The Hole Story: Sexual Abuse in a “Strict Muslim” Household

Sexual Abuse in Islamic Society” is the title of a recently published BBC article.* Right away, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good story (and by “good”, I mean objective, balanced, etc.). “Islamic society,” says the title, not an Islamic society, whatever that is. There is so much wrong with this BBC story and it’s upsetting on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start.

Here’s the story: Fatima, who is 26, was raised in a “strict Islamic family” in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. Her stepfather allegedly raped her continuously from the ages of 15-19. She was allegedly advised by Pearl, an online American chat buddy, to tell someone. She told her aunt, who allegedly took her to a lawyer, who allegedly told her that “under Shar’iah law” she would be subject to lashes for committing “adultery.” She told her mother, who allegedly confronted the stepfather, who said he did it “to make Fatima feel better and that it was all out of love.” Her mother thought about divorcing him, but changed her mind, choosing to stay with him. Fatima then left her family for America, land of the brave, where she was granted asylum:

Fatima says she realised that what mattered most, in the eyes of society, was family honour and what other people would think of them [...] Fatima says that she thought that her Muslim country would protect her as a woman, but that in the end, they protected her rapist.

To begin with, did you realize how many times I used the word “allegedly?” This story is one of the worst researched stories I have ever had the bad luck to come across. There are no quotes from Fatima’s lawyer, her family, Abu Dhabi police, and no hint that any of them were even approached for interviews. But since it’s a Muslim woman outing her “Muslim oppressors,” I guess we don’t need any further information.

Domestic abuse is a terrible reality that can happen anywhere and any time, no matter what religion, nationality or ethnicity you are. It is present in every community. The criminal is the person who committed the crime–in this case, her stepfather. These criminals bend social and religious values to normalize their crime; society and tradition can then help to conceal the crime. That means we have some serious house-cleaning to do, and that domestic abuse laws in some predominately Muslim countries need to be reformed, but it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with Islam.

And, as we have said over and over again until we are blue in the face, this does not mean the actions are condoned by or the fault the criminal’s religion, which almost never figures in the story unless the faith is Islam. This is the story of a rapist.  But unfortunately, it turns into an attack—seemingly by Fatima—on a Muslim country and Muslim society and Muslim ideas.

The 10-minute audio file embedded in the story begins by letting us know that the first child abuse conference has taken place in Saudi Arabia. It quotes a recent study which found that in 12 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region, more than 40% of boys and 60% of girls between the ages of 13 and 15 had been psychologically or sexually abused, which is a sobering fact if true.

To highlight the issue, Fatima then talks us through her story, which, by the way,  takes place in Abu Dhabi, not Saudi Arabia. Dr. Fadheela Al Mahroos, President of the Bahrain-based International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Arab Professional Network, talks about child marriages in Yemen. But you know, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Yemen, they’re all the same thing in the eyes of the BBC.  Along with the audio interview, we also get a fascinating, must-see three minute audio slideshow of Fatima’s art.

Fatima’s story is perfectly fits into the narrative that media constructs around Muslim women. We only ever seem to hear stories in non-Arab media about Muslim women when the women were abused/sold/forced into marriage, etc., or have rejected their faith and made it their life’s mission to talk about why it oppresses women.

The BBC’s story about Fatima is a classic example of both kinds of stories. Fatima’s story has been edited, possibly to fit the image the BBC wanted to portray. Let us count the ways:

She begins by telling us that she grew up in:

A conservative local Islamic family where girls are taught early on to fear God and family and more importantly to preserve family honor.

Honor, she says, is more important that anything else. Then we are treated to a description of her stepfather, one even Hollywood has to applaud:

He had three wives and 21 children. He was a violent man, a heavy drinker, a controlling narcissist. He blamed his sexual addiction on Satan, or the shaitan, saying both of us were guilty and had to stay silent, all while he played the role of good Muslim.

The saddest part of this story is that Fatima herself equates what happened to her with Islam, recounting her life in a “strict Muslim family,” and not in a dysfunctional family with a sex offender.

