I guess you could react in a number of ways when you see an outrageous photo like this:
- sadness, fear and bad memories if you have yourself been a victim of domestic violence
- disappointment that I (AE) would use such a photo and article “to make an issue out of something which isn’t common at all”
- fury that something which is completely prohibited in Islam happens at the hands of Muslims
- shock perhaps because you never thought this even happened
- impressed that someone is brave enough to allow themselves to become a public face in a matter so sensitive
- angry that one is giving Islamophobes something new to bash Muslims with
- irritated that the focus always seems to be on women and no mention of a number of men who suffer domestic abuse as well
I know people will hate it if I was to dictate what your reaction should be or shouldn’t be, but what I certainly will dictate to you is my own experience of dealing with hundreds of cases that have presented themselves to me in the last ten years odd when I settled down permanently in Manchester at my own Masjid.
Firstly, I should say that I’ve had a long history with domestic abuse and violence.
That was the money line or the sensationalised sentence if you like. Unfortunately for my haters, that history isn’t what you were quite hoping. Alhamdulillah I’ve never personally been involved in such an incident and I pray to Allah jalla wa ‘ala that I never will be, ameen.
The “history” that I’m talking about refers to the many desperate women presenting themselves to me because they had nowhere else to turn to; it refers to my efforts to help launch two charities helping such women, including Nour DV in 2010; it refers to my current support of Amirah Foundation which is based in Birmingham and helps so many people; it also refers to domestic violence in my own family, but more on that later.
Secondly, I know I shouldn’t interfere with your reactions to the photo but a few things must be said simply because it would be irresponsible of me to turn a blind eye.
Yes I know that people feel uncomfortable when they see realities like this, which isn’t nice but I tell you what’s even less nice and comfortable: being beaten like this and then being silenced and then to top it off, being ignored by your brothers and sisters too. All because they feel “uncomfortable”.
Also, I know men are suffering the same too. Actually – and I am not exaggerating – but there has been a significant rise in the number of men who have approached me and then after my investigating, I have found very unrepentant and frankly shocking wives who abuse their husbands in ways you would never believe. Seriously, I’m not making this up. And no, not all of those men are immigrants on temporary visas who won’t dare answer back their British-born Red-Passport privileged wives, because you might think that’s understandable and is the stereotype of the female abuser. In a number of cases, the man getting abused and often beaten badly – yes, not exclusively small, weak men – allows this to continue because of their noble refusal to hit a woman, even in self-defence. So they soak up the violence and try to claim the upper path. And they suffer as a result of it.
But it would be folly to try and compare abuse from women, to abuse from men, because the latter is ten times more prevalent if not more. And people (read: Muslims who second guess everyone’s intention) have just got to stop assuming that when a person addresses a subject, it doesn’t mean that every other subject has been downgraded or denigrated. When I highlight the abuse of women, it doesn’t mean that men don’t get abused, and it also doesn’t mean that I have to justify myself or write disclaimers each time when I am dealing with a specific issue. Our community does this all the time: make du‘a for five Muslim countries and it’s “But what about this country?!”, or raise money for one country and it’s “We always knew you were racist!”, or champion the rights of women and it’s “You American sellout, you’re just looking for more female fans!”
The last one makes me laugh the most of course. Female fans and AE don’t work well in the same sentence ya’ni.
Furthermore, on the publishing of such a provocative photo and giving Islamophobes ammunition to shoot our community down more with: well, I’d firstly say that they don’t need much ammunition frankly. We’ve given them the keys to the arms dump many years ago with the way we behave and conduct ourselves in all parts of the world. Once we left Islamic teachings and values, we lost our ability to claim the higher moral ground and can only depend on the charity of good-willed citizens who will stand up and defend us and our rights.
And on the issue of washing our dirty laundry in public: this is a valid point, and we should try and deal with matters ourselves, internally. Agreed. But when that laundry stinks so much that the stench can be smelt all through the neighbourhood, well, then it doesn’t matter what we publish or say or do. They know we Muslims suffer from it, and they know that they’ve got their own problem too. It’s no point me putting up a photo of a badly beaten girl in a bikini because I’m speaking to a Muslim audience, not a wider one. The wider world doesn’t give two hoots what I say, and the Muslim one isn’t far behind in its rejection of my messages, but at least I have a chance with the Muslims. At least if they see a Hijabi as opposed to a non-Muslim, they might actually realise that this does happen to our own women as well, and that it’s not just some problem that “happens to other bad women who live under the influence of the Big Satan in the Wild West”.
