Many Muslim girls are pulled out of public school sex-ed classes because these lessons clash with their cultural and religious values. The problem with this is that there are no sufficient alternatives available for them. As a result, they are often ill-informed about topics related to sexual health and sexual violence.
In the exclusive interview below, Nadiah Mohajir, the co-founder and Executive Director of HEART Women & Girls, speaks about this topic and what she is doing to provide that alternative resource for Muslims.
Muslim Girl: Tell us about your organization: What is HEART Women & Girls?
Nadiah Mohajir: HEART Women & Girls (HWG) promotes sexual health and sexual violence awareness in Muslim communities through health education, advocacy, research, and training. By offering accurate, culturally-sensitive sexual health and sexual violence information to Muslim communities, we can empower individuals to become agents of change in their own communities. We also recognize that in addition to accurate information, systems need to be built to support informed choice.
As such, we want to dismantle the stigma that prevents people from seeking information and help, and we offer advocacy to survivors to direct them to the information, support, and additional referrals they need to move toward healing and justice. We are working with local research institutions to build empirical support for this work. Finally, we offer leadership and professional development trainings to equip student leaders and other professionals to better serve the sexual and reproductive health needs of Muslim communities.
What made you decide to co-found HEART?
The Quran instructs us to be maintainers of justice, even if against yourselves or your family. For years, I have heard Muslim women and girls share their struggles with body image, depression, unhealthy relationships, sex, and all too often, sexual violence. They spoke of not having access to culturally-sensitive information and resources, and being afraid of seeking them because of the stigma and shame associated with sex and sexual violence in Muslim communities.
We want to dismantle the stigma that prevents people from seeking information and help, and we offer advocacy to survivors to direct them to the information, support, and additional referrals they need to move toward healing and justice.
Though very different, these women and girls shared something in common: They weren’t given personal agency or the tools to think critically about their bodies, sexuality, and faith. Often, they navigated the world alone, and in silence. This silence is unjust and contributes to the gender inequities and violence in our communities. HEART was founded to break this silence.
What does HEART hope to accomplish, and how?
HEART is transforming the conversation on sexual health and sexual violence in the Muslim community: we are working to build spaces where sex, sexuality, and sexual assault are no longer stigmatized. More people will be equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to make safer and informed decisions. There will be a greater, more intentional awareness of sexual assault in Muslim communities, and more individuals will be equipped to support survivors – both in personal and leadership capacities. Our ultimate vision of success is for HEART to be a resource that is represented in every crisis center, every mosque, and community center.
What are some resources that HEART is expecting to provide for the Muslim community after its expansion?
We offer accurate, culturally-sensitive sexual health and sexual violence information through both in-person workshops and our virtual resource center (VRC). The VRC includes publications, toolkits, webinars and videos for those to access anonymously, especially if they are unable to (or do not feel comfortable to) attend our workshops. We want to expand HEART’s virtual resource center. This center provides individuals with accurate and culturally-aware sexual health information that they can easily access from the privacy of their own home.
Our virtual resource center provides a unique and necessary medium for Muslims to learn about their bodies, sex, and sexual assault, in a way that offers:
Accuracy. With television, social media, and other numerous information outlets, it can be difficult to obtain accurate and relevant sexual health information. Our virtual resource center provides correct information, free from bias.
Anonymity. It’s hard to explore these issues, and we want to honor your privacy. Providing a virtual resource center allows people to access sexual health information without fear of shame or blame.
Cultural-sensitivity. Mainstream health education does not consider the faith-based and cultural values that may be important to faith and cultural communities. We make every effort to offer accurate, nuanced information and guidance.
Empowerment, inspiration, & critical thinking. True change and empowered decision-making cannot be controlled or dictated. We hope to offer individuals the tools and support they need to feel personal agency with respect to their sexual health needs.
Over the past two years, we have had 18 online publications collectively downloaded more than 25,000 times. To increase our impact and accessibility, we need YOUR help in expanding our virtual resource center. This center will include, but is not limited to the following:
- “HEART to HEART” video series on sexual and reproductive health topics (15 videos), topics include:
- Contraception options
- Understanding Male and Female Anatomy
- HPV vaccine
- Menstruation & Hygiene, and
- Much more!
- “Sex Talk” Guide
- Puberty Guide for teen girls
These online resources will provide a safe space for all to learn about their bodies and health, in a way that is anonymous, accurate, free of shame, and most importantly, considers cultural and religious context.
How can the Muslim community and its allies support HEART as it continues to grow?
Let us tell our own stories. Give us the agency to be our authentic selves, and live out our values with personal autonomy.
Is there a way for those who are interested to get personally involved with HEART Women & Girls?
- Donate and share our work widely
- Download our publications and start a conversation at home
- Donate your talents! We are looking for creative people who can offer their skills as illustrators, filmmakers, graphic design, etc.
- Stay connected on social media! Follow and like us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!
What is your personal message for the Muslim community, related to HEART and its mission?
We cannot over-emphasize the importance of this work. Currently, there are NO accurate, culturally-sensitive sexual and reproductive health resources for Muslims. None. Do a quick google/YouTube search. You’ll either find secular resources that lack nuance, approach faith as a tool of oppression, may even have subtle (or not so subtle) Islamophobic and xenophobic references, or you’ll find religious resources that are full of inaccurate information, and perpetuate shame around these topics.
Instead, we should create safe, culturally-sensitive spaces for young people of faith to ask questions and get information that is consistent with their beliefs.
We need this. Desperately. When we avoid having conversations about sexuality, young people will go elsewhere to find out about sexual health. The idea that talking about sexuality or body literacy is immodest, that it promotes promiscuity, or that it should take place only between married couples leads young men and women to find out about sexuality from friends, magazines, online, or even pornography. Instead, we should create safe, culturally-sensitive spaces for young people of faith to ask questions and get information that is consistent with their beliefs. Our young people deserve resources that they can trust, that they feel speak to their lived experience, and are not just free of shame, but also equips them with the personal agency to make informed decisions. In just two weeks, our two videos have had more than 12,000 views.
Please help us reach our goal. Our brilliant team at HEART Women & Girls has been working tirelessly for the last 7 years on a primarily volunteer basis. We are proud to continue this work but we need your help: every donation will help us produce these important resources faster and more efficiently.
Donate to help us build a better world – one that is free of violence & oppression, one that acknowledges that Muslims have the right and agency to this important information, and one that dismantles the shame and stigma of sex and sexual violence. Together, we will do this.
We here at Muslim Girl wholeheartedly support this initiative, and encourage our readers to donate generously to HEART’s Launchgood campaign. There are only a few days left, so the time to take action is now!