Jun 242016

by Nadiah Mohajir

courthouse-1223279_1920In January 2015, a Stanford undergraduate student sexually assaulted a young woman. The woman, unconscious at the time, was assaulted behind a dumpster. Two graduate students riding past the scene were able to stop the assault and detain the perpetrator – Stanford champion swimmer Brock Turner – until the police came. A little over a year later, the jury found Turner guilty on three counts of sexual assault, with a maximum of 14 years in prison.

But last week, Turner was sentenced to a mere six months in county jail and three years probation because the judge feared the “severe impact” a longer sentence would have on the star swimmer.

How’s that for your daily dose of justice?

This case brings up many important reminders. I call them reminders, and not lessons, because they are not new findings; rather, they are what most anti-sexual assault activists, experts, and advocates have been saying for decades…Read more.

Jun 242016

By Sahar Pirzada

candle-335965_1920I am sitting on an airport chair at 7:45am in Northern California. This is the 5th time I have had to travel in the span of a month. My heart is filled with all sorts of mixed emotions. I am tired. Actually not tired, but exhausted in every sense of the word, yet there is still a small bulb of energy pulsing in my heart that is keeping me going. I’ve had a knot in my chest since Wednesday and I’m waiting for an hour to myself where I can cry and release the pressure.

Yesterday, I facilitated a community forum about sexual violence for the Muslim community at a college campus. A female Muslim student of 23 years old bravely shared her story of being sexually and emotionally abused by her close friend for the span of 6 months. She shared the details, the raw emotions, the thoughts running through her head and shared her pain with a room of 100 community members in the most beautiful, vulnerable and humble way. She was not there for herself, she was there for them. She was there because her love for her community drove her to share herself with them so she could change the culture of victim-blaming, to change the cultural stigma around abuse and to uplift the story of her abuse and the stories of the 4 survivors before her who had suffered in silence at the hand of her abuser. As she spoke, I sat quietly next to her and held on to her strength with all its delicate power resonating through the room.

I sat there, yesterday, in admiration of her and of the community leaders who had made the forum a possibility. Today, I continue to marvel at how timely these young people mobilized around this issue. Earlier last week, on Wednesday one of my students called me to share this survivor’s story with me. The student wanted to support her friend in whatever way possible and so she reached out to me and asked for help. What am I currently noticing about the connection between my spiritual identity and organizing? I am noticing that I now have a purpose. That I now have influence. That I now have power to change my faith community to practice the values at the core of our religion – mercy, justice and love. After a 7 day workweek, I eagerly hopped on plane once again on Sunday evening to join the student leaders who I pray will lead my community to greatness some day. I met the survivor and we shared our stories and sat in peaceful discomfort on the grassy lawn of the college campus. We were joined by the organizers of the forum at a cafe where we mapped out the agenda: renewal of intentions, safe space guidelines, video of a survivor story, definitions, types of abuse, reasons why survivors don’t report, reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships, responding as individuals and institutions in a victim-centric way, resources and, of course, the survivor’s truth. We closed the event off with a powerful supplication. A brother wept as he asked God to open our eyes and hearts. With a stream of tears rolling down his cheek he prayed that the community show up when needed and support survivors. He asked for forgiveness from his Lord for being blind and not showing up sooner. We sat in silent prayer for another minute, we all took a deep breath and left the space realizing what we just did as a community is just the beginning.

Insha Allah (God-willing).

Sahar Pirzada is HEART Women & Girls‘ Lead Trainer on the West Coast. She actively works to promote sexual health and well-being, and advocates for victim-centric approaches and information for all sexual assault survivors.

May 042016

by Henna Khawja, M.S.W.



*Trigger warning: Following article includes the topic of sexual abuse and sexual assault

I have often found myself wondering, “Why don’t people love their children just the way they are?” Individuals spend a lot of time thinking about conceiving, trying to conceive, getting fertility tests, being pregnant, giving birth, fostering and/or adopting. The baby arrives and they are perfect – healthy and alive, soft and all theirs. At what point does that perfect child become “not enough?” Too dark, too fair. Too skinny, too curvy. Too lean, too muscular. Too feminine, too masculine. Hair product. Diets. Fair and lovely. Copious amounts of tutoring. Shaming. Neglect. Abuse.

In my eight years outside of university working as a Social Worker and Counsellor, I have seen pain and trauma in many, many forms. Women who have been physically and sexually abused by their husbands, children who have been molested by their family members, young men and women who have been forced into marriage at a young age – these individuals often come into counselling with one common denominator: they feel at fault, they feel wronged, but ultimately, they feel that they are to be blamed for their experience. They feel like helpless victims.

