Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Hiding our heads in the sand: domestic violence in US Muslim communities

This recent Washington Post article sheds light on a dangerous issue within the US Muslim community, yet one that is often deliberately ignored.

First, I think a few clarifications are in order. I think the author confuses Islamic teachings with cultural traditions several times in the article. There is no Islamic teachings that justifies domestic violence, especially not spousal abuse. To the contrary, it is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

"The most perfect believers are the best in conduct. And the best of you are those who are best to their wives." [Sahih at-Tirmithi].

That is not to say that some "Muslims" do deliberately misconstrue Islamic teachings to justify the horrendous actions they commit against their own family members, but that is a different story.

Also what the author refers to as "Muslim culture" (gossip, arranged marriages, living with in-laws) has nothing to do with Islam. In fact the first two aspects are specifically and strictly forbidden in Islam. However, unfortunately, no one can deny that such characteristics are present in Muslim-majority communities, especially abroad.

One of the most inspiring first-hand accounts I have ever heard was from a friend of mine who reverted to Islam a few years ago. She is an American from Asian descent and was raised a Christian. She was in an abusive marital relationship for over 10 years. The day she accepted Islam and truly put her complete trust in the One and Almighty God, she filed for divorce. In my friend's case, it was her true understanding of Islam and its teachings (away from 'middle-eastern' cultural nonsense) that gave her the confidence to finally stand up for herself.

Her story is the exception though. From talking to community leaders and imams in Southern California who have to deal with domestic violence issues on a daily basis , I can safely say that the Washington Post article in not exaggerating the problem. It is definitely there in our communities, but is largely neglected and sometimes covered-up. And yes, in some parts of the US, like in some parts of the Middle East, it is the community and religious leaders who choose to protect the husband rather than the abused wife.

How can we begin tackling this issue? Let's start by facing it. Once we can agree and acknowledge that this is indeed a serious problem, we can start educating our communities as to ways of avoiding an abusive relationship, and under worst circumstances, leaving one.

Fortunately, there are already many individuals and organizations out there that have committed their time and efforts to helping victims of domestic abuse in the Muslim community. One organization that sticks out in my mind is NISWA. If you are involved in such work please leave a comment about it and suggestions of how people can contribute to your efforts.

1 comment:

Saudi Amber said...