Link Love: Breastfeeding 101 for Sexual Assault Survivors


I’m really glad to have been a part of this conversation with Aaminah Shakur and company for the The Toast and also just for all the support and healing I have had through such convos. Check it out:

“…It took years for me to figure out that a lot of my struggles as a new mother were directly related to my history as a sexual assault survivor.

One of the unanticipated difficulties was breastfeeding. Eighteen years ago, when my son was born, breastfeeding was not quite as supported in my city as it is now. Just this year an ordinance was passed in support of public breastfeeding, so you can imagine the atmosphere nearly two decades ago!

…How sexual trauma can come back to us during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum varies. Our reactions are not uniform, and there are many possible reactions a survivor might have that are not readily seen as related to a history of trauma. We often live with shame, guilt, and isolation because we do not realize trauma is the root of our issues. When we struggle to breastfeed but cannot articulate why, it is also difficult to get the appropriate support. Lactation consultants, postpartum doulas, and other support providers should be better educated in sexual trauma and prepared to help parents with such history recognize if that may be what is causing difficulties.”

Thanks Aaminah and all, read the rest here.

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Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

Book cover for Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men

Herein are ruminations from a Muslimah point of view on Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men originally published in the August 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something I think is a universal truth, though maybe not a very popular idea: I believe that men, in their general position of greater physical and economic power, are at great risk of abusing that power thereby abusing women, children, elders and all people ‘weaker’ than them. Those of us in potential positions of being abused could do well to recognise some of the abusive behaviours which are common in many in positions of power. In turn, this could aid us all to not let abuse trickle down the chains of hierarchy and spread. It is for this reason that I was curious to read Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. At the time of writing the book, Lundy Bancroft had spent fifteen years working with angry and controlling men as a counsellor, evaluator and investigator. Bancroft identified many patterns among the men, making abusive behaviour less evasive to pinpoint, as simply recognising that something is actually abuse is difficult for most involved in it.

One of the many useful things I found in Why Does He Do That? was Bancroft’s demystification of several commonly held false beliefs about why men abuse. These ‘myths’ are used by the men, and others, as excuses for their behaviours. Bancroft points out that it is abusers themselves who have so oft repeated these excuses, creating their own mythology within cultures – he also points out that abusers are master manipulators and, in this sense, have manipulated a great many of us. A few of these myths popped out at me as being frequently used as excuses among Muslims; when I shared Bancroft’s list of seventeen myths on Facebook, Muslim friends and acquaintances had had experiences with all of them. So, while I encourage people to read this book to get its full benefit, I will share some of Bancroft’s myth-debunking insights, keeping them correlated to the chronological order he uses in the book:

1. He was abused as a child.

Bancroft uses studies to demonstrate how abusers manipulate or outright lie about childhood abuse in order to garner sympathy for their abusive behaviour. But for me the most compelling argument against this excuse is that when Bancroft corners abusers about this one suggesting, “If you are so in touch with your feelings from your abusive childhood…. You should be less likely to abuse a woman, not more so, from having been through it.” As Bancroft explains, “….he only wants to draw attention to [his childhood abuse] if it’s an excuse to stay the same, not if it’s a reason to change.” Like most other abusers, the majority who use this excuse refuse to use therapeutic measures to heal and discontinue their own abusiveness.

2. He loses control.

In this section, Bancroft demonstrates the many ways that abusers themselves removed the façade of “out of control abuser who doesn’t realize what he’s doing”. For instance, when questioned why the abusers didn’t do certain things, such as leave visible marks or break their own valuable items, or about how they were able to immediately calm down when police arrive, abusers responded that they didn’t want to take things that far as they had something to lose if they did. That is not indicative of being out of control, rather Bancroft and his associates long term work with abusers revealed that abusers are actually extremely calculated in how they emotionally and physically abuse their partners. Control is the primary thing abusers seek by being abusive and they know how to get it.

3. There are as many abusive women as abusive men.

It is unfortunate that I even feel compelled to address this myth, but since it nearly always comes up during conversations about abusive men, I am glad Bancroft addresses it. Part of this overall myth is that men are ashamed to come forward when they are abused by women so their numbers are harder to identify. Bancroft makes several points to correct this flawed reasoning, including “….that women crave dignity just as much as men” and it is often outside interference that brings abuse to light. If there were truly such high numbers of female on male abuse, they would have been brought to light by those same concerned family members, neighbours, police, schools and so on who interfere in male to female abuse.

Another commonly upheld aspect of this myth is that men are responding to verbal abuse with physical abuse, but as author Margaret Atwood has famously been quoted, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Bancroft reminds readers that “….abuse is not a battle that you win by being better at expressing yourself” and that male abusers employ verbal abuse such as sarcasm, insults and threats as part of their overall abuse tactics. Female to male abuse exists, but it is much rarer and has no place in conversations about correcting the prevailing problem of men abusing women as it only derails from the solutions specific to the problem.

4. He is a victim of racism.

As Muslims are often in circumstances to be on the receiving end of racism, Orientalism and Islamophobia, I thought this item needed addressing here. Racism causes a great deal of real stress, but non-abusive men deal with that stress in ways other than abusing. Just like with being on the receiving end of child abuse in issue #1 “…if a man has experienced oppression himself, it could just as easily make him more sympathetic to a woman’s distress…”. Bancroft points out that men of colour were among the first and strongest opponents of abuse of women in the United States. Consider, for example, the former slave Frederick Douglass who was a champion for the suffrage movement.

Ultimately, Bancroft explains the motivations of the abusers: “The reasons that an abusive man gives for his behavior are simply excuses…. beliefs, values, and habits are the driving forces [behind his abuse].”

