Advice: Praying for a fresh start

Dear Love InshAllah, 

There’s something that I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about, but I need to talk to someone about this. It’s about our views of purity, and whether we can start our lives fresh if something terrible happens. In our society, we’re told from the time we’re little girls we should save ourselves for our husbands. I want to get married and have a family, and raise my children in a safe, caring environment. I only wish I was so lucky. From the time I was 12, a relative started to abuse me. It started gradually, but it became sexual. Over the next few years, I didn’t say anything. I knew if I did my family would fall apart. Alhamdulillah I was finally able to stop him. I went to college far away from my whole family. I haven’t dated at all in college. I’m waiting to meet a good man, a man I want to spend my life with. But I can’t get over this feeling of guilt, that I’m somehow not worthy of being happy because of everything that’s happened. I wish I could just start my life fresh. I never wanted this to happen. He’s a sick man who should have never done this to any little girl. But I know that many people would judge me if they knew my state, and maybe they would say that I’ll never be able to be a good wife or deserve a good husband anymore. I think this is so unfair. How can our entire life be judged by something that we didn’t even want to happen to us? I was hoping you could tell me what I should do, and how I can lead a good life now. I want to have a normal, happy life, but will any husband accept me if he knows what I’ve been through?

Praying for a fresh start

Miss Sunshine replies:

Religiously justified misogyny is a noxious brew forced down our throats with a “bismillah” and left to fester and slowly rot our insides. Its existence and perpetuation is a violence on believers, especially believing women. You’ve internalized the idea that if your life has not followed a very narrow and specific path in ways that are largely outside of your control, then something is wrong with you. It’s a lie, but you– like all of us who were raised in patriarchal societies– have had the message sent to you in a million forms, sometimes subtle, sometimes garish, always cruel.

You’ve borne burdens that no one should ever be forced to bear. For the sake of family cohesion you sacrificed your right to name the person who abused you, to be safe from their abuse, and to be nurtured by and to healed among your family. If you are guilty of anything, it is being too generous. But you aren’t guilty of anything.

You are not unclean or unwholesome, because rape and sexual abuse can’t defile you. Purity is a myth. It doesn’t exist. Purity is a euphemism for control over women’s bodies. Purity culture, or obsessions with female virginity, are ideas constructed by men to control women. If purity exists, it exists in relation to Allah (swt), and your faith. Your goodness is not the result of what happens to your body, it comes from who you are deep inside, and how you express that with your God, yourself, and other people. Goodness and purity are not things that can be taken from you, they are only things you can give away through a conscious decision to believe and act in ways that are mean and/or selfish.

The best way to live a good life now is to take care of yourself. If you have access to quality mental health care, then you should pursue it. I once read the words of a rape survivor who said something to the effect of “Rape is unlike other crimes because the crime scene is your body. You can never leave the scene.” The trauma of physical abuse can remain with us in ways that are difficult to understand without help. A compassionate therapist, or a supportive group of people  can help you rid yourself of the shame that’s causing you so much pain. If you can’t afford or don’t otherwise have access to a therapist, cities across the globe have set up support groups of rape and sexual abuse survivors. There are also excellent books and articles about abuse that can help you find affirmation, understanding and healing. I have not read this book myself, but I’ve heard good things about it, “Resurrection After Rape: A Guide to Transforming From Victim to Survivor” by Matt Atkinson.

You should be proud of your strength, your intelligence, and your resilience and you deserve someone who will be proud of you. The best way to attract that person is to take the time to come to terms with what you’ve gone through, and to take pride in who you are and the hard work you’ve done to protect yourself. I know there are believing men out there who are intelligent and kind and who would honor your strength and goodness.

I wish you only the best.

Shy Desi Boy replies:

I read your letter with a heavy heart. When we go through a traumatic experience and others ignore or cheer on this abuse, we begin to internalize: what did I do? Why did I do to deserve this? This quickly morphs into a more destructive question: do I even deserve to be happy?

I had a traumatic experience in my life and for the longest time I convinced myself I do not deserve happiness. I was so convinced that the only way for me to feel anything was if I was being punished, because the only emotion that felt true—that I deserved—was sadness. This is what violence does—it robs us of our self-esteem, it makes us think that we are worthless, that we should only live in one shade: darkness.

But with therapy, I have managed to feel pleasure and, equally important, to give pleasure. I am not talking about sex. I am speaking about making someone happy and also accepting when another person wants to make me happy.

