So, now that we know that domestic violence is not allowed in Islam, what do we do about it? Well, if I were Empress of the World, I would make proclamations and put up signs on every street corner making it a crime for a man to hit a woman. I would put on TV programs 24/7 to teach the truth of Islam and make it required for men and women to watch and learn. I would require every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to write an essay on “Why we don’t smack each other around” in order to make sure they understand. But, alas, Allah has not seen fit to put me in charge so I have to work on humbler goals.
First and foremost is education. I am a wife and mom. My husband is good on the subject, so that leaves my kids. I have to teach my kids that it’s never, ever okay to hit a woman. Well, unless she’s a kickass ninja assassin and she’s about to try to take off your head with a samurai sword. Then you gotta do what you gotta do. I have to start when they are teeny-tiny babies. You teach Islam when you say “bismillah” before putting a baby to the breast to nurse. You teach Islam when you gently stop your toddler from playfully smacking you in the mouth while you’re holding him. You teach Islam when you tell your boys not to hit their sister and your daughter not to hit the boys – or the cat. You model good behavior by showing affection to your husband in front of the kids, show them that hugs are normal, smacks are not. You teach Islam when you tell the kids the reason you don’t allow them to watch that cartoon on TV is because it is too violent. You teach Islam by teaching, uh, Islam, with books and internet sites and videos and by taking them to the mosque and having playdates with other Muslim families. You may not be able to control what goes on in the outside world, but you can make your home a place of relative peace and kindness. I mean, they will smack each other and fight over toys and call each other poopeyhead, but you can deal with that.
Next, you should openly support groups that fight domestic violence. Give charity to women’s shelters, donate time to a rape crisis center, “like” anti-violence groups on Facebook. Be loud and proud in defense of women. Surround yourselves with like-minded men and women to build a solid core of Islam in your community. Don’t hire an Imaam who doesn’t consider domestic violence a priority. Don’t elect board members to the masjid if they are lukewarm on the issue. Have classes at the masjid and invite experts to speak on the topic. Work with the non-Muslims around you to make this a human issue, not just a Muslim issue.
The next step is tough. It involves getting involved, really involved. You have to open your eyes. You have to look for the subtle clues from that sweet sister who always sits in the corner but rarely says anything. You have to consider that even the couples who have seemingly perfect marriages might be hiding something. You have to be willing to help someone if a woman comes to you in need. You have to put your money where your mouth is.
Several years ago, I was part of a Yahoo group (remember those?) for women who were married to Egyptians. One American lady was living in Egypt for many years. She had three daughters. Her husband had recently passed away and her in-laws were trying to take her kids away, were oppressing her, and were making her life miserable. She needed to get out of Egypt and get out fast. There were sympathetic emails back and forth, much clucking of tongues and dua’s. There was also practical help. One sister helped her pack and get to a safe place with the kids. Other people raised money for tickets back to the US. Someone met her in the States, a brother paid for her hotel room for several weeks as she tried to re-adjust to life and figure out where to go next. People got involved. People got out of their comfort zone and spent time and money to help. People did not look away.
Don’t look away. Don’t refuse to see the fear, the bruises, the timidity, the traumatized children. Don’t think that it’s too hard to get involved, that it’s inconvenient or too much of an emotional drain. It is hard, it is depressing, it is a drain, but it’s also a duty. If you see your brother or sister in distress and you turn away, what does that make you? What does that make us?
We have to be smart about this. Violent men, deprived of their usual targets, may strike out at others. Women may be terrified of leaving an abusive man, or they may be so beaten down and brainwashed that they lack the capability to walk away. You can’t drag a woman away, you have to teach her away. You have to teach her that she’s a worthwhile human being. You have to teach her she is not helpless. You have to teach her that she can survive without him. You have to teach her that there is another way. Just like anything else, helping someone get away from and recover from domestic violence is not an act, it’s a process. Some women take years to learn their strength. The lady I mentioned above, the one who fled Egypt, had been married for twenty years. For eighteen of those years she put up with abuse, until somehow she finally reached her limit and said, “Enough!”. She told her husband that if he ever touched her again she would leave him, and he must have realized she meant it because she said he never touched her again and those last two years before he died were the best of her whole marriage. It took a long time for her to learn.
We have to work as a community. One person might not be able to do much, but several families of influence might. What if every man in the masjid spoke out against domestic violence? What if, when Brother So-and-So made an offhand comment about smacking his wife because she was late with dinner, every man around him told him “Haraam Alaik” and taught him that what he was doing was wrong? What if a woman had a place to go when she needed to escape? What if we simply refused to tolerate violence in our midst? What if?
Is it pie in the sky? Is it unrealistic? Probably. The cycle of violence is so ingrained in humanity and so hard to break. There will be many more failures than victories. But that does not mean we give up. We keep chipping away at the problem and we rejoice at every victory, every family healed, every blow not struck, every child not exposed to violence. If we can’t help this one, maybe we can help that one. If there are enough of us who refuse to give up, we can help stem the tide. Remember this story?:
“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had the habit of walking along the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore; as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day, so he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing Starfish into the ocean.”
“I guess I should have asked; why are you throwing Starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”
“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and Starfish all along it, you can’t possibly make a difference!”
The young man listened politely, then bent down, picked up another Starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference for that one.”
Are you willing to try to make a difference?