There is no doubt that Rape Culture is installed within religions and Islam is not an exception. Lately, “honorable Islamic scholar,” Nouman Ali Khan (NAK) was exposed as sexual predator, causing a battle in social media. NAK is only one more in the list of sexual offenders operating in religious spaces, on many occasions with the support of opinions leaders, or the silence and blind eye of the community of believers.
During my months in Cape Town, as you know, I engaged in critical education in Gender and Islam through workshops with Muslim women from the Cape Flats, where the rigid dynamics of researcher-object of study, gave way to an equal interaction of “people talking.” A recurrent theme, as I said in a previous article, was sexual violence and the discursive tenets that facilitate it.
In the light of the controversy aforementioned, I want to share excerpts that I recorded during our sessions of the sincere statements of Muslim women between 25 and 60 years old from different suburbs of Cape Town on Rape Culture and religion as they live it.
“They say that if I refuse to have sex with my husband, I’m cursed by the angels until dawn. But sometimes I do not want to. I’m tired or I just prefer another form of intimacy, like cuddling. I don’t get why for Muslim women, being sexually subservient to a man has to do with being a good believer.”
“Why am I the one locked up in a perimeter marked with a red ribbon at the mosque? It’s a huge hypocrisy. Outside they flirt and chase women; once inside they demand that you be held in the corner of the prayer hall like an infected animal.”
“Every time he wants sex, he asks me to make him a ‘service.’ I am his wife and he talks to me like a prostitute. A few weeks after our wedding, things changed in bed. He skips foreplay and everything, just wants to come, wash and go. He doesn’t even look at my face during sex. If I complain, he says his mother was the perfect Muslim woman, always in silence and obedient to his dad. I feel trashed by my own husband.”
“I am tired of being told that my presence in the mosque distracts men from their religious duties, that I prevent them from being good men. If they want to be pious, then stop trying to guess my body shape under the abaya!”
“People put religion above our dignity as women. They prefer throwing everything under the carpet and the neighbors will continue seeing them as good Muslims.”
“How are you going to accuse someone? You will have the whole community on your back! The woman who talks about the violence she suffers, is treated as a nuisance, period.”
“My niece was raped by her father between the ages of 6 and 14. My sister asked him to leave, only that, no one denounced him. I was too young to do anything. The Sheikh told my sister that according to Islam, her duty as a Muslim was to cover her husband’s faults. Then she said nothing. Recently, the man asked her to live together again. In the mosque they told her that she should receive her husband back, because Allah had forgiven him and he was her husband. She accepted him back.”
“You’re the one to blame. You are a failure if you are raped or sexually abused. There’s something wrong with you or your faith. This is the worst part for me; you’re the victim. What happens to you, it’s your responsibility and maybe it happened because you need a test like this to strength your faith.”
“I now know that your husband can rape you. This is something I experienced in my marriage. Maybe one of my pregnancies was the result of forced sex. I saw it as normal — sometimes this happens, men are complicated — that kind of stuff.”
“I was molested by my cousin. When I told my mother, she said that must be a secret for my own sake and it was time for me to start wearing the hiyab.”
Which Culture is Yours?
If you think my intention in writing this post was to upsetting, you would be right. If you’re a Muslim that genuinely believes that Islam contains an ethic of social justice, then you should be outraged to know what some of our sisters experience. Now, ask yourself: What’s your culture? One that believes and supports victims or one that plays the bystander and excused sexual predators?
This question is not an obvious one. Muslims often react myopically to these cases. Many resort to what I would call the Lazy Brain’s Emergency Kit: “Not all Muslims,” “Women exaggerate,” “Zionist conspiracy,” “Feminist plot,” “They aren’t Muslims,” or “Islam honors women….”
Sexual violence occurring within Islam is a continuum in the ways it preys on feminine bodies that is sustained by religious narratives and social practices whose prevalence legitimizes Rape Culture and evidences the lack of courage in a community to approach the problem with the necessary honesty and determination.
“Islam honors women” must be turned into actions — strategies of prevention for sexual violence and a stronger position against Rape Culture, and the promotion of an ethic of consent aligned with Islamic teachings based in truth, equality, respect for human dignity and social justice.
The only cause for sexual violence is someone who DECIDES to perpetrate it. Religion should not be used to justify it or manipulated to hide or excuse the felons who commit such acts. Fame, intelligence, public reputation, academic degrees, charisma, the personal or cultural fondness we have for them cannot be equated with or used to replace morals and ethics. It is not enough to repeat wearily that Islam doesn’t endorse sexual violence. As long there are sexual predators among us, as long as we refuse to take action, we will be an active part of the problem.
Note: I decided not to reveal the names of the women whose testimonies are quoted here because I am aware that speaking up and revealing your identity is a privilege they are not yet entitled to because of their community’s attitudes towards sexual violence.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is Muslim who is an international journalist and writer, community educator and awarded women’s rights activist. Independent scholar and lecturer in Religion, Gender and Politics.
