Shedding light on domestic violence and all forms of abuse
Marriage is a sacred bond that is supposed to build and improve us spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. The ayat, وَخَلَقْنَاكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا And We Created you in pairs, is just one of many verses in the Qur’an that places emphasis on the concept and value of marriage. In fact getting married is stated to be a completion of ‘half our deen’, subhanAllah. Notice how Allah did not just make it a part of our deen, or a portion of our deen but rather an entire half of our deen? Our spouses play a key role in our journey in dunya and vise-versa; wives are to complete their husbands as husbands are to complete their wives and none should ever feel superior or inferior to the other.
You see the purpose of marriage is much more than just being with someone; it’s about being with someone in a way that only improves your spiritual and emotional state of being. Marriage calls for a lot of rights and responsibilities which is all great, but it also involves a lot vulnerability on both ends. Spouses pour out their entire entity to one another in hopes of being cared for, loved, accepted and wanted. People allow their interpersonal selves to be in the hands of another, a state of being that is extremely personal and sensitive. This process requires a lot of love, mercy and dedication that is only appropriate and safe in a marital relationship. Often this vulnerability is taken advantage of, misused and abused by spouses. In some cases the demand for power and control develops, and marriage becomes a mask for emotional, financial and physical abuse to take place in silence. This practice has been labeled as domestic violence; an aggressive or violent behavior in which one spouse or partner is abused within the home.
Domestic violence is prevalent in all cultures, religions, races, income levels and countries; no group of human is benign to the reality of domestic violence. “Silent Cries” focuses on explaining and exploring the dynamics of domestic violence in the Muslim community by shedding light on stories of abuse that go unheard and unrecognized. I would like readers to understand the need and importance of breaking the silence in an abusive relationship. And why we as a community must fight against this domestic violence. Our communities should openly assist families dealing with domestic violence. There should be shelters, safe homes, support groups and encouragement available to victims of domestic violence. But unfortunately this matter often goes unheard of, women and men both struggle and suffer for years in violent homes, and environments and never get the help they need.
As a survivor of verbal and emotional abuse I understand how difficult it is to face the world without any resources, hence why I chose to focus on the topic of domestic violence. Many are still unaware of how damaging abuse can be and for that reason I want to present real experiences and stories along side information on how to identify and prevent abuse. The article is composed of voices from survivors, victims, fighters and observers. Words cannot describe how honored I am to have been able to listen and write about the personal experiences of women mentioned in the article. I would like readers to acknowledge the amount of strength and courage it took for these women to share their stories and I kindly request that you give these women the utmost respect they deserve and support they need.
The broken half
Many of us are aware of domestic violence in the Muslim Community, but the question is how prevalent is this issue? 1 To better understand the actual numbers and percentages I did a little research and found that a total of 9 domestic violence shelters reported that 1,962 Muslim women were served annually. The same study reported that the average age of these victims was 32 years, 85% were from immigrant backgrounds, 82% experienced emotional and verbal abuse, 65% financial, 49% spiritual, 74% physical and 30 % sexual abuse. 2In another study of 190 Muslims seeking mental health assistance in Virginia: 41 % experienced domestic violence (emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual). Of that 71% were female, 12 %adult males and 16% children. A total of 60% of all clients experienced verbal, and psychological abuse, 50 % physical abuse, and 14% sexual abuse. Unfortunately these numbers only represent the Muslims that actually went out to seek help.
