Khan: It’s critical to ask why, even today, some Canadian Muslim organizations have no female leaders

Another good column and series of questions by Sheema Khan:

Since its inception in 1966, the BC Muslim Association, which calls itself “the largest Muslim organization in the province representing Sunni Muslims,” has never had a woman on its executive council. The women are relegated to a “Women’s Council,” which is subordinate to the executive. The original BCMA constitution explicitly banned women from serving on the executive council. While that wording has since been removed, in practise little has changed, and female voices haven’t been given a chance to shape the governance and future of the organization.

There is no theological basis for this arrangement at the organization, which was founded by immigrants from South Asia and Fiji and holds $41-million in assets. Apparently, the (male) powers-that-be see no contradiction with this discriminatory practice and the BCMA’s stated aim of “building a healthy congregation.”

Unhappiness with this approach came to a head last summer, when the BCMA excluded women from all prayer spaces throughout the province, as it partly reopened mosques in the wake of COVID-19. Priority had been given to men.

And then came the bombshell in December, when the CBC broke the story of BCMA imam Abdur Rehman Khan, who was convicted for a 2016 sexual assault against a woman he knew through his role in the community. He was sentenced to three years in prison and placed on the registered sex offender list for 20 years. The imam was released on bail after being charged in 2017. He was later convicted at trial in January, 2020, released pending sentencing, and imprisoned in August, 2020. During this four-year period, he continued to serve as an imam of the BCMA’s Masjid-Ur-Rahmah mosque in Surrey – leading prayers, working with youth, engaging interfaith communities and officiating marriages. Last August, he resigned for “personal matters” – he was going to prison – which the BCMA said it accepted, without any inquiry or follow-up.

The BCMA says Mr. Khan passed a police background check when hired, and that the organization had not been made aware of the allegations and conviction, although some community members say they knew of the situation. If you look at BCMA’s online platforms, you would never know that one of its imams had been imprisoned for sexual assault just a few months ago. No statement whatsoever – no pledge to do better, no commitment to protect female congregants, no calls for other victims to come forward. It’s as if the crime never happened.

Congregants, on the other hand, were furious, demanding answers that never came. Activist and student Sumaiya Tufail organized a community drive-by protest in solidarity with the survivor, demanding transparency from the BCMA, protection of vulnerable congregants and an end to the all-male executive council. A special vote held in February to do away with the archaic setup that keeps the women’s role subordinate to the men’s failed by a substantial margin. The BCMA says that the current executive board anticipates that with increased awareness and engagement, the motion will pass successfully in the near future.

There should be consequences for keeping such draconian policies in place. Sunni Muslims in B.C. should make it clear that the BCMA does not represent them. Congregants should cease donating to the BCMA and instead support institutions that are more inclusive of women and more transparent. In 2019, the BCMA received $3.6-million in donations, accounting for almost half its revenue. Taking a cue from Lieutenant-Colonel Eleanor Taylor, who quit the Canadian Armed Forces in disgust after reports of alleged sexual misconduct, the BCMA’s Women’s Council should resign en masse in protest.

Schools, community associations, NGOs and interfaith groups can engage with Muslim organizations other than the BCMA. Pose tough questions – it’s not Islamophobic to ask why a Canadian Muslim charity doesn’t have any women serving on its executive council. While it may be common elsewhere, this should have no place in Canada.

Roughly 66 per cent of all Muslim charitable organizations registered with Canada Revenue Agency have an all-male board, with Quebec as the worst at 82 per cent. The BCMA, the Islamic Foundation of TorontoMasjid al-Hidayah(Port Coquitlam) and Baitul Mukarram Islamic Society (Toronto) have each had an employee charged or convicted of sexual assault; all have been governed exclusively by men between 2014 and 2018.

All of these incidents would remain hidden if it were not for courageous survivors, who not only endure the trauma of the original abuse, but face shame, blame and accusations of “making the community look bad.” They need compassion and our full support to heal. For too long, the reputation of abusive “leaders” has trumped justice for victims, leaving a trail of human wreckage. Activists working with survivors are all too aware of the tragic outcomes of Muslims abused by imams, preachers and teachers over recent decades. With their pain never addressed, many have struggled with mental-health issues, addictions, dysfunction in relationships and in some cases have even committed suicide.

This has to stop. We need real leaders – both women and men – who will address this serious issue head-on. Leaders who will make paramount the welfare of the vulnerable; who will educate communities about the trauma induced by abuse; and collaborate with agencies to help survivors with sensitivity and due care. Leaders who will hold abusers to account and live by the Islamic principle of standing up for justice – no matter who the perpetrator.

Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.


Surrey imam who misrepresented himself to immigration officials jailed for sexual assault

Of note, particularly how the British Columbia Muslim Association mishandled the complaint and the community’s shunning of the complainant:

The emotional wounds from a sexual assault at the hands of a Lower Mainland imam four years ago continue to affect the daily life of his victim, who says if immigration officials and the B.C. Muslim Association had intervened sooner, the attack may never have happened.

The woman, whose identity is protected by a B.C. Supreme Court order, says she has received no community support for her turmoil and is being shamed as a victim.

“When people see me, they think I am not good woman,” she said. “I got with priest and put him in the jail.”

Pakistani national, 46-year-old Abdur Rehman Khan, is serving a three-year sentence on one count of sexual assault and will remain a registered sex offender for 20 years.

In 2017 he was convicted for assaulting the woman who he came to know through his work in the Muslim community in Surrey.

His story shows the lengths he went to in misleading immigration officials to stay in Canada and the lack of intervention provided by the B.C. Muslim Association, which described his criminal case as a “personal matter.”

