The Trifecta of Rape Culture, Sexual Abuse and Muslim Communities – Debunking False Statements

The Trifecta of Rape Culture, Sexual Abuse and Muslim Communities – Debunking False Statements October 11, 2018
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Editorial Note: TRIGGER WARNING – This article contains explicit stories of sexual assault and trauma. This is part one of a two-part series on rape culture and sexual abuse within Muslim communities. Part one debunks common false statements often given to excuse or ignore sexual abuse and trauma. Part two of this series, coming next week, will look at other arguments used to blame victims, and the author will examine them from the Islamic standpoint. Also, the terms “victim” and “survivor” are both used in this piece at the discretion of the person who was relating their story of sexual trauma.

“Islam protects women from rape and sexual assault!” Too many Muslims buy into this line of thinking either out of naivete or ignorance; sometimes clueless and sometimes in denial of the painful realities and tragedies of sexual crime even in the Muslim Ummah.

“Rape culture” is a term that describes “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

Rape culture is not only harmful to women, but men as well. Due to many societal attitudes regarding gender and sexuality, men are also taught to internalize beliefs that contribute to the silencing of sexual assault and rape of boys and men. Ideas such as “men can’t be raped,” “speaking about abuse is weakness,” and so on have all led to the widespread silence surrounding the sexual violence perpetrated against boys and men.

And, contrary to widespread belief, “rape culture” does not solely exist in Western or non-Muslim societies. Unfortunately, many Muslim communities have deeply unhealthy and toxic attitudes regarding sexual violence and the victims thereof.

There are certain phrases in particular that are used to dismiss and belittle the experiences of survivors of sexual crimes. However, none of them reflect the Islamic ethos and attitude regarding such crimes nor do they justify the perpetration of such crimes. As Muslims, we should never think that there is ever an excuse for a person to violate another’s body.

Nonetheless, rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse do exist in the Muslim community, just as it exists in all other faith and race groups. Too many times, Muslims trot out the following series of statements about sexual assault and abuse, which are inherently false and misleading. For every claim, however, there is a much stronger rebuttal – one based on both facts and a deeper understanding of the Islamic perspective.

“If she just wore hijab/niqab, she wouldn’t get harassed or raped …”

This line, often uttered to dismiss cases of rape where the victims did not observe hijab, is one that is not only false, but completely fails to understand the true meaning, role and purpose of hijab.

No doubt, hijab is indeed an obligation in Islam; it is a command from Allah and should be observed by believing women[1]. There are Divine Wisdoms behind its obligation, and in some cases, it can deter a certain type of attention.

However, it is not a force field that physically prevents a rapist from raping his victim. Modest dressing cannot prevent rape or lewd behavior from the abuser. Nor should we ever expect a person whose heart and soul are so corrupted that they would dare to commit such a crime in the first place, to feel deterred merely by some extra layers of fabric. Numerous women have been sexually assaulted and raped while wearing their hijab.

One sister — a convert who wears the hijab and relied upon a small group of other Muslims to be her “community” — shared the following:

“… I thought it was weird for him to sit so close to me, but I didn’t really think anything of it. He’s a “good boy.” Prays five times a day. Ten years my senior and a PhD student at my university. Super intelligent. Calls his mother (who lives overseas) every day despite time zone differences. Meets all the markers of a good person. But I don’t think I’ve ever been alone with him before this.

We were just talking, he paused and pulled me on top of him. Suddenly I was laying on him, and he was holding me against him tightly. I was super freaked out, but I laughed and was like, “[name], stop! What are you doing?” Obviously, I tried to push against him to get off, but he flipped me, so I was pinned underneath him in a matter of seconds, and he was straddling me. He ripped off my hijab, pulled up my shirt and bra and started to bite my breasts. 

I was completely in shock and tried to reason with him to stop. He said something like he’s seen how I look at him (???) and he knows I want him (?????). Completely, absolutely, disgustingly false. 

He held my hands down when I tried to push him off, and I began to fight him with everything I had in me. He pulled down my pants and started to penetrate me with his fingers. By then I was crying, and I kept on telling him over and over to stop, but he said to just let him do it. “If you really don’t like it then why are you so wet?” 

I was terrified and never felt so much like I’ve lost control of my body before. I remember just repeating his name endlessly, as if he would somehow hear his name and wake up and realize what he’s doing. I’ve never been intimate with a man even consensually, so it was beyond overwhelming. Eventually he said, “Relax, it’s not like I’m going to rape you.” And he stopped.

I never figured out what the heck he meant by that. Did he not realize what he just did?!? I put my clothes back on as fast as I could, and I left. I haven’t told anybody. I saw him once on campus by chance, and I felt like I was having a heart attack. For a few weeks after, he kept on texting me and asking how I was and stuff. I never responded. Throughout the entire ordeal and after, I get the feeling that he truly doesn’t think he did something wrong.

This was about three months ago, and none of my friends who were there with me even know. I feel like maybe I should tell the girls at least, so they can watch out for him, but they would never be so stupid to hang out with a man alone in his apartment. I do worry that they would judge me for it. My friends think I’m weird for never hanging out with them whenever I know he’s around, but I don’t know if they’ve put it together. It’s certainly distanced me from them in some regards. I’m a convert and my closest family lives a plane flight away, so these friends are really the only community I have.

I’ve thought about it literally every day. All the time. I’ve prayed and tried to find the same peace in my body as I did before, but it’s so difficult. I find myself wanting to make wudu over and over, and I never really feel pure again.”

“Women should always have a mahram with them!”

The dismissive claim that if women always had a mahram (close male relative – e.g. father, brother, uncle, son – or husband) with them, they wouldn’t experience sexual violence, is a blatantly false one.

