An Imam’s Guide to deal with domestic violence
By Abdul Malik
While in Muslim countries, the role of a Masjid’s Imam may be mostly to lead prayers and teach, in the United States and in other Western countries, it has expanded substantially.
These Imams do not only lead prayers, deliver sermons, officiate over marriages, perform funeral ceremonies, and provide religious and spiritual guidance like other clergy. They also offer family counselling and mediation for parents and married couples.
There is greater pressure on Imams to deal with issues like discrimination, domestic violence and parenting, although most of them have no training in these matters.
While there is no replacement for proper training in these crucial areas, all Imams must learn the basics of domestic violence and how to deal with it. With that in mind, we are providing the following tips for Imams:
1. Listening to the Community
As an Imam, you are the listening post of the community. But are you listening? Are you accessible to women in your masjids? Do women know your phone number? Do you have a set time available exclusively for women when they can talk to you and discuss issues of concern directly with you?
2. Learning about the Problem
There are different types of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional. Know what types of abuse there are and familiarize yourself with their telltale signs. There is plenty of material on this subject which can be found on many web sites. It will also help if you read a few books about domestic violence, and added some good books on this topic in your Islamic centre’s library as well.
3. Be proactive about domestic violence
Domestic violence can lead to the sister murdered and the brother being put in jail. Children would be separated from parents and most likely put in non-Muslim foster homes if this happened. You can prevent all of that by being pro-active about domestic violence. If something still happens, God knows that you tried to prevent these things.
4. Understand that this is not a personal matter
Domestic violence is not a private matter between a husband and a wife that should be ignored. Domestic violence can lead to the destruction of a Muslim family. The destruction of one family is the destruction of one unit of the Ummah. As leaders, Imams have a duty to help those suffering in this crisis.
Remember that Muslims must help their brothers and sisters, whether they are the oppressed or the oppressor as the Prophet has asked us to do, God’s peace and blessings be upon him. Not only must we help the sister who is being abused, we must also help the brother who is abusing by stopping him from this wrong.
5. Prepare your community for zero tolerance
No one has more access to Muslims than Imams. Use this access to educate. It’s easier to deny a problem exists when no one talks about it except in hush hush tones. But when an Imam starts giving Khutbas (sermons) on the topic and discusses it in Islamic study circles (Halaqas), men and women have to start taking it seriously.
6. Open up the mosque or Islamic centre for abused women
Make sure the mosque or Islamic centre is open at all times for abused women to seek refuge in. Remember that Muslim women would prefer to turn for help to their community before going to non-Muslim shelters and calling non-Muslim-run crisis lines. Making sure the mosque is a “safe spot” can make women consider it one of their first points of refuge in an emergency. Ensure there is adequate safety in the mosque for women fleeing violence. Prepare written guidelines for your assistants in case someone approaches the Masjid in your absence.
7. Make yourself available
Make sure that your contact information and timings of Imam availability are well-known to all in the community, through announcements, web sites., newsletters and bulletin boards. All Imams should have a pager where people can easily reach them in emergencies. There should be one locked mailbox which only you can open. There should be an email address for those who want to seek guidance maintaining their anonymity.
8. Establish a social services system or committee
In cooperation with Muslim social service professionals in your community, establish a committee which will develop a system of social services in your community to tackle issues like domestic violence in Muslim homes.
9. Set up support groups
In mosques and Islamic centres, encourage the establishment of support groups for abusers and the abused (separately) so they can share their experiences with other Muslims who may have suffered from domestic violence as well. Make sure the group is run by wise, trustworthy men and women.
10. Make Dua
As a leader of the community, the well-being of its members is part of your responsibility. Make Dua that God helps you in this heavy task. Please lead the community in collectively praying that He eases the difficulties of all those suffering in the community, men, women and children. Also pray for our neighbours who are suffering from this problem of domestic violence.