Fatima mentions in her slideshow that she was trapped in her house, without going into explanations why, letting listeners assume that her “Muslim family” was to blame. One of her photographs, titled Window in my Room, consists of black silhouette straining against a shut window.

And though Fatima’s aunt convinced her to tell her mother, the aunt dies of cancer. Three months after Fatima told her mother, she says that, “fearing for my life” she ran away to America. Again, there is no explanation provided of why she feared for her life. In her audio slide show, she says:

In my Muslim family, I was limited in what I could and could not do. It took me more than five years of begging and pleading with my family before they got me a camera.

We’re never told why her family wouldn’t allow her to have a camera; this example is only given to prove how constrictive her family life was.

The story provides more predictable narratives around American involvement and Arab culture. Her American friend was the one who helped her confront her stepfather (America to the rescue, haven for all!), while her society (or, actually, some shady lawyer, if that) told her she would be sentenced for adultery if she made a fuss.

Commentators across the internet differ in their outlooks towards Fatima’s story. Some applaud her bravery for speaking out, while others point out the somewhat contradictory aspects of her story. If she was trapped at home, they ask, how did she learn to speak such perfect English? If she couldn’t even leave the house to buy herself a camera, how could she travel to America? Others point out that she blames her society for not protecting her though she didn’t even attempt to contact her authorities. Others are more disturbed by how her story feeds into common misconceptions about Muslims. One commentator notes:

[Her stepfather] blamed his sexual addiction on the so called “Satan”?? Puleez could there be a more cliched answer?? Everything she said is a cliche and confirms the common intentional misconception about Muslims and Arabs, from blaming “sins” on Satan to the alleged imprisonment and “entrapment” of women inside the house [...] And then she declares that she became a free woman only upon entering America.

Another adds:

She may be very sour about what happened to her and how her family didn’t reach out to her, but blaming them because they are Muslim is a cheap trick. [...] Fatima should only blame her twisted family [...] if Fatima felt caged it was not because she lived in a Muslim household but because she lived in an evil household. [...]

Overall, I think she is hungry for attention and for complete integration in her newly found “free” society. It is easier to integrate when you can convince yourself that you miss “nothing from your society” and when you can convince others that your old society is evil, corrupt and sexist. Sadly, Fatima is equating freedom with abandonment of Islam, but frankly we have all seen that happen before.

Others feel that Fatima has come to assume Islam contributed to her suffering since her knowledge of it had been skewed by her stepfather’s actions. Understandably, they say, the fact that she has come to dislike Islam and her culture is a valid response. One commentator says:

Our experiences reflect our outlook, perspective and behaviour – her experiences were horrific and as a result her iman [faith] may have been affected – who are we to judge her? We know that iman can increase and decrease – may Allah heal her heart and soul and fill her heart with the light of iman – ameen

Now that she is ‘free,’ Fatima ends her story with this:

Now I can honestly say with complete confidence that I miss nothing from my past life. I always thought that my Muslim family and my Muslim country would protect me as a woman. I was wrong. Instead they chose to protect my rapist in the name of family honor.

Fatima's piece, "Telling My Mother." Image via the BBC.

Fatima's piece, "Telling My Mother." Image via the BBC.

The story is accompanied by a three-minute audio slideshow of Fatima’s photography. She explains the pieces, which she says served as a catharsis for the psychological problems she encountered from her abuse. Many of the images deal with women and veils. Two of the photos are of women in hijab covering their faces with their hands, out of shame. The one pictured left is titled, “Telling my Mother,” of which she says:

Shows the amount of shame and fear I felt when I first came out and told her about the sexual abuse.

About the photo, “Escape from my Home,” she says:

The birdcage […] is a reflection of my own state of mind and how I felt in my family and the feeling of entrapment. And the girl holding the traditional veil represents me and the freedom I felt after coming out and talking about the abuse and how I was able to see past my society and traditional family structure.