Now, as a mother to a beautiful baby girl, I wonder how my child – who I gracefully carried in my womb for thirty-seven and a half weeks – could ever be “not enough.” I want her to experience nothing but positivity in life – boundless self-love, unconditional love from family and friends, unbreakable self-confidence, admirable self-respect, compassionate faith, innate leadership skills, and merciful romantic love, when the time is right. I want my daughter to become a strong-willed, graceful, intelligent and opinionated woman – perhaps an academic, an artist, an athlete, a writer, perhaps a Social Worker like me, but most definitely whatever she defines as her calling. That said, why would I ever want her to feel like a victim? It is the role of a parent to uplift and empower their child, just as it is the role of the Counsellor to uplift and empower the folks that they work with.

On the topic of women’s rights, the debate of politically correct discourse is often relentless, often ignorant, sometimes inspiring, but rarely empowering. A common discussion within the topic of sexual abuse or assault is “Survivor” versus “Victim.” As an advocate for individuals who have experiences of violence in their lives, I am unapologetically an advocate for the former category. It is my strong opinion that any individual – male, female, cisgender, transgender or transitioning – who has had an act of violence committed against them is undoubtedly a Survivor (insert all of the positive emojis and Beyonce .gifs here).

From a theoretical perspective, there are many academic frameworks and counselling approaches that support using the phrase survivor – Strengths-Based Perspective, Client-Centered Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Anti-Oppressive Practice, Empowerment Theory – to name a few. When an individual has experienced a form of violence, they are made to feel powerless, betrayed, out of control and perhaps hopeless. Using a negative phrase such as “victim,” a word borrowed from Western legal discourse, only further disempowers them. In many cases of violence, individuals find themselves amongst the mess of the legal system – a process that inherently deems a person a victim to their circumstances. The legal process then proceeds to shame, demonize, question, doubt, slut-shame and discount the individual’s narrative, all in the name of due process and “justice.” Imagine going into such a lengthy, nuanced process already feeling like a victim? Now imagine beginning that same process by saying to yourself, “I am a Survivor.” Which scenario would be more gentle on your heart?

Survival for Survivors is diverse, complex and beautiful. It occurs on the daily in the most mundane of ways for the average person, but there have also been noteworthy, inspirational cases which are worth mentioning. When Anita Hill was repeatedly sexually harassed by her supervisor, who was a Judge at the Supreme Court of America, she survived by seeking justice and ultimately opened a nation-wide, if not international, discussion on workplace sexual harassment. Jane Doe was raped by the notorious and serial “Balcony Rapist,” and she survived by launching a lawsuit against the Toronto Police, arguing that investigators were negligent for not making the public aware of the rapist. These women not only sought justice and healing for themselves, but they went above and beyond by ensuring safety and protection for the general public. Male students at Brown University brought their campus sexual assaults to the attention of the administration, and they survived by advocating for themselves, raising awareness about male sexual assault, and bravely continuing their studies on the very campus where their traumas occurred. The good people at FORGE noticed that more than half of the attendees of their monthly meetings had disclosed that they had been sexually assaulted or sexually abused as children, so they promoted survivor-hood in various transgender communities by conducting nationwide research, organizing conferences and providing nationwide training to social service providers. When individuals from various faith communities disclosed that they had been sexually abused by a religious authority, they survived by seeking assistance, justice and ensuring protection for their fellow brothers and sisters in faith. Individuals who are differently abled experience sexual assault and confide in a trusted individual or reach out for help from a worker, they survive through self-advocacy by allowing themselves to ask for help.

As you see, survival comes in many different forms – it is not always graceful, or loud, or even visible to most. With this particular form of violence, survival can look like:

  • Simply waking up in the morning
  • Getting out of bed and starting your day
  • Disclosing your experience to a loved one, a Counsellor, a Lawyer, a Teacher, or your own journal
  • Learning and identifying your triggers
  • Engaging in self care
  • Seeking counselling
  • Pursuing an order of protection
  • Writing about your experience
  • Returning to a place that reminds you of your experience, or alternatively, deciding to finally avoid said place
  • Creating art about your experience
  • Meditating
  • Praying

When working with Survivors, I want for them what I want for my daughter – to feel nothing but positivity; to heal and to mourn in a healthy manner, to feel supported, to be loved, to feel safe, to seek and hopefully obtain justice in light of the injustice(s) that occurred during their life’s journey. I want Survivors to know that they did not choose to be abused, that the abuse occurred to them. I want Survivors to know that they are not their circumstances, and with (a lot of) hard heart work, they can rise above their pain. I want Survivors to value their worth, and to undoubtedly know that they are “enough.” I want Survivors to know that they are not to be blamed for what happened to them. Individuals who have experienced child abuse, incest, sexual assault, molestation, forced marriage, rape, secret marriage, cyberbullying or have been forced to hide their identity in any way – know that you have survived your circumstances, you have not fallen victim to what was done to you, and I see you as a Survivor – even if you are not ready to do so yet.

