AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Sexual harassment, manipulation, threats and payoffs - these are all allegations made in recent months against a prominent Dallas-based Muslim preacher - Nouman Ali Khan. Clerics are looking into it, but the scandal highlights the challenges Muslim-Americans face when confronting misconduct by their leaders. Buzzfeed reporter Hannah Allam has been following this story, and she joined me in our studios. Welcome.
HANNAH ALLAM: Hi.
CHANG: So who is Nouman Ali Khan, and why is he such an important figure in the Muslim community?
ALLAM: Nouman Ali Khan is someone who's at the top echelon of this phenomenon that we call the celebrity preacher. It's not a new phenomenon, but it's something that, in the age of social media, has really taken off, where you can have this strong personality, a religious figure who's very charismatic, who has a YouTube channel and very active social media presence. And so he's able to reach millions and millions of followers.
CHANG: And what precisely has he been accused of?
ALLAM: I think it's important to point out that no criminal offense has been alleged. And that's part of what has made this a really complex issue because it's being framed as more an abuse of power. Some people call it spiritual abuse, which is the term that's being used now for all sorts of misconduct that's under the guise of religion. So a couple of panels of clerics and Muslim scholars have looked into the allegations against him and have found that - the words they used are he's lied and manipulated women into what they called secret sham marriages.
CHANG: And how has he allegedly lied or manipulated women into sham marriages?
ALLAM: He would tell these women, let's get married. I'm going through a divorce. It'll be quiet for now. And then if they called him on it, the exact quote from a cleric summary that I saw was, "he would apologize and attempt to buy their silence or threaten them." It's a bit complicated because the secret marriage issue is controversial even within Islam. So it's even harder to explain sort of to an outside audience.
And that's one of the problems that I think Muslim women face in deciding whether to come forward as part of this sort of #metoo movement - is that sometimes they say that the transgressions that are taboo to them - you know, if someone asked me for a photo with my hair uncovered or tries to touch my hand or something, they sort of pale in comparison with some of the very serious, violent allegations that we're hearing in other industries.
CHANG: How vigorously are these women's allegations being investigated, then?
ALLAM: I think many women's advocates - Muslim women's advocates - would say, not vigorously at first - but I think there is a movement now that actually predated the #MeToo movement, you know, where people were starting to look into these and take them more seriously. And we're seeing new nonprofits springing up, like In Chicks Clothing (ph), which is dedicated to sort of investigating these claims, finding help for women.
And then I hear that some national scholars, including some who had looked into the Nouman Ali Khan scandal - they'd like to set some standard for conduct for national leaders because as many have pointed out, there is just no mechanism in many Islamic institutions in the United States for looking into these kinds of allegations.
CHANG: Hannah Allam is a reporter for BuzzFeed News. Thank you very much.
ALLAM: Thank you.
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