in the Muslim Community
BY KAMRAN MEMON
Wife abuse has hurt many Muslim women, destroyed many Muslim families, and
weakened the entire Muslim community. How much longer can Muslims afford
to look the other way?
"And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among
yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and he has put
love and mercy between your (hearts)..." Qu'ran 30:21
"I recommend that you treat women with goodness. The best of you are those
who treat their wives the best." Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him)
While North American Muslims loudly protest the widely-documented Serbian
abuse of Muslim women in Bosnia, the abuse of many Muslim women at the
hands of their own husbands in North America is hidden and ignored by the
Domestic violence is the single major cause of injury to women in
America."Nearly one quarter of women in the United States - more than 12
million- will be abused by a current or former partner some time during
their lives," according to the American Medical Association; and, despite
Islamic teachings of justice and compassion, many Muslim women in the
United States and Canada are no exception.
Based on information from Muslim leaders, social workers, and activists
North America, the North American Council for Muslim Women says that
approximately 10 percent of Muslim women are abused emotionally,
physically, and sexually by their Muslim husbands. (There are no hard
numbers, because community leaders haven't taken the well-known problem
seriously enough to research.)
Wife-abuse, which stretches across all ethnic, racial, educational, and
socio-economic lines in the Muslim community, results in severe emotional
and physical pain for many Muslim women, a stacking up of sins for many
Muslim men, and many weak, unhappy Muslim families that fail to contribute
adequately to the development of the Muslim community and the rest of
North American society.
Despite the severity of the problem, the Muslim community has largely
closed its eyes and devoted very few resources to helping the victims and
stopping the abusers.
This is doubly unfortunate because family violence is one of America's
most critical health problems (according to the American Medical
Association and the U.S. Surgeon General), and Islamic leadership is
needed to deal with this crisis; but Muslims are clearly in no moral
position to lead society because they commit and tolerate abuse within
their own community.
FORMS OF ABUSE OF MUSLIM WOMEN
"Domestic violence is an ongoing, debilitating experience of physical,psychological,
and/or sexual abuse in the home," says the American Medical
Although Islam promises women protection from such problems, the reality
in many Muslim homes is different.
The most common form of abuse is emotional and mental abuse. In Muslim
homes, this includes verbal threats to divorce the wife, to remarry, or
take the kids away if she does not do exactly as she is told; intimidation
and threats of harm; degradation, humiliation, insults, ridicule,
name-calling, and criticism; false accusations and blaming her for
everything; ignoring, dismissing, or ridiculing her needs; neglect and the
silent treatment; spying on her; telling her she is a failure and will go
to hell; twisting Islamic teachings to make her feel worthless because she
is a woman; restricting her access to transportation, health care, food,
clothing, money, friends, or social services; physical and social
isolation; extreme jealousy and possessiveness; lying, breaking promises,
destroying trust; etc. Emotional abuse can take place in public or at
Although it's completely contrary to the example of Prophet Muhammad,
peace be upon him, the Muslim community nonetheless tends to dismiss the
seriousness of mental abuse, rationalizing it as a petty argument between
husband and wife, and saying it's not serious unless he hits her. In
reality, mental abuse does severe psychological harm to many Muslim women.
It destroys their self-esteem and makes them question their self-worth;
some have mental breakdowns and go insane.
Furthermore, psychological abuse can lead to physical abuse.
Physical abuse includes pushing, shoving, choking, slapping, punching,
kicking, and beating; assault with a weapon; tying up; refusing to help
her when she is sick or injured; physically throwing her out of the house;
etc. Physical abuse escalates in frequency and severity.
The third form of abuse is sexual abuse, involving forced, violent sex.
For example, a wife may not want to have sex for health reasons, but the
husband may force her anyway.
These three forms of abuse are usually related and occur of a long period
of time. Muslim men, just like non-Muslims, often start with mental abuse
and work their way up. Muslim women need to recognize the signs of
WHY DO SOME MUSLIM MEN ABUSE THEIR WIVES?
There are a number of factors that make many Muslim men abusive.
Abusers are often part of a cycle, picking up the habit after watching
their own fathers abuse their mothers in North America or in Muslim
countries. And their own children learn this abusive behavior and abuse
their wives. (This is an important point because the longer the Muslim
community tolerates abuse, the longer it will be passed on from father to
son, from generation to generation.)
For cultural reasons, some Muslim men accept the idea that it's normal for
a man to hit his wife and that she is no more than a piece of his
Some Muslim husbands abuse their wives as a result of frustrationresulting
from economic hardship, political oppression experienced outside
the U.S., problems with the children, or an inferiority complex.
Some abuse their wives because they want them to be more "modern" and less
Islamic by removing their hijab (Islamic dress), while others are abusive
because they want the opposite.
Some Muslims with superficial ties to Islam don't know that abuse is
unacceptable due to their weak faith, poor Islamic knowledge, and lack of
interaction with the Muslim community.
