It had to be addressed. A long time ago a sister once told me she believed that every Muslim guy has viewed pornography without exception. I didn't believe her. Now I wonder. I know when I was overseas it was common to see Muslim guys looking at it when they thought no one would notice.
Pornography: Shameful, silent disease spreads in Muslim community
By ABDUSSALAM MOHAMED, Senior Staff Writer InFocus
On a quiet evening in early 1999, Adam Abdullah* sat down at his computer and proceeded to check his e-mail.
Abdullah was used to seeing spam in his inbox, but on that particular night, he became curious enough to open one that had a salacious and provocative title.
The e-mail link led him to a porn site. He spent only a few minutes viewing sexual content, but it did not take him long to realize what he was doing was morally wrong.
In the following days, he would stand his ground for a while.
But eventually his conscience relented, and he found himself surfing the net again in search of those sexual images that captured his imagination.
The more he watched, the more he became hooked.
“It was like opening a Pandora’s box,” Abdullah recalled. “The minute I looked at that Web site, I never felt the same again.”
A few weeks later, Abdullah’s secret habit slowly became a serious addiction, and before he knew it, visiting pornographic sites became something he did on a regular basis.
“I fell into the fitna (trial) when I was in my teens,” confessed Ali Qadir,* who posted his story on a Muslim Web site. “Soon after I was introduced to pornography, I was hooked.”
Qadir said what fanned the flames of his desire was easy access to the Internet. “When I was new to the sin, I would never have dared to buy a dirty magazine from the local store out of a sense of shame and embarrassment,” he said. “But the Internet made everything accessible to me, and I could see what I wanted and when I wanted, all in the privacy of my own home.”
Qadir said the first time he used a credit card on a porn site was after several years of being addicted to porn.
“It was like I’d crossed a threshold, stepped over an important line. And, unfortunately, having crossed that line, I haven’t looked back and have used the card numerous times since,” he said.
In Abdullah’s case, crossing that threshold was more deleterious than he anticipated.
He got married that same year and was very excited that his addiction would soon come to end. He was wrong.
“Each time I became intimate with my wife, I wanted to talk about fantasies,” Abdullah said. “I wanted to fulfill sick fantasies I saw online.”
Abdullah would often return to viewing pornography and fantasizing when his wife was not around. “For a while, sharing my fantasies with my wife was causing serious friction in our relationship,” he recalled. “So I seriously tried to give up the addiction.”
When asked about the nature of the fantasies, Abdullah said they were too shameful to admit, but then added they included inviting a third partner to his conjugal bed.
Many in the Muslim community are in denial about a subject matter they consider taboo, too sinful and off limits.
Shaikh Yassir Fazaga, imam and director of the Orange County Islamic Foundation in Mission Viejo, said some Muslims prefer to think pornography only exists in non-Muslim communities.
“Pornography is a serious issue in our community and needs to be addressed,” Fazaga said. “Being in denial about it won’t make it go away.”
Abdullah and Qadir know too well about this fact.
They are only two examples of thousands in the Muslim community who are suffering from what many term a “sinful” addiction.
And many addicts are devout.
Abdullah agreed to speak to InFocus on condition of absolute anonymity given the stigma and shame associated with this topic.
Both he and Qadir are practicing Muslims. Both pray five times a day, fast the month of Ramadan and consider themselves God-fearing.
In fact, Qadir even performed the pilgrimage to Makkah and fervently prayed for God’s help to overcome his addiction.
“I asked Allah to help me stop committing this sin,” Qadir said. “I was hoping for Allah to kind of like flick off a switch and just bring it to a stop, because I was mentally fatigued by the daily battle inside me, between my shameful desires and my Muslim conscience, and I just wanted it to stop, but it’s proving too difficult right now.”
Qadir is married and has children, and somehow manages to keep the addiction from breaking up his marriage.
However, Abdullah said pornography started tearing his marriage apart and dismantling it each and every day.
“The worst part is…,” Abdullah said hesitantly. “The worst part is that my own wife eventually started watching pornography to please me and even got addicted to it just like me,” he added.
Dr. Mohammed Sadiq, a clinical psychologist based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, said addiction to pornography became a serious issue with the advent of the Internet.
However, he contends, he is unaware of the extent of the damage within the Muslim community as there is no way to gauge it. “It is difficult to know of a problem if you don’t tell me about it,” he said. Sadiq graduated with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of San Diego before immigrating to Canada, where he has been practicing for the past 33 years.
Many Muslims are starting to come to him for counseling, but most prefer to remain anonymous, sharing their problems via e-mail only.
But according to Sadiq, “Many are starting to come out of the closet.”
Fazaga said he counseled around five men on the issue in the past six months alone.
Three men came with their wives, and two came alone.
“One couple was close to divorcing,” Fazaga said. “Their marriage was hanging by a thread as the wife was so fed up with her husband’s repeat offenses she was ready to call it quits.”
The couple has been married for three years and has children. Fazaga said they agreed to disconnect their Internet and cable television in order to deal with the problem.
