Nabila Sharma: Brutal


Nabila Sharma Breaks 28 Year Silence of her Imam Abusing Her

Childhood is an experience full of blissful memories. A time which should be spent tingling in the depths of curiosity and lost in taking advantage of the fact that you were invincible. An innocence that was yours and yours alone. Acknowledging the freedom had you had and knowing that you were safe. Secure. Protected by the adults around you. A responsibility which was handed down and inherited from those gone before. But for one little girl that experience quickly turned in to a living nightmare. To everyone around her, Nabila Sharma was a typical Pakistani girl growing up in Birmingham. She enjoyed reading. Watching television after school and listening to Kylie Minogue.


But things did not all seem like they were. Like every Muslim girl she started to attend mosque and quickly settled in to this routine, just like her siblings before her. However, it was during her time at mosque that she suffered a tremendous ordeal. A painful act that is beyond any rational individual’s wildest imagination; her Imam had started to sexually abuse her. At first he would tell her to do trivial jobs, singling her out, isolating her. After that he started to touch her; firstly on her face and hair and then it was everywhere. As time went on, he started reward her for her silence; with things getting more physical. It was a secret she was terrified of revealing to her family and tamed her to silence for 28 years. It was after she met her partner, who was one of a handful of people that knew, she pushed herself to get help. With his help, she got counselling and stood up to the painful reminder of her past. Deciding to write a book to document her story, Nabila’s message is simple. She wants justice and in doing so, she wants to send a message to those guilty that they can not get away with their crimes. Nabila Sharma spoke to The Asian Today.


How was it writing the book? Were there times you thought, “I can’t do this, because of the bad memories that it would bring back?”


Obviously I hadn’t spoken about it in 28 years. Over the years I’ve been reading these kinds of books about survivors and find comfort in them think that was how I felt. I always thought I was weird and strange. But I thought to myself I can’t find a book about the things that I went through. So I jokingly said I was going to write this book and I’m going to help someone out there. I never took it seriously. But after contacting a few agents, one said that they were interested. At the meeting all I did was cry. I’m grateful for my partner who was there with me because all I did was cry. It was the first time I’d spoken about it openly and it was very therapeutic.


What was the reaction of Brutal?


Positive. Victims have come out and congratulated me on this. They have said how I have done an amazing thing by coming out and telling my story, but what I always say to them is now it is your turn. Come out and tell your story that is the only way that people will take notice. None of them will speak out. Nobody will say anything even though I have tried to encourage them. But they say you’re brilliant, you’ve done this, but I always say to them I need you to do it as well. I can understand how hard it is. 



Is the fear based on the impact from the wider community? Or is it the reaction of the family?


It depends on the family. A lot of them say I cannot talk to my parents about this; they will not believe me. Then it is the shame. “I cannot do that to my family.” But you haven’t done anything. I can understand how they are feeling. I use to feel that way.


Were you worried about not only your parents but also, the way the Muslim community would react?


Unfortunately, I do not have my parents anymore and they were not here when it came out, so I don’t know what their reaction would have been. But, I probably didn’t say anything because of my parents and the community, they would have been embarrassed. As far as I know, I think they found out because the other girl (in the book) she told her parents. They never approached me; they never said anything to me.


Did you ever try telling them yourself?


I tried. I’d have it in my head. Go home and tell mom. But mom was always busy cooking, cleaning. Telling me to go and get clean. Then that fear would creep back in to me and I think, “How do I say it. How do I say the words? How do I actually say those words?”



How many times do you think you’ve rehearsed it in your head?


Loads of times! Everyday. Every time when I was walking home, I’d be so brave but as soon as I’d come to the house I’d think how would I say this? I just didn’t even know the words I would use. I couldn’t say “mom I don’t want to go to mosque, the Imam is touching me.” Those words just wouldn’t come out. I would stand in the kitchen and repeat to myself that “now I’m going to say it, now I’m going to say it.” I have to remember I was 7, I was young. Looking back now, of course I should have said it. You have to consider I was just a child and Asian, now you can talk about it more. Now you have the internet so it’s easier, before you wouldn’t even consider talking about it. People would consider that you’d been lying. You could never say that against Imam’s. They are on a higher level. If you got smacked and hit at mosque, then you deserved it.





Was there anyone you could have turned to?


There was an RE teacher at school. Very very close to her. I really liked her. She would always ask me how I was doing. I was kind of like the teachers pet. I think she noticed that I was getting quiet and withdrawn and she would ask me “are you okay.” I was very close to saying something. But again, how do I say it. I was scared. What would I do when I get home? Obviously she would tell my parents. All it was that I was scared. It was fear. I was scared of getting in trouble and that I’d be lying and why would I say that and plus they wouldn’t believe me. But again, that’s something I would never know.


Other siblings?


I have four older brothers. From which only the older one knows about the situation. He feels a lot of guilt because he went to the same mosque. Sometime down the road I will let them know.


Looking back, do you wish the first people that you spoke to were your parents?


Yes. Most definitely. I wished that I was brave enough. I wish I had confidence. I wish I had a better relationship with my parent, I think that’s what it was I didn’t have that very close bond. There was a language barrier, they didn’t read or write English, so it wasn’t like we could sit, read and write books to discuss things. As long as we went to school, we learnt and were good, they were happy. We were not supposed to talk about intimate things, you learn that at school. You don’t talk about that at home. You just be a good Muslim girl and do as you’re told.


What is your overall opinion of child abuse in the Asian community? Do you think it is changing?


No. My honest opinion, it’s not changing at all. Its still very hush, very taboo. I have had discussions with other Imam’s and they have said they know of the situation and say they will deal with it. They don’t like outsiders coming in; social services or the police because they say that it is our problem and we will deal with it.


Do you think getting DBS checked is enough?


I think they need to talk about the situation more. I think Imam’s in mosques need to be aware of the situation as well and bring in parents as well. I have seen cases where it’s always the victim that is being harassed; there is not enough support for them.


Religiously speaking, has this affected your views?


It did. I didn’t want to be Muslim. I didn’t want to be Pakistani. Growing up I blamed my culture and religion for it. But I have realised that it wasn’t my religion and culture. It wasn’t the people around me; it was the one person who did this to me. I blamed the mosque. But a mosque isn’t a bad place. I still do celebrate Eid and Ramadhan. I still believe.



Do you think that the younger generation are already aware of such an issue?


I think they are aware of it. Youngsters are more educated and acknowledging because of new technologies.


What advice do you give people going through a similar situation?


First of all, talk to someone that you trust. I know it’s easier to say this now, but that first step is crucial. There are a lot of great organisations out there that can help.


You have your happy ending, but what lies ahead for Nabila Sharma?


We are starting a family. I want to do some more work in helping people. I am in the process of writing a children’s book. I do believe that if there were these kinds of help books I could have spoken out. We are hoping to distribute it in schools and places of worship and parents to read to children, with the message that if something like this is happening, please do speak out. Brutal is also being made in to a national theatre production.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here