She explains her photo titled, Hanging my Old Islamic Clothes for Good”:

The clothes on the line actually represent the traditional abaya and sheila local females in the UAE are required to wear. And I’ve hung them on the line under the sun to dry in order for me to start a new life as a free woman.

The trapped Muslim woman in a cage flees her country, family, and faith, and is now free. The symbol of freedom? Removing her veil. Fatima believes that by removing the shackles of the veil, she has been freed. Never mind that Abu Dhabi has no enforceable dress code, which Fatima says local women are “required” to abide by. I have been there at least half a dozen times, and have met many local women, very few who actually cover completely.

As one commentator put it:

The part that made me the most angry was when she showed the pictures of her hanging her abaya and supposedly “freeing herself” from her shackles or whatever it was that she said! The abaya and any Islamic clothing was the source of your abuse?! Even if you had worn shorts and a tank top if you live with a sick human who will abuse you what you wear doesn’t make a difference! Nor would it have made you braver in standing up to him if the society’s way of thinking was the source of the problem! In fact if he had any regard for ANY religion (or even some morals or mental stability) he would not do such a thing. Islam has nothing to with it.

Unfortunately, the issue is deeper than this commentator makes it out to be. It has become a dominant media narrative that de-hijabizing illustrates liberation of Muslim women, whereas veiling in any form represents oppression. Fatima’s statements show that she believes this narrative, where the abaya has become a symbol for the horrible things in her old life.

In the slide show, we are also treated to several random shots of mosques, assumingly to solidify the link between Islam and her abuse. We have no way of knowing if she chose the photos of the mosque or simply provided the BBC with her portfolio and they chose the images.

Fatima's piece "Escape from my home".

Fatima's piece "Escape from my home".

Fatima’s story, as told to us by the BBC has logical holes in it, it hasn’t been verified, and falls into all the traps I would expect from someone who has never even been to an “Islamic” society. But since it’s an edited version of Fatima’s story, we have no way of knowing if the holes were explained by Fatima. The story, whether true or not, has been co-opted to reinforce the narrative of the oppressed Muslim woman and the evil Muslim man and horrible Muslim society. It also seems to have been amplified to gain asylum and media attention, since the poor-Muslim-woman-breaks-free is a tried and tested formula for doing so.

Stories like this happen. Women and children are abused, and we need to make sure this stops, because it is out duty as Muslims and human beings to protest against what is clearly wrong.

But once she equated the horrible things she went through with Islam, and not a hypocritical man, her narrative lost Muslim sympathy because it echoed Islamphobic narratives blaming Islam for all the evils that people do. The word “Muslim” is stressed so much it’s not even remotely subtle (the emphasis on the word Muslim is Fatima’s, not mine).

And if her story is true, then it illustrates an even worse malady in the “Muslim” consciousness: we have begun to internalize the negative, Orientalist, imperialist messages that we see and hear. Perhaps Fatima has come to believe in the Western idea that the veil in some way represents her oppressions and believes that her religion and abuse are intertwined, assuming that only after she shuns her Islamic beliefs, symbolized by her veil, could she be truly happy and free. If her story is true, then I doubt the mental and emotional trauma she suffers from will be as easy to get rid of as her veil.

*Editor’s note: The BBC has since changed the title to “Sexual Abuse in Abu Dhabi.”

  • Phil

    Good analysis. If true one of the sad things is that the regressive elements will be able to resist change by pointing out the Orientalist aspect of this story.

  • http://tomgara.nomadlife.org Tom G

    I think you should pause and think very hard before suggesting that her story has “been amplified to gain asylum and media attention”.

    Same goes for putting “allegedly” before everything she said.

    With the way she emphasises the word Muslim in her story – I think it is hard for some people in the Middle East – especially the Gulf – to seperate Islam from other aspects of their societies, given that it plays such a central role in legal systems, public discourse, politics, family business etc.

  • http://www.southernmuslimah.blogspot.com UmmFarouq

    Thank you for taking the time to do this piece. Heartfelt, deep appreciation goes out to all of you sisters who are speaking for Muslimahs everywhere.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    It was when I started reading about the slideshow that I wanted to grab a pencil and jab it into my eyeball. Hard.

