When Abuse Happens

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Trigger warnings: Self harm, rape and sexual abuse.

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It was becoming a little routine by now. Every day after work, I would listlessly make the rounds of the kitchen, not daring to cook anything lest my resolve broke and I took a knife to my skin. I would wait for my roommate, who came in half an hour after me. We’d cook dinner together, her unawareness of my inner struggle a relief of its own.

When Ramadan came, the cutting urges gripped me in a vice. Wrecked by hunger and exhaustion on the one hand and battling self harm urges on the other, I came back from work every day and fell into my bed sobbing, terrified of what I would do to myself if I got up. My entire body screamed. It was like a food craving, except my body did not want to nourish itself. Falling headlong into depression, my body only saw self-destruction as a way out.

I fasted day in and out living out an internal terror. My roommates were all non-Muslims. There was really nowhere I could go for spiritual support or guidance.

————-

My rape was a childhood story. Grappling with the trauma was an adulthood truth.

The truth is, our community is afraid of speaking on matters which don’t present us as a perfect organism. Mental Health. Depression. Suicide. Abuse – domestic, sexual, emotional or otherwise. We do this (as has been stated by many Muslim brethren of mine) many times because we don’t want to give “Islamophobes more fodder”. Those who dare to broach these topics often stop at condemnation. Islam does not stand for abuse. Abusers would suffer mightily. End of story.

But, when abuse happens, it is not enough to say Islam and the beloved Prophet would condemn it.

I’ll tell you as a survivor that because my rape was committed by a “religious teacher”, I struggled with my religion. I’ll tell you that I often thought about Hazrat Aisha, youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad, who is thought to have consummated her marriage around the same age as I was when my rape happened. I’ll tell you that there were days that I’d sit on my prayer mat, unable to pray.

It is the single biggest reason I stopped coming to Friday congregational prayers. I never knew when I’d be able to pray, and when I wouldn’t be able to, and what reactions I might have to deal with. I searched on Google in vain for Muslim resources that adequately dealt with helping survivors cope in a religious context and came up with almost nothing. At that time, it was like a double whammy of loneliness, grief, and hurt all in one go. I’ll tell you that as I went through this, various commentaries about how Islam does not stand for abuse, for rape, etc., did nothing to help. The statements felt empty.

Coming to terms with trauma is difficult. It is a journey that renders the person fragile, because harmful coping mechanism once employed are now made obsolete. There is constant pain, physical pain, as much as emotional pain as trauma is relived, dealt with, survived. The first part of the journey, where the survivor is constantly reacting to the trauma long after the trauma is over, is called the “crisis stage”, and sometimes is as long as decades.

In my inexpert opinion (I read a lot of psychology, but that doesn’t make me a psychologist), it is probably the stage where the survivor needs the most resources, the most support, the most patience. It is also where I would say that religious institutions and leaders should step in and provide resources and support as needed.

However, most of our clergy are inaccessible, especially to women. Those who are accessible tell us that the ways out of our afflictions are patience, and strengthening our Iman by praying or reading the Quran. I am not denying that spirituality for many is a cornerstone of their healing.

All I am saying is that empty spirituality for many is not enough.

————-

I reasoned with myself for over a week. In Islam, one is allowed to make up fasts later if one is sick, but illness is usually defined in physical terms. Did my depression count? My self-cutting urges? Countless studies prove that hunger often exacerbates depression so I wasn’t making this up. But was I being a bad Muslim by forgoing fasting? Was there a way to be stronger?

In the absence of access to real Imams, I Googled and checked for Certified Muslim Websites. Suffering purifies our humanness, and hunger is suffering. Fasting is used as a way to strengthen my Iman. A single event does not bring on depression or happiness. Depression or happiness is a mindset. I should change my mindset. Develop a stronger Iman.

But I could not change my mindset. My nerves screamed at me.

In the end, I decided that depression counted as a bona fide illness even if no Muslim website would say it. Somewhere in mid-Ramadan, I stopped fasting.

