10 Nov Season 2. Episode 8: Iman Boundaoui: Community Trauma & Healing
Lawyer and somatic practitioner Iman Boundaoui discusses the challenges Muslim communities face and the rich resources they can draw upon to heal and transform collective, intergenerational and politicized trauma through embodied leadership.
The following transcript has been edited for fluency.
[SHOW MELODY FADES IN]
[00:00:00] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Hello, asalaamu alaykum. Welcome to the second half of season two of the Hurma Project Podcast, a show where we seek to close the gap between our Islamic values and our Muslim community realities. Hurma is an Islamic legal term signifying the divinely granted inviolability of the human person from abuse, assault, and exploitation.
[00:00:35] In this podcast, we speak with experts from a variety of fields about how to prevent and respond to violations against all those who are present in Muslim spaces. More information about the Hurma Project, as well as a recording and transcript of each episode of the podcast can be found on our website, hurmaproject.com.
[00:01:00] I’m Dr. Ingrid Mattson, founder of the Hurma Project, which I direct with my friend and partner, Mihad Fahmy, a human rights lawyer and workplace investigator, and a lecturer at Huron University College where I am also Chair of Islamic Studies. Over the past four years, we at the Hurma Project have sought to understand why it is the case that too many decent people within the Muslim community turn away from those who disclose their experiences of abuse and exploitation at the hands of those in positions of leadership and authority. It’s become evident to us that because many of us have been unable to acknowledge and process our own pain and trauma, we have covered it up within ourselves for years, and so we cannot bear to open that door for others. At the same time, unrelenting Islamophobia and surveillance has led us to conclude that any criticism of our own leadership must originate in a conspiracy to bring us down.
[00:02:08] Even if these ideas aren’t conscious, they’re somewhere underlying our reactions our negative reactions to disclosures of abuse. Given this context, we are so grateful today to learn from Iman Nacer Boundaoui about how to recognize community trauma and move towards healing. Iman is an attorney who has practiced as a social impact and civil rights litigator, and as an immigrant rights activist and organizer. Her experiences working with law and policy to defend human life and dignity led Iman to seek out alternative pathways to working with individuals and communities in their fight for safety, dignity, and belonging. Iman trained with the Strozzi Institute in California where she now works as a somatic practitioner and facilitator.
[00:03:05] Iman has a deep commitment to working with individuals and communities to heal and transform collective, intergenerational, and politicized trauma. As a somatic practitioner, she grounds her work in her Indigenous North African cultural and spiritual wisdom lineages, and draws from traditional African Sufi healing and embodiment practices, which she sources from her own life and healing.
[SHOW MELODY FADES OUT]
[00:03:37] Iman, we would like to begin with a definition of “somatics,” which is a concept that we’re speaking about today and connecting with our experience of trauma as well as our Islamic tradition to the extent possible. So can you tell us about this discipline or approach to being.
[00:04:00] Iman Boundaoui: Sure. You know, somatics really is a theory of transformation that holds for real transformation to happen in an individual, in a collective body that we’ve really got to drop down beyond the head space, the cognitive space, and really come into the body as a whole. In Western thought really as a, as an extension of this Descartian way of thinking, you know, “I think therefore I am,” this separation between the mind and the body, somatics really is a response to that and says, “Actually, we are whole beings.” we think, we feel we intuit, we hold knowledge in places other than the cognitive space. We have a nervous system that runs through our entire being, our entire body. And in this whole body, in this whole nervous system, we are constantly collecting information. We are constantly making choices making decisions about how to be and move in the world.
[00:05:15] And when we get hurt, we are hurting, we are absorbing trauma in the whole system and the whole body. And so somatics really seeks to bring the mind, the body, into alignment and into wholeness and into conversation with each other, such that when we’re working on any sort of healing or transformation we’re not just addressing the mind, we’re really addressing the muscles, the tissues the body as a whole. And that’s really somatics and, and what somatics is seeking to explore. It’s a sort of ever evolving field. We have different areas now, somatics that focus on justice, we have areas of somatics that focus on our relationship with the earth and how to come into a whole relationship with the earth, with our bodies. And so it’s It’s a really broad field, but that’s kind of a basic introduction to somatics.
[00:06:21] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Thank you for that explanation, Iman. It seems to me that this field is naturally related to research that has been happening in many fields and many academic fields that I know about embodiment and about the conception of the self, in fact, and the embodied self. It’s really interesting to see how many communities are realizing that their understanding of being in the world was so drastically changed and transformed, especially under colonialism, where these, as you say, western intellectual traditions became dominant and we see the effects of that until today where even it’s very difficult for Western intellectual traditions to understand the purpose or the relevance of embodied practices. So for example, the fact that in the Islamic tradition our worship and our relationship with God is not just in our heart or in our mind, but through our body, what we eat, how we present ourselves in the world. Our worship is embodied. Even our afterlife is conceived in terms of a re-embodied self. So there’s a lot of decolonization that I think has to happen in order for us to get, you know, back in touch with our bodies.
