Domestic Violence is Haraam
By: Shahina Siddiqui*
I am yet again dealing with another case of domestic violence within the Muslim community and wondering when will we take our families and their needs seriously. When will we start supporting organizations like ISSA so that it can reach more families and help preserve our community.
First it is important to assess how much do we actually understand about this social ill, this disease of the nafs. Do we actually understand the sheer abhorrence with which Islam looks at wife abuse? Do we know the impact it is having on our families and our youth and our viability as a healthy community?
By neglecting to address this disease that is becoming more and more apparent in our community, we are becoming complicit in an injustice that each and every one of us will have to answer for, to the Merciful Creator.
Due to our inaction we are allowing our mothers, daughters and sisters to be used and abused, harassed, beaten, maimed and killed. Do we think that their pleas and cries are not reaching the heavens?
Have we forgotten that during 38 years of married life of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h), we do not find even a single incidence of abuse or mistreatment of his wives and daughters? In fact Prophet Muhammed instructed us, “I recommend that you treat women with goodness. The best of you are those who treat their wives the best.”(Sahih). In another hadith he stated,” The best among the faithful is the one whose character (akhlaq) is the best, and the best among you is one who is best towards his wife.” (Tirmidhi).
By ignoring to tackle the issue of ill treatment of women, we are complicit and responsible and in violations of the sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ( p.b.u.h).
Many verses in the Quran specifically warn Muslim men about their duty to women and of the purpose of marriage. “Among His signs is that Allah created spouses for you from among yourselves so that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and Allah has planted love and mercy between you. In this are signs for people who reflect” (30:21).
“O humankind be careful of your duty to your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate…Be careful of your duty to Allah in whom you claim your mutual rights” ( 4:1).
” In accordance with justice, the rights of a wife with regards to her husband are similar to the rights of her husband with regards to her”.(2:228).
“O ye who believe ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will nor should ye treat them with harshness…If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good” (4:19). Men are protectors and maintainers of women …. “(4:546)
Some Muslim perpetrators and critics of Islam, wrongly based on faulty translations, take the Quranic verse 4:34 to prove that Islam allows men to abuse their wives- “As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct admonish them, (first), next refuse to share their bed, and last chastise (wadribuhunna, but if they return to obedience seek not against them means of grief for Allah is most High Great above all” (4:34).
This falsehood of associating this verse to condoning wife abuse is a blatant lie that the Quran warns us against, ” Behold how they invent a lie against Allah but that by itself is a manifest error” (4:50).
The Quran also warns against applying means of grief against the wife. Furthermore, the obedience the wives owe their husbands (within reason) under Shariah is conditional to the husband’s obedience to Allah and His Prophet Muhammad.
Obviously a shariah-violating, non-practicing, abusive, violent man is not in obedience to Allah and therefore has no right to demand or expect obedience from his wife.
If issues are not resolved through this last stage of resolution then divorce is imminent. Verse 4:34 is not a verse that gives blanket or in fact any approval or condones any action that can be used as a justification for wife abuse. If it did, it would be abrogating all the other verses that call for peaceful, equitable and loving relationship between husband and wife and this would be against the rules of exegesis of the Quran.
Verse 4:34 is not about wife abuse or domestic violence at all. In fact the Quran states, “If a wife fears cruelty or desertion or ill-treatment on her husband’s part there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves…”(4:128).
Furthermore, classical scholars of Shariah also stipulated that the above steps towards conflict resolution leading to reconciliation can only be implemented if the wife is totally in the wrong and the husband is innocent of any wrongdoing or contributing in any way to the conflict and only after both have decided that divorce is not an option.
This practice of the Prophet sustains the linguistic interpretation/translation of the Arabic word ‘dribah’ in the verse 4:34 and is being considered by scholars is as valid as to ‘walk away’. A husband should walk away from a situation that angers him – partly to cool down and partly to show his disapproval. Even if this interpretation is not based on ijma or consensus, the sunnah makes it clear that wife-beating and abuse of any kind are not acceptable since these cruel acts violate the Islamic spirit of justice and compassion and do not promote peace at home.
