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After Being Raped, I Was Wounded; My Honor Wasn’t

After Being Raped, I Was Wounded; My Honor Wasn’t

cross-posted from NYTimes
By: Sohaila Abdulali

THIRTY-TWO years ago, when I was 17 and living in Bombay, I was gang raped and nearly killed. Three years later, outraged at the silence and misconceptions around rape, I wrote a fiery essay under my own name describing my experience for an Indian women's magazine. It created a stir in the women's movement — and in my family — and then it quietly disappeared. Then, last week, I looked at my e-mail and there it was. As part of the outpouring of public rage after a young woman's rape and death in Delhi, somebody posted the article online and it went viral. Since then, I have received a deluge of messages from people expressing their support.

It's not exactly pleasant to be a symbol of rape. I'm not an expert, nor do I represent all victims of rape. All I can offer is that — unlike the young woman who died in December two weeks after being brutally gang raped, and so many others — my story didn't end, and I can continue to tell it.

When I fought to live that night, I hardly knew what I was fighting for. A male friend and I had gone for a walk up a mountain near my home. Four armed men caught us and made us climb to a secluded spot, where they raped me for several hours, and beat both of us. They argued among themselves about whether or not to kill us, and finally let us go.

At 17, I was just a child. Life rewarded me richly for surviving. I stumbled home, wounded and traumatized, to a fabulous family. With them on my side, so much came my way. I found true love. I wrote books. I saw a kangaroo in the wild. I caught buses and missed trains. I had a shining child. The century changed. My first gray hair appeared.

Too many others will never experience that. They will not see that it gets better, that the day comes when one incident is no longer the central focus of your life. One day you find you are no longer looking behind you, expecting every group of men to attack. One day you wind a scarf around your throat without having a flashback to being choked. One day you are not frightened anymore.

Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men's brains are in their genitals.

If we take honor out of the equation, rape will still be horrible, but it will be a personal, and not a societal, horror. We will be able to give women who have been assaulted what they truly need: not a load of rubbish about how they should feel guilty or ashamed, but empathy for going through a terrible trauma.

The week after I was attacked, I heard the story of a woman who was raped in a nearby suburb. She came home, went into the kitchen, set herself on fire and died. The person who told me the story was full of admiration for her selflessness in preserving her husband's honor. Thanks to my parents, I never did understand this.

The law has to provide real penalties for rapists and protection for victims, but only families and communities can provide this empathy and support. How will a teenager participate in the prosecution of her rapist if her family isn't behind her? How will a wife charge her assailant if her husband thinks the attack was more of an affront to him than a violation of her?

At 17, I thought the scariest thing that could happen in my life was being hurt and humiliated in such a painful way. At 49, I know I was wrong: the scariest thing is imagining my 11-year-old child being hurt and humiliated. Not because of my family's honor, but because she trusts the world and it is infinitely painful to think of her losing that trust. When I look back, it is not the 17-year-old me I want to comfort, but my parents. They had the job of picking up the pieces.

This is where our work lies, with those of us who are raising the next generation. It lies in teaching our sons and daughters to become liberated, respectful adults who know that men who hurt women are making a choice, and will be punished.

When I was 17, I could not have imagined thousands of people marching against rape in India, as we have seen these past few weeks. And yet there is still work to be done. We have spent generations constructing elaborate systems of patriarchy, caste and social and sexual inequality that allow abuse to flourish. But rape is not inevitable, like the weather. We need to shelve all the gibberish about honor and virtue and did-she-lead-him-on and could-he-help-himself. We need to put responsibility where it lies: on men who violate women, and on all of us who let them get away with it while we point accusing fingers at their victims.

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47 comments

  1. Jazakillahu khayran Sr. Sohaila for writing those true and inspiring words. May Allah reward your pain and patience and that of every wronged victim in our Ummah, ameen. I ask Allah ta’ala to cause this piece to benefit those who are currently enduring this trial and still have a ways to go in overcoming it.

    All honour belongs to Allah and it is He who placed it in our Taqwa.

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  2. Jazakallah khair for this immensely inspirational post! Your patience and perseverance and positive attitude are truly remarkable! May Allah bless you!

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  3. May Allah SWT reward you for bringing out another aspect in this vital topic. As women it is so important to try and make a change about the thinking that at times a very male dominated world tries to warp to their advantage. To take the steps necessary to be a empathetic society and try to humanize the victim by thinking it could have been your own daughter, sister or mother is necessary for males and females to realize a violation and loss has occurred. Someone has lost to the vicious system that doesn’t make any changes and doesn’t punish.

    May Allah SWT reward you. Forgive me if I’ve said anything wrong.

