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The perfect couple
Meet Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful. No need for formal introductions, you know exactly who they are.
You see them at the market when you pick up your weekly goods — that adorable pair with the seemingly perfect marriage. They met in college and fell in love. He swore he couldn’t live without her, nor she him.
Their families were hesitant, but they didn’t care. Their wedding was the talk of the town — white procession horses, silk Damascus cushions, and pristine attire with intricate designs made to match those on the seven-tier cake.
Their walks in the park are observed my many in the neighborhood; how ardently he gazes at her and how content she appears in the company of his embrace.
At parties, no one can doubt their compatibility; her kind face composed with bliss and serenity balances his modest appearance and confident smile.
The perfect home, the perfect life, the perfect couple indeed. That is, perfect from where the public sees.
Behind the closed doors of their humble abode, however, lies a different story, one that is not spoken about at parties and gatherings nor displayed during peaceful walks in the park.
It’s the story of anger and heartache, sadness and guilt, anxiety and frustration.
It’s the story no one wants to hear, and everyone avoids admitting. It’s the story of an endless struggle of domination shadowed with bitter pain for which there seems no remedy.
It’s the story of a stressful marriage fueled by financial plunders, uncontrolled tempers, inconsistent communication, and lack of understanding.
It can be triggered from just about anything — a foul remark towards a significant other, the helpless cries of a hungry infant, or even the bitter taste of a piece of burnt toast served for breakfast on a Saturday morning — and can lead to the unexpected.
It begins with a war of words; a small meaningless quarrel evolving into a battle of control.
A slap across the face ignites the tempers; firm on contact, it provides the perpetrator with a blaze of relief while the victim succumbs to a blaze on the cheek.
A push here and a shove there follow, sometimes resulting in a broken arm or bleeding lip.
Pulling the hair and elevating the voice to chilling decibels of fury supply the right amount of intimidation while a burn next to the delicate eyebrow subdues any sensation to retaliate.
The victim hopes that a scream of anguish will pacify the incident; but then again, it may just aggravate it even more.
The noise subsides and the victim slowly moves toward a mirror — its time to survey the damage.
A bright red bruise on the elbow and a slicing burn mark next to the left eyelid; not too bad this time around, nothing that can’t be covered with a little makeup or a long sleeve shirt.
The finale convenes at last with a few sweet-nothings and an apology from the perpetrator. The victim sympathizes and they resort for a solemn night’s sleep, both fully aware that the incident will repeat itself again the very next day.
Every 15 seconds a woman is abused in her home. "Not in my community" one may say.
However the truth is, everyone at some point has spoken to someone in their life who has been a victim of abuse, whether or not you knew of it at the time.
You may not even know her name, only because she is too ashamed to admit it actually happened to her.
But she is a victim and she is out there — in your community, on your street, maybe even in your own home.
It has become the crime without a face and the sin without a penalty.
Why? Perhaps its existence isn’t acknowledged the way it should be; perhaps it remains too hidden from our view; perhaps its complexity makes it difficult to comprehend; or perhaps we’re just too busy to care. But undeniably, it is there.
The sour truth
Domestic violence affects all types of people and discriminates against no religious denomination or ethnicity; from the well known to the unheard of, from the prosperous to the helpless. It is the rotten fruit of the Muslim community.
Imagine peeling back the skin of a bright gold banana and seeing that unappetizing rotten brown spot. As you stare at it relentlessly, it begins to suppress your taste. You feel betrayed, for who would’ve expected such an appalling interior to such a perfect exterior? The flesh made it look so delicious, the smell made it seem so sweet, the texture made it appear flawless. But once the peel is shed, the damage is visible; it must be dealt with in some way — it must be rid of before it makes you sick.
