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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Wife Beaters

Is domestic abuse a “Muslim” problem? As some individuals have rightly noted, elements of domestic abuse are prevalent in all cultures. Yes, we should make efforts to eradicate this practice, but so too should everyone else.

I believe Muslims should be particularly concerned, for there are individuals who will manipulate Quranic verses and ahadeeth to validate domestic abuse. There are two types of individuals who do this. The first type consists of those who sincerely believe Islam allows men to beat or otherwise ill-treat their wives. Imams and religious leaders need to use the textual sources to convince these individuals that their mindset is wrong. This re-education and socialization will not happen overnight, but our religious leaders need to develop a plan that will eventually seek to eradicate the misguided notion that beating one’s wife has anything to do with Islam. The second group of individuals does not believe the texts legitimize domestic abuse. But they know their wives aren’t as knowledgeable as they are, and so they pretend there is an Islamic basis for their behaviour. These are despicable individuals, and there is little the community can do to reform them. But the community can generate a collective awareness that domestic abuse is wrong, and this feeling will ripple out and act as an element of social control. The community can also make direct efforts to help such families by educating and providing support to the women so that they are able to understand and stand up for their rights.

Of course, there are some Muslims who don’t really care what Islam says or doesn’t say about domestic abuse. Their lashing out lacks religious undertones. Should we care? I believe so. We should seek out alternative determinants for domestic abuse. Do the individuals believe that their culture gives them a licence to control and coerce? Some families are extremely authoritarian and hierarchical by nature. Women, like their children, are expected to serve and obey their husbands. Or perhaps there are other reasons for domestic abuse. In some cultures, working defines the man. Immigrants may feel deep frustration and inadequacy if they are unable to find a job or provide sufficiently for their family. There are ways for the community to assist such individuals.

It may be naïve to assume that men who beat their wives will change. But I have seen the most unlikely men reform themselves. I know of a man who had a serious drinking problem and physically abused his wife for countless years. She stuck with him, but after enduring great suffering for a long period of time, she decided she couldn’t take it anymore. She gave him an ultimatum, and because he loved her dearly, he agreed to go through with treatment and give up his drinking. He is now extremely remorseful, seeking to make up for all that he had done, and they have a beautiful relationship. So there is always hope, even for the worst among us. That does not mean that women must be left to suffer. Far from it. Whether or not the men seem beyond any sort of help, we have an obligation to assist the women and children, for they are members of our community. We must seek out creative ways to do away with violence and abuse of any kind in the household.

Read Part 1: "Domestic Abuse: Don't Believe Me?"


  • At 4/15/2005 01:10:00 a.m., Blogger Fej said…

    I think abuse spans generations and religions, unfortunately.

    I do think that at least in the western hemishpere, that the rate of domestic violence has decreased, but has been far from eliminated, when it comes to domestic abuse.

    Most likely this will definitely have to be a topic of attention for many years to come.

  • At 4/15/2005 01:14:00 p.m., Blogger Ginny said…

    Assalamu alaikum, there needs to be some serious domestic violence education in the Muslim community, and imams and other people who have to deal with this sort of thing need to be educated.

    It's not enough just to talk to the man and make him promise that he won't do it again, it's not enough to tell the wife to go back to her husband because "he'll be tempted if you stay away". and it's not enough to say "I've talked to him he says he won't do it again, so everything is fine".

    People need to understand that domestic abuse is a cyclical thing. And many times the man can't stop on his own. And many men are so deluded that they don't even feel they have done anything wrong. Yeah, some men do change, but that is a rarity, and women should not hold on so much to what is most times a false hope.

    That's why women stay in abusive relationships, because they hope the man will change, at least that is how it is in most cases.

    If a woman is being abused, she should be helped and allowed to stay in a safe place until such time as either the man gets therapy and deals with why he's been abusive in the first place, or if he doesn't get any kind of help, the woman can make the decision on where he wants to go.

    It seems so many times that people want to save marriages at all costs, but a woman's life is not worth saving a marriage, especially one where there is violence because that just perpetuates the cycle, and then what are the kids involved going to grow up doing?

  • At 4/15/2005 05:05:00 p.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Your comments are great. Thanks for sharing. I agree with you that often the children grow up mimicking their parents, ie boys can often grow up to be as abusive as their fathers are.
    I think religious leaders who make trite statements to victims of abuse are just as blameworthy as the perpetrators themselves. Sometimes they don't understand the culture here or that domestic abuse is absolute no-no. Or their main goal may be to reconcile the couple, and so they may gloss over the abuse in their efforts to avoid divorce. These are all issues that I feel need to be discussed.
    I hope to address some of these problems in future posts.

  • At 4/16/2005 11:42:00 p.m., Blogger cncz said…

    Salam alaikoum...I want to add something a lot of people don't talk about, which is when women hit back. I've seen so many couples where it started out with the man hitting (very bad) and the wife hitting back (also bad).

  • At 4/17/2005 02:44:00 p.m., Blogger Natalia said…

    Domestic abuse cuts across cultural and religious lines. Unfortunately, some cultures have come to accept it as the norm. In Russia, for example, there are so many cases that if somebody's wife shows up to work with a black eye-nobody gets involved. Everyone just assumes that she "did something to deserve it."

    I think I was lucky enough to grow up with a father who told me that if a man so much as lifts a finger, he is trouble. And he was man enough never to hit my mom.

    People do a great job of trying to justify abuse with religious texts; I've seen it done with the Quran and the Bible.

    I've actually once spoken to a guy whose dream was to marry a young orphan straight out of some monastic orphanage, and to beat her whenever she displeased him. He had already convinced himself that she would be so "thankful" for having been "rescued," that she would submit to the beatings as "any good wife should." A closet sadist, if I ever saw one. Unfortunately, he was also Russian, and it's not like you can call the cops on guys like that over there.

    The few Eastern European Muslims I've spoken to (the converts especially, for some reason), are very against this sort of thing. I think it's because the converts, having seen this sort of abuse among their friends and neighbors, see Islam as a projection against that sort of thing.

  • At 4/17/2005 02:52:00 p.m., Blogger Natalia said…

    To clarify further:

    I see Muslim converts, especially in Russia, as being very passionate about being good Muslims. Most of the time these young people don't depend on imams for guidance, they depend on each other and the Quran. This actually fosters a lot of improvement on the Russian norms of (mis)behaviour, particularly where women are concerned. I've never seen a convert call a woman a "whore" or say that "she deserved it," which, unfortunately, happens a lot in Russia and its neighbouring countries today. :(

  • At 4/19/2005 12:40:00 a.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Those are really interesting insights. I think a lot of people are ignorant about how prevalent domestic abuse is, and how, as you mentioned, it cuts across ethnic and religious cleavages.
    Thanks for sharing.


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