Nov 202016
 

originally published on mvslim.com

justice-311699_1280by Rafia Khader

This summer a respected Imam in Chicago pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. The case of the Chicago Imam shattered our blithe assumptions that just because something touts itself as “Islamic” it adheres to an Islamic ethos based on mutual respect. Sexual violence is a reality in the Muslim community; the case in Chicago is not an isolated one. But how do we find real solutions that address the problem? A facile approach that hearkens to an idealistic vision just isn’t going to cut it.

Just this week, I came across a Facebook post which read that the promotion of sexual health and sexual violence awareness in the Muslim community is “advocating a completely un-Islamic, secular, liberal perspective on sex.” The solution offered: gender segregation or khalwa in Arabic.

Gender segregation, according to this “Facebook Scholar” would prevent the vast majority of the opportunity for sexual misconduct. “If our institutions abided strictly by khalwa standards […] we would all but eliminate this problem.” While he does allow for the possibility of sexual misconduct to occur even when his definition of khalwa is implemented – the case of the Chicago Imam, if nothing, forces him to admit this fact – he’s very clear in his belief that gendered spaces are the solution to all the sexual ills the Muslim community faces. While I am not a victim of sexual violence, I attribute many of the sexually dysfunctional ways of thinking in my own life to this concept of gendered spaces. I remember one time when I was working at an Islamic School, a male teacher come to the office to give me something. Instead of making eye contact and acknowledging my presence, he spoke to me with his eyes on the floor. I’m sure he did this out of respect, but respect was not what I felt. I felt dehumanized. Read More

Nov 202016
 

by Nadiah Mohajir

Words written sex education in the notepad.Recently, many loud voices have been critiquing HEART’s work and misrepresenting our positions on sexual health and sexual violence. While we absolutely do not expect everyone to be on board or even comfortable with our approach, we are strongly opposed to the tactics that have recently been used on social media. Perhaps, the biggest irony of the situation is that the individuals that have criticized  us for our lack of Islamic ethics, have chosen to denigrate our work in a way that also is the antithesis to Islamic ethics and the Prophetic example: through bullying, intimidation, namecalling, and most importantly, spreading untrue information. This type of religious shaming and hateful rhetoric is exactly what we have been speaking out against. We are not interested in engaging in a game of internet bullying. However, we do believe it is necessary to correct the misinformation that is spreading about our work.

The Quran instructs us to be maintainers of justice, even if it means we have to speak up and challenge our own communities. For years, we have heard Muslim women and girls share their struggles with body image, depression, unhealthy relationships, sex, and all too often, sexual violence. They spoke of not having access to culturally­-sensitive information and resources, and being afraid of seeking them because of the stigma and shame associated with sex and sexual violence in Muslim communities. Read more.

Nov 182016
 

By Nadiah Mohajir

leaf-409258_1920As we continue to work on raising awareness on sexual assault in Muslim communities, there are a number of common myths and misinformation that are important to address. Perhaps what is most concerning about these myths is that they are often reinforced by respected religious and community leaders. Misinformation and myths about sexual assault can have some very serious implications.

First, these myths promote ineffective methods of sexual assault prevention and reinforce gender stereotypes. Namely, this inevitably puts the onus on women to cover because it assumes that men can’t seem to control themselves around them. Second, these myths often are laced with victim blaming, pressuring survivors to remain silent about their abuse. When such rhetoric is further perpetuated by those in leadership positions in the community, it is further alienating survivors into darkness. Third, this perpetual cycle of misinformation is a disservice to survivors and denies them their rights to justice and healing.

Finally, when these myths are reinforced by those in positions of respected leadership, it further sets the tone for how sexual assault will be addressed in the community. More often than not in these communities, it is not addressed, or addressed inadequately, further intensifying the survivor’s trauma.

Below, we have included several myths and facts about sexual assault that have been circulating on facebook and other social media among religious and community leaders. These posts are not only disturbing because of the sheer misinformation that is being spread, but also because of the large numbers of likes, shares, and comments that further validate and applaud these attitudes. Such posts are extremely dangerous because they perpetuate rape culture in our communities, and are triggering to survivors who may come across them.

MYTH: Sexual violence is a sin just like premarital sex and adultery (zina in Arabic).

FACT: The act of zina (premarital sex/sex outside of marriage) is the act of engaging in extramarital consensual sexual intercourse, while sexual violence is where consent is inherently absent. Therefore to speak of sexual violence is in the same context as consensual sexual sins is a disservice to victims. Sexual violence is not about the sex. It is not about sexual gratification or two individuals actively going against religious code. Sexual violence is about the power and control a perpetrator has over his or her victim. It is an act of horrifying violence that has a tremendous impact on one’s physical, emotional, social, and spiritual safety. To talk about zina in the same context as sexual assault is extremely offensive to the survivor experience.

MYTH: Dressing modestly, wearing hijab, and gender segregation are preventive actions one can take to protect themselves from sexual assault.

