Domestic Violence Has No Place in Islam
By Sahar Shahid
One in four women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. Domestic violence does not discriminate, except that it occurs predominantly to women by men. Domestic does not mean that it happens only within the home, it means that it happens within the context of an intimate relationship; including from a partner, husband, ex-partner, siblings, parents, cousins, in-laws, step parents or step siblings or other family members. However, violence is not only limited to physical violence. There are many types of abuse which fall under the term domestic violence. Two women per week in the UK are killed by a partner or ex-partner. To me that is a sickeningly shocking figure. It makes me deeply question the world we live in; where the basis of a relationship is professed to be love, yet it is costing people their lives. Love shouldn’t hurt, but it certainly shouldn’t kill. This statistic from the Home Office on its own is enough to illuminate how serious the issue of domestic violence is.
Domestic violence plays out in many different forms- Physical abuse (not only limited to extreme violence); verbal abuse; emotional abuse; sexual abuse; psychological abuse and financial abuse for example. Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour designed to control someone’s mind, emotions or behaviour within an intimate relationship. While physical violence is a direct threat and induces fear and intimidation of further violence or consequence even if performed once, the other forms of abuse also exert pressure of fear and intimidation within the mind of a victim and hence can be just as effective in causing damage and achieving control. This spoken or unspoken threat or intimidation is an example of coercive control, which in essence is controlling the victim’s behaviour without using actual physical violence. When a woman is told to do something and she complies out of fear, intimidation, humiliation or threat such that she feels forced, then this is known as coercive control. This is a violation of human rights as it takes away someone’s choice and free will and is therefore oppression. There are many other ways in which coercive control can manifest itself within a relationship. Taking away someone’s right to privacy, isolating them from others, obstructing the means to fulfilling personal goals, or taking away someone’s self-respect are also all examples of this.
Islam has a very clear stand on oppression. If your father is subjecting your mother to it, do not look down upon your mother as if she deserves that treatment and treat her in the same way; she does not. If your brother is guilty of doing this to his wife, do not aid him or turn a blind eye. He is your brother, whether younger or older you should guide him and stand up for the sister, for one day Allah (swt) may protect your daughter from a similar fate. Your sister-in-law is the route through which your family name will continue; give her the respect she deserves. No matter what, abuse is prohibited. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “Whoever amongst you sees an evil, he must change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is unable to do so, then with his heart; and that is the weakest form of faith.” (Muslim)
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women” (Surah Nisa). When the Quran states this so clearly, how then can one think that to cause damage and hurt to the one that Allah (swt) wants to be protected is acceptable? To protect and maintain is more a responsibility than a privilege of power and authority. ‘Power’ can be earned through the act of protection, when given freely as respect; however, the mere act of protection does not give one the authority to control, for when control exists it actually eliminates the feeling of protection. So should power and control be exercised in such a way that the woman does not feel protected?
When women have been granted the right over their earnings by Allah (swt), “[T]o men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn”(Surah Nisa), no man or relative has the right to take this away from her, certainly not by manipulation or coercion; tactics which are the spirit of domestic abuse. Financial abuse exists in many forms, but essentially this is the controlling of an intimate other’s finances or means to financial security.
Using tactics of emotional and verbal abuse when a man humiliates a woman in public; just consider whether this is truly conforming to the essence of the Quranic verse which states: “[T]hey are a garment for you and you are a garment for them” (Surah al-Baqarah) in describing the spousal relationship. In fact, public humiliation of any sort- criticising, shouting, swearing at or mocking one’s wife is doing the complete opposite of what a garment is functional for, it is exposing and uncovering that which should be clothed with dignity. The Prophet (saw) said: “The best among you is the best towards his wife, and I am the best of you to my wives.” (Ibn Majah)
Intertwined with verbal abuse is emotional abuse, this presents itself in many ways too. The desired effect of the abuse is to eliminate the woman’s self-esteem and confidence, to make her question herself and feel that she is alone in her battles and that the only help or ‘love’ she can get is from the perpetrator himself. Often victims believe that emotional abuse is not really abuse. But examine it more closely and it becomes clear that the devastating effects of emotional abuse can even take someone’s life. Suicide may be a result of continuous emotional abuse, but on the surface will appear to be from a different, perhaps more acute or immediate cause, the victim will however, know that the step she is about to take is not due to one isolated event but because of the unbearable, ongoing emotional pain she feels which often she cannot even express. Emotional abuse however, is not visible to the naked eye, nor can it easily be identified in one instance, in the same way that a physical wound or injury can. The weight of emotional abuse however, is just as damaging and disabling as physical abuse if not more sometimes. A very common statement from women is: ‘He didn’t hit me so I couldn’t understand it as abuse, or tell anyone about what he was doing, because he made me feel that no one would believe me’, this is the insidious way that emotional abuse works; there is no physical wound to exhibit as evidence of unjustifiable behaviour, yet it is just as dangerous if not more so because it is even more hidden than other types of abuse.
Many women explain that they believed that the abuser was behaving in that way because of something that she was doing wrong because he tells her “If you didn’t behave in this way I wouldn’t need to hit you/ shout at you/ lock you up”- The variations are endless, the purpose, only one; to make her believe that she caused his unacceptable behaviour. When someone choses to abuse another person, that abuse is the fault of the perpetrator, not the victim!
Do not accept a man’s rationalisation of the abuse as it being part of Islam; it is not. Nor that it is his right over her; conducting abusive behaviour can never be a right in a faith like Islam. If he justifies it saying that he got angry; remind him of his duty to control his anger and not to misplace the blame of his behaviour on the victim. If someone commits a mistake, feeling angry is an understandable response- however, behaving angrily towards that person to the extent where their rights and dignity are violated; is certainly not acceptable. Threatening divorce to coerce them into submission; is abuse. To threaten to take children away from a mother to achieve control over her behaviour; is abuse. Oppression and abuse is never the fault of the victim- no matter what the abuser says.
Islam teaches husbands to display kind treatment and practice mercy and forgiveness towards their wives, so those hiding behind the veil of justifying abuse through the façade of his religious right over her are entirely flawed. Allah`s Messenger (saw) said: ‘A believing man should not hate a believing woman; if he dislikes one of her characteristics, he will be pleased with another.” (Tirmidhi)
Dear readers find both solace and warning in the verse stating that “Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds” (Surah al-Muddathir). No matter how much you succeed in controlling those you feel superior to, remember it is Allah (swt) who has the final control. “There is no person to whom Allah has given responsibility and dies neglecting that responsibility, but Allah will deny him Paradise.” (Muslim).