By Laura El Alam
When Grace* started posting inspirational videos and articles on her public Facebook page, her intention was to reach a non-Muslim audience and show them the beauty of Islam. After all, as a former agnostic who had considered organized religions “distasteful,” she could understand the mindset of many fellow Americans who were suspicious of – or misinformed about- Islam. In her posts, Grace shared the story of her conversion to Islam, highlighted lessons from the Qur’an, talked about the pillars of faith, and generally tried to make Islam more accessible and comprehensible to non-Muslims. While potentially thousands of non-Muslims benefited from her educational material, her noble efforts were derailed by an unlikely source: Muslim men.
In public comments and private messages, Grace found herself receiving a surprising amount of unsolicited flirting, sexual comments and images, and even threats. “All of this made me realize I couldn’t reach my target audience on social media,” explains Grace. “Nearly all the followers I was getting were Muslim men! I have 3,000 likes, and most are Muslim men. My target audience was non-Muslims, but Muslim men sabotaged my efforts and embarrassed me publicly through comments. It was frustrating and disheartening.”
Perhaps she might have ignored and blocked the annoying messages and persevered in her mission, but one man took his online assault to another level. He began stalking Grace (who blocked him), then her husband (who also blocked him), and finally her parents (who were shocked and terrified). Through online messages to all of those people, he called Grace vile names, sent explicit photos, and unleashed words that were both angry and sexual. It caused Grace and her entire family an enormous amount of stress and anger. “My parents were so shaken up that once they found mysterious cigarette butts behind their house and they truly thought the guy had come to their house and was outside it at night smoking cigarettes.”
After the ordeal, Grace’s husband stopped supporting her online dawah efforts. “My husband didn’t like me being a public presence,” she said. “He asked me to stop making videos because he felt it was soliciting unwanted attention. He clearly put the onus on me. He didn’t shame me or anything overt, but in his mind, my face being in the public was the obvious reason I was receiving unwanted and inappropriate attention and contact.”
Some people might think that Grace’s example is an extreme one. Surely not every Muslimah who has a social media presence experiences such offensive treatment from Muslim men or people pretending to be Muslim men?
Unfortunately, the phenomenon is extremely common. Umm Ibrahim of the United Kingdom is another example of a Muslimah who found online sexual harassment in an unlikely place: an Islamic website. “I’ve seen messages of a highly sexual nature sent to an Islamic page which I help admin,” she reports. “A few times I have encountered men posing as women in order to have chats of a sensitive nature with other women. They will pose as a woman having marital problems and will ask to have a chat via Messenger. Usually, this chat will ask for advice regarding intimacy.”
In addition to being an administrator of a website, Umm Ibrahim is also a writer. “If I have been involved in an online discussion or if I have had an article published, I can anticipate an increase in messages,” she says. “Discovering the spam folder on Facebook Messenger was somewhat of a revelation. I had dozens of messages from Muslim men asking to chat, asking if I was married, and asking if I was interested in getting married. I also get a lot of friend requests from men. They are always Muslim men, based on name and location.”
Professional writer Ameera* shares a similar story. “I never used to receive unsolicited messages from Muslim men until I started having articles published on Islamic websites,” she says. “Suddenly, shortly after my first article was published, my inbox was full of men wanting to ‘discuss Islam with me,’ ‘ask me a few questions,’ or compliment me on my hijab. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop at flirtation. Once I opened a pending message that I thought was from a local Facebook buy and sell group, but this one particular message turned out to be a pornographic video sent by a man in Egypt, whose FB profile picture had words from the Qur’an! I closed and deleted the message immediately and blocked the man, but the disgusting image is seared in my brain. I felt — and still, feel — violated.”
“I have received unwanted flirting and a lot of sexual innuendo from men I don’t even know,” confides Salama,* a 20-year-old graduate student in the United States. “I received messages from one person, specifically talking about how he wanted to have sex with me. Granted I didn’t even have any [profile] pics. He was a complete stranger. It was completely unwarranted. I cannot think of a particular reason for why I was targeted,” she adds. “I do know that he asked a simple question on a Muslim forum, and I answered it. I guess that’s when he decided it was okay to privately message me.”
These anecdotes might seem like an indictment of Muslim men in general; however, I believe that those individuals who harass women online constitute a tiny minority of Muslim men. The vast majority of Muslim men will be horrified by these stories and recognize how inappropriate and un-Islamic it is to contact any woman in a manner that is offensive or vulgar.
Online sexual harassment is certainly not unique to the Muslim community. It is a global problem with women, universally, experiencing sexualized forms of abuse at much higher rates than men. According to a 2017 Online Harassment study by the Pew Research Center, “Some 21% of women ages 18 to 29 report being sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than double the share among men in the same age group (9%). In addition, roughly half (53%) of young women ages 18 to 29 say that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for.”
