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Muslim Police Chaplain's Sexist Remarks Silence Victims Of Abuse

Toronto Police Muslim chaplain Musleh Khan said that a woman should be "obedient" to her husband at all times. The message it sends to victims of abuse interferes with the ability of police to encourage women - particularly Muslim women- to tell police their story.
A young woman looking anxious and fearful via Getty Images
A young woman looking anxious and fearful

Recently appointed Toronto Police Services Muslim chaplain Musleh Khan has come under scrutiny for statements he made publicly in 2013 about respecting the role and duties of married women in Islam.

Those statements have been described as "appalling" by Executive Director Alia Hogben of the Muslim organization the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW).

In the video uploaded to YouTube (and since made private), Khan said that a woman should be "obedient" to her husband at all times and must not refrain from intimacy without a "valid excuse." (His slideshow provides that sickness and fasting qualify as valid excuses.) If a woman refuses her husband's advances without a valid reason, then she committed a major sin.

He also said that wives should seek permission from their husband before leaving the home because they are the guardians of the marital home.

Critics wonder how an individual with such views could satisfactorily fulfill the role of the Toronto Police Services' Muslim chaplain.

Musleh Khan had this as part of his response:

"I appreciate the criticism of the choice of my words and will be more mindful in clarifying my steadfast support of women's equality... I remain ready to serve my community as the Muslim Chaplain of the Toronto Police Force."

Is this enough?

This police chaplain promotes rape culture, domestic servitude and violence.

Not when you consider that the role of Muslim chaplain of the Toronto Police Force means that his views (which are anything but supportive of women's equality) may impact the actions of police officers under his influence, not to mention Muslim citizens under his engagement.

And this is because in his official capacity, the Toronto Police Services Muslim chaplain must provide both spiritual guidance to Muslim police officers and build bridges between police and the Muslim community.

Unfortunately, this police chaplain's view conflicts with Ontario's zero tolerance policy and the Toronto Police Service Priority to combat domestic violence.

And it is dangerous if it influences any of the police officers who look to him for spiritual support -- particularly if it interferes with their ability to carry out their mandate.

Police must exercise appropriate discretion, particularly when attending a call where a woman has indicated that she or the children in her care are in danger due to a domestic dispute. It requires police to lay a charge and ensure offenders do not escape the consequences of their actions and/or in some circumstances, even if a charge is not laid due to the non-violent but escalating nature of the dispute, they are to ask one party, usually the man, to leave the home for a period of time, if that appears to be reasonable.

Any police officer who takes into consideration a woman's "obedience" in the determination of such a charge and/or in the decision to not remove an angry individual from his home, in such circumstances, is taking a step back in history and outside that policy.

By indicating that women must be obedient, must not leave their homes without their husband's consent and must agree to sexual intercourse if they're without a "valid" excuse, this police chaplain promotes rape culture, domestic servitude and violence.

And that is completely in contradiction to the role of a Toronto Police Force member, whose mandate is to serve and protect.

Even more problematic is the message it sends to victims of abuse. It interferes with the ability of police to encourage women -- particularly Muslim women -- to tell police their story. And it discourages them from seeking refuge in women's shelters.

As a lawyer who has worked with victims of domestic violence, I wonder what would the consequences have been in their cases if police had failed to do their job.

For example, what if instead of removing a man from the home and issuing a non-contact order, an officer had demanded a woman's obedience over her safety? Or if a woman thought she could not leave home to find safety in a shelter or seek help from the Court?

Alia Hogben sums it up: "If his personal opinions are going to interfere with the work he does as a chaplain, that's pretty damaging for not only the police in Toronto but for the women he might counsel."


Hogben adds that "(the) comments reinforce a stereotype that anti-women views are intrinsic to Islam. It's not the Muslim view."

And Hogben should know. The Order of Canada recipient has led CCMW in its rally to guard the rights of Muslim women, including a campaign to prevent and end domestic violence in Canada's Muslim communities.

In doing so, CCMW has worked with Imams and trained service providers whose clients are Muslim. It has even distributed Islamic resources that provide interpretations of scriptures that serve as alternatives to those followed by some individuals, such as this police chaplain, and that include a description of the household of Prophet Muhammad, whose wives (whom we believe were all adults at the time of marriage) showed autonomy, providing positive role models to Muslim couples.

Why were his views not discovered sooner?

CCMW is not alone. According to fellow Muslim Renée I.A. Mercuri, a director of the Toronto Unity Mosque who is also an inter-spiritual reverend: "Circulating ideas that subjugate women, under the guise of religion, that women are meant to serve their partners, ask permission to be themselves, used without mutual consideration for the sexual pleasure of their mates, while not submitting is described as 'sinful' -- these are forms of misogyny and patriarchy at its worst, and treat women as sub-human. This is not Islam."

It means, additionally, that there are others inside the Muslim community -- right here in Ontario -- who are both qualified to guide Muslim members of the police force and who are sensitive to the needs of Muslim women in crisis.

So now we must ask -- not Musleh Khan -- but the Toronto Police Service the following questions:

How was this individual determined to be appropriate for the job? Why were his views not discovered sooner?

For what reason were other applicants rejected?

Who determines the legitimacy of an applicant's Islamic qualifications and how?

At a time when police are under scrutiny for their treatment of minorities, how could Musleh Khan's views on women have fallen through the cracks?

Finally -- what is the Toronto Police Service going to do now?

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