    Cliche after miserable cliche. Of course, there are actually plenty of Muslims speaking out about this issue. Muslim Matters had a whole series about it recently: http://muslimmatters.org/2009/02/16/sex-the-ummah-child-molestation-in-the-muslim-world-myth-or-reality-part-i/

    But since they aren’t making orientalist slideshows, the BBC aren’t interested.

  • thabet

    They’re obviously reading your blog… the title now says “Sexual Abuse in Abu Dhabi”.

  • Broomstick

    Riiiiight and Fritzl, who was found guilty for raping his daughter, locking her in the basement for years, and fathering children with her. how about “INCEST AND SLAVERY IN A WHITE TRASH HOUSEHOLD”??? Wouldn’t that headline sound racist?

    I hate the phrase “Islamic world” or “Muslim world.” NO SUCH THING, OK, PEOPLE?

    [This comment has been edited to fit within comment moderation guidelines.]

  • http://al-jameela.blogspot.com/ Xey

    Great analysis… I’m also frustrated by the idea that her “Islamic clothing” had to be left behind once she started a “new life.”

    The story itself is ridiculous. Where are the specific details about what happened? I makes little sense. Who is Pearl? If Fatima was so controlled, how could she have made friends online? I know young people in the US who’s parents won’t even let them use the internet at home without being strictly monitored.

  • http://etharelkatatney.blogspot.com/ Ethar

    @ Tom: The story we are told, at the very least, definitely has some holes. Either the story is faked, important facts have been omitted, or it has been manipulated. If manipulated, then one reason that comes to mind is to fulfill some agenda or reinforce current media narratives about Islam.

    I agree that sometimes it’s hard to separate between religion and the way religion is implemented/ interpreted in some societies, but until we can all manage to do that and see that, it’s always going to be easy to use Islam as a scapegoat.

    @ Safiya Outlines: Thanks for the link, it was a very interesting read. That’s what I want to be reading.

    @ thabet: That’s really great. Hopefully they’ll take note of the critiques.

    @ Broomstick: But what’s new? That’s the way it’s always been.

    @ Xey: Pearl is an online friend she met on a “portfolio website.” As we said, there are definitely holes in the story.

  • Anna

    What can we do to stop such stereotypes and generalizations of non-white, non-Christian groups, besides what Muslimah Media Watch is doing?

    And..

    What does this current media narrative about Islam serve for us readers of BBC? What is it trying to legitimize? Is it trying to tell me I’m more priviledged than Muslim women? Because, I don’t think I am. Regardless of what they say about Fatima from U.A.E, I experience a different type of oppression here in the U.S. I live in a different bird cage, I have different types of walls and entrapments. Our different religions, geography, clothing or names doesn’t change the fact you and I are not the dominant ones in power.

  • http://rawi.wordpress.com rawi

    I wonder how such narratives and their use by the media inadvertently help perpetrate the abuses that are happening right now in many unknown homes. Because in some sense the narratives imply that if you’re an Arab woman who’s being abused, you must escape your family and your culture, and flee to the land of the free (aka America). On the flip side, if you’re a woman who accepts her culture or religion (and/or wear the veil), well then, tough luck! You probably deserved to be abused. (I believe this is precisely what informs the mentality of people like the French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy, who infamously said that when he sees a veiled woman, he feels like wanting to rape her!)

    If Fatima’s story is true (and even if it isn’t, there are numerous others who are indeed suffering what she describes), then as responsible human beings, we have two related duties: firstly, to NOT dismiss the subjective reality of her traumatic experience, something that others don’t necessarily share and therefore may not fully understand; and secondly, to address the very real problem of sexual abuse in society and do everything to fight it. The unfortunate irony is that by focusing instead on “culture” and “Islam”, these narratives hamper both of the above. Because people’s focus is also displaced and they become defensive about culture/religion, instead of confronting abuse itself, which I’m sure few people would defend.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Rawi: I couldn’t have said it better.