FACT: Hijab or any other clothing does not protect a woman from being sexually assaulted or abused. Often times, assailants have attacked fully clothed women. Furthermore, the rate of sexual assault isn’t much lower in predominantly Muslim countries, where women are fully covered every day and society is generally segregated by gender.

MYTH: If one only interacts with other females and close relatives, they will not get raped or sexually abused.

FACT: Although an overwhelming number of assailants are men, women can be abusers too. There have been situations where a woman has assaulted another woman or girl, or boy. Similarly, many assailants are close male relatives, such as one’s father, uncle, or brother.

MYTH: It is impossible for a person to sexually assault a married partner.

FACT: It is absolutely unlawful for one to harm their partner in any way. In Islam, both spouses are granted rights and responsibilities. One of those rights is the right to sexual intercourse (for both spouses). Often times, this is misinterpreted to mean that the man has unlimited sexual access to his wife, and that consent isn’t really needed. Islam highly values the institution of marriage, encourages both spouses to act with kindness, love, and mercy with each  other, and consent to sexual activity is very much a part of the equation. So while the rights to intimacy and sex exist, there is no implication whatsoever that the spouse may seek this right violently or forcefully.

MYTH: If you were drunk or had sex before marriage and were sexually assaulted, you deserved it and God is punishing you.

FACT: This is another tactic that the community uses to shame and blame the victim. While religious code does not permit substance abuse or sex outside of marriage, it does not justify the act of violence against another. Islamic tradition states that suffering is not tied to sin. Plenty of people suffer who never deserved it. Similarly, plenty of people do wrong and never see the consequences of those actions in this world. This world is not a place of retribution as Muslims believe the afterlife is for that.

The unfortunate reality is that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are victims of sexual assault some time in their lifetime. There is absolutely no reason to believe that these numbers are any different for Muslim communities. That means that it is very likely that we all know at least one survivor and it is our collective responsibility to raise awareness and work toward prevention. If you or someone you know was sexually assault or abused, know that it is not your fault, you are not alone, and there are resources to help you.

Sexual violence is a complicated problem, and one that is not addressed through many of the simple solutions that these myths promote. To assert that the sexual assault will be solved if we only adopt stricter religious code such as dress and gender segregation demonstrates a simplistic and poor understanding of a complex and nuanced issue. More than this, reinforcing these myths is horribly irresponsible and further perpetuating the cycle of abuse by silencing victims and further enabling their perpetrators. It is no longer acceptable to be allow community and religious leaders who do not have the professional training or expertise on sexual assault to continue to spread these myths and misinformation. We can do better. We must do better. The safety of our communities depends on it.

Nov 182016
 

*Trigger Warning for sexual assault

This past weekend, survivor advocate an HEART board member Jenan Mohajir performed a story that she has been working in partnership with Chicago’s 2nd Story to produce. Her first performance this weekend came in the midst of a national outrage related to the surfacing of a video in which Trump brags about his entitlement to sexual assault.

This story delves deep into Jenan’s experiences working to support the brave men and women who came forward last year with allegations of sexual violence against prominent imam Abdullah Saleem, and other perpetrators, at his Quran school, Institute of Islamic Education in Elgin, Illinois. A civil and criminal case began simultaneously in February 2015.
After a long criminal case, Abdullah Saleem plead guilty to all charges of sexual assault in August 2016. The civil case still continues.

This is the story of a survivor and his advocate. You will hear about the devastation, vicarious trauma, and helplessness one feels during a situation like this. You will also hear about a woman who was inspired by her faith to continue to serve these brave individuals, and to channel the inner strength to be able to show up for them in a way the larger community was not able to.

Listen below to a powerful story. Please take care of yourself as you listen to it. According to rainn.org, we know that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Even though these statistics are not specific to any one community, we have no reason to believe that these are any different in the Muslim community. If you, or someone you know is a survivor, know that you are not alone, and know that there are many people out there who want to help you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us or any number of other organizations and hotlines that are committed to helping survivors find healing and justice.
This story was produced by 2nd Story and performed at Pub626.

If you are specifically a victim of Abdullah Saleem or a different perpetrator at IIE, or anyone else, please do not hesitate to contact us if you need help, services, or just some place to talk, by emailing us today at heartwg@gmail.com.

Nov 182016
 

by Nadiah Mohajir

wedding-964415_1920Sex is described as many things: it can be an act of passion for some, physical gratification for others, a necessity for procreation, an act of worship for people of faith, or some combination thereof. It is also a word and experience that is often loaded with many emotions: joy, love, and all too often, fear, shame, and stigma.

One of the challenges of beginning this conversation is that historically, sex and sexuality have been seen as uncomfortable subjects across most racial, ethnic, and religious communities. In Muslim communities, the strong notions of privacy and modesty are often conflated with the shaming of feeling sexual desire, which creates an environment hostile to open discourse, let alone operating outside of religious code. This lack of open, nuanced conversation has long-term consequences: it instills shame and unhealthy attitudes toward sex, which many women carry into their sexual relationships, both within the framework of marriage and outside of it. Read more here.

