By Bisma Parvez Apr. 24, 2019 – A few months ago, Verona Collection co-founder and international photographer, Lisa Vogl went public with an incredibly painful story on her Instagram about the domestic violence she faced while in her marriage.
The post quickly became more than just a story; it turned into an opportunity to raise awareness about domestic violence in the Muslim community and a conversation of how Muslims can better deal with such difficult situations.
Domestic violence is not particular to any race, religion or culture and it is just as rampant in Western countries. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 4 women has been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in the U.S.
Salma Abugideiri, the founding board member of the Peaceful Family Project (PFP) and a licensed professional counselor, provided insight into domestic violence in the Muslim community. According to a 2011 PFP survey, the number of Muslims affected by domestic violence is comparable to the national U.S. average. When asked about domestic violence in the Muslim community, Abugideiri stated that Ms. Vogl’s case is not an isolated incident and that the matter of domestic abuse needs to be taken more seriously in the Muslim community. The topic tends to get swept under the rug due to the value Muslims place on privacy, especially concerning family matters and because sometimes there is an idea that a person of faith wouldn’t face such issues, but that is far from the truth.
Lisa Vogl, who shared her heartbreaking story of being slapped, hit, kicked and even strangled while pregnant during her three years of marriage, thought long and hard before deciding to speak out. “No matter how many times I speak out about it and speak out on stage, I still cry, but I want to use what I went through to help others.”
Ms. Vogl, who is a revert to Islam made it clear that “this is not a Muslim issue and statistically there’s no difference based on education, race, ethnicity, religion; it happens across the board, but my community needs to step it up with how they handle the situation.” Vogl and her ex-husband went to four different counselors and multiple imams, and unfortunately, the non-Muslim therapist took it more seriously. On the other hand, they were told by some Muslims to pray, read more Quran and be patient.
However, Ms. Vogl also stated that she wants to “paint the full and accurate picture that I had just as much, if not more help from Muslims. It was my Muslims friends who got me in the car, that paid for me to get to Orlando, that took me in.”
The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief, a nonprofit organization, took it as seriously as offering Ms. Vogl a volunteer position on their advisory board to educate Imams and leaders on how to best support domestic violence victims and survivors.
Salman Siddiqui, the Director of Community Development at ICNA Relief Central Florida, shared that they already have 18 women’s transitional houses, and two domestic violence shelter’s in the U.S. Mr. Siddiqui reached out to the community leaders in Central Florida to have a long term domestic violence shelter in the area as well. When asked if he felt the community leaders were properly helping victims, Mr. Siddiqui responded, “I think in our community imams have good intentions and try to do their best from an Islamic point of view, but they might not be educated enough to help these victims.” He believes that more education and courses on how to deal with domestic violence issues would help the community move forward.
Salma Abugideiri, in her role at PFP, has been working to educate imams to educate on how to react and provide assistance to domestic and sexual violence victims. “PFP hosts the National Imam and Chaplain training and workshops around the country to provide training to imams on how to recognize domestic violence, how to respond to it in a way that prioritizes the survivor’s safety and in a way that facilitates accountability in the abuser.” PFP also trains community leaders to learn how to work collaboratively with other advocates and professionals to develop a coordinated community response.
Sheerin Siddique, an attorney, blogger, Secretary of Women’s March Michigan and a domestic and sexual violence survivor, has been publicly sharing her story for years. She shared her experience of a 10-year marriage, filled with emotional, spiritual and physical abuse. For Ms. Siddique divorce was never an option for her, even though the abuse started right from the beginning. “He hit me, bit me, even pushed me down the stairs. He was so possessive and very critical in all aspects, from my height to my looks to my personality. He would ask me if I was really a Muslim and if I prayed.”
Ms. Siddique also spoke to imams and was even kicked out of her home by her ex-husband, while an imam was present. However, she was told by him to “give it some more time and keep trying.” She shared what finally pushed her to leave the marriage. “The night that I left, my three daughters were sleeping in their room, and he came upstairs screaming and shouting, and he literally started choking me. At that point, I knew he was going to kill me, and all I kept thinking was what is going to happen to my girls if I die.”
In both Ms. Vogl and Ms. Siddique’s case, strangulation and the fear of literally being killed was the final push that led these women to leave their homes. Ms. Vogl says “abuse does so much to you that you end up thinking that you need the abuser. I was so broken down inside that I felt like I couldn’t live without him, not the other way around.”
Muslims tend to encourage patience and prayer, even when the situation gets dire because encouraging a woman to leave her husband or seek a divorce is considered so taboo. But Salma Abugideiri says that she talks about safety. “Safety might be that you stay home and he leaves. Safety might be that you separate for a while. Safety might be that somebody comes to live with you. Safety can take lots of different forms. But if in exploring safety, leaving is the best option then it’s really important that as Muslims we understand that divorce is not a sin and in the Quran, God said to stay together in kindness or separate with kindness.”
After hearing multiple stories of domestic violence from Muslim women, as a Muslim, I hope that the Muslim community will step up and start dealing with this issue as a serious problem with a focus on the safety of the victims first.
If you or anyone you know has been affected by domestic violence, please reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. To bring imam and chaplain training to your area, contact the Peaceful Families Project.
Article Courtesy: The Tempest