Ramadan Reflections '13, Day 17: A Sister's Story of Abuse

The following is an excerpt from a Muslim sister in Canada who contacted me not too long ago. She had read a couple of my blog entries about domestic abuse and the need for education and services within the Muslim community. She wanted to share her story but asked to remain anonymous, so I offered to use my blog as a vehicle for her words. So I'm sharing what she shared with me with the hopes that we'll all learn from it. I commend her for the strength it took to place her story into words, since going through something like this is not easy to re-live.

Bismillah.

"You're such a slut. I know white girls who are better than you"

I couldn't believe I had let things come to this point. We were less than two weeks away from our supposed Nikah, for which nothing was organized, and he's calling me a slut? The even scarier fact was that I believed him. How did I let things get to this point? 


It all started with a simple request. When I started communicating with him for the purpose of marriage, he stated that he wanted his wife to wear hijab. It wasn't something that I had considered doing before, but maybe I would? We'd have to see how things went with getting to know one another and if marriage was even in the books. Then perhaps.


When I look back to this courtship, I realize what a complete mess it was right from the start. There were plenty of warning signs but not having had experience communicating for marriage purposes, I was stuck. I so badly wanted things to work out that I pushed aside any doubts I had and soaked in all his insults to be true. What started off as a request to wear hijab soon snowballed into much more.


The "much more" included unreturned calls and text messages; seemingly not having the time to communicate yet stating that he was "interested" in getting to know me; fits of anger and accusations about my behaviour and appearance; religious guilt trips and making me feel unworthy to be called a Muslim; manipulative behaviour; lies; etc. When I think back to what I allowed to happen, I'm sick to my stomach about how naive I was. It was effortless the way things went from one off-handed comment to something much more.

So as time went by and despite my parents' and friends' suspicions of this person, I continued communicating with him and internalized his "messages" as me needing to become a better Muslim. I apparently smiled too much in public, flirted with guys who walked by, looked for attention, and apparently "begged" for it. I checked with a friend of mine if this was true and she was shocked. Yet I didn't believe her. In his mind, I needed to walk with my head down, no smiles, a flat affect, and simple to the point communication. This was the way Muslim women needed to be and he was right. He was more religious since he had been raised back home, and I was from the West. I needed to trust his judgment.


And then the bragging started. 


"I can get any girl I want, you know that?"


"I used to have a different girl every weekend."

"Men have needs, it's justified."

"You're a whore for having talked to another Muslim man, even if it was for marriage purposes."

"I know white girls who are crazy over me...white girls who are better than you"

Looking back, I don't really know why I allowed him to treat me in such a way. I believed what he was saying was right because I had been brainwashed. I was a bad person and a bad Muslim for not wearing hijab. Here I was, 25 years old and I thought I was an OK person, but I wasn't. 


Things literally got a point where I was terrified of going out in public for being seen doing something wrong, even when I was with family or friends. He told me not to attend my close friend's (non-Muslim) wedding reception, so I obeyed, since he mentioned there would be alcohol there and it was haram. I felt like a zombie, no longer full of life, but walking a tightrope that may result in me falling into hell if I made a wrong move. The control extended to online when he somehow hacked into my email account and went through all my emails. Another fit of anger assumed after that, complete with name calling. Social media was also problematic...my Friends list was looked through and disapproval was handed out and I was asked to delete them. I felt confined within a tight space that was controlled by him. And this happened within months of starting our communication.


You'd think that reality would hit me when I'd see friends and co-workers in happy and healthy relationships. But it didn't. I felt that this is what I deserved. That this is the way a relationship was and he was right, I couldn't find anyone better. It was a cold, distant, controlling courtship. My parents were stunned when I said we wanted to marry, and ASAP at that. They had met him twice and were unimpressed to say the least. But I was persistent. 


It was 5 days before the Nikah...it shouldn't even be called a Nikah, nothing was ready, no after-marriage living plans or honeymoon, no Imam lined up, no friends allowed to attend. This is the way a Muslim marriage should be, right? It was 5 days before, on a Sunday, a day I will never forget. It was the day Allah saved me from making the worst decision of my life.


My mom and I met him at a tea place on this Sunday evening. My mom pressed to get details about the upcoming Nikah, and he wasn't providing any. It started to dawn on me that this was wrong, but the warning signs hadn't pushed past my threshold yet. He got agitated and demanded my mom drop him off at home. I think this pushed her over the line, she'd had it. We left the cafe and dropped him off at home. We drove home in silence, in the dark, that October evening. My mom didn't pull into our garage though. She drove further down the road and parked on the side. And she asked me one question:


"Why do you want to marry him?"


