Heart racing, Salihah lifted her nine-year-old daughter from the bed and clumsily carried her to the living room. Salihah’s legs nearly collapsed under the weight of the sleeping girl, but Salihah didn’t have time to wake Noor. They needed to leave—now.
Malik would be home any minute, and Salihah wanted to leave before her husband returned.
Outside in the car, Salihah’s hand trembled as she buckled Noor’s seatbelt. Salihah stepped back to close the door, but the sound of Noor moaning and stirring in her sleep halted Salihah’s movements.
For a moment, Salihah studied the soft, innocent features of her daughter’s face, and tears filled her eyes. What kind of mother am I? How could I have been so blind to what was happening?
Salihah sighed as she shut the back door and slid into the driver’s seat. Her heart was heavy as she pulled out of the driveway to her home and steered the car into the quiet street.
She had no idea where she was going, but she knew she had to get away. She felt terrible that she hadn’t left the day Noor told her what Malik had been doing—for more than a year.
“Tell her to wear hijab at home,” the imam had advised a distraught and shaken Salihah three weeks after Noor had broken down and told her mother what had happened. “And it’s probably best if she doesn’t sing or dance in the home anymore.”
“Mommy, mommy, watch this!” In the car, tears slipped down Salihah’s cheeks as she recalled her daughter’s bursting energy two years before. At seven years old Noor was all laughs and giggles as she showed her mother a silly dance routine that she and her friends had thought of.
If Noor and her “girl crew” (as Noor called them) were feeling particularly energetic, they’d think of some silly lyrics to sing along to their routine as they showed it off to their mothers.
Salihah clinched her jaw as she recalled how stupid she’d been to think a childhood friend of Malik’s could give her “Islamic” advice.
“She’s an attractive little girl,” the imam had said, an apologetic grin on his face. “That’s not an easy situation for men, especially stepfathers.”
|For years I had been confounded by incidents of oppression of girls and women (which many predominately-Muslim cultures were guilty of). And for the life of me, I couldn’t muster even a partial understanding of what led to such madness in people who professed to be Muslims.|
‘Oh Allah, Muslims Too?’
Growing up, I often heard stories about sexual abuse and oppression of women, and I always found them bizarre.
Their horrific reality was so far removed from my sheltered existence that I couldn’t fathom them beyond the plot of a chilling, fictional drama. But as I got older, I began to see the world around me for what it was: fragile, dangerous, and often terrifying. And I began to realize that the loving, spiritually-rich home that defined my childhood was not what defined that of thousands of other people.
As naïve as it sounds to me today, as a youth, the most incomprehensible reality for me to face was that Muslims were amongst the thousands of sufferers—and oppressors. I know now that this naiveté was born from a deeply rooted concept of Islam that I held in my heart and mind.
When I was a child, my parents—through word and deed—instilled in me and my siblings what it meant to be Muslim, and I innocently imagined that all Muslim parents had done the same.
|It was after repeated encounters with Muslims who believed that I needed to cover my eyes (and went through great lengths to convince me of my “crime”) that I had the epiphany.|
‘But You’re a Fitnah to Men’
Years ago when my family moved from America to Saudi Arabia, I was in the new country only a short time before I experienced one of my first “spiritual culture shocks”. Though I was wearing the full, all-black, Saudi-style abaya (veil) and face veil, I was told I should also cover my eyes.
“If a camel were to wear a face veil, it would be attractive,” someone told me, repeating what her husband had told her that a prominent sheikh had said (and apparently what he had told her to tell me so that I would be inspired to be a “better Muslim”).
Maybe it was the “American” in me, but when I first heard this, I had to suppress laughter. But I maintained my composure and told her that, as a Muslim, I cover based on the words of Allah and His Messenger, peace be upon him, not based on the words of a man—no matter how “knowledgeable” he is known to be.
“But it’s a fitnah [a tremendous trial and difficulty] for men,” she said. “What if a man sees your eyes and gets attracted to you?”
“The only person I have to protect from fitnah is me,” I said, hoping she could hear with her heart more than her ears. “And it’s a fitnah for me to carry on my shoulders the burden of men’s desires. I fear for my soul if I were to believe that it’s my responsibility to make sure men never desire me. My Lord didn’t put that burden on me, and I refuse to put it on myself.”
‘They Don’t Know Islam’
It was after repeated encounters with Muslims who believed that I needed to cover my eyes (and went through great lengths to convince me of my “crime”) that I had the epiphany.
For years I had been confounded by incidents of oppression of girls and women (which many predominately-Muslim cultures were guilty of). And for the life of me, I couldn’t muster even a partial understanding of what led to such madness in people who professed to be Muslims.
They don’t have Islam in their lives.
It was something my parents had said repeatedly while I was growing up: Islam is a way of life, and any “Muslim” who doesn’t understand this—in word and deed—doesn’t have Islam in their lives. “No, I’m not saying they are not Muslim,” my father would say. “I’m saying they don’t know Islam.”
‘But She Looks So Good’
Allah says,“On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear…”—Al-Baqarah, 2:286.
Yet it is unfortunate that humans place on one another burdens greater than they can bear.
Amongst Muslims, some go as far as to teach something similar to that of the ancient Christian church: that females’ very existence is a perpetual curse—and that even Allah’s guidelines are not sufficient in protecting them from harming themselves and others.
A girl is sexually abused and is told to wear hijab at home…
A woman obeys Allah and is told she’s still in sin….
“Because she looks so good”
But this twisted thinking comes only from those whose lives have not been graced with the beauty of Islam. So it is our obligation to share with them Allah’s message…
And to let them know that it is not men’s desires that rule human life in this world.
It is the desires of Allah.
And the only fitnah that should inspire anyone—man or woman—to make changes in life is the fitnah of ignoring these desires.