It’s our problem too and we have to own it. Especially as we have Scripture which is often misinterpreted to allow the beating of women. That puts an extra onus upon us.
So after saying all that, I do actually have a message I want to give in this article, because whatever anyone believes, we really do have a domestic violence problem within the Muslim community that only we Muslims can sort out and deal with. So let’s see how. Here are my three points:
1. I want to say that I don’t think the problem has got any better by using emotional rhetoric and shock tactics. We told the people a hundred times, “Imagine this happening to your own mother or your own sister, so how can you do it to your wife??!”
We showed them hundreds of videos and images. They expressed shock and outrage. And then they still went back to abusing their wives when they couldn’t control their anger or even after valid grounds for complaint.
But regardless, I’ll say it again just to make it clear: I’ve published a shock photo so look at it and think that this could be your daughter or sister or someone very dear to you. No woman should be seen as someone less because she is not a close relative. And no anger should justify violence, because that violence is a sign that you have failed to solve your problem. And abuse just shows that you can’t handle it either. Which probably means you’ve failed as a man, because men are meant to honour, protect and serve women, not abuse, terrorise and beat them.
2. I want to say that I don’t think the problem has got any better by the scholars stepping up and really taking this battle to the masses by clarifying how anti-Islamic all of this is. One thing that the last decade has really seen is the rise of the English-speaking Western-born speaker/leader who will not let a village mentality and regressive cultural mindset stop him from speaking the truth. They have openly and proactively condemned all abusive practices, revived sacred texts and the alternative ideal, and shown what the true way is.
They told everyone that Allah ‘azza wa jall has said that the believing men and women are protectors of one another, not abusers.
They told everyone that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) never hit a women ever.
They told everyone that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) forbade everyone from hitting the female servants of Allah, leaving any kind of visible mark or bruise or cut or anything.
They told everyone that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said that the Believer is not one who curses, or abuses, or lies, or slanders, or physically hurts, or emotionally harms other people.
They told everyone that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said that the best of men were those who were best to their wives.
They told everyone that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) warned women of marrying certain men who had a reputation for violence to their spouses.
They told everyone that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) expressed incredulity that a man could possibly beat his wife and then want to enjoy her love and warmth at the end of the night.
They told everyone, everything and more. All that Islam says and calls for. May Allah bless them for their work. But I don’t think it worked very well.
Why? Because this was never a religious issue frankly. This is a human issue. A human failing.
Domestic abuse is carried out by “name-only” Muslims who don’t practise their religion at all, and also by very practising Muslims with beards and hats and short trousers. That’s because this is an issue with Muslims when it comes to our community; a human failing, not the Divine.
We can tell them all what the Deen says until we are blue in the face. If a person cannot control himself, or thinks that no-one is going to prosecute him, or believes that people will value their “honour” more over going public with the news that their daughter was abused and thus destroying her chances of remarrying etc, then religious exhortation has little effect. And it has had little effect and that’s my observation. Allah knows best.
But regardless, I’ll say it again just to make it clear: it is absolutely haram, haram, haram to abuse anyone in this way that causes so much pain and physical damage. All the best my friend when you choose to meet Allah with this kind of abuse on your neck, and with the abused being free to speak and make their complaint with no more fear about honour or reprisals or culture or reputation or “What about the children?? I’ll keep quiet for their sake!” or any other type of emotional pressure or blackmail. All the best son, all the best.
3. But I’ve already told you that I think we failed when it came to the effectiveness of the above. So we have one last real chance, and to my mind, this is the one that really At two levels. And they both depend…on you.
See, it is you, me, us, who really control the outcomes of this problem. No public awareness program, or poster campaign, or Domestic Violence Month promotion, or quoting of hadith and verses, is ever going to stop abuse if we ourselves don’t decide to become proactive and deal with it ourselves.
And this happens at two levels.
