My name is Nabila Sharma and I am a Muslim. I was just seven years old when the imam at my local mosque began to sexually abuse me. The abuse happened on an almost daily basis and lasted for four years.
The imam was the most powerful man in our community and I was terrified of him. He told me that I was special and singled me out from the start. He ruled our mosque with an atmosphere of fear. Instead of learning the Koran as a good Muslim girl should, he gave me special tasks to do. It helped me escape my prayers but it also separated me from the other children. At first I felt special, like the teacher’s pet, but soon, the others began to resent me - I became the chosen one.
As I was always first one at the mosque, the imam suggested I start my prayers early before the others arrived. It was a ruse to get me up into his private quarters – his bedroom. No one, only the imam was allowed in there so again, I felt special. I thought I’d be safe because he was the imam, our teacher and the most important man I knew. But I was wrong - he was a paedophile. At first he showered me with compliments but these soon gave way to sexual abuse. I was too terrified and too ashamed to tell a soul.
I became obsessed with learning to tell the time. I would count down the seconds - how long I’d have to be alone with him - before the other children arrived. As the abuse progressed, I would avoid going into the mosque until the very last minute to lessen my time alone with my abuser. Sometimes I’d wait outside but I was always too worried in case someone spotted me hanging around on the street corner – it wasn’t what good Muslim girls did.
The abuse continued until I was almost twelve years old, and about to start secondary school. During this time and, in a bid to cope, I began to self-harm. In particular, I would try to disfigure my face. The imam always told me how pretty I was so I cut myself in the hope that if I was ugly enough, he wouldn’t like me anymore. I hoped it would make the abuse stop. I was wrong.
I suffered depression and spent many hours alone crying in my bedroom. I felt I had no one to turn to. I had no confidence and no self-esteem. He destroyed everything.
The day I left the mosque, was the day I turned my back on my religion, culture and faith. Instead, I rebelled and experimented with drink and cigarettes. My parents later found out about the abuse but turned a blind eye and refused to do anything. It made me feel worthless, as if I had shamed the family and was ‘damaged goods’.
I suffered reoccurring nightmares and remained haunted by what the imam had done to me but somehow, I managed to push it all to the back of my mind. I worried that he had gone on to abuse others and was constantly plagued with guilt. Still, I said nothing.
I left school and decided that I needed to protect other children. No one had saved me from the imam, but I could help others. I trained to become a nursery nurse and later a chaperone so that I could safeguard all children in my care. I didn’t want them to feel as frightened and vulnerable as I had.
I’m now 36 years old and, after many years of heartache, pain and subsequent counselling, I feel as though I have finally emerged from a long dark tunnel and back into the light. I have written a book, called Brutal, in the hope it gives others the courage to come forward and report such heinous crimes. My story needs to be told and people need understand that things like this can and do happen.
I’m calling for the Asian Muslim community to properly inspect their imams in the same way teachers are checked on their ability to teach children. I believe there should be fundamental changes in the way imams are employed in mosques. They should be asked to provide a complete history of their teaching qualifications and full proof of their certificates. They should also be CRB checked. I want mosques to undergo regular Ofsted inspections. These rules and regulations are in place for a reason – to help and protect our children. It is vital that we do this.
I will continue to speak out until these changes are made and my voice is heard. It is all I can do to help others.
My book Brutal is a true account of what happened to me. It’s a hard-hitting book, for which I make no apology because, only by speaking out, can we stamp out this kind of abuse. Brutal is available from Amazon, WHSmith, Morrisons, Amazon and Waterstones.
I can be contacted through facebook or twitter and via a personal website, which should be up and running soon.
If you believe a child is being abused, please contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.