Henna Khawja is a Registered Social Worker with years of training and practice from Toronto, Canada. Henna joined the HEART team in 2014 as Consultant and Facilitator. After completing her Bachelor of Social Work (B.S.W.) at Ryerson University, Henna transitioned to the University of Toronto to pursue her Master in Social Work (M.S.W.) specializing in Social Justice and Diversity with a Collaborative Degree in South Asian Studies. Since graduating, Henna has focused her practice on both clinical counselling and grassroots advocacy in Toronto, Canada; Islamabad, Pakistani and Zanzibar, Tanzania with a variety of community-based and corporate organizations. Henna’s expertise thrive in working with women and youth on the topics of anti-oppression, crisis intervention, trauma therapy, expressive arts therapy, domestic violence, honour-related violence, forced marriage, interfaith dialogue and narrative therapy. You can email Henna at henna@heartwomenandgirls.org or follow her on Twitter @mskhawja.

May 042016

by Sahar Pirzada

*Content Note: Post discusses rape and marital rape


credit: familyplanning.org.nz

It is common practice to ask before touching something that is not yours. The same rule applies to bodies. A husband does not own his wife or her body and must ask before touching it. She is the sole owner of her body and has the right to decide who can touch it, how, when and for how long.

This concept seems to have been lost on not only some Islamist groups such as Hizbut Tahrir in Malaysia, but some Muslim people in general who do not believe that marital rape exists in Islam. Rape is rape. Whether it is between strangers, friends, a dating couple or a married couple – the action of forcing a person have sex with them without their consent (or forced consent due to emotional coercion) is rape.

As a Muslim woman, I believe the rights granted to me by my religion are just and fair. I, therefore, have a vested interest in proving marital rape is forbidden in Islam because if it weren’t, then what does that mean about the worth of my sexual agency in a marriage? My passion to educate women about their sexual and reproductive rights became much more important to me several months back, when I conducted a workshop for Muslim women in Singapore.

One of the aunties approached me after my talk and asked “Can I really say no if he wants to have sex? Won’t the angels curse at me if I say no?” My heart broke as she went on to explain to me how she would ask her husband every night before going to bed if he wanted anything from her sexually, but she was rarely in the mood and was asking merely out of obligation as his wife. The conversation raised many questions about physical intimacy, sexual rights and consent in the context of Muslim marriages. The assumption in the room was that by signing the Islamic marriage contract, a woman has legally consented to engaging in sexual activity with her partner any time he demanded it. In the case of the aunty, she consented, even when she did not want to have sex, out of fear of a spiritual punishment. The question then remains- is this willful and informed consent? Making sense of this situation requires us to take a closer look at interpretations of religious texts and judgements about the expectation of women to have sex with their husbands.

First, there are certain hadiths one can refer to that are used to justify the requirement for women to say yes to her husband’s sexual requests. In Sahih Muslim, The Book of Marriage (Kitab al-Nikah), 3368, Abu Huraira (may Allah pleased with him) reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying:

When a man invites his wife to his bed and she does not come, and he (the husband) spends the sight being angry with her, the angels curse her until morning.];

Secondly, there are influential figures such as Ustaz Abdul Hakim Othman of HTM, who believe and openly decree that marriage legalises a Muslim to have sexual relations with a woman. “Your body is to be used by your husband, to put it crudely. When you marry a woman, there’s no need to get consent [for sex], no need at all,” he said.

It is easy to see how these messages can be read negatively by both men and women. For men, they may believe their wives should submit to their sexual requests. For women, they may believe that it is their religious obligation as wives to say yes.

There are, however, alternative understandings of Islam that support a woman’s right to consent to all forms of sexual activity within a marriage. Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa of the Islamic Renaissance Front is one such individual who is speaking out against the patriarchal interpretations of Islam. He is quoted in MalayMail Online having said “Any imposition without her consent is basically an assault on her rights as an independent human being. If this imposition without consent is termed marital rape, then marital rape it is.”

Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes during a lecture for Sacred Path of Love explicitly denounced marital rape and also noted that the hadith about angels cursing women was in reference to women who use sex as a tool to manipulate and control their husbands.