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  4. Jazaki Allahu khair Sister. May Allah reward you with the best for what you have suffered. I am truly happy and suprised to see your great strength of character and patience. Keep trusting Allah and only have hope in Him.

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  5. Jazakallah khayr for sharing your story sister Sohaila. We have much work to do both in breaking this perversion of men taking advantage of women and as well the cultural mindset that causes a woman who has been in any type of relationship (let alone having been assaulted) is some type of strike against her.

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  6. Truly admire you!

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  7. BEAUTIFUL- May ALLAH Give you much more than you lost ameen. Your virtue is with in you and cannot be taken away by anyone!!!

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  8. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • I’m sorry, but this comment is just horrible. Rape has nothing to do with how a woman dresses. Why should a woman be violated because of what she wears? This horrible act is all on the man. Are you saying a woman deserves it? Seriously, astaghfirullah. This type of attitude benefits no one. Please read what AK above said.

      This is an amazing article by the way. I admire sister Sohaila for speaking out and for her strength to move past this. May Allah swt reward her and continue to give her strength.

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      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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        • Saying that a women’s dress has something to do with rape is blaming the victim. Plenty of women are raped inside their homes… by strangers who break in.
          Of course women should wear modest clothing but i think the rise in rape is because excess pornography not lack of clothing (even though that is wrong too)

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          • Actually, women are more likely to be raped by an acquaintance as opposed to a stranger (78% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by someone known to the victim, and it was most likely to occur indoors).

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        • This comment is directed to Abu Yusuf and Gibran.
          There is no evidence that suggests that any particular way of dressing puts women at higher risk of being raped. Rape is about power and control, it is not about sex.
          Further, regardless of what a woman is wearing, doing, or saying, rape is never her fault. Great post sister. I greatly enjoyed reading it.

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        • ya 3am,

          Maybe Muslim women are less likely to report rape because of the attitudes that some boneheaded brothers have towards rape. I am sure the numbers of Muslim women who have been raped are largely inaccurate because many sisters would not take the risk of reporting such an occurrence. Even munifqa don’t deserve to be raped.

          –Yusef

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  9. ^ wrong. rape is not mislaid passion, or even about sex. it’s about deciding to dominate and forcibly control someone who has said no.

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  10. To all rape victims : You are victims, You did nothing wrong. Rape is a crime!
    May Allah protect us and our daughters.
    Thank you for this courageous post.

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  11. If i am not mistaken the punishment is crucifixation
    ( according toDr. Ali Shetata’s class)
    To punish the victim is cultural not Islamic, it is about the male ego. And ppl still confuse rape with zina. It is not the same.

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  12. JAZAKALLAH KHAIR Sister ! it ws really amazing! I respect u and ur parents MASHALLAH! Living in Delhi and literally feeling the rage and anger boil inside me when things were so close and we as a society failed in every sense.May ALLAH make us a better Umnah who r responsible enough to make society a better place to live in.

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  13. If a woman’s dress have nothing to do with rape then why is it that islam impose a certain dress code on women?
    “O you Prophet, say to your spouses and your daughters and the women of believers, that they draw their outer garments closer to them; that will (make) it likelier that they will be recognized and so WILL NOT BE HURT. And Allah has been Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful.”(33:59)
    It looks like even Allah puts th blame on women!..LOL!!

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    • and from that you IMPLIED that God in essence faults women for rape and allows rapists to go off scott free?.Course,you might be right because of your evident knowledge of Quranic Arabic,exegesis,jurisprudence and mastery of Googleology..let’s not be diverted by centuries of scholarship and law to the contrary.

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    • Going by your logic which is then what would you make of this Ayah

      “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and protect their private parts. This is more purer for them. Indeed Allah is Well-Aware of what they do.”
      Surah 24. An-Nur, Ayah 30

      Does this imply that all men are rapists just cuz Allah told men to LOWER THEIR GAZE AND PROTECT THEIR PRIVATE PARTS.

      I would love to see you in a conversation with a Cop , saying that Sign Don’t Drink and Drive offends me cuz it implies I AM A BAD DRIVER . I hope you get the drift.

      You know you might surprise yourself if you really studied Islam from the real perspective and the rights it gives women and men.

      “Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers.”- Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him)

      “He who eats his fill while his neighbor goes without food is not a true believer.” (Notice how he did not use the word believer in place of neighbor which includes believers and non-believers)- Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him)

      “The world and all things in it are valuable; but the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous woman. ”
      - Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him)

      “The rights of women are sacred. See that women are maintained in the rights assigned to them”. – Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him)

      ”The most perfect amongst the believers in faith is one who has the best manners and best of you are those who are best to their wives.”- Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him)

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    • Dear Mike (or infidelrox as you were previously using)

      Please note that your comments are in violation of our Comments Policy. We encourage our not-yet-muslim readers to comment and ask questions to enhance their knowledge of Islam. However, we do not appreciate comments made with the intent of ridicule.