Sep 162016
 

courtroom-144091_1920by Nadiah Mohajir

HEART Women & Girls initially was founded to focus on improving access to sexual health information and education in Muslim communities. As we held workshops across the country, we quickly realized something: once facilitators set a safe space and gained the trust of participants, the sheer number of stories of sexual violence that were shared were overwhelming. As a result, we quickly made the deliberate decision to include sexual assault awareness education in every one of its sexual health workshops. We believed that it would be a disservice to participants to not also cover topics such as boundaries, consent, and healthy relationships in our sexual health education programming. While discussing sexual violence is different than discussing women’s health, these two topics intersect in the experience of being a Muslim woman, understanding one’s body, and exercising bodily autonomy.

Last year, the importance of this work was more evident than ever. A young woman came forward with allegations of sexual assault against a prominent Chicago imam, Abdullah Saleem. HEART board and staff, along with a team of volunteers, publicly supported her, and within days, received dozens upon dozens of phone calls and emails from survivors of the same perpetrator. We began connecting these young women to the resources they needed: legal services, contacts in the criminal justice system, therapists, and awareness materials.

Of the numerous survivor stories related to this case that HEART initially collected, five survivors chose to move forward with civil legal proceedings, as reported in the New York Times in February 2015. The Illinois States Attorney filed criminal charges shortly afterwards. Both cases have been proceeding – and on August 25, 2016, Abdullah Saleem entered a plea bargain for both charges in the criminal case. This means that the criminal case was resolved out of court through a process of negotiation.  As a result, the victims do not have to face the exhausting ordeal of going to trial and testifying in front of the defense, which typically utilizes tactics that humiliate and tear down the witness.

The importance of this milestone is one that should be recognized. Abdullah Saleem has plead guilty and was sentenced to two years probation and must register as a sex offender. The survivors – both those participating in the criminal and civil cases, but also those who are watching silently from the sidelines, are able to witness some semblance of justice being served in this world. Those that worked to advocate and support them, in a community that is reluctant to address this issue head on, have found some reprieve on this uphill battle. Those that were worried more about the community’s or perpetrator’s reputation than enveloping the survivors in an embrace of mercy and safety, can no longer deny the power of justice being done despite their continuous pushback every step of the way.

This case and its public reaction highlighted the need for HEART’s work more than ever and illustrates some important takeaways:

The incredible courage of survivors

The bravery, courage, and resilience of the brave young woman who first came forward, and the many women and men who followed, sought legal assistance, including those that just called to say, “me too,” is unparalleled and should be at the forefront of every sexual assault discussion. These are men and women in our communities who knew full well that many would not believe them and knew the hostility they would face. Some of these men and women were disclosing to their families for the very first time, and beginning a very personal and private journey to healing and justice. These men and women lived with these experiences for months,  years, decades, and came together in their own ways to very loudly and strongly say “No more,” so that no one else has to endure what they experienced. These men and women, who have not revealed their name or face publicly, but do have a story for all to hear regardless of their community’s unbelievable silence. This is what you call incredible courage and resilience.

Lack of awareness

Many Muslims don’t have the knowledge or the language to identify sexual violence. They often incorrectly attribute sexual violence to being limited to rape, and end up minimizing or ignoring all other abuses. Instead of identifying the actions of abuse, they are often excused as behaviors that “men/boys/elders do.” We also have found that many survivors don’t have an understanding of what is happening to them or even a basic understanding of their bodies and sexuality.

Lack of first responders or resources

There are not enough resources or first responders and professionals trained to address the needs of Muslim survivors in a religiously and culturally competent way. Among the stories we collected, we learned that often times, some of the first people Muslim survivors disclosed to were their local imams, teachers, and school administrators. Yet, due to limited training and knowledge, these individuals often missed the mark in offering a victim-centric response and connecting the survivors to the help they needed. Additionally, we also learned that the secular resources were also not meeting the Muslim communities’ needs. The organizations lacked the culturally competency to be able to provide an appropriate service to those who sought help. Muslim survivors also admitted to not even knowing that resources existed for them in the first place, and didn’t have the tools to appropriately navigate that system.

High rates of underreporting

We know that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in this country, with nearly 68% of sexual assaults never being reported to law enforcement. From our work with Muslim survivors, we know that the likelihood of not reporting is even higher among Muslims, due to the shame, stigma, and lack of awareness associated with sexual assault. While the data specific to Muslims, or even faith communities is limited, anecdotally, we have seen that more than 85-90% of survivors in the Muslim community do not report to law enforcement. To gain a better understanding of some of the barriers facing survivors and reporting, please watch this short video we developed.