Muslims, whose religion’s main characteristic is modesty, should be completely disassociated with any form of depravity, online or in face-to-face interactions. Such behavior is antithetical to our core beliefs, so it was with confusion and disappointment that I embarked upon this necessary but unpleasant exposé.
Unfortunately, there are many brothers who, while condemning online harassment per se, still manage to place the blame anywhere but on their fellow men. They are quick to assume that the woman in question has provoked the harassment in some way. When Muslim women speak up about being abused online, the primary response they receive is, “If you don’t want comments and messages from men, then don’t show your face online.”
This thinking is unfair for several reasons. First of all, even women who do not show their faces on social media still sometimes experience unsolicited and unwanted contact. As Salama points out, “It has been proven many times, that regardless of what a woman does, some men are just predatory and will use whatever opportunity they have to try to prey on her. Covered women get harassed. Women who haven’t posted profile pics have been harassed. Uncovered women get harassed. Women from all over the world have been harassed.”
Many Muslima women — including some of the world’s most esteemed female Islamic lecturers and scholars — choose to show their face on their website, videos, and promotional brochures. They may have various reasons for doing this — Allah knows best — but it is very likely that they use their image on marketing materials or websites for the same reason that many professional men do: consumers trust a product (lecture, book, article, blog, program) more if there is a human face associated with it. People want to see who is behind the words and ideas, and this is why most flyers for Islamic lectures show pictures of the speakers, and why most articles, blogs, and books show photographs of the authors. For Muslim women, showing one’s face online is hardly ever about seduction, temptation, or loose morals. After all, it is the same face we are revealing when we walk down a public street.
Finally, there are many women who choose to show their faces online simply because they believe they should have as much of a right to feel safe and respected in the virtual world as they do in the real world.
Of course, as Muslims, the responsibility is on each of us to obey our Creator’s guidelines. Allah has commanded women to be modest, but He has commanded the same of men. A man who is tempted by a woman’s photograph — whether or not she is dressed according to Islamic mandates — should lower his gaze. If he purposely keeps looking — and more so if he takes inappropriate action — the sin is upon him.
In one hadith from Al-Bukhari, we learn that the Prophet ﷺ was traveling with a Companion named Al-Fadl, who was a handsome youth. A young woman from the tribe of Khath’am approached, and Al-Fadl started looking at her because her beauty attracted him. The Prophet ﷺ caught al-Fadl’s chin and turned his face so that he would stop gazing at her.
It is noteworthy that the Prophetﷺ did not scold the woman for showing her face in public, nor for being too attractive. With his ﷺimpeccable manners, he wordlessly and gently instructed Al-Fadl on the correct action to take when tempted by a woman’s beauty. The onus for modesty was on Al-Fadl, not the woman from Khath’am, who had approached to ask the Prophet ﷺ a question.
As Grace explains, “Men should be held responsible for their actions and be recognized as creatures capable of self-control and morality. Women have a right to exist online as they do in the real world. What’s shameful is that Muslim men still don’t follow the advice of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ when it comes to how they view and treat women. Women never deserve to be treated [as] objects or be blamed for the actions, feelings, or frailty of men’s character.”
She concludes, “The idea that a woman speaking about Islam is an invitation for flirting, sexual innuendos, or stalking is so wrong I don’t even know how to describe it.”
This article, I am sure, will not solve the problem of online sexual harassment of Muslim women. It will likely not be read by the men who engage in such behaviors, and I do realize that if they have the audacity to defy their Creator, they are certainly not going to listen to me. However, I do hope that readers will take away a few key points:
- If you are tempted to blame a woman for being harassed online, think deeply about who is really at fault. Is there any justification for sending porn, threats, or inappropriate messages to a woman? If you truly care about the safety and morality of Muslim women, you will call out the men who are behind the harassment and do whatever you can to educate yourself and others and/or oppose the behavior when you see it.
- If you have young Muslim women in your life, do not assume that they will not encounter inappropriate material or receive unsolicited communications just because they primarily visit Islamic websites. In fact, these sites seem to be a breeding ground for Muslim perverts. Teach youngsters not to open filtered or suspicious messages and not to trust strangers online, even if they appear to be their brothers in faith.
- If you are a convert to Islam, be especially wary of any messages you receive from unknown Muslim men. It is best to delete and block without opening them. Know that some men prey on converts in particular. Be aware that a sincere Muslim would never send sexually suggestive images or messages to a stranger, and one who does will not be a suitable husband for you.
- If you are a Muslim woman who is considering having an online presence for the purpose of dawah, be aware that online sexual harassment is a likely occupational hazard. Set strict privacy filters whenever possible, avoid opening messages from unknown people, and be prepared to block, delete, and unfriend, unapologetically.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age
I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.
While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.
Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!
- Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.
In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.
- Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
- Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.
A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.
Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!
In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.
Loving Muslim Marriage Episode #2: Do Women Desire Sex?
