The Islamic Center of Irving is facing backlash from the North Texas Muslim community after allegations surfaced about a man behaving inappropriately with children at the mosque.
The center issued a statement Sunday, saying it had filed a police report Friday after two families reported separate incidents to mosque leadership. The mosque did not provide a timeline for when the incidents occurred.
Community members took issue with the mosque board’s decision not to file a police report immediately, a decision critics say allowed the accused man to leave the country before an investigation. Others were outraged that it took leaders so long to inform members of the mosque about the allegations.
The mosque — one of the biggest in Texas — said it did not originally file a report because the children’s families did not want to involve police and because it did not think the descriptions of the incidents fit the guidelines for mandatory reporting.
According to Texas law, any person aware of harm to a child is legally required to report the crime, even in cases where victims or families may not wish to press charges.
An elderly man is accused of kissing two children, the mosque said. He was said to have kissed a 16-year-old boy’s cheeks, and on a separate occasion, the man kissed a 10-year-old boy on the mouth, the statement said. The mosque said the two incidents took place in an outside walkway and the main prayer hall.
The mosque filed a police report for “guidance from law enforcement” though it maintains that no unlawful conduct occurred, according to its statement.
The accused man, who was visiting from abroad, is a relative of a member, the mosque said, and he left the United States days after being identified to mosque leaders.
In a separate statement Thursday, the mosque said that it regretted not sharing information more quickly. “If ICI had reason to believe that any crime or molestation had occurred or that any child or member of the community was in danger, we would have notified the community,” it said.
Irving police have declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation.
Mosque officials held a town hall meeting Sunday night. Nikos Barbaressos said the gathering became heated after a board representative said the group had determined that the children were not molested.
Lee said that it was “absurd” for a group of untrained board members to claim they could investigate the charges and that he supports Pelletier fully.
“My hope is this can start a #MeToo movement for masjid kids,” Lee said, using the Arabic word for mosque. Lee said plans were in the works for protests at the mosque.
The incident comes about a week after a lawsuit alleging sexual exploitation against the mosque’s former imam made national headlines. The accused in that case, Zia Ul-Haq Sheikh, is now employed at the Grand Prairie Islamic Society.
The advocacy group FACE said it is is working on guidelines for conduct, process and protocol in situations involving abuse at a place of worship. Alia Salem, founder and president, said FACE will host its first workshop on the guidelines by late November.
“People focus on protecting institutions and individuals instead of protecting victims and the safety of the community,” Salem said. “We cannot put the safety of victims and the community second string. That has to be the priority.”
The Islamic Center of Irvine is the mosque that runs a sharia court and where an imam was recently forced out after years of grooming at least one young girl for sex. More here.