[00:07:53] Iman Boundaoui: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, none of that is on accident. You know, disembodiment was a way to make sure the colonization project could happen because so much of the colonial project is rooted in extraction and in harm to other bodies, and you can’t produce all of that harm and extract resources if you’re feeling your body. Because if you’re feeling your body and you’re extracting and hurting other bodies, your body will hurt too. Right. We hold an embodiment that when we are in our bodies, we are connected to other bodies.
[00:08:36] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Iman, you mentioned two kinds of situations where a kind of bodily disassociation happen. One is when someone is perpetrating a harm and in a way detaches from their embodied self so that they’re able to engage in that oppression. There’s a kind of detachment which allows them to not empathize with the other. Then of course, there is the form of disassociation that happens to an individual who is being harmed and the what we know is the trauma response. Can you link those two things or talk about those two different states of detachment from our embodied selves.
[00:09:30] Iman Boundaoui: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll start with the second cuz I think it’s a bit easier for folks to relate to, which is, you know, under an immense pressure to the system, what we can call trauma, the body very quickly has to decide what’s the quickest and most efficient and smartest way to get safe. And in many instances, you know, especially when we’re talking about trauma to the body from another human being, socially, there really isn’t a way to run away or fight, especially in power dynamics or in an abusive situation where someone has power over another. And so the body decides “I can’t physically leave, I can’t run, I can’t fight”. And so the body decides that the best way to get safe is in fact to dissociate. We talk often in the somatics that we don’t just have fight, flight or freeze. We talk about two more trauma responses, which is appease and dissociate. And dissociation is a very common trauma response. Like I said, when the body decides the best way to get safe is to pretend that this is not happening, is to come out of my body, is to go away in a sense and not feel what’s happening. And this dissociative response over an extended period of time can lose context. And so I’ve worked with many individuals who you know, we’re talking and working to heal a trauma that occurred, you know, 10, 20 years ago. But the trauma response still lives in the body. And so we have many people in our community who’ve experienced trauma and over years, the trauma response of dissociation get so far away from the actual event that caused the dissociation that you have this deeply decontextualized, dissociative state that people are stuck in.
[00:11:40] And I see this often, and when we talk about the dissociation that’s happening on the other side, it’s exactly what you alluded to, Dr. Mattson. It’s when a body is creating harm and harming another the best way for that body to do that is to dissociate. And we often see in communities where there are power dynamics and power structures that people in charge – and we see this across the board, not just in Muslim communities – that people in charge often have a dissociative relationship to community members. This often removal from what people’s experiences are. And that’s because it’s the smartest way for the body and for a collective body, so collectively, people who hold power, people who have the power to make decisions that affect other people, the easiest way to make those decisions without having to deal with the repercussions, without having to deal with any harm that’s being created on the other side, having to deal with people’s lived experiences, who have to live through those choices and decisions is to dissociate. And so as a result, we have this incredibly challenging dynamic of dissociation among folks who hold power or are embedded inside of a power structure where they can make choices and decisions that affect other people. And then on the other side, people who get harmed inside of those systems and harmed inside of those structures who have dissociated from their own pain body in order to protect themselves.
[00:13:34] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Iman, if I walked into, say, an Islamic Center or some kind of community setting, would I be able to notice those forms of disassociation, both in the people who have been harmed? Would I be able to notice something about the way they’re acting or interacting and as well as with those who are in positions of power that they’re misusing, what would I see in that kind of setting?
[00:14:02] Iman Boundaoui: Mm. That’s such a good question. I think we see it all the time. And I’ll just tell you some things that I see, and by extension then that you would see and that anybody would see and experience in these institutions. Right? One sort of facet of dissociation is that people who run communities and, you know, sit on boards of mosques and et cetera, feel very inaccessible. If you ever try to have a conversation or try to sit down with somebody, you know, quote unquote in power, “in charge”, in these community spaces, in mosques, et cetera, it’s very hard to get people’s attention. It’s very hard to feel that anyone is giving you the time of day. Often when I have attempted to have conversations, talk to somebody again who is in charge, running the community center, sitting on some sort of board. I often get someone’s shoulder, right? I’m not often given a person’s full attention or full body. No one is turning and facing me, looking me in the eye and saying, “How can I help you?” It’s a very, I don’t know that I’ve ever had that experience in Muslim institutions.