A man is abusive because he has a warped belief. The abuser believes that the person he is abusing is inferior to him and deserving of a treatment he himself is not. Of course, that is a common belief held by some Muslims, that the ‘degree a man has over a woman’ is one of absolute human superiority. This is plainly known as ‘entitlement’. My belief is that this greater physical and economic power men often have can be a great fitnah for many of us and we should each do our best to fight the abuse of this power, either as exerting or receiving abuse.

In the book, Bancroft says, “If any part of what I describe about abusers doesn’t match your experience, cast it aside and focus on the parts that do fit.” I would suggest that as Muslims with an interest in improving character and behaviour, as well as encouraging improvements and resisting injustices, we all truly could benefit from understanding the roots of abuse and oppression and can find something to relate to or overcome in this book. I by no means want to shame or blame victims of domestic violence; rather, I would like to remind them that Allah (SWT) tells us not to accept abuse to our persons. Accepting abuse is a form of wronging ourselves, as well as enabling or encouraging a culture of abuse:

“And those who, having done an act of indecency, or wronged their own souls, should remember Allah and ask for forgiveness for their sins and who can forgive sins except Allah? And are never stubborn in continuing (and excusing) the wrong they have done. For them, the reward is forgiveness from the Lord and gardens with rivers flowing underneath as an eternal dwelling; how excellent a reward this is for those who work and strive for good.” (Al ‘Imran:135-136)

Why Does He Do That? is an excellent resource for understanding and helping to dismantle abuse, insha Allah. You can also find more articles about domestic violence on the SISTERS website at http://www.sisters-magazine.com/index.php?route=articles/category&articles_path=11.

August 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine

Metsy Mondays: Palestine

This week, with Palestine weighing heavily on many of our hearts, it seemed obvious that this treasury needed to come together. These sixteen unique Muslim made items are just a teeny sample of the amazing works artists and sellers are creating to support Palestine. Enjoy! Support!

*click the image to go straight to Etsy

MM Palestine

Please leave urls of your favourite (or your own!) Muslim sellers on Etsy in the comments. ❤

Tagine From The Heart In Marrakech: A Truly Great Place To Eat

Tagine from the heartMarrakech, Morocco, is one of the top vacation destinations in the world, hosting millions of visitors every year who, in turn, leave thousands of various online travel recommendations. With an economy built on tourism, restaurants, tour guides, shops, taxis, and beggars all vie for tourist dollars. It’s a bustling city with numerous gardens, museums, and souks to visit as well as being a center point for shooting of to innumerous excursions all over the beautiful country such as the sea, the desert, and the mountains. So if you are heading to Marrakech, please let me make one choice easy for you – you must enjoy at least one traditional Moroccan meal at Amal Restaurant and Training Center. Here’s why.

Unlike the commonly held beliefs about women who beg, these women did not have family to support them. On the contrary, it was their families who were often abusing them.

In my several years of living in Morocco I have learned that just as in my own hometown of San Francisco (another foodie paradise), many people here are skeptical of panhandlers (beggars). Whereas in Western countries most people assume panhandlers have social services to utilise and are therefore just trying to make ‘extra’ cash, here in Morocco many people believe beggars have their families to support them and must in some way be ‘bad’ people to have to resort to begging or else they are also just making ‘extra’ cash. Nora Fitzgerald, who was born and raised in Morocco, faced such beggars daily and one day decided to ignore the stereotypes, believing that there was no way a mother sitting on the concrete or dirt with small children in her lap would prefer to spend her days in such a way, completely lacking in dignity, just to make a little extra change. Nora decided to sponsor a woman so that her child could attend preschool and the woman could perhaps get a job.

I witnessed Nora and Amina’s* experiences some years ago via Nora’s blog. Soon other people were becoming involved, providing money, clothing, and other items to Amina and a few other women in need that Nora had also begun to work with. Unlike the commonly held beliefs about women who beg, these women did not have family to support them. On the contrary, it was their families who were often abusing them. For single mothers, the desire to protect their families from the shame of a child born out of wedlock or a woman abandoned drives them far from their hometowns and support systems. With no childcare and no employable skill set, begging is often their last and only recourse.

Nora began to better understand this dire dilemma and slowly her sponsorship evolved, trying to it the women’s needs. She opened a small bakery within her own family’s language center, training the women to make Western-style baked goods such as banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and lemon bars for the Moroccan students attending the centre. There were successes, but also a few failures with the program, as extracting oneself from toxic families and overcoming ingrained patterns of dysfunction is complicated. Nora’s commitment to be of service to some of Morocco’s most marginalised women and children was firm enough that she continually sought out realistic solutions to the complex problems they faced.

While visiting Casablanca one spring, Nora had a chance to eat at one of the locations of Restaurant Solidarité Féminine, a hugely successful 30-year-old not-for-profit organisation that provides single mothers with the knowledge and skills to ensure their own livelihoods. It was impossible for Nora not to see the possibilities for the little cottage not-for-profit venture she was building back home. She also realised she didn’t have to reinvent the wheel as there are similar models she could follow and that would even help the organisation to skip some of the growing pains that comes with being a revolutionary start-up. Nora found others with similarly interested hearts and hands willing to help, and soon the Amal Center was born, a space was rented and renovated, and the concept was taken to the next level.  The Amal Center now functions as a training center and also a restaurant that serves lunch daily to an average of 60 people.