The reality of the matter is many Muslims, especially females, don’t make the effort to seek help and assistance. For many women it is the fear of being ostracized from the community, and from family gatherings that prevent them from reporting or seeking help. Others buy into the idea that tolerating physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse is a form of piety. The fact of the matter is tolerating abuse is tolerating oppression and by doing so the victim is promoting oppression. In fact standing against oppression upon us and others is praiseworthy character; and by doing so one is preventing the abuser from further ruining his/her Akhira and sets good example for the children. Another factor that makes it extremely difficult to walk out of an abusive relationship is the fact that there is still love and desire to build a family together. Regardless of how painful the situation may be it’s very difficult to avoid the emotions and feelings that are present in a victim for the abuser. Our spouses are our better halves, they are obligated to support, care and love us and vice versa. But in abusive relationships a better half becomes our broken half, that requires much more than one can offer. Broken halves constantly demand emotional, physical and spiritual submission. There is no equality in the relationship and the concept of love is expressed through power and control. Broken halves feel loved when given authority, feel comfortable when obeyed and prefer to have their own emotional needs prioritized other others. As much as one would like to fix the broken half it is often impossible to do so; broken halves require a lot of professional and spiritual help. One may assume that time and dedication will change and heal the broken half but that is not granted. Many choose to stay with their abuser in hopes that one day he/she will change and suddenly become loving and compassionate. But the harsh reality is that happens very rarely. As time passes abusers tend to become more aggressive , controlling and demanding. They start to use different methods and tactics to abuse the victim, leading to heart breaking consequences. The following story is about a young woman who is in a constant battle with her broken half. Her story exemplifies how victims struggle to cut off ties with their abusers simply because they haven’t stopped loving them.
“ I Still Love Him”
A few years ago I met a very inspiring young woman while visiting my family in Stratford, London. For her own privacy and protection she asked me to call her Fozia.
When I met Fozia in the summer of 2014 she was living alone with a roommate working at a telecommunication company. She had just left her in laws home after being hospitalized for being brutally beaten by her husband and mother in law. She had been married for almost 3 years and was in desperate need of support. Her husband isolated her from friends, family and community members so she had no one to turn to for help. She had given up her family, career and social life to serve her in laws. She was prevented from leaving the house, getting a job, and sometimes denied food. Fozia and her husband had been dating for more that 4 years prior to marriage and their families did not approve of this.
After marriage Fozia’s in laws continued to dislike her presence in their son’s life but she was desperate for their approval; she explained that her in laws approval would make her husband happy and she believed that it would improve their relationship. However, regardless of what Fozia did, nothing made her husband or in laws happy. Within the 3 years Fozia had been physically, emotionally and verbally abused by several members of her husband’s family members, the stress and anxiety from the abuse had caused her to have 2 miscarriages. Fozia explained that there was little remorse or sympathy from her husband and in laws after her miscarriage.
After seeing how little her husband cared for her when she lost her second child, Fozia no longer wanted her in laws or husbands approval. She demanded to be respected and treated as a human and by doing so she ended up in a physical quarrel with her husband. Her mother in law stood by and encouraged her husband to hit her harder as she struggled on the floor. Fozia called the police and was taken to the emergency room where she was admitted for 3 days. After her discharge Fozia never returned back to her in laws home after that day. Even after leaving the house Fozia did not break off the marriage, she believed that her husband would change once he left his mother’s house and started living with her alone. Fozia and her husband got an apartment together and lived separate from her in laws but it was no use. Her husband would come and go whenever he wanted and Fozia knew little to nothing about his life outside of their apartment. In the midst of their struggle Fozia became pregnant and thought that this news would change her husband. But it didn’t , throughout her entire pregnancy he refused to be a part of her life and Fozia suddenly found herself to be a single mother. After the birth of her beautiful daughter her husband came once to see her with his family while she was in the hospital, but never returned to see her again. Her husband refuses to be involved in their life and her in laws want nothing to do with Fozia and her daughter. Fozia admits it will be difficult raising a child alone, but it’s better than raising a child in a difficult home. Fozia misses her husband dearly at times, and expresses that she still feels an overwhelming amount of love for her husband, but she would rather have her and the baby’s safety over everything else.
Fozia’s story is a reminder that regardless of how much love, support and compassion one gives to the broken half it will remain broken until they solve their own personal issues. It’s okay to love someone even if they don’t love you the same way, but it’s not okay to endure abuse in hopes of receiving or changing the way they love you. Many sisters like Fozia wait patiently to see if things brighten up in the relationship but unfortunately for most, things continue to get worst. In her own words a survivor of marital abuse explains her journey to survival.