After finding less than satisfying interpretations of the angels cursing hadith online, I consulted with local Indonesian scholar Dr. Nur Rofiah who explained how the hadith can not be understood in a vaccuum. It should be understood as a part of a collection of verses from the Quran and other hadiths that discuss marital relations. In the Quran, you have a verse that notes husbands and wives being garments of each other – this indicates an equal relationship between them. She went on to explain that the hadith about the angels cursing women refers to instances where the husband is inviting the wife politely but the wife refuses arrogantly to have sex with him. Marriage allows men and women to have sex with each other but forbids cruel treatment and consent should be obtained actively and not assumed.

Another shaykha from the US provided me with a similar explanation of the hadith:

“It is her legal right to refuse and accept any physical relationship. If she uses her right abusively ( to manipulate him and use his sexual needs as a tool against him to get what she wants or out of a desire to punish him) the husband still has no right to force her. Rather, the hadith admonishes her and warns her of her punishment with Allah and His angels. If a woman is tired or sick or just doesn’t want to engage in relations  and she is not using her refusal as a means to hurt her husband, there is no negative spiritual consequence to her refusal. Such a woman would refuse in a kind way (as opposed to abusive) and whether her husband understands or not, is not on her once she has communicated to him with ihsan. The hadith is meant for women who cheapen the marital bond and relations to a weapon they can use against their husbands. Even then, the hadith reminds them that they may have the worldly right to refuse in an abusive way, but they don’t have the ethical right.”

Her explanation presents a far more nuanced understanding of the hadith, as opposed to the literal reading that people are so keen to adopt, and therein lies the key difference.

In understanding any religious obligation, we are often confronted with numerous conflicting passages of the Quran and hadith, all of which are rooted in very specific contexts. We must constantly challenge ourselves to think the best of our religion and question interpretations of religious texts that promote injustice. If there is ever a situation where an individual is being physically, emotionally or spiritually harmed in the name of Islam, we need to not just brush it off as “those aren’t Muslims who say that” but work to understand their perspective and offer positive alternative perspectives. When in doubt – refer back to the character of the Prophet (S) and the core teachings of Islam that simply put, ask us all to do good in this world. In my Islam, emotional blackmail, coercion and rape are not part of those teachings.

originally published on beyondhijabsg.wordpress.com

Sahar Pirzada is Lead Trainer, West Coast for HEART Women & Girls.

May 042016

by Nadiah Mohajir

originally published on altmuslimah.com

sUp until a few years ago, Jian Ghomeshi was known to many Canadians as a singer, musician and radio broadcaster. In 2014, he gained notoriety for a much more sinister reason. Ghomeshi faced 23 separate allegations of sexual assault. Despite the fact that there were multiple brave women who came forward with their stories, the court acquitted Ghomeshi due to insufficient evidence on March 24, 2016.

So what precisely is sexual assault? Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

The recent acquittal of Jian Ghomeshi is not unusual as many defendants in sexual assault cases walk free, leading one to wonder if the criminal justice system is truly protecting those who it claims to protect. Read more….

May 042016

by Nadiah Mohajir

As we embark on Sexual Assault Awareness Month, you will hear many important facts and information about sexual assault, its impact, its prevalence, and how we can begin working toward prevention. This year, at HEART, we would like to raise awareness on why victims don’t tell. Disclosing sexual assault is a complicated and personal decision. Often, victims tell and are not believed or are blamed. Other times, they don’t tell because of the numerous emotions they may be feeling. Join us throughout the month as we explore these reasons in depth, listen to survivor stories, and begin thinking about ways we can make our communities safer for our survivors. We introduce this month, which begins tomorrow, April 1, with our latest video project on why victims don’t tell. We hope that you find this video informative, and that you will share this video with your family and friends. Most of all, we hope that it challenges you to think about the role you can play in supporting sexual assault survivors moving forward.

May 042016

by Nadiah Mohajir

The Academy Awards, to me, are like Superbowl Sunday: they are never missed and usually watched with the company of a number of friends. In the past, the “pregame show” – the red carpet – has been watched much more meticulously than the actual show itself – hearing the interviews, seeing the dresses, and who the movie stars are interacting with has always been a guilty pleasure of mine.

Something happened at this year’s Academy Awards – similar to this year’s Superbowl with Beyonce’s Formation, and Grammy’s with Kendrick Lamar’s powerful performance – that deemed it different from the past years, that made the pretty dresses and celebrity gossip no longer the forefront of the discussion between my friends and I: the undeniable activism raising awareness on important social justice issues such as race, sexism, and sexual violence. Not only were these complex and nuanced issues being discussed before the Oscars by many activists and critics, these issues were openly addressed on stage at one of Hollywood’s largest events.

From the obvious longstanding #oscarssowhite discussion to the red carpet journalists being challenged to talk to actresses about more than just who they were wearing, to some really powerful demonstrations honoring the resilience and courage of gendered-based violence, I am still thinking about this year’s academy awards.