[00:15:25] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Wow, that’s, I just wanna interrupt here because it, that really strikes me because I think about one of the first things that we teach in chaplaincy, as you know, I teach Muslim chaplains and one of the kind of key teachings that, that really grounds pastoral care is the practice of the Prophet Muhammed. So who, when he spoke to everyone, gave his full face. So we teach that this is the sunnah, is that when you’re speaking to someone, you speak to them face to face. You turn your whole body to them to give them full attention, subhanallah.
[00:16:02] Iman Boundaoui: Exactly, and that’s exactly where I was going. You know, in one of my primary courses that I take, somatics courses, a primary embodied practice among all practitioners, we literally call it “turn and face.” You have to give your entire front part center of your body to another person if they are addressing you. And when I heard that, when I started to practice into that, I was floored because like you said, there’s literally a hadith that explains when the Prophet salahallahu alayhi wa sallam spoke to someone, he turned his entire body to address that person never addressed that person from the side or giving them his cheek or shoulder. Full front facing. And that is a sign of embodiment. And on the flip side, a sign of disembodiment and dissociation is when a person doesn’t meet your eye. When a person doesn’t turn and face you when you are speaking, even when they’re speaking to you, you know, subhanallah as human beings, we have such incredible perception. We can sense if a person is paying attention to us or not. So even if someone is speaking to you, a person can be away and disassociated and simply performing or pretending that they’re listening to you, but you know that you don’t actually have their attention. And so we just look at these small practices of what it feels like, the experience of walking into a community center and you see someone who is in charge or working there and nobody turns and looks at you. Nobody turns and greets you. If you try to have one-on-one face time with someone who is in leadership, we are often dismissed and told, “There isn’t time for that”. Or even if there’s time for that, you have to, you know, make an appointment or whatever it is, like all of these barriers to interconnectedness that we have in our community spaces.
[00:18:03] And so anyone who’s had that experience in a community space has experienced disembodiment and disassociation in that space. That’s how it manifests. Bodies that are moving around but are not actually connecting. Humans that are walking around and, you know, giving direction and instruction of how things should be, but not actually pausing and looking at you and breathing with you and being with you. And I think many of us have those experiences in our institutions.
[00:18:37] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Yeah. Yeah that’s really interesting Iman. It seems very often that communities in the interest of some kind of, I dunno, just adopting what they think are good management practices, put up all of these barriers, but it really is in contrast to when we look at the community the Prophet Muhammad salahallahu alayhi wa salim and the early khulafa’, they had no barrier, they were completely accessible. And of course, one of the things that we talk about in this program is the necessity of having some healthy boundaries, you know, of our leadership, especially Imams and others. Being able to put some boundaries around their life so that they can have a healthy family life and take care of their own health, et cetera. But that’s different than when they actually are in that space. When they are at work or when they are present in the institution, in that official capacity. Even though they’re in the building, are they nevertheless still inaccessible in their attitude, in their, you know, where they put themselves, where they put their office? All of these things do make a difference in creating a sense of connection. Now, what about the community members? If I walk into that space, and this is a community where people have been hurt, have been harmed in some way, where they, where the power and authority that is being exercised within that institution is being done so in a way that is harmful or exploitative of the community members what might I see among them?
[00:20:17] Iman Boundaoui: Actually, the way that we embody dissociation is quite similar and so what you would see is frankly what I saw growing up, is that people were talking and engaging with each other in our community on a very surface level. I didn’t, I never quite sensed that people felt safe to really drop down to an authentic place in terms of their connection with each other. So a lot of, you know, chatter or chit chat around, you know, “How are you, how are your children”, et cetera. But I never quite felt a sense of safety among people in the community. There was this sort of response, I think there’s a response in the body among many individuals in a community where harm is being perpetuated, that “I’m not safe here, and so I can’t give away too much,” right? “I can’t say too much. I can’t open up, I can’t be vulnerable.” And so what you’ll find is that there’s a lack of vulnerability in communities where people feel unsafe. If in this space people are being harmed or their dignity is being compromised, then people go into self-protection mode and basically only choose to engage in that community on a very sort of cursory level in order to protect themselves from that harm, from that un unsafety, from that lack of dignity that is being generated inside the community.
[00:21:45] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: I find your observation about this very striking. I would not have considered that this is, you know, that this is one of the effects of having a space that’s unsafe, yet it makes so much sense when I think of, I, I think of a number of cities, for example, where there are, you know, many mosques, many Islamic centers, many institutions, yet the mental health hotlines that have been set up for Muslims or the crisis lines that have been set up for Muslims are just, I mean, they’re ringing off the hooks. They can’t keep up. They’re- so where people are confiding their deep problems are not in those spaces that are supposed to be community spaces. They’re through these anonymous hotlines, and it seems that there’s a I would think there’s a link between those two things.