The first is obvious. You need to stop at the end of this paragraph and say to yourself, “I will never, ever hit or abuse or hurt another person except in self-defence or for that which is required from me by duty. Ya Allah help me to fulfil my promise and strengthen me to not become weak, and fail in my manliness when the situation gets out of control.” Ok, so you should be saying that now. Ameen.
The second level though is where things really heat up.
I found that more so than anything else, the only real solution to this ‘ayb on our community – this slur and disgrace – is to boycott and shun those who show signs of it, and worse, actually go ahead and do it.
See, loyalty is a very misunderstood concept when it comes to friends and family. There is this absurd understanding that if someone close to you does something wrong, you should stick by them regardless of the crime. This is absolutely wrong, not least as shown by the statement of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to his daughter Fatimah (radhyAllahu ‘anha) that if she was ever to steal something then despite her being his daughter, she would be punished without hesitation.
Compare this to today. Not only do you have friends – and “religious” ones too! – who turn a blind eye to clear and proven abuse – because the perpetrator is “one of the lads” or “a good brother who isn’t like that” etc etc – but you also find even female family members rallying around the perpetrator due to this misplaced loyalty. In many cases, this gives the abuser the moral support and confidence that he is in the right, and that the abused “deserved it”, and moreover it can also act as the green light to others who take the wrong message from it all.
I will not pretend that this is easy. The concept of boycotting someone in Islam is a detailed and restricted tool which is to be used to try and improve a situation and help sinners to reform, and not to completely destroy someone for one big mistake or crime. Its rules and parameters differ on a case-by-case basis, and that makes the entire process a subjective and difficult one to start, maintain and then end.
When exactly do you resume relations? How far does one go in the boycott process? Does it even work?
The answer to the last question is clear: yes it does. There’s no feeling in the world than being shunned and shamed by those who you love and trust implicitly. Sure, bravado and ego might take you forward a week or two, but then you will really feel the pain of isolation and abandonment. And remember, we did this to the perpetrator only after a long process where we advised and censured, openly and without fear or shame. The abuser deserves what it happening to them.
When I look at most cases that I can recall, I found that out of all the ways of trying to solve this problem, it was this that was the most effective but unfortunately, it was this approach that requires the biggest personal sacrifice. No-one wants to boycott or shun their friend or family member, but when they won’t empathise with the “fragile glass vessels” of our community as the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) described them, when they ignore the painful pictures and videos, when they refuse to act upon the verses and narrations condemning them for this crime, then the only thing left is for you to be brave, step up, and call that person out big time. And it will be hard. And it will cost you.
I told you I had history in this area and so to complete that story, this happened to me as well and I don’t mind sharing this in the hope that it achieves some good. A distant but well known family member of mine hit his wife in an argument. The wife was from “outside the family”. My family member and my relatives came to me to try and solve the situation and they were incredibly bitter that I sided with the girl. That’s not to say that the girl didn’t play her own little part in this story and she certainly wasn’t any angel but she never deserved to be treated like that. Ever. And I was not going to accept it. Subhanallah, she was punched in the face. In the face.
The anger from my relatives reached such a level, that I was ostracised from a large portion of the family due to their misplaced loyalty. That was difficult for me for all the natural reasons you can guess, but, hey. Someone had to make a stand amongst all this cultural ignorance and if I had to be that sacrificial bakrah, then yaa Zindabad.
To cut a long story short, they tried to mediate between the couple, and it only got worse, with even more violence. After many years, the family resumed relations with me. I never apologised. They knew they were wrong but they won’t admit it. And the abuser himself I shunned in a very direct way and you could see the impact on him.
It was the same impact it had on a very close friend that I used to have about 12-13 years ago who also started beating his wife. That was extremely difficult to deal with because he was very close to me – I think friends are more difficult than family in some ways and many will agree – but I had to tell him straight that I couldn’t handle or accept this any longer, that I wouldn’t just laugh it off, that I wouldn’t just try and sneak in a few hidden words of advice in a soft way so that it didn’t feel like a proper rebuke, that I wouldn’t turn a blind eye, that I wouldn’t avoid the big moment just because of how incredibly awkward it made me feel, that I wouldn’t let the fact that my voice trembled and my throat was drier than sandpaper stop me. No. I told him straight. And he was shocked. And it worked. But I lost him forever. He can’t look me in the eye anymore and it’s been all those many years.
