Suffering in the Silence: Pornography Addiction

Community News

Area Leaders See Social Disease CausingFrustration, Depression, Broken Marriages

Over the last decade, the Muslim Link has reported on social diseases which have taken root in the Muslim community. Widespread in the United States, the presence of ills like domestic violence and homelessness among Muslims is now acknowledged by community leaders, and – albeit at a slow pace – some masajid and Islamic organizations are devoting resources to address these ills.

Still, there are other social ills community leaders privately admit are likely affecting thousands of local Muslims – mostly males – that no one is addressing.

One of them is pornography addiction, and a Muslim Link survey of local Imams and counselors suggests the problem is far more than weak faith, and is affecting married, Islamically involved males just as much as unmarried college student.

“Porn addiction is very prevalent in the Muslim community. We must face the fact that whatever ills that impact the society in which we live, also impacts our community,” said Imam Hassan Amin, Executive Director of the Muslim Social Services Agency in Baltimore, Maryland.

Although estimates are highly speculative, some sociologists and anti-pornography activists say up to 25% of men in America are consumers of pornography, mostly via the Internet. As a business, the  gross revenue of the pornography industry is close to $25 billion annually – more than sports like football and baseball; this figure is also disputed by industry watchers. Regardless, Dr. Jennifer Johnson, a social scientist at the University of Virginia, said the industry is “geared to promote addiction”. A November 2004 US Senate Committee hearing was held to discuss whether this social disease should be considered an addiction like alcohol or drugs, and experts disagreed.

Most Imams who responded to a Muslim Link questionnaire about pornography addiction in the local Muslim community said a husband’s pornography addiction is increasingly a topic in their marriage counseling sessions.

“[In the past] couples having problems in their relationship would simply be him not talking with her enough or her talking too much. But, lately as an Imam and social worker, I have seen an increase of couples coming to me for counseling and four out of five couples have his viewing of porn online as a major problem in their relationship. Sometimes [it’s] the only problem in their relationship. He spends more time looking at porn on the Internet than he spends with her and the family,” said Imam Hassan Amin.

Some area Imams are seeing pornography addiction result in divorce.

“One of my counseling sessions held about a year ago involved a husband addicted to pornography … it was something he witnessed as a youth at home. He had a [toddler] and the wife was very scared of his behavior. After two sessions with this couple, and after about a year later the wife requested a divorce,” related Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of the Washington Area (ISWA) in Silver Spring, Maryland.

While support groups and formal recovery programs exist for pornography addiction in the US – many church based – programs catering to Muslims are mostly unknown.

One such program for Muslims, “Purify Your Gaze”, formally launched on December 6, 2010.

Founder Zeyad Ramadan, a 24-year old certified life coach, said pornography addiction is Muslim community’s “elephant in the room” – a huge problem that few are willing to discuss.

Based out of California, Zeyad’s online, anonymous 5-week program involves lectures aimed at helping Muslim men understand their addiction and then how to break out of the cycle step by step. He offers unlimited, live phone counseling for program participants. “It’s not a magic pill,” he said, “its to start the recovery process and to set the foundation.”

Ramadan said he first realized pornography addiction was a major problem in the Muslim community when a married client of his opened up to him and described his struggle. Ramadan said its easier to get help for alcohol or drug addiction than pornography addiction. Muslims too often approach the problem with a dismissive, simplistic approach that isn’t appropriate. “[People tell addicts] fear Allah and you won’t have this problem anymore … that is the wrong attitude,” he said, adding that his program does use the Qur’an and Sunnah teachings to tackle the addiction, but coupled with step-by-step emotional and psychological counseling as well. Ramadan also said many people don’t get help with their addiction because Islam teaches people not to publicize their sins. “If concealing sins means the sin continues …. then it is not part of sharia,” advised Ramadan.

Individual coaching is limited to 25-30 people, said Ramadan, who is working full-time on the program and charges fees for one-on-one counseling. However, four videos are available for free, including an 80-minute, in-depth testimony of someone who turned away from a 24-year addiction through the Purify Your Gaze program. Ramadan said most of the men he is helping are Islamically inclined and frequent the masjid, even leading halaqas and prayers. Since he launched last month, over 35,000 people view the site.

An article from 2007 posted on the popular website, “The Secret Life of Husbands” dealing with pornography among Muslims elicited hundreds of responses from both addicted men as well as  wives impacted by their husbands’ problem.

Addicts describe their lives being filled with frustration, self-hate, hopelessness, and loneliness.

“I simply did not believe I was capable of redemption …. I was doing the same thing over and over and over …. proof of my failures [brought me ever lower] ….its a really lonely place,” said ‘Brother X’ whose extensive interview is posted on Zeyad Ramadan’s website. “At my lowest point, even the remorse wasn’t there, it was just emptiness,” he says. Now, after his wife found out about Zeyad Ramadan’s program from another sister and he joined, he said he has gotten closer to Allah and feels he is finally “an integrated, whole” personality.

While some community leaders like Imam Hassan Amin said masajid across the greater Washington and Baltimore region should use the khutbah to have a “One Friday, One Subject” day focusing sermons on the harms of pornography, other activists say the problem needs to solved on an individual level.

“I agree that it’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed by our masajid, but beyond speaking about it openly and publicly, I wouldn’t imagine the masjid to be the place that will influence people away from this. It would require a stronger effort on the personal level really - young adults talking with adults, and long-time married couples with newly-weds,” said Adam Kareem, head of the Muslim Inter-Scholastic Tournament’s DC region and a youth activist.

Acknowledgment from community leaders is only a first step; the dangers of addiction harm far more than just the user.

“I have noticed when Muslim males are addicted to porn they are also seeing other women, outside of their marriage and engaging in sexual activities with these women or talking to them in a sexual manner,” said Imam Hassan Amin. “Anytime a man spends eight to nine hours looking at porn and less than fifteen minutes with his family, I would say that it is a very serious problem in our community,” added the Imam.

Jose Acevedo, a Youth counselor and co-founder of NOMAD Camps, said unfortunately there is a lack of complete addiction treatment that addresses both the faith issues as well as the psychological and social issues of the addict.

“We really need more professional, practicing Muslims in the fields of counseling and psychology, so the link between Islam, science, and sociology can be made to benefit the people. Too often our Imams have a limited knowledge base on how to treat such addictions, [while on the other hand] professionals lack the spiritual guidance to complete their counseling holistically,” said Acevedo.

“Most people who are addicted to this or who partake in it lead otherwise ‘normal’ lives,” said Adam Kareem. “But the first thing they need to understand is that they’re not alone.”

Focusing in on their addiction and making it the central challenge of their life is the suggestion from some who have conquered this illness. Whether the Muslim community will focus in on this ill is yet to be seen.