There will be some Muslim men who will not want you because of what happened to you. These men are useless and they will make lousy partners to whoever they are with. They read Maxim magazine and fantasize about internet porn stars but will only accept a virgin on their wedding day. Avoid them.

But there are Muslim men out there who, like you, have difficult pasts. Muslim men are so caught up trying to prove their toughness that they are too afraid, or inexperienced, at showing their vulnerability. That is changing, slowly, and I am seeing Muslim men slowly (ever ever ever so slowly) accept that we all come from complex backgrounds.

Right now, I am not worried about whether or not you will get married. I want you to accept yourself. What happened to you was not your fault. It is important to say that again and again. You did not do anything to deserve this. You are a beautiful person. You always were. You always will be. I see that beauty in you, even though I have just read your letter.

I sometimes look at my life—the sadness, the violence, the deaths—and there are times when yes, I wish it would have never happened. Sometimes I cannot sleep and I feel like I will be tormented forever. But there are other times when I feel like these experiences helped me pierce through the illusions of life because when I feel happy, I know how hard I have to work to find that happiness. I have many faults but I am not numb to the world and I know that the pain I experienced has helped me see the world, and hopefully myself, with greater clarity.

The abuse should have never happened. Do not let anyone ever tell you that what happens, happens for the best. Because abuse is never for the best. Never. Don’t let anyone add to much religious language that this Allah testing us. It is not. This is the act of a very cruel man. How can Allah love us and also subject us to such cruely? That is not the Allah I believe in.

But you can rise up and re-claim the beauty this jerk tried to rob from you. And sometime very soon, a lucky person will meet you. This person will love your honesty, your ability to reflect, your ability to access deep emotions, your ability to absolutely savor a happy moment. And you may not need to tell this person but it will be clear to you: you reached this state because you fought. And you won. I am cheering you on.

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9 Comments on “Advice: Praying for a fresh start”

  1. Your question broke my heart 😦

    Islamically, anything that was done to you against your will does NOT count as a sin against you. The person who abused you will be held accountable for his actions on the day of Judgment and punished severely – Allah is the Most Just and will provide a suitably agonizing punishment.

    As for you, YOU are perfect just as you are. YOU are pure just as you are – “purity” isn’t dependent on what others have done to you, but on the actions that *you* choose to take part in. Allah describes the ‘pure ones’ as those who worship Him correctly, those who purify their hearts:

    “Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.” (Qur’an 2:222)

    “O you who have believed, do not follow the footsteps of Satan. And whoever follows the footsteps of Satan – indeed, he enjoins immorality and wrongdoing. And if not for the favor of Allah upon you and His mercy, not one of you would have been pure, ever, but Allah purifies whom He wills, and Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Qur’an 24:21)

    Don’t think that the sins of another make YOU impure – because they don’t. The only thing that can make you ‘impure’ is committing shirk or deliberately choosing to engage in sin.

    You are a survivor, and there *are* Muslim men out there who will see pass the stigma of what was done to you against your will, and will recognize and love you for who you are ❤

    May Allah protect you, heal you, and grant you the perfect love, ameen ❤

  2. LilBabyTiger says:

    Salam Sister, I wanted to thank you for your courage and bravery. The reality of sexual abuse is a dark secret within Muslim communities. I had read somewhere that in South Asia, 1 in 4 girl children will suffer from sexual harassment and abuse by the time they are 18. You are far from alone. I loved the answers you were given, and I offer one of my own: You are not defined by what has been done to you. You are not guilty of ANYTHING that this predator has forced upon you. You are far more than a “just” a victim or “just” a survivor. My heart prays for you.

  3. goulart says:

    Prayers for all in such a situation.

  4. Zahra says:

    Reblogged this on Emboldened Hearts.

  5. You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone belittle you or your worth.

    My younger sister was molested by my mentally unstable and homeless uncle multiple times as a child, starting at the age of 9. When she went to my mother for guidance, my mother flat-out replied, “Well, what can I do about it?”

    The crushing lack of support and self-shame is something my sister always internalized and carried forth in her attitude about life. She saw herself as ugly and not deserving of love or good things in life. What’s worse – she was actually silenced from speaking about this experience by community and family members. I see the very same personal attributes reflected in your post and my heart aches for you. I would encourage you to first seek help, perhaps through a confidential counselor to help overcome this sense of corrosive self-blame that will bleed through aspects of your life and prevent you from gaining the self-confidence you need to be successful in life. It’s imperative you seek help and give yourself the ability to heal.

