Just minutes after he was done sexually assaulting me, the man drove me home and gave me a religious lecture along the way.
“It’s too bad you’re not a Muslim,” he said, words I will never forget or forgive. “Because god sees everything that you do, and he knows that you are a bad woman.”
Less than half an hour earlier, this man of god had ignored my tears and stripped me naked, showing “mercy” by merely rubbing his penis against me until he ejaculated, instead of actually penetrating me. Me, the “bad woman.”
And you might think that would be enough to make me swear of Islam forever, but amazingly, it wasn’t. Four years later, in a fit of trying to prove myself open minded, I found myself knocking on the door of someone whose home served as a makeshift mosque in a rinky-dink Midwestern town too small to support its own Muslim house of worship. Having been raised an atheist, I became a curious seeker of spiritual truth, and I felt that Islam might have something to offer. After all, it sounded so good on paper.
But that day, no one opened the door. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so grateful for an unanswered call.
As far as liberals go, I’m a pretty good one. I believe in equal opportunity and justice for everyone, regardless of their sex, age, religion, race, physical ability and so on. I was raised to be open to other cultures, a value my mother instilled in me as we traveled abroad every other year. And, as is the custom among many liberal college-educated young people, I even harbored the bias that cultures other than mainstream American culture are quite likely are better simply because they’re not mainstream American.
So when Mr. Iran stopped by to look at my apartment as a possible sublease, I was eager to learn more about where he came from and what life was like there. He suggested taking me out to dinner to talk. I was thrilled. He said he’d pick me up the next evening.
It wasn’t until he turned into the Burger King that I thought something might be amiss. Not to diss the Whopper, but I had hoped dinner might be something a little more interesting. More worrying still, he decided we’d eat in his hotel room, rather than the BK dining area.
But I wasn’t about to panic yet. If he wanted to watch a nature documentary on TV while eating fast food before we got down to the nitty-gritty of cultural misunderstandings, fine. It wasn’t the evening I had envisioned, but what the heck.
It was when he started pawing on me that I realized what this was all about. And I realized how vulnerable I was.
Winter vacation had already started and my friends were all already out of town. I was leaving tomorrow, myself, flying back up north to be with family. But there was no one around for me to call, no one who could drive by and haul me out of there. And here I was with a man at least 15 years older and a lot stronger than me, who obviously wanted more than a broiled burger and fries out of the evening.
I froze. It’s something that baffled me for years after the fact, but that’s what I did. Like a rabbit caught in an open field, I just froze. My body did, anyway. My mid was whirring at thousands of RPM, fruitlessly willing myself to just do something while hoping that my unresponsiveness would tell him what I did not want. (Only now, years later, have I learned that the “fight or flight” response is actually a “fight, flight or freeze,” and untold multitudes of rape victims have likely blamed themselves for an instinctual physiological response.)
But he didn’t stop. His hands moved from my knees to my thighs to my breast. I started to cry, and that annoyed him. When I wouldn’t stop crying and I wouldn’t respond to his touch, he just dragged me to the edge of the bed, pulled my clothes off, put me on all fours and rubbed himself against me. And then told me what a bad woman I was on the drive home.
I ran to the shower and let the water run over me. I had to catch my flight home in a few hours, and I was resolved to not let my parents know what had just happened. Not to burden themselves with it. So I told myself to forget about it. I willed myself to just get over it.
But I didn’t, really. I harbored mistrust for Islam because of that night, and I felt guilty for it. So I overcompensated by forcing myself to be über-enthusiastic about Islam in the following years. I bought a Qu’ran and tried to read it. When my then-fiance introduced me to historical re-enactment, I decided to read up on Islamic empires in the Middle Ages and learned about Middle Eastern costuming. I took on a pen-pal from Lebanon over the Internet. I TRIED REALLY, REALLY HARD.
But … but … It just didn’t take. And for all my willing it to be otherwise, I’m left with the nagging sense that Islam is truly flawed, and the heart of its failing is how it treats its women.
Here’s the thing, though. Islam looks really good on paper. I’m serious. There’s a lot of talk about everyone being equal, about each individual being in a one-to-one relationship with god, no clergy in-between. There are even assertions that Islam improved the lot of women in the Arabian Peninsula over what it had been before (I find that one hard to believe, but I’m not enough of an expert to truly argue it).