This is just the beginning

This particular criminal case is over after nearly two years while the civil case continues.  This was the work of many survivors, advocates, professionals, and experts coming together from the anti-sexual assault movement, law enforcement, legal services, media, and social services. Each one of these parties played a crucial role in shining a light on the stories of these brave survivors and demanding accountability and justice. A number of elder community members even made it a point to be present on each of the court dates to show their support for the survivors. The need for this kind of collaborative approach cannot be underscored. Yet, so much more work needs to be done. There is a dearth of research on the needs of Muslim survivors. There is a dearth of culturally-sensitive resources, services, and information available to Muslim communities on sexual assault. And there is a great need for all of us to work collectively to build safer spaces for our survivors and to hold their abusers accountable, so that those who are violated are heard and believed and no longer have to suffer in silence.

We, at HEART, are motivated more than ever, to continue building on this work. We hope to produce more resources, lead research studies focusing on the needs of the Muslim communities, and implement awareness workshops and trainings for community and religious leaders. The responsibility is on all of us to build safer communities for the most vulnerable. I hope that you can join us as we continue this crucial work.

Sep 162016
 

sunset-801933_1920Recently, marriage and relationship advice videos by well-known and revered scholar Yasir Qadhi have been circulating the internet. Called the “On the Rocks: Common Marital & Intimacy Complaints” series, these videos are 5-10 minutes long with sensationalized titles such as:

  • It’s the #1 Thing Husbands Complain About: Watch How YQ Shuts it Down
  • What so many Men want to know will SHOCK the Ladies. It Could Also End the Engagement
  • It’s Hard to Believe there is a Solution to the in-laws Conundrum. It’s so Simple you will Cry.
  • How YQ Addresses this Common Bedroom Frustration, You’ll want to Give Him a Standing Ovation!

I subscribed to watch these videos and was sorely disappointed with how these videos not only lacked practical advice (ie I still don’t know how to solve the “in-law” problem he’s talking about), but they also were laden with gender stereotypes, shame and stigma around female sexuality, and they continue to reinforce unhealthy sexual relationships between the husband and wife.

I soon discovered I was not the only one to be sorely disappointed in this series, when I came across a post by a woman who refers to herself as the “Salafi Feminist,” and so I invited her to share her thoughts on our blog as a guest post, which you will find below.

******

by Zaynab bint Younus

When one sees Muslim leaders attempt to take on serious and relevant issues to the Muslim Ummah such as sexually dysfunctional marital relationships, one truly hopes for the best. Alas, well-meaning though they may be, there becomes glaringly obvious a lack of knowledge and understanding regarding female sexuality.

A few claims that are being made and circulated en masse (and dangerously so) are the following:

  • Muslim women (especially from ‘conservative, practicing families’) do not really experience sexual arousal or any feelings of intense sexuality before marriage.
  • Women’s fitrah (natural state) is such that they are automatically less sexual than men.
  • Muslim women are intimidated and scared by even discussions about sex prior to marriage; if a Muslim man wants to discuss it with his fiancée, he shouldn’t lest she run in the opposite direction.
  • Women don’t ‘need’ to orgasm as much as men do; their sexual feelings are minimal and what they truly seek from sexual encounters is not necessary physical pleasure, but emotional connection.

Not only are all these claims inaccurate, but to perpetuate them on a massive public forum – and by an individual with significant influence over large numbers of Muslims – is extremely dangerous due to the fact that the Muslim community already suffers from a horrific lack of knowledge and awareness about sex and female sexuality.

Despite the fact that Islamic texts fully recognize women’s sexual needs and in fact protects them as a religious right, many male Muslim leaders perpetuate cultural stereotypes about the nature of female sexuality and falsely pass them off as Islamic guidance. Such ridiculous ideas include the belief that women have a lesser need and appreciation for the physical aspect of intimacy; that they do not experience intense sexual arousal prior to marriage; and that the very idea of sex is disturbing and unnatural to them, or that they are unable to comprehend the true nature of intercourse before marriage.

In all fairness, even Western cultures and scientific thought has long held faulty and inaccurate beliefs regarding female sexuality (most famously, the views of Sigmund Freud and the Victorian phenomenon of ‘hysteria’). However, it is also true that Western society has moved along with considerable speed with regards to knowledge of female sexuality than many Eastern (and Muslim) cultures have. It must still be kept in mind, though, that the amount of studies and research collected on female sexuality is dwarfed by those about men, and that there remains a great deal to be discovered about female sexuality in general.

Going back to the claims being publicly taught, there is first of all a severely erroneous conflation between the reality of culturally ingrained attitudes about sex, and the actual innate physical desires and needs that women have for sex.

While it is absolutely true that many Muslim cultures teach women unhealthy negative attitudes about sex and equate female sexual desire with being dirty or impure, this in no way actually reflects the physiological need for sex that exists in the female gender as a whole.

