“We Were Told to be Silent”: 3 Muslim Women Talk About Their Experience with Gender-Based Violence

The Muslim Women Times

The Issue” is TMWT’s exploration of what Muslim women experience and the nuances that shape them. **The names of the women in this essay have been changed**

There’s no denying that for a very long time, Muslim women have been silent about the issues that they grapple with, in their communities. Research has shown that the abusive experiences of Muslim women all over the world are understudied. Under the oppression, a fear of being mocked, discriminated, and marginalized results in most women’s tolerance or silence toward abuse. However, in recent times, more and more Muslim women are growing resistant to violence. Their reclamation of the self under massive misogyny and structural inequality reveals their autonomy and wisdom.

According to a 2015 research conducted by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one out of three women will be abused in their lifetime by an intimate partner. This bewildering statistic cuts across race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. In order to understand what role Muslim communities actually play in allowing or prohibiting gender-based violence and the nuances involved in these experiences, the TMWT team spoke with three women from diverse backgrounds about their experiences with gender-based violence and here’s what each of them revealed.

HAADIA ANDREW, 40 UNITED KINGDOM AND TURKEY

“I was raped a bunch of times before converting to Islam and I experienced domestic abuse, violence and spiritual abuse after converting because I was a naive woman who got married as a brand new Muslim with raging PTSD”

TMWT: In what country did you grow up and where exactly did this happen?

Haadia Andrew: I’m a Muslim woman of English heritage. My first experience with rape happened at knifepoint when I was in Brussels. I was 27 years old at the time and was held prisoner by a Portuguese man for 12 days. I suffered PTSD as a result. A year later, I found the courage to talk about it with a friendly stranger. That evening, he got me paralytically drunk and also raped me. I converted to Islam a few months later in Turkey and started wearing the Niqaab. I was told by the Muslim community that I had to get married. I acted upon this and got married to a man from the community. This man abused me in every way possible. He would threaten me with God’s wrath for wearing the wrong colour. He kept divorcing me in between violence and death threats. He never handed me any money. He took all my earnings and failed to hold down a job. I used to work nights to make money for our rent and on one occasion, when I gave him the money to give the landlord, he never passed it on, so we got evicted. I also experienced the usual stranger abuse in Tesco for being a woman with Niqaab.

TWMT: Did you ever report this? And what was the reaction of the Muslim Community?

Haadia Andrew: I didn’t realise on time that I was in an abusive marriage. When I eventually sought help from the sisters, I was told to “be like Aasiyah“, that the Pharaoh was way worse than my husband and that Allah hates divorce. The Muslim brotherhood was also roped in as judge and jury to tell me that I was being a bad wife and that my husband was a good man. I experienced lots of spiritual abuse from the community. Alhamdulillah, I ended up escaping and took a plane from there to the UK. After a bunch more drama-filled years, I ended up happily remarried to a great man and now have two more kids in addition to the one I had with my ex-husband.

TMWT: Did you seek any therapeutical help?

Haadia Andrew: I’ve been through a lot of therapy and I’m comfortable talking about it because it’s been a long time ago. I feel super strongly about gender-based violence and I’m always happy to talk about it if it means someone else gets out of it sooner than I did.

NOOR ABDULLAH, 19 NIGERIA

“He raped me more than six times. I couldn’t report it because he was my Ustadh, and everyone respected him”

TMWT: In what country did you grow up and where exactly did this happen?

Noor Abdullah: I was born in Nigeria and I currently live in Nigeria. My parents are divorced so I grew up with my guardian. This incident happened in Abeokuta. I was having a lot of issues with my guardian and confided in this Ustadh who I really respected. He told me that there was nothing he could do about it. But he proposed to marry me, promising to give me everything I needed. I was 17 years old at the time and I was very naive, so I agreed to marry him. He was caring at first. He used to help me with deliveries for my online business and when I had issues with my phone, he paid N20,000 to fix it. One afternoon, when I needed to make a delivery, he asked me to bring the goods to a hostel that was not very far from my home. Innocently, I took the goods to the meeting place and he raped me so violently that I had bruises on my body. When he was done, he begged for my forgiveness, stating that he didn’t know that I was a virgin. He eventually told me that there was nothing to worry about since we had both intended to get married. He also justified the rape with the fact that he helped me fix my phone. Feeling violated and helpless, I agreed with him. I thought that it was only fair that the man who violated me would be the one to marry me, so I clung harder to him.

On another occasion, he called to tell me that he wanted us to talk. I was on my period at the time and I felt quite safe that he wouldn’t be able to rape me. But I was wrong. He raped me while I was on my period. Then he started crying, telling me that he had never done any such thing before. He told me that I was the first girl he did it to, and that it was my fault for tempting him. He made me feel guilty.

