News & Politics

Islamist Cover-Up? Media Silent After Imam Fired Amid Sexual Assault Scandal

FACE photo of Moataz Moftah, an Arizona imam accused of sexual assault and other abuses.

An Arizona imam has been accused of sexual assault, child abuse, misuse of funds, and falsely presenting himself as single in order to pursue female congregants while having two concealed marriages. One mosque quietly fired him after early accusations, but another has continued to employ him. An anti-Islamist Muslim reformer has condemned a media blackout on the story, suggesting that the local Muslim community is protecting a sexual predator due to radical interpretations of sharia.

“Here is the story on the imam ‘quietly’ fired from our mosque in Scottsdale,” M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), tweeted. “Apparently he was also a sexual predator. So tell me again this has nothing to do with their shariah supremacism, radicalism and affinity for radical imams like [Siraj Wahhaj]?”

Jasser was referring to a Religion News Service (RNS) article about Moataz Moftah, an imam who teaches youth at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. The article cites an exhaustive report from the victims’ advocacy group Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE) following an 11-month investigation into Moftah’s alleged misconduct. FACE released the report on November 11.

The imam’s “repetitive and egregious misconduct completely disqualifies him from serving as a religious leader, teacher or any professional employment within the Muslim community,” FACE founder Alia Salem declared in the report based on police reports from alleged victims and interviews with 34 people including Moftah.

The investigation began last year after a congregant of the Islamic Center of North East Valley in Scottsdale filed a complaint with FACE.

Moftah studied in Egypt before coming to the U.S. in 2012 to work as an imam in Indiana. He has been employed as a religious leader at five Islamic institutions and worked as a contractor for at least eight others.

According to FACE, he had been fired for misconduct from Ohio’s Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, after he allegedly concealed a marriage to a congregant he had helped convert to Islam. In 2017, she divorced him and obtained an order of protection, accusing him of violence and claiming he had married her for immigration status.

While Moftah taught at the Scottsdale mosque, several youth and parents complained he was hitting, pinching, and throwing things at students during Quran lessons, the FACE report alleged.

One woman told FACE that when she went to the mosque seeking charitable funds, Moftah told her to clean his apartment in exchange for cash. While in the apartment, he allegedly removed her hijab, kissed her, and grabbed her tightly. He then promised to give her as much money as she wanted if she kept quiet.

According to the report, Moftah counseled one Scottsdale congregant through a divorce and then married her in a ceremony in his office. Since there were no witnesses and no public announcement of the marriage, many Muslim scholars would conclude the wedding was illegal.

A few months later, he married another woman in a ceremony conducted over the phone with no witnesses, according to FACE. Both women were unaware of the other’s existence.

Meanwhile, the imam allegedly presented himself to the Muslim community as a single man in search of a wife. The report accused him of pursuing other marriage prospects, including with a woman who claimed he groped her on a date.

In March 2019, the Scottsdale mosque fired Moftah after multiple reports of misconduct. He was promptly hired by the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix.

The Moftah report is only the second one made public by FACE, which Salem founded in 2017, aiming to tackle issues of accountability and abuse in American Islamic institutions. The first report, published in October, revealed the results of a yearlong investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation, clergy malpractice, and grooming of a young woman by Texas imam Zia ul-Haque Sheikh. That investigation concluded in a $2.5 million judgment for the victor, who had been counseled as a minor.

Jasser accused local media outlets of being in “a protective coma.”

“Apparently the fact that a leading Scottsdale mosque that’s a hub for the Arizona Muslim Alliance (coalition of Phoenix mosques/schools) that had an imam that exposed our vulnerable community to predatory behavior is not worth covering?” Jasser added, bitterly. “[Bigotry] while protecting [Islamists]?”

Reformers like Jasser seek to emphasize the compatibility between Islam and Western norms, pushing against Islamist interpretations of Sharia (Islamic law) that support jihadist violence, state enforcement of Islamic law, and the abuse of women. To reformers like Jasser, the stories about Moftah echo medieval Islam, which sanctioned sex slavery and polygamy. He fights against the Islamism that fueled the Islamic State to carry out similar atrocities and worse.

FACE does important work, and the media should cover it. Islamic institutions should protect women, not cover for alleged abusers like Moftah.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.