Domestic violence must be dealt with in an appropriate way in order to educate, provide assistance, and prevent future occurrences in those who suffer. This devastating social crisis affects men, women and children across America as it hinders physical, social, and psychological functioning in well being and daily life. The Family Violence Prevention Fund describes it as "a pattern of purposeful behaviors, directed at achieving compliance from or control over the victim." Domestic violence has a theme of recurrence involving cycles of outbursts and regret by both parties. It affects both women and men. According to researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, abuse is a learned behavior that is intentional in order to gain control over another person. Abusers often tend to deny their behavior by rationalizing it, excusing it, or worse, blaming the victim for its cause.
Infants and children in these families are our most vulnerable. Ten percent of victims are pregnant at the time of abuse and 10 percent report that their children had also been abused by the batterer. Dr. Aneesah Nadir of ISSA states that "the majority of battered women have children who are hurt physically and emotionally by the violence in their homes. More than half the children whose mothers are battered are likely to be physically abused themselves." During the last decade, domestic violence has been identified as one of the major causes of emergency room visits by women. Nationally, domestic violence has become the number one cause of death among women. Although research on domestic violence in the Muslim community is still ongoing, social advocates do not deny its predominance. A study done in the 1990s revealed a prevalence rate of 10 percent in the Muslim community, though advocates believe the numbers are much higher.
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Domestic violence is common in Muslim marriages and has often been viewed as a permissible act by Muslims and non-Muslims alike due to misinterpretations that Islam supports the "subordination of women."
Misinterpretation of Qur’anic passages have undoubtedly led to many misunderstandings about abuse in Islam. Western stereotypes have only enhanced those misunderstandings in a post 9/11 world.
"Violence against women is not an Islamic tradition," said Shaikh Junaid Kharsany of Inglewood’s Jamat-E-Masijidul Islam. "Allah mentions,‘And those women you fear their mischief, then counsel them, and distance from them in the beds and hit them, if they obey then you don’t have a path to them.’ (Qur’an, 4: 34). This applies when the wife of a person is guilty of major religious transgression such as adultery or theft and she is out of her bounds. A man is first advised to counsel her, then distance himself from her and finally to hit."
"But in order for any [verse] to be understood, it has to be interpreted via the teachings of Prophet Muhammad," Kharsany explained.
"The Prophet, commentating on this [verse] mentioned if it comes down to the last stage, you may hit ‘darban qaira mubarrih’ (such a shot that does not injure, bruise or leave a mark). When a man does wrong, his wife is not expected to beat him. He will be dealt with by his community. Too many people view this as a permit to use unregulated force. This is a cultural thing that stems from society allowing men to get away with actions unchecked. It stems from unjust favor showered on many males by their parents, giving them a false sense of superiority. If a man has not followed the guidelines shown in the [verse], he is an oppressor. If his action results in injury, he is an oppressor."
Maintaining the happiness of a family is the solid foundation of Islamic morals. A husband is advised to find and appreciate the agreeable traits in his wife rather than focus on her faults. Prophet Muhammad equated perfect belief with good treatment to one’s wife when he said: "The most perfect believer is one who is the best in courtesy and amiable manners, and the best among you people is one who is most kind and courteous to his wives."
Support is out there
Though their voices may be silenced and their stories often untold, Muslim victims of domestic violence will be surprised to learn that help for their wounds is as close as making a trip to an established Islamic center, contacting an agency like NISWA or ACCESS or picking up the phone and calling a help hotline.
Kharsany often sees victims of domestic violence who seek assistance from such Islamic Centers.
"Muslim victims of abuse should approach a religious leader they can trust or a reliable chapter of an Islamic organization like ISNA or ICNA," he said. "I cannot guarantee how their case will be handled, but they will be educated on the legal and religious options available to them. Situations are more difficult when there is substance abuse or mental illness involved, it might warrant getting the authorities involved as well."
Kharsany feels that victims will often limit police involvement because they think situations can be resolved in other ways or that they were brought forth from prior diminutive situations.
"Most victims are women, although an increasing number of men are complaining of this situation," Kharsany said. "The number of men could be higher; however being considered a wimp is a factor in a man’s life."