    It’s likely that you’re not the only person in your family that your relative sexually abused. I found out later in my own family there were multiple children – both male and female – that my uncle had molested. If not for yourself, then for others, please bring attention to these issues of sexual abuse. You have so much to offer but the very first step is not to blame yourself.

    Purity is about much more than what happens with our bodies – it is first and foremost an orientation of the heart. It is a matter of having a sincere heart and good intentions. And any man who is not comfortable with your history of forced sexual abuse is simply not acting in the way of righteousness and justice. They are the ones not worthy of YOU.

  6. beanshaq says:

    Salaams dear, I would also like to suggest a book written by a woman who also survived through her own childhood sexual abuse: Healing Sex by Staci Haines.

  7. JC says:

    Assalaamu alaykum dear Sister

    Whenever we hear of such abuse, it strikes at the very core of our heart, and we all feel for you. As a former sexual crimes prosecutor, these types of situations incense me even more, because if you were/are someone I know, I would do everything I could to put this person behind bars.

    But this discussion is about you. How to heal. How to move on.

    First of all, remember that THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT and YOU DID NOT DO ANYTHING WRONG. As the Salafi Feminist said above, Allah (swt) is the Most Just, and His Justice will prevail on the Day of Judgment, and this horrible man will suffer the consequences of his atrocities. He is a criminal and deserves every ounce of punishment he gets, either in this life or the hereafter.

    Secondly, YOU are NOT DAMAGED GOODS. While I certainly believe there are guys out there who would have a difficulty overcoming certain perceived issues, again, such men lack the confidence and ability to provide the support and love you deserve. While you may be more sensitive to certain issues, don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot be happy or make someone else happy.

    Getting to purity, again, as the Salafi Feminist above said, you are NOT made “impure” by somebody else’s disgusting and sinful act against you – you were the victim and your purity should never be in question. I do want to respond to Miss Sunshine however, who seemed to be downright angry in her post… what happened to you was not “religiously justified misogyny” – it was the selfish, perverted act of an individual. Having prosecuted hundreds of criminals guilty of violence or abuse against women, trust me, it crosses all ethnic, religious and racial lines. This isn’t religious based at all. This is rape. This is sexual abuse and torture. Also, purity is NOT “a euphemism for control over women’s bodies;” rather it is USED as a euphemism. Purity is a real concept, particularly in our faith, but the ONLY impure one in this situation is the horrible man who did this to you.

    Finally, remember that Allah (swt) tells us directly in the Qur’an that He will test us, including those who are the strongest and those who are the weakest in their faith, with poverty, sorrow, loss, ruin and even death, all to remind us that it is His Love, His Compassion, His Mercy, His Guidance, His Sustinence and His Justice that we need. Turn to Him, regardless of whether it’s through the masjid or otherwise – do it on your own if you have to. Read more Qur’an. Read Hadith. Read the Seerah. Go to classes and lectures in person and on line by Al Madina Institute, Al Maghrib, Bayyinah, Rabata (which is designed specifically for women), and others, and increase your own knowledge, your own dedication, and strengthen your relationship with Allah (swt), and in time, your wounds will heal, He will provide for your mental, emotional and physical needs, inshallah. And never forget, and never doubt that Allah (swt), the Most Just, will hand out justice to those who have wronged others, and the one who hurt you will answer for his crimes in the most ultimate manner possible.

    May Allah (swt) give you comfort, guidance and bring you closer to Him. Ameen.

  8. SY says:

    I went through a very similar situation – I was sexually abused by a close family member when I was young, and kept it a secret to protect my family’s good name and honor. Unfortunately growing up in a culture like ours, the victims are often made to feel like they are guilty of wrongdoing, that we somehow “deserved this” or its some how our fault. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve carried the same fears you voice in your letter for years…I always wondered if a a good man would want to marry me.

    I had an arranged marriage to a great guy not too long ago, but am sad to say I realized early on it would not work. Our courtship and marriage were very rushed – we met and were married within six months – despite living on opposite ends of the world (so we never actually spent much time together in person). Upon getting married and moving in with my husband, I began to have flashbacks of when I was being abused. The feelings of anxiety and fear came rushing back, in ways I had not ever experienced in the decade since my abuse had occurred. The worst part of it all was that I had been forbidden by my family to tell my husband about the abuse. I was so scared he wouldn’t accept me. The fear and anxiety I felt kept me from being able to develop a normal relationship with him.