In 2013 Amal received a grant to expand the business and training facility, and the centre now provides literacy and language classes, life coaching, and many other lectures and trainings by local professionals eager to volunteer some of their time. The Amal centre accepted 15 women into its internship program this year. The permanent staff has grown to 12, many of whom were among the first trainees and whose stories inspired the centre’s creation.  At the end of its training, Amal helps the interns find jobs in local hotels, restaurants, riads, and private homes. Professional job placement, economic stability, and personal transformation are the primary goals at Amal, which employs a social worker trained in psychology to accompany the women in their journey.

The women come from disadvantaged backgrounds, some are illiterate or have very little education, others were sent to work as child maids when they were as young as 12 years old, while a number of the trainees are recommended by a local association, Jamiat Kafalat Al-Yateem, which helps support widows and their children. Fitzgerald, who serves as Amal’s president, said, “It’s been amazing to watch these women’s transformations. When they first entered the program they were shy, insecure, were afraid to trust us and each other. They are now glowing with confidence and have acquired many skills. They are proud of their new profession.”

Naima, one of the trainees turned full-time staff, agrees. “The colour has come back to my cheeks. Before, wherever I worked I was taken advantage of. I am now supporting my three children on my own, and every day I am happy to come to work, I learn something new, I feel like I am given value.”

 Si Mohamed has trained with French masters, and thanks to him the trainees have learned signature French dishes such as salade nicoise, caesar salade, gratin dauphinois (a most satisfying potato and cream gratin), glazed chicken with sage, filet mignon, etc.

Last winter, when I finally had a chance to visit Marrakech, of course I had to eat at Amal, a truly lovely restaurant. Set in the busy Gueliz shopping district, Amal is down a quiet side street and the ample garden seating is secluded by lush, bougainvillea-covered walls and accented by fragrant citrus trees. Inside the restaurant is a comfortable and airy contrast to the sometimes overbearing Marrakech heat. On the day I visited the staff had made lemonade with crushed fresh mint, and it was so deliciously refreshing that I asked to take some home. I also took away a delicious assortment of briwats (savory fried pastry) and an impressive bastilla (savoury and slightly sweet chicken and almond pie with philo topping) which I had smartly ordered in advance to put off the moans of those left behind while I dined out. I have never had a bastilla I didn’t like, but my husband, who is slightly harder to please, was so impressed with the deftly seasoned dish that he ate the remainders cold – straight out of the fridge – a completely out-of-character action for him. And of course our children loved the briwats.

Back at Amal I enjoyed their tagine of the day – meatballs in a richly flavoured fresh tomato sauce cooked in a traditional clay cone-shaped pot. They were also test running a more Western-style chicken stir fry dish that day, and, admittedly, I ate more than my share. Amal’s dishes are lovingly made as if served out of a home kitchen. Because I have worked in many eateries and even owned a few myself (and I am nosey, but prefer to say ‘inquisitive’), I asked to see Amal’s kitchen. It is beautiful too, masha Allah! Nora completely gutted the kitchen of the riad Amal is located in and filled two-thirds of the walls with windows, making it a truly noor-filled place to work, a feature which is reflected in their dishes and ambience.

Throughout the week, Amal features a dish-of the-day, normally a tagine, with several side dishes. On Fridays, like most Moroccan kitchens, Amal serves heaping platters of couscous with lamb and seven vegetables. In January Amal hired a new chef, Si Mohamed, to expand the menu and bring in more of a “restaurant culture” for the trainees. They now learn basic sauces, vegetable chopping techniques, and foundational culinary know-how beyond simply reproducing a recipe. Si Mohamed has trained with French masters, and thanks to him the trainees have learned signature French dishes such as salade nicoise, caesar salade, gratin dauphinois (a most satisfying potato and cream gratin), glazed chicken with sage, filet mignon, etc. The moelleux au chocolat, a fallen chocolate cake with a liquid gooey center is the perfectly satisfying ending to all of Amal’s well balanced meals.

Amal is available to cater and for take-out orders, and I encourage using them for such when you are in Marrakech. If you happen to be in Marrakech during Ramadhan, Amal is the perfect place to break your fast with a traditional Moroccan iftar of harira soup, savory philo dough briwates, fresh smoothies and more. Amal Restaurant and Women’s Training Center is an exceptionally versatile organisation which, with advanced notice, can prepare specialty dishes such as vegan couscous and even offers private cooking classes. For families travelling with children, the specially designed play and craft space is a welcome break for both the kids and their parents.

If you don’t get the chance to dine at Amal, you may still consider donating to this exceptional organisation. It is a Moroccan registered non-profit, and donations are accepted through the website http://www.hope-amal.org And volunteer efforts from various fields are always welcome.

In Marrakech, please dine out or order from Amal located in Quartier Gueliz at the intersection of rues Allal ben Ahmad and Ibn Sina, between l’Hopital Ibn Tofail and the popular Patisserie Paul.  06 04 23 88 60 or 05 24 44 68 96 More information about how to donate or volunteer with Amal can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AmalNonProit

In Casablanca, please dine out or order from one of Restaurant Solidarité Féminine’s locations: Site Palmier: 10, rue Mignard 05 22 98 66 15/05 22 25 46 46 or Site Aïn Sebâa: 21, rue Tizli Ousli. 05 22 34 30 90 More information about their Opus award-winning organisation can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/solfempalmier

*Name changed.

Brooke Benoit aspires to being a lapsed foodie, but living in the culinary paradise of the North African Mediterranean and being married to a chef makes this pipe dream very unlikely. This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women.