Seeking assistance at a local mosque is just one way in which victims can receive the guidance and support needed for protection. Local community organizations such as ACCESS California Services also provide a network of resources and social services for those who are in need.
ACS was founded by Nahla Kayali who had a passion to help the Muslim and Arab Communities in finding necessary resources pertaining to social services, immigration, health, employment and domestic violence. ACS reaches out to countless families in the southern California region who are in need of such support venues. Rida Hamida, the director of the organization’s new Counseling and Support program was herself a domestic violence victim. She feels there is a great need to give back to the Muslim-American community. "People think domestic violence is just physical, but it’s psychologically and financially abusive as well," Hamida said. "The perpetrator is not always the typical bad guy — he can be the charming good-looking man you see walking down the street. I was told I couldn’t have my own bank account or that I couldn’t finish my education. I was disconnected from my family and from my rights."
"That’s what domestic violence does to you — your spouse embeds thoughts in you that make you question yourself and disregard your own judgment. It wasn’t until I filed for divorce that I realized what oppression was."
Hamida, who received her education from UCLA with the Department of Social Welfare, joined ACS four months ago, working as a social worker. She provides families with a non-judgmental atmosphere while being culturally sensitive to their needs and stories.
"Empathy is the most important value a social worker practices when working with the victims," Hamida said. "It’s something they may not always receive from families or Islamic centers. My having experienced domestic violence first hand has allowed me to establish a rapport with my clients. We want to empower them, make them feel like survivors and validate their worth."
As an Arab-American, Muslim social worker, Hamida understands the necessity of safety first when it comes to working with the Arab and Muslim community.
"Victims need to feel a sense of safety when reaching out for help and that is why we provide them with options and resources that validate their concerns," she said. "I try my best to empower those who are victims. It’s very hard to hear them say, ‘I deserved it.’"
ACS immigration attorney, Akram Abusharar, assists victims with applying for protection for legal status when their spouse uses their immigration status as a way to manipulate the victim into staying in the relationship.
"We refer to shelters, assist with social services, and assist them with applying for restraining orders," he said. "As for the perpetrators, many of them are referred to our agency to receive counseling and anger management."
Hamida is working on implementing protocols at each mosque in the area that provides a domestic violence assessment, as well as a bridge between ACS and the mosques for more supportive services.
Hamida collaborated with Shaikh Yassir Fazaga of the Orange County Islamic Foundation in Mission Viejo to discuss ways in which to educate the community about the severity of domestic violence in the Muslim community.
In accordance with October being Domestic Violence Awareness month, ACS, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Islamic Center of Hawthorne hosted a program educating the community about symptoms of domestic violence, the legal process, and the Islamic and cultural perspective.
ACS recently received The Community Incubator Award from UC-Irvine for the work they do with the Arab and Muslim community.
"A lot of Arabs and Muslims don’t want to work with our communities. I find that to be the reason why our community is not as strong as it should be," Hamida said. "If we just put our criticisms aside it will empower our community members to support each other. This is the great thing about [ACS]. We have the ability to say ‘I can help you’ without creating stigmatization cross barriers; we remain culturally competent while catering to the needs of every individual."
Law firms and community projects — a Muslim in new territory
It’s not everyday that you see a woman in a headscarf walking the corridors of the Los Angeles Superior Court. That all changed, however, when 25 year-old Samina Husain arrived as a passionate volunteer to assist victims in the Domestic Violence Project. Founded 20 years ago at the Pasadena Courthouse, the Domestic Violence Project is sponsored by the LA County Bar Association and assists nearly 6,000 victims each year.
It aims to provide pro-bono legal services to needy victims and helps them prepare any legal documents such as filing a petition for a restraining order.
Husain is a graduate from Rutgers University with a degree in political science and captain of the EMT squad in New Jersey. She looked into opportunities to volunteer and came across the Domestic Violence Project through the LA County Bar Association Web site and immediately took initiative to contact them.
