Source: Al Jazeera
Author: Philippa Stewart
Two women are killed each week as a result of domestic violence in England and Wales, and one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. On average, police in the UK handle a call about domestic violence every minute, but only about 35 percent of incidents are even reported. It is a problem that affects every community in the United Kingdom. Now, several organisations within Britain’s Muslim community have started to tackle the cases of domestic abuse occuring within their communities, arguing that Muslim victims sometimes require support services that take their cultural and religious concerns into consideration. Although rights groups emphasise that domestic abuse is not specifically a Muslim issue, “understanding the cultural needs and religious needs of the person,” encourage victims to come forward, help deal with trauma, and find solutions said Shahida Rahman, a spokeswoman for the domestic violence charity Nour.
Deeper issues in domestic violence
On Nour’s website, victims share their stories anonymously. One woman describes being spat and screamed at. Another speaks about watching her father abusing her mother, and finally being forced into an abusive marriage herself. A third mentions lying to doctors about how she broke her ribs and how her eyes were blackened. Founded in 2011, the charity offers a voice to women and men and helps about 10 people each week. Some are repeat visitors.
The helpline has actively assisted 335 women since it opened last January. The MWN has been criticised for bringing religion in to what many see as a cultural issue, but Gohir argues it is impossible to separate the two so distinctly. “When people try to delink the two, they aren’t being realistic. It’s very well doing it theoretically, but in reality, you need to look at the lived experiences of Muslim women and girls and, unfortunately, people do bring faith into it. “If men want to control the lives, minds and bodies of … women and girls, they will use every tool available to them, and if need be, they will use religion … [because] it is such a powerful tool,” Gohir says.
Imams Against Domestic Abuse
Imams Against Domestic Abuse (IADA) is trying to address this.
It was set up to raise awareness of the dangers of domestic violence and also to “clarify stereotypes on domestic abuse that people have”, both in terms of the victims and the perpetrators.
It is taking these lessons directly to men in the community in a bid to prevent domestic abuse, rather than just focusing on those who are already victims. Imam Abdullah Hasan, the co founder of IADA, believes domestic abuse is present in all communities and that everyone has to take responsibility for tackling it.”There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding Islam and domestic violence. People who aren’t Muslims think Islam condones violence against women and that is simply not the case.”When someone who happens to be a Muslim is convicted of abuse, it becomes about his religion; but in other cases that are not to do with Islam, religion is never mentioned. So in the eyes of the media, it is a Muslim problem, which isn’t the case,” he says.
What we are doing is raising awareness and educating people in the Muslim community that violence and abuse are not acceptable in any circumstances
Members of IADA use their Friday sermons to address domestic violence as a way of reaching the wider community, reminding people that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) never raised a hand to his wives, and asking them how they could justify doing any differently.”The fact is that domestic violence is a blight on society. It is a mental and social illness that goes through every part of society and it is important that we address it in the part of the community that we can access,” Hasan explains.”We do get criticised because people think that by talking about the issue, it is almost confirming the negative portrayal of Muslims and Islam. [But] Islam is not the problem; the problem is that abusers will use anything they can to justify what they do. We can’t ignore it and brush it under the carpet and say it is this community or this person’s problem,” he adds.
Language and cultural barriers
IADA also gives practical advice to those suffering abuse and is working with the police to help build the community’s trust in them. Imam Hasan says language and cultural barriers can add to the mistrust some feel towards the police. The Imams are trying to bridge that gap as victims feel assured that they don’t have “an agenda to misconstrue the teachings of Islam”. Imam Hasan notes that the police are getting better at providing support.”I think the more we speak about things publicly the more people will be able to empathise, rather than just sympathise, with victims, the whole of society needs to come together to tackle these issues.”