by Alveena Salim
What would you do if you were subjected to extreme physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by the one who claimed to love you? What would you do if your husband came home one night drunk and abusive? What would you do if he sexually abused you coz you accidentally burnt his shirt?
What would you do if your husband thought it was ok to use you as a punch bag for ten years? Would you accept your fate? Or would you be provoked into hurting your husband the way he hurt you?
These were some of the dilemmas faced by Aishwarya Rai when she played the role of a victim of domestic violence in the film ‘Provoked’. Directed by Jag Mundra, the film is loosely based on a true story.
So what is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is any kind of emotional, mental, physical or sexual abuse within the family. Emotional and mental abuse can include humiliation, blackmail, neglect, false accusations and intimidation. The abuser may also control the victim’s access to money, education, food, clothes, healthcare, and may also deliberately isolate them from their family and friends.
Domestic violence is about controlling someone by instilling fear in them. Often the severe affects of emotional abuse are dismissed, however this form of abuse has serious consequences that can result in low self-esteem, depression, mental breakdown and even suicide.
Domestic violence is more common than you’d think and it isn’t exclusive to any gender, ethnicity or religious background. Statistics show that more than 2 women are killed every week by a violent partner in the UK alone. However much the Muslim community would like to ignore this issue and pretend it doesn’t exist, it’s about time we faced up to it. The Muslim community can’t be in denial any longer. We need to accept that some Muslim women are abused by their Muslim husbands.
So why don’t Muslim women just report domestic violence?
Many Muslim women do not speak out for fear of bringing shame to the family’s ‘izzat’ or honour. The stigma attached to divorce also makes it difficult for women to break out of an abusive relationship. Some women may have been made to believe they are to blame, while a lot of women put up with the abuse for the sake of the children, hoping the husband will one day change and the abuse will stop.
Some victims may not even speak English or do not know how or where to seek help. Also, trust issues prevent them from opening up. Only recently it emerged that some Muslim women feared raising sensitive issues with their GP in case the information somehow got back to their families.
Victims of domestic violence
From the first time he hit me I knew instantly that things would get a lot worse from that day on. Unlike you see on the TV or hear about, my husband was never apologetic or begged me to forgive him.
He always seemed very satisfied with himself for having ‘put me in my place’. One night after slapping, punching and kicking me he grabbed hold of my throat. It was in that moment when I was choking and struggling to breathe that I realized how bad things had got, and that for the sake of my life I needed to leave him. Over the years he had reduced me to nearly nothing with his controlling and obsessive behaviour and had made me feel worthless.
Coming so close to death, and the fear of realizing that my husband could actually so easily kill me made me for the first time in years actually value my life. I had to admit to myself that my marriage had failed. Out of everything, that was the most difficult and heartbreaking thing ever.
The abuse was mainly emotional and mental and had become an everyday part of my marriage. It had started with him restricting which family members and friends I was allowed to be in contact with, but he soon began to dictate my every move. It was as though he was constantly testing my love and respect for him.
In the beginning I always did as he asked me to because I loved him and wanted to make him happy. But then it seemed he wasn’t ever happy with anything I did. It was as though to prove I loved him I had to give up my life to him. He felt that as his wife I was his property, so he could treat me however he wanted, whenever he wanted.
If I didn’t do as he said, he felt I was disrespecting him and would become abusive. I never spoke to anybody about the problems we were having, because I felt so ashamed of how little regard my husband had for me. When my parents realized something was wrong and tried to talk to him, he argued that they had no right over me anymore and he could treat his wife as he wanted. It was on my parents saying that I separated from him.
Shazad Khan, 25,
was unhappy with his marriage because he had been rushed into it, and he soon began kicking and beating his 19-year-old wife. Leeds Crown Court heard that Ms Rani’s injuries, similar to those of a car crash victim and worse than any the Home Office pathologist had seen in his 16-year career, were so severe that she would have been in constant pain and ill for at least three weeks before she died. Khan was convicted for murder and jailed for life.
So what does Islam say about domestic violence?
Islam strongly condemns domestic violence. Abusive men totally disregard the Islamic teachings of kindness, mercy, gentleness and compassion towards their wives and ignore the example of the Holy Prophet who never in his entire life lifted a finger to punish his wives. The Prophet said:
“The most perfect believer in faith is the one whose character is finest and who is kindest to his wife.” (Tirmidhi and Nasa’i).
The Prophet also said:
“How can any one of you beat his wife as he might beat a camel, and then expect to embrace her at night?” ( Bukhari and Muslim)
In the Prophet’s last sermon he again reminded men to
“be kind to women – you have rights over your wives and they have rights over you.”
There are many verses in the Quran that make it clear that the relationship between a husband and wife must be of love, affection, kindness and mutual respect:
‘And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.’ (30:21)
What can we do to end domestic violence?
The first thing our Muslim community needs to do is acknowledge this problem exists and understands the reasons behind it.
A lot of Muslims due to cultural reasons, think it’s normal and perfectly within their rights as husbands to beat their wives. Due to their weak faith and lack of Islamic knowledge and Muslim company they don’t know that this abuse is unacceptable. It is also why few women speak out against it. They may have witnessed their father treat their mother in the same way so accept it as a way of life. This is even more so the reason to speak out against this abuse, before their own children learn the same attitude.
Muslim men and women need to improve their knowledge of their own religion so that they are aware of all their rights in Islam. Also, families MUST make sure that their loved ones are safe and happy in their homes. Extended families need to stop covering up and should have a zero tolerance approach towards abuse.
Imams must be protectors of women’s safety and should speak out about this issue in their Friday sermons. Imams should also be prepared to act as a mediator and offer support and counselling to the family if necessary. Mosques should have Muslim female counsellors available to speak to victims of domestic violence. Most mosques, Imams and Muslim organisations fail to provide any sort of shelters Muslim women can go to.
Some Muslims ignorantly believe that Islam gives husbands the right to beat their wives. The Prophet said in his last sermon “do not oppress and do not be oppressed”. So NO ONE should put up with any kind of abuse. If you are being abused, don’t lose faith in Allah (swt) and know that He will and DOES hear and answer our prayers. No one can get away with abusing others. Those who oppress others are harshly punished – if not in this world, than definitely in the hereafter.
If life at home becomes unbearable and you feel that you are unable to confide in family, friends, the local Imam or your GP then contact the organisations below. Victims of domestic violence must also be prepared to speak out against their abusers. There should be no shame, embarrassment or cultural stigma attached to speaking out against abuse.
24-hour National Domestic Violence helpline:
Tel: 0808 2000 247
Tel: 0808 800 5000
NSPCC Asian Helpline - Lines are open 11am - 7pm, Monday to Friday.
Bengali 0800 096 7714
Gujurati: 0800 096 7715
Hindi: 0800 096 7716
Punjabi: 0800 096 7717
Urdu: 0800 096 7718
Asian/English: 0800 096 7719
Muslim Youth Helpline
Tel: 0808 808 2008
The Muslim Women’s Helpline
Tel: 0800 032 7587
SAKINAH (Muslim advice and counselling service)
Tel: 0870 005 3084