“You are worthless! The nail on my toe is worth more than you!”
The above was uttered by a husband to his wife and mother of 2 very small children. These are some of the words men have said to women. Surely all of us has heard or seen domestic violence in our community. Remember the CEO of Bridges TV beheading his ex-wife at the office of the then famous Bridges TV? He waited for her in the dark armed with butcher knife. He beheaded her with brutality. She was mother to his 2 infant children. Of Course you must have heard about the 75 year old Pakistani man who beat his 66 year old wife to death with a stick. She didn’t cook what he wanted. Instead of cooking meat, she cooked lentil soup.
Domestic violence hurts everyone! It hurts our spouse. It hurts the children involved, it hurts the parents of the abused, and as a result, it hurts the community. Children’s view of a marriage and how a husband should treat his wife is obtained from what they see. This gets engrained in them at an early age. When they get married themselves, they emulate what they saw in the marriage of their parents. The vicious cycle of domestic abuse continues every generation unless an effort is made on the part of those involved.
The 75 year old man who beat his wife to death said something interesting. Per his lawyer:
“He comes from a culture where he thinks this is appropriate conduct, where he can hit his wife,” Clark said in her opening statements at the Brooklyn Supreme Court bench trial. “He culturally believed he had the right to hit his wife and discipline his wife.”
His statement which sounds ridiculous gives a glimpse of the culture we have created to support domestic violence. The Patriarchal dominated culture is installed and propagated everywhere in our community. Even the mosques are not safe from this disease. In fact, religion is often used as a weapon by men as an excuse for domestic abuse. The husbands and sheiks at the mosques are quick to quote Quranic verses and hadith in regards to how women should treat their husbands.
Enabling Domestic Violence
What’s disturbing is the enabling behavior of some of the Muslim women. Mothers tell their daughters how she should make sure the husband is always happy and she should always obey and never anger him (he may lose control at any time). During Ramadan, the local mosque either had a potluck dinner or catered the dinner from a restaurant. The food was divided between men and women. However, the women did not eat until the men had finished their dinner. Men had no problem asking for food from the women’s side. Some of the women drank coffee and took a few bites of food. This self-sacrificial attitude was observed by several of the younger women who expressed how it is unfair for men to get all the food and women to go hungry. Thus the seed of inferiority is planted in the young women at an early age. My observance may sound harsh but it is the reality and women cannot continue this cycle of enabling unfair treatment. This is only alienating our youth and new Muslims away from Islam. Islam does not permit tolerating injustice for anyone. Culture is very frequently mistaken for religion and used as a weapon to enable domestic violence.
First step in ridding our community from this disease is acknowledging that the problem of domestic violence exists in the Muslim community. We are not immune to this disease. I am not sure if there are any statistics specifically regarding the Muslim community. However, I am certain if there were statistics, they would point to a growing trend of domestic abuse. We do not need statistics to know there is a problem. Just listen to the stories, the existence of women’s shelters housing Muslim sisters who decided enough is enough. Look at the broken families and pain on the faces of the children whose only fault was being born in an abusive house.
Second step is to educate the Muslim community through creative, thought provoking mediums. One of the requirements for every imam should be to go through domestic violence certification. They need to be well versed in counseling and pointing the people to the appropriate resources. Imams need to balance the scales regarding spousal rights. It’s not acceptable to speak of the rights of a husband for 40 minutes and skim over the rights of women in 5 minutes. The imams need to have a good understanding of the culture and the time we are living in to appropriately guide the community.
The curriculum of Sunday schools and Islamic universities must include courses on domestic violence. Our youth need to be taught the respect for opposite gender at an early age. Islamic universities specifically have a higher responsibility in this regard as the youth are in the marriageable age. Summer camps are also a very good opportunity to address this issue with the youth. The point is to use the opportunities when we have youth’s ears to address the issue of domestic violence in a creative, personal, youth centric manner.
Perhaps one of the most important and overlooked aspect with regards to domestic violence is the role of a father in the family. We tend to emphasize the role of a mother in raising children but often overlook the role of the father. Fathers are relegated to merely a provider of shelter, food, and other necessities. Fathers are not expected to communicate with children. Rather, they are the second level of discipline when mom’s threats go on deaf ears. We have all heard “Wait till your father gets home” right? Fathers also demonstrate to the son and a daughter how to treat women. They are a reference point to how the son will treat his future wife and what the daughter expects from her husband.
When our youth are ready for marriage, we should encourage both the genders to go through pre-marital counseling. We have to train knowledgeable brothers and sisters from our community to become counselors. We can than send our young men who are about to get married to a trained knowledgeable brother who can have a one-on-one private counseling session (s). Same can be done with the young women with a female counselor. The counselors can cover several important areas of marriage over several sessions. These consolers can also serve as mentors to the youth as they become husband or wife. Often times, it is difficult to discuss marital issues with our relatives. Having counselors who keep client confidentiality would encourage newlyweds to obtain guidance at a critical time of their lives.