“ Match Made in Heaven”
Like every other woman I too had many hopes, dreams and plans for the future , but I didn’t realize that one mistake would change everything. My life changed in 2011 when I chose to get married to whom I thought was the love of my life. I met him at my college Christmas Eve party; our eyes met and it was magical. I instantly fell in love, and our relationship was like a match made in heaven, I seriously thought I found something special. We dated for a while and there was nothing crazy about him, other than the fact that he was ‘crazy’ in love with me. My family had mixed feelings about him and they were hesitant about us being together.. When I brought up the topic of marriage they were reluctant but I managed to convince them that he was perfect for me; that we were perfect for each other. After our wedding we moved to Texas with his family and with the grace of Allah(swt) we were expecting our first child. I thought our marriage would become stronger, and that my husband would fall deeper in love with me because I was pregnant. But I was wrong, our relationship started to fall apart … all we did was argue and bicker. At times I felt like I wasn’t trying enough, so I would try harder but nothing worked. My husband’s sweet and loving words turned into anger, curses and insults. But I still had hope that maybe things would get better, maybe we were just going through a rough time … maybe he just needed time to get used to all the change. It wasn’t until my third month of pregnancy that I realized my marriage was no longer what it used to be.
It was a hot summer day and my sister in law and I were off to a theme park with a few of her friends and cousins. We ended up staying out later than expected and my husband started to blast my phone with text messages, I tried to explain that we were on our way home but he refused to understand. He started threatening me and telling me that I was gonna “get it” as soon as I came home. Out of fear of being hurt I ended up going to my older sister in law’s house. My husband arrived to my sister-in-law’s house shortly after I went over and started to beat me while his family stood by and watched. Not a single person intervened as he beat down on me. I felt helpless, alone and scared. I took in all the abuse, beatings and insults all throughout pregnancy and hid this devastating secret from my family. I wasn’t sure how to tell them that my perfect husband was a complete monster , and that I let someone abuse me in the name of love. As years passed I continued to take in the abuse and found myself once again pregnant with my second son, but not for once did I think about leaving… I just wanted things to work out.
In the summer of 2015 my father became very ill and I flew in from Dallas to see him. My husband refused to come along and quite frankly there was no reason for him to do so. After reuniting with my family I could not help but break down and tell them about the nightmares I was facing. My loving and supportive family took me in with open arms and scolded me for waiting so long to tell them. I lost my father that summer and before he left he told me that no matter what the situation is he would always support me through everything. After my father passed I decided to leave my husband and start out fresh. I now live with my mother and two beautiful sons in New York City. It took me a while, but I faced my fear, I fought for myself . . . and now I’m a survivor.
In Our Own Voices
Our character’s, personalities and lifestyles are shaped by our experiences, relationships and upbringing. How we are raised plays an essential role in making us the people we become; every single moment of our childhood has and will continue to have a chain effect on our lives. Who we choose to keep in our lives as friends, family, and significant others is very much affected by our childhood experiences. In fact our roles in the community, our career paths and goals are all linked to what we were exposed to while growing up. Our caregivers play an important role in our overall development; their ability and choice to respond becomes the foundation for our future personal and professional relationships. We rely on our families to respond to our personal and emotional needs and when those needs are met we move successfully forward in all fields of life and development. But when these needs are not met we start to crumble in different aspects of life. For children in distorted homes where abuse is a norm it is extremely difficult to move forward. Although some cases are more severe than others, the amount of pain and difficulty these experiences cause is unexplainable. Whether the abuse be physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual, the heartbreak, confusion, shame, guilt, depression, stress and fear that comes afterwards is present more or less in everyone. My words will fall short to explain the amount of pain and struggle a person faces when abused or exposed to abuse. Being that my explanations will do no justice to the victims and survivors of abuse I think it is more appropriate for me to share with you their voices.