First, there is no Islamic requirement for women to always be accompanied by a mahram. The requirement is one solely related to travel, and even then, there are differences of opinion regarding the conditions for this.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, many victims of sexual violence, particularly younger children, are attacked by people who actually are their mahaarim. Consider this: Sexual violence against children and youth is more commonly perpetrated by someone known to the victim (75 percent), usually an acquaintance or a family member.[2]

“I was 8. It was my father’s youngest brother. I didn’t know it was molestation or that it was wrong. After some years, I told my mum about it, she told my dad, and [it] drove them apart. About two years later, my parents got divorced because my mum couldn’t live with that. When I was 20, I told other family members, and my father’s sister said. “What will you gain out of this? You destroy the life of a now-married man? Cause suffering to his family and yours? No one will believe you anyways. You just lack decency.” (female victim)

“She was too seductive.”

The story shared above already demonstrates, “seductiveness” has nothing to do with sexual assault. Many victims of sexual assault are children — both boys and girls.

Statistics Canada reports: “The second most prevalent type of police-reported violence committed against children and youth is sexual assault. In 2008, there were over 13,600 child and youth victims of sexual offences reported to police. Over half (59%) of all victims of sexual assault were children and youth under the age of 18. The rate of sexual assaults against children and youth was 1.5 times higher than the rate for young adults aged 18 to 24 in 2008 (201 per 100,000 children and youth compared to 130 for young adults).”[3]

“I was around 12 years old. I used to go to this Maulana’s [Quran teacher] house for hifz [Quran memorization]. When Maulana was not around, he asked me to read to his son, who was a hafiz [one who has memorized the Quran]. One day this hafiz called me to his room and gave me a story to read. As I was going through the story, he tried to rape me. I screamed and told him to stop. He came to his senses and stopped. Felt like beating him up with a baseball bat. Never told anyone.” (Male victim)

“I don’t know which or whom started first, but I was seven and abused by two different men … a cousin and an “uncle.” Apparently, I was special, as I was allowed into my cousin’s man cave; no one was allowed in there except me. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but I was allowed into a room that even my older brother wasn’t allowed to enter because I was special. It was a touch here and a touch there, until I guess he was comfortable enough to take out his “lollipop” for me to suck on. I was scared of the “lollipop.” I didn’t know what to make of it, but I was special, and that’s why I was given the “lollipop.” I can’t remember whether I sucked on the “lollipop,” but I remember being made to touch it and pet it. It’s funny how your brain works to block things out as you become .” (female survivor)

“This is what happens when our kids are exposed to Western kaafir [nonMuslim/disbeliever] culture.” Or, “Rape only happens to bad girls who are in bad places.”

Rape and sexual assault are just as much of an issue in the Muslim world, – in fact even in the holiest of places. Though many people choose to live in denial, the brutal truth is that unfortunately, women experience sexual harassment and assault even in the sacred cities of Makkah and Madinah and in the Masjid al-Haraam itself.

“A man, in an ihram, grabbed my hand and tried to force me close to him whilst I was doing sa’i [running back and forth between Safa and Marwa, one of the rites of Hajj].” (female victim; age 14 at the time.)

“When I was around 11 years old, my parents took me and my siblings for umrah [the lesser pilgrimage]. We performed umrah and were on our way back to Pakistan. I wanted to use the washroom at Jeddah airport. I went there with my little sisters. 

When we went to washroom, it was crowded because everyone was doing wudu [ablutions] to pray. I went to the washroom and my sisters were waiting outside. It took me a long time, so all the older women had left.

Some man came in and told my sisters to leave too and that people weren’t allowed to come in the washroom. They were 4 and 5, so they didn’t know anything and left me there alone. The man kept knocking at the door. I didn’t know it was a man; I thought it was a woman because it was the women’s washroom.  

I opened the door and he came in. I was so shocked and scared. I was trembling with fear; I was so confused, I didn’t even know what was going on. I was molested there, and I was too shocked to shout or scream, but then I came to my senses and started screaming really loudly. Some men came inside the washroom and started banging on the door, so this guy pulled up his pants, opened the door and ran away.

People were trying to run after him. I don’t know what happened after that because my parents came and took me away. I think they handled it, but we never spoke about it, so I don’t know what happened after it.

It was my first time being molested. Before this, I didn’t even know there was such a thing or that this happens to people. My mum told me not to tell my dad that the man touched me, and to just say the other men came before he could touch me – otherwise, my dad would disown me. So that’s what I did. 

I was very scared to go to school after it because we had many male teachers and there were lots of men around. My 11-year-old brain was too terrified to be around men for around a year.  My mum told me not to tell anyone back home about it, and everyone was just quiet. No one said anything else.” (female victim)

These are just some examples of the common sentiments expressed by Muslims with regards to sexual violence. In turn, each and every story quoted herein was submitted to me directly by the survivors of these crimes. These harrowing stories prove just how false the prevalent ideas surrounding sexual violence in the Muslim community are.

It must be emphasized that none of these statements so many Muslims give in regard to sexual abuse are considered to be Islamically valid or acceptable. They are abhorrent; these mentalities are what allow sexual crimes to continue to be perpetrated in our communities, with little to no accountability for the criminals, and with very few resources or support for the victims.

[1] https://islamqa.info/en/13998

[2] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85f0033m/2010023/part-partie1-eng.htm#h2_5

[3] Ibid

 

About Zainab bint Younus
Zainab bint Younus (aka The Salafi Feminist) is a Canadian Muslim woman who has been writing about Islam, Muslim women, and social issues in the Muslim community for over 10 years. She often focuses on taboo issues related to misogyny, patriarchy, Muslim sex ed and female scholarship. You can read more about the author here.
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