The Hijrah Diaries: Reflections on the Lands of Plenty

Fuzzy sunrise at the top by Eldest Child
Fuzzy sunrise at the top by Eldest Child

A forced lightening of our carbon footprints has been one of the benefits of relocating my family of eight to a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. My neighbours are nearly all self-sustaining farmers with limited supplemental incomes. What is available to buy and acquire locally for food, housewares, clothes and so on is hauled up here for people with very low incomes. My family’s daily food choices, which were hacked down considerably when we moved to Morocco from the US several years ago, have been further whittled down to about a dozen various seasonal vegetables to choose from, shelf-stable processed cheese, four kinds of dry bean, homemade breads, chicken or goat for meat and milk. Luxury items that are sometimes locally available include jam, spaghetti, rice, additive-laden yogurts, poor-quality cookies and chips – a meager selection of those processed foods city folks are commonly trying to avoid these days.

While food has been one of the biggest preoccupations of our adjustment to “simple living”, there are other challenges, such as not having electricity to run our space heaters on some of the coldest nights of the year. Since our water pump is electric we sometimes also run out of water. We can’t locally buy shoes that won’t be quickly ripped apart by the rocky hillsides – actually, most of the products available here are poor quality and need replacing sooner rather than later. I am familiar with the concept of ‘planned obsolescence‘ back home where electronics, fashions and other goods are designed specifically to need replacing well before they are worn out, but in Morocco I was surprised to find everyday goods made of such poor quality that they break very quickly, especially household items made of thin plastics.

When my mom came to visit Morocco for the first time last year I was eager to spend several days with her in Marrakech – land of supermarkets and malls – but I was also nervous about how material obsessed my whole family was with the pending visit to the city. We made lists of the foods we wanted to eat and all the things we needed or wanted to buy while in the city, including better quality homewares found in some supermarches. While I think it’s natural to want to do some shopping and have some fun, I was also worried that we would be making up for a year’s worth of waste reduction and light-living in just ten days.

The thing is our carbon footprint has been so greatly reduced by living, well, away from temptation and excess. If and when my family ever comes down the mountain for good, I don’t know how I am going to keep from sinking right back into gross over-consumption habits. Walking the walk is hard to do on streets overflowing with tempting offers. Not only do I enjoy eating out (something impossible to do here where there are no restaurants), but I am a working mum and some of those excessively packaged ‘convenience’ foods are a necessity. Here in the hills, with all the labour needed to process direct-from-the-ground foods, my family was struggling to get regular hot meals before we hired someone to cook for us. This solution may not be viable if we were living in a city though, where convenience foods have already exploited low paid labour and are more convenient than paying a fair wage to a cook.

I expected to learn plenty of things about life anew when we moved to a village in the countryside, but I fear that many of these lessons will not stick with me once I come down the mountain for good. Wastefulness is truly a middle and upper-class problem. We are the ones who gobble up the supplies, even when there is no true demand.

Reflections on our lighter living
Utilities
You have never seen a city girl conserve electricity until she has only a few kilowatts left on her prepay electricity card that could not be refilled until the next day or so. When our electricity has nearly run out, the entire family – even the children – unplug appliances, hang out in one lit room together, turn down the fridge and do anything we can to make that precious electricity last just a little bit longer. Once that card is refilled, forget about it. It’s back to everyone doing their tasks alone under one burning light bulb each, PS3 games ‘saved’ indefinitely with the screen and game box on, heaters more readily turned on and so on.

I wish I could say that my family is more conservative with water, that, like the Prophet (SAW) we each only use a mudd of it to make wudhu, but we are not. It seems that as long as these things are within easy reach, our nature is to thoughtlessly grab at them. I am sure that my neighbours who still haul their water from wells and streams use far less water than my supposedly khalifa-conscious family.

While my husband uses public transport to come in and out of the valley every couple of weeks, this is still far less diesel use than when I had a car and used to think nothing of getting into it to pop across town for one specific item or a particular kind of eatery I was craving. Casablanca was the first city I have lived in for a long time and not owned a car. It was inconvenient to not be able to drag all the kids along to whatever outings I needed or wanted to do, but again my carbon footprint was forced to be lighter than the one I may have stepped if I had owned a car. My family talks about buying a car (or two) if we go back to suburbia and I can only hope I would be more frugal with my use of it.

Our trash pre-burning, post-treasure hunting
Our trash pre-burning, post-treasure hunting

Post-consumer waste
In my Hijrah Diary series for SISTERS Magazine I wrote a bit about the horrors of dealing with my family’s trash out here on the mountain. Not only is it an icky and toxic mess to drag the rubbish a distance from the house and burn it, but it is also extremely embarrassing how much trash my family produces compared to my neighbours. We are still using far more convenience foods than most semi-sustainable farmers and our bin reflects this with its packaging from milk containers, grains, margarine and yogurt tubs, treat wrappers and so on. Of course, much of this has to do with the fact that we are not farmers and don’t get our foods directly from the source, but that has been the big part of my awakening out here – recognising how far removed I am from natural cycles.

An awesome book, really.

Human waste
This here is going to be some real talk. Our own human waste has been considered extensively since we moved into this ram-packed earth house with its ‘squat toilet.’ Not only did some family members have to learn how to use this style of toilet, but as a curious homeschooling family ought we also gave much thought and some research to where this waste was going when our landlord expressed concerns about us overfilling ‘the pit’ with our more-excessive-than-any-neighbours’ water usage. We learned about how some folks both here and all around the world don’t have indoor plumbing and use traditional farming technique of recycling their own human waste right along with that of their cows and other livestock. In short, I have learned that disposing of human waste via water is an environmentally messy business and that once again convenience and the ability to afford such luxury as flushing away our waste is something the ‘haves’ are doing that is ruining things for everyone. As disturbing as it may be to any porcelain-toilet owners’ sensibilities, pooping among the cows is actually a much better way to do it. And if one doesn’t own cows, they could use a compost toilet like the sister on page 52 does. I don’t yet, but I have aspirations…
While I worry about many of my bad anti-eco habits resurfacing once I return to the lands of plenty, one thing I am optimistic about is creating a grey water system for my family, even if just continuing to collect dish water runoff and hopefully setting up at least one compost toilet in our home. It’s a privilege and luxury to have so many choices and I pray that if my choices broaden again I will have the strength to be able to choose in a more deen-conscious way, insha Allah.