One issue, in addition to race, that was given much attention was that of gender based and sexual violence. Vice President Biden’s urging the audience to join him and the White House to end sexual violence through the It’s On Us campaign, Lady Gaga’s emotional performance with fifty survivors, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s win for a film on honor killings, and Spotlight’s win for best picture represent a powerful shift in our culture despite how ingrained and systemic sexual violence and gender based violence is: it is no longer acceptable to remain silent on injustices like sexual assault and honor killings. These “wins” at the Oscars were two reminders for me: first, that there are multiple avenues to raising awareness and art, film, and music are powerful tools to do so. Second, while on the surface, it is natural to weighed down by the heavy, tragic issue of sexual assault and honor killings, these are stories of courage, resilience, and survival.

And so today, I am hopeful. While working to raise awareness on difficult topics such as sexual violence is often disheartening, and sometimes feels like progress is moving at a snail’s pace, I am also consistently moved by the courage and resilience of those who refuse to remain silent – both of the survivors themselves, and the many others who work to support them – from their advocates, to the artists that tell their stories, to our very own Vice President. I am hopeful by the realization that we are entering a new era of activism, one that brings together technology, art, and everyday people, one that permeates our most beloved American past times – from the Super Bowl to the Grammys to the Oscars – and one that challenges the masses to stand up against the many injustices in the world.



May 042016

by Sobia Ali Faisal

To best understand the relationship between misogyny and sexual health I’ll begin this piece with a comprehensive definition for each term.  

Misogyny: “[M]isogyny is primarily a property of social systems or environments as a whole, in which women will tend to face hostility of various kinds because they are women in a man’s world  (i.e., a patriarchy), who are held to be failing to live up to men‘s standards (i.e., tenets of patriarchal ideology which have some purchase in this environment)” (Manne, p.2). In other words, misogyny is systemic oppression of women, within patriarchal societies in which women are expected to adhere to patriarchal expectations, otherwise face punishment.   

Sexual health: Sexual health “is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled” (World Health Organization, 2006).

We all are aware that sexual health is not something which is explicitly discussed in Muslim communities. However, subtle messages and lessons regarding sexuality and sexual health are being relayed to women constantly and these messages place a heavy burden on them.

  • “Wear a long shirt when you go to the mosque. You don’t want the men to see your curves.”
  • “Don’t get too comfortable/friendly with the boys in your class.”
  • “Keep your voice down in the mosque. The men shouldn’t be able to hear you.”
  • “If a man sees your hair your wudu is invalidated.” (Yes, I was told this once.)
  • “Don’t stay out past dark. People will talk.”
  • “You don’t need to know those things until you get married. And then, your husband will teach you.” (Though this message may not be explicitly stated, there are ways in which this message is relayed.)

None of these statements mention sex or sexuality explicitly, but they all send a clear message. “You, woman, are a sexual being whose curves and voice will sexually excite and distract men, who, upon seeing your hair, will have thoughts so dirty YOUR wudu will be invalidated. Also, getting friendly with the boys in your class will inevitably lead to sexual relations and if you stay out past dark people will assume you’re out there having sex with men. Oh, and if you know about sex before you get married then your husband will assume you were out having sex with men and he won’t respect you. So just let him teach you because he knows from all the sex he was out having with women, like most guys do.”

Women’s sexuality, in Muslim communities, is too often defined in relation to men. The attitudes, views, opinions, and thoughts of men are given priority over the reality of women’s lives. Women’s behaviour is strictly regulated to the meet the patriarchal expectations laid out by men. And, as a result, women’s behaviour is often viewed in sexual terms such that women are policed to behave in ways that do not “force” men to behave in sexually “haram” ways or that ensure people know you are not engaging in “unlawful” sex. When women do not adhere to these expectations, or are assumed to not be adhering to them, they are faced with derision, disrespect, and sometimes ostracization and isolation.      

This is misogyny. And enacting this misogyny in the name of religious duty or obligation is a form of spiritual violence, in which women are denied access to religious and spiritual attainment because they fail to meet patriarchal expectations of women’s behaviour.

So how is this misogyny harmful to women’s sexual health? Because it denies women bodily autonomy, having a detrimental impact on the physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality. It denies women the choice to decide what is and isn’t sexual, safe, coercive, pleasurable, violence. It conflates non-sexual behaviours (how long our shirts are) with sexual ones and disguises sexually violent ones (coercion) as sexually healthy (sexual education) or natural (men can’t control themselves).

It places the burden of modesty and honour on the shoulders of women, consequently victim-blaming women for any sexual disrespect and sexual violence they may endure.