The night when I came to my decision, I begged Allah for forgiveness and mercy. I wasn’t strong enough for this, I couldn’t go on anymore.

He must have heard, because gradually, the self-harm urges lessened.

A follow-up piece by Sarah on the response to this post, here.

Sarah Cassim is an undergraduate student who is passionate about serving her community. Her interests consists of history, maps, skeletons and too many chocolate chip cookies.  She enjoys writing at her blog and aspires to be a professor.


12 Comments on “When Abuse Happens”

  1. shabeeha says:

    Mayالله give the writer صبر in her difficult time.

  2. Praying for you says:

    So heartbreaking.😦 The Muslim community can be so insensitive to these things as well. “Find inner peace” they say. “Be good and you will find inner peace”. What if others do bad to you?? I really feel for this girl. I pray Allah SWT makes it easier for you, and that you find a good, kind, caring support system that you can trust who will help you through your suffering,m and give your the justice you deserve.

  3. eva626 says:

    SubhanAllah! May Allah grant you peace!!!

  4. Ummer Farooq says:

    The peace of God and paradise be for you from above,

    The reasons why you would be given the answer of Patience’s, as well as forgiveness and increasing imaan by doing dawah and learning Allah’s greatness and the way of the prophet and only crying and running to Allāh and having concern in deep thoughts, is because there is no criminal legal system that will give you an Islamic verdict of you coming out in the open and exposing the person that raped you so that he would be stoned in the spot.

    Only non-islamic courts give criminal judgements in most places.

  5. amina says:

    it is the worst when our trusted elders are the ones who take advantage of us. thank you for having the courage to write this. i pray that others who have been through the same are also able to come forth and create better resources for all who are in need.

  6. Profkpem says:

    What terrible suffering in silence for so many years! I can only hope and pray that by taking the first step in telling your story you can begin your journey on the long road to healing. Here in Indonesia where I am working, stories of abuse and survival like yours are plentiful, but many of the male and female ulama are part of the solution. They are actively engaged in communities working to combat poverty, violence against women, and other social ills. Theirs is a model for other activist Muslims that can be shared across borders and boundaries of race, class, etc. By supporting the work of Muslim and Islamic gender activists and coopting the religious scholars who work among the people into solutions through training and active engagement with survivors of abuse, we will eventually hear, much less frequently, brave Muslimas like Sarah say she had no one to turn to in the community.Peace to you Sarah, and may Allah bring you the love and support of Muslim sisters and brothers who can help you along on your path to healing.

  7. Mekail says:

    May Allah grant you peace and guide you to the best path..Aameen..

    Btw Hazrat Ayesha R.A didn’t consummate her marriage until she was 21.. Kindly check proper references.. JazakAllah.

  8. khalidah says:

    Subhanallah, this is serious. Only yesterday I had a discussion with a sister that took offense to use having training on abuse and bullying. This shows how far we have to go in making things right in our communities. We need to let our youth know that it is ok to come forward. Our Imams need to be trained and ready to help, condemn and publicly out the perpetrators of abuse as this is destructive to our communities. I have worked with abused children for over 25 years and it is true that we are not doing enough. There are a few organisations such as project sakina that do give assistance. I pray for your healing my young sister. I wish I knew where/who you were so I could reach out to you and try to do more.

  9. […] not as brave as some of these other people (check out this, and this, and this) and I may never be, but I hope to play a small part in this evolving […]

  10. Amina says:

    If Allah brings you to it…He will bring you through it. I converted to Islam over five years ago. I found it to be the most peaceful religion. However in any religion you can have bad people. Your right about the support system. I don’t know if being silent is good, because is that “religious scholar” going to do it to someone else? Just food for thought.

  11. hina says:

    It takes a lot of courage to speak out about this. May Allah give her strength.

  12. […] who are survivors of sexual violence (including date-rape and trafficking) who, aside from the trauma, have had to live with the stigma, the consequences and the […]