[00:22:41] Iman Boundaoui: Oh, absolutely. You know, as humans, we don’t have to directly feel or experience unsafety for us to feel unsafe. We actually can feel and experience that through each other. And so in a community, if you have even a small pattern of unsafety, even a small pattern of harm, 1, 2, 3 people, very quickly collectively, all the bodies in that space can absorb that sense of unsafety and go into self protection mode. And so we can almost call it like a collateral damage of trauma in a community is that not only the individuals that are directly traumatized, you know, feel a sense of dissociation or pulling back or pulling away from the community, but in fact, all members of the community, we learn that in our bodies and we all sort of collectively start to pull away and go into self-protection mode.
[00:23:40] Mihad Fahmy: Yeah. So Iman, are we talking about community trauma? Is that what you are describing?
[00:23:47] Iman Boundaoui: Absolutely, Absolutely. What we’re talking about is the result of trauma happening in a community is that we get to a place where we call “collective trauma” that other individuals in a community can be traumatized by other members in their community being hurt and traumatized. And yes.
[00:24:07] Mihad Fahmy: And are there any distinguishing features of community trauma? One thing that I’ve been thinking about is this use of the term “trauma,” which we are hearing more frequently, both in association with, individuals’ experiences, as well as community’s experience. And I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on the difference between a trauma that a community experiences and hardships that you know, one would come to expect a marginalized community such as, you know, Muslims in the West would experience. So can you just kind of tease out what your definition of community trauma would be?
[00:24:50] Iman Boundaoui: Yeah, absolutely. When we talk about trauma and the difference between trauma and a challenge, for example, what we’re really talking about is like a nervous system response to an event or a series of events. And when we get to a place where the nervous system gets dysregulated in an individual and that whatever event that is occurring and that is hurting that person is too much, too fast, too soon, the nervous system gets dysregulated and goes into a survival mode and a survival strategy. And when that happens multiple times in a community to multiple individuals in a community, and over a prolonged period of time, you will find. Many, many, many individuals in that community are in a similar survival strategy mode for the reasons that I explained previously is that we collectively very quickly our somas, our bodies learn and figure out whether a place is safe. And if enough people in a community determine that this space is unsafe, then those individuals also go into a survival mode or survival strategy: fight, flight, freeze, appease or dissociate.
[00:26:14] What we find is dissociation is a very common way in community that people deal with collective trauma, and so that’s what we’re talking about here when we talk about collective trauma versus individual trauma. We also have different types of collective traumas like intergenerational trauma. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a collective body that learns based on the experiences of individuals in that body. And as a result, an entire community can get shaped into a trauma response, into a survival sort of mode based on the experiences of individuals in that community. And then what we get to is collectively an experience of unsafety, collectively an experience of a lack of dignity.
[00:27:07] And that may not be the case for all individuals in that community. There might be, for example, an experience among women in the community, a collective experience of women in a community where all collectively, women in that community feel unsafe or feel that their dignity is regularly compromised. And so the women in that community have a certain survival strategy that they go into, or the children in that community go into a certain survival strategy or survival mode. So there can be discreet responses within a community, but we are, what we’re talking about is that sort of collective experience based on the experiences of individuals in that community, which is a very human and common way of dealing with collective community trauma.
[00:27:58] Mihad Fahmy: So when you were describing disembodiment in answer to Dr. Mattson’s question about what that would look like in your experience, is that in and of itself a response to community trauma?
[00:28:10] Iman Boundaoui: Yes, absolutely. Dissociation dissociating and going away from the body in order to be safe, in order to get safe is a survival strategy for many victims of trauma. It is a way that they don’t feel the harm that is being perpetuated against them. It’s a brilliant survival strategy, but like I said, over time can get decontextualized in an individual and in a collective such that you have people in a survival strategy without even realizing they’re in a survival strategy because it is so far in time and place from the trauma event that created that survival strategy.
[00:28:53] Mihad Fahmy: So I wanna take our conversation to one of the themes that we explored in the first season of this program, and that’s how communities respond when there is a disclosure of an abuse of power by a leader in one of our Muslim communities. And we learned really early on that there’s this concept of community moral confusion, right?
[00:29:18] So, you know, many of us become very disillusioned, disappointed, angry, or a combination of all of those things when we find out that somebody that we respected and learned from has committed an abuse of power. And I think that responses in the community are so buried. So as I said, you know, there’s some people that are that may completely retreat from the community. Other people may actually defend the perpetrator, divisions may ensue in the community. So there’s a whole spectrum of responses, and what I’m interested in learning is how, given that varied responses to these kinds of abuses, how does that affect the approach to healing on a community?
[00:30:07] Iman Boundaoui: Hmm. You know, one thing I’ll say about responses is that we get deeply shaped by culture, by society, and how we respond under pressure. And it’s very common that under pressure especially the pressure of a disclosure of, you know, whether it’s sexual abuse or spiritual abuse in a community that people will go into deeply embodied reactions as opposed to a response, like a centered response. So get very reactive. And I think one of the first things that’s important in a community is to get out of a reactive mode and get into a response mode. And because you have such variety in how people react, and one of the things that can really bring a community together is declaring like, “What do we care about here? What is our aim? What is our goal here?” And to get very clear on the goal, because I think one of the reasons that people respond in such varied ways is there’s such lack of clarity on what the goal is.
[00:31:25] Some people assume that the goal is to shame the person that perpetuated the harm and they are worried and concerned that the process of accountability is gonna be very shameful and undignified, and we’re going to be in this, you know, cancel culture of canceling this person and whatever. And a lot of people get really concerned about that. And so they defend, right? A lot of people get really concerned that women’s privacy is going to be violated and and so people go into, really extreme victim protection mode and, and then don’t want to hear anything from the other side. And so people go into these really extreme camps because I think there’s a lack of clarity often about what the goal is. And I think if we came together as a community and we’re really clear about what we’re up to, right, and the parameters in the container that we’re creating, then we can start to settle people’s reactivity. We can start to settle those immediate reactions and really polarizing reactions that people have in a community because we are now can collect around. A commitment, a purpose, a reason.
[00:32:54] When people don’t have something to gather around and to collect around, then everyone will go in their camps and everyone will decide who’s right and who’s wrong here. And I think we really need a place and a way to gather. And that’s one way that facilitators in the work that I do really work through, you know, transformative justice and, and community healing is like we need something to gather around and to come back to what are we committed to here. A clear and powerful commitment within the community to protect all members of the community can really help us gather.
[00:33:33] Mihad Fahmy: And can you tell us a little bit more about the connection between somatics and justice? I noticed you mentioned it at the beginning of your conversation, and again, you mentioned justice. So what is what’s the relationship there? How does that play out?
[00:33:50] Iman Boundaoui: If we’re not in a practice of embodied justice in our communities, then we’re not really practicing justice. Then we’re talking about justice. We’re thinking about justice. We’re using a lot of good language and cognition to, to conceptualize justice, but we’re not actually living it, being it. And so somatics is deeply related to justice in that sense that we have to be in a practice, embodied practices of accountability, of making people whole who have been harmed of right of of creating safety, dignity for all people. Otherwise, it’s not really justice. There’s a concept of justice, but it’s not a lived experience.
[00:34:36] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Iman your response to Mihad about the relationship between somatics and justice just reaffirms for me how important embodied practices have always been in the Islamic tradition. I mean, even when I read traditional manuals for judges, for example, the first kind of guidance or guidelines for judges are about their bodies. So first they talk about where they should sit, in the community. So the judge should establish a table in a public place that’s accessible to everyone so that any person, man or woman, free or slave, anyone in the community can come to them. And then these manuals talk about the judge’s own body so that he shouldn’t judge when he is hungry, when he’s angry, when he’s too tired when he doesn’t feel well, you know, what time of day would be the best time of day. So even these small things about paying attention to you know, the relationship between our own physical comfort, discomfort and how we- whether we’re capable of fully engaging with those who come to us are all there in these traditional manuals.
[00:35:57] Iman Boundaoui: Absolutely. That’s so beautiful to hear and it’s, it seems so small. Right. It, it seems like, “Oh, that’s a practice?” You know, it’s a practice to come into your leadership position, you know, well fed and having slept well and having a clear mind and sitting in a certain way. And, you know, we often talk about this in, and the work that I do, that leadership presence is almost everything. Like when we talk about a leader or a leader in a community, for example, a judge, the presence of that person really sets the tone for what will happen in what comes next. And so, so beautiful to hear that these practices are such a deep part of our tradition. And, you know, the hope is to come back to that. The hope is to come back to these embodied practices when it comes to restoring and healing our communities.
[00:36:59] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Yeah. It also makes me think of those, you know, an unfortunate development in some spaces where the so-called speakers or preachers are kind of roped off from the regular people. You can’t access them except through certain assistance or formal processes. And I always come back to something that my daughter, Soumayya allah yarhamha, you knew Soumayya when she was little. I remember when she would travel with me when she was very young, maybe 11, 12 years old. And I would go and give a talk somewhere, and then afterwards I’d still be sitting at the table and some people would come up, especially young women or girls, and I’d be sort of busy with this or that, and she would poke me and say, say, “Mom, mom, you gotta smile. These girls are afraid of you. They wanna talk to you” [laughs]. I always remember that, you know, just even your expression can really affect people, can make them feel seen and welcomed, or can be intimidating and demeaning.
[00:38:16] Iman Boundaoui: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, when I think of the roped off scholars standing on stage and very quickly sort of escorted out of the lecture hall, just that experience of inaccessibility really starts to create like a dichotomy and a community between like the learned class and then everyone else, or you know, the scholarly class and everyone else. And we didn’t have those, you know, in the Prophet’s time alayhi salatu wa sallam there was no separation, right? The Prophets alayhi salatu wa sallam sat in a circle with his companions, and I know there was a famous recollection that some, someone came into the room and couldn’t tell who the Prophet alayhi salatu wa sallam was. He, he had never seen him before, didn’t know what he looked like, and based on the way that they were sitting, he couldn’t discern and determine who was the leader of the community because everybody was sitting on the same level. And we’ve, we’ve come so far from that, right. We’ve strayed so far.
[00:39:21] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: It’s really beautiful.
[00:39:22] Iman Boundaoui: Yeah.
[00:39:23] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Yeah. It’s the circle as a shape for community is something that Professor Wael Hallaq , who’s a well known, distinguished professor of Islamic law, he elaborates on this in his study of the history of Islamic legal traditions, and he talks about the difference between the hallaqah, which is a circle and the classroom with, you know, the teacher, the lecturers standing up in front, and then the students in row where they don’t actually see each other, They see the back of each other’s heads, and there’s a difference, you know, maybe the good student is, can hear well and there are others who are put in the back. And I’ve always thought about that as really significant because the circle is a, you know, a universal symbol of collectiveness and unity and togetherness. And so even our architecture, our spaces, how we choose to organize these spaces makes a big difference.
[00:40:31] Iman Boundaoui: You know, in, in facilitation, especially in trauma healing facilitation, we often use circles to build allyship with victims. You know, often what happens with victims of abuse in a community is they very quickly feel isolated. They very quickly feel ostracized. And to make sure that victims of abuse feel that they are still in community, we circle around them, right? We are in a sitting circle or a standing circle with them to build allyship and to rebuild a sense of community for that person who feels isolated or ostracized or removed from the community as a result of trauma. So circles are very powerful. I love that. We’ve touched on that.
[00:41:20] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Iman, we’ve spoken about the distant or disassociated holders of power and authority or leadership, but what about the opposite? We know that there are Muslims who have attempted to form alternative spaces, you know, third spaces that offer a warmer sense of community and togetherness. But the problem in those spaces seems to be a lack of proper boundaries or limits between those who have power and authority and those in the community so that they transgress in an exploitative way, the limits and the boundaries between them and others. Can you talk about that a little bit?
[00:42:06] Iman Boundaoui: Yes. I think their response to, you know, dissociated and disembodied communities, their response of creating third spaces was a natural one that makes sense to me. If a space doesn’t feel safe, then you go create a safe space, but it’s not enough for us to only create safe spaces. We also have to create spaces that have a deep and clear commitment to protect the dignity of everybody and that have, like you said, clear boundaries. We always have to ask in anything that we’re creating, any collective that we’re creating, where are we permeable? Where are we vulnerable, and how can we shore up and close those gaps? We can look at any dynamic where there is power and immediately say, if there’s a power dynamic between individuals, then there is vulnerability there. That’s a vulnerable place. We just have to assume that, and we have to accept that. It’s a deeply human social phenomenon that power structures are particularly susceptible breeding grounds for abuse. And so we have to almost immediately, when we’re creating collective spaces and community spaces, look at where power dynamics exist and how to create proper boundaries and structure and clear commitments around how to protect against potential abuse in those spaces. So, like you said, you know, we created these third spaces to create more warmth and love, but I don’t think there was enough intention.
[00:43:53] I don’t think there was enough discernment around the harm that can also be bred in those spaces. And then the shame that many communities, many community members, the shame that we have around talking about when abuse happens, we carry that over from our old spaces, right? So just because we create third spaces doesn’t mean we leave behind all of the ways that we’ve been deeply shaped to avoid conversations around abuse and sexual abuse and harm. It doesn’t mean that we leave behind all of the reactivity that we have around that. We carry all of that shaping over. And so unless, when we create third spaces, we are also addressing the deep cultural shaping that we all bring into those spaces. Then, when under pressure, when there is a disclosure, when something happens, then all of that same shaping, all of that same deeply embodied cultural reactivity and behavior around talking about abuse addressing it, comes out and manifests and almost the same exact way it would have manifested if we were in the more sort of traditional institutions and spaces.So it’s not enough to just create new space. We also have to create a new rule book. We also have to retrain and reshape the individual community. We have to do things differently. It can’t just be be a different address, [laughs] , if you will.
