My Imam abused me nearly every day for four years at the local mosque
Nabila Sharma tells how she suffered years of abuse from an Imam at the mosque she attended as a child. The 36-year-old sales rep, from the Midlands, hopes her story will help to stop others from having to ‘suffer in silence’.
I WAS abused almost every day between the ages of seven and 11.
My abuser was the leader of my mosque, the Imam.
One day, he asked me to come to his room, as he lived at the mosque.
I found this strange, but he said I could read to him and get ahead with my prayers before the others arrived.
Inside his room, he began touching my face and stroking my hair, telling me what a pretty little girl I was.
I was only seven, I didn’t understand what he was doing other than I knew I didn’t like it. It made me uncomfortable.
He began singling me out for little jobs. People thought I was teacher’s pet but he was actually isolating me from everyone else.
In no time, he was touching me everywhere. I tried to push him away but I didn’t dare say I didn’t like it.
I didn’t know what to say to a grown-up about it. I’d rehearse what I was going to say to Mum, then I’d get home and not know how to get the words out of my mouth.
Everyone thought I was safe at the mosque. I’d get home from school, change clothes, get my scarf and prayer book and then off I’d go.
I had tantrums, saying I didn’t want to go, but my parents just put it down to my age – and I’d still have to go.
As I got older, Mum would drop me off outside and I’d sometimes skive off, spending hours wandering round the local graveyard.
But I was scared to do that too often, in case the Imam rang my parents to ask where I was.
I challenged the imam once, saying ‘if you do it again, I will tell my Dad’.
The way he reacted was terrifying. He rang my dad there and then, and had a chat with him.
I was so scared I wet myself in front of him. I’d done that a couple of times before as I’d been so frightened but he’d just laugh at me.
He used to come to our house for dinner. He had so much power, he knew no-one was ever going to believe me.
He’d give me money, shiny new pound coins as a reward. I couldn’t explain where I’d got this money from to my parents.
I was scared they’d think I’d stolen it. I had no idea of the value of it.
I’d go to a shop to try to get rid of it and buy a 10p mix of sweets – then still have all my change. That money became an extra fear for me. Then one day, when I was 11, the Imam got me on top of his bed, grabbed me and started pulling my trousers down.
I thought I was going to die.
Suddenly we heard a door go downstairs. Someone had come in so he quickly got off me and allowed me back downstairs.
I do believe if that person hadn’t come in, I would have been raped that day.
I think the Imam had thought that because I was older, he could progress the abuse.
There was another little girl who the Imam did it to. She left after a couple of weeks.
Mum and I went over to their house.
When we got there Mum said ‘You go and play’ and when I came back the atmosphere was different.
In the car, Mum turned to me and asked ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
I was in trouble for not telling her, and it was never talked about again.
My parents sent me away to stay with relatives for three weeks, saying I should have a little holiday.
I left the mosque after that as I was starting high school.
I had many issues growing up, I’m still dealing with them now.
I had my first boyfriend at 18 but I had a real problem with the physical side of relationships.
He was the first person I ever told about the imam.
We were both young, neither of us knew how to deal with it, so I just left it.
Five years ago, I met a man called Robert through work.
He was supportive and loving from the start, so I told him what had happened to me.
He suggested I spoke to a counsellor and that was a big help.
I never saw the Imam again until three years ago.
Seeing him that day, even though he never saw me, I felt it must be a sign. I decided to report him to the police, but they didn’t feel they would ever find him.
The problem is children never know the names of the Imams so I couldn’t tell the police his name.
They can’t find records from that time.
The Muslim community is very good at hiding and hushing things up, and the police seem scared of upsetting the Muslim community.
It’s very frustrating. It’s also frustrating there are no CRB checks on people working with children in mosques and churches.
I’ve written to my MP to try to get this changed.
I’ve never stepped foot in a mosque since then.
I’m still a Muslim, but I practise in private at home.
Robert and I are planning to get married next year, I’m so excited and so pleased that my story does have a happy ending.
He told me he’d be there for me and he always has been.
Without him, I wouldn’t be sharing my story now.
Over the years I’ve read books by people who were abused as children, but I’ve never seen a story quite like mine.
I contacted HarperCollins, who said ‘Please do write this book’.
My story, called Brutal, has now been translated into five different languages and is being sold all over the world.
A lot of Muslim people have got in touch through my Facebook and Twitter sites to say the same thing happened to them when they were younger, and they never spoke out for fear of shame and dishonour to their community.
I’ve had to use my pen name Nabila Sharma to protect my identity.
I can understand why it’s taken the victims of the Jimmy Savile case so long to come forward.
It’s so difficult when it’s a high profile and respected person.
It’s easier for them to prey on young innocent children because they can get away with it.
I suffered in silence and wish when I was growing up there had been something in the media showing me what help I could have got.
People need to be educated that this kind of thing goes on.