Even after 10 seconds of complete ear-burning silence, I had no answer. Tears started flowing and flowing and I couldn't stop crying. I struggled to breathe as months of pain finally came out and I gave up trying to believe that everything was ok. The only answer I could give my mom was "because he's Muslim".


My mom's speech started: "You deserve better than him. He's nothing, a nobody, there's coldness in his eyes and no emotion behind anything he does. He doesn't care about you, he'll never love you, he just wants to control you. You deserve so much better than him. Why are you in a rush to get married anyway?"


She was right. She was right! What the hell was I doing, throwing my life away? I felt as though a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. After all this wasted time, I felt free. We went back home and I called him and said it was over. He was stunned and begged me to reconsider. I told him to leave me alone, never to call or bother me again, and I hung up.


I was free. Or so I thought.


The emails came and the phone calls came. I changed my cell phone number, blocked his emails, and started out fresh. It took a while for him to get my point. There were numerous other attempts to get my attention, and I ignored them. My new number was somehow discovered and after ignoring many of his calls, I finally picked up, told him to leave me the #$%@ alone and threatened to call the police. I don't think I ever had been that angry before in my life. He got the message. 


I was free. I saw a counsellor and spoke to her about my experiences. She gently asked me if I ever considered that I was in an abusive relationship. I blinked shockingly, and told her that I hadn't. She told me that he exhibited all the signs of an abuser, and that my rationalized internalizations matched those of a victim. Emotional abuse. We worked through some strategies and I voiced my fears about the future. How can I trust anyone again? How can I be open with someone? So we worked through some ideas and I promised I would check back in with her if I had doubts about my future courtship. 

So you see, despite me completing two educational degrees and growing up in a household where my parents had a strong and loving marriage, I succumbed to the words of this man. I internalized his words to be the truth. I considered myself street-smart and mature for my age, yet this crushed me to a powder and it took me a few years to recover. Alhamdulillah, I'm now blessed with a husband and two children, and I thank Allah every day that He saved me from making the biggest mistake of my life.

Thank you for sharing my story. InshAllah it benefits others and prevents them from going through what I did.

A study by Project Sakinah in the United States showed that Muslims are experiencing domestic abuse at the same rate as the national average. I guarantee you that there are probably people you know who are going through this. It can be something similar to what  the sister above experienced (emotional abuse) or include physical or sexual abuse. Control over a person's activities, finances and their whereabouts is included.

Yet Muslims who have been through this are not telling their stories. There aren't enough of us who are talking about it. The reason why I'm sharing this sister's story is to show you how common abuse really is and to raise awareness. 

So, what can we do? The following may be good starting points:

1. Parents - PLEASE talk to your children about domestic abuse before they hit the age where they are wanting to get married. Both to your sons and daughters. They need to be aware of this. Especially talk to girls about men using the religious guilt-trip card to control and force them into a specific type of behaviour. This is a recipe for being brainwashed. The more girls are educated about what truly a relationship should consist of, the more they will be able to defend themselves.

2. Ladies, please be aware of Muslim matrimonial sites. The sister above met this person online. The great thing is that these sites bring a pool of potential candidates to your computer screen. The bad thing is that you really have no one you can ask the vouch for the credibility and character of these people. Be very careful in proceeding forward with people, regardless of how "good" they may initially seem. Try to verify what they are saying. I'm not telling you to ask for a background check on them (although it's a good thought!). But dig into what they are saying a little and if anything sounds fishy, call them out on it.

3. Look out for warning signs: unreturned communication, stories that don't match up, short fuses and foul language, his use of religious knowledge, etc. When something goes down the first time, red flag it and talk to someone who can give you unbiased advice. Remember, if they are treating you poorly during the initial communication stages, what makes you think they are going to change after marriage?

I pray for all those entering into courtships and relationships that they are safe and well-treated. I pray for all those in marriages that are happy and healthy, that they remain this way. I pray for all those who are being stifled by their spouses, that they find the courage to seek support and get out as soon as possible. I pray that Allah watch over all those who are the most vulnerable and to protect them from harm. And I pray that those who have been through the ordeal of abuse, such as the sister who shared her story with us, that they heal their hearts and souls and find true happiness and be blessed.

InshAllah.

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