Domestic Violence


by Mohammad Khaku

    Around the world, domestic violence is widespread and it is believed one in three women experience physical or mental harm. Violence against women is not a marital issue, although it occurs within the context of a family relationship. Abuse against women is not a family issue, although it occurs within the context of a family. Domestic violence against women is not a religious issue, although religion is abused as a means of perpetuating it. Oppression (Zulum) of women is a human rights issue and unless we start looking with that lens we will not be able to recognize the extent of the crime nor we will be able to find solution. Shariati tells us in the words of Imam Ali, “two parties are required in order to bring about oppression. One is the oppressor and the other is the one who accepts oppression. Oppression cannot be one sided. An oppressor cannot perform oppression in the air. Oppression is like a piece of iron which is formed by the striking of the hammer of the oppressor upon the anvil of the oppressed.” Thus, women themselves partici­pated in the attack upon their values by allowing them­selves to be oppressed and by not searching out their roots


    Muslims become emotional when we see pictures of the humiliation and torture of prisoners at Abu Gharib and Guantano Bay, yet when it comes to domestic violence we come up with all kinds of excuses to avoid taking action. The Muslim community should stand up for justice and support women’s rights within the framework of the Quran and the traditions (Sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad.  Domestic Violence is not a “women’s issue”, it is a community issue.  We seem to have no problem commenting upon the lack of traditional hijab for women, but fail miserably to address the problem of domestic violence in an open and aggressive manner.

    One of the most unpleasant stereotypes concerning Islam is that it encourages and facilitates the abuse of women. On the contrary, Islam commands that women be given full rights, respect and kindness.  One who violates the limits set by God is labeled as a “transgressor” in the Quran.


    Domestic violence and divorce remain topics that are taboo within many Muslim communities in the U.S.  Many Muslims react by saying “that’s a tragedy that doesn’t effect Muslim families”.  However, domestic violence exists in all quarters of society, with no boundaries, nor has any group a monopoly over it. It occurs among the well-known and little known communities. The rich, the poor, the well educated and uneducated, foreign born, and American born are not immune.  Unfortunately, violence in the home is a common denominator in all cultures, racial and religious groups, including Muslims and Muslim converts. Domestic Violence is a scourge that does not know East or West. It is frequently found in the mud huts of Africa as well as in the luxury villas of Florida and California. Domestic Violence includes mental, emotional, verbal, sexual and physical abuse. Both women and men are victims while children are our most vulnerable victims.


    Violence against women is not an Islamic tradition.  The Prophet Muhammad said, “ I command you to be kind to women and the best of you is the best to his family (wife).  The Quran requires that spouses treat each other with love and mercy. (30:21).  The Prophet Muhammad vehemently disapproved of men hitting women, (or vice versa) and said “ A strong person is not the one who can use the force of physical strength, but one who can control his/her anger”. Yet domestic abuse in the Muslim world seems to have become a way of life.


    Domestic violence is apparent when the process of consultation is neglected or ignored. One partner (in most cases the husband) makes unilateral decisions and applies a dictatorial style of leadership. The second principle besides consultation on which the Islamic family life is based is Mercy between spouses. Mercy is defined and manifested through compassion, forgiveness, empathy and humility. Mercy and consultation are the ingredients for a successful partnership. Marriage in Islam is a partnership based on equality and mercy.


    Under no circumstances is violence against women encouraged or allowed in Islam. There are many examples in the Quran and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad that describes the correct behavior of Muslims between husband and wife. The relationship should be one of mutual love, respect and kindness. The last words of the prophet delivered during His farewell pilgrimage were that men should hold themselves accountable before God concerning the question of how they treat their wives.


    Why is help so scarce in the Muslim communities? It is because Muslims don’t want to get involved in “private” family affairs and Muslim women simply don’t seek out help. Women don’t seek help for fear of reprisal and their environment becoming more hostile. Feelings of shame and financial dependence are also factors.  Muslim women need to improve their knowledge of their own faith and reclaim their right to define themselves in the light of Quran. Muslims advocate that Islam has given more rights to women then any Abrahamic faith and complain that we are stereotyped and misunderstood by western society, but show no remorse and take no action against domestic violence in Muslim community.


    The Muslim community has clearly failed in its obligation to protect Muslim women by not providing professional counseling and Muslim shelters. Going to a non-Muslim shelter can result in social workers taking children away from troubled Muslim homes if they think it is better for them to be in a more stable environment.  The children often end up being placed in a non-Muslim foster home. Many women leave Islam because the Muslim community fails to live up to the Islamic promise of protection, brotherhood and sisterhood.


    Factors that can lead a Muslim man to be abusive are cultural, economic hardship, problems with the children and feelings of being inferior.  However, domestic violence is preventable by building faith (Iman), marriage preparation education, premarital counseling, anger and stress management, communication skills and problem solving skills. Islamic centers are an ideal venue for setting up these programs.  The clergy (Imam) can bring discussion out in the open by focusing on marriage, tolerance, and piety during the Friday sermons.


    It is easy to blame others for the present predicament of Muslims and hold others responsible for ones’ own weaknesses and shortcomings. This philosophy contradicts the Quranic injunction of personal responsibility. “God does not change the condition of people until they change that which is in their souls” (13:11)


    If Muslims families are to survive the current social and structural change of family life in North America, we must actively initiate social changes in the society in which we live. It is a moral obligation to reform our thinking and behavior in order to create a just, moral and balanced society. The challenge for the next decade for Muslim families is not the environment we live in, but what we make of the Islamic values and habits that have been bestowed upon us in the Holy Book – The Quran.  Our children and theirs will certainly benefit from our struggle to create a just community, not only within our own but also within our societies in the world as well.


    The Prophet Muhammad asked us to honor our mothers and daughters. On July 15th, the Muslim community around the world will celebrate the birth anniversary of the Seydna Fatemah, daughter of Prophet Muhammad. The Muslim community on this day should be standing shoulder to shoulder with other communities to declare that violence against women isn’t something we can be silent about any longer. Because if we remain silent, we might as well as be lending a hand to the perpetrators of violence. Today it may be a stranger. Tomorrow, it could be our mother, our sister, or our daughter. As is often quoted from our Holy Book, Paradise can be found at the feet of our mothers. Yet millions of Muslim mothers and sisters and daughters are living in an abusive environment. We Muslim men must take a stand against violence to reach the stage of perfection, which is well defined by the prophet Muhammad “ The best of you is best to his wife”.


Khutbah by Sh. Hamza Yusuf