      Best Regards
      -Aly
      Comments Team Lead

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  14. Jazakallah Khair for sharing your story. Inshallah people can benefit and benefit others.

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  15. Jazakallahu Khairan for sharing your story sister. It really is courageous for you to speak up about the whole issue, though I disagree with a few points. Allah said: “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (33:59)
    -In this ayah, Allah is making it clear that the purpose of the hijab is to MAKE KNOWN to people that these women are respectable and to PROTECT them from being abused, annoyed, molested, raped, etc.
    -The hjiab is an OBLIGATION upon women in Islam, and is a powerful DETERRENT from sexual harassment.
    -This DOES NOT mean that women in hijab won’t get harassed, molested or raped; if that DOES happen, then it is a TEST from Allah (SWT).
    -The truth is that no matter how much we try as a society to completely eradicate the existence of rape, it will never happen. It simply won’t. But we as individuals, have CHOICES; Allah has told the women to COVER UP. Whatever Allah commands is good for us and whenever society leaves Allah’s commands as a whole, then they will have to bear its consequences.
    Now for the men:
    -Whether or not a woman covers herself properly, a man is OBLIGATED to lower his gaze and CONTROL his desires, as hard as it can be for him.
    -Sexual harassment, molestation and rape is NEVER JUSTIFIED by taking into account what a woman is wearing. A sexual offender SHOULD be punished for his crime, regardless of what the woman was wearing.

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    • Hijab and decent clothing should stop you from being harrassed, but sometimes it does not.
      Lowering the gaze for both sexes might help.
      Sometimes rape is just an act of violence and hate
      Remember little children and the elderly are raped.

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    • Shahin, what is the word for harrassment/abuse used in the aya?
      Can it be taken to mean “raped”?
      I always understood this to mean verbal harrassment and excess staring. If you have a good tafsir that states otherwise please share it.

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      • @muslimah I’ve seen the word ‘molested’ and ‘annoyed’ used in diff. translations. The ayah I posted above uses ‘abused’ and I think it’s the Sahih International translation. I don’t know enough Arabic to be able to put my finger exactly on what the Arabic word means.

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  16. Oh, I forgot to mention: The stigma that you mentioned regarding the “honor” of a woman was so accurate. It really is sad when a woman is made to believe that she is now “degraded” or a “lower human being” for having lost her virginity against her will. That really is an obnoxious belief and I hope for the better in the sense that people will be more accepting toward sexual violence victims, because in the end, that’s what they are: victims.

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    • I think that what bothers me the most about these kind of stories was the lack of sympathy we have for especially fellow muslims. Shahin, you are right when you say this is a test …InshAllah we are never tested with this nor our daughters . And Muslimah2 is right, most rape are done by people we know.
      MashAllah, the author of this article sounds very grounded, May Allah protect her.

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  17. We must not forget that God knows our intentions while humans cannot read the minds of others and know what they truly feel or what they are thinking. This being said, I would like to agree with my strong sister who has gone through the worst kinds of trauma and still stands strong today. If I was to say that it is partly a woman’s fault for dressing inappropriately then the woman would just say it’s the man’s fault for assaulting me. In reality, we will never know who is truly to blame. SO, as humans and Muslims (till death insha2 Allah) we must put the LAW against those who violate men/women/children/animals it doesn’t matter. A man rapes a woman, he is still 10000000 percent to blame. If the woman was leading him on we will never know this is between her and her Maker. I obviously do not mean any disrespect to anyone who has gone through such an ordeal but I’m just saying we should put the men who overpower women in any shape or form and have them subjected to our shari3a law. Insha2 Allah, the law will not condemn an innocent man however if an innocent man is condemned, his story is known much too well to Allah and we will all receive our judgments fairly.

    Thank you sister for being brave and strong and a fighting role model to all our proud Muslim women, know that your honor cannot be scathed by anyone, even the low lives that took advantage of you in a way that some might say that the fault lies with you. Know that you have the support of your brothers and sisters all around the world (I am from Lebanon) and that you live a happy life insha2 Allah. Shame on all those who put faults on their daughters and sisters, know that any MUSLIM woman would not want her to violated in anyway, claiming she was in anyway allowing of the situation is calling her non-muslim.

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    • Salamu ‘alaikum Dida

      Your comment ” know that any MUSLIM woman would not want her to violated in anyway, claiming she was in anyway allowing of the situation is calling her non-muslim” is offensive to say the least. Let’s please think before we write, there are plenty of non-Muslims who are chaste & modest, this is offensive to all sisters in humanity.