[00:45:35] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Right. Yeah, of course.
[00:45:36] Iman Boundaoui: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:45:38] Mihad Fahmy: Iman, you spoke about your work in community healing facilitation, and I’m really interested in learning more about what that looks like, sort of, you know, what you feel a community- what stage a community needs to be at in order to engage in this kind of healing process. I’m assuming that there has to be, in order for it to be effective, those who are participating have to have the clarity that you were talking about before, in terms of what the goal is, what the end goal is. But aside from that clarity, what would you say is necessary for a community to have arrived at or to be in a state of preparedness in order to have a successful or a productive healing process under your facilitation?
[00:46:35] Iman Boundaoui: You know, I think one of the, the primary sort of prerequisites to any transformation work, whether it’s individual transformation or collective transformation, is a desire for it, a deep commitment to it. And in fact, I find that that is even more important than the clarity of “What are we here for?” Because actually, People can collectively decide on that clarity and create that clarity together. But there has to be a desire in a community for transformation. Individuals in a community, in a collective have to say, “Enough is enough. We can’t keep doing it this way. Something’s gotta give. And we are here raising our hands, saying we want to be a part of transformation, of transforming this.” if you have enough of that in a community, if you have enough of a majority of people that are saying, “Enough is enough, we want transformation. We want our communities to be in a better place. We wanna create safety and dignity and belonging for all members of the community.” Count me in. If you have enough people saying that you can gather and you can transform. Absolutely.
[00:47:50] And now of course you’ll have people that are resistant to transformation that are resistant to change that say, “We don’t need all of that. All we have to do is create a manual that tells leadership and people in power how to create boundaries. And you know, we don’t need to do any work, deep work in our community.” Of course, you will always have people who are resistant to that and for transformation to happen, you don’t need everybody on board. You just need enough committed people on board who are willing to do the work. And if you have that, if you can gather people around that, then transformation in a community can happen because those individuals who gather and collect and decide that it’s time and ready for us to change the way that we’ve been doing things. The way we’ve been doing things has not worked. If you have enough people, then they now become a new model for how a community can be. They now begin to embody what the rest of the community and collective as something that they can look to and look up to as a new model. You know, we don’t have to wait for everybody to transform and to change.
[00:49:06] Mihad Fahmy: And what are your thoughts on intergenerational participation in this kind of process? Would you encourage these conversations between various age groups and backgrounds in communities?
[00:49:21] Iman Boundaoui: Oh absolutely. I mean, you know, my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation, they have incredible access to knowledge of like traditional wisdom practices and embodied practices that have been lost and not passed to our generation, especially my generation, for example, of first generation living in the U.S. So far removed from traditional practices and ways of being. Our parents and our grandparents have so much to say about that and have so much wisdom in that space. And I think we’d be remiss for it to not be an intergenerational process. I think a lot can emerge from when we work with different age groups. A lot can emerge when we work with people that come from different wisdom traditions. As long as we have a collective intention, as long as we have a set of goals and a pathway that we all can be on board with, the way we get there and what emerges and what gets generated and what new practices that we’re in can be really diverse and beautiful. If we include, like I said, different generations of folks from different backgrounds, et cetera.
[00:50:46] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Iman, can you give an example of maybe some wisdom or embodied practice from your parents or grandparents generation that you think is a positive, could be a positive contribution in community healing?
[00:51:01] Iman Boundaoui: Hmm. Yeah. You know, years ago I took a really interesting anthropology course at my university and it was aanthropology of North African Berber-Amazigh and the tradition that they had around grieving. Right. Grieving not just death, but anytime anyone in the community was grieving or sad, they had this beautiful tradition. And so this is, you know, my, my parents are both Algerian. We are Amazigh Berbers on both sides of the family and the Amazigh have this beautiful of coming together, women in a community specifically coming together when any woman is experiencing sadness or depression or grieving something. They all share in the grief in this beautiful practice of a grief circle. So women in the community come together, sit in a circle, and the woman who is sad or depressed or grieving or hurting, shares her sadness in a poetic verse and basically starts to share with her women community members what she is going through. And after she feels complete and shares her hurt and shares her wounds, another woman in the community shares hers, and then another woman in community shares hers. And before you know it, all the women in this circle have shared and deeply healed wounds that they are holding onto.
[00:52:40] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: It’s really beautiful subhanallah.
[00:52:42] Mihad Fahmy: Iman, I wan to ask you about the term “resilience.” I think that we often hear resilience in association with trauma, again, both on an individual and a community level. And I’m interested to know what you think resilience looks like on a community level, but more importantly, how it is that we can build the necessary resilience within our community spaces.
