Islam and Healing from the Trauma of Sexual Abuse
I have written a lot over the last few years. Many people have read my numerous articles on my WordPress page, my articles right here on The Muslim Vibe, my tweets, or even my book. All of those writings have one thing in common, they are carefully chosen words strung together in neatly packaged sentences, organized into paragraphs. I have to choose my words carefully in order to be understood. That is the job of a writer. Out of all that I have written, I hope, my studies in history and writings on the topic have brought people a sense of understanding, joy, and knowledge. But, as I said, those words are very well placed, almost mechanical. It is hard for me to write about myself, especially publically. I don’t find myself interesting in any particular way, albeit, I do have a pretty interesting library.
But, this has been my life, trying to keep things in order. Limiting the number of ways situations can go wrong. Carefully constructing situations where I have the most control out of the outcomes. When I feel as though I am not in control of a situation or a situation has the potential to harm me, I cut that situation out of my life. I have internalized my work as a historian, whose job it is to reconstruct that past. I feel that at times, I can reconstruct my own past, maybe dive deep inside my own past, and go back and fix mistakes, heal relationships, and make amends for the wrong I have done. Life, however, does not work like that. No matter how much control I have over the here and now, the then and gone is out of my hands. I can write an entire book on Timbuktu, reconstructing the majesty of the court of Mansa Musa, but the trauma and my past will still be stuck with me.
This year has been particularly rough. Some people, those who follow me on Twitter may be aware of my suicide attempt back in March. I chose to share that because I know a lot of people struggle with mental health and I wanted to be one of the many voices to say, you’re not alone. What I did not share is the fact one of my close childhood friends died in a car accident and the bond we shared was that we were both molested as children.
For over three years, we were both molested by a teenager who became an adult while he was still molesting us. We never told a soul. It was our secret, one that we both promised to keep. I know we both kept it out of shame. We did not want to be victims, we did not want to be seen as “other,” or as tainted. All the classic reasons most abused people keep quiet. We just wanted to move on with our lives and try our hardest to forget the past.
When my friend died, the funeral was packed, and I saw many familiar faces. As the day went on, we went to the burial, the repass, then a select few of us went out to eat. The day was somber, and I shed more tears than I thought I would. As the night continued, I was talking to some old friends I have not seen in years when I felt an arm around my waist. My first thought was that it was an old friend, but I turned to see the face, and it was him, my abuser, he went to the funeral, the burial, and the repass. He left his arm there and told me that I “grew up pretty well.”
I stood in fear and utter disbelief. I did not know if I should punch him, choke him, or walk away. I chose to walk away. But the feeling uncomfortable feelings of shame and disgust crept into my heart. A few days went by, and my abuser found my Twitter and Instagram account. I guess I am not hard to find if you really know what you’re looking for. I ignored all the DMs he sent and blocked him, case closed. A few days later, I received an email, it was from my abuser, he sent me multiple pictures of my friend in his casket. I quickly grabbed my suitcase and started shoving clothes inside, the anxiety and fear that entered my heart was unmatched. I had to leave, I had to go. Where I was going is not a question I asked myself at the moment, I just had to go.
As I was packing random items, the adhan app on my iPad went off. I stopped. “Come to Success” I heard, Hayya ‘alal-falah. Something in me broke down and I had to cry. I had to hit the reset button. How did I let my abuser take me to the point where I believed fleeing my home and my life was an option? Rumi says, “Look into your baggage and ask what is worth bringing along.” In that moment, as I stood over my highly disorganized suitcase, I felt an intense feeling of acceptance sooth my soul. I had to accept that I was molested as a child, and that no amount of prayer and duaa will change that. It happened. It happened to me.
As the Quran says, “Truly in the remembrance of Allah does the heart find rest.” Praying five times a day has always been a refuge for me, a kind of recalibration of my mental and spiritual state five times a day, re-centering myself in the ethics and principles of Allah during a busy day is the basis of Islam in my eyes. In my fear, I lost sight of the bigger picture. I lost sight of myself.
Victims of abuse react in many different ways and there are many different paths to healing. I would never advocate for prayer and religious practice as the only method to healing, but it is a form of spiritual healing. If you are struggling, I strongly urge you to seek professional services. If you know of someone who is struggling, be an advocate and ask them if they would like help seeking services. My personal healing process has taken me to re-read the Quran, but to read it with the intent understand it as a survivor of abuse.
Ayats such as, “Bring to Allah a sound heart” (26:89) has helped me take responsibility for my healing, be the source of the goodness that I wish to spread. As the ayat says, we have to bring Him a sound heart, we have to do the work. We have to be an active participate in this process not allow our abusers to take from us anymore.
“Will you not pay attention?”
I was not paying attention. I was not paying attention to how my abuser was still abusing me decades after the physical abuse stopped. When the physical abuse stops, the mental abuse intensifies. This mental abuse comes from the memories that they have established in us, the feelings of fear, disgust, and sadness. We have to be aware of how we are relating to the trauma that we have suffered. This trauma can impact our healthy relationships in many ways, and abusers do not deserve to continue to haunt us while they live their lives out not worried about us.
We can find anything in the religious books we read. If you read the Qur’an and look for love you will find love. If you read the Qur’an and look for hate, you will find hate. If you read the Qur’an looking for fear, I promise you can find it. You can find anything. How we read these most holy of texts truly impacts or day to day lives. The lovely thing about these books is that we can read them in many ways. I chose to re-read the Qur’an as someone in need of spiritual healing, looking for the bits and pieces and indeed the long proses of love and endurance. The endurance that Maryam has throughout the Qur’an has been truly touching. As she struggled through a trough pregnancy, returned to her home only to be slandered, vowed to abstain from speaking and defending herself, and trust in the love of Allah that her situation will improve.
I have also joined a creative writing therapy group which has helped me in so many ways. I have always and will always be an advocate of journaling, keeping a written record of our emotions and feelings to track our progress during the healing process, which in all honesty may take years, but still with the process.
May Allah heal our hearts and allow us to heal and grow. Never lose faith that Allah is truly Most Gracious and Most Merciful.