No matter how much cultural brainwashing women receive regarding their sexuality, most women will still inevitably experience feelings of sexual arousal at some point in their lives – and for those who do, it will generally first happen before marriage.

Furthermore, the arousal a woman feels can and does reach strong levels of intensity, including orgasm; for example, in a wet dream. This was acknowledged even by the Prophet Muhammad (God’s blessings be upon him), who confirmed Umm Sulaym’s question regarding female wet dreams.[1]

Even outside of wet dreams and masturbation however, women can and do feel intense sexual stimulation – anything from wearing a new pair of jeans or sitting on a massage chair. This is not to be crude, but simply realistic.

Nor are such experiences purely involuntary; many women are curious about their bodies and are actively aware of what stimulates them both physically and mentally (after all, the brain is the most powerful sex organ). Sexual curiosity exists in women just as it exists in men; since many girls mature physically and mentally faster than boys, they can be ahead of the game when it comes to being curious about sex.
Whether it’s reading romance novels (and anyone who thinks that girls read romance novels just for the emotional fluff is fooling themselves) or magazines like Cosmopolitan, girls crave information about both the romantic and the explicitly sexual.

Communication about sexual issues is another matter, one tied much more strongly to the aforementioned cultural brainwashing about intimacy than the idea that women have an inherent and instinctive fear or aversion to sex. Advising Muslim men to ‘just pray Istikhaarah, ya akhee’ (just pray the Prayer of Guidance, oh brother) instead of respectfully discussing or asking questions related to sex with their fiancées is harmful and, quite frankly, insulting to both the man and the woman. We should not be perpetuating attitudes of embarrassment, shame, and stigma about sexual issues but rather, encouraging men and women to approach the topic with respect, dignity, and honesty. It may be uncomfortable at first or awkward, but then, all positive growth and change is by necessity.

It is necessary to say here that a great deal of work needs to be done in training Muslim men and women on how to discuss matters related to sex and marriage in a respectful, dignified, and mature manner.

There is one final issue – the idea that women are innately ‘less sexual’ than men. While there is no denying the biological differences between men and women, including sexually, there is a big difference between recognizing the difference, and claiming that women simply aren’t as sexual.[2] More accurate would be to state that what men and women find sexually appealing and arousing, how they react to such stimuli, and the levels at which they respond to such urges differ greatly – but do not take away from the inherent sexuality of women.

It is also a fallacy to say that the sole or primary benefit or reason that women engage in sex is for an emotional connection; rather, while some women do enjoy sex more because of the emotional connection, it is not a necessary component of their actual satisfaction or orgasm. In fact, the vagina – specifically the clitoris – has thousands more nerve endings than the penis, which means that its orgasm can be correspondingly much, much more intense than the male orgasm, and contradicts the belief of those men who are convinced that women don’t really ‘feel it.’ [3] (Not to mention that women are capable of different types of orgasm[4] [5] [6] [7] [8]and multiple orgasms.)

It is worth noting that, once sexually aroused, women have a much stronger need to orgasm than men do. If they are stimulated and left unsatisfied, it causes extreme emotional upset (and significant physical discomfort). Should this become a recurring pattern, where husbands reach climax but make no effort to ensure their wives’ satisfaction, women often end up angry and resistant to being sexually available.

Psychologist Haleh Banani mentions as well that women who are emotionally unsatisfied in their marriages yet are sexually fulfilled have higher rates of remaining within that marriage than the other way around. If that doesn’t underscore the point well enough, I don’t know what will.

The claim that women have fewer or less intense desires, or a somehow less important need for orgasm, is in fact an unhealthy way of minimizing female sexuality and its priority in a relationship. This takes place both amongst Muslims and non-Muslims and is a sign of how misogyny permeates our attitudes such that we automatically do not consider women to be of equal footing even in bed (and God help any woman who shows any sign of initiating sexual interest or contact!).

While the argument may go on to rage over who is ‘more’ sexual (keeping in mind that new studies continue to emerge on the topic, with sometimes paradoxical results), there is no benefit to be gained from pushing the view that women are simply less sexual beings.

In fact, it does the opposite, by telling men that they do not have to consider their wives’ sexual needs to be as important or necessary (the caveat that ‘a woman’s right to sexual satisfaction is guaranteed in Islam’ does nothing to change the final message). It is also implying to women that they should give up hope of true sexual satisfaction because it’s unrealistic and biologically unnecessary for them to experience it (but hey, all women really want are snuggles and warm fuzzy cuddles, right?).

It is high time that we begin to provide qualified individuals in the Muslim community who can discuss sex – and especially female sexuality – from a more nuanced and accurate perspective. Otherwise, Muslim leaders who take it upon themselves to talk about the subject are simply contributing to the already terrible state of Muslim intimacy, and the continued struggles of Muslim women seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in their own marriages.

