PGMA Youth “A Gaze Unguarded” Forum Addresses Disease Few Talk About
A discussion on the viewing of explicit content and its addictive effects was held at Prince George's Muslim Association in Lanham, MD on Sunday March 17, 2013. As Sunday school children streamed out of the building, a panel on A Gaze Unguarded, led by the PGMA Imam Ahmad Azzaari, educational psychologist Sarah Yazback, and life coach Zeyad Ramadan addressed the destructive effects of pornography. Audience members were strictly 13 and above of age.
If you want to destroy any nation without war, create adultery or nudity common in the young generation." - [Salahuddin Ayyubi]
This super sexual stimuli is a click away- easy to access for adolescents -whose sexual views are just forming- and for practicing, masjid attending adults alike. Addiction is not the first thing that comes to one's mind when one thinks of pornography- much less in the Muslim community. It is generally viewed as a clandestine activity that that 'others' do.
"There are many prominent scholars that have mentioned that the viewing of pornography by Muslims as a huge issue, but there has not been any elaboration on the topic and there is a lack of resources for those dealing with this issue," Zulekha Sayyed, one of the organizers and a member of the PGMA Youth group, explained the catalyst behind this event. 67% children have been exposed to some version of adult websites. 40 million American adults regularly visit pornographic websites.
Zeyad Ramadan started an online forum, Purify Your Gaze, to help Muslims struggling with sexual addictions understand how they can break free from unwanted sexual behaviors so that they can reclaim their lives once again and experience true sexuality. He spoke at the event via Skype from California.
In 2011, thousands of doctors of the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) publicly stated that behavioral addictions (sex, food, gambling) are fundamentally like substance addictions in terms of brain changes.
"When we talk about [watching] porn we are talking about a disease," said the imam who is also a medical doctor. He compared addiction to pornography to sexual perversions such as fetishism, necrophilia, voyeurism.
According to reuniting.com, frequent users sometimes report obsessive-compulsive behaviors, depression, severe stress at the thought of socializing, and concentration problems. And users who try to quit report 'lingering withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, insomnia, mood swings, splitting headaches, anxiety, depression, lethargy, foggy thinking, stomach pains, disturbing dreams, flu-like symptoms, and a strong desire to strangle someone'. These symptoms are similar to brain changes common to addiction.
Nothing natural comes close to releasing as much dopamine as sex, because humans are programmed by Allah to procreate.
Dopamine is the neuro-chemical behind that is responsible for reward-driven learning. Without it we would not have the motivation to pursue a mate or even eat. When dopamine drops, so does motivation. It is a dual edged sword as it is also the hook in all addictions. An addict's brain grows less sensitive to it, and thus, paradoxically, more desperate for it.
Before we think that this is a men only problem 1 in 3 visitors to all adult websites are women. Out of the anonymous questions (audience and through an online submission form) read by the moderator, there was plenty from women who were trying to deal with their own addiction. Other sisters asked how to save their marriage if the husband is addicted.
Imam Azzarri spent some time elaborating on the role of intimacy in Islam. Islam is not against sexuality as long as it is enjoyed and used for halal. By terming it an addiction the panel didn't take the moral responsibility away from the addict. Spiritual effects and accountability was discussed. Yazbak thinks that the Muslim community is sexually repressed due to an ignorance of correct Islamic guidelines regarding intimacy. A reluctance to educate or discuss, lack of self awareness and profound shame over missteps have resulted in an explosion of sexual of perversion. Imam Azzari stressed that one should strictly guard the gaze and stop oneself from even stepping into this path of destruction. "Don't arouse yourself when you cannot relieve yourself," said Azzari. The effects of not guarding the gaze corrodes one's iman. "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. But having crossed that line only once advances you to the next level of sinfulness,' said an addict in a Muslim online forum. In response to a question, Dr. Yazbak said that porn is never recreational and people who use that excuse are deluding themselves. "It is a continuum, a slippery slope. An addictive process is taking place. It is not a natural habit," she said.
The panelists also recommended finding some good faith-based recovery groups for sex addiction/get counseling.
Effects on Marriages Yazback also shared her experiences in counseling and said that the topic of sex is only ten percent of a normal marriage becomes ninety percent if something is wrong. Watchers of explicit content also frequently notice numbed sensitivity to pleasure, which leads to a need for more frequent stimulation. Often they require more extreme material to achieve satisfaction, develop erectile dysfunction, or discover that sex with their spouses doesn't satisfy them (leading back to more porn use). According to some experts, many porn addicts are not hooked on sex; they're hooked on Internet porn. This has led to increased marital discord in our communities. Yazback shared that 56% of divorce cases in the United States result because of obsessive online porn. Watchers of porn start comparing their spouses to the actors and this leads to dissatisfaction as normal humans do not and cannot replay what they see on the screen. "Don't compare your sex life to pornography, they are professionals. They often are drugged, drunk, sexually abused. They are real people with real issues," said Ramadan.
Road to Recovery
There is hope as Internet porn addicts can recover back to their pre-addiction selves. "It is a continuous battle, but one can shift desires and false pretenses no longer have the same meaning to you as it did before. Be vigilant," said Yazbak.
The panelists were in consensus that to recover an addict needs to realize that the longer one stays away the easier it is to stay away. "The brain is an amazing thing. Nuero plastic changes in the brain cause a human being to use it or lose it," said Yazbak.
At the event at PGMA, Ramadan asked for compassion and forgiveness for the ones who are sincerely trying to recover from the addiction. "Imagine me standing in Makkah asking Allah to help me stop committing this sin, asking Allah to flick off a switch and just bring it to a stop, because I am mentally fatigued by the daily battle inside me between my shameful desires and my Muslim conscience, and I just want it to stop but its proving too difficult right now," expressed Qwerty (online), a struggling addict.
Gary Wilson, Adjunct faculty at Southern Oregon University and founder of YourBrainonPorn.com cautions that dopamine goes even higher when a payoff is uncertain. So if someone goes through a religious guilt or passionate moral struggle before he climaxes, s/he is raising her/his dopamine. Dopamine is all about anticipation. So a "guilt-ridden porn user" is actually raising his dopamine when he "wrestles with his soul,"" says Wilson. This is important for addicts to realize who try to use deen to shame themselves into recovering.
The author of PornNation, Micheal Leahy, a book that Dr. Yazbak quoted has a mantra "What you feed grows, and what you starve dies" –to detox himself he “starved” himself of pornographic images by cutting out cable (literally) and getting rid of the Internet in his home and “fed” himself with God’s Word.
Because of this event the PGMA youth group has been approached by another college students and MSAs who want to have similar discussions at their masajid. "Ultimately we hope that these discussion will make our masjids places of positive change, and that our communities will be able to find the help they need and be better able to deal with these issues in the masjid," says Sayyed.
The event was supported by the parents of the youth group and elders in the community many of whom were in attendance. "They covered the topic well," said Azmiya, whose daughter was one of the organizers of the event.