Brooke Benoit is the World editor for SISTERS Magazine and a self-proclaimed eco-jihadi, among her other various hobbies.
This article appears in the May 2014 ‘Green’ issue of SISTERS magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women.

Living Below the Line Again


What’s that about when you do something you really don’t want, you get more barakah (blessings) for it? I hope so, because when my editor-in-chief Na’ima B. Robert asked if any of the SISTERS magazine crew wanted to do the Live Below the Line challenge, spending five days living on no more than £1 worth of food a day just as 1.2 billion people the world over who live in extreme poverty do… no, I really didn’t want to do that, again. I did the challenge last year and it was no fun, I even kind of sort of cheated a little, eating a few pennies worth extra one day. It is incredibly difficult to be a content, productive person when your stomach is growling and you feel light-headed and weak. This isn’t like Ramadan where at the end of the day I get an iftar spread with several of my favorite dishes available to satiate me and then in a few hours more I get another suhoor spread… this is a brutal, cruel reality for 1.2 billion people and is mostly ‘fixable’ if we just do a little work to undo the injustices which cause this extreme poverty.

That’s why this year I am doing the Live Below the Line challenge, again, and my sponsorship is going to an innovative organization which has a multi-faceted approach to alleviating extreme poverty: Made in Europe. MADE’s commitment to Live Below the Line is three-fold with the intention to “Gain a new perspective on our lifestyle choices, experiencing the simplicity of our Prophet’s (SAW) ways whilst raising funds to tackle poverty directly at its source. We train young Muslims to be campaigners to lead the fight against social injustice, hunger and poverty, moving beyond charity aid to sustainable solutions. By focusing on our young people, we’re creating a long-term and powerful movement for change.”

So that’s the plan: Increase my empathy and understanding, support an organization who is helping those in extreme poverty and educating folks about how to undo extreme poverty. You can do your lil’ part by donating any amount of money in any denomination here to the SISTERS Magazine team for MADE.

Love and Peace,
Brooke

Here I Go Again…


In the last few years there have been some mostly exciting studies done in which it has been found that as a group Muslims give more in charitable monies than any other group. Of course this is likely due to the awesomeness of our obligatory annual alms, but the not-so-exciting bit of these findings is that a lot of these funds are mismanaged. It’s unclear how much of that mismanagement is gross abuse and how much is just well-intentioned folks not knowing what they are doing and spinning their wheels. What is certain is that some paradigm shifts need to happen and the work of MADE (Muslim Agency For Development Education) is one of the leaders in making those changes happen, insha Allah. That is why this year I am doing the Live Below the Line challenge, again, this time to support the work of MADE and their campaigns to build young Muslim leadership, green communities, protect workers’ rights and so on. You can read more about MADE here.

The Live Below the Line challenge is also personal for me, as I hope to continue to scale back the hedonistic consumerist ways I was raised with and work towards having better appreciation of my rizk and using it in ways that are more deen conscious, insha Allah.

SISTERS TalkBack! “The Housewife’s Lament”


As the SISTERS’ team was getting ready to print the October issue I caught a glimpse of one of my favourite writers’, Zainab bint Younus, article, “Forgotten Heroines: The Housewife’s Lament.” In my usual state of feeling overwhelmed about my own housework, I quickly lapped up the article hoping for some pearls of wisdom, a boost of inspiration or maybe even some sort of camaraderie in similarly fatigued arms. What I got was mad. I spewed my irritation at my co-editors who told me to “write a response!”

A few days later, Zainab bint Younus separately pointed out some other rhetoric in the September issue that she felt needed critique and correction. An ‘Ah-ha Moment’ happened and we realised that instead of quietly dismissing these bothersome things, we needed to open up this space – “Talk Back” – in which both readers and writers can discuss things published in SISTERS Magazine that they feel uncomfortable about or are downright wrong in some way. So let’s begin this feature with how I felt about the “The Housewife’s Lament” followed by Zainab’s response.

[Brooke Benoit]: When I got to the portion of your article about Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) where you quote the following hadith, I was disappointed and then upset that you used the story in the same way I so commonly see it used in other articles, advices, blogs and so on.

Here is a translation of the hadith:

“Narrated By Ali : Fatima went to the Prophet complaining about the bad effect of the stone hand-mill on her hand. She heard that the Prophet had received a few slave girls. But (when she came there) she did not find him, so she mentioned her problem to ‘Aisha. When the Prophet came, ‘Aisha informed him about that. ‘Ali added, “So the Prophet came to us when we had gone to bed. We wanted to get up (on his arrival) but he said, ‘Stay where you are.” Then he came and sat between me and her and I felt the coldness of his feet on my abdomen. He said, “Shall I direct you to something better than what you have requested? When you go to bed say ‘subhan Allah’ thirty-three times, ‘alhamdulillah’ thirty three times and ‘Allahu akbar’ thirty four times, for that is better for you than a servant.” (Bukhari)

In “The Housewife’s Lament” you say that “… the Muslims had won a battle and, as a result, had captured several prisoners and other spoils of war,” you then go on to describe Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) as asking for a “maidservant” to provide her with some domestic relief. This is how I commonly see this hadith used to dissuade women from asking their husbands to hire domestic help when actually that is not what Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was asking for.

