How I Stood Up to Chicago’s ‘Abusive’ Imam

The Daily Beast

Zainab Khan

Mohammed Abdullah Saleem, who faces new criminal charges of sexual assault, tried to ban Zainab Khan from burying her father. Now, she tells her courageous story of standing up to one of Chicago’s most powerful imams.

The decision by courageous women in Kabul, Afghanistan, to defy the orders of mullahs and carry the coffin of a young woman, Farkhunda—slain for the false accusation of burning the Quran— took me to a dramatic moment last spring when I faced off against an imam, not in some faraway city in our Muslim world, but in our own backyard, right here in the United States, in the Chicago suburb of Elgin, Ill.

Today, that imam, Mohammed Abdullah Saleem, faced new criminal charges for alleged sexual assault.

My confrontation with the imam was about something much more ordinary, but also deeply personal, and my experience reveals the challenges women face in standing up to Muslim clerical leaders—as women do in most faiths, but particularly in ours, stuck as it is religious hierarchies that are the exclusive domain of men.

On May 29, 2014, my beloved father, Jehan Zeb Khan, passed away from prolonged sickness. I was heartbroken. Born in Afghanistan, my father came to the U.S. in the 1950s, knowing that he wouldn’t have the same chances for success had he remained in Afghanistan. He wanted his family to have the life and dignity which he foresaw that he would be stripped of, had he chosen to live there.

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