Serving Muslim Women who Experience(d) Sexual Assault

Throughout America, many Muslim communities persist in stigmatizing all discussion of sex-related subjects. Even though sexual assault and abuse are widespread, conversations about it are rare – and the pressure for victims and their families to “keep it a secret” helps perpetuate abuse. Because of this, survivors are less likely to report to authorities, take legal action, or even confide in a family member or an Imam. This does nothing to protect members of our community from being sexually assaulted – it only aids the cycle of abuse and protects abusers.

Whether we like to admit it or not, rape culture is pertinent in the Muslim community. Not because Islam allows it (because it definitely does not), but because some Muslims echo false negative sentiments that shift the blame onto victims and deem survivors as “damaged goods”, “impure”, or “unchaste”. Although this tactic is completely invalid both religiously and socially, it is effective in suppressing the number of survivors who come forward by scaring them into silence. Not believing a survivor, blaming them for the assault, interrogating them, or siding with the abuser has a lifelong impact on a survivor’s ability to heal. As Muslims, we’re taught to practice kindness, compassion, and justice. Mistreating those who come forward after they’ve been assaulted is against all Islamic principles.

If someone is confiding in you about their assault, it’s obvious that there is already some level of love and trust in your relationship. Honor that trust and:

  • Practice active listening and let the person know that you believe them.
  • Ask non-specific open-ended questions that allow the survivor to take control of the narrative.
  • Practice confidentiality. Even small details that you think are non-identifying can compromise the survivor’s identity and potentially put them at greater risk.
  • Meet the survivor where they are and give control back to them. Connect them to organizations like Wayne County SAFE and respect their agency to make the best decisions for themselves.

If we want to truly support Muslim survivors as a collective, we need our religious scholars to break the silence. This begins by dedicating Friday sermons to this cause, inviting a guest speaker from a local sexual assault program like Wayne County SAFE, displaying translated information posters and other materials, and establishing a policy that has a clear statement of intolerance for sexual violence. We need to start having conversations about consent, boundaries, the difference between shame and modesty, and we need to host bystander intervention trainings. Not only would this affirm to survivors that they are believed and supported – but it also lets abusers know that they are not invincible. And yes, perpetrators go to the Mosque – sometimes they are even Quran teachers and Imams.

About Dana

 Dana is a Sexual Assault Initiative Specialist at Wayne County SAFE, where she works with survivors of the backlogged rape kits in Detroit and serves as an advocate and counselor. She is also currently serving as a Millennial Advisor for the Governor’s Michigan Women’s Commission, a Director on the Board of the League of Women Voters Dearborn/Dearborn Hts, and the Founder and Chair of the Dearborn Heights City Commission on Women and Girls. She balances her work with her love for hiking, reading, and being a specialty coffee fanatic!