This approach is not easy like I said. After many years of experience, both being married, and then dealing with community problems, I can tell you that if we were to get involved in every single marital dispute that comes your way, then not only would you go crazy but life would stop. This is something unnatural and reality dictates that people argue all the time and may even say things to hurt one another, but that doesn’t mean we run in gung ho trying to be a hero to save the day. Often, married couple kiss and make up – quite literally. And before someone misquotes me, that wasn’t my attempt to justify beating your wife and then engaging in make-up sex to make it all better. I’m of course referring to non-serious disputes. But how would you know what is serious or not if you are prying into every single argument? Often, non-interference deals with the majority of disputes, even the loud and what seem quite scary ones from the outside. Husband and wife usually know best.
When we were taught the science of Qadha’ – “the giving of judgement between people in their disputes” – our teachers always advised us the importance of discouraging people from our formal intervention, especially in such marital problems cases. Our teachers would say, “They know each other best. They’ll work it out. Trust them. Even if they ask you many times, you should only get involved if you absolutely must.”
Being born in the West, this was difficult to swallow. We live in an age where there are experts and professionals for everything, and when there’s even the slightest whiff of a problem, we run to someone else to help or to fix it. It’s our new accepted culture.
And then when folks do come to see you, our fear of getting it wrong, i.e. by encouraging a couple to keep trying themselves and then things getting far worse leading to potential abuse and violence, is always in the back of your mind. Remember, especially in marriages, the man perhaps more so than the woman, resents the fact that internal household secrets have been exposed to others. This would make sense especially as the man is usually the abuser and the abused woman is always being silenced, even more so when our cultures are taken into account. She is genuinely terrified what will happen to her, her family, her reputation, her children, her immigration status, so many things actually, if she was ever to go public. She sometimes lives in a foreign country, no close family, might end up in a shelter with other women who come from backgrounds of abuse or even crime leading to an environment which is less than ideal.
But if what if there was no abuse or violence between the couple but one of them, again usually the woman who has more to lose here, jumps the gun and gets you involved. Well, usually that only increases the problems and distrust between them. So the main thing to take home here is that these matter are incredibly complex and the masses rarely get that. Single people especially have no idea.
Anyway, 20 years later – wiser? – of being in this game, I only see more and more proof that our scholars were right. Most of the time they do fix it themselves. And our involvement often makes things worse. I was just reading that the famous Shaykh ‘Ali al-Tantawi who presided over 20,000 marital dispute cases, said that 3/4 of those cases ended up peacefully and for the better when no-one external became involved and they decided to sit down and heart to heart it out themselves.
And believe me, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get involved in all marital disputes because of some religious reason, or because of the famous hadith narrated by Imam Abu Dawud (2/225) that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “A man should not be asked about why he beat his wife,” – a weak narration which cannot be used as an evidence and thus is not a statement of the Prophet – but I say this because of our social reality. It is just one of the facts of life that people argue and most of the time, they sort it out themselves. In fact, it is not even permissible for us to stick our noses in these private affairs all the time. For us to do so, there must be compelling reason and evidence.
Yes there are times when we must get involved to protect people, but sometimes, we just need to trust them more as well. But this is an article focusing on when that trust has broken down, and when there is clear and painful abuse and harm being afflicted. The abused needs your help. And it’s going to take your time and huge mental and emotional effort.
Like I said, it’s not going to be easy, but until we all adopt the same attitude of zero tolerance to this kind of abuse, and we sacrifice all our friends and family and great relationships that we have with people, until they realise that hurting and abusing other people is never acceptable, never justified, and never okay…well, things won’t change.
That’s why I say: the only real solution to domestic violence is you.
All the khutbahs and reminders and campaigns and photos in the world will always remain aimed “at someone else” until YOU make it specific and personal to yourself by committing to never do such a crime, and until YOU make your loved ones around you realise that you will never tolerate the same, and that so help you God, if they don’t change then they will hugely regret it afterwards and in the Hereafter.
And Allah knows best.