And some of the Qu’ran truly is beautiful. This verse – one of the shortest books in the Qu’ran – is something I find truly comforting.
Have we not lifted up your heart and relieved you of the burden which weighed down your back?
Have we not given you high renown?
Every hardship is followed by ease.
Every hardship is followed by ease.
When your task is ended, resume your toil
And seek your god with all your heart.
The book is even called “Comfort,” and its words about the cycle of worry and relief roll around my head from time to time when I need it. So I don’t deny that there is beauty in the religion.
But, like so many things – like Communism and Anarchism and other multi-level marketing schemes – looking great on paper is not enough. And when you peel back the platitudes to see how the thing actually works, it’s just not pretty.
I proceed now with caution. I am aware that I have at least one reader in Saudi Arabia, and I value her readership and encourage her to speak up here – to set me right or back me up or whatever she feels she needs to say. I write now with her in the back of my mind, because I don’t seek to needlessly offend, and because I don’t want to cause her upset.
But I don’t think it serves me well to look aside when I see a pattern emerging out of the fear of being called hateful. I am not hateful. But I hate some of the things I see.
I’m talking about young girls who are murdered for being rape victims. I mean other young girls whose bodies are mutilated in order to be “clean.” I mean woman sentenced to be gang raped as a punishment for something her brother allegedly did. I mean women who are jailed for reporting rape. I mean mullahs who decree that wartime rapes are a valid weapon of war. I mean theocracies declaring 9-year-old girls old enough for marriage. I mean honor killings for marrying the wrong man or not getting married or leaving Islam, all in the name of religion. I mean the madness of Taliban rule and what it means for women’s lives. I mean a religion that outright declares a woman should receive half the inheritance of a man, and that domestic battery against her can be condoned. I mean women being declared by law to be second-class citizens who can’t drive, where girls are locked into a burning school lest they leave without being “properly” covered, and where women need a relative’s permission or leave the country. I mean what happened to me. All done or justified in the name of Islam.
For crying out loud, when the same sort of iniquities were forced upon black people in South Africa in the name of Apartheid, the rest or the world rightfully rose up in outrage until that unjust system was dismantled. But what I see in so much of the Islamic world cannot be described any better than “sex apartheid.” And the world is silent. No, it’s worse than that. The world says, “But you have to understand, it’s their culture…”
Oh, yes. I’ve heard all the arguments before.
- “But that is the culture, not the religion.” You might as well say, “But that is the head side of the coin, not tails.” Because the culture seeks validation from religion, and the religion operates within a culture. They are entwined. And I’m not interested in a chicken-and-egg argument when the two are obviously in cahoots.
- “But the Christian/Jewish/other religions have equally bad religious laws.” Boy howdy, do they ever! But outside zealots fighting to wrest control over Israel (and what is going on there is eine grosse shande!), I’m not sure of other countries that are trying to enact holy scripture as law. Other than say, Iran, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Libya Mauritaia, Morocco, Nigeria (northern part), Qatar, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Well, and the Vatican, but I think you can only live there by invitation.
- “But other religions treat women poorly, too.” I know! I spent an afternoon at an Orthodox Jewish religious service, and never again! Whenever a religion is used to treat women like lesser beings, it should be scrutinized. So let’s drag all denominations that do that into the light, instead of using “they started it” as an excuse to allow everyone to continue it.
- “But America has its own rape epidemic. It’s just bad here.” Yes to the first; no to the second. Our criminal justice system has rightfully been compared to a second rape for victims, but no US court has ever sentenced a teenage girl to death by flaying for being raped. Or made her marry her attacker. Or sentenced her to gang rape because of something her brother might have done.
- “But women in the Middle East choose to wear the hijab/live under Sharia law/get beaten by their husbands.” Yes, some do. I know because I’ve talked with some. And if that’s what they really want to do – fine. But what about the women there who don’t want it? What about women in Saudia Arabia who only want to be able to drive their car to their own business that caters to both men and women clients and then to fly out of the country whenever needed to attend a meeting? You can’t validate a system based on the choices of some when that system is used to invalidate the choices of many others.
I am sick of hearing of atrocities done to women in the name of Islam. And I really hope Muslims, especially Muslim women, are sick of it, too.