFeed Information has reviewed textual content messages, emails, financial institution transfers, and different supplies that assist N.M.’s claims. And BuzzFeed Information acquired additional affirmation from three different folks with direct information of the occasions who requested anonymity due to Khan’s repeated threats of lawsuits towards his detractors.
Individually, BuzzFeed Information interviewed a second lady who alerted neighborhood leaders to unwelcome advances from Khan and contributed to their report; the lady didn’t wish to be named or to talk at size about her expertise. The clerics’ fact-finding doc mentions at the very least 4 different girls who’ve reported inappropriate conduct by Khan, together with one who was in a secret marriage with him for 2 years.
As a result of no legal offense is alleged, there’s a lot hand-wringing about learn how to body the Khan scandal: Is it abuse of energy? Is it sexual misconduct?
Khan’s lawyer didn’t reply to allegations detailed to him by BuzzFeed Information by deadline. Khan hasn’t disputed the veracity of the photographs and textual content threads that had been leaked however has mentioned on Fb that the claims are a mixture of lies and distortions about “communications” between consenting adults after he divorced his spouse. (Khan filed for divorce in March, in keeping with court docket information.)
As a result of no legal offense is alleged, there’s a lot hand-wringing about learn how to body the Khan scandal: Is it abuse of energy? Is it sexual misconduct? Is it each? Neither?
N.M. mentioned she has no qualms about including Khan to the rising listing of influential males who’ve mistreated or manipulated girls from their positions of authority. In actual fact, she’s let Khan know precisely what she thinks of him, in keeping with one of many final textual content messages she despatched him earlier than chopping off contact.
“Fascinating how your favourite film is predator,” she informed him.
Rumors had swirled for greater than a 12 months, however the first huge public signal of hassle in Khan’s world was his absence from this 12 months’s Islamic Circle of North America conference, an annual gathering of 1000’s of Muslims that occurred over Easter weekend in Baltimore.
Khan, all the time a marquee speaker on the conference, was a no-show, leaving the viewers to take a position about why he was lacking. In a web-based essay revealed after the misconduct claims went viral, attendee Humera Gul recalled unhappy followers asking each other, “What occurred?”
“Everyone knows precisely what occurred,” she wrote.
On the time, nevertheless, just a few Muslim leaders throughout the nation had been conscious that Khan had agreed to a personal, negotiated settlement to retreat from the limelight. That was as a result of the panel of 4 clerics had discovered that Khan repeatedly had abused his affect by approaching his admirers about marriage, mendacity to them about his marital standing, and “manipulating” them into protecting the relationships quiet. For Sunni Muslims, marriage requires witnesses, and any union that’s shrouded in secrecy or understood to be short-term is strongly discouraged, if not prohibited, relying on spiritual interpretation.
The settlement, which Khan has acknowledged in a Fb put up, referred to as for him to stop contact with the ladies, get counseling, and cease giving public lectures. He was permitted to publish or air beforehand recorded talks, aside from these on “marriage or gender issues.” In alternate, the clerics weren’t to go public about Khan’s conduct and to solely discreetly alert different leaders in order that they’d cease inviting him to talk.
“If there may be proof that your conduct is prohibited or detrimental to the neighborhood or society, you may be outed.”
For some time it appeared as if the key could be contained, however then the clerics realized that Khan had resumed giving speeches and approaching girls. After they confronted him, Khan had his legal professional ship letters to the mediators threatening lawsuits. BuzzFeed Information obtained a duplicate of the letter the clerics acquired.
Khan’s reneging, coupled with the brand new claims introduced up by N.M., led to the saga going public with a bombshell Fb put up Sept. 24 by Omer Mozaffar, one of many clerics who acquired the letter and who’s mediated in different high-profile Muslim scandals. Mozaffar wrote that Khan “confessed inappropriate interactions with varied girls,” lied about them, and threatened lawsuits to cease folks from exposing him.
“The failures of 1 preacher doesn’t imply that all the Custom is suspect,” Mozaffar wrote. “However each preacher, scholar, and activist ought to know that if there may be proof that your conduct is prohibited or detrimental to the neighborhood or society, you may be outed.”
Understanding what a blow this was to the Khan model requires understanding his place within the pantheon of “movie star preachers,” not a brand new phenomenon however one which’s taken off in recent times on social media. Khan’s popular culture–laced sermons and his personal previous — a lapsed Muslim who rediscovered Islam in school — made him an enormous hit with younger Muslims struggling to reconcile their religion with their secular environment.
Khan’s English-language Fb web page boasts greater than 2 million followers; tens of 1000’s extra subscribe to his pages in Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, and different languages. He has greater than 280,000 Twitter followers and greater than 400,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel.
Khan guess accurately that there was a marketplace for Muslims who needed a deeper understanding of Islam with out counting on conventional clerics. Launched in 2005 with Khan as founder and CEO, Bayyinah is believed to be the primary within the US to show Qur’an examine right into a for-profit enterprise — a controversial method. Greater than a decade later, the institute has expanded to incorporate Bayyinah TV, a web-based streaming portal that’s billed because the Netflix of Qur’an lectures, with cell apps for Apple and Android. There’s additionally a nonprofit arm, Bayyinah Basis.
