SISTERS Annual Tea Honors Muslimat Al Nisaa Shelter
3/21/2010 5:23 PM
Written by Laila Shaheen
The following article first appeared in Muslim Link.
Domestic violence is a reality in 10 percent of the homes in the United States regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status or education. That number includes those living in Muslim homes. Often times, women in abusive relationships who decide to leave will end up homeless. The hard economic crisis that we currently face is another factor in the increasing numbers of homeless women in the US. And again, this includes Muslim women.
On March 14th, Sisters in Solidarity to Educate, Respond & Serve (S.I.S.T.E.R.S) held their 3rd Annual Tea, where they honored one woman who has worked diligently to help alleviate the suffering of Muslim women who find themselves suddenly homeless. Sister Asma Hanif, operates a women’s shelter and clinic, Muslimat Al Nisaa, in the Baltimore area. The shelter offers a safe haven to Muslim women and children. While the concept and dream of opening the shelter was initially that of our late sister, Maryam Funches, Asma has carried on with her dream of her dear friend.
"We don't just provide a home but also services to help [sisters] thrive in this community," explained Hanif. Hanif spelled out how difficult it is to maintain a facility solely for Muslim women, because doing so prevents them from receiving any government grant money. "It's a poor business situation because we can only rely on the Muslim community to keep the doors open. But the sisters who come here are in a vulnerable state and see the shelter as a safe place.” During the question and answer portion of the presentation, Hanif was asked if she thought about opening the shelter to non-Muslims as a form of dawah. While she had considered it at one time, she pointed out that for every non-Muslim she accepted in, she would have to turn away a Muslim sister thus forcing her into a non-Muslim shelter system where her needs may not be met."
Each year, SISTERS honors and highlights the achievement of an organization or a person who is committed to empowering women. Past honorees include Women for Women International, an organization dedicated to helping women in war torn areas rebuild their lives and also, Azizah magazine one of the first magazines focusing on issues that concern Muslim women. This year’s focus centered on domestic violence and homelessness in the Muslim community. This important topic is often times ignored and even down played by community leaders but has recently returned to the forefront of discussion with the horrific death Aasiya Hassan earlier this month by her estranged husband and founder of Bridges TV, Muzzammil Hassan.
As the Tea continued, the issue of domestic violence was further discussed in a presentation by Sister Bonita McGee from the Peaceful Families Project, the only national organization committed to ending domestic violence in Muslim families.
"Abuse is about power and control and the belief that the abuser has a right to do it," explained McGee, a family therapist who has spent much of her career spreading awareness of domestic violence among Muslim leaders. "It is a pattern of behavior that happens again and again. There is a cycle to it." She described five types of abuse - the most common being physical and emotional abuse. However, McGee also went into detail on the lesser talked about forms including financial, spiritual and sexual abuse. She explained that Islam vehemently opposes any form of oppression and since domestic violence uses humiliation, cruelty and brutality to keep a person down, it is explicitly deemed unacceptable.
Some of the attendees were shocked by what they learned at the luncheon. "I had never heard of it," remarked Alexandria resident Halima Maknass, who was attending her first SISTERS event. "I never knew that Muslim women were abused." Others believed the issue is hidden for specific reasons. "I think [domestic violence] goes unnoticed because women who are victims of abuse are often not given the support and encouragement they need," said Saman Hussain.
Hanif and McGee are trying to change that.
During the course of the luncheon, while sipping flavorful teas and nibbling finger foods, the attendees raised more than $1,300 thus exceeding the goal which was to provide the shelter with land line phone and internet service for at least one year. “As Sr. Asma pointed out, the shelter depends solely on the support of the Muslim community, and SISTERS wanted to do our part.” said SISTERS Chair, Laurie Jaghlit. The luncheon was also an opportunity to meet new friends, strengthen sisterhood and network with like-minded women. "It was a fabulous lunch and I got a chance to meet more sisters and see what they all do," stated Sarah Ahmad at the close of the event.