    @ Anna: What does this current media narrative about Islam serve for us readers of BBC? What is it trying to legitimize? Is it trying to tell me I’m more priviledged than Muslim women? The dominant narrative about Islam is trying to legitimize Islamophobia, racism, and sexism. It can sometimes serve as a “you’d better be grateful you live in the West,” but I don’t think that’s the aim of this particular story. Rather, the aim is an attempt to present more “proof” that the Islam and Muslims are bad, just like we’re told.

  • So Much For Subtlety

    Well I think we can agree that the sexual abuse was the work of a single perverted man and that this can happen anywhere, unfortunately.

    But when she goes to a lawyer and he tells her that she might be flogged if she reports it, well, at that point something else intervenes. This is what makes this story different from similar ones in the West or anywhere else. If she is reporting the story correctly, then the law did intervene to protect her rapist, not her. As it would not have done anywhere outside the Muslim world.

    If this is based on the need to have four adult male eyewitnesses, then it is clearly related to a particular interpretation of Shariah.

    So while we might agree on the superficial nature of the reporting, what is wrong with pointing out how the specific cultural practises in the UAE, based as they are on an interpretation of Shariah law, played a role in this girl’s story?

  • So Much For Subtlety

    Ethar – “If manipulated, then one reason that comes to mind is to fulfill some agenda or reinforce current media narratives about Islam.”

    So …. you think it is part of some vast plot against Muslims?

    “I agree that sometimes it’s hard to separate between religion and the way religion is implemented/ interpreted in some societies, but until we can all manage to do that and see that, it’s always going to be easy to use Islam as a scapegoat.”

    Sorry but where does this pristine religion, or any other, exist separately from the way it is implemented?

    This is simply Orientalism – you are asserting there is some perfect form of Islam from which some people diverge. It is absurd. No religion has any existance apart from how people see it and implement it.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ So much: “If she is reporting the story correctly, then the law did intervene to protect her rapist, not her. As it would not have done anywhere outside the Muslim world.”

    I don’t think you understand how Shari’ah law is supposed to operate; this isn’t as simple as “she’s a woman, she doesn’t get protection from the law.” And I have to question why you believe that rapists in the West are never protected, if not by the law, then by culture.

    “So while we might agree on the superficial nature of the reporting, what is wrong with pointing out how the specific cultural practises in the UAE, based as they are on an interpretation of Shariah law, played a role in this girl’s story?”

    This isn’t a website about Shari’ah law. It’s a website about media criticism. Ethar is pointing out that Fatima’s story is being used to reinforce Islamophobic narratives that construct Muslims as inherently evil, depraved, and bad. This isn’t a “vast plot,” it’s part of hegemonic discourses that paint “Muslim” as “bad”, while ignoring that what happened to Fatima is a consequence of patriarchy, not necessarily Islam.

  • Bnt Nader

    You can say what you want, but I knew Fatima before she left and It saddens me to read your heartless words. When I saw her report I found out what really happened to her.

    Your thoughtless blog made me realize how cruel our society really is, and how paranoid. Things like this really happen, and to real people. YESSS, real people.

    She is real and I pray for her safety. I hope she hears me.
    Where ever you are Fatima I’m proud that I knew you, and I’m glad that you have a good life now. You’re very brave Fatima. :(
    N7na n7ebech wayed.

  • Bnt Nader

    Her lawyer speaks here by the way.
    http://bbcyourstory.com/2009/03/30/fatimas-story/

    What ever path she’s chosen in her life may Allah ye7fa’6ha ya rab.

  • Muffy

    I think it’s significant that the stepfather had close ties to the royal family. Could it be that his prestigious connections made it easier for him to get away with what he did? I know in the USA, for instance, there are quite a few horror stories about women who are unable to seek help from domestic violence because their abusing husbands are policemen.

    That said, I feel terrible for Fatima and I hope she experiences a better life in the United States.

  • http://nataliaantonova.wordpress.com/ Natalia Antonova

    I dunno, Ethar. I’m a survivor of abuse, and if you were to do a story about me – good luck getting anyone who was involved or who helped me out speak about it.

