Seeking Solution to Domestic Violence:
Religious and Psychological Perspectives
By Ahmed Kobeisy, Ph.D.
Domestic violence is defined as: “acts of violence or abuse against a person living in one’s household, esp. a member of one’s immediate family’
(i). In the encyclo¬pedia Britannica, the definition is widened to include more forms of abuse. Accordingly, domestic violence: “refers to any abuse that takes place among people living in the same household, al¬though the term is often used specifically to refer to assaults upon women by their male partners”
(ii). Both definitions, however, include any form of violence against spouse, sibling, child or parent. In the news, most Muslims read and learn about domestic violence and let pass as if such news or statistics are of no concern. This was happening until tragic news hit home in the form of the murder of wives and daughters by husbands and fathers in both Canada and the US. Furthermore, we were shocked to know of the vicious beheading of a Muslimah by her high profile Muslim husband.
Building on my formal religious education coupled with practi¬cal experience in teaching Muslim communities in the US, com¬bined with my Islamic leadership of more than 23 years in addition to my M.S. and Ph.D. education, practical experience in counsel¬ing Muslims and training Muslim and non Muslim professionals for more than 24 years, I will, in the article, briefly describe both the Islamic and psychological foundations for inter-family rela¬tions. Furthermore, I will also discuss the damaging effects and consequences for domestic abuse. Because of the serious damag¬ing and devastating effects of domestic violence, I will outline a call to action to the Muslim community to prevent and deal with it.
ISLAMIC FOUNDATION OF FAMILY RELATIONS
Between spouses. The Qur’an speaks of the mawaddha (love), rahmah (compassion) and sakinah (tranquility) [Qur’an 30:21 & 7:189] as being both the reasons as well as the expected results of marriage. The Qur’an mentions this beautifully in the context of being a favor from Allah, a sign of His infinite power and mercy and a source of contemplation. Furthermore, the Qur’an speaks of husbands and wives as being libaas (apparel) for each other [Qur’an 2:187]. Apparel fulfills the functions of covering, beauti¬fying, providing warmth and protection. In case of discord or even divorce, the Qur’an encourages dealing with kindness, generosity and gratitude for the good times and good deeds which were re¬ceived [Qur’an 2:237]. In case of divorce, the Prophet encour¬ages good and kind treatment of women. He states that no one would treat them with generosity and honor except an honorable man and no one would humiliate them but a person who is lack¬ing good character. Furthermore, the Prophet instructed in his farewell sermon to take good care of women and made kindness to women and family the criterion for being good: “the best among you is the one who is best to his family, and I am the best to my family”.
Parents and children. The Qur’an makes obedience and respect to parents religious requirements in an unparalleled way. Children are required to be kind to parents, not to say any expression of dis¬gust to them, to be merciful to them particularly when they reach an old age, to lower one’s wings out of humility and mercy to them and to pray for them for mercy as they have raised one in young age [Qur’an 17:23-24].
Children are also entitled to rights including but not limited to love, justice among them, finding in parents good role models, good education, proper exposures, etc.
What is domestic violence? Abuse is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence. Bat¬tering happens when one person believes he or she is entitled to control another. Assault, battery, and domestic violence are crimes. (Every home is a safe home) In addition to being a crime, domestic violence is destructive. It destroys the human spirit, productivity, morality, spirituality and mental wellbeing for all those who are involved in it as well as for those who witness it while unable to intervene or protect the abused ones particularly children. Children naturally consider home to be their safe haven. When violence occurs at home, it breaks that feeling of safety. While victims of domestic violence can be both men and women, the majority of victims are women. Women killed due to domestic violence in the United States are estimated at 30 % of all women killed.
The Muslim community has its share of domestic abuse against women. In spite of the fact that Rasool Allah , instructed kind¬ness and justice to women before he died and insisted upon it say¬ing what translates to: “Fear Allah with regards to women,” “My advice is to take good care of women”, “I emphasize the rights of the two weak: the woman and the orphan”, “he does not honor them (i.e. women), unless he is an honorable and does not mistreat them, except one who is dishonorable” among many other reports and instructions.
Unfortunately, some Muslim men justify the beating of their wives religiously because of misunderstanding and ignorance. It is unfortunate, that most people use the Qur’an to justify their injus¬tice and wrongdoing. The particular verse which many people use to justify their criminal behavior toward women is verse number 34 in chapter 4 which is translated as follows:
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, Great (above you all). [Qur’an 4:34].