Things started to look up for a while, but then they realized they could not live without the Internet, he said. “The minute they hooked the Internet back, the husband relapsed into his addiction.”
Medically, addiction is defined as “a chronic relapsing condition characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and by long-lasting chemical changes in the brain.”
Experts believe addiction is the same irrespective of whether the drug is alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, marijuana or nicotine.
In other words, the brain tends to experience the same chemical reaction irrespective of the addiction.
Experts believe every addictive substance induces pleasant states or relieves distress.
Continued use of the addictive substance induces adaptive changes in the brain that lead to tolerance, physical dependence, uncontrollable cravings and, all too often, relapse.
Dependence is at such a point that stopping is very difficult and causes severe physical and mental reactions from withdrawal.
“My addiction began as something small, but step by step, over 10 years, it has transformed into something which is at times uncontrollable,” Qadir said. “You promise yourself for a long time that you won’t cross a certain line, but then you do, and it becomes easy to repeat that sin again.”
Abdullah agreed wholeheartedly. “No matter how upset my wife was and no matter how much I loathed myself for committing sin, I always ended up seeking solace by logging on to the Internet and watching porn,” he said.
Addiction is also time-consuming, Fazaga said. It takes husbands away from their spouses and children.
It puts financial drain on the family as funds are diverted to support the addiction. “Worst of all, sexual energy is misdirected and spent outside the family,” Fazaga said.
Research indicates the majority of Internet users and those seeking help for problematic sexual behavior online are married heterosexual males.
It also indicates pornography consumption is mainly associated with six trends – increased marital distress, and risk of separation and divorce; decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction; infidelity; increased appetite for more graphic types of pornography and sexual activity associated with abusive, illegal or unsafe practices; devaluation of monogamy, marriage and child rearing; and an increasing number of people struggling with compulsive and addictive sexual behavior.
Both Sadiq’s and Fazaga’s observations concur with these findings.
“What pornography does is kill the natural (sexual) stimulus for either man or woman,” Fazaga said. He added that a woman once told him that no matter what she did, she could not excite her husband. “I cannot compete with the pornographic images,” she told him.
“Intimacy, which is a very important part of a conjugal relationship, is jeopardized at this point,” Fazaga said.
Sadiq points out that addiction to porn is part of human nature and, therefore must, be dealt with within that context.
Sadiq, a devout Muslim, said, “Telling people this is haram (unlawful) won’t help them overcome the problem.”
Fazaga is in line with Sadiq’s remarks. “Unless we acknowledge that this is a human problem first, we won’t be able to treat it efficiently,” he said.
Both agreed the culture of blame by way of religious edicts and sermons won’t help an addict and could, in fact, further alienate him or her.
“If you tell an addict you’re going to burn in hell for this, he will simply shut off and tell you Islam is not for me,” Sadiq remarked. “Embracing him and walking him through the healing process is key.”
Sadiq is of the opinion that prevention is the mother of all cures.
On the religious front, Sadiq believes that in order to prevent falling into the evil cobweb of pornography, a Muslim should read Qu’ran on a daily basis, go the mosque very often, keep good company, avoid surfing the net unnecessarily and when doing so, do it in a public place or around family so the temptation to view illicit material does not come up.
Fazaga pointed out that it was no coincidence that the Qur’an says, “Do not come near illegitimate sexual acts,” rather than, “Do not commit illicit sexual acts.”
He believes the devil tempts by small steps and not by wholesale coercion.
“Living in a highly sexualized society and being bombarded with sexual content everywhere and on a daily basis on the Internet and through the visual media is the biggest challenge for a moral and God-fearing society,” Sadiq said.
“Overcoming this challenge needs serious and practical prevention rather than wishful thinking.”
Sadiq offers workshops on this and other issues affecting the family and society at large.
He counsels in person, on the phone and via e-mail (his Web site is www.shifa.ca
Fazaga said his Islamic center is open to all and welcomes anyone who needs counseling with pornography addiction or with any other problem.
He indicated there are many steps and techniques used to cure this addiction and that he personally oversees the healing process through counseling.
“We guarantee people 100 percent confidentiality, and we will not judge anyone,” he said. “Pornography does not define what kind of person you are, but rather what kind of behavior you have adopted.”
As for Abdullah, the news is grim. Porn addiction brought on many other evils into his relationship and, before he knew it, his marriage came to an abrupt end in 2004. “I am 100 percent responsible for this breakup,” he sulked. “I brought it on myself and I deserve whatever punishment is awaiting me in the hereafter.”
Qadir remains married but has not been able to overcome his addiction. “If you can make a quiet du’aa (prayer) to Allah to switch off my addiction just as quickly as the light goes off when you flick the switch, I would be most grateful,” he pleaded. “The one thing that keeps the struggle within me alive is the verse: ‘Say, O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, for Allah forgives all sins.’ ” [Qur’an 39:53]
* Names have been changed to respect the privacy of individuals interviewed.
* To contact the Islamic Center of Mission Viejo call (949) 595-0480.