    I think the wall of silence that surrounds such cases is so massive that sometimes, even people who take it upon themselves to advocate for the victim will not discuss such cases publicly. A lot of people do it because safety is still a major concern. I know it’s a concern for me.

    And hey, some people really do find Muslim-style clothing horribly oppressive and soul-crushing, if they don’t really have a choice in wearing it.

    Abu Dhabi is a fascinating place – if the leadership plays its cards right, it will grow and change dramatically in the coming years. But the idea of silence for the sake of family honour is still strong there, and people do conflate it with Islam quite a bit. You can have a great education, a wonderful home, and many opportunities – but still be denied the basic right to bodily integrity and autonomy. And be forced to shut up and smile after the fact.

    I agree with you that the good American saving the poor Muslim woman is a story that’s been beaten to death – but if she hated her life, she hated her life.

    Survivors are supposed to be enlightened about what happened to them – we’re supposed to live and let live, and we can’t ever blame religion (as a Christian, I couldn’t blame Christianity for what happened to me – but I did, for a very long time) or any other time-honoured institution, without inviting politics into the discussion, and a host of both critics and co-opters.

    But I think it can be very hard to be enlightened after something like that happens to you. I think you can spend many years concentrating on revenge.

    It’s one of those things that doesn’t really fit into any progressive framework, be it Islamic or otherwise. The raw animal wound of it can be too much.

    I thought I glimpsed that raw animal wound when I looked at the photographs. I could be wrong, of course.

  • Zara

    While there are definite holes in the story, I found this blog’s position regarding Fatima quite insensitive. One thing I have always appreciated about MMW is its strong stance against blaming the victim, especially in cases of domestic abuse. Unfortunately, this post, instead of finding sympathy for Fatima, is quick to find issues of credibility in her story. BBC should bear the brunt of the blame for the Orientalist, Islamophobic position of the article, NOT Fatima. Her statements within the article are problematic for numerous reasons, but to minimize her pain and suffering because Fatima equates her abuse with Islam is simply uncalled for.
    I grew up in a family where Islam was always associated with love, tolerance and peace, and to this day, I proudly bear my religious beliefs. However, it is likely that Fatima was not nearly as fortunate, and her traumatic experiences have shaped her views of Islam. Like others have mentioned above, we, as third parties to this ordeal, really have no way of fully understanding the circumstances. In other cases of domestic abuse against Muslim women, this blog has always sympathized with the victim. Why stop now?

  • A. Hammoud

    Dear Zara,
    I am one of the commentators that noticed the holes in the BBC story. My initial email was to Nina Robinson herself pointing out the attack on Islam instead of the horror of Fatima’s story.
    I don’t believe anyone is questioning Fatim’s pain and suffering, as I mentioned in all my comments. It’s unfortunate that the story was based on stereotyping when it was put together instead of proper research to protect the story. Muslims and none Muslims noticed the discrepancies and commented. If Nina went into the story with a specific thought in mind like abuse cover-up, bad legal advice, lack of forensic examination in the region, or whatever, and backed it up with articles and interviews, the story would’ve gained a lot more sympathy.
    Unfortunately for Fatima, the story was put together with general stereotyping in mind. It combined what happened to Fatim with the entire Muslim-Arabic region, and the entire law instead of concentrating on what happen inside that household, or the locality, or the royal family support, or even a specific part of the culture.
    All I was able to get out of the story besides what poor Fatima went through was the racist agenda behind the story or possibly just simple lazy reporting.

  • http://etharelkatatney.blogspot.com/ Ethar

    Salams,

    Thank you all for your insightful comments.

    @ Anna: Other than calling out those who insist on regurgitating such stereotypes, we need to get out there and show exactly why they’re not true—get our voices and actions heard.