“ Before I Forgive Myself, I Forgive You”
You will always have a very special place in my heart. When others talk about their fathers with pride, I will always think about you. You are the kind of father I want to talk about. You and I have such a special connection that we do not need words to fill the silence between us. The memory of the way you treated my brother and I will forever be cherished. And the tone of voice you would use towards Amu (mother) filled with such emotion still echoes in my mind. Thanks to you, I have learned to become stronger, kinder, patient, peaceful, and logical woman. Abu, you are the reason I can call myself an intellectual feminist, one who fights for equality between men and women. It is you who has made me understand why husbands should cherish their women who have given birth to their children. Surprisingly, through your actions I have gained perspective on why women should feel worth and pride. Everyday you give me motivation to work hard so one day I can reach my goals and help others reach theirs as well. And when I feel like quitting, all I have to do is think of your words and I just push myself further. I only hope that when I become a parent someday that I can tell the tales of your fatherhood for hours and hours. You should always know that in this world, you are one in a million.
Thank you for being the one in the million men in the world who has demonstrated a form of domestic violence. Thank you for the verbal, emotional, and at times physical abuse you have thrust upon us. Thank you for the childhood memories of when my little brother and I would hide away in the darkness while you unjustly and unreasonably screamed at Amu. The heightened chaos you would stir in a calm household. Due to your actions, my brother and I will unfortunately never look to you with the respect every father deserves. The guilt you have burdened us with will forever stay in our hearts. And the anger and frustration you have displaced has replaced the natural love a child should feel for their parent with hatred and fear. But I am sorry I do not want to be you. So before I forgive myself, I forgive you. Not only do I want to remember you this way but I also do not want to live this way. The way of the life that is consumed by such hate and disgust. Thanks to you, I have learned that my past and present does not have to determine who I am in the future. I have promised to dedicate my lifes work on aiding children who have felt rejected by their parents. I do not want children now to calculate their self worth based on the angry words spoken to them by their father. Thanks to you Abu, my personal story has created the remarkable woman I am today and for that I am forever proud.
With Love and Hope for the Future,
“We Could Have Had It All”
I used to think it was my fault that he hated me, that somehow as years past I’ve just become more and more unloveable. For the longest time I blamed myself for the connection he and I lost, for the relationship we never had, for the attention he couldn’t give. At the time I was going through several physical changes, and my body was growing parts that none of the girls at GreenPort Elementary School had. I started to blame my body for taking away my happiness, my ability to fit in at school and his ability to love me. I was an angry, lonely, heartbroken adolescent girl desperate for love, affection and friendship. I hated being at school just as much as I hated being at home; it felt like there was nowhere for me to escape.
As the years passed his silence turned into anger, criticism and ridicule; he had a negative comment about everything I did. I remember constantly being yelled at for not” laughing nicely” , as a result I stopped laughing whenever he was around. In fact I avoided facing him as much as possible, I spent hours in my room reading books, cleaning and drawing pictures just so I wouldn’t have to see him. We drifted further and further apart to the point where the only time he ever spoke to me was to insult me. His neglect turned into abuse; not the kind that leaves evidence but the kind that no one see’s. A form of abuse that still hurts, a form of abuse that never leaves you, a form of abuse that still keeps me up at night, a form of abuse that almost took my life, a form of abuse called emotional abuse. For him I was a disgrace, a mistake in his own words: “ I was unworthy to be anyone’s wife, too much of a slut to be wanted by anyone and most likely to left by my husband as soon as he had realized how filthy I am.” My high school years were quite the challenge trying to balance being happy, perfect and on top of everything was extremely difficult but not impossible. No one would ever guess my situation at home and that is exactly how I wanted it to be. I wanted everyone to think that everything was perfect at home and that there was nothing wrong with me. But the truth is nothing was perfect, everything was falling apart … I was falling apart. Somehow I managed to put everything aside to focus on my goals, my dreams, my future and successfully graduated high school. That summer I left home for college in hopes of making something of myself and felt relieved that I no longer had to face him. My four years in undergraduate studies changed my entire perspective of life. Alongside with classes and exams I somehow found my true self and instantly I fell in love. I finally began to accept and understand myself after years of self hate. I realized that I was never to blame for the emotional and at times physical abuse I faced growing up. I came to realize that I wasn’t unlovable; infact I am extremely lovable and the only person that missed out on anything is him . . . my beloved father.
