Ortner Center on Violence & Abuse in Relationships

First Person: Gaining access to a hard-to-reach population

Angelina Ruffin

Ortner Center Student Fellow

June 2016

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    image from huffingtonpost.com



Research about the experiences of African American Muslim women is limited, despite the importance of understanding their many intersecting identities. There is a common Western view that Muslim women are oppressed and often victims of domestic violence, however, few studies capture the actual voices of Muslim women pertaining to domestic violence. My research seeks to provide insight into the lived experiences of African American Muslim women through interviews about their everyday lives, marriage, and abuse.

With the current social and political climate being rather hostile to them, I thought Muslim women might be hesitant to speak with me out of fear that, I would distort or misrepresent what I learned from them.  Luckily, I was proven wrong as I took numerous steps to gain access to and build trust with the women I interviewed.


First, I drew on my network of Muslim friends. Raised in Philadelphia, I had several Muslim contemporaries I could discuss my research with and validate my research ideas on domestic violence. Second, I consulted with professors that conduct research in this community. These professors were instrumental in putting me in contact with community leaders who could then vouch for me in the community and connect me with potential participants. Third, I spent time in the community. I attended weekly prayer at different mosques and numerous Muslim community events. While participating in these events, I tried to be respectful of their religious customs. For example, I covered my hair when appropriate. Although I did not approach any women in these venues about my study, after some conversation I felt comfortable enough to ask many for their phone numbers and then called them at a later time to tell about my study.


My initial fears that cultural differences between myself and the participants would create challenges were quickly alleviated because during the interviews, we were able to connect on many levels - as black women, mothers, with some as students, but also as women of faith. Although I am not Muslim, we connected through the importance of our faiths. In some ways, being an outsider made it easier, as it gave them an opportunity to be the expert and share their knowledge of Islam.


I began each interview asking the woman about herself and her family. This built rapport and made it easier to later discuss more sensitive topics such as domestic violence and polygamy. The interviews were collaborative and provided a safe space where participants could share past pains and trials, sometimes for the first time.


I have completed fifteen interviews and am now analyzing the transcripts. Although I have completed data collection, I continue to attend Muslim community events and have developed lasting connections with many of the women. I am forever grateful to those who shared their stories with me.