In this episode, we ask an obvious question with what seems like an obvious answer – do women need sex? Obviously, yes.
If that’s the case though, then why is expressing a sexual need, or seeking help for sexual issues such a taboo in Muslim cultures?
Loving Muslim Marriage | Is it Haraam to Talk About Sex?
Female sexual nature and female sexual desires are often misunderstood, especially among Muslims. There are some classes and seminars by Muslim speakers that offer advice to Muslim couples about intimacy but unfortunately, the advice is not exactly aligned with correct female sexual nature.
So we decided to come together to clarify these misunderstandings and explain the sexual nature of women and their desires, so we can help build healthy intimacy within Muslim marriages leading to happier Muslim marriages.
This is going to be a series of videos that we will release every week, inshaAllah.
What should be expected out of these videos?
Each video will address a specific myth or misconception about either female sexuality, or Muslim marriage to help men better understand women. We will also explore male sexuality and other subjects.
– to help better quality marriage
– to help couples- both men and women- get a more satisfying intimate life
– to help women navigate intimate life in a manner where they are fulfilled, paving the way for involvement and desiring of intimacy; breaking the cycle of unsatisfying intimate lives for both husband and wife
Please keep in mind that these videos are for people with normal sexual desires — they are not meant to address asexuality.
The content of these videos is a mean to provide marital advice based on mainstream orthodoxy as well as best practices and relationships.
Some experts joined us in these videos to offer their expertise from an Islamic and professional perspective:
Shaikh AbdulNasir Jangda: He was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and at the age of 10 began the road to knowledge by moving to Karachi, Pakistan, and memorizing the entire Qur’an in less than one year. After graduating from high school, he continued his studies abroad at the renowned Jamia Binoria and graduated from its demanding seven-year program in 2002 at the top of his class with numerous licenses to teach in various Islamic Sciences. Along with the Alim Course he concurrently completed a B.A. and M.A. in Arabic from Karachi University. He also obtained a Masters in Islamic Studies from the University of Sindh. He taught Arabic at the University of Texas at Arlington from 2005 to 2007. He served as the Imam at the Colleyville Masjid in the Dallas area for three years. He is a founding member and chairman of Mansfield Islamic Center.
He is the founder of Qalam Institute and he has served as an instructor and curriculum advisor to various Islamic schools. His latest projects include Quran Intensive (a summer program focusing on Arabic grammar and Tafsir), Quranic analysis lectures, Khateeb Training, chronicling of the Prophetic Biography, and personally mentoring and teaching his students at the Qalam Seminary.
In these videos, Sh. Jangda helped present the Islamic rulings and corrections of various misconceptions regarding intimacy and female sexuality.
Dr. Basheer Ahmed: He is a Board Certified Psychiatrist with 18 years of teaching experience at various medical schools. He started off his career by teaching at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York as a Psychiatrist in 1971. Then he started his own private practice in 1984 till the present time. Meanwhile, he continued to teach at various universities around the U.S.
He is also the Chairman of MCC Human Services in North Texas.
In these videos, Dr. Basheer explained several psychological conditions that women may suffer through when they are sexually dissatisfied in a marriage.
Zeba Khan: She is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate.
She helped address the uncomfortable myths and misconceptions throughout these videos and helped provide the correct perspective of female and marital intimacy for Muslim couples to enjoy a better marriage.
Usman Mughni: He is a Marriage & Family Therapist and holds a Master’s of Science degree
Northern Illinois University and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Maryland, along with a degree in diagnostic medical imaging. He worked as a therapist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in the Center for Addiction Medicine. Usman has experience providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families at Northern Illinois University’s Family Therapy Clinic along with experience working with individuals, couples, and families struggling with chemical dependency and mental health diagnoses and running psychoeducational group therapy at Centegra Specialty Hospital’s partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs.
Since Usman enjoys working with couples to help bring tranquility back into the marriage and providing premarital counseling to couples who hope to have a successful marriage at a time when divorce seems to be on the rise, he especially joined us in this series to offer his expertise. He highlighted the most common intimacy issues in Muslim marriages that he has observed throughout the years of his experience as a therapist. His insights and knowledge has helped us clarify many misconceptions not only regarding female sexual nature but also about men and marital intimacy.
Ustadha Saba Syed: She has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language and Literature at Qatar University and at the Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi.
She’s been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam. She is a pastoral counselor for marriage, family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas. SHe also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.
She took the initiative of putting together these videos because through her pastoral counseling experience she realized that there are many marital intimacy problems in Muslim marriages, mainly due to the misunderstandings and misconceptions regarding female sexuality and female sexual nature.
Hence, with the speakers above, and with these videos we hope to clarify and explain as many myths and misconceptions that we believe have become a hindrance to happiness and success in Muslim marriages. We welcome your comments and suggestions in order to make this series more successful.