Just as in the translation above, “slave” and“servant” are used interchangeably (as they were nearly the same during the time of the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)) even though they have very different meanings to us. She was asking for a slave, to own another human being who would – under kind treatment or not – work in Fatima’s home without a choice. That is something quite different from hiring someone and I think a much, much more important point than whether or not women are being lackadaisical with their approach to getting their own housework done.

I agree with you, of course, that Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) is an excellent example (if not The Example) of how a woman can earn her blessings via caring for her family, but I think a larger point to this particular hadith is overlooked. As an example to the Ummah (all of the Muslims) the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), who was actively pushing for Muslims to manumit slaves, did not want his own daughter to hypocritically go against his activism. He did not want her to have a slave and oppress another human being for her own benefit. Patience is better than that kind of shortcut.

Something I worry about is the way this hadith is often used to support the Super Muslimah role – to make women feel like they are being whiny and unappreciative about how much work they have to do and how much help we do have (via modern appliances and other conveniences). But, in my experience, I don’t know any of these spoiled women we hear about who have a servant for each child and do nothing but watch serials in between trips to the mall and salon. I’m sure these women exist, but I don’t know any personally and I don’t think they are the average SISTERS reader.
Nearly all of the women I know earn an income in addition to caring for their home and balancing those responsibilities is a real burden on them and their marriages.

I think the average SISTERS reader is more likely to be someone who is already doing too much and feels guilty that she can’t do more and be like the respectfully endearing Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha). I’m worried that while you may have meant to make true housewives feel better about their roles, which can be painfully monotonous and demanding, I think this common misrepresentation of this hadith contributes to inappropriate and damaging guilt. The message is that Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) of all people could have had a little help around the house, but she chose to help her husband save some dirhams instead and drudged on by herself – but that’s not entirely true. Sure, he would have had to feed a slave, but he would not have been paying wages. I really see this hadith being about not oppressing people more than being about humbly accepting household drudgery.

[Zainab bint Younus]: First of all, I’ve got to say that I love the idea of Talk Back! Hearing feedback and constructive criticism is great for any writer who is desperate to know what their readers are thinking. I love this opportunity to be able to discuss anything that my readers find disappointing, irritating or flat out terrible.

With regards to The Housewife’s Lament, it’s part of my series titled “Forgotten Heroines”, which aims to re-examine the lives of the sahabiyyaat and women of Islamic history through a different lens: one which is directly relatable and applicable to Muslim women in every situation of life. My first few articles have dealt with very dramatic themes so far – coming of age, women pioneers, true love and (my favourite) how a villainess became a heroine.

My own life is far from dramatic and, one day when I was struggling to write my next FH article, I thought about how I didn’t feel like my life matched up to the standards of the exciting women I’d written about so far. These women were all very inspiring, yes, but what about women like me – housebound mothers who, quite frankly, don’t have the luxury of pioneering anything or saving the world (yet)? I thought about which sahabiyyah best fit this role, as most of my reading and research has currently been focused on women who performed great feats and found the story of Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha).
To be honest, I hadn’t bothered re-reading her story for a long time because it wasn’t as exciting as the others. And that’s when I had my aha! moment. Out of the four women promised Jannah (Asiyah, queen of Egypt; Maryam bint ‘Imran; Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Fatimah bint Muhammad), only Fatimah’s adult life was, shall we say, unremarkable.

This was what really inspired me to write about Fatimah – the feeling of kinship with a woman who was surrounded by other women whose lives were, in comparison, full of derring-do. Thus, my usage of the commonly quoted hadith was to show that her life was as monotonous as that of the average housewife and that it was not shameful for her to feel sick of it all or ask for help. The fact that she took her father’s advice and resorted to tasbeeh instead of domestic help is merely an illustration of the type of inner strength (which is what I intended to be the focus) that caused her to be one of those who were guaranteed Jannah – what I personally found to be inspirational.

I also understand and agree with your frustration over how this particular hadith is often used to make women feel guilty or ashamed of themselves. My own raging feminist spirit loathes such tired and reinforced interpretations of ahadith. My intent in quoting this hadith was completely unrelated. Though, as I now re-read my article, I can see where I should have used stronger language to focus on my main point; that one doesn’t have to be a world-famous academic or infamous revolutionary in order to be considered strong or worthy in the Sight of Allah.

I found your take on the hadith to be extremely interesting and certainly a valid one. I appreciate you bringing it to my notice, as I’d never thought of it that way before (and I love learning about the deeper dimensions of ahadith and their meanings)! You never know, it could wind up featuring in another FH article in the future, without the typical interpretation attached to it!

Read the original article that inspired the talk back in SISTERS’ October issue!

Brooke Benoit has been working from home for nearly 15 years and recently took her own advice about outsourcing by hiring someone to cook a hot, delicious meal for her family several times a week.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the sahabiyyat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to
identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com.

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women

SISTERS Reads: Normal Calm by Hend Hegazi

Normal calm imageSince I did not receive a back cover or any other information about Normal Calm before reading it, I was very surprised when the main character, Amina, was raped, and especially near the beginning of the novel before any momentum to her story had built up. Normal Calm is the story of how rape impacted Amina and, to a slight degree, her family’s lives. Though Muslims are not immune to the statistical average of one in three or one in four women being sexually assaulted in her lifetime, this is a topic seldom touched upon in the greater Muslim community, so I am glad to see the author, Hend Hegazi, take the subject on.

