When “holy men” become sinful predators

Published: October 19, 2018
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The man in the video has been identified as Anwarul Haq, a resident of the Jhang District in Pakistan.

Growing up in South Asia, we are taught about our religion from a very young age. Be it Islam, Hinduism or Christianity, we are all instructed to do right by our religion by abstaining from evil and taking the path of righteousness, as intended for us by God. Children are made to understand the significance of religion, for it is through religion that parents teach kids about the difference between right and wrong, and good and evil.

Of course, children are naïve. They genuinely believe that because their religion is pure, then surely the ones teaching it to them must be pure as well. But more often than not, parents are naïve as well, as they make the same erroneous assumption and leave their young children with ‘holy men’ so they can learn more about their religion. While some children do end up gaining more religious knowledge, others silently fall prey to the most gruesome beasts disguised as godly men.

A video recently being circulated on social media shows such a beast with a little girl who unwittingly got caught in his claws. This ‘holy man’ had the audacity to set up a camera to capture the heinous crime he was to commit before he started inappropriately touching the young girl. The face of the child is blurred, yet her constant struggle to cover herself and get away from the older man’s powerful hold is clearly visible.

The man in the video has been identified as Anwarul Haq, a resident of the Jhang District in Pakistan, and he is what we call a qaari sahab, meant to teach the Holy Quran at mosques and to little children. Instead of teaching the holy book, this ‘teacher’ is caught violating the very child he is supposed to instruct. Does this bearded, godly man not know that children are considered blessings in Islam?

Furthermore, in our society, it is considered taboo to speak ill or even raise a finger against a ‘holy man’, irrespective of whether he’s a priest, a pandit or a maulvi. Clerics are given a high regard in our society and are thus trusted blindly, which is why when one of them commits a heinous act, we choose to remain silent about it. We are afraid of how our society will react if we raise our voice against people who are considered to be the flag bearers of religion. Our small minds are unable to comprehend that even someone who teaches religion and has a beard and prays five times a day can commit horrific crimes, and that too by preying on our children. There are good people in this world and there are bad people, but being a religious teacher does not necessarily make you part of the former.

This is not the first time a ‘holy man’ has forced himself on a minor or anyone. It has been widely reported that minors are sexually abused in madrassas situated across the country. Research conducted by Sahil highlighted that over the past 10 years, 359 cases of sexual abuse were reported against clerics or religious officials. But it must be acknowledged that this is the tip of the iceberg, as a majority of such incidents go unreported.

This issue is not confined to Pakistan; cases of child sexual abuse by religious officials have been reported throughout the world. In the Christian Church alone, a massive revelation has uncovered the sheer scale of sexual abuse covered up by high ranking officials. Philip Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, resigned earlier this year after being found guilty of concealing the abuse of young boys in the 70s by a paedophile priest. In September, a research team uncovered evidence of at least 3,677 cases of physical and sexual abuse by the clergy in the German Catholic Church over seven decades. A report also identified 300 “predator priests” who had sexually abused over 1,000 children in Pennsylvania and then systematically covered it up. Similarly, when cases of child abuse were reported against pandits in Tamil Nadu, the journalists were threatened for exposing the truth.

While sexual abuse by ‘holy men’ is clearly pervasive throughout the world irrespective of religion, many states have opted for strict measures to put an end to this savagery. However, Pakistanis remain unable to pick a side on this. Shockingly, there still remain people within our society who are unable to decide whether we should side with the young girl being violated or the ‘holy man’ violating her while filming it.

This is our dilemma in a nutshell. Although the right thing to do is quite obvious here, who cares about the countless children who have experienced such trauma, or the countless more who will suffer the same fate in the future? I know we don’t.

In a sign of positive change, the Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari took notice of the aforementioned video on social media and requested a follow-up on the case. She later provided an update, informing that a first information report (FIR) had been registered against the culprit, who had also been arrested.

It is important that further actions are taken to ensure that such child predators are actually punished and there are no loopholes in the law which favour these beasts. Executing Zainab’s killer and rapist is perhaps a step in the right direction, but implementation needs to be on a broader scale, and strict measures need to be enforced before our children are actually lost. But the chances of the government taking punitive action against child abuse by ‘holy men’ – an issue currently plaguing our society – are minimal, because our priorities lie with auctioning luxury cars and buffaloes.

I can’t even begin to imagine what that young girl suffered through, and what countless other children go through every day in silence, unsure of what is happening and afraid of telling even their parents. As a society, we should be held responsible, for as this ‘holy man’ made a prey out of this child due to his devilish desires, we are the ones who willingly gave such men the power to commit such atrocities and the courage to even record it for the world to watch without any fear of the consequences. So congratulations, Pakistan! Our inaction has cost another little child their childhood.

Sahir Palijo

Sahir Palijo

The author is an undergrad pursuing a degree of Business Administration. He loves to write his thoughts and is a movie freak. He tweets at @The_Sahir (twitter.com/the_sahir)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Murtaza Rangwalla

    This cleric should be hanged.Recommend

  • Andrew Davis

    Thank you for acknowledging the fact that so-called flag bearers of religion can also be predators. Thank you also for bringing the fact to light that this problem is not only isolated to Qaari’s or Pundits and the sub-continent. I am a Christian. And I am fully aware that the religion is not to blame but the person. I personally have read some of the reports regarding the Catholic Church and was shocked at the extent of the cover up. Such predators exist in all religions and from all walks of life. In order to protect our children, we should at a early age teach that that certain ways of being touched or certain parts of their bodies are off limits to everyone.

    I have 2 sons. And from a very early age have told them that they should tell either myself or their mother if anyone (irrespective of the relation, age, relationship or gender) touched them in an inappropriate manner at any time. The rest we would handle.Recommend

  • Karamat Hussain Janjua

    Please build an institution of Imam Masjid again for the sake of God. Half of the problems of the society would vanish from the society. Atleast arrange for religious education in Schools. Why women religious teachers are not introduced in Mosques.Recommend

  • S.

    It is good that you take care of your children like that, but unfortunately in rural and sometimes in some urban areas as well, the parents either dont believe in what their children have to say or they scare their own children into being silent because if the truth comes out then it will tarnish their (the parents’) image in the society. For such parents, its alright if someone is violating their children, but god forbid if someone gossips about them. Sexual abuse is fine, but gossips are a pain to the ears.Recommend

  • SAJID KHAN

    Really a painful & disgusting news for all of us! No exception should be given to any group around whether religious or non-religious , parents shouldn’t be blind if someone is QARI/MOAZIN/IMAM/KHATEEB or TUTOR , keep your eye open and give confidence to your child so that if God forbid such a evil event could happen to him/her- your child can inform you rightly in time. One basic step which must be taken by parents in choosing teacher is “gender discrimination”Recommend