Domestic Violence in the Muslim Community

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

And among His signs this that, that He created

For you mates from among

Yourselves, that ye may

Dwell in tranquillity with them, and

He has put love

And mercy between your (hearts) ...1

Unfortunately not all Muslim households experience the tranquillity described in this verse from the Qur'an. Domestic violence occurs in Muslim homes all around the world and is a significant problem in the United States. According to estimates by Muslim activists in the United States, approximately ten percent of Muslim women are abused emotionally, psychologically, sexually, and/or physically by their husbands.2 One Islamic community estimates that for every case of abuse reported, almost fifty are unreported and that less than two percent of victims actually seek help.3 In spite of the prevalence of domestic violence, very little research has been done specifically on the problem of domestic violence in the American Muslim community.

This paper is an attempt to provide a general introduction to domestic violence in the Muslim community in the United States. Given Islamic teachings against homosexuality and casual intimate relationships outside marriage, this paper will focus on partner abuse strictly in the context of marriage.4

First, this paper will highlight women's rights in Islamic law. Islamic law is based primarily on the Holy Qur'an and secondarily on the Sunnah, or the ways of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (PBUH).5 This paper deliberately minimizes the focus on men's rights, since the Muslim community has historically emphasized men's rights and women's duties and often neglected to emphasize women's rights and men's duties. As will be shown, ignorance of their Islamic rights is one of the leading reasons why Muslim women remain in abusive situations and accept violence as Islamically ordained behavior. In this paper, I pay special attention to personal interviews with members of the Muslim community, and this paper is partly based on my own personal experiences growing up in this community.

Additionally, this paper will examine the resources available to Muslim women and why those resources are not often utilized. These resources include Mosques and domestic violence shelters. At this paper's conclusion, a number of recommendations to the Muslim community will be made for the eradication of domestic violence in Muslim households.

II. Domestic Violence in the Muslim Community

Marriage and family are the bases of Muslim society, and Islam is said to bless, support, and aid these relationships.6 The peace and security offered by a stable home is considered to be essential for the spiritual growth of Muslim families.7 It is believed that Islam's family system brings the rights of the husband, wife, children, and relatives into an equilibrium.' For this reason, violence shatters the very security Islam is supposed to maintain in the home.

Deviation from Islamic teachings is believed to be one of the major causes of domestic violence in Muslim families.9 Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and it knows no race, ethnicity, or socio-economic boundaries. Abusers can be some of the most charismatic members of the community, making it hard to believe that they could abuse someone they claim to love. Abusers can be professionals or community leaders who come from a wide range of income levels, as do the victims.

Domestic violence in Muslim homes takes several different forms. A husband may threaten to divorce his wife, to remarry, or to take the children away if she does not submit to his will.10 He may tell her that her failure to submit and obey will send her to hell, or he may twist Islamic teachings to question her worth as a Muslim woman.11 He might restrict her freedom, isolating her from family and friends, or display extreme jealousy and possessiveness. …