Tragically, some Muslim men actually use Islam to "justify" their abusive
behavior. Focusing on rituals, considering themselves to be Islamically
knowledgeable, and disregarding the spirit of Islam, they wrongly use the
Qur'anic verse that says men are the protectors and maintainers of women
to go on power trips, demand total obedience, and order their wives
around. They disregard the Islamic requirement for the head of the
household to consult with other members of the family when making
Then, if their wives dare to speak up or question their orders, these men
misinterpret a Qur'anic verse that talks about how to treat a disobedient
wife and use it as a license for abuse.
In reality, the Qur'an and Sunnah provide clear instructions on what
procedures a husband must use in conflict situations where the husband is
innocent and the wife is rebellious and at fault. The first step is a
peaceful discussion between the two of them about the problem and
solutions. This is intended to soften hearts and eliminate
misunderstandings. If this doesn't work, the next step is for the husband
to tell his wife his expectations in a firm, decisive manner. If the
rebelliousness and disobedience continues, the husband is supposed to
leave the bed, which is really a punishment for both of them for not being
able to resolve their differences. If that fails to solve the problem,
representatives of both sides meet to try and arbitrate. As a last resort,
if he thinks it will prevent divorce by letting the wife know how serious
he is, the husband can use a light slap on the hand or shoulder but not
any other part of the body, and it shouldn't leave a mark or scar.
Anything beyond this is Islamically prohibited.
This procedure is to be followed _only_ when the wife is the cause of a
serious problem and the husband is innocent, compassionate, and
well-behaved. If the husband is the cause of the problem, he has _no
right_ to do any of this.
Unfortunately, Muslim wives often accept un-Islamic treatment from their
husbands because they don't know their Islamic rights, and they don't
realize their husbands are crossing the Islamic line.
Abusive men are completely disregarding the Islamic teachings of kindness,
mercy, gentleness, and forgiveness, just as they are disregarding the
example of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who never hit a woman and
was extremely gentle and compassionate with his family.
WHY IS HELP SO SCARCE?
One problem is that many Muslims don't want to get involved in the
"private" family affairs of other Muslims. Rather than enjoining good and
forbidding evil, rather than trying to stop abuse in a friend's or
neighbor's family by offering to mediate between the husband and wife or
by encouraging them to speak to Muslim counsellors, many irresponsible
Muslims close their eyes and pretend they don't know there's a problem.
the abuse goes on.
Another reason why abuse isn't stopped is that many abused Muslim women
simply don't seek out help. They're afraid that if their situation becomes
public they will lose their privacy because Muslims gossip so much, and
they fear the abusers will become more hostile when the negative publicity
gets back to them. Furthermore, many abused Muslim women remain silent
because they lack confidence in themselves and believe that they somehow
deserve the abuse. Abused Muslim women also keep quiet out of a feeling
hopelessness and a belief that no one will help them, out of financial
dependence on their husbands, out of a desire to keep homes together for
the children's sake, or out of love for the abusive husbands. Other Muslim
women accept the abuse as a fact of life and learn to live with it.
Of those who reach a breaking point and seek help, many Muslim women turn
to imams but often find them unhelpful. Imams often tell these women to
patient and pray for the abuse to end. Some imams make the abused Muslim
women feel guilty, telling them they have brought the abuse upon
themselves and instructing them to go home and please their husbands.
Other imams, who are sincerely but mistakenly misinterpreting Islam by
putting the importance of family privacy above any harm that might come
the individual woman, tell the women it is wrong for them to discuss their
problems with anyone other than their husbands. The imams's reactions stem
from ignorance, cowardice, or friend-ship or blood relationship with the
abusive husbands. Relatively few imams have had the wisdom and courage to
tackle the problem head-on. As a result of this, many abused women don't
bother turning to imams for help.
Looking for other sources of help, many abused Muslim women have turned
relatives only to be told to accept the abuse because making a big deal
out of it could hurt the relatives' family honor and reputation.
Finding many imams and relatives to be more cruel than Islamic, abused
Muslim women often turn to Muslim female activists and Muslim women's
organizations for help. While these activists are often untrained in
crisis intervention, they are getting the abused women out of their houses
and hiding them until Muslim men can be sent to try to reason with the
husbands. They often collect money from other women to give to the abused
women until it's safe for them to go back home. When continued attempts
salvage the marriages have proven futile, these activists counsel the
abused women on how to get out of their marriages.
As for national Islamic organizations, most have largely ignored the issue
of wife abuse, neglecting to highlight the problem and solutions during
national conferences or to devote resources to helping abused Muslim
Overall, the services provided by the Muslim community for abused Muslim
women take care of one-quarter of the need, according to Muslim activists.
Because the Muslim community often leaves them to suffer, many abused
Muslim women turn to shelters run by non-Muslims for help. (Seeing abused
Muslim women at shelters leaves non-Muslim social workers with an ugly
picture of Islam. As far as many of them are concerned, Islam is no more
just and compassionate than Christianity or Judaism because the Muslim
community tolerates wife abuse too. Going to a non-Muslim shelter can
result social workers taking children away from troubled Muslim homes if
they think it is better for them to be in a more stable environment, which
often ends up being a non-Muslim home.)
