Purify Your Gaze Campaign: 'Imancipate' Your Addiction to Pornography

In the name of God, compassionate & merciful بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ Peace be with you السلام عليكم

Original article from Suhaibwebb.com

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Image: LiminalMike
 …Well, it started in my final year of elementary school abroad when my siblings and I had rented a movie which was rated PG in Asia but PG13 in the West. I realized later on in life I was too young to have watched it. I forgot the name but there was a split second in the movie where the image of a naked woman was shown. I was intrigued to the extent that before returning it I stared at that particular moment alone in our apartment at night, while everyone was sleeping. I must have been 12 years old at the time.

When I returned home I started high school and my first real experience of porn came during a tournament for our high school volleyball team. We had an overnight stay during one of our out-of-town trips and I was in a room with 3 other teammates. They all waited till 12am for a show which played soft-core porn every week on regular TV (no cable). I was disgusted and told the guys ‘I don’t watch this stuff’. I turned away, listening to the movie instead for the next hour. My eyes ventured a couple of times however and I was curious and excited as to what I saw. From there on in I would try to catch the same show at home whenever I got the chance. Staying up that late was a hurdle as well as making sure everyone else was asleep. My usage steadily became more consistent. I also during this time ventured onto the Internet where I would look at pictures of nude women.

This honest reflection was from one of the participants who worked with me in a recent sexual addiction recovery program I lead called www.PurifyYourGaze.com. He, like hundreds of others opened up to me through the program about how years of secrecy and sexual frustration developed into depression and addiction. It is a common problem for Muslims but a taboo topic that we hide from discussing.

90% of American children have watched porn
Statistics show that 90% of American kids have come into direct contact with pornography or accidentally at least once, by the naive age of 11. The problem therefore often starts before anyone was aware such exposure could lead to such a destructive lifestyle.

One conflicting issue is that the majority of young men and women who ask for help (yes, more sisters are coming forward) would consider themselves as active Muslim participants in their community. As one brother remorsefully said, "I'm involved in my local youth group – I love it, but I feel like such a hypocrite giving these youths guidance while I'm involved in such filth..." So what’s making them continue?

Before you jump to conclusions and suggest, "Muslims need to fear Allah more" or "if they just lowered their gaze they wouldn't have this problem ", there's an important thing you need to know. Lowering your gaze is not always enough.

Clearly, there's something deeper going on here...

The responsibility of Muslim communities
One huge obstacle to the pornography problem has to do with how we as a Muslim community, function. Although we have developed strong strategies in addressing contemporary social issues, there is still the pervading black and white version of Islam where our method of problem solving is thrown into categories of either halaal or haraam. With this view, there is little room to give real-life solutions to real-life problems. Many brothers looking for help, or wives who discover their husbands’ pornography use, seek guidance from the only place they know - a fatwa website. But these offer little help. The addict already knows his behavior is haraam, what he needs is a step-by-step solution to completely stop.

Maybe at best, you could attend a khutbah at the masjid on the importance of controlling your desires, where the khateeb will give Qur'an and Sunnah evidences that “yes it's hard, but you need to lower your gaze, get married, or fast, and your problem is solved.” And that's the end of that conversation for another year. So for the one listening for hopeful answers, they get the same message they already knew: “you better repent and try harder, or else you won't be a complete Muslim."

Trying harder is not the solution to quitting
Cures exist, although only the symptoms of this problem are being treated rather than the causes of why such behavioral pattern appears. In psychological terms this is only a first-order change and essentially is similar to the French saying, “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. The more we try to change a problem on the outer surface by sweepingly diagnosing the symptoms, the more the madness within remains exactly the same. We do not need a diagnosis or a cure. We need a practical prevention.

One of the great traditions established in America is the 12-step program, which was created by two alcoholics looking to recover in a wholesome way and avoid the flippant "I'll man-handle this addiction" attitude. The first step in all 12-step recovery groups is the admission of the “powerlessness in our situation”, and the need to let go of "knowing everything" about the case. Further, recognizing that “life had become unmanageable” opens up the avenue that there is a new way of living and handling life.

As Muslims we live by the very same message given to our Beloved Prophet Muhammad , may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, to "Recite by the Name of your Lord…" (Qur’an, 96:1). Volumes have been written on the Arabic letter "baa" translated here as "by", pointing to the power of seeking aid outside of yourself, seeking help by the Power and Might of Allah the Almighty. As the verses continue, we are told about “man’s transgression. Because he thinks himself to be self-sufficient,” (Qur’an, 96:6-7) and that is exactly what happens when the addict keeps continuing the insanity of trying to solve it alone. The role for us as a community and for individuals affected by the manifestations of sexual addiction is not to just keep trying harder. 

The key is to come to a place of self-acceptance and acceptance of ourselves as a community that we have a shared problem here which will not go away by simply promising to resist. There are chemical effects to addiction, factors such as social pressures and limitations, addicts in a family, and deeper psychological issues are all at play.

What does self-acceptance look like? 
Acceptance of the self is a concept I teach my students called Finding Power Through Powerlessness. This is important for an individual on recovery as it means a death of the self-sufficiency. Instead of isolating and fixing the problem, the individual will crave excitement, moving from one addiction to another, never fully at peace or guilt-free. It is what God describes in Surah Al-Baqarah, "And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah..." (Qur’an, 2:165) By not accepting that their dependency on God gives them strength, they go through life afraid that without a deep foundation to rely on, they will drown. So they jump from one worldly hunger to another, trying to find that safety, and peace.

Acceptance of the self is being able to progress from a place of denial, self-sufficiency and arrogance to a place of humility, submission and surrender. We must learn to accept that there are some things in life we just can't do alone, and yes, we are broken by them, but they are in fact blessings in another form from Allah the Almighty. 

The Prophet said, "Allah wonders at those people who will enter Paradise in chains." (Sahih Al-Bukhari) The hadith refers to captives of war, who choose to surrender their will to Allah – they are chained, but free. By the same token we are sometimes brought to Allah through the chains of our desires, and when we surrender our will to Him and admit we can't do this alone, we have found freedom.

Overcoming an addiction to pornography cannot be done alone, but that does not necessitate that the individual in this journey is someone evil. Incidentally, being chosen as someone to learn the life lesson of humility, of admitting your powerlessness and fully surrendering your will to Allah, is an experience most people in life will not have.

This is just the beginning of our conversations as a group on the seriousness of pornography addiction and rectifying immoral sexual behaviour, as well as its harm on the individual, the spouse, children and the wider community. (please read end note)

I am currently spearheading an initiative called Purify Your Gaze, based upon the famous Qur’anic verses (24:30-1) that address the believers to lower their gaze in order to attain purity, while dealing with the realities of pornography addiction in the Muslim community. Until the launch of this campaign (21st Nov 2010), we hope to gather statistical data on the effects of addiction on addicts including spouses, who are often very ignored in this process. Insha’Allah we will release the findings of this study to the public.

Please participate in and share the following link: www.PurifyYourGaze.com/case-study.

I ask for the community's support and encourage those who are interested to visit the website to take part in this awareness campaign. And from Allah comes all success.

- Zeyad Ramadan, founder of ‘Imancipate’

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