"It’s sad because domestic violence is very much prevalent in our community too," Husain said. "Unless Muslims are willing to accept its existence and the pertinence in addressing it, we won’t get anywhere towards resolving it. We need the leaders of our community to talk about the social ills in our Ummah."
Husain also emphasized the need for education by distributing pamphlets and holding seminars.
Husain’s supervisor and director of the Domestic Violence Project, Deborah Kelly, agreed.
"During the course of my being a part of this project, I have never seen a Muslim victim. Or perhaps they come and we don’t know their Muslim; either way, it’s not something we would normally ask," Kelly said. "We try to be sensitive to the woman’s situation because we want to empower them. I just hope more Muslim women can become aware of the services available to them."
Both Kelly and Husain urged more participation from the Muslim community in order to bring down cultural barriers and generate awareness of the services that are available. "You don’t see a lot of Muslims volunteering in these types of arenas," Husain said. "It’s great da’wah and more people should do it. But more importantly, it will provide an intimate space for Muslim women who are victims to domestic abuse to communicate in a comfortable manner with someone who understands their religion."
Domestic violence is very much a preventable conduct and victim or not, everyone must play their part. According to the Orange County Department of Child Support Services, potential victims should be on the lookout for behaviors such as hitting, pushing, threatening, humiliating, isolating, damaging goods, withholding money and assets as signs of domestic violence. It is also important for families and friends to be alert of any unusual behaviors they see among partners and to notify the authorities, a shelter, or a hotline given the severity and longevity of the situation. It’s very easy to look away when witnessing a quarrel break out between a husband and wife – especially in a public arena; often people don’t want to embarrass others or come off as nosy. However, one must accept that this may come at the risk of harm reaching another innocent individual who may not have the means or stamina to speak out on their own.
Marriage preparation education and premarital counseling can also help future spouses learn skills that will assist them in developing a healthy, violence-free family life. "Both genders are equally guilty of this abuse. No one can look into a crystal ball and see the mindset of a person under stress prior to commitments like marriage," Kharsany said.
"Most importantly, people should recognize that going into marriage is like learning how to drive a car. You must have the proper training and tools needed to make sure you avoid an accident. I advise young people to attend marriage workshops before making serious decisions. It’s important to understand what the role of a partner is in a marriage and what each party needs to do to placate versus fuel a stressful situation if it arises."
Classes in leadership development and self-defense, and study in the area of communication and relationship psychology to learn about what healthy relationships look like may prove to be extremely beneficial.
In addition, anger and stress management, decision making and problem solving skills are also very important life skills that can help prevent domestic violence. Workshops are offered in various shelters and Islamic centers throughout southern California.
Sabeen Shaiq Flores works for the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum in San Francisco. They provide training and resources to other organizations as well as to conduct research studies on the topic.
The APIAHF received funding from the National Institute on Justice to conduct a research study on help seeking efforts by Indian, Pakistani, and Filipino women who have experienced domestic violence.
Their purpose is to see how the criminal justice system and health officials have been treating such women and what improvements can be made to make it easier for the three populations of question.
"The Muslim community can address the topic by addressing the topic," Shaiq-Flores said. "Talk about it; the more you talk about it, the less intimidating it is to deal with it. I have heard too many people giving harmful advice to women experiencing abuse or making false assumptions. It is never a women’s fault.
Muslim men need to act like Muslim men -- have patience, be loving, be kind, and if they can’t handle it then they need to leave the woman and divorce her."
Most importantly, Muslims must encourage victims of domestic violence to seek help, whether it is spiritually or professionally. "To any victims of domestic violence in the Muslim community, I want you to know that you’re not alone," Kelly insisted. "Services are available to you. You don’t have to tolerate being abused, ashamed, or embarrassed -- it’s not your fault."
For more info about domestic violence and ways to reach out, educate and prevent, visit:
Editor’s Note: InFocus published an article in July 2005 on the issue of domestic violence. We felt it was important to follow-up on such an important topic affecting the community.
To read the original article, go to: