Rotherham can be a ‘beacon of hope’ for the whole of the UK, claims the leader of a Muslim group in the town which is pushing to rebuild the shattered reputation of the Pakistani Muslim community and the name of the area as a whole.
The Pakistani Muslim community in Rotherham is still reeling from the child sex abuse scandal, two months on from the Jay report which revealed 1,400 girls had been a victim of child sexual exploitation in 16 years in the town.
It said mostly Asian men had been responsible for the crimes and that police and council staff often failed to take reports further due to racial sensitivities.
Muhbeen Hussain organised a British Muslim Youth group protest, when more than 200 people lined Rotherham’s street outside the Town Hall to speak out against the scandal.
He said: “The main focus should be justice for the 1,400 girls. We shall not be divided. As a human being I was horrified that these types of criminal activity could take place in my community of Rotherham, and for the police, the social services, to know of such crimes but not to say anything.
“The community has been tarnished but, on the other hand, the scandal has come out and now we can provide justice for the girls that we didn’t know about.
“Rotherham has fallen down a massive hill, Mount Everest, but Rotherham will climb its way back up, and Rotherham will be a beacon of hope, not just for the people of Rotherham, but the whole of the UK.”
Key members of the Muslim community have spoken out about the damage the report has dealt to their reputation.
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The Jay report exposed the scandal and pointed to racial issues as a key factor in crimes not being pursued.
It said: “By far the majority of perpetrators were described as ‘Asian’ by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how they could jointly address the issue.
“Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.”
In a report mentioned in the Jay report by Dr Heal, it states: “In 2006 that young people in Rotherham believed at the time that the police dared not act against Asian youths for fear of allegations of racism.”
Abbas Khan, aged 25, a Pakistani Muslim, from Nether Edge, Sheffield, spoke out against the scandal and the damage it has dealt to Muslim people in South Yorkshire.
He said: “I have been born and raised here and I have been brought up a Pakistani Muslim – and nobody in my mosque, nobody in my house, nobody in my community has encouraged me to go into the grooming process, so to speak.
“I don’t know where these people are and for the whole community to be tarnished is really saddening. It just gives more ammunition to the far right movement.
“The Pakistani community never asked for police protection.
“We don’t want these crimes to be used against us and we don’t want it to be used as a reason to protect the criminals.
“They are criminals and what they have been doing is heinous. That’s not enough to describe it – it’s abhorrent.
“But it’s a simplistic approach to say it’s a Pakistani-Muslim problem.
“With the perpetrators in the Rotherham abuse scandal being described as being from ‘Pakistani Muslim heritage’ I can’t stay silent.
“As someone of Pakistani Muslim heritage, I want to state in no uncertain terms that the practice of child sexual exploitation and ‘grooming’ is not something that our culture or religion encourages or condones. It is completely unacceptable. What they have done is horrific, disgusting and makes me physically sick.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the 1,400 or more victims in this terrible affair. I pray that the perpetrators get the punishment they deserve.
“The perpetrators do not represent our community. They are criminals, generally drug users and dealers, who have complete disregard for the law and prey on the vulnerable in society.”
Rotherham councillor Mahroof Hussain, elected in 2002, said he was not at the seminar in which senior council figures were told about the abuse issue in 2005, but that he was ‘angry’ he was not told.
He condemned soft police treatment of Asian perpetrators. He said: “The Asian community are clearly saying ‘we want results, we want arrests, we want people charged, because everybody is getting tarred with the same brush’.
“The people that used the excuse of ethnic origin not to prosecute should be held to account. This is absolutely outrageous.
“If you have committed a crime, you should be held to account.
“That’s where the young people of this town have been let down significantly.
“Is it appropriate that somebody who commits a rape on a 12-year-old girl is given a caution?
“Why were they given a caution? Surely they should be charged with rape.
“If they applied ethnic origin as a factor, who made that decision?”
Coun Hussain said the town’s image could not become more damaged and that police should reopen historic cases and ‘knock on doors’.
He added: “There is no more damage that can be done to the town’s image. Now we need to make sure these people don’t get away with it.” Mohammed Shafiq, 35, chief executive of the British Ramadhan Foundation, said: “The grooming gangs have not only brought shame on themselves and the community but have damaged the lives of so many young girls. We want to see justice, we want to see justice for the victims and we want to see the community come together to say ‘not in our name’.”
Imam Qari Asim said the crimes committed by the men are a direct contradiction of the Islam religion, and called on the community to ‘work together’ to repair the damage caused by the scandal.
He said: “In Islam, the prophet of Islam, in his farewell pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, made a keynote speech. He said, protect the vulnerable in your society.
“Muslims have a moral obligation as a result. Muslims see it as a moral obligation today because of the words of the words of the prophet of Islam, to protect the vulnerable regardless of their colour, creed or race.
“This is not an issue of race or religion, it’s an issue of authority versus vulnerability.
“We Muslims have acted upon that and we Muslims, Imams, have unreservedly and unequivocally condemned such despicable acts taking place in our community and we have taken this duty upon ourselves to make sure that we do not let even one person fall through the net any more in this society.
“Unfortunately we are where we are, but now we need to look towards the future. We need to see how can we put systems in place, how can we close those loopholes which people manipulated, how can we all, intelligence services, law enforcement agencies, social services, or agencies, mosques, the community itself, how can we all work together to make sure not even one young person is abused in our society.”