My father missed out on getting to know his extremely emotional, fragile and sensitive adolescent daughter. He missed out on seeing a confused teenager grow into a mature and successful adult. He missed out on having a bond, relationship and connection with an amazing person. Today old age, life and illnesses have taken a physical toll on my beloved father and he’s become very weak, confused and displaced. He suffers from Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, depression and several other illnesses but nothing is as painful and heartbreaking than to watch him suffer from his own ‘loneliness’. As my siblings and I prepare for the world ahead of us, my father often finds himself left behind, forgotten and unwanted. He passes his days unable to talk to his children, unable to connect with them , unable to express his affection simply because he waited too long to do so. As I watch him stare blankly into the living room wall of their old brick house, I can’t help but think that we could have had it all. If he had just sat down and spoke to us with love , affection and kindness then maybe … just maybe his last few moments in Duniya would be spent differently. Although it would be reasonable for me to hold against my father the years of abuse, neglect and pain he’s caused me, I feel that it’s best for me to forgive him. His current situation is a reminder that hatred will never bring someone happiness and for that reason I pray that Allah forgives my beloved father for his doings. That he accepts him into Jannatul Ferdous and that while in Duniya he is granted the ability to enjoy the benefits of having 3 daughters, and 2 son-in-laws, that he enjoys the happiness of being a grandfather and that he enjoys the benefits of being loved by his imperfect daughter.
“ She remained quite”
My dad has been verbally abusive for as long as I can remember; most of the time towards my mother and sometimes towards us, the kids. He alway found something wrong with all the things she did; she never seemed to do things the way he wanted. This often led to him criticizing the way she cooked, cleaned and sometimes how she dressed. Regardless of how hard she tried to satisfy his needs, there was always a fault in the way she served him. Sometimes my mom would stand up and speak up to him and this would make things worse. When I was younger I used to hate it when she would talk back to him, I thought that the yelling and fighting would stop if she just stayed quiet.
One day my dad’s anger escalated and he started to beat down on my mom; I remember standing on the staircase entrance holding my two younger sisters tightly as we listened to the loud crashing noises and screaming coming from the dining room. I waited for my mom to say something, to speak up and defend herself, but she didn’t. That day I so badly wanted her to talk back to him, but instead she took it all in and remained silent. My relationship with my dad was already dysfunctional to begin with but after what he did to my mom that day it became completely unrepairable. The brutal childhood memories that my dad created has made it impossible for me to ever have a real relationship with him. Although he still exists in my life, there is little to no communication between us. We don’t talk about how we pass our days, we don’t call and see how things are going, we don’t go out on father daughter dinners, we don’t connect like we should. Understanding and accepting my family as it is will take a lot of time; I’m still in the process of healing these fresh wounds, cuts and bruises, but I believe with time I will come to terms with life and everything will be just fine.
Speak Up !
There is no doubt that abuse is unacceptable yet we still hesitate to speak out against it. We continue to hide away in the darkness and let this evil phenomenon continue. We as a community are a failure and disgrace to society if we do not rise against people, culture, and traditions that support and provoke abuse. No human being should ever have to live in fear, shame, guilt or disgrace. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said : “ Our lives begin to end the day become silent about things that matter.” So speak, speak up against violence, and injustice outside and within the home. Defend yourself, your sisters, your friends, your community members and people you care about. We as a whole need to support practices that empower women, that encourage positive relationships, equality in marriage and demote violence and abuse. We need to be able to understand and recognize abuse. We need to educate ourselves and others on how to escape abusive situations and how to stop them from escalating. By staying silent about domestic violence and abuse we’re promoting evil, we’re harming our religion and we’re ruining the future of our community. I beg my fellow brothers and sisters to take a stance and speak up against this. How much longer will we allow others to silently cry in the darkness of their homes? How much longer will we stand by and watch as one life after the other is slowly tarnished?
- Recognizing Abuse: Abuse is derived from the desire to have power and control of one person over the the other. Abuse has different forms it can be physical, emotional, verbal, spiritual, or financial. Sister Sharifa Alkhateeb has identified the following methods of abuse on the Muslim Power Control Wheel : [http://www.peacefulfamilies.org/dvwheel.html ]
- Seeking Safety: Here is a list of shelters and transitional homes for anyone seeking to escape to safety, http://www.api-gbv.org/resources/programs-serving-muslims.php