FOLLOWING the conviction of 17 Asian men from Newcastlem, British Muslims and those of Asian heritage cannot avoid the question that men of their heritage are disproportionately involved in localised, street grooming of vulnerable girls.
What these sexual offenders have done is bring a shame on their religion, their families, their culture, their country, or even the country of origin of their parents.
Sometimes elders in the Pakistani community prefer to blame young girls or even evil spirits rather than accept that these young men can be responsible for sexual exploitation. We must accept that these crimes happen in our neighbourhoods - committed by men from all communities - and work to protect all of our girls.
The solution must come from within - our faith and our family traditions provide us with critical tools to eradicate sexual exploitation.
We all know that their criminal acts are alien to the religion of Islam and against the cultures of the perpetrators so it’s high time we started speaking out against the offenders because they are not acting like “our own”.
My message to my Friday congregation at Makkah Mosque Leeds will be: “If you see something not right, like older men with young girls buying drinks and gifts, don’t be afraid to report it. It does not mean that people have to become spies and whistle-blowers, rather good neighbours in order to protect their own families and communities.
“But that responsibility cannot be limited to a community. It’s the duty of every community to do everything they can to prevent abused young people. That’s all of us, that makes us united against sexual exploitation. We need to send out a loud and clear message that abuse and abusers will not be tolerated within any of our communities.”
The focus on race and religion of the perverse criminals detracts from the real issue. We need to bring about behavioural change in our society to protect the vulnerable and challenge misogyny.
Qari Muhammad Asim MBE is chief imam at Leeds Makkah Mosque.