Breaking Silence

Today altMuslimah speaks to filmmaker and journalist Nadya Ali about her upcoming documentary “Breaking Silence.” The film will be the first of its kind in documenting Muslim American women’s stories of sexual abuse, how they coped and how they came out to their families and friends. The film will follow interviews with four women who have never before spoken about their assault experience on camera. Ali and her team are currently campaigning on Kickstarter to help fund post production for their film which is slated to premiere in January 2015.

Filmmaker Nadya Ali Photo Source: Breaking Silence

Filmmaker Nadya Ali
Photo Source: Breaking Silence


1.     What inspired you to take on this issue as the focus of your documentary?

I felt compelled to address this issue because of the experiences of women and girls very close to me. It saddened me to know that they could not come out to their families with their stories of sexual abuse. I wanted to find a way to open the community to these issues so that some suffering can be assuaged.  It seemed to me that a way to jumpstart this discussion was by featuring powerful women on film who can inspire other victims to speak up when the time is right for them.  I was also deeply inspired by the boldness of the film “The Invisible War,” which examined sexual assault in the American military.


2.     Why did you decide to focus on sexual abuse in the Muslim community specifically?

The girls I know who suffered from assault or abuse are Muslim, and being Muslim myself, I also know the secrecy and silence that surrounds this issue in our culture and community.  I think a bold, honest film is the way to shatter that silence.


3.     How did you persuade the four sexual assault victims to appear on camera and reveal their names?

Honestly, it was of their own accord. I simply asked if they were willing to appear on camera and, after thinking it over, they all chose to come forward. I know that all these women are extremely committed to the idea of making a change in our community regarding views on sexual assault. They were willing to sacrifice their privacy to open up the conversation.


Photo Source: Breaking Silence

Photo Source: Breaking Silence


4.     How have their families reacted to these women’s decisions to go public with their stories of sexual abuse?

I haven’t heard about their family’s reactions. Actually, I’m not sure if all of their families know that they are part of this documentary!


5.     Do you think culture plays a role in or exacerbates sexual abuse in the community? If so, in what way?

That is a very tough question and I think there is no easy “yes” or “no” answer. Sexual abuse, assault and rape happen in every country, every culture and every community, yet there are no solid numbers to tell us the frequency with which these crimes occur—in large part because many victims don’t speak up. Countries and cultures that have starkly different perspectives on sex, sexuality and gender roles all experience sexual assault, so it’s hard to say whether culture influences or exacerbates sexual abuse and to what degree.


Photo Source: Breaking Silence

Photo Source: Breaking Silence


6. What role, if any, can religious leaders in the community (i.e. Imams and Sunday school teachers) [play in preventing sexual abuse and helping those who have been abused?

Religious leaders hold positions of respect and reach so if they choose to step up, they can have one of the most helpful, effective roles in curtailing sexual abuse in the Muslim community. Imams and religious teachers need to break the silence on this issue by bringing it up to the congregation and the classroom, by acknowledging its presence in our community (too many Muslims assume we are immune to this problem) and by educating both parents and children on how to spot the signs of both an abuser or a victim. It is also critically important for Imams to reiterate, using the Qur’an and hadith, how heinous these crimes are from an Islamic perspective. Speaking about a sex-related issue might be a bit uncomfortable at first, but change can only occur when we break through that awkward stage and face the truth.


7.     What moved you the most when speaking with the women who chose to participate in your film?

The courage of these women is beyond inspiring. The fact that they openly decided to share their stories, names and faces on camera shows how much they care about helping others in similar situations. And facing the Muslim community, a community known for its avoidance of topics like this, is beyond brave.


If you’d like to contribute to the documentary’s Kickstarter campaign, please visit


Photo Credit: Breaking Silence

Zehra Rizavi is the Managing Editor at altMuslimah.


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