What truly needs to be encouraged, emphasized, and taught is the importance of men and women alike to improve communication with their spouses about matters of intimacy. From there, it should become much easier for husbands and wives to become comfortable with their own and each others’ bodies; and for husbands to understand the various factors affecting women that may be significantly responsible for obstacles to sexual fulfillment. Just as men have their own unique preferences, levels of libido, and so on, so too are the tastes and desires of women varied and vast.

To truly seek an improvement to the sex lives of married Muslims, the first step should not be to make sweeping generalizations of female sexuality that are based on androcentric perspectives. Rather, it must be recognized that championing outdated ideas causes a great deal of harm to both men and women. A more nuanced and accurate understanding of female sexuality must be collectively pursued in order to see significant positive change in Muslim marriages.

Zainab Bint Younus (aka The Salafi Feminist) is a Canadian Muslimah who believes strongly in reclaiming the rights of women through the Shari’ah, and empowering ourselves through the Qur’an and Sunnah.

references:
[1] Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) relates that Umm Sulaym (Allah be pleased with her) came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Surely, Allah is not shy of the truth. Is it necessary for a woman to take a ritual bath after she has a wet dream?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied: “Yes, if she notices a discharge.” Umm Salama covered her face and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Does a woman have a discharge?” He replied: “Yes, let your right hand be in dust [an Arabic expression said light-heartedly to someone whose statement you contradict], how does the son resemble his mother?” (Sahih al-Bukhari 130)
[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/06/turns-out-women-have-really-really-strong-sex-drives-can-men-handle-it/276598/
[3] http://www.science20.com/science_amp_supermodels/would_female_orgasms_kill_men
[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/women-do-experience-two-different-types-of-orgasm-study-reveals-9191884.html
[5] http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/seriouslyscience/2014/03/12/really-two-kinds-female-orgasm-science-weighs/#.VPYF33zF84c
[6] https://monicasbox.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/11-different-types-of-orgasms/
[7] http://www.womenshealthmag.com/sex-and-relationships/types-of-female-orgasm
[8] http://www.buzzfeed.com/alisoncaporimo/different-types-of-orgasms

Sep 162016
 

magnifying-glass-633057_1920One of HEART‘s activities is to help design research studies to collect data specific to Muslim communities. Our hope is to be able to have a deeper understanding of the reproductive needs of Muslim women in order to be able to offer:

  • more targeted and enhance programming
  • recommendations to medical professionals on how to make their services more culturally competent
  • recommendations and tips to Muslim women on how to effectively navigate health services and advocate for themselves

HEART, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is conducting a study to explore the knowledge of Muslim women on reproductive health, and their perceptions and experiences of visiting a physician or women’s health care provider for reproductive care services. If you are a Muslim woman who lives in the United States, and are between the ages of 18 and 45, please participate in this study today by filling out a brief anonymous survey that should take 5-10 minutes of your time.

Take the survey today!

Sep 162016
 

desk-1148994_1920by Alia Azmat

This Ramadan I made a pact with myself, to take care of myself. I stretched myself, I have been challenging myself, but perhaps not in the way you might imagine. I have not attended taraweeh every night. A few days I did not wake up to reap the rewards of suhoor, the predawn meal. One day I even made the conscious choice to listen to music instead of Quran on a long drive home. This Ramadan, I asked myself to be realistic, to be present, to be honest with myself about the mental habits I engage in which destroy my body and spirit. I asked myself to be honest with myself about the habits which prevent me from connecting to my Lord sincerely.

Early in the month, I was added to a WhatsApp group where I was asked to introduce myself and share something I consider beautiful others may not. Silence, particularly those “pregnant pauses” and the silence we do not afford ourselves during our busy days and packed schedules, is beautiful to me. Silence, when we are present enough with ourselves and our loved ones to ask “how is your haal (condition) today?” Silence, gives us permission to mess up as we answer the calls of our hearts. It gives others an opportunity to reach out, kindly, softly, either with their gaze, their touch, a smile, or statement, saying “it is okay” to stumble and fall through the fear of becoming.  Silence, when I allow myself to check in with myself in the morning (or in mourning), the late afternoon, right before Iftar, meal to break the fast — silently praying – “it was a difficult day today, but tomorrow I will try again for you my Lord.” Silence, when I am able to tell culturally constructed demons named self-loathing, perfectionism, the push for “productivity,” to take a back seat as I finish my final rakah (unit of prayer) or a particularly gluttonous dinner.

Still, silence, at times, can be scary.

When I am alone with these thoughts, reflecting on how and why these “basic” Ramadan tasks are difficult for me, I confront the devils God didn’t lock up.

I am single. Why do I not think God is enough for me?
Instead, how I can be useful and supportive to other sisters like me?
I am studying. I resent summer school and sweltering through summer humidity.
But consider what opportunities God has given me (even through grad school poverty).
I am safe. What does it mean for me to show solidarity?
What do I do with the privilege of emotional safety. How can I accept I may never know  another’s   experience intimately?

