The One Question You Should Never Ask a Married Couple

I’ve blogged before about the relentless questions from Aunties and other prying busy-bodies about when we (and other newly married couples) are planning to have children. Even a non-Muslim 30-something, who herself is childless after 7 years of marriage, asked me last week when we were planning to start a family. I gave her a haughty look of derision and mumbled “not sure”. She hadn’t known me more than five minutes before asking me this question. A new record.

Because naturally, once you’re married, the only logical next step is to start popping out babies left and right...especially if you’re a Muslim. Some older ladies (mostly at the schools I work at) go as far as looking towards my stomach, watching for any site of a bump. “Sorry, I’m just bloated today” I feel like replying or “Sorry, I’m menstruating and my usually pear-sized uterus is now double the size and wreaking havoc”. That should keep them quiet for a while.

Despite it simply not being appropriate to ask anyone this question, there’s another reason that recently came to mind. And given that April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, this blog post is perhaps timely in raising awareness about child sexual abuse (CSA).

Current statistics in North America indicate that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually abused. The statistics for boys is thought to be under-reported due to the stigma of a boy reporting sexual assault by a male perpetrator (as this is the most common scenario). Muslims, as we know, are not immune to sexual abuse or assault. While CSA in our community may be swept under the prayer rug for now, the more awareness we raise, the more likely survivors are to come forward and report. With rates such as the ones stated above, that means 33% of Muslim women and approximately 17% of Muslim men have a history of child sexual abuse. We certainly don’t act as if these are the stats, given how taboo of a topic anything with the words “sex” in it are.

Child sexual abuse can have traumatic impacts on a person’s sexual intimacy...for a community obsessed with sex (trust me, we are, since all it seems we talk about is a woman’s “modesty” or “lack" thereof), we do a horrible job of addressing issues related to sex. It’s quite ironic. We definitely can’t address the needs of our community members who may have had traumatic experiences in the past, and now face difficulties being sexually intimate with their spouse. Even if these individuals are not married, CSA greatly impacts a person’s ability to form emotionally-intimate connections with others. Trust may be a barrier, as well as guilt and shame, the two pillars of Khutbas heard on Fridays at North American mosques. There’s misunderstandings since many community members and even leaders won’t believe those who come forward with memories of CSA (which has the lowest false-reporting crime rate out of all crimes) and some go further to blame the victim for their trauma. Children are never to blame for CSA...the adult knows better and they abuse their power and the child.

So if we all need one more reason to stop asking couples about future child plans, here’s another one: we don’t know what the individual or couple are going through. We don’t know their histories or stories, nor do we have the right to know. What may seem like an innocent question is actually adding load to a heavy burden that someone is already carrying on their shoulders. We will never know what it is like to live with memories of CSA or any other trauma unless we are experience it ourselves. The guilt, shame, confusion, anger...all of it.

Sex is also not solely about two pieces of anatomy fitting together...this is the simplest physical reduction of sex possible and doesn’t do it any justice. From an Islamic perspective, sex is a form of workshop within marriage...there’s spiritual and emotional connections that must be present. A couple’s sexual intimacy is private and should be for a good reason. So too is their decision or “plans” on starting a family.

So if you take anything away from this post, please remember that we all need to be more sensitive to those around us. We’re so eager to comment without listening, to respond with understanding, and to judge without giving the benefit of the doubt. We are suspicious of people that don’t “fit the Muslim mould” so to speak. If we’re married for a few years and don’t have two children and one more on the way, something must be wrong. No, thank you, nothing is wrong...what you may see as “wrong” is someone else’s jihad (their struggle) or their choice, and ultimately, it’s Allah’s will. Whether it be traumatic experiences of child sexual abuse, issues with fertility, or the simple reason that a couple wants to wait before bringing children into this world, it’s good and alright because it’s meant to be.

And no one has the right to question that.

Join myself and Nadiah Mohajir from HEART on Tuesday April 29th at 7:30 pm MST/8:30 pm CST for a FREE webinar on educating your children about sexual abuse. Register here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/talking-to-your-child-about-sexual-abuse-a-webinar-for-muslim-parents-tickets-11311485959 

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