Model Shannon Corbeil Photograph by Maha Alkhateeb © Dar al Islam The clock announced 5 o’clock. Huma, 28, looked at it with disbelief. The week was passing so quickly. It was already Wednesday evening. Only two days were left till her husband would come back from a nearby town where he had been living for his work. Only two more days. She was shivering severely. The thoughts of him being in the apartment were as scary as having him in the apartment.

Scared and alone Huma was caged in that apartment for a few weeks. Every weekend her husband would come to torture her with new creative ways. He would abuse her as much as he wanted and then would leave her alone for another week with a little food and limited means of communications.

One would think that Huma would either die of hunger and fear or at the least would become a mental patient. Neither is true. Hers is a story that belies the traditional stereotypes of women in the Muslim community and speaks to the universal challenges of domestic violence in all communities.

Huma came from an extended family with a network of strong women. Her mother had more sisters than brothers. Unlike the stereotype of Muslim families preferring sons over daughters, her grandparents celebrated each one of their daughters’ births back in 1930s and 40s. They nurtured their daughters into Islamic values of liberty and equality for women. They sent all of them to college and made sure that they become strong, educated mothers.

Just like their parents, these sisters also made certain that all of their daughters went to college. Most of her sister-cousins now work as professionals, either full-time or part-time, depending on their family situations. In her family, Huma has seen women doing anything and everything, nothing is impossible there. Being submissive to a violent and abusive husband is not an option in this family.

Back in the mid 90’s, Huma’s mother was visiting her sister in America and Huma was on her mind. In her mid-twenties, she had just completed her masters in science, and her mother was eager to find a good match for Huma. One of her aunt’s very good friends referred a local Muslim man in the community to them, Sami.

Sami, 32, was divorced with one daughter with whom he had joint custody. From the beginning, he was manipulative. He told her family that his ex-wife was an American woman and that she was not raising his daughter right; thus, he said, he divorced her. Her family later realized that they couldn’t believe much that he said. Her uncle realizes now that he didn’t research his background enough. He says, “He seemed like a very nice gentleman, and my friend gave us very positive feedback about him. We did not think about anymore investigation.”

That year, Huma was wed in Pakistan to Sami. Most people were very impressed by her charming groom. As soon as the couple came to America, the husband lost his charm. She saw a different person behind the face of a nice gentleman. Bad language, abusive behavior, greed and lust for money, fake identities, no connection with Islam, and no respect for universal human values were just some of his permanent traits.

He scrutinized her every move. He tried to control the way she walked, the way she talked—everything. One day, she found the files on his first divorce and was shocked by what she read. It had a detailed account of domestic violence and abuse. She was scared, and she asked him about the charges. He said his first wife had fabricated the allegations against him. But soon, he started abusing her in the same ways that she read in the file.

Huma was terrified by the situation. She never heard such language and had not seen such treatment of a wife, or of any woman, in her family before. In the beginning, she cried behind closed doors in the hope of changing her husband with love and submission. But it was getting worse by every passing day.

She had some hopes from his family, but she found them to be the worst people in the world. They always supported and encouraged Sami’s abusive behavior. They never tried to stop Sami’s violent actions even in their own presence. They were as manipulative as he was. They told her several times that if she would leave him, her father would die of heart failure and nobody would marry her sisters.

Confident about her family support, Huma decided not to keep it to herself for long. Instead, she shared everything with her family. Her younger brother was studying in another state. He was furious. He called Sami and told him, “If you raise a hand at my sister, there will be serious consequences.” “Is it a threat?” Sami asked. “Yes it is,” the brother replied.

The threat worked to some extent. Sami was a women abuser; he did not have courage to fight even a boy who was way younger than him and was smaller in size. The physical abuse went down, but nothing else changed. He decided to cage Huma with not enough to eat, nothing to spend and no phone to communicate. He moved to another town and would visit on weekends only. “It was like living in a hell that nobody can imagine,” she says now.

Her aunt and uncle did not sit quietly either. Their good standing and involvement in the local Islamic center became a serious problem for Sami. They talked and informed community about his abusive behavior. It was a threat to his reputation. In rebuttal, he slandered against Huma and cut her off completely from friends and family.

But he could not cut her off from God, the most merciful, the most beneficent. She immersed herself in the prayers and the reading of the Holy Quran. “The more I read it; the stronger I became,” she says, “Quran gave me clarity about my rights and standing in the world.”

In the meantime, her family arranged marriage counseling. The counselor was the same imam who counseled Sami’s first wife before. He played a remarkable role. Unlike other imams, he did not take Sami’s side. He understood the situation. Therefore, he sincerely advised Huma to get out of the marriage before having kids.

“We all preferred saving Huma rather than saving her marriage,” her brother says. Her family agreed that divorce was the only option. As soon as Sami found it out, he told her to leave. For him it was an ego issue. He made sure to initiate that divorce and told everybody that he got rid of another bad woman. She fought back and got divorce on her grounds establishing that he was abusive and violent.

Although it was the first divorce in her family, they were all relieved. It was a fresh start for Huma. She had left Sami behind, and world was wide open with so much to offer her. Her brother moved in with her to support her. She took some bio-medical equipment courses and worked as bio-med technician at a hospital for next five years.

“I liked being on my own and I was having good time,” she says. “My brother was my main support; he assisted me in everything, everywhere.”

Besides her family, some community members too played a great role in her recovery. They kept her in their social circle and kept her involve in the Islamic center. They also acted as shields against the abusive remarks of Sami’s supporters in the community.

After seven years of anxiety and fears of getting remarried, with her family’s help, Huma was finally convinced by a business executive that she would be loved and secured.

“I liked him a lot. He is a simple soul, you don’t have to pretend in front of him,” she says. “He is the complete opposite of Sami; he was all fake.”

In 2003, once again, she started her married life. This time, it’s a real peace of mind with a loving husband and a little daughter.

Her message to all of those in abusive relationships:
“Don’t, don’t, don’t waste your life. Get out of an abusive relationship as soon as possible. Reach out and reach out quick. Once you decide to live with dignity; God will not leave you alone. You will find help, but you have to take the first step.”

Webmaster Note: This post is written by Zerqa Abid and was originally published on her blog under the title "all She wanted was a Life with Dignity... "



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