The jewel of Khan’s empire is Bayyinah Dream, a rigorous Qur’an examine program housed in a sprawling new campus that was constructed with tens of millions of from a fundraising marketing campaign.
Some purists sniff at Khan’s credentials, noting his lack of formal examine, in addition to his deal with the Qur’an to the exclusion of different vital texts. Khan is all the time cautious to emphasize that he’s only a preacher, not a scholar, an everyday man who obtained misplaced and located his method again to Islam.
“Bayyinah,” Khan mentioned in an introductory video, “is about individuals who felt like they wish to join with the Qur’an, however they don’t even know the place to start.”
Bayyinah’s attain has catapulted Khan to the highest echelon of Muslim preachers worldwide. Khan has mentioned he receives greater than 1,000 emails a day. The feedback sections of his movies are stuffed with folks asking him to wish for his or her kin, go to their mosques, and settle their family disputes. He’s been candid about how overwhelming the adoration will be, and never simply due to the nonstop requests for selfies.
“He was only a common perv sort of flirt.”
“Instantly, there are folks leaping over one another after a lecture to shake my hand, take an image, or inform me how I’ve modified their life,” Khan wrote in a 2014 essay. “It’s nearly an out-of-body expertise and, fairly truthfully, more often than not I really feel like they’re speaking about another person.”
For a man who was keenly conscious of all he needed to lose, Khan appeared to have acted recklessly at instances, brazenly bragging in textual content messages about giving hush cash to a jilted lady and revealing plans to dump a secret spouse simply as quickly as he’d scrubbed incriminating data from her cellular phone, in keeping with screenshots included as supporting materials within the clerics’ report.
The story that emerges from the report is that this: A pair years in the past, the legally married Khan “married” his secretary in secret, promising her a public ceremony when his divorce was last. When the secretary realized of different girls in his life and confronted him, Khan agreed to announce their union to a wider circle in Dallas. Two days after fulfilling his secretary’s dream of going public, he dumped her. N.M. mentioned Khan boasted of leaving the lady “on the ground howling like a toddler.”
On the time, in keeping with the clerics report, Khan was courting at the very least two different girls with comparable guarantees of marriage, amongst them N.M., who mentioned he lied to her and her household about his marital standing. They solely found the existence of a secret spouse — the secretary — via an opportunity mutual connection.
One other former Khan fan informed BuzzFeed Information that Khan introduced up marriage in a telephone name along with her across the identical time.
She answered questions by way of e-mail given that her title be withheld to guard her household’s privateness. The girl mentioned Khan gave her only a week to reply to his proposal and in that interval “started to pester me with annoying messages,” together with suggestive texts that she felt crossed a line. The messages may sound benign in non-Muslim circles, however requests to spend unchaperoned time collectively are out of bounds of their conservative, observant milieu.
“He was only a common perv sort of flirt,” she recalled. She declined his marriage proposal earlier than the week was up and later shared her story with clerics wanting into Khan’s conduct. Two folks with direct information of the inquiry confirmed the lady’s account.
The report additionally describes how Khan would attempt to maintain his accusers silent.
By means of all of this drama runs the ache of Khan’s authorized spouse of greater than 15 years, who was lied to repeatedly when she requested whether or not Khan was courting different girls, in keeping with the clerics’ report. Khan’s spouse couldn’t be reached for remark. Khan’s mother-in-law has posted (and eliminated) scathing Fb rants about her daughter’s struggling by the hands of the person she’s referred to as “Nouman Ugly Khan.” The report describes how Khan satisfied his spouse to cease divorce proceedings and “as soon as she signed, he started shifting belongings round with out her information.”
These belongings, in keeping with the report, included a million-dollar Bayyinah constructing. He transferred possession of it to a nonprofit “that might shield it from the outcomes of the divorce proceedings.” Former Bayyinah workers informed the panel they seen a flurry of asset transfers in that interval “that made them uneasy.” Two weeks later, Khan divorced his spouse in accordance with Islamic, if not Texas, legislation.
The report additionally describes how Khan would attempt to maintain his accusers silent. For instance, N.M., the lady in England, acquired £5,000 (practically $7,000) in what she referred to as “hush cash,” although she by no means agreed to maintain quiet. She didn’t really feel proper accepting the money, she mentioned, so she donated it to the mosque of a British imam who’d supported her through the ordeal. He returned it to her, she mentioned, saying there was no moral downside in accepting the cash. N.M. mentioned she put it towards getting her and her mother again into a spot of their very own, however it nonetheless unsettles her that Khan tried to purchase her off.
“It was no secret to him or me,” N.M. mentioned, that he was making an attempt “to maintain my mouth shut.”