This Ramadan, I asked myself to sit with my guilt. For not praying more, for not observing more traditionally, for not being better to my parents. For me, these are true moments of reflection, of growth, of rebirth; but they are painful and uneasy.

This Ramadan I made a pact with myself, to take care of myself. God has given me the gift of intellect, of opportunity, of sincerity and concern for my community. What good am I to others if I push myself unrealistically, instead of reflecting and taking accountability? What do I lose in my relationship with Rabbul Alameen, Lord of the Worlds, when I reject spiritual sustenance, spiritual self-care, spiritual sustainability?

God is forgiving. But God is not only Forgiving in Ramadan. While we believe Allah’s mercy is multiplied 70x in this Holy month, I want to believe His mercy could also be extended towards myself this month.

My fast will not look like your fast. And there are many ways to fast in this holy month. What would it mean for you to be honest with yourself this Ramadan? What is required of you to continue talking with Allah after the month is over? Kindness, self-acceptance, a prayer buddy, maybe one less (or more post-taraweeh) coffee? Spiritual self-care is not about overextending. Meet yourself this month where you need to be. Forgive yourself if it is not where you used to be.

So what does spiritual self-care look like? I implore you to figure it out with me this month and beyond–here are just a few reflections on what it could mean:

  • God says “I am as my slave expects Me to be.” When you give yourself permission to make mistakes, you are humbling yourself — God is the only flawless, perfect Being. Giving permission to yourself to “mess up” in and outside of this month implies you trust God and choose to believe in His Mercy over His wrath.
  • Self-care can often sound “selfish.” Explore the stigma surrounding this word. In writing this I had to address how uncomfortable it was to write about “me, me, me.” It feels egotistical, it feels self-centered, at times it feels spoiled and indulgent. But when everyone around us is telling us not to celebrate ourselves and our achievements, maybe a radical Ramadan is simply saying “thank you God, for shaping me, for blowing ruh into me, for taking the time to fashion me individually.” And yet “to know yourself is to know your Lord.” Perhaps our “selfish” reflections can be reframed as acts of self-assessment. Since we are asked “to call yourselves to account before you are called to account.”
  • On that note, there may not be one right or wrong way to reflect and call ourselves to account. I want so desperately for someone to tell me “THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT. THIS IS HOW YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.” My challenges will look different than a mother taking care of her children, different than someone who just had, or lost a child — negotiating grief, roles, and expectations in the family. My struggles as a student in the Midwest, look very different than those working 9-5 jobs outside, or even inside, in the blazing Phoenix heat. Finally, for those who are unable to fast, for those managing visible and invisible conditions, such as PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, chronic pain, or other medical conditions the collective Ramadan experience can be trying.

What I can share is what taking care of myself has looked like in the past: I’ve called friends, baked and shared sweet treats, let myself cry, writing poetry and taking time off social media to reengage with myself meaningfully. Others have told me spiritual self-care sometimes looks like not bringing a home baked item to an iftar party (GASP!), saying no to additional responsibilities at work, and not attending taraweeh in exchange for a good night’s sleep. The test here in my opinion is to accept ourselves and others when we make these decisions.

  • Spiritual self-care acknowledges burnout. Therapist, psychologists, social workers, activists and others in the “helping fields” are told at the start of their work/programs, “to take care of yourself.” We need to be nourished. Ramadan in many ways reminds us we cannot do it ourselves. We must allow others to lend us a hand. This can be particularly difficult for women I think. We are socialized to believe we can do it all. Without struggling or silencing ourselves and our suffering. Although we accept food from neighbors; we make efforts to eat and share together, we must similarly, trust and allow God and the other beloveds in our life to help us take care of ourselves.

As a woman, asking and accepting help is challenging for me. I wonder why I can’t do it all (and have a killer Instagram account…). Implicitly I’ve been told “this is your job,” “if you can’t do it all, you are doing it wrong.” This Ramadan I was reminded I have many people in my life I can trust to help me. But I realize not everyone has had similar experiences in their family or in their community. In being kind to ourselves we also allow space for us to be kind to others. To act with softness instead of shaming or humiliating individuals when they bravely reach out for assistance or worship differently.  As community members, sisters, friends, husbands, brothers, and spouses I think we need to be asking, “how can I help my loved ones take care of themselves?”

You are probably already asking God to forgive you during these last 10 nights. I wonder what it would be like to give yourself a moment of silence in moments of frustration…and forgive yourself. To reflect on yourself. I wonder what it would be like to ask God,

“What do I need to learn about myself to make my relationship [with you, with my parents, with my spouse, with my family, with your Holy Book, with myself, with humanity] BETTER – kinder, softer, more forgiving, more loving, more understanding?”

Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful (39:53).”

May God keep our hearts firm on the truth and allow us to fight for justice even if it is against ourselves, Ameen.

Alia is an Educator for HEART Women & Girls and is currently pursuing her PhD in counseling psychology.

