Imams rally against domestic violence in the UK
Imams and social groups have begun providing services for Muslims in the UK to help put an end to domestic violence.
United Kingdom – 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 current figures are an increase from a total of 89 in 2011, when the charity first opened its doors, and 227 the following year. Figures for subsequent years were more difficult to obtain as Nour has had to suspend its services from time to time due to a lack of funding.
Rahman puts the increase down to a greater willingness to talk about domestic violence rather than a rise in cases.
“More people are having the courage to come forward… We need to educate people and say that they can come forward and that help is available.”
“I think it is down to education,” Rahman adds. “It is about educating the perpetrators.”
The victims aren’t only women, she says, but cultural expectations often stop men from reporting the abuse they suffer.
“We need to reach out to these people and tell them it is not their fault,” she says.
Nour is not alone in its work. Several other organisations have also begun to tackle domestic violence.
According to the Muslim Women’s Network (MWN), cultural and religious issues can make it harder for Muslim women to share their stories and report their abuse.
According to the group, fear of dishonouring the family and the stigma attached to domestic violence means it is under-reported in the Muslim community.
In January last year, the network set up a helpline designed to give Muslim women advice.
Shaista Gohir, the network’s chairwoman, told Al Jazeera that the group was surprised by the vast range of issues women called in with, including domestic abuse, forced marriage and addiction.
Gohir explains that in cases of domestic abuse, religion was often used as a means of justifying the actions of the abuser.
READ MORE: ‘He stomped on my head’ – stories of domestic abuse
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.
Abdullah Hasan, the cofounder 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.”
READ MORE: Behind closed doors – domestic violence in Australia
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 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.
For groups like MWN, part of their role is to explain different interpretations of Quranic passages, which Gohir says can give women the confidence they need to speak out about abuse.
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.
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”.
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,” he says.
“The whole of society needs to come together to tackle these issues.”
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