The organizer of the Tarawih prayers in New York’s Times Square has responded to complaints that the man leading the prayers had previously been accused of sexual assault.
“SubhanAllah, I am learning about this now and I am in disgust. I should have done my due diligence and vetted all my participants/guest narrators at my event,” the organizer, who goes by SQ, wrote in a comment on Tuesday’s Instagram post. He did not address the matter on his own social media pages.
Tarawih (night prayers) at Times Square, which first started last year and had some backlash, took place on March 25 and was attended by hundreds of Muslims. The prayer, held specifically during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was led by Fatih Seferagic, a social media influencer who has described himself as a teacher and Quran reciter.
In a 2021 report by Facing Abuse in Community Environments (Face), an organization that investigates Muslim community leaders, Seferagic was accused of rape, drug-related sexual assault, and reckless transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, among other allegations. Multiple women have come forward with their experiences to Face.
Seferagic responded in 2021 to the “false allegations” and said that no law enforcement agency had contacted him regarding these allegations.
“They are made and promoted by an organization with 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 by the recent events in NYC, regarding the invitation of Fatih Seferagic to lead public Tarawih prayers in Times Square and locally. [mosques]as well as community interfaith events,” Face said in a statement on Tuesday.
New York Muslims express concern over Times Square’s first Tarawih prayers
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“As a team, it was the most difficult report we’ve ever had to write because of the amazing description of the attack and the silence surrounding this person’s behavior for so many years.”
Hundreds of people liked and shared the video of Seferagic leading the prayer. On March 28, the Asiyah Women’s Center (AWC), a New York City shelter for domestically abused women, shared the story, Face reported. Under the post on Instagram, SQ continued to write that his prayers are with those who were oppressed and hurt.
“As I learn more about the allegations of abuse, it makes me sick to my stomach,” he wrote. “As a personal survivor of sexual abuse and a father of two daughters, it seems like a trauma [this] hit harder than you could imagine.”
An invitation from the Mayor of New York
Seferagic has been invited to numerous mosques and events this week. On March 26, he LED prayers at an interfaith dinner called: “Breaking Matza, Building Meaningful Relationships”, at a Jewish catering center.
Tonight, communities from all over Brooklyn joined in fellowship and brotherhood to Break Matzoh and Build Bonds and honor Ramadan, Passover and Passover 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 organize a thousand meals and conversations throughout the city”. To attend or host a dinner, one must register on the website.
“Regarding the Mayor: The public demands an explanation of how an out-of-state person facing allegations of rape and sexual assault received an invitation to a local interfaith meeting 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 before Mr. Seferagic attended the recent dinner, but we take them very seriously. It is we aim to create a safe environment for all participants in our ‘Breaking Bread, Building Bonds’ program.”