To answer those who misuse this verse to justify the beating, I would state the following:
1. Qiwamah of men over women means responsibility to support and protect. This is supported by the meaning of verse 2:228 which translates to: “And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a de¬gree (of advantage) over them.” This advantage is that of respon¬sibility not privilege.
2. The beating in the verse was intended to transform the harsh treatment of women which resulted in many cases to physical in¬jury and possibly to murder into light beating in the process of rehabilitating men’s behavior toward women. Otherwise, beating is always harmful and wrong. The Prophet himself states: “the best of you will not beat their wives” and when women complained to him that they are being beaten by their husbands, the prophet addressed the community and said: “Some women complained about their husbands beating them. Those men among you are not good”. After serving the Prophet for 10 years, Anas ibn Malik RA describes the Prophet as having not beaten any woman or slave with his hand. Furthermore, he never reprimanded Anas for something that he failed to do or failed to stay away from.
3. The scholars of Tafseer defined the beating as one that is light, legitimate, and leads to beneficial results. As stated below, beating one’s spouse has been found to cause tremendously horrible con¬sequences in addition to being considered as criminal act which is punishable severely under federal law in the U.S. as well as the international law.
4. Imam Al Qurtubi said beating is not for any reason nor it is for any woman. He also states that if a woman is dignified and if the beating harms her in any way (e.g. psychologically or emotion¬ally), it becomes forbidden.
5. Muslim women are subjected to severe attacks by media, anti-Islam voices and uneducated people claiming they are oppressed under Islam. Muslims owe Allah SWT, the Prophet and owe their wives and women to give the best possible representation of Islam and to make their women proud of their religion and of their affiliation to Islam rather than making them defensive and feel disadvantaged.
Domestic violence can lead to either divorce or murder. The Muslim community is reminded violently of the horrible murder of wives, daughters and even beheading in the United States. Muslim communities ought to take responsibility for hiding the problem of violence at home and not educating about it and how to avoid it. Violence can lead to divorce or even spousal abandonment and may cause children to run away from home to escape the unsafe environment. Children can end up going to far riskier environ¬ments that may be detrimental to their lives and wellbeing.
Of the negative effects on children, Divorce and Domestic Vio¬lence can cause the following:
• Emotional distress
• Deterioration in behavior and achievement in school and a high¬er drop out rate
• Delinquency particularly with children of divorce
• Girls are more likely to become single mothers
• Struggles with personal relationships
• A surge in alcohol and drug problems
• A greater risk of being a single parent
• Poorer physical health
It affects children in the following ways:
• Damage of child’s worldview
• Loss of sense of safety
• Loss of values of behavior
• Lack of understanding of their deen
• Learning of keeping secrets – cause of shame and anxiety
• Loss of distinction between anger and violence
• Lack or poor impulse-control, limited tolerance
• Increased deceptiveness
• Lying, stealing, and cheating
• Taking on adult responsibilities
• discipline problems
Every individual, male or female, who suffers from the tendency to be violent and get angry easily and act upon his/her anger, owes it to Allah, his/her religion, himself, his/her family and community to seek treatment and learn anger management and positive rein¬forcement.
What Muslim families and communities should do to prevent violence:
• Educate their community members from both religious and psychological perspectives on the importance and benefits of safe homes
• Stop justifying violence which is injustice (zulm) as acceptable Islamically
• Educate and train spouses to have proper communication skills and attitudes to deal with domestic disagreements and problems
• Provide tactful and confidential counseling services to Muslims who are violent, as well as to victims of violence, as permitted within the law
• Dedicate resources to establish alternative homes for the victims of domestic violence instead of letting them go on the street or to non-Muslim agencies and homes
Obstacles to helping Muslim families:
• Focus on Masajid and schools
• Lack of family institutions
• Lack of experts and training in helping Muslim families
• Limited resources
• Focus on extremes
• Lack of long term planning and vision
• Denial of the existence of such problems and of the negative effects and consequences of such evils
Seeking Solutions. The Islamic Learning Foundation (ILF) pro¬vides educational and training seminars and workshops to Muslim communities regarding the prevention, services and post-inter¬vention treatment of domestic violence. Furthermore, ILF offer training or parents on communication and parenting. ICNA Relief USA provides education, counseling and services to individual and family victims as well as to those involved in domestic violence.
Ahmed Kobeisy is Director and Resident Scholar at The Islamic Learning Foundation, NY. He is also a Consultant to ICNA Relief USA