Two months after he first raped me. he got married to a sister from the community. Then he came to me a few weeks after to seek my forgiveness, telling me that he had reserved a slot for me as the second wife. He said he had promised Allah that he would marry a second wife before the end of the year and he was going to fulfil his promise. I clung so desperately to him because I wanted the man who violated me to marry me. And every time he asked us to meet, he would rape me. The last time he raped me, it happened in a quiet masjid. I had picked the masjid as our meeting-place because I felt that it was a safe space. But I was wrong. It turned out that there are no safe spaces for women in the world.

TWMT: Did you ever report this? And what was the reaction of the Muslim Community?

Noor Abdullah: There is no Muslim community! And I don’t mean literally. What I mean is that the community is not a safe space to open up. I couldn’t tell anyone because I knew that they would either not believe me (of course, because he’s a ustadh) or that they would sweep the issue under the carpet and make a hell out of my life for it. I however later confided in a woman who happened to be my mentor at the time. She’s a practising Muslim woman who wears the Niqaab. She asked me to keep it a secret and promised me that my secret was safe with her. However, when I offended her, she leaked this ‘secret’ and said that by the time she was done with me, there will be no one to marry me.

TMWT: Have you gotten any form of therapy since then?

Noor Abdullah: Yes I have. There’s a youth-led organization called “STAND TO END RAPE“. They advocate against sexual violence and provide psycho-social services to survivors. They have been really helpful with my PTSD but I felt a lot of anger towards my rapist and didn’t want him to get away with what he did. So when he asked to see me again, I went armed and I video-recorded everything that happened. He attempted to rape me again but I fought back so hard this time.

TMWT: What did you do with the recording?

Noor Abdullah: I have not done anything with it. I’m saving it till I can afford to get a Lawyer and charge him to court without the help of the Muslim community. Because I know that the Muslim community will not help. Getting legal help is my major goal right now.

KHAIRA BAMALLI, 23 NIGERIA AND CANADA

“My brother strangled me a countless number of times. I haven’t recovered.”

TMWT: In what country did you grow up and where exactly did this happen?

Khaira Bamalli: I was born in Kaduna, Nigeria. I was 7 years old when I moved with my family to Canada. My brother had hated me for as long as I can remember.  Most of my early childhood memories were of him, pushing me, tripping me and being really mean to me. On two occasions, he snuck into the room while I was sleeping to scare me awake. In Canada, there was a lot of emotional abuse from my father, who used money as a weapon against us. He would buy fast food and invite my brother alone to the table and they would eat and laugh and my dad would go on and on about how they were the men of the house. He told my brother that he was entitled to anything that belonged to us, because “It was his father’s house“.

Eventually, when my mother noticed how toxic our home was for me and my sisters, she insisted that she would move with us back to Nigeria. But my father remained in Canada. When we arrived in Nigeria, my brother assumed the role of authoritarian. He was about 16 years old at the time. He would take my stuff, then beat me up if I so much as brought it up. He strangled me on three different occasions. Those memories are fuzzy. I only remember clearly the moments leading up to them. I don’t remember who pushed him off me on any occasion. My mother would gaslight me, telling me that I had lost those things because I was careless. There was an occasion when my brother tried to push me into a boiling pot of water and my aunt saved me at the last minute. The last time he strangled me, I was 12 and nobody was at home except for my 4-year-old sister and the housekeeper. He knocked on my door and wanted to be let in but I was taking a shower and didn’t hear him. I got out of the shower, got dressed and when I came out of my room, I saw a flurry of movement. The next couple of seconds found me pressed against the door with a hand wrapped around my throat. My brother was yelling at me and spitting in my face. He asked me why I didn’t open the door when he knocked. He pushed me onto the bed and lay on top of me; his body pressing down on me while he strangled me. I fought to stay alive. I fought back so hard, struggled to get my hand on something (I can’t remember what it was for the life of me) and whacked it over his head. He looked shocked and bewildered for a moment, then he got up and left. He has not touched me since that day. It was the first time I fought back. 

TWMT: Did you ever report this?

Khaira Bamalli: I never opened up to the community outside of my family. I only opened up to a therapist in May, this year. I had suppressed these memories and they were doing me so much harm. Whenever a memory was triggered, I would feel lifeless for the rest of the day. I would stay in bed and cry the whole day. I’m now just discovering myself and why I act the way I do because, for a long time, the harmful incidents in my childhood played a role in how I thought, how I acted and how I behaved. My therapist helped me to figure that out and Alhamdulillah I’m better now. I’ve forgiven my father and mother but I’m yet to find the strength to forgive my brother and one of my sisters who was also verbally and physically abusive, just not as much as my brother. I had wanted to, but I never got the chance to confront my father.


One thought on ““We Were Told to be Silent”: 3 Muslim Women Talk About Their Experience with Gender-Based Violence”

  1. The Muslim community really needs to do better. There is this utter lack of empathy and surpport for eachother in the ummah. It’s frightening!

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