By Hasnaa Mokhtar
She wasn’t always Muslim. She converted to Islam because it filled her heart with light, she said. Until the day she married a Muslim man. He convinced her that she was worthless while he hugged and caressed her. He whispered in her ears that nobody will ever want to be with her and that his honesty stemmed from his unquestionable love for her. He forced her to seek professional help because he was concerned about her wellbeing. She was adamant on fixing herself to fulfill her Islamic obligation toward him. Up until we both met as contributing writers to a Muslim women’s publication. She privately messaged me one afternoon on Slack.
“Hasnaa, can I share something with you,” she typed. I said of course.
She asked me if he sincerely loved her, and if he did then why did he bruise her. She wondered if Allah heard her prayers and if He did why wasn’t her husband treating her better. I listened, I validated, and I apologized. I was consistently present and held space unconditionally. She broke her silence this year after safely planning her escape. She shared her story publicly. It took her a few years to see the unseen and build the courage to leave.
“I believe feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make certain choices for ourselves.” ― Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist, 2014
Does it have to be grand, publicized, and organized for it to count toward transformational justice and change? What about the hidden, embodied, everyday feminist acts of resistance, service, and advocacy? I had to come to terms with the fact that largescale activism is necessary, but the small things we do when no one is watching matter as much.
“I think that what has to happen is that people have to realize that everybody has a part in this. Everybody has a lane. Everybody has something that they can contribute.” ― Tarana Burke, #MeToo Founder Tarana Burke Just Laid Out the Movement’s Next Steps, Yahoo!, 2018
Message request. These messages are from people you don’t follow. They’ll only know that you’ve seen their request if you choose to accept it.
You accepted the request.
Jul 2, 2020, 3:16 PM
A: This is going to be awkward but assalamu alaikum sis.
So, I have a question, is there any clinic run by females in xxxxx xxxxxx for a rape victim who might have damage done to her body? Specifically, xxxxxx.
Me: Wa’likum assalam dear.
I am not really sure though I doubt it.
I haven’t been in xxxxxx since 2016 so I don’t know what has evolved.
But I can ask for you if you’d like?
A: Jazaki Allah khair dear, yes please do ask.
Me: May I also ask what type of damage?
A: All I know about the victim is that she might be pregnant but took plan B, and the rapist was rough on her.
Me: So, she lost the pregnancy?
A: Hopefully yes.
Me: I really hope she is okay.
I will ask around and get back to you.
A: Thank you sis, I appreciate it a lot.
Me: Of course. The least I can do.
Jul 2, 2020, 5:26 PM
Screenshots with medical advice and contact info for help sent.
Me: Let me know if this helps.
A: Jazaki Allah khayr…so so much, I’ll message her this right now.
Sent it alhumdulillah.
Me: Please don’t hesitate to reach out for anything.
May Allah reward you for your efforts may He send healing and light into her heart and soul.
“Yes. Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible.” ― Angela Y. Davis, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, 2015
May 11, 2020
“…close to 30% of all domestic violence in America is women actually against men…in some relationships you can have some unfortunately people [women] that are always complaining, or they just goad the person, or they push buttons…,” said shaykh xx during an interview with Imams Online.
I heard him and I froze. It was the burning sensations all over my body. It was the wrenching feeling in my gut. It was white, male, and cisgender privilege and religious authority disguised as moral intellectualism. I took care of myself and then I wrote. I typed 2416 words. Reiterating my trauma in the piece had me in tears. In a few days, the overwhelming and affirming response I received from survivors uplifted my spirit. Shaykh xx will never cease to normalize violence, but I am always here to declare my truth.
Thu, 11/5/2020 03:20AM
You have a new message: I Relate to Your Story
My name is xxxxx xxxxxxx and just one year ago I was forcefully and blindly married to a man I did not want to marry. I am currently trying to get a divorce, but it is still ongoing. My parents have the same mentality you talked about in your article on women in Islam. I haven’t spoken to them in a long time because of my forced marriage. I also struggle with my faith in Islam because of what my parents constantly told me about being a broken Muslim daughter but regardless I haven’t given up on my faith. I would like to talk to you if you are interested?
Thank you for writing to me and thank you for sharing your experience. I am sorry that this happened and continues to happen to you. You are not a broken Muslim daughter and you don’t deserve to be treated like that or forced into any marriage. I am more than happy to talk to you. What days and times work best for you?
“Anger is the privilege of the truly broken, and yet, I’ve never met a woman who was broken enough that she allowed herself to be angry.” ― Lyz Lenz, All the angry women, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, 2018
She left. After less than five years and more than what felt like eternity, she moved into her own apartment with her young boy. I met R in 2015. She was a beautiful woman with a clam, earthy demeanor. Although we met only once in real life, our sisterhood flourished in no time. Then she confided in me that she had some doubts about how her husband treated her. She didn’t have a name for what it was. The invisible torture he inflicted on her was bewildering. I held her hand from a distance; never pushy nor dismissive. She left and she started healing.
“Overall women in our society are forgetting the value and power of sisterhood. Renewed feminist movement must once again raise the banner high to proclaim anew ‘Sisterhood is powerful.’” ― bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, 2000
I dressed my little Malik for school and prepared and packed his lunch. We held hands as we walked to the bus stop nearby. He began quizzing my math skills with his cute equations. “One billion plus nine equals what mama?” We giggled as Malik’s bus-buddy and his mother arrived. The mother and I exchanged our usual morning greetings. Something was different. I asked, “Are you alright?” She started sobbing silently as the bus was departing. “It’s either that I am crazy or losing my mind. He [her husband] doesn’t help. We’re always fighting. I can’t tell my family because we don’t believe in divorce. Is it me?”
“Strong communities are born out of individuals being their best selves.” ― Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Not Murdered, Not Missing: Rebelling against Colonial Gender Violence, Verso, 2020
On October 21, 2020, I presented a webinar in Arabic on understanding domestic violence and Islam as part of my work with Peaceful Families Project. During the question and answer discussion, a lady named Samar wrote in the chat asking if she could share her story. I informed her that the webinar was being recorded and live streamed via Facebook. She didn’t mind. She was speaking from a shelter. She fled the violence of war in Syria with her husband only to end up running away from the physical violence her husband inflicted on her.
“No one should ever have the authority to humiliate me or humiliate my children…I wanted to share my story because I want other women to know that leaving is possible and I am stronger than before,” said Samar.
August 4, 2020 4:30pm EDT
We were four Muslim women from diverse backgrounds who came together to discuss the need for a safe, healing space open to Muslim women. There were a few spheres that center Muslim women’s voices and allow for vulnerable discussion of experiences with violence, abuse, and trauma. We wanted to provide a safe, inclusive, accessible virtual space that give women from intersectional Muslim backgrounds the comfort and accessibility of sharing deeply and healing collectively.
“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” ― Rosa Parks, The Meaning of Life: Reflections in Words and Pictures on Why We Are Here, 1991
I put together these 16 segmented pieces because more often than not public forms of activism are deemed a priority thus celebrated while small acts of everyday feminist activism remain invisible thus irrelevant. To challenge this notion, I share different moments, reflections, experiences, and inspirations from my everyday activism against gender-based violence that took place this year. As simple as these acts might seem, my belief is that they are crucial to the larger movement of feminist activism.