It assumes women to be recipients of sex placing them in danger of being abused and manipulated, or in a situation of unpleasurable and uncomfortable sex. It shames women regarding their own sexuality and their bodies, a shame which can have an impact on their self-image, including their sexual self-image, and confidence.

So how do we address this? The answer is simple, yet one that meets a lot of resistance. Stop being misogynistic. Obviously, this is much, much easier said than done. We have had centuries of misogyny built into not only our culture, but also our interpretations of religion. This will take a lot of work and will require that we challenge those very patriarchal notions that so many of our values and beliefs are premised upon. But this needs to be done, one little action, one little step at a time, if we want healthy communities.

A few steps to begin this process:

Stop sending girls and women these harmful messages and start sending boys and men messages that instill the unconditional respect of women.

Educate girls and women on sexual health and give them the tools to make their own decisions on what is and isn’t healthy for them.

Stop defining women’s sexuality in relation to men. Women do not exist to sexually please men. It seems like it should not need to be said, but women are whole and holistic people, and sexuality only one part of our being. Let women, and girls, define and decide what we want.

Recognize women’s right to bodily autonomy. A woman can choose to do with her body what she wishes. No one else has the right to decide for her nor to infringe upon her autonomy.

This is just the beginning, the tip of the iceberg. However, if we, as a community, begin with these few basic steps, we will be on the road to a sexually healthier community.

Sobia Ali-Faisal received her PhD in Applied Psychology from the University of Windsor in 2014. She currently resides in Canada.

May 042016

by Nadiah Mohajir

Facebook Thumb2The act of reporting is one of the single most courageous acts ever. The revictimization is so overwhelming, the social, emotional and physical consequences can be so overwhelming, that many find it nearly impossible to report. Because of this, the likelihood of it being a false report are slim to none, with only about 2%-8% of reports being false. As the third in a series of articles on sexual assault prevention (read part 1 here and part 2 here), we have included for you the basics of what you can do when someone discloses to you that they have been sexually abused or assaulted.

What you can do to Support Victims

Step 1: Believe them. The first, and most important, thing you can do for any victim when they disclose to you that they have been abused or assaulted, is to believe them.

Step 2: Encourage professional support. Familiarize yourself with the local resources in your community so that you can refer victims if necessary. However, remember to meet them where they are rather than telling them what they should  be doing. Of course, the most ideal course of action is to go to a hospital to get examined and go to the police to file a report. However, the victim may not be mentally ready to do this just yet. Remember that being sexually assaulted is an act that strips the victim of his/her control – it is much more important to empower them to make their own decisions rather than telling them what to do. Of course, this is more appropriate for older victims, and not young children. For a complete list of victim support organizations, please refer to this resource and the list below.

Step 3: Report if you are a mandated reporter. The guidelines for mandated reporting and who is a mandated reporter differ by state, but generally, mandated reporters are: teachers, principals and other school personnel, social workers, physicians, nurses and other health care professionals, law enforcement, clergy, and board members. For more information on your state guidelines, please click here.

Step 4: Maintain the victim’s confidentiality, especially if the victim is a minor. Nobody needs to know the identity of the victim and there are crisis centers and advocates that are trained to hep you continue to offer the individual support they need without having to reveal their identity to others.

Step 5: Offer a victim-centric (one that protects the victim and makes him/her feel safe). If both the victim and abuser are part of the same institution, make sure the victim feels safe while the investigation proceeds. For example, the victim in a school may need:

  • To request a class room change
  • To request a specialized homework or exam schedule from their teachers
  • Additional counseling sessions
  • To be physically separated from their abuser (if they share the same office space or classroom space)

What you can do to Prepare your Institution to Properly Respond to such Allegations

Facebook Thumb

credit: Mat Schramm

Those in leadership positions at institutions often wonder what steps they should be taking to ensure that the institution is prepared should they have to address allegations. Below are some steps that organization leaders can start taking in order to ensure that they can address a situation swiftly and appropriately.

Step 1: Create policies and procedures. Bring best practices regarding policies such as making sure you have up-to-date manuals, security cameras, and other staff and facility policies in place that put in place preventative measures in your institutions. Make sure that your staff is reminded of these policies, and that these policies are readily available and accessible on your institution’s website. Develop a standard process to follow should your institution be made aware of allegations. Things to consider are processes

  • to inform parents and other constituents of any supposed danger
  • to take the necessary preventive measures with the abuser (does he/she need to be suspended? or removed from interacting with young children, etc)
  • to address the victim needs in a way that is confidential and empowering
  • to investigate if there are more individuals that have been victimized by the alleged abuser

Step 2: Hire a counselor specially trained to address complaints. If your institution already doesn’t have a trained social services professional or counselor, consider hiring one. If funding is an issue, consider sharing such a professional between two or more institutions or partnering with a local crisis center to serve this role until your institution is ready to bring one on full-time. You can also designate a few staff members to be trained as victim advocates by taking a 40-hour training by a local crisis center.

