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North Texas Muslim Leader Is Bringing Stories Of Misconduct Among Clergy To Light

Rick Holter
Alia Salem.

No part of society is immune to sexual misconduct cases, including religion.

Alia Salem has spent years speaking for the Muslim community in North Texas when she worked with the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

She's now formed Face Abuse In Community Environments(FACE) to spotlight stories of misconduct involving Muslim clergy.

The issue came to her attention this past summer when she was asked by a mother to help her daughter, who was facing abuse by a clergy member.

"I fatefully just had watched a documentary on the Catholic abuse scandal and also the movie "Spotlight" and so my mind had already been in that space," Salem said. "The need was there and the time was right to build this institution."

Interview Highlights

On FACE's reception in the Muslim community:

It's really a mixed bag. You have people who say, "Yes, this is fantastic!" There are people who say, "Be careful. We don't want to bring a big spotlight onto our community." Then you have people who are automatically labeling us as an anti-male, pro-feminist agenda. People are boxing us in, trying to understand where we're coming from. We're just at that stage where we're trying to educate our community.

On the reluctance to tackle abuse publicly:

One of the biggest factors is that Muslims have felt completely on the defensive all the time, especially post 9/11, trying to address questions, address attacks against them and their faith. And so there's a difficulty in wanting to do something that directly brings a negative light onto the community. They say, "Why would you be exposing our community and the problems that are within, willfully, when we already have enough problems to deal with?" I understand it. I get it.

We don't talk about our dirty laundry. We still want to keep things on the down low, handle things internally, thinking that that's the most effective way to try to deal with it. And sometimes it is. Sometimes you don't need to expose things on a broad scale, but sometimes you do.

On the structures or traditions that prevent reporting abuse:

When you're talking about clergy abuse or community leaders, they're typically in the upper echelons of administration or power structures within the mosques. The community will get to know that person and if you're trying to address abuse from somebody up there, you get a lot of pushback, and this is almost cookie-cutter across religious traditions. This is not something unique to the Muslim community. The community has such trust in that person; they've built a reputation. "This is the person that has led me to a wonderful place in my life spiritually." It becomes an emotional issue.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.