Countering Domestic Violence

Article excerpt

Murder at the hands of a spouse/partner, the ultimate form of domestic violence, is the last stage of an escalating continuum of violence (e.g., physical, verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, and spiritual abuse) designed to achieve and maintain power and control over the other person. Such acts can range from name-calling and insults to pulling hair and hitting, repeated threats of divorce or deportation, distorting Islamic teachings to manipulate the other person, and, ultimately, to fatal injuries. According to the Bureau of Justice, 400 men and 1,247 women (some of them Muslim) were killed by their intimate partners in 2000. In 2001 , 85% of all such victims were women (Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, "Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001," Feb. 2003). According to the late Sharifa Alkhateeb, preliminary research shows that 10% of American Muslims have experienced physical abuse ("Ending Domestic Violence in Muslim Families," Journal of Religion and Abuse, no. 1 [1999]: 49-59). If we were to measure all forms of abuse, this percentage would be much higher.

In the face of a tragedy like the Aasiyah Hassan murder [in Buffalo, NY], the ensuing communitywide shock, grief, anger, and confusion has raised many questions: What could have been done to prevent such a crime? How can we protect our daughters, sisters, cousins, and friends from a similar fate? How can we safeguard our homes and marriages from violence, no matter how minor or seemingly insignificant? We may blame law enforcement, leaders, relatives, and community members for overlooking the signs and, perhaps, preventing such a tragic end. We may struggle to process how the media reported this death by decapitation. Ultimately, however, each one of us must do something to heal and protect others around us, thereby countering domestic violence.

Toward an Islamic Paradigm. The first step is to evaluate how we view our roles and relationships as men and women. How do we define a healthy marriage, a healthy relationship among family members, and our cultural values, beliefs, attitudes, and rituals? Are they in accord with Islam, or do they need to be modified? In other words, we should be just as willing as the early Muslims to abandon whatever cultural practices conflict with Islamic norms and practices.

In 9:71, God describes believing men and women as awiiya' (friends and protectors one another), whose job is to amr bi alma'rul and nahiy 'an al-munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil). The verse continues: "They observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey God and His Messenger. On diem will God pour His mercy, for God is Exalted in power, Wise." Such a partnership eliminates all forms of domestic and other violence by creating environments in which violence is neither tolerated nor taught. Real change can only happen when men and women sincerely partner to eliminate such violence and abuse.

We must begin by examining what we were taught and what we are teaching our children, as well as how we behave around them. We must assess how we are preparing them to determine and then enjoin good and forbid evil; if we are creating a positive home environment by using the Prophet's (salla Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) methods (viz., affection, gentle reminders, and, most importantly, modeling appropriate and desired behavior) instead of instilling discipline through punishment; and what beliefs and attitudes we are passing on to diem about their future roles as husbands and wives. Are we teaching them that sisters are created to serve tiieir brothers and, later on, their husbands, or that brothers and sisters are to take care of each other so that they may become garments for one another (2 : 187) after they get married? Are we teaching double standards by not permitting our daughters to do everything that we allow our sons to do, or enforcing the same rules for both to prepare them for the equal moral obligations we have as khalifah (God's vicegerents)? …