The Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and SAPAC at the University of Michigan invited HEART, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sexual health, gender violence and reproductive justice, to discuss their work and their book “Sex Talk: A Muslim’s Guide to Healthy Sex and Relationships.”
The event was held in a panel format with five women on stage: two U-M students involved with SAPAC and three employees from HEART.
SAPAC Associate Director Anne Huhman opened the panel by explaining how SAPAC supports U-M community members.
“This issue that we’re working on together is such a complex social justice, public health (and) human rights issue that requires efforts from lots of different vantage points,” Huhman said.
Huhman then discussed the organization’s values and how they shaped the event, stating that they value self-reflection and acknowledgment of a multidimensional community.
“We commit to engaging in self-examination of our own biases, being open to feedback and evaluating and improving our services to ensure that they more effectively serve historically marginalized communities,” Huhman said. “We value a community that acknowledges, celebrates and learns from our similarities, differences and multidimensionality.”
U-M alum Aliza Kazmi, co-executive director of HEART, explained the purpose of HEART.
“Our work is to uproot gendered violence and advanced reproductive justice, and the crux of our work is really health education and political education,” Kazmi said.
Sabreen Mohammed, HEART manager of health education and research, continued the conversation with an introduction of their book, “Sex Talk: A Muslim’s Guide to Healthy Sex and Relationships.” The 70-page part-workbook-part-textbook was created to acknowledge Islamic frameworks while empowering many of the religion’s teachings, which include compassion, mercy, equity and equitable relationships.
Mohammed spoke on what the book means to her as a woman who once felt like there was a lack of empowerment in her sexual education during school.
“I went to public school, I went to Denver Public Schools. I did not get proper sex ed,” Mohammed said. “‘It was … ‘Wear condoms. Don’t get pregnant.’ That’s it. So the book really goes into that and talking a little bit about basic sex (and) anatomy.”
The panelists read excerpts from the book that they felt best exemplified messages on consent, empowerment and normalizing the conversation of sex in the Muslim community and in society.
“Sometimes religious communities misuse abstinence, and contraception and family planning, as a way to openly control sexuality and often place an undue burden of responsibility on women,” Kazami read. “This is not the only personal narrative. There are many Muslims as well as followers of other religions who actually commit to abstinence as an empowered choice and turn to their faith to inform their decision-making.”
The panel moved into a discussion on the intersection between religious and cultural identities, as well as the intersection between gender violence and sexual health.
LSA senior and panelist Medina Sabic explained her background and personal realization of how domestic violence fits into the Muslim community.
“I do come from an immigrant household and I am also Muslim,” Sabic said. “For a lot of people that immigrated to America from Bosnia, which is where my family is from. The harsh reality with a lot of people (is) that they are survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and a lot of other things that especially come from their Muslim identity. And a lot of times they were targeted for that.”
LSA senior and panelist Anna Kreiner shared her experience with describing sexual health-related issues to her family when a language barrier exists.
“I come from a matriarchal household, so my mom’s the woman of Color in the family and a lot of decisions are made by her,” Kreiner said. “She’s the strong woman of the house. But she also doesn’t fully understand. Like, if I were to explain sexual assault and PTSD to her, I’m gonna have to translate that to Chinese, which is another issue … I have seen it so heavily with POCs.”
LSA senior Jessica Moran, SAPAC co-coordinator, was then welcomed to the stage to moderate the Q&A section. The audience asked questions about supporting the Muslim community, the white patriarchial view of women’s liberation and shared personal experiences regarding discovering community.
“We have to recognize that the way that different communities tend to experience power and privilege is not a coincidence,” Kazmi said. “It’s actually really harmful for people to have those assumptions that, ‘Well, I’m not Muslim, but I know what being Muslim means.’”
Daily Staff Reporter Sneha Dhandapani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.