Given the nature of this article, the content below may trigger emotional trauma for victims of sexual abuse. While there is no reference to any explicit detail, please read with caution.
She must have been seven or eight years old at the time. Every day, at precisely 7 pm, she would run downstairs right past her mother. Her mother would constantly ask her to slow down as she whizzed through; but who could stop a wild, crazy, excited seven year old from racing down the stairs, past the roses and flowers in the garden to open the gate for her teacher who would always greet her with the words “Assalamualiakum” (May peace be with you). She would then run back to her home, the home where she was surrounded by family members who loved her, cared for her, and protected her.
However, something strange began to happen. On occasions, following her lesson, the teacher would ask her to come sit beside him. He would sometimes put his hand on her thigh. It’s interesting how kids have such an amazing intuition for things that are out of the ordinary. The first time it happened, she knew it wasn’t right but couldn’t quite make sense of it. She was on edge around him and the more he encouraged her to come closer, the more she realized it wasn’t okay. She changed her tactic and instead, just treated it like a game and did whatever she needed to do to avoid the situation. She was always successful – except for that one time.
One day, without any warning, she was caught off guard, she became a victim of sexual assault. From then on, she knew for a fact that what happened was weird, uncomfortable and not right. And thankfully enough, that was the very last time. As a child, it is these instances that leave the biggest of scars inside of us as we grow older. For years, she would have nightmares about a teacher chasing her up the stairs and she would abruptly wake up, flustered, only to realize that thankfully, it was just a nightmare.
Later on, the education system taught her exactly what sexual assault meant. It was then, when she was ten years old, that she put the pieces together and came to terms with what had happened to her. At that moment, she promised herself that she would never let the horror she lived through be a part of anyone else’s journey – especially those she loved. So she went home that day and explained to her baby brother, in very simple terms, the importance of his body and who has a right to touch it. And with that, she thought she had locked the horrible memory away. This did not last for long.
Years later, she was at a conference in New York University where a Chaplain was speaking about the issue of sexual abuse and assault in the Muslim community. Ironically enough, he talked about another young lady who came to see him, saying that she was sexually assaulted by her Quran teacher on a regular basis – and now, she had no idea how to make sense of what had happen. The Chaplain, continued to share traumatizing stories of women and men who were sexually assaulted, raped or victimized at a young age. They had no support systems within their communities or safe spaces to discuss the trauma they had experienced.
As she was listening to the lecture, her childhood trauma came back to haunt her, and she was weeping uncontrollably. Through those tears, she resolved to deal with it, just as the Chaplain was advocating was needed. She knew, as he advised, the only way out was to seek help – and so she did. She reached out to trusted family, friends and community members who assured her she would be okay. Did it hurt? Of course – it hurt her like you wouldn’t even believe. But as a very well respected community member once explained to her: what happens to a wound when you first try to treat it? It stings. It burns. It hurts. But you have to bear the first bit of pain because that’s the first step to healing; then, as you put the band-aid on and continue to treat it, it will heal – with time and patience. And indeed, she healed. She found the light of hope she had been searching for.
“Verily, along with every hardship, there is relief; verily, along with every hardship, there is relief” – Quran, 95:5-6
The above is just one story of thousands upon thousands who experience sexual abuse on a regular basis. Yes, even today, in the year 2016. Within the last year, I’ve had conversations with two people about this issue in the Muslim community, where this topic is difficult to address because it is such a taboo topic. Anything with the word “sex” in the Muslim community brings conversations to a complete halt, with faces and conversations left in a state of shock. All anyone is thinking in that moment is this: I can’t believe she just said sex! But thankfully, community leaders are leading the way in this important issue by being bold, by taking a stand and by talking about sexual abuse. They are engaging in open conversations to address the root causes these experiences have left on people. The community leaders are also not shying away from other taboo topics, such as porn addiction, domestic abuse, and substance abuse. And yes, while consuming drugs is not permissible in Islam, it is still happening amongst all age groups within the Muslim community, especially the youth.
We need to bring back voices in our communities. We need to bring back the support systems so that we can regain that sense of pride in our identity, and be able to stand bold, confident and say, “Yes I’m Muslim, yes I pray 5 times a day, and even if you paid me a million dollars, I wouldn’t have it any other way!”
But until we start talking about these issues, nothing will change. Even at a family level – remember, true change begins within ourselves and our homes. Only then can we start to address these issues at a community level.
I sincerely hope that as a community, we are able to find the strength, courage, and wisdom to be true agents of change and help ourselves, our families, our communities, to heal and become a better place for us all.
This article was originally posted in Aisha’s blog and has been revised for INKspire.