    @ Rawi: Wonderfully put. I would also add that unfortunately, those of us who are portrayed in such narratives are not immune to their effects. I was just talking to my sister today who told me that in college this week, their art teacher showed them two photographs and asked them what they thought—one of a bearded hippy and one of a bearded Muslim man wearing the traditional skullcap. Most of the class (which is composed mostly of Egyptians and Muslims) responded ‘terrorist’ for the latter photo.

    @ So much for subtlety: The lawyer only suggested that that could happen—she didn’t actually go through with any case and therefore we have no way of knowing what could have been the result. Who knows? Maybe he would have gotten life in jail.

    Up to very recently in Egypt, rapists could get out of punishment by marrying their victims. But just last year, 10 men who gang raped a woman were sentenced to death. Things change.

    And of course I’m not suggesting a conspiracy plot, just that some stories ‘fit in’ better with a certain image/ direction of a media outlet, while others don’t.

    I should have made myself clearer about the religion part—here I meant that some of the horrible things that happen on the ground in some societies are justified by saying ‘Islam says,’ when in fact, culture and norms and interpretations that seek to uphold patriarchal dominance are to blame.

    @ Bnt Nader: I am sorry you seem to believe that my words were ‘heartless,’ when I tried very hard to be objective.

    I never said that Fatima is lying; all I did was point out why her story might not evoke empathy with everyone. Insh’Allah she will attain peace and live a better life. And of course these things happen in our societies, and I am in no way saying that they don’t.

    I believe that victims should speak up, shame their abusers, and get help. But when they do speak up, they need to realize that—as in Fatima’s case—sometimes there are a lot of people listening.

    Thank you for the link to the audio files. They definitely should have been provided with the story.

    @ Muffy: We have no way of knowing since Fatima never filed a case in Abu Dhabi.

    @ Natalia: Great insight. And elhamdulela you managed to get away from your abuser.

    @ Zara: Of course I sympathize with Fatima, and I feel terrible about what she went through. I do not blame her for her abuse, of course I don’t! But there is a difference between blaming her for her abuse and critiquing how she seemed to have spoken about it, which is what I did. I mentioned, several times, that although it seems Fatima blames Islam repeatedly throughout the story, the BBC shoulders a large portion of the blame.

    @ A. Hammond: I second everything you’ve said.

  • Sara

    The west understands that abuse does not happen in Islam because we don’t hide abuse from the rest of the world. How alarmed you have become because someone decided to finally speak about it in public is fascinating to me. It seems your whole agenda is about “HOW YOU LOOK TO THE WORLD”

    However, let me point a few things out. If you are here to defend Muslim women’s rights in media then do your job correctly.

    Instead of reporting on the EFFECT report on the CAUSE. You should be going after the courts and law makers under Sharia law who seem to have mixed up the rules and making your religion look bad.
    There seems to be allot of cases about girls who get lashed or punished along with their sex abusers now a days.
    The girl who got raped in Saudi Arabia by 7 men was also offered 80 or so lashes, until the king stepped in because the media sounded out the alarm.

    If you are angry that Islam is being projected in bad light in media then go after the perpetrators who are not helping the girls the way they should be and making Islam look bad by passing laws against women instead of for women in the name of Islam.

    The day you begin to save girls and defend women for speaking out against rape, and abuse and laws that do not protect them the world will listen.

  • http://rawi.wordpress.com rawi

    So, I have been thinking a lot about this since posting my comment above the other day (In part because this is obviously not an isolated case, and the Aasiya Zubayr tragedy prompted some very similar concerns). As I mentioned, I think the challenge for us as readers is to deal with the tricky predicament of relating to Fatima’s experience while also being necessarily at a distance–precisely because we (i.e. some of us) don’t share it. For me, even the idea of “sympathy” becomes a bit simplistic and doesn’t do justice to the situation. How can I, who couldn’t possibly imagine what she’s been through, claim to understand her? (Not to mention the ways in which my being male makes this at least a bit more complicated, insofar as sexual abuse is linked to the structural violence of patriarchy).

