When people ask me why I created Across Red Lines, my natural response has been to share my mind’s truth: that over a professional lifetime spent in war zones, I witnessed and experienced first-hand the crippling legacy of the fractured relationship between women’s sexuality and the modern practice of Islam. I saw Boko Haram and Isis. And I saw how the absence of sex-positive conversations led to destruction at the individual, community, national, and international levels. When I gently approached religious leaders about the importance of acknowledging women’s sexuality and women’s pleasure, most told me this topic was a red line that should not be crossed. Many times since I have joked—never show a Taurus red. I came charging, and the result is Across Red Lines.
But when I push myself to go deeper to find the truth of my heart, I must confront all of the painful experiences in my own life of watching women I love suffer from the lack of conversations around healthy sexuality. I watched in the last five years as that manifested within the global Muslim community – as various sex scandals shook people’s faith. I have seen and felt the abandonment and alienation as a result of not being allowed to address the sexual being—created by God—within them. I watched as over time they shut down, their life force energy dying as they hardened to their reality, and bitterness, anger, and frustration growing in its place. And I thought of the young women in my life who had not yet experienced this hardening, who were still alive with all of life’s promise, and I wanted a way to reach them and tell them that this connection with ourselves and our sexuality is not a contradiction with their faith, but rather in complete synchronicity with our Islamic values.
Yet in this work and in my own re-opening to these truths, I have uncovered an even deeper one. The truth of layers upon layers of trauma linked to my childhood, covering a soul struggling to reconcile my authentic self with a faith that on the surface denied my essence. I uncovered a body carrying so much pain that it became completely immobilized for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. I uncovered anger at having witnessed so many tragedies tied to my religion, and I struggled to hold onto a faith that seemed to be turning to mist in my fingers.
I uncovered an even deeper truth—that the countless near-death experiences I’d had in my lifetime were tied to a subconscious that was searching for a way out of this life and the pain it brought. I had to ask myself, how many people willingly run into war zones, and what was my driving force? What led me to be minutes away the UN bombing inside Baghdad in 2003 or had me as one of the only international peacebuilders on the ground in Benghazi in 2011cwhen Qaddafi still reigned in Tripoli. And I finally realized that I created Across Red Lines not just to help others, but to save my own life.
In the dawn of this deepest truth, I had to step back. I had to slow the growth of this organization so the very thing I’d created wouldn’t turn into its own monster and consume me. I began to use every resource I’d created and apply all of my learning to my own healing, to addressing the conflicts within myself, to my own embracing of pleasure to awaken my stifled sexuality, and to purify my own heart through Islamic revival. I thought this meant that for a time at least, the forward movement of Across Red Lines would come to a halt. Then I realized that as with so many things in this world, my own journey was simply the micro of what I was creating for others; that in walking the path myself, I was paving a road for others. As a result, the curriculum I have developed for others is not only shaped by all of the academic and other formal trainings I have absorbed, but also by my own direct experiences of deep healing.
I did not create Across Red Lines to promote one way of being, and the last thing I can claim is moral purity. I have struggled and continue to struggle with the reconciliation of positive sexuality and the Islamic faith. Yet I have found solace in that struggle from within my faith. The few times I looked outside, it only served to validate the wisdom of a holistic faith approach, and how the absence of it has impacted society at large. I cannot think of one religion that does not have some form of this struggle around a comprehension of the sacred, spiritual nature of sex far beyond procreation.
These are the truths I share through Across Red Lines—those of mind, body, and spirit, reunited to foster wholeness among Muslim women.
Manal Omar is the founder of Across Red Lines. If you have questions for Manal to address in future columns, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org