The Friday prayers on the 28th of June would have been quite a different affair for many worshippers up and down the country. 500 mosques joined a campaign to tackle child grooming in the wake of the horrific Oxford case where seven men were convicted of child rape, child prostitution and trafficking. The Oxford case is the culmination of several others including Rochdale and Rotherham where young vulnerable white girls were preyed upon by predominately Muslim Asian men. These very bare boned facts have led many to believe and assert that child grooming is a ‘problem’ in the Asian Muslim community which has been inadequately addressed by Muslim leaders. In light of this, several imams used the Friday sermon to condemn child grooming with some praising their actions. The question is, was this really the right thing to do, or has it only served to pander to a narrative which has wrongly stigmatised Muslims for the criminal actions of a few?
Many Muslims in Oxford labelled the Friday sermon on child grooming as a publicity stunt. Imam Monawar Hussein of the Oxford Foundation Youth Project said,
“Most of the guys who did this in Oxford were not going to the mosque. I have always felt it is not a race or a religious issue.”
Many Muslims share this view and the statistics stand as testament. Despite headlines such as ‘Asian grooming gang,’ street grooming is not a solely Asian or Muslim issue and ‘the most detailed research on the phenomenon so far found that, in 43 per cent of cases, the abusers were white.’ This brings us to our next point, repeatedly made, that no other community is expected to apologise for the actions of individuals who share the same ethnicity or religion, this increasingly being the sole preserve of British Muslims. The fact that 43 per cent of street grooming perpetrators are white has prompted neither politicians nor the media to highlight that there is a problem in the white community (whatever that would mean), nor have church officials been required to give a sermon on Sunday from the pulpit warning against sexual indecency. The notion as ridiculous as it sounds is exactly where Muslim leaders have found themselves. Instead of challenging and rallying against the very idea that a community should be held responsible for the actions of specific individuals, they have bowed to unwarranted pressure.
They have also fed into the stereotypes and generalisations of Muslims, the idea that men of Asian origin who have Muslim names are part of the religious community, attend a mosque and observe the tenets of their faith. The reality is that Muslims in Britain are not a homogeneous group; they encompass religiously observant individuals, those who claim to be Muslims based upon erroneous cultural assumptions, and all the shades of grey in between. What is also most striking about the Oxford case in particular is the fact that the perpetrators were fuelled by alcohol and drugs – hardly the actions of observant Muslims. This brings into question the aim of the Friday sermon, as the vast majority of Muslims believe these actions to be obscene and against their very moral fibre, are they not in danger of preaching to the converted? As the chairman of the Medina Mosque in Oxford explained,
If you are a person that goes to mosque you would be a million miles away from this type of activity. Like oil and water they do not go together.
The decision to give a Friday sermon on this particular issue is hardly likely to placate the views of those who make causal links between Asians, Islam and street grooming. The media’s obsession with the ethnicity and religion of these criminals has overshadowed very important questions that we as a society have to face up to. In the three cases of child grooming, questions have been repeatedly asked of the police and social services; abused by paedophile gangs these girls were failed by those who should have protected them. There are also wider questions about pornography and the effects this has on child sex abuse, as well as issues around drugs and alcohol. Thus, in the overall fight against paedophilia and child abuse, being caught up in an argument about the ethnicity and religion of perpetrators is an unhealthy distraction, they are criminals first and foremost.