Organiser in ‘pure disgust’ for inviting man accused of sexual assault to lead Times Square prayer
The organiser for the Tarawih prayers at New York City’s Times Square has responded to complaints that the man leading the prayers had been previously accused of sexual assault.
“SubhanAllah, I’m just learning about this now and I am in pure disgust. I should have done my due diligence in vetting all my participants/guest reciters at my event,” the organiser, who goes by SQ, wrote in a comment under an Instagram post on Tuesday. He did not address the matter on his own social media pages.
Tarawih (night prayers) at Times Square, which first began last year and faced some pushback, took place on 25 March and was attended by hundreds of Muslims. The prayer, performed specifically during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was led by Fatih Seferagic, a social media influencer who has described himself as a Quran teacher and reciter.
In a 2021 report by Facing Abuse in Community Environments (Face), an organisation that investigates Muslim community leaders, Seferagic was accused of rape, drug-affiliated sexual assault, and the reckless transmission of a sexually transmitted disease, among other accusations. Multiple women came forward with their experiences to Face.
Seferagic responded in 2021 to the “false allegations” and said he had never been approached “by any law enforcement agency regarding these allegations”.
“They have been fabricated and propagated by an organisation that has an agenda and no legal authority,” he said.
Middle East Eye reached out to Seferagic and SQ but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
“Like many of you, the Face team was devastated and disappointed at the recent events in NYC, regarding Fatih Seferagic’s invitation to lead public Tarawih prayers in Times Square and local [mosques], as well as at community interfaith events,” Face said in a statement on Tuesday.
“As a team, it was the hardest report we’ve ever had to write due to the egregious descriptions of assault and the silence that had surrounded this individual’s behaviour for years.”
The video of Seferagic leading the prayer was liked and shared by hundreds of people. On 28 March, the Asiyah Women’s Center (AWC), a shelter in New York City for women who have faced domestic abuse, shared the Face report. Under their post on Instagram, SQ continued to write that his prayers are with those who have been oppressed and hurt.
“As I educate myself further about the abuse allegations, it makes me sick to my stomach,” he wrote. “As a personal survivor of sexual abuse and being a father of two daughters, trauma like [this] hit harder than you could imagine.”
An invite from New York's mayor
Seferagic has been invited to multiple mosques and events this week. On 26 March, he led prayers at an interfaith dinner event called: “Breaking Matza, Building Meaningful Relationships”, at a Jewish catering centre.
Tonight, communities from across Brooklyn joined in fellowship and brotherhood to Break Matzoh and Build Bonds and honor Ramadan, Passover and Easter together. pic.twitter.com/wi96LtNzwg— NYC Mayor's Office (@NYCMayorsOffice) March 27, 2023
The event was part of an initiative by New York City Mayor Eric Adams called: “Breaking Bread, Building Bonds”, in which the Mayor’s Office is “determined to organise one thousand meals and conversations across the city”. To attend or host a dinner, a person must sign up on the website.
“With respect to Mayor: the public demands an explanation as to how an out-of-state individual facing substantiated allegations of rape and sexual assault received an invitation to a local interfaith gathering with the Mayor of New York City,” the AWC statement said.
The New York City Mayor's office addressed the complaints in an emailed statement to Middle East Eye: "We were not aware of these allegations prior to Mr. Seferagic’s attendance at the recent dinner, but we take them very seriously. We aim to create a safe environment for all participants of our ‘Breaking Bread, Building Bonds’ program.”