    Moreover, I realize that we can’t so easily dismiss Fatima’s feelings about Islam or her Arab culture, if only because they are genuine. I don’t want to fetishize “authenticity” the way that our contemporary consumer culture can’t seem to help — and there’s no denying that the media loves stories like this because they represent an individual’s “authentic” experience of Islam. In some ways, I both agree and disagree with one of the points made above by So-much-for-subtlety. Yes, religions don’t exist outside of the people who practice them, but they also kind of do. People who study religion will say that it is this very tension that actually defines religion. It is precisely because Islam is a religion that it is possible for Zara above to say that Islam for her is love and peace whereas for Fatima it is abuse and horror. And then those who try to make it look good (e.g. some of us here) and those who try to make it look bad (e.g. the “media”–not a monolith) are engaging in this same process, the process that makes Islam a religion, as opposed to say, a chair or table.

    Anyways, more thinking to do for me, but that’s where I’m at now. I think Natalia’s comment already gets at some of what I’m trying to say here.

  • LaRue

    Do any of you care what happened to her. She was hurt and she blames her family and her culture. What type of culture punishes the victim with lashes for being raped. You should be outraged at other Muslims who are setting the wrong example. I am a Christian, and it bothers me when other people misrepresent the values of Christ. YOu should be upset with those who call themselves Muslims but don’t honor what you teach. Respect this young girl. Many Catholics denounce Christianity because of the sexual abuse. Im not going to critisize those victims. Im going to fight agianst the people who are misrepresting my Lord and Savior.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Sara – I get really tired of people coming along with a set of hoops for us Muslims to jump through before we can be “accepted” by the wider world.

    There are over 1 billion Muslims worldwide. We do not all think the same or act the same. Hence we get tired when anything that happens to a Muslim/is done by a Muslim, is used to smear Islam.

    How do you know Muslim don’t speak out in public about abuse? Have you visited every Muslim majority country, every mosque, every community centre? Or are you just making a whole load of assumptions?

    So typical. You don’t listen to Muslims, you don’t know Muslims (except for what you read in the media), your reaction into coming into a Muslim orientated space is to lecture us, and yet you think you have the right to judge us and tell us what to do?

  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle

    People are never unacceptable. But accusing a rape victim of being “hungry for attention,” well, those words are never acceptable, and I don’t care what religion you are.

  • Rchoudh

    Right on Safiya you responded better to Sara than what I would have said. I’d just like to add that yes the Muslim community is dealing with the same problems as all other communities around the world ranging from the effects of racism to domestic violence. No one is immune to these problems. I remember reading once that when a white Westerner commits something like domestic violence he/she is looked at as a problematic individual. When a non-white individual does it however (be they Muslim, African-American, Asian, Latino, etc) then it’s not the person him/herself that is the problem it’s the culture they were raised in. In other words their “culture” enabled them to be violent if they accepted more of the benign white Western values then they wouldn’t have committed the crime! This same framework is being followed by BBC here where a person’s religion is being blamed for a problem that afflicts human beings around the world.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    Editor’s Note:

    We at MMW do not condone Fatima’s sexual, psychological, or emotional abuse, within any framework, Islamic or otherwise. Rape and abuse are never, ever acceptable. Ever. We pray for Fatima’s health and safety, and hope that she can begin a process through which she finds happiness and peace.

    This website is a site that analyzes and critiques global media images of Muslim women, both Western and “non-Western,” both non-Muslim and Muslim. Though the site holds Islamic feminist principles, we use them to conduct media analysis. We are not a legal resource, nor are we Islamic scholars; our job is to analyze the media we see and create with respect to our place in it as Muslim women. Thus it is within our aim to critique how the BBC and/or Fatima have framed her story. It was our intention to point out how Fatima’s story is used to buttress the current Western narrative painting Muslims as inherently bad. It was not our intent to blame Fatima or belittle what happened to her. We sincerely apologize if readers have been offended or hurt by our analysis.

    At this time, I feel everything that can be said about this story on this forum has been said. Thus, I will close comments for this post.

  • Pingback: The Hole Story: Sexual Abuse in a “Strict Muslim” Household « Britishmisk’s Blog


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