The assault happened in July 2016, three months after he had been ordered to leave the country.

‘Nobody support me’

His victim is outraged that Khan continued as an imam at Masjid-Ur-Rahmah after he was charged and granted bail, as well as after he was convicted and awaiting sentence.

She also doesn’t understand how he was able to avoid discovery by immigration officials for years.

She, in the meantime, has had to give up her job and many activities to avoid being ostracized by some people in the Lower Mainland’s Muslim community.”Nobody support me,” said the woman who has no family in the country.

Multiple names and attempts to immigrate

Abdur Rehman Khan’s attempts to live in Canada span almost three decades.

In 1993, he was included as a dependent in an application by his brother Mohammad Tayyab to sponsor their mother to Canada but when Khan’s application for permanent residency was denied, he appealed but didn’t wait for a decision.

During the appeal process, Khan successfully obtained a visitor visa under the name Abdul Rehman and once in Canada, in February 1999, he made a refugee claim under the name Ibuhuraira Khan.

The claim was refused in October 2000. One month later, Khan tried again to stay here through the sponsorship of a wife. At an immigration hearing, Khan conceded the marriage was not genuine and solely for immigration purposes.In September 2001, he was deported from Canada, under the name Ibuhuraira Khan.

It was only after he’d been removed from Canada that in 2003 he was actually accepted for permanent residency to Canada under the original 1993 application.

Misled officials

Upon his arrival, in Vancouver, in April 2003, as Abdur Rehman Khan, he was asked by immigration officials if he had ever been “convicted of a crime or offence, refused admission to Canada or required to leave Canada.”

Khan said no according to transcripts of his immigration hearings.

Officials did not know he’d been to Canada before, used other names, had travel documents in those names, nor that he’d made a previous refugee claim and had been deported.

In 2014, Khan’s past caught up with him when the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) received word that the information he had provided officers was false.In June of that year when asked directly if he’d ever used any other names, including nicknames, he stated “no.” When asked whether he knew the name Ibuhuraira Khan, he said “no.”

In April 2016, the Immigration and Refugee Board issued an exclusion order against Khan but he appealed the order on the basis of humanitarian and compassionate considerations.

A year later, in April 2017, the Immigration Appeal Division dismissed his appeal and at that point it was up to the CBSA to execute his removal order.

Two months later, though, when Khan was arrested and charged with sexual assault the removal process was stalled.

‘Personal matter’

Khan was granted bail on July 6, 2017 and once released, he returned to his position as imam at the mosque Masjid-Ur-Rahmah where he continued to lead prayers, inter-faith meetings, teach youth and officiate at marriages and funerals.

After his trial and conviction in January 2020, he again went back to work until August when he was sentenced to three years in prison.

BCMA president Iftab Sahib says Khan submitted a resignation letter in August 2020.

The association, however, considered Khan’s reasons for quitting as his “personal matter,” he said and asked no questions.

Sahib declined to be interviewed further about why Khan was allowed to stay on the job after he was charged and convicted.

In an email, BCMA spokesperson Tariq Tayyab said, “at no time was BCMA made aware of the serious allegations and criminal charges brought against the individual.”

His employment with the BCMA ended in August of this year and Tayyab directed any other inquiries to the association’s lawyer.A member of the BCMA Women’s Council also reneged on an interview after initially saying it was important to address the issue and to ensure the community knew what had transpired.

Multiple marriages

Khan’s subterfuge with immigration officials also involved multiple marriages aimed at achieving residency in Canada.

The woman Khan married in the fall of 2000 was the divorced spouse of his brother Mohammad Tayyab. The marriage ended when it failed to secure Khan permanent residency in Canada.

The woman later re-united with Tayyab.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Khan already had a wife and five children which he never disclosed to immigration officials. At his August 2020 sexual assault sentencing, in B.C. Supreme Court, the judge acknowledged Khan visited his overseas family every other year until 2016. The oldest of those children now lives in B.C.

According to Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) documents, it’s unlikely he ever divorced his wife in Pakistan. As well, he remains married under a different name to his brother’s wife.The IAD also says Khan married and separated a third time, in 2014, in B.C., representing himself as single when he got that marriage certificate.

CBC News has learned that in spring of 2016, Khan married again in the midst of his latest Immigration and Refugee Board removal hearing.

The woman was a Canadian citizen living in B.C. The marriage lasted only a matter of months.

Victim shaming

Other people from the province’s Muslim community say the web of lies and deceits and ultimately Khan’s crime of sexual assault should be better addressed.

Yahya Momla, an imam from Masjid-Al-Salaam, in Burnaby, has often spoken out about victims who come forward with their trauma and are further marginalized.

“It would be untruthful to say victim shaming doesn’t happen in certain communities,” he said. “Why this happens? Partly it is a misconstrued sense of honour.”Momla says some people feel they must not speak openly about victims of domestic or sexual abuse happening in relationships. That attitude though, he says, is not faith-based.

His message to the Muslim community is that victims should never be blamed, but provided with support.

‘Open your eyes’

Khan’s victim says as long she continues to be shunned the matter will never be over.

Her message to the community is to, “open your eyes. Don’t look down on [victims] even if [the attacker] is a priest.”

Vancouver Immigration consultant Divya Bakshi Arya says in cases like this one, removal orders are not acted upon until the person has served their sentence.

At that time though Khan could apply to federal court to have his removal order stayed and that could spin into months or years of additional hearings.

His victim says she is afraid of him still living in the Lower Mainland if he is not sent back to Pakistan

Source: Surrey imam who misrepresented himself to immigration officials jailed for sexual assault