Author and speaker Audrey Frank and her family have served Muslims in the U.S. and abroad for more than 20 years.
In her book, “Covered Glory,” Frank tells stories of Muslim women living in a culture with an honor-shame worldview that perpetuates their shame.
Frank was born to a teen mom and never knew her father. She was raised in an abusive home to feel worthless.
Upon getting serious with her boyfriend, she shared her life of trauma “so that he could walk away before it was too late …. I was sure he would decide to stop seeing me. Shame had convinced me that I was worthy of abandonment. To my astonishment, he did not leave me, and we were married the following year.”
God used Frank’s painful past to help her identify with oppressed Muslim women in their honor-shame cultures. She shares stories of abuse, mutilation and murder.
Frank, a speech-language pathologist, and her husband were missionaries to Middle Eastern Arabs. She coordinated with surgeons to help cleft lip and palate patients, who had led secluded lives because their birth defects branded even their parents with shame.
While the West avoids shame as a mere negative emotion, the majority of the world regards honor and shame as life and death. Shame can devastate lives long-term. Muslims must protect their honor at all costs or lose their all-important community standing.
Fathers and brothers sometimes “honor kill” their daughters and sisters for shaming their families by simply spending time with an unrelated man.
Frank explains, “A Muslim woman’s badge of honor is her father’s (or husband’s) name. It reflects her value, her purity, her worth and her dependability. Culturally speaking, she does not stand alone.” As household head, his positional honor transcends even domestic abuse.
While the West sees life through an innocence-guilt lens, most people see it through an honor-shame lens. Muslims think that their good works atone for their sins and see following group rules as far more important than their morality. Sin is insignificant “if you do it in secret without bringing shame to your group.”
While a husband (who is allowed up to four wives) might be impotent, he will blame barrenness on his wife and may banish her for it or any reason without financial support. Regardless, she gets saddled with the responsibility, blame and shame. “Shame paralyzes its prey and makes her believe she is of no worth,” Frank writes.
Her father may accept her back, but she, her children, and her whole extended family are shamed. Her family may cover their dishonor by denying her existence, suppressing her as their invisible servant, unrecognized as a family member and unnoticed by home visitors. Group membership “is paramount to self-dignity and identity.”
Muslim girls suffer much, such as undergoing female genital mutilation, which many Muslims believe ensures marital fidelity and promotes honor. Forced child marriages are common, and girls often are unschooled.
Jihad wars have overwhelmed multitudes of Muslim women with shame, grief and destitution. “Shame is a universal experience,” Frank writes. “Shame steals our sense of value. It silences our hope. Shame stalks us throughout our lives like a stealthy predator seeking to rob us of joy. Shame was never our intended inheritance.”
Adam and Eve enjoyed honor and fellowship with God and each other until Satan deceived them to distrust God’s loving character and fall into dishonor and alienation. Frank, who trains people in reaching Muslims, illustrates such themes, sharing her insights from Scripture, cross-cultural communications and cultural anthropology.
Southeast member Richard Penn served as a missionary to the Philippines.