Domestic Violence Series: A Hidden Evil and Muslim Communities

IMG_4980It is the extreme, sensational cases that make it to the front pages of the newspaper. We were all horrified when we heard of Nazish Noorani, a young mother killed by her abusive husband. What we don’t hear are the voices of the abused behind the closed doors of many homes across social, economic, ethnic, racial and gender lines. They exist in our community just as they exist in the non-Muslim communities. We see these men in our masjids, their wives suffering in silence at our picnics and our dinner parties.

One of the most recent cases the MWNUK dealt with that concerning a 17-year-old victim of forced marriage. Aisha* faced months of emotional and physical abuse by her parents before she was taken to Pakistan to wed her 30-year-old cousin, who she’d never even met.

“It started off with lectures about family honour, but then they started beating me with leather belts. They took away my phone, purse and Western clothes. I wasn’t allowed see my friends or go to the shop unaccompanied,” she explained.

Domestic violence is, again, a human problem, much like sexual harassment.

By definition, domestic violence is a pattern of abuse – physical, sexual, financial, spiritual, emotional and verbal, including disparagement, blame, being ostracized, isolated and condemned. Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Not one incident but a pattern. Men are victims too, 835,000 a year in the US alone, of physical, emotional and financial abuse.

Many cultures think it is the man’s God-given right to hit a woman. In abusive situations where women are the victims, the ones who do gather the courage to tell are told by their families to go back to their abusers for the sake of family, honor, name, children, to be patient and forgive her spouse after the abuse. Cultural narratives often define why many women do not seek help – i.e. thinking that your husband is Majazi Khuda, a metaphorical God – especially in the South Asian culture.With this premise in mind, how is the issue of domestic violence different for Muslims? Some Muslims believe that the teachings of Islam allow wife beating in certain With this thought in mind, how is the issue of domestic violence different for Muslims? Some Muslims believe that the teachings of Islam allow wife beating in certain circumstances

Why does this small group of Muslim men think they can beat their wives? The answer lies in one word: daraba. This word, or its derivatives, is used in the Quran in several places (Muslims believe the Quran is the divine word of God, revealed to Muhammad, a prophet, through the angel GabrielOne translation of Chapter 4, Verse 34 of the Quran states, in part, “And as for those women whose ill-willed rebellion you have reason to fear, admonish them first; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them.” (Muhammad Asad translation).

Sadly, it’s impossible to know just how many are suffering right now. Figures for violence against women in the Muslim community remain elusive.

Last year, the Home Office Forced Marriage Unit was informed of 1,302 cases. Of these, 15 per cent of victims were under 15, though figures peaked in the 16 to 17 age group, coinciding with the age that young women finish school. While the the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation found, under the Freedom of Information act, that more than 2,800 incidents of ‘honour’ based violence were reported to police across the UK in 2010.

Within four months of its report last year, MWNUK had received 35 case studies from different agencies – a surprising number from what is traditionally such a closed community and especially considering the intimidation victims often face from their abusers, in the name of ‘family honour’. It suggests that the real number is much higher.

Among them was a young woman, raped by 30 men, including a father and his schoolboy son, during a horrific six-hour attack. The common factor in each case? That cultural and religious issues were perpetuating the abuse and preventing victims from accessing help.The charity also found many women were struggling to reconcile their faith with their problems. They simply couldn’t find an alternative perspective to those patriarchal interpretations – which so often dominate religious discourse – that had been used against them.The Birmingham-based charity now consists of a network of nearly 700 individuals and organisations, and has become one of the leading campaigning voices for Muslim women in the UK.

With the launch of the first national helpline for Muslim women and girls helpline, voices of women such as Aisha and Shabana will no longer remain unheard. The charity hope that more will find the confidence to come forward and seek help.

Perhaps, finally, the veil of silence which has kept these problems hidden for so long, will finally be lifted.

 

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