19 thoughts on “Rape Culture and Muslims by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”
This made me feel sick :(. I also know of a woman who was assaulted by a cousin and was told to remain silent. I think one of the underlying problematic assumptions is that sexual needs are seen as normal for men and that we should expect that they will act out on them, but that anything sex related is damaging to a woman’s worth, spoils her “purity”, and makes her less valuable on the marriage market. So yeah, we really need to get rid of this one-sided notion of purity. And start to reclaim sexual needs as women, since while there is a lot of talk about the sexual needs of the husband, there is little of it when it comes to the needs of wives.
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I think what we need to do first is to examine and change our own rape culture… Rape is endemic to all cultures as far as I can see.
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I don’t understand what you mean. I am talking about this issue as a muslim and community educator who worked for Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. Also, as a survivor. So, I don’t know where is that “Another” Rape Culture I haven’t noticed.
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Sorry, I misunderstood. I too worked for a rape crisis center and I too am a survivor. I will however repeat the obvious, rape is endemic to ALL cultures.
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Sara, rape is not endemic in all cultures. In many indigenous societies rape is unknown.
Thank you for contributing this piece, Vanessa. Your writing reflects the fact that all faith traditions exist within the social context of patriarchy–the core of which is domination. Religions don’t exist in a vacuum but absorb the values of the culture in which they exist. Addressing and eradicating the power structures that make rape “acceptable” is essential. It starts at the grass roots level, giving women a place to voice their own experience and reality as you did in your work in Cape Town. Thank you, again.
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You are absolutely correct. Is there any major religion on Earth that is non-patriarchal? No. How will we ever change this to a non-patriarchal world?
All faiths do exist within the social contest of Patriarchy – that was the point I neglected to make clear to Vanessa. And rape is endemic to all.
The Moso/Mosuo of western China are primarily a matriarchal society (they live near the border of Tibet in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces). I would say the same of the the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia. I think there are others too, but I haven’t researched this topic recently. I’m not sure you could call the Hopi “patriarchal.” And these societies of course have religions, which would not exist in the social context of Patriarchy. And they do not have rape.
I have Native American roots, and have spent time in Hopiland where rape is a reality. Yes of course there are pockets of matrifocal societies but the dominant cultural perspective is Patriarchal. And Patriarchy holds the power.
Reblogged this on kommonsentsjane and commented:
Reblogged on kommonsentsjane/blogkommonsents.
All religions have to accept the fact that women or just as important in daily life as men AND ARE NOT SLAVES to anyone.
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Replace the word ISNA with “secularists and Ms. Fuente.”
Why is Nouman Ali Khan under Attack by ISNA supporters and Imam Magid et al? [Secularists & Ms. Fuente.]
NAK is boring and middle-of-the-road. That could be why ISNA feels Threatened.
Go to solutions at the end of the article.
by Kaukab Siddique, PhD
ISNA [the so-called Islamic Society of North America] has launched an all out attack on Nouman Ali Khan, a popular teacher of the Qur’an in America with worldwide influence. The attack is coming through Ms. Mattson, “imam” Magid, Altaf and others.
The question arises why is this well funded organization making this big effort to discredit Nouman Ali Khan?
What is not widely known about ISNA is that it has NEVER expressed concern about the suffering of Muslims who are not liked by the US power structure.
Consider these facts:
Ms. Mattson came from a Christian missionary organization. She was suddenly made president of ISNA though few in the organization knew about her credentials as a Muslim.
“Imam” Magid is known as a notable worker for the FBI. He claimed outright that he would hand over any Muslim to the FBI whom he considered an “extremist.”
His services were recognized with a plaque from the FBI which he proudly put up in his office.
Some of ISNA’s conventions have been directly sponsored by the White House.
ISNA has never protested the mistreatment of Muslims by the American power structure.
Think of THREE invasions of Gaza by Israel. ISNA response: Zero.
Bombing of Iraq, followed by invasion and occupation. ISNA response: Zero
Droning of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia by USA. ISNA response: Zero.
Police shootings of unarmed Black men in America: ISNA response. Zero
Arrest, show trials and long prison sentences of Muslims whom the US does not like. ISNA response: Zero
Abuse and extreme mistreatment of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and Bagram by USA: ISNA response: Zero
Muslim women killed and/or raped by US troops in Iraq and by India in Kashmir. ISNA: Zero
US Air Force bombing causing slaughter of Muslim women and children [families of Islamic State members] in Mayadin and Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. [Human Rights watch just listed 84 such victims in Tabaqa, Syria. ] ISNA: Zero
The brutalization and extensive imprisonment of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and the murder of US citizen Anwar Awlaqi and his son in Yemen. ISNA: Zero
So the question arises: On what basis is ISNA – related crowd attacking Nouman Ali Khan? Obviously ISNA’s record shown above indicates that this group’s leaders are not moral agents.,
Has ISNA come up with any evidence against Nouman Ali Ali Khan? NO!
