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Religion and the Reputation of a Cleric

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, November 6

A recent BBC investigative report revealed that thousands of young boys across Sudan were chained, beaten and sexually abused by religious figures working for a network of schools that specializes in teaching underserved students to read, write and memorize the Qur’an. The investigation, which was conducted undercover for over a year and a half, included terrifying testimonies collected from 23 victims, including children as young as five years of age. According to one testimony, school officials tied six or seven students together in chains and forced them to run. When the boys fell, they were beaten with whips and clubs. The investigation was published on all major international and Arab media outlets, including in Sudan. But not a single person reacted to the heinous crimes described in it. Meanwhile, when French President Emmanuel Macron made a remark on Islam, the streets of Khartoum immediately filled up with thousands of angry protesters. What happened to these school children was so much harsher and uglier than the remarks of a foreign president. But for some reason, not a single person took to the streets to protest the abuse of innocent children in the hands of clerics who lack any conscience or morals. Consider another recent event: A few days ago, Tariq Ramadan – grandchild of Hassan al-Banna, the founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood – was charged in court with his fifth case of rape. Ramadan is widely considered one of the most prolific scholars of Islam in Europe and, in many ways, the heir to his grandfather. Yet this noble figure, who is regarded with religious awe and honor, turned out to be a person far different than we believed him to be. This reminds me of a third event: A Kuwaiti court recently indicted the head of a large Kuwaiti charitable institution for embezzling the association’s funds. The funds were meant to reach an Islamic country. The reason I’m bringing these three stories up isn’t to attack specific religious officials. Rather, it’s to show that all human beings make mistakes and that it’s dangerous to impose an aura of holiness on those working in religious fields. Granted, clerics should not be subjected to doubts or accusations just because they have long beards and represent sanctity. Yet we must remember that these figures are human beings first and foremost. The only way to rid our societies of corruption and crime is to make sure that everyone – including notable religious figures – is held accountable to the same laws. – Ahmed Al-Sarraf (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)