Jun 242016
 

originally published on patheos.com

By Sameera Qureshi

Woman hygiene protection, close-up“Raise your hand if you’ve ever faked fasting when you’re on your period.”

I posed the question and then looked around the room of 25 seventh grade girls and saw that 80 percent of them had their hands raised. Some were looking directly at me, perhaps hoping that I’d understand why, while others had their gazes directed down towards the floor.

I was not shocked by the results of this particular group or the many others I’ve run on sexual health education with Muslim girls and women. There is a great amount of shame and stigma around many topics related to sexual health, especially that of menstruation. For something that has been endowed to girls and women as a blessing — the ability to create and sustain life within our own bodies — it’s shocking how often this topic is shunned from discussion circles within our communities and not to mention in our homes.

Speaking from my own experiences, growing up as an only female sibling with two brothers, I too have been guilty of acting shamefully during menstruation. To use the term shamefully is to mean that someone looks down upon themselves as lesser than, unworthy, and even dirty for menstruating. For many years during my menstrual cycle, I would wake up for suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) and fajr prayer, pretend to pray and breakfast with my family — despite the fact that I was absolved from fasting due to my period.

There were times when my mom would vouch for me not being at the suhoor table by saying that I was sick or had a headache. I’d go to the basement to eat food during the day. As an adult, I’d head out of the house to eat while running errands or at work. While some of these practices may be seen as maintaining modesty during menstruation, they were all done under the auspices of shame rather than empowered decision making.

Had I known that menstruation is empowering, indicative of a new spiritual layer as an adult from an Islamic perspective, and that there were many ways to still connect with God — my experiences would have been quite different. I could have chosen to act differently than in the shameful fake-fasting way.
During the girls group, we dove into the religious perspectives of menstruation — namely, the rights that have been given to women during their monthly cycle. Girls and women who are menstruating are absolved of the obligation to pray and fast. What many girls especially don’t understand is that they can and should continue to worship in other ways during their menstrual cycle.

Generally speaking, when girls are taught about menstruation (typically from family members or friends), the “do’s and don’ts” are emphasized more so than “here are your other options.” Having spoken with and taught many teenage girls, it would be safe to say that a vast majority of them feel uncomfortable approaching their mothers and families members about menstruation.

If this topic is not spoken about or broached by parents, it is unfair to expect that girls will initiate the conversation themselves. Parents not talking about a subject often implies that it’s not to be spoken about. And thus, many of these girls learn by osmosis through their peers, the Internet or trial and error about physical, emotional and spiritual self-care during their menstrual cycle.

However, this information is not always accurate nor complete, to say the least. Nor does it afford them the opportunity to ask questions after they have digested the information.

Menstruation is not only physical in nature, despite this aspect being focused upon the most — it has a spiritual and emotional dimension as well. Girls and women need to learn self-care strategies around all three aspects of menstruation, especially during Ramadan, the holiest month of the year.

Body image, self-worth and having a healthy sexual identity are impacted by how a girl understands menstruation. Understanding one’s monthly cycle is empowering and leads girls and women to feel as though they are in control. This can trickle over to additional areas of sexual health self-care — understanding the importance of regular gynecological check-ups, seeking information about safe and healthy intimacy, exploring the concept of healthy relationships and so forth.

If young girls do not feel empowered or confident enough to seek information about a normal biological cycle in their body, it will be challenging for them to reach out in other realms of sexual health.

Not to mention, many Muslim women suffer silently from menstrual and/or sexual dysfunction and aren’t quite sure who to turn to for support. If we empower girls from a young age and arm them with a plethora of information and resources, we are creating pathways that makes it more than permissible to discuss any sexual health related matter with trusted adults.

The shame that girls and women feel around menstruation is not solely limited to this segment of sexual health. Speaking of sexual health, our communities are in a dire state on this topic. Apart from menstruation, we also don’t speak about sexual violence, creating safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ community members, what healthy relationships consist of, consent-based education and ensuring that our institutions and mosques have policies and protocols in place to protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable.

While it is not incumbent on us to all be doing this work at the community level, it is our responsibility to become educated on these topics and at least practice creating safe spaces within our own family and friends circle. This includes men as well as women.

It’s time that both men and women place aside any shame related to menstruation and sexual health topics. Our faith tradition is rich in stories about honest and detailed questions that Muslims would ask of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). We’ve definitely lost this within our own communities, and our faith tradition has been overshadowed by cultural stigma and shame.

So let’s use this Ramadan to become empowered to seek sexual health information as a means to enhance our spiritual, physical and emotional well being. Let’s not fake fasting anymore.

Sameera Qureshi is the Director of Education, Canada for HEART Women & Girls. For the last several years she led sexual health and sexual assault awareness programming for the Muslim community in Calgary and other Canadian communities. Most recently, she has moved to Washington, DC, where she hopes to continue similar programming.