Advice: Praying for a fresh startPosted: November 28, 2013
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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