    I’m sharing this with you because I would like to reiterate what Ms.Sunshine said about seeking professional help. Unfortunately there is a huge stigma in our culture and community about seeking professional help and seeing a therapist. I urge you to seek the help of a specialist, someone who is experienced in Trauma Based Therapy or with a focus on sexual abuse/rape. I finally started seeing a specialist who focuses on TBT and it changed my life. I realize now that my inability to speak up for myself, or my acceptance of others telling me what to feel or think greatly affected my decision to go ahead with this marriage when I had my doubts. Furthermore, keeping the abuse a secret from my husband has made it that much harder to build a good relationship, and has destroyed any level of comfort I would have (and should have) had being intimate with him.

  9. Anonymous says:

    My courageous sister in Islam,

    I hear you sister, in the beginning it’s tough to fight off these thoughts and feelings of unworthiness, especially since we are taught either at home or in society at large that we have to earn our worthiness. You are a unique individual, you are worthy, and you do not need to do anything or be anything in particular to become worthy. You are enough.

    Probably hearing this from a stranger is odd, since we are unknown to each other, but you will get through this by the Will of Allah. You are standing today telling your story, and that, my love – is courageous. I’m sure I speak for many, when I say we are here for you. I am here for you, I support you 100% in your pursuit of healing. You say ‘I know that many people would judge me if they knew my state’ – you’ll find in the comments above that everyone is supporting you and no one here is judging you.

    Like you, I too was abused, from a very close relative. I’ve only told 3 people, and now, because of your courage, I’m sharing with you and for others to read, perhaps it will be of benefit.

    It was 6 years ago, when I started to see signs from my him, signs that he could do harm, this would make me feel very uneasy around him. For a month or so, I would feel bad energy coming from his direction, and one night, he tried to get close. He got close physically, I withdrew as soon as my strength allowed by the Mercy of Allah. I still have that image popping in to my head from time to time. I went to sleep crying that night, to make things worse, I blamed myself for not keeping myself safe from him. I remember, before forcing myself to sleep, saying to Allah that I forgive the man, and asked for Al Ghafoor to forgive him too. I also forgave myself for not trusting my instincts or the signs.

    He is still in my life, 6 years later. I can not be in the same room as him, just in case he tries something like that again. My family do not know why I have an estranged relationship with him. I do not trust him, I’m never in the same room with him alone.

    I have a very hard time trusting male prospects for marriage, but I know my experience has nothing to do with them, or my lack of trust in them thereof. I have warped opinions of men, and I try, hard as I might to have these opinions discontinued.

    I know I have to trust myself, that I will choose a great man. I will only accept a man who, after praying istikharah, is someone I respect and he respects me. You say ‘will any husband accept me if he knows what I’ve been through?’ – not any husband, your husband yes, bi ithnillah. When we accept what has happened to us and accept who we are, usually, more often than not, people accept us. I encourage you to know what you are looking for in a husband and specifically ask the Great Provider, to trust Allah in the process of getting to know the prospect, and trust Him in other than that.

    We all have coping mechanism that we’ve built over the years, sometimes to cope is not enough. I’ve chosen to not cope and to heal instead. Whenever I get flashbacks I quickly think of something else, all thanks and praises be to Allah, this has proven to be very helpful for me. I do not let that moment to define me, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to not let that part of your story to define who you are or the relationships you have with others.

    My love, you can do this. For a fresh start, we have to put in the work for our healing: some suggestions from the bottom of my heart I believe will be of huge benefit for you, is to increase in prayers, reading, surrounding yourself with positive people. All thanks and praises be to Allah, this healing is where out strength lies. Where our trust in Allah comes to life, where our healing no longer becomes a healing, instead its a balance of our love, fear and hope in the Lord of the Worlds.

    The work we do is internal, though externally – we may find ourselves time to time; longing for an apology from those men and that probably would help, I just don’t know if they themselves have healed from the injustice they caused. I truly believe a lot of people, if not all, have a battle that they’re fighting

    May Allah grant me, you, and the believing woman and men, one of His loved and closest servants to Him to be a spouse for us. May Allah bless you in this life and the next,

    Feel free to reply,

    Ukhti fillah