The rape itself is not graphically depicted. Amina deals with it in a fairly pragmatic way, deciding to go straight into a group therapy programme so that she can get the support that she needs to finish her university studies. Amina reveals her ordeal to her close friends, her family – and then what to do about any potential spouses?

Though I can understand how a rape survivor can technically be concerned no longer a virgin due to having her hymen torn, this story made me consider how grossly unfair it is to condemn a person this way. Amina did not consent to losing her virginity, yet in the eyes of many a woman in Amina’s circumstance is simply seen as no longer a virgin and therefore no longer marriage material. This creates a slippery slope for Amina: should she compromise her own integrity for people who essentially already have questionable values? The virginity issue is the only issue ever addressed with concerns to marriage, which (perhaps naively) surprised me. I found it deeply upsetting, though likely realistic, that so much emphasis was placed on Amina’s ‘loss of virginity’ rather than her well-being. Rape has long term, lasting effects on survivors and, while perhaps not everyone has the potential to be a partner to someone who has experienced this kind of trauma, that is not addressed by concerned parties. One potential husband says, “I have no way of knowing how many other men you’ve been with”, as if Amina’s rape was a possible gateway to promiscuous behaviour.

As a sexual abuse survivor, reading Amina’s mother’s reaction was very difficult for me. You can hope that your family will support you through hardships, especially those inflicted on you by someone else, but you just never know how they will respond and in some cases the survivor ends up having to be a support system for those who should be doing the comforting! Interestingly, one of Amina’s strongest supporters is her non-Muslim best friend. I found this character, Kayla, to be a great inclusion in the story, and especially liked the way Hend depicted Amina’s da’wah towards her friend.

I am so glad that Hend wrote this book and hope if offers some solace and insight to its readers. There is an exclusive SISTERS excerpt of Normal Calm published on page 98 of this issue. The full novel is sold through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 ~~~

Brooke Benoit is an editor for SISTERS magazine, a sometimes visual art maker, a fairly radical unschooling mama to six and a contributor to the recently released anthology Dear Sister: Letters From Survivors of Sexual Violence

This review originally appeared in issue #54 of SISTERS Magazine– the magazine for fabulous Muslim women

Domestic Violence Ally: Are You One?

DV

Sitting among a small group of sisters listening to Dr. Ingrid Mattson speak, I was surprised to hear her say that domestic violence was a top priority of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). “Is domestic violence that common among Muslims?” I wondered? She went on to explain that the stress created by emmigrating – in any direction – could bring on domestic violence (DV) in families where it previously had not existed. Years later, when I had emmigrated myself and began seeing domestic violence among my circle of expat friends, I was thankful to have been given this foresight and not to be completely caught off guard. I have asked Khalida Haque of NOUR to help us all better understand why it is important to comprehend what domestic abuse is and how to address it even when it doesn’t seem to affect us individually.

 
(Brooke Benoit): Why is being a ‘domestic violence ally’ important?

 
(Khalida Haque): I think the first thing to do is to define what we mean by ‘domestic violence ally’. If I didn’t know better and I read that term, I would think that it meant someone who assisted in the perpetration of domestic violence – the community at large can be an ally in that sense as we acquiesce through silence and a not-getting-involved attitude because ‘it is a family matter’ or ‘a private matter’, but oppression is a societal matter wherever it may be happening. Not only are there ‘passive’ allies in the perpetration of DV but also active ones who will purposely interfere in relationships, goading and encouraging the abuse. I could go off on a very steep tangent on this so perhaps it’s best left for another time and discussion Obviously, I am fully aware that that is not what it means. But for the sake of clarification, an ally or friend in relation to domestic violence is someone who is turned to when the victim can no longer ‘keep the secret’ of what is going on within their household – and is in fact an anti-domestic violence ally. When a victim speaks up initially they are not always looking for a way out. Often they just want to offload. As someone who cares, we may automatically go into a rescue or saving mode – ‘I’ve got to do something, I’ve got to get her out of there!’ This is usually NOT what is being asked for. If we do that, if we follow that instinct through, then we are more than likely to drive them away and back further into the relationship. It has been statistically reported that before finally leaving, a woman may go through the cycle of leaving an abusive partner and returning up to 33 times. If you bear in mind that with each episode cycle, the abuse often escalates, this is something we do not want to feed or enable.

 
So how should we respond? Responses such as “I am here for you. What do you want to do? And what do you need from me to do it?” aren’t easy to give to someone close to us, someone we love and want to get the hell outta there! If we know that we cannot respond in this manner then it’s best to be honest and direct them to professionals who can listen to and aid them in their decision-making. However, when we respond, it is crucial not to be judgemental as no-one knows what is best for them but hey themselves. What they need from us is emotional support and the knowledge that we are there whatever their decision is. You should be ready for the moment they are ready to leave. Perhaps discuss
with them the need for safety planning for emergency situations that may arise. Offer to store a packed bag for them so that they do not have to worry about what to take when they leave.

 
Our supportive presence can provide them with the hope and courage necessary to turn their lives around. To be able to be a good friend or ally, it is important for us to have an idea of what is out there in terms of help. Gain knowledge and information so that you can pass it on as and when needed.

 
(BB): Why is “Call the police!” not always the best advice to give to someone who is expressing that they are experiencing domestic violence?