In fact Nouman Ali Khan teaches what is taught in ISNA conventions: Morality and study of the Qur’an and relevance of the Qur’an and the miracles and values of the Qur’an.. However, his quality of teaching and ability to explain in modern terminology is higher than any of the ISNA speakers I have heard.
Like them, he teaches against EXTREMISM.
Therein lies the reason for their attack on Nouman Ali Khan. He was TAKING AWAY ISNA’s CONSTITUENCY: Middle Class, well to do American Muslims.
Instead of becoming a part of ISNA, he set up his own independent institute called Bayyinah.
In America it is quite common for women to attack established figures. Non-Muslim women have become quite aggressive. Charges against Cosby were brought 10, 20 even 30 years after the alleged incidents.
It could be catching on with Muslim women too. Most Muslim women do not approach a man through a Wali, or they ignore the Wali after the conversation has begun.
Often these conversations begin “on line” [which can be interpreted in a number of ways] or they are by phone or skype and can be re-interpreted if the proposal fails.
The women then bring the allegations which work in Muslim countries which are still very conservative but usually unthinkable in America.
For instance, if the woman says:
Do you like this dress?
And he replies:
You look beautiful in it.
If the proposal fails, she can claim that he made “inappropriate” comments.
In non-Muslim organizations, read the rules about sexual harassment. A Muslim male who is tempted by a bold woman could ruin his entire career by expressing his feelings.
I would urge men to be strict. Be modest. Islam teaches men to be modest. The most modest companion of the Prophet, pbuh, was a male: Usman, r.a.
While living in a non-Muslim society, we should be aware that the devil is rampant. However chaste one might be, the sin might emerge in the mind and soul and the devil might urge its expression in real life.
Allah forgives till actual sin is committed. Even then there is scope for tazkia and istaghfar and renewal of faith.
There is no evidence against Nouman Ali Khan. He is a good teacher. Let him continue his work. Bayyinah is a blessing. ISNA supporters and government camp followers are indulging in slander, abuse and character assassination.
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Muhammad himself was a rapist and out of his companions all but one kept sex slaves.
You can have gender equality or Islam but you can’t keep your cake and eat it.
Im a South African. I’m a Muslim women. And I’ve never experienced this.
But I can tell you one of the biggest roots to the problem. Why? Because I myself am like this.
We live in a bubble. I know many may not agree with me but it’s true. Most of the Muslims that I know, including myself, are undeniably blessed. Contentment, because following our religion fills us with it, safety, financial security, amazing families… I could go on and on… We’re spoilt, there’s not much that we don’t have.
But because of this, we live in a bubble. We happy to live our lives in our happy bubble, not bothering about outsiders and their problems.
Its sounds incredibly selfish but I promise you, it’s not. Its just… Self-absorbed. Everyones so busy with their own lives that no one bothers much about others problems unless they’re closely related to them or close friends.
Its definitely not something restricted to Muslims. All religions n cultures have it… But we have it bad.
Thing is… Even if Muslims decided to go out there and help those Muslim women who need it… Most of us would never know where to start… Thats our problem.
I agree. You live in a Bubble. However, as an outsider I perceive there is always time to waste thinking what will be the dress for Eid about never to reflect on our duty in improving our communities. Being spoiled is not an excuse, as well ignorance is not an excuse, especially in Cape Town, where there is the largest organization fighting against Rape and helping survivors like Rape crisis. As Muslim, we can’t hide behind lack of time or information, we have a duty about. I write once per month in The Muslims Views about issues pertaining women’s rights and my conclusion is always the same: Muslim are more concerned in looking for excuses for how they don’t take care of these issues, instead to use that time to do something to solve the issue. It seems God gave a religion of wisdom to people who don´t want to make the effort to reflect. Salam
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Sorry for my little rant. What I meant to say is that most women are afraid to speak out, one reason is for fear of censure… But the other is because unless they have close friends or family… Most Muslims will just give them a sympathetic smile and carry on with their lives….
Its the worst thing ever but besides trying to be a change themselves, how does one go about changing it?
The women I work with will never speak up to other Muslims they know because they will be listened for the sake of gossip or for the sake of judgement. But they trust in a foreigner because I won’t betray them, I don’t follow cliques, I don’t define myself among them for my race or class and at the end of the day I am as outsider as they are.
Just goes to show how messed up society is…
May Allah make it easy for all those women and help them out of their problems
Well, society is not a being. Where does she live, eat, work? In which desk she sits to damage vulnerable people? “Society” is each one of us. If society is messed up, you are messed up, I am messed up, etc. So, instead of praying to Allah, rather we ACT upon His commands about to take over our duty over His Creation and stand up for justice, even if we have to make ourselves uncomfortable
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