[00:53:10] Iman Boundaoui: Hmm. It’s a beautiful and a really important question. I often, especially when we’re talking about community resilience, I like to start with what resilience is not because I think we’re deeply conditioned to think about resilience in a certain way, especially in immigrant communities. And when we talk about what isn’t, we can get a little bit closer to what it is. And what it isn’t, is not a persistent patience with harm. We often, like in communities, there are these tropes around, you know, women are strong, and women are patient, and women can handle. Right. We have this idea, especially in communities that like women can really just take it. And often actually we use that understanding and we use these cultural tropes to justify, you know, continued harm against a certain group of people. And the example that I’m using, women. And resilience is not that resilience is not a persistent patience with injustice of persistent patience with oppression, resilience is a way that we get more alive, generative, interdependent. Resilience is a way that we purposefully embody practices, communal practices, of how to believe and hope in a better future. Right. So really resilience at its core is about generating a sense of hope in a community, a sense of faith that things will be better or that we can get to a better place, whereas the opposite of resilience is despair.
[00:55:11] Where we despair, where we give up, where we say it’s not gonna get any better.” We’re stuck. It’s a stuckness. And so what we really want to cultivate and bring in our communities as we deal with continued harm, because what we don’t want to believe is that the only way that we can be okay, is for everything to immediately stop right now. We know that’s not practical or realistic, but we can cultivate resilience despite the fact that harm is ongoing, as we find ways and strategies to deal with that. But really, resilience is about getting to a grounded feeling of hope, of imagining a better future, imagining a positive change and then being able to take action towards that positive future. Resilience is our ability to be flexible and creative, right. In communities when we get stuck and keep coming back to the same old solutions that don’t work, that is when you know that a community has lost some resilience. Because really resilience is creative. Resilience is generative. Resilience is flexible. So if you see a community that is flexible in its thinking that can really stretch and come outside of the old shape of things and the old boxes and the old ways that we used to think of things, and really start to generate something new ideas and a spirit of being inclusive in how we think about solutions, that’s when, you know, community is resilient and is really practicing resilience. And so that is really how we think about resilience in collective trauma healing, is a community’s ability to come together and imagine a positive future.
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[00:57:12] Mihad Fahmy: As we continue to explore what is involved in creating safe community spaces, we come to a better understanding of some of the barriers that we face. One such barrier takes the form of the walls we’ve built around ourselves that prevent us from engaging with one another in a meaningful way. Iman Boundaoui explains that a reluctance to share in a real and vulnerable manner is common in communities where people feel unsafe and have experienced harm. In order to protect ourselves from further harm, we often engage with one another on a very surface and cursory level. The question to consider, of course, is how can we create an environment in which we all feel safe enough to dismantle these protective walls we have built? Perhaps our community leaders have a role in this process by setting the tone and making themselves truly accessible to community members rather than remaining distant and removed from the women and men they teach and serve. Despite the various forms of harm that we experience individually and as a community, we are often described as resilient, and in many ways, we wear this characterization as a badge of honor.
[00:58:30] However, it’s important to remind ourselves that resilience is not about being persistently patient with repeated infliction of harm. Rather according to Iman Boundaoui, resilience is about reaching a grounded feeling of hope, of imagining a better future, and then taking steps in community towards affecting that positive change. What is remarkable is that studies have shown that communities that come together regularly experience less harm and cultivate stronger communal resilience as compared to those where people live in isolation from one another. Clearly, as a community that values regular congregational worship, collective responsibility for the most vulnerable, and close ties among sisters and brothers in faith and family, it is hard to ignore the fact that we have many of the tools for building and strengthening healthy community resilience at our fingertips.
[00:59:33] As we get ready to wrap up season two of the Hurma Project podcast, we’d love to hear from you regarding what you would like us to address in our final wrap up episode. Please send in your questions or comments through our contact form on the website, or you may use our various Hurma project social media platforms.
[00:59:53] We want to thank you for listening to this episode and learning along with us. We hope you’ve benefited from this, and past episodes and that you’ll help us reach a broader audience. You can do so by subscribing to the podcast on your favorite podcast platform, leaving us a rating or a review, and telling a friend, family member, or colleague about the Hurma Project Podcast.
[01:00:16] As always, we’d like to thank our Funders, Pillars Fund, and the Waraich Family Foundation, as well as the El Hibri Foundation for supporting the work of the Hurma Project. This episode was produced by Carlay Ream-Neal, with additional assistance provided by our research assistants, Maram Albakri and Maysa Haque. We look forward to continuing our conversation with each of you. Until then, assalaamu alaykum.
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