 
(KH): “Call the police!” is not always the best advice for a number of reasons but sometimes, particularly if someone is being harmed physically, it is the only advice, the only solution. The threat of death is not something to be taken lightly as in the UK alone two women a week are killed by a current or ex-partner.
That being said, calling the police or involving social services is seen as the last step to take. If someone expresses that they are experiencing DV and you suggest one of these two options, likely they will walk out the door and not speak to you again for fear of losing their children and/or marriages/husbands. There are varying degrees of domestic violence and we need to understand what is best for each situation as every experience is individual.

 

 

It has been statistically reported that before finally leaving, a woman may go through the cycle of leaving an abusive partner and returning up to 33 times.

 

 

(BB): Another reason I think people should learn about DV issues and be good anti-domestic violence allies is because you truly never know when and how this test is going to appear in your life. Could this really happen to anyone?

 

 

(KH): Absolutely. No-one knows what is around the corner. And sometimes we may find ourselves in circumstances we never dreamed of. DV isn’t an issue within just one community or culture. Nor do victims only come from abusive backgrounds or with previous low self-esteem. The perpetrators are not all uneducated or working class. DV can affect anyone. The accepted statistic for women experiencing one incident of DV is 1 in 4. In terms of probability, that’s high!

 

 
(BB): I think when it does suddenly appear, people are often much too shocked to respond effectively. What are some of the precursors to DV?

 

 

Offer to store a packed bag for them so that they do not have to worry about what to do when they leave.

 

 

(KH): To be forewarned is to be forearmed. And just as with selfdefence moves, if we don’t really know them then we are likely to flounder and perhaps put ourselves in further jeopardy. So here are some precursors to DV to look out for (Taken from ‘Spotting an abuser’, Sisters August 2012 Issue):

 

Jealousy
He may say that his jealousy is a sign of his love for you but it is
more likely a sign of possessiveness and insecurity.
Controlling behaviour
He needs to know every aspect of your life and he wants it all to be done his way. Concern for those we love is natural but trying to control their every move isn’t.
Quick involvement
A tricky one for Muslims as we are encouraged not to delay marriage when we have agreed upon it but this can be a sign if there is an especially high degree of urgency placed on the matter.
Unrealistic expectations
He may expect you to be perfect and he may seem dependent on you to fulfill all his needs. A perpetrator may want you to provide everything for them financially, emotionally and practically.
Isolation
He may use Islam as his weapon by saying that he does not want you seeing certain friends or family and that he has that right for you to obey.
Shifting blame (for feelings and problems)
‘It’s your fault I am this angry! If only you would do as I say then there would be no need for any of this!’ An abuser rarely takes responsibility for themselves, their feelings, behaviour, negative situations or problems.
Hypersensitivity
Most perpetrators have low self-esteem and consequently will be easily insulted or upset.
Rigidity in views, particularly regarding gender roles
Another tricky one for Muslims but this can be a sign, and often it is the tone in which views are expressed that is significant. He may expect a ‘traditional wife’ or he may view women as inferior.
Verbal abuse (often a precursor to other forms of abuse)
This may occur in private or in public and it will be degrading and humiliating.
Neville Evans, author of ‘Safe: Your Complete Guide to Domestic Abuse’, sums this up as: “An abuser is a person who holds the belief that they are more important than you are. They hold the opinion that they have the right to manipulate and control your thoughts, appearance and lifestyle.”

 

 

The accepted statistic for women experiencing DV is 1 in 4. In terms of probability, that’s high!

 

 

(BB): The adage “Once an abuser, always an abuser” – is that true?

 
(KH): It is possible for an abuser to change, but they need to recognise that there is a need for them to do so. I often discuss with clients: “What is the right number of ‘chances’ that should be given to a perpetrator?” Unfortunately there is no magic formula. A way of identifying the unlikelihood of someone changing is often to give them that one chance and see what they do with it. Those that truly feel remorseful and see the wrong in what they have done will run with that opportunity and work their darned socks off to do right by you. However, what do they do once things get back to an even keel? Or for some reason the stress levels increase? That is also an indicator. Some people make the right noises, say all the right things, but if they don’t take any action in order to change, well I guess they can’t walk the walk! Counselling and programmes to work on and change unhealthy thinking and abusive behaviour can help. If someone asks me ‘”Will he change? Do abusers ever change?” I will honestly answer that “I don’t know, but they can.” Only they can answer this question, and only the victim and the perpetrator know what is in their heart of hearts. As my husband likes to say ‘How much truth can you stand?’; I believe this is the true measure for all of us because if we are truly Muslims, if we truly submit to the will of Allah I, then we will be able to stomach the truth no matter how unpalatable it may seem. Allah I will provide us with the strength to cope when we submit to His will.

 
(BB): I often see Muslims either questioning why DV rates are so high or are embarrassed that “our” rates are so high. Are we more prone to DV?

 
(KH): I guess what makes it seem as though ‘our’ rates of domestic violence are high is that we only hear about the negative cases and anything we hear is rarely placed in the context of the bigger picture. We don’t have any research within the Ummah (community of Muslims) to indicate the true picture, so that might be a starting point. But I believe rather than being embarrassed that it exists within our community, we need to be able to say “Yes, it occurs, and we are going to do something about it,” and then do that something!

 
Turning a blind eye won’t make it go away. If it is not addressed or
confronted then it will continue to happen.

 

***

Brooke Benoit has seen firsthand the effects of domestic violence on her loved ones and actively works to eliminate violence and oppression of all forms within her own family. Khalida Haque is a qualified and experienced counselling psychotherapist who works professionally under many guises within the world of domestic violence but predominantly as counselling service coordinator for Nour (www.nour-dv.org.uk).

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of SISTERS Magazine (the magazine for fabulous Muslim women).