Step 3: Develop a procedure to collect anonymous reports. Often times, people do not report abuse that they suffered or witnessed, out of fear of being penalized for coming forward with that information. Not having a procedure for anonymous reports can be a significant barrier for someone who has endured or witnessed something. Many universities are now developing a system where students can submit anonymous complaints to a confidential, third party service.

Step 4: Develop a procedure to resolve complaints. Once you receive a complaint, it is imperative to address it in a timely manner. Not considering it seriously or delaying a response can be very disheartening to a victim, and also gives the abuser the opportunity to continue to victimize others. Work with a crisis center or other trained professionals in developing an objective and fair process to address victim complaints in a way that still honors the privacy and needs of the victim.

Step 5: Have students and staff and faculty engage in annual trainings, as well as ongoing awareness and education efforts throughout the year. It is important to note that simply having one training a year is not going to prevent sexual assault from occurring at your institution. Preventing sexual assault requires a shift in the organizational culture and tone, and it is necessary to have ongoing awareness and education efforts throughout the year, and not just at the beginning of the year.

We recognize that many Islamic institutions may not have the budget to incorporate all of these changes at once, and so we recommend an excellent way to fill the gap is to partner with their local rape crisis center and social services to help meet those needs while enough funding and resources are secured to bring such services in-house.

Important Resources to Keep on Hand*


National Sexual Assault Line – 1-800-656-HOPE

Rape Crisis Hotline 1-888-293-2080

DCFS Number for Mandated Reporters – 1-800-25-ABUSE (1-800-252-2873)

Illinois Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline – 312-745-3401 toll-free number: 1-877-863-6338





National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network


National Sexual Violence Resource Center Publications Database – extensive database that allows you to search by topic

Project Callisto – an empowering, transparent and anonymous way to report sexual assault on college campuses (not yet available on all campuses)

Engaging Muslim Communities In Ending Sexual Exploitation

Talking to Kids about Sexual Violence: A Parent’s Guide to Age-Appropriate Conversations

HEART Women & Girls Publications

* this list is no where near comprehensive, and we will continue to build this list.

Jan 142016

by Amina Darwish

Imam Tirmithi narrates a hadeeth where Abu Bakr [may God be pleased with him] said: “O Messenger of Allah! You have become gray.” He said: ‘I have gone gray from (Surat) Hud (11), Al-Waqi`ah (56), Al-Mursalat (77), `Amma Yatasa’alun (78) and Ithash-Shamsu Kuwwirat (81).”

Surah Takweer (81) describes the horrors of the Day of Judgment: the sky falling apart, the movement of the mountains and the pairing of the souls with their bodies. The first consequence of the souls being returned to their bodies is the mau’uda being asked why she was killed. The mau’uda is the infant girl in pre-Islamic Arabia that would be buried alive by her father – the man that should have been her biggest protector – out of fear that one day she would bring shame to her family. Pre-Islamic Arabs were made up of tribes that were often at war, thus inflating the value of sons who could carry arms over daughters who could be captured and turned into the property of their enemies. But on the Day of Judgment, humanity would stand in silence as that little girl pleads her case and speaks for herself. The Quran’s description of these events had turned The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) hair white.

I wonder what then would the Prophet (peace be upon him) say of how we treat women and girls that were victims of sexual violence. Would it turn his hair white? Like the mau’uda their only crime was being a girl. And like her, their voices are often silenced. We need to understand the nature of sexual violence. It is not about lust. It is about power. It is about physical control that translates into a power structure that goes against the essence of our humanity. In pre-Islamic society, where patriarchy was completely ingrained into the culture of the warring tribes, the potential of shame that may be felt by the patriarch of the family or the tribe was given precedence over the pain felt by victims.

Islam was sent to change the ignorant ways that existed before it, when right and wrong were based on power and strength and not virtue. This reality was all too real for women, slaves, orphans, and anyone else society had deemed powerless and unworthy of their humanity. In carrying on the tradition of the Prophet (peace be upon him), it is not enough to rid our communities of specific practices; we also must rid ourselves of a culture that blames the victims for crimes committed against them.

AbulFath AlBasti, the famous poet says, “Oh servant of the body, how much you complain about maintaining it. Do you seek success in something that is fleeting? Realize your spirit and complete its virtues. Your humanity is in your spirit, not your body.” Blaming the victims for the harm that has come to their bodies also effectively dismisses their spirits and acts like they are nonexistent.

