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Fighting back Against Porn: The Idea & The Industry

Imam Omar Suleiman

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Say, “Oh My servants who have transgressed against themselves, do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (39:53)

Embarrassment. Defeat. A lack of self-worth.

In the eyes of the young porn addict, the man or woman who got married but still couldn’t quit, the spouse who got caught and feels like they will forever live under a cloud of shame and suspicion, or the spouse who caught their partner yet doesn’t know how to confront them or assess their own value in light of the discovery.

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The child who was caught by their parents, or even worse, the parent who was caught by their child. The young person who attends halaqas and grows in religious knowledge, yet only feels like a bigger hypocrite because they can’t seem to hold to any resolution to quit, no matter what admonishing lecture they hear or self-inflicted punishment they endure.

The confessions of strange sexual cravings and impulses, and the inability to see people except as sexual objects. The dehumanization of the consumer and the consumed.

As an Imam, I can think of very few things that have wreaked havoc on pretty much every demographic in the community as pornography has. Yet how many Khutbahs have you heard about it? How much attention do we devote to helping people see the harms of it, see their own self-worth as they feel trapped by it, and find the resolve and practical program to overcome it?

As one young addict lamented to me years ago, “It seems like we censor discussion on porn instead of porn itself.” I never forgot those words, yet admittedly have often felt it difficult to address the subject. What is the right forum to discuss it? Is it appropriate from the pulpit? Should I be the one discussing it at all? Who are the experts we can turn to?

Allah’s command in the Quran to restrict the gaze precedes guarding one’s chastity because what enters the eyes regularly is bound to find a place in one’s heart and mind. But what happens when it has already settled in both of those places?

And while there have been a handful of noble efforts in the community to provide safe spaces to help people through their addictions, there are multiple ways in which we’ve become increasingly desensitized to pornographic content that have not been adequately addressed.

When the term “Pornography” is typically used, it refers to very specific genres and spaces. But in reality, it’s made its way into sitcoms and dramas that are casually referenced without reservation or acknowledgment of pornographic elements in the same way that people would reference any other shows. Just because it’s in an HBO or Hulu series doesn’t make it any less detrimental. For some, it’s the accidental glances on social media feeds that eventually turn into addictions. And the shame of being a porn addict in private, despite the growing shamelessness of consuming and referencing pornographic laced content in public spaces, makes it difficult for people to get help. Sadly, it’s usually not until devastating spiritual or social consequences occur that any steps are taken to address it. And then those mediums which offer hardcore premium content become the “drug dealers” so to speak.

Which brings me to the industry side of this. Not only does pornography wreak havoc on the viewer emotionally and psychologically completely altering their view of themselves and the world around them, but it tragically exploits some of our most vulnerable populations to feed that dependent viewer. “Barely legal” is in fact often outright illegal, yet very few efforts have come about to shed light on what is becoming the new normal.

As I was writing this, a new Netflix special, Cuties, which pompously is centered around 11-year-old girls twerking rightfully sparked global outrage. And while some retorted back that the film was actually meant to shed light on the sexualizing of children, to depict children in this fashion in the name of art or social commentary only further endangers them and normalizes the reprehensible behaviors that continue to put them at risk. A good read on this is an article written by Alan Jacobs in 2013 about an HBO show that unconcernedly includes a fantasy about an 11-year-old heroin addict.

Again, not only is it disturbing and in violation of basic human decency, but it’s also dangerous. The porn industry is driven by the demands of consumers, and those demands are unsurprisingly surging with regards to children. A recent article by NBC points to how Child sexual abuse images and online exploitation have specifically surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reports of sexual child content have more than doubled this year, from 983,734 reports in March 2019 to 2,027,520 reports this March.

Is this not enough to warrant universal concern? Article 34 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children states that:

“States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent:

(a) The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;

(b) The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;

(c) The exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.”

This treaty was ratified with global consensus, yet is violated regularly with impunity. So how do we start to fight back against this beyond continuing to highlight the immorality of pornographic content as a whole, and doing everything we can to protect our families from it?

A few months ago, I came across a video about the work of Exodus Cry, a faith-based campaign against Porn Hub which it appropriately deems #Traffickinghub. Led by Laila Mickelwait, the campaign is seeking to shut down Mindgeek, the parent company of Pornhub, for its disproportionate role in perpetuating global child sex trafficking. 70 to 90 percent of mainstream pornography is owned by Mindgeek. With the money and access to power the company holds, it has sought to minimize exposure to its criminal activities as well as the overall harms of pornography through sponsoring and propagating false research much like the tobacco lobbies of the 90s. Imagine the implications of shutting down the world’s largest porn stakeholder.

This is a campaign that I have specifically lent my support to, and would encourage Muslims and all people of conscience to get behind. The petition at this moment is almost at 2 million, and every signature counts.

And while most of those who organize against the commercial sex industry would be considered political conservatives, that should not in any way stop us from working together with them on this issue of urgent importance. To some, the issue of pornography is solely centered on harm. To others, it is solely centered on morality. To Muslims, it must be both. We must care for both the children in front of the screen, and those behind it. And so while we work to guard ourselves against the harms of this industry by being mindful of what we allow into our homes, by coming up with programs and safe spaces for those dealing with addictions, and by designing and uplifting alternative mediums that aren’t plagued by porn, we should also join hands with anti-trafficking and faith groups to fight the industry itself that shamelessly preys on the world’s most vulnerable population.

 

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Imam Dr. Omar Suleiman is the Founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and an Adjunct Professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at SMU (Southern Methodist University). He is also the Resident Scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center and Co-Chair of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square. He holds a Bachelor's in Accounting, a Bachelor's in Islamic Law, a Masters in Islamic Finance, a Masters in Political History, and a Phd. in Islamic Thought and Civilization from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mahmooda Wahab

    August 22, 2020 at 5:30 PM

    Al Hamdy Lillaah 🕋

    May Allaah All-Mighty have mercy, save, protect, free, guide and provide for all the innocent and oppressed worldwide, Allaahumma Aameen! 🌏

    Jazak Allaahu Khayran

  2. Avatar

    Adam

    August 22, 2020 at 5:33 PM

    I read this article 4 months sober from this crippling addiction. As a Muslim who also memorized the Quran, these images have debilitating effects not just on the mind but the soul. It destroys the heart. As one becomes more and more drawn in, they find they often lose themselves in the process. Much like any other addiction under the DSM-5, there is loss of motivation to do productive things, loss of control, increased tolerance (one moves from soft to hardcore forms or engages in more and more amounts)… and then there is loss of self-worth. Constant feelings of disgust, shame, and guilt. How many times have I cried my heart out asking Allah to help me stop this crime against my self. I remember when I went for Umrah for the first time, I was embarrassed to visit the grave of our Prophet given what was in my heart… what my eyes had seen. This addiction is so pervasive that its become norm and mainstream; its harder to find someone who hasn’t been afflicted than one who has. I was first exposed as kid and since then I have battled it. Alhamdulilah I’m in remission right now. May Allah keep me so. If you are struggling right now, my brother or my sister, you are not alone. Its in these moments of regret and sorrow that ones tawbah is purest. Continue to persevere – continue to fall down only to get back up, until Allah decides to uplift you from this calamity. Worse than the addiction itself is losing hope in Allah.

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