Many women go even further, leaving Islam altogether because the Muslim
community fails to live up to the Islamic promise of protection,
brotherhood, and sisterhood.
THE COMMUNITY'S ROLE
The Muslim community has clearly failed in its obligations to protect many
Muslim women and to bring many cruel Muslim men to justice. The community
needs to deal much more effectively with wife abuse in order to stop the
immediate suffering of people in abusive situations and to help build
healthy Muslim families.
First, the community must accept the fact that there is a problem and that
it doesn't know how to deal with it.
Then a core group of trusted, active Muslim men and women in each North
American city, who are committed to ending wife abuse in the Muslim
community and to strengthening Muslim families, must become knowledgeable
about Islamic guidelines on the family and be trained in crisis
intervention and counseling. (Unfortunately, some community "leaders" will
be too ignorant or arrogant to seek such training; but they must not be
allowed to get in the way.)
Since there aren't yet many Muslims qualified to teach crisis intervention
and counseling, several Muslim women throughout North America have started
learning these techniques from non-Muslim social service agencies (listed
in the phone book under wife abuse, domestic violence, or crisis
intervention). Other Muslim women and men need to follow suit. Whatever
they learn from these agencies should be cast in the light of their
Islamic knowledge of properly functioning Muslim families.
Once they know what they're doing, members of core groups across the
continent should recruit and train others in their communities in crisis
intervention and the Islamic perspective on the family. There should be
network of at least 100 trained counselors in every major North American
A list of trained Muslims and their phone numbers (or one Muslim hotline
number) should be circulated throughout the community in each city so that
abused women know whome they can turn to for meaningful help.
(Most of women approaching the network initially will be physically abused
Muslims. Victims of mental abuse will less likely to reach out at first
because many have become accustomed to the abuse and accept it as a way
life. But educational programs at community gatherings -- explaining what
Islamic family life should be like and explaining that there is help
available for abused women -- will let emotionally abused Muslim women
know they have a way to stop the pain.)
These trained Muslims should give abused women shelter (at people's homes
or at community facilities, such as a rented apartment) for periods
ranging from several days to several months depending on the extent of the
abuse, while counseling them.
(Beyond this, taking into account the fact that many Muslim women will
still turn to non-Muslim shelters because they don't want to deal with the
Muslim community or because the community program is not big enough to
help them, the Muslim community should sensitize people running non-Muslim
shelters to the particular needs of Muslim women; and trained Muslims
should visit the shelters regularly and constantly remind shelter
operators that they are available to help whenever a Muslim woman comes
While caring for the abused women, the trained Muslims should counsel the
abusers separately, making them aware of the reasons they abuse, of the
fact that their actions are truly harming their wives, that such behavior
is completely un-Islamic, and that God will hold them accountable.
After separate counselling, the next step would be joint counselling for
the husband and wife, and then counselling for the entire family. The
objective should be to heal the family, but divorce may be necessary.
Another option, that some Muslims in New York have tried, is to punish
Muslim men for their abusive actions. A "security force" warns, and then
beats up, if necessary, Muslim men who continue beating their wives.
Usually the abusers get the message; this is the only language many of
them understand. Some men have to be beaten before they wake up and are
ready to listen to rational, Islamic arguments.
Police and psychiatrists may have to be involved in severe cases of
Community education is an indispensable factor on top of all this.
Starting today, throughout the process outlined above, community leaders
and other concerned Muslims need to educate people -- about the problem
and about efforts to help victims and prevent future abuse -- through
Friday khutbahs (sermons), educational seminars, and workshops. These
educational programs can themselves reduce abuse by letting people know
the community isn't going to tolerate it anymore. the community isn't
going to tolerate if anymore.
Furthermore, the community needs to extablish classes to teach Muslim men,
young and old, how ot be proper husbands and fathers and to teach Muslim
women, young and old, how to be proper wives and mothers. Many Muslims
don't know their rights and obligations in these roles.
In addition, in order to prevent future family problems, parents and
community leaders must teach shildren and young adults to be
compassionate, to value the family, and to resolve problems in an Islamic,
It's also important for Muslims to go into field like psychiatry, women's
issues law, social work,and counselling.
No Muslim community in any North American city has taken all these steps.
Unfortunately, the entire plan could take years to implement. (Of course,
that makes it all the more necissary to start immediately.) But when
theses steps are taken, abuse should decrease if not stop in the Muslim
community, according to Muslim social workers and activists.
If, once all these steps are taken, there are more abused Muslim women in
specific communities than these networks can adequately help, then Muslims
should establish good quality, properly staffed, and well funded Muslim
shelters. Many communities may not need to go this far, but some may.
DO YOU REALLY CARE?
It sounds like a lot of work, but the problem is serious enough to warrant
a lot of work. The Muslim community has shamefully tolerated abuse for a
long time. How much longer will Muslim families (and therefore the Muslim
community) be weakened by abuse? How much longer will abusers be allowed
to run free and unpunished in the community? How much more abuse will
Muslim women have to endure before the community decides that enough is