The overwhelming number of verses of the Quran dealing with marriage and husband-wife relations, encourage peace and tranquility as the goal and purpose of domestic life and mercy and love as the governing principles.
The logical conclusion is obvious – domestic abuse does not promote or nurture peace at home and therefore cannot be tolerated within the Muslim community.
The community needs to understand that domestic violence accounts for 50% of murdered women in Canada based on statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association. There is no general character composite of a man who is violent towards women, since they come from all socioeconomic classes, religious and ethnic groups.
We often mistakenly blame women for staying in abusive relationships and therefore refuse to believe them when they do come forward and speak up.
What we seem to forget is that these women are afraid. They fear for their lives and that of their children since an abuser often threatens in order to control his victims. They are also usually financially dependent because even if they are earning, he controls the money.
In North America many immigrant women do not have an extended family or a support mechanism to help them to move out of a abusive relationship.
Some Muslim women, due to their poor understanding of Islam or anti-women norms, come to believe that this is their fate and that they must accept it in order to gain paradise. This is further enforced by well-meaning but misguided community leaders who tell these women to go home, be better wives and have sabr.
Abused Muslim women also fear community reaction and rejection because many a times their husbands are well-respected and well-known members of the community. They are kind and well behaved in public and therefore people find it hard to believe that they become monsters behind closed doors.
As a community we need to deal with this social ill not only by treating it but also by taking preventive measures:
- To prevent we must develop “How To” kits for Muslim couples based on the Quran and sunnah on all aspects of Marriage – husband and wife relationships, stress management, parent & child relationship, roles of in-laws, extended families, pre-marriage preparation and counseling for both men and women.
- we must expel any practice that is against the spirit and teaching of Islam. We must identify behaviors that are not acceptable as well as apply social consequences for unacceptable behavior.
- to help break the cycle we must implement educational programs in Islamic schools that promote healthy family values and teach.
- zero-tolerance for domestic abuse. We must provide children coming from abusive homes with positive role models and treat them with mercy and compassion.
- Parenting, stress management, anger management and communication classes must become regular part of Islamic school curriculums and Community Awareness Programs.
- We must start acknowledging at a leadership level that abuse is a problem in Muslim communities and that we need to address it.
- Myth and fears can only be put to rest through education. workshops on peaceful homes and functional marriages must become regular features of Islamic centers.
- Treatment must be two-fold. Both victim and abuser must be helped. During this period, victims must have access to Muslim shelters and must receive assurances from the community through financial, emotional and spiritual support.
Islamic Social Services Association of Canada and USA, along with other initiatives in North America, have been doing pioneer work in prevention and education about domestic abuse. ISSA needs the community’s assistance to help break this cycle of violence from plaguing our future generations as well as helping to restore peace and security to the victims of abuse and their children.
ISSA needs assistance in continuing the education of Imams in assessing and dealing with cases of domestic abuse effectively, fairly and legally.
Imams and community leaders are usually the first responders in cases of domestic abuse and if they are not trained or informed in the pathology of this social ill, they may inadvertently become complicit in this injustice.
ISSA needs your help to employ social workers, establish shelters and provide counseling. These services need to run professionally and within the Canadian legal framework while maintaining the spirit of Islamic principles of justice, compassion and fair play.
Lest we forget in the last sermon, Prophet Muhammed (p.b.u.h.) instructed his followers for all times to make sure that the rights of women are maintained and secured because these rights are sacred.
No cultural practice, no tribal custom, no ignorant tradition, no matter how entrenched, can be allowed to take precedence over the teachings of the Quran and sunnah.
Sexism, racism and ageism are vices that we must purge from our midst if we are to be true followers of Islam and to benefit from its blessings.
* Sr. ShahinaSiddiqui is the President of Islamic Social Services Association(ISSA) of Canada and author of ‘Helping Victims of Domestic Abuse-A guide for Imams and Community Leaders.’