As US Muslim leaders waffled over learn how to deal with the claims towards Khan going public, a few of his distinguished buddies moved swiftly to launch a protection. A petition condemning the slander of Khan attracted greater than 2,500 signatures. Throughout social media, Khan’s colleagues and followers discovered excuse after excuse to dismiss the claims. Fangirls throw themselves at him — he’s solely human to reply. It’s the lady’s fault for consenting to a secret marriage. That is simply a part of the liberal feminist agenda to assault Islam.
Because the tales unfold, six celebrated Muslim clerics and lecturers determined to conduct their very own inquiry into the allegations. They interviewed a few of the identical girls the clerics spoke to, reviewed textual content exchanges, and talked to Khan. This second panel wrote a joint assertion affirming that Khan “has engaged in conduct unbecoming of any believer, a lot much less somebody who teaches in regards to the Holy Qur’an.”
“We unequivocally acknowledge and assist survivors of abuse who are sometimes silenced in our communities.”
Khan realized of the looming assertion and lobbied arduous to stop its launch, “begging” and cajoling the students, in keeping with interviews with two folks with firsthand information of the occasions. He made a direct enchantment to Mohamed Magid, the nationally recognized imam who led the hassle.
It didn’t work. Later that day, the students posted their assertion on-line, which included the primary full-throated protection of the ladies by high-profile neighborhood leaders.
“We unequivocally acknowledge and assist survivors of abuse who are sometimes silenced in our communities,” the students wrote. N.M. mentioned she learn these phrases in England and immediately felt a wave of reduction wash over her.
Not lengthy after the assertion was launched, Magid obtained a message from Khan asking him to name a quantity he didn’t acknowledge. The imam dialed. Khan’s legal professional answered.
Solely a handful of circumstances involving misconduct by Muslim spiritual figures have made it into the general public eye. People who do usually contain a legal offense, permitting neighborhood leaders to show the thankless investigative job over to authorities. That’s the case with the UK-based megastar scholar Tariq Ramadan, who was accused of rape in France only a month after the Khan allegations, and has since denied the allegations as a “marketing campaign of slander.”
A number of different circumstances are brewing on the native degree, anticipated to realize little or no visibility except legal fees are launched, mentioned Muslim activists who’re a part of a nascent motion to deliver extra consideration to sexual, monetary, and different misconduct by spiritual figures. The issue is: What to do with allegations that fall in need of legal offenses?
That’s the query advocates corresponding to Danish Qasim wrestle with as they hearken to sobbing girls confide their tales. In June, Qasim based In Shaykh’s Clothes, a part of a wave of recent US Muslim efforts to deal with “religious abuse,” a catchall time period for misconduct beneath the guise of faith, together with bullying volunteers, stealing from donations, and propositioning followers.
“They’re not raging for justice or something – they’re heartbroken. Dad and mom don’t consider them. Households don’t consider them.”
Qasim mentioned the silence of nationwide Muslim leaders who aren’t concerned within the Khan case isn’t essentially a foul factor; the neighborhood doesn’t want “mob mentality in lieu of reality.” Nonetheless, Qasim mentioned, he hopes such circumstances will spark an extended overdue dialog amongst US Muslims about enhancing the way in which communities cope with transgressions. If the problem isn’t handled with urgency, he warned, cynicism can set in and push folks away from the religion.
Previously three years, Qasim mentioned, he’s acquired greater than 20 reviews involving secret marriages and sexual misconduct. A lot of the accused males are well-known figures of their communities, he mentioned, which suggests In Shaykh’s Clothes workers can hearken to the ladies, study proof, and join them to therapists, however choices for motion are restricted due to the extent of discretion that’s normally concerned.
Many Muslim girls merely gained’t come ahead as a result of they know they’ll face a backlash. One lady, Qasim mentioned, hid her id and created a secret Skype account in an effort to report her abuse. Some write anonymously to share the names of non secular figures who mistreated them, hoping to spare different girls what they’ve skilled. Others disguise the names of their abusers; simply having the ability to inform somebody what occurred to them is sufficient.
“They’re not raging for justice or something — they’re heartbroken,” Qasim mentioned. “They’re eager to know they’re not going to hell for this, consider it or not. Dad and mom don’t consider them. Households don’t consider them. Households have been ruined.”
N.M., Khan’s accuser in England, is regularly placing her life again collectively after her expertise with Khan strained household relations and plunged her into melancholy. Since her tough patch within the spring, she’s moved again to London and is once more instructing at an Islamic faculty. She’s undergone counseling organized by FACE, which stands for Dealing with Abuse in Neighborhood Environments, one other new Muslim effort to deal with the problem.
N.M. mentioned the quiet assist she’s acquired disproves the concept Muslim girls gained’t discover allies in the event that they converse up. It’s not simple, she mentioned, however “there are individuals who care about justice, who care about defending the susceptible.”
“Even when it was a number of, it was reassuring, and it did restore my religion within the male clergy,” she mentioned. “And even when nobody had stood up, that also wouldn’t have shaken my religion as a result of I perceive that there’s all the time going to be corrupt preachers. Simply because they’re preachers doesn’t imply they’re saints.” ●
Hannah Allam is a reporter for BuzzFeed Information and is predicated in Washington, DC.
Contact Hannah Allam at [email protected]
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