VOICE TO ACTION: Muslims Against Domestic Violence
3/21/2010 5:34 PM
Did you know that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime? 1
According to a carefully estimated guess by major Islamic social service organizations in North America, this statistic applies to the Muslim women too. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year 2. This number also includes thousands of Muslim women.
Yes, one in every four Muslim women. You must know some who are already abused.
I know many.
Nearly 17,000 people, mainly women, are killed each year by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Denver.
I just close my eyes and see many faces in front of me. From extended family members to friends in the community. From Pakistan to America. From North Carolina to Ohio. From New York to California. They are everywhere; but they are hiding behind a veil of denial in the hope of preserving the so-called reputation of their families and communities.
“Muslim women have to carry the burden that they are protecting the identity of the community every time they don’t disclose that they are experiencing violence,” says Shenaaz Janmohamed of California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. “Because by disclosing violence … they feel like they are perpetuating the notion that Muslim communities are violent.”
A most prominent example of such a woman was Sr. Aasiya Zubair Hassan of Bridges TV.
Although we had pretended for a long time that domestic violence is not a prevalent issue within Muslims, especially in North America, Aasiya’s murder at the hand of her barbaric husband, Muzzammil Hassan, on February 12th, 2009, snatched that veil of ignorance and denial from our face and brought us to the worldwide attention.
Those of you who read my blog “Did we ever bother to know Muzzammil,” know what made me really angry then and still does is the fact that the whole community around this particular couple covered Muzzammil’s abusive character. People who saw what happened to his ex-wives did not make any extra effort to protect Aasiya. Instead, many of them kept blaming his ex-wives for their shortcomings.
I do realize it is unfair to blame the community solely, whereas Aasiya herself chose not to disclose her abusive relationship to those who could have helped her otherwise. But that leads to the question: why was she hiding?
May be Aasiya was protecting the identity of the community and the reputation of her family. May be she was simply very scared. May be she knew the harsh consequences very well and wanted to avoid them. May be all of the above are true. We don’t know exactly.
We may never find the right answers in Aasiya’s case, since she is gone forever without telling her story. But we can still find the right answers for hundreds of other abused Muslim women who are also trying to hide behind fake smiles with twinkling tears in their eyes. We can still save them before it’s too late.
With this vision, Dar al Islam, a New Mexico, nonprofit religious and educational organization, organized an event, Voice to Action: Muslims Against Domestic Violence in Arlington, VA, on October 17, 2009. This event was co-sponsored by altMuslimah.com, Peaceful Families Projects, Islamic Social Services Association-USA, and Karamah, Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.
Although the movement against domestic violence within Muslim community in North America has been in progress for more than a decade, this was the first time in years that major Muslim DV organizations sat together and talked about a collaborative effort. (watch the video)
Two early founders of this movement were Dr. Maryam Funches and Sharifa Alkhateeb. Some of the most influential and active torch bearers of this movement today are Dr. Aneesa Nadir, Shaheena Siddiqui, Asma Hanif, Salma Abugideiri, Joana Ladki, Bonita McGee, Robina Niaz, Maha Alkhateeb, Yasmin Turk, Shenaaz Janmohamed, and Anzala Alozie.
As a reaction to Aasiya’s murder, many community and media activists also came forward and have made domestic violence a major priority in their campaigns and organizational work. On March 8th, 2009, Halalfire Media launched altMuslimah.com under the leadership of Asma Uddin. This incredible website is busting many myths and exposing realities regarding gender and sexuality within Muslim communities. Sound Vision, the first Islamic media company in America, also teamed up with the ISSA-USA and conducted surveys and workshops to raise awareness against domestic violence.
The Director of Strategic Development at Dar al Islam, Anas Coburn, called for sustainable, collaborative action to actually dismantle domestic violence in the community. Dar al Islam with a 30-year history in America and a portfolio of projects such as the Teachers’ Institutes, Muslim Powwows (93-96), Deen Intensives, the Tarbiyah project, and its support of other various educational programs, has the capacity and experience to be a facilitator in a national movement by providing a platform for DV organizations. His call was well received. By the grace of God, the Voice to Action meeting marked the beginning of a new era. Representatives of more than 20 organizations and individuals attended the meeting. (watch the video)
In addition, as an initiative to facilitate the existing DV organizations, Dar al Islam will also launch a new website soon, Project Sakinah, Stop Family Violence Now. The purpose of this website is to educate and empower the Muslim community against family violence. Coburn gave a preview of the website to the attendees of Voice to Action meeting. (watch the video).
As a second step to the Voice to Action meeting, on December 13th, altMulimah is organizing a webinar for all who are interested in joining the movement. (click here for more info). This will be another historic event to engage the caring people nationwide. Mark your calendars now. This will be your opportunity to join in the movement that will preserve many lives in coming years.
We cannot bring Sr. Aasiya back, but we can surely save many other sisters and their children. We can return the joy and happiness to their lives. They don’t need to hide behind the fake smiles. Their smiles sould be real and the twinkling tears should be the tears of thankfulness and relief.
One in four Muslim women is abused today. It’s just the matter of reaching out and teaming up and we can easily save them. With little effort and by providing right support on time, I have already seen at least six sisters saved and settled in their happy lives today. It’s not that hard.
I invite you to join the movement now. You will soon see the results yourself.
It’s about time, my friends!
1 Tjaden, Patricia & Thoennes, Nancy. National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” (2000).
2 Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA.
Note: I posted this article on my personal blog last year. Please check it out for more posts on various topics.