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  18. Jazakillah ul khair Sr. Sohaila, your tale is truly inspiring and would greatly benefit all victims of rape. May Allah SWT shower His blessings upon you and grant you true justice in the Hereafter Ameen.
    It is truly shameful how much we have declined as an Ummah, when we become more ashamed of the victim of rape than of the perpetrator! As a society we should start publicly shaming anyone who harasses an innocent bystander; I read this was how it used to be in early 20th century Egypt, where men would threaten to beat up another one if he was caught trying to harass a woman. We need to bring this back and we need to reacquaint Muslims with Islam, such that they are taught to be respectful and kind towards fellow human beings and not view them as objects of any sort.

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  19. As for those who have already raped, we should realize that often there are underlying factors that led them to rape, such as a deep seated hatred towards and need to control over women, children, “effeminate men”, individual of another racial/ethnic group, etc (whoever their victim was). Finally, we should realize that rape and sexual harassment can also be caused by perpetrators being upset and depressed over their personal lives being in disarray (no job and/or marriage prospects, too much idle time, etc) and wanting to take their frustrations out on someone else. Once we come to understand these factors, then hopefully In sha Allah we can begin to tackle this very serious issue.

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    • Most sexual predators have been victimized themselves as children. Alot of times in these gang rape situations the victim is beaten almost to death, this is definitely more than just sexual frustration. It is an act of violence.

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      • Yes that’s right there are various factors that play a part in causing a person to become a sexual predator. It is thus important to look at all these factors in order to understand how to deal with this problem.

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  20. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • .Rape is not the same as harrassment.
      Take responsibility for being harrassed if you are underdressed
      maybe… but rape? No!

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    • You are confusing the issue of modesty with the issue of consent. Dressing in any fashion does not give a person permission to rape you. We as men and women were commanded by Allah to dress modestly and that is the sole reason we dress the way we do. We need to question why the perpetrator chose to rape and not buy into the false myth that women “ask for it.”

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    • @abu yusuf
      you sound like a typical pakistani rapist.

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    • @ abu yusuf: Why don’t you teach yourself and your sons to control your animalistic desires first before telling women to cover! That is the way Allaah did it in the Quran! He ordered men to lower their gaze and control themselves first! Then He ordered women to cover and control themselves second! Take responsibility for your own actions! Allah will not accept your excuse of “well, she led me on because one of her hairs was sticking out”. That sounds like “well the satan made me do it”. Will Allaah accept that excuse and let you off? NO! I guess you think it gives you the excuse to rape Christian women, since they dont believe in covering??

      *This comment was edited by the MM Comments Team in order to comply with our Comments Policy*

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  21. Brother, I’m sure you don’t mean to come off sounding like this, but your reasoning is very often used by rapists (and oftentimes society in general) to excuse the perpetrator and that is unacceptable. With that said, I understand the point you’re trying to make about teaching women not to put themselves into situations that could endanger their lives and safety. At the same time, however, we have to realize that just having all women dress appropriately will not be enough to stop rape and harassment, as long as men continue to view women as nothing more than sexual objects (even when they’re fully covered!) Unfortunately there have been instances in which covered women have been raped/harassed. The best solution would therefore be to teach both men and women how to respect each other as human beings and not as objects, and how to conduct themselves appropriately in public (stay away from seedy places/functions, don’t behave flirtatiously with strangers, don’t “dress to impress” strangers, etc).

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  22. Assalaamu alaikum Sr. Sohaila:

    May Allah [swt] Reward you for your courage and honesty.
    I was wondering if you would be interested in submitting this piece (shortened to 650 words) to The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper? See http://www.globeandmail.com

    I write a monthly column for the paper, and I can put you directly in touch with the comments editor. Please let me know.

    This is a powerful piece, maa shaa Allah, that will educate and inspire so many people, inshaa Allah.

    wassalaam
    Sheema

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  23. This brought tears to my eyes. It’s heartbreaking you had to go through that, and even worse how the people who are meant to be protecting you treated you like it was your fault. I can see you are a very strong woman and a great voice to many people. May Allah continue to make you strong and successful. Ameen

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  24. Assalaam Alaikoum wa rahmutullah wa barakatu,

    Some of the Muslim men commenting on this article are contributing to the stereotype that they are sex-crazed maniacs who cannot follow their own din because of the distraction of unveiled women. If you are so pious, and are in the position to criticize others’ relationship with God, I would advise you to escape from the society you live in and study the Qu’ran and do constant dhikr. The world would be better if men, instead of using their totalitarian desire to control women, focused on their own spiritual short-comings instead of blaming women for the crimes that men commit.

    –Yusef

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