There is a sexual nature to such attacks, but because the consent of the victim is removed, the aspect of thulm, or injustice, supersedes the sexual nature of the crime. Therefore, sexual assault is not comparable to fornication, or zina, because the victim does not give consent. To compare zina and sexual assault would be like asking for two witnesses to a robbery as a comparison to needing two witnesses to financial transactions. The two are incomparable because of the oppression and the removal of consent from one of the parties. No victim chooses to be sexually assaulted in the same way that no one asked to be robbed.

Another problem of blaming the victims is that it accepts an out of control sexual desire of the perpetrator as fact and dismisses the sexual pain of the victim. When it comes to sexuality, Islam holds men and women equal and does not belittle the sexuality of women. This fact is highlighted in the hadeeth narrated in Tirmithi and Sunan Abi Dawud when the Prophet (peace be upon him)  was asked about the ritual purification after a sexual experience, and he stated that in these matters, “Women are the partners/ counterparts of men.”

These concepts culminate in the story of Sumaya (may God be pleased with her). She is the first martyr in Islam, and her murder was graphic. If you do not want to hear the story, this is the place to stop. Abu Jahl, who is the Pharaoh of this ummah, tortured her, her husband and her son. He tried to break her will, and she spat in his face. He was so angry that he drove a spear between her legs until it came out the other side. He couldn’t break her will, so he decided to physically control her body to exert his power. That is the nature of sexual violence. Her murder was violent, sexual and in clear sight of her husband and son. Her husband did not make it out alive. Part of the torture was the psychological warfare of torturing her and sexually hurting her in clear sight of her husband and son. When we hear about abuse, you can choose to side with Lady Sumaya (may God be pleased with her), who is a hero in Islam and was promised Paradise from Allah’s messenger (peace be upon him) or you can look at the victims with the disdain Abu Jahl had in his eyes when he killed her.

Blaming victims for what they have endured is beyond unconscionable. It is also in clear opposition to the message of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who elevated them instead of putting them down. The scholars of our tradition have passed down these lessons in tact and no one had any shame in telling the story of Lady Sumaya (may God be pleased with her) as it was. She was a hero to all the believers and she will remain so till the end of time. May God be pleased with her and her family. The sexual violence that she endured did not take away from her martyrdom. It did not cause her or her family shame. This example stood in clear contrast to Arab society at the time. In fact, the pride the Muslims took in Lady Sumaya (may God be pleased with her)  and her family was a clear message to the tyrants in Mecca that the will of the Muslims could not be broken.

The bodies and spirits of victims must be protected. The goals of the Sharia, as defined by Imam Ghazali, maintain those rights for everyone. It is an Islamic imperative to protect those rights for everyone especially those who were wronged or oppressed and stand up to the oppressor. This is especially true when someone within the Muslim community is the perpetrator. God says in the Quran (4:135), “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.”

People who abuse the trust the community put in them do not deserve 70 excuses any more than a murderer or a thief. Rather, it is those who are wronged that deserve the community’s protection and understanding. They also deserve to not be questioned about how they became the victims of such abuse. The 70 excuses can be given to victims, but excuses cannot be made to justify an oppressor. In fact, if we were truly acting out of love for the perpetrators, we would stop them from being able to continue the oppression. Facing their victims is scary, but it is nowhere near the fear of having to face God knowing that you have taken the rights of others. Justice cannot be separated from Sharia, and we owe it to the victims to protect them. If we do not stop sexual offenders in our communities, we are complacent in the assault of their future victims.

In the climate of Islamophobia, some may be reluctant to report abuse; however, we have learned from the experience of the Catholic Church that not reporting abusers ultimately hurts the entire community instead of only holding to account the few abusers. We must also help the victims and not revictimize them through unjust or insensitive social expectations. They need to heal from the hurt they endured. Their spiritual and psychological well-being may depend on such community support. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Sexual abuse is a dark part of humanity that cannot be hushed or wished away. Sexual abuse can only be addressed by forcing it out of its darkness. We must support those who speak out against the abuse they endured. May God help heal our hearts and give us the strength to live out the compassion and justice our Prophet peace be upon him so perfectly embodied.

Amina Darwish is a graduate of the Qalam seminary under the guidance of Sheikh Abdul Nasir Jangda. She is the Muslim chaplain at the University of Cincinnati. She earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from Kuwait University, a MS in Industrial Engineering and PhD in Chemical engineering from the University of Cincinnati. She worked as an adjunct faculty at the University of Cincinnati Clermont and as the content development coordinator at the Muslim Youth of North America. She is a recognized national youth advocate and speaker.