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A wake-up call on domestic violence, by Dr Yasir Qadhi

Recently, there have been a number of tragic cases across the country regarding Muslim women who have been murdered by their partners. Some were divorced, others were in the process of getting divorced. In all of these cases, the husband was known by extended friends and community to be prone to violence and guilty of domestic abuse. In one case, the wife had called the police multiple times, worried that he might do something even after she had moved out, but those cries for help fell on deaf ears and her life was tragically taken, just as she had claimed would happen.

While it is true that no one can eliminate crime and violence in totality, we need to address some awkward topics and issues which might help significantly decrease violence against women.

Firstly: the stigma behind divorce needs to addressed head on. One of the, if not the, primary reason why women stay in abusive situations is because they have been taught that divorce is always shameful, and they feel that a future marriage might be more difficult because of the stigma of being a divorcee. Sadly, so many of our cultures have enshrined this false notion, and propagate it at every level (in household chatter, and in movies, and in snide remarks between friends). Subconsciously, so many men and women do feel this way about divorce, despite the fact that divorce was quite common amongst the Companions, and marriage with divorcees was completely normal amongst them.

Yes, it is true that if the marriage is going through some standard ups and downs, we try to reconcile, and we don’t resort to divorce as a first option. But there are red lines that, once crossed, make divorce a better or perhaps even a mandatory solution. No partner deserves to be abused and demeaned and harmed, and if that red line has been crossed, there is no stigma whatsoever in divorce. Our family elders, and community leaders, and religious clergy, should recognize that domestic violence is a serious matter that typically makes divorce the more Islamic option!

Secondly: we need to also recognize the sad reality of men mostly getting away with physical violence and being given a free pass to move on to another marriage. Generally speaking, while the family and friends of these men are well aware of their nature, no one thinks that it is wise to tell another spouse of such men’s past histories. Yet, even our Prophet (SAW) said to Fatima bint Qays that she should not marry an individual because he was known to beat his wife. There are types of abuse that some cultures, or maybe even the law of the land, might not necessarily criminalize, but society and family and friends need to step in at that stage, and help protect innocent women.

Study after study shows that those prone to physical violence rarely change their ways, and if a man is known to have been an abuser, those closest to him should protect innocent women from being harmed by him. (Note: I’m not ruling out rehabilitation for all men, and in some cases a man might indeed repent and be a better person, but still his past in this regard should be known so that precautions can be taken).

Thirdly: while I despise the motto of ‘If you see something, say something’ when it comes to stereotyping Muslims and the whole ‘War on Terror’ for which it was created, this motto DOES aptly apply to situations of domestic violence. Families and friends of victims: if you see something, then don’t just say something, get involved! Tell the abused partner to speak up. Take every legal measure available. If possible, offer financial support (all too often, a main cause of staying in such a situation is that the abused wife feels alone financially, and doesn’t know where to go – hence the need for shelters for our sisters in every community!).

Hardly any man murders his partner without a long history of violence preceding that murder – we need to pay heed to those warning signs before its too late.

A Facebook post isn’t enough to combat such violence, and of course there are many caveats and disclaimers and other topics that can’t be addressed here. But it’s a start, and I plan to give more khutbahs about this issue to raise awareness, and I encourage other Imams to do the same.

Allah protect all those who face abuse – and we console ourselves with the fact that Judgment Day exists so that these who were harmed can face their oppressors and they shall be given full justice from the Mālik of Yawm al-Dīn.

Disclaimer: I’m not trivializing or ignoring abuse of the wife to the husband, as in some cases a woman physically abuses a man as well – but this post is about the more common reality of male violence against women.

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