A Letter to the Muslim Community

Dear Muslim Community,

As of 2011, we still suffer from racism in America. Muslims suffer from the ignorance of those who do not understand Islam. It has aimed to keep us silent and submissive. By not voting, engaging and challenging the American society we have allowed these misconceptions to exist and perpetuate.
We have allowed our youth to believe in these racist and Islamophobic falsehoods because we are silent. These falsehoods are exacerbated by the problems that paralyze and ravage the Muslim community. As a teenager I blamed Islam for sexism. I saw how the women in my family were disempowered and oppressed. My Muslim community used Islam to perpetuate the same sexist ideologies. I was not given a decent Islamic education. I was not given a safe space to express my concerns and questions about Islam. So I foolishly bought into the American Islamophobic society’s idea that women are not respected because of Islam.

I would not write this letter if my experience was isolated; it is shared. The Muslim community suffers from sexism, patriarchy, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and transphobia. I ask you to reconsider the messages you are sending the Muslim youth about gender and sexuality. These messages are harming Muslim women, gender queer, questioning, transgendered, and men.

Muslim men must acknowledge their privilege and be a part of the gender revolution. They must understand that this system harms all persons including themselves. Muslim women must demand equality from their sons, fathers, brothers, husbands, grandfathers, uncles and acknowledge the problems of Muslim masculinity. Muslim women and men must acknowledge and stand by their fellow queer, questioning, lesbian, transgendered, gay, intersexual, and bisexual Muslims.

We must mobilize with our fellow Muslims to demand an end to intolerance, hate, ignorance, and inequality. I ask you to create supportive networks to start this movement. I ask you to question and challenge ideologies that aim to oppress and marginalize people. We can do this by challenging Islamic religious leaders who provide a male dominated and interpretation of Islamic text. We must challenge our Islamic studies teachers who shut down discourse about sexuality and gender. We must write so that our voices and experiences are acknowledged. the Qur’an says, “…When you speak, speak with justice, even if it is against someone close to you…” (Quran 6:152). We should speak and act with justice by making our voices heard. This speaks to Gloria Anzaldua who once said, “I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue – my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.” Our prophet Muhammad (s) has liberated us by breaking down many misconceptions about gender. Muhammad (s) has allowed people to reconnect with their hearts. The Muslim community must reconnect with their hearts to challenge systems of inequality! We must become liberated through our writing and open discourse!

The time has come to dismantle these systems of oppression and inequality! We need to stand up our right to live free lives.

We believe in protecting our fellow Muslims right to a life free of oppression and domination.

We are Sisters Breaking Barriers in hopes of creating a future full of happiness, peace, freedom, equality, strength and solidarity.

Breaking the Silence about Sexual Abuse by Yasmeen Shaban

Sexual abuse is another taboo topic in Muslim communities. This silence and cultural stigma adds to the oppression and pain of the sexually abused victims. We are doing these people a disservice by not talking about sexual abuse. Even more disturbing is that people in power like Islamic religious leaders and teachers, uncles, fathers, and female cousins, are committing these sexual violent acts without punishment from the law and community. Islam advocates human dignity and integrity, freedom from the chains of oppression and inequality, and justice. So why are Muslim communities so silent about sexual abuse?

Organica A story of an Arab American girl writes openly and honestly about sexual abuse. This blog is campaigning to end sexual abuse and has posted responses of sexually abused victims. I noticed that most of these people never received treatment for the aftereffects of sexual abuse. Most claimed that they had trouble being intimate and that they were overprotective. One woman claimed that men were disgusting that she often hid from. Another claimed that her husband was angry because she gagged every time she touched his private area. One respondent said:

“It was also the cultural and religious stigma attached to the abuse. I always felt like such a slut, and being introduced to sex at such a young age means you’re slightly more promiscuous as an adult. It always made me feel easy and cheap. My sexual desires were associated with shame. I can’t have sex with anybody I’m not involved in a relationship with because I feel like that’s an invasion of my privacy. And even people I’m committed to, there are times when I don’t feel comfortable being intimate.”

This respondent felt shame over being sexually abused although this was not her fault. The messages she’s received from the Muslim community have not helped her recovery. She says that any sexual desires she felt were associated with shame. I believe this stems from a repression and silence of sexuality within the Muslim community. Although the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (s) have talked openly about sexuality, the Muslim community sends a different message to the youth. When attending an Islamic school the messages about sexuality and gender sent were clear, sexist, and repressive. If a female was seen driving in a car with a male on school grounds it was reported to their parents. The female’s reputation was then ruined as the “promiscuous troublemaking female who had no respect for rules or herself” without knowledge of her situation. Are we so shaped and blinded by sexist cultural rules and interpretation of Islam that we can’t see how sexual abuse is hurting our youth and adults well-being?

A Mission to Break Barriers

Welcome to the Sisters Breaking Barriers blog! We are a diverse group of women with unique experiences; what brings us together is our faith. Part of a program called HEART Peers, this blog will chronicle our leadership and peer education training.

This blog is about us sharing our experiences and insights as Muslim women on sexual and reproductive health. This blog is about us raising awareness about the sexual and reproductive health issues that Muslim women face because of cultural taboos. About the need for sex education for Muslim youth. About the need to address the sexual violence that is present in our community. This blog is about us breaking barriers. And we hope that you will join us in this important endeavor.

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