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An Imam's Guide to deal with domestic violence
By Abdul Malik Mujahid
While in Muslim countries, the role of a Masjid’s Imam may be mostly to lead prayers and teach, in the United States and in other Western countries, it has expanded substantially.
These Imams do not only lead prayers, deliver sermons, officiate marriages, perform funeral ceremonies, and provide religious and spiritual guidance like other clergy. They also offer family counseling and mediation for parents and married couples.
We need help of American Imams in handling the curse of domestic violence. It is increasing in our community and here are some of the immediate causes of this.
There is a lot of pressure on Muslims in America.
While we thank God that no attack like that of 9/11 has recurred, anti-Islamic opinion has been consistently rising in the last six years in the United States. Today, a majority of our neighbors think very negatively of Islam and Muslims and 22 percent don’t even want a Muslim as their neighbor. Thirty-nine percent of respondents of a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll said they favored requiring Muslims, including U.S. citizens, to carry a special ID.
Due to this pressure and widespread Islamophobia, Muslim wages in America have consequently gone down by 10% according to the University of Illinois and Columbia University. Seventy-six percent of all young Arab-Americans surveyed in July 2007 by Zogby International say they have been personally discriminated against.
This explains why Muslim social service providers are finding higher levels of domestic violence and divorce in the community. And a Yale University mental health survey has determined that 50 percent of all Arab-Americans surveyed were found to have clinical symptoms of depression.
While these statistics call for a higher level of social services in the Muslim community, few institutions are actually providing that. This is why there is greater pressure on Imams to deal with issues like discrimination, domestic violence and parenting, although most of them have no training in these matters.
While there is no replacement for proper training in these crucial areas, all Imams must learn the basics of domestic violence and how to deal with it. With that in mind, we are providing the following tips for Imams:
1. Listening to the Community
As an Imam, you are the listening post of the community. But are you listening? Are you accessible to women in your masjids? Do women know your phone number? Do you have a set time available exclusively for women when they can talk to you and discuss issues of concern directly with you?
2. Learning About the Problem
There are different types of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and others. Know what types of abuse there are and familiarize yourself with their telltale signs. There is plenty of material on this subject which can be found on many web sites. You can start by reading from Sound Vision’s page on domestic violence. You can also acquire this information at police stations, women's centers and libraries.
It will also help if you read a few books about domestic violence, and added some good books on this topic in your Islamic center's library as well. As you are learning, please share this information with other leaders in your community.
3. Be proactive about domestic violence
Domestic violence can lead to the sister murdered and the brother being put in jail. Children would be separated from parents and most likely put in non-Muslim foster homes if this happened. It will also create another cycle of bad news for your community as has already happened in Chicago, Dallas, and Toronto. You can prevent all of that by being pro-active about domestic violence. If something still happens, God knows that you tried to prevent these things.
4. Understand that this is not a personal matter
Domestic violence is not a private matter between a husband and a wife that should be ignored. Domestic violence can lead to the destruction of a Muslim family, which is already so fragile in the current Islamophobic environment. The destruction of one family is the destruction of one unit of the Ummah. As leaders, Imams have a duty to help those suffering in this crisis.
Remember that Muslims must help their brothers and sisters, whether they are the oppressed or the oppressor as the Prophet has asked us to do, God’s peace and blessings be upon him. Not only must we help the sister who is being abused, we must also help the brother who is abusing by stopping him from this wrong.
5. Approach domestic violence as you would any social problem
Provide solutions, not just threats of Hellfire to men who abuse. Remember that a person who has this problem can change Insha Allah (if Allah wills) if there is help and support from the community and leaders like the Imam.
6. Know the services available
If your town has a Muslim-run battered women shelter, you are very blessed. Please do the following:
However, the reality is that Muslim-run shelters don’t exist in most American cities. If no such shelter is available, please do the following:
7. Be able to assess a crisis and protection plans
Consult a counselor about knowing how to assess the level of crisis in a home and help women develop protection plans (see tips for victims of domestic violence in the West for details of the protection plan).
8. Prepare your community for zero tolerance
No one in America has more access to Muslims than Imams. Use this access to educate. It's easier to deny a problem exists when no one talks about it except in hush hush tones. But when an Imam starts giving Khutbas (sermons) on the topic and discusses it in Islamic study circles (Halaqas), men and women have to start taking it seriously.
A Khutba or several sermons on this topic could be structured in the following way:
9. Open up the mosque or Islamic center for abused women
Make sure the mosque or Islamic center is open at all times for abused women to seek refuge in. Remember that Muslim women would prefer to turn for help to their community before going to non-Muslim shelters and calling non-Muslim-run crisis lines. Making sure the mosque is a "safe spot" can make women consider it one of their first points of refuge in an emergency. Ensure there is adequate safety in the mosque for women fleeing violence. Prepare written guidelines for your assistants in case someone approaches the Masjid in your absence.
10. Make yourself available
Make sure that your contact information and timings of Imam availability are well-known to all in the community, through announcements, web sites., newsletters and bulletin boards. All Imams should have a pager where people can easily reach them in emergencies. There should be one locked mailbox which only you can open. There should be an email address for those who want to seek guidance maintaining their anonymity.
11. Establish a social services system or committee
In cooperation with Muslim social service professionals in your community, establish a committee which will develop a system of social services in your community to tackle issues like domestic violence in Muslim homes.
12. Set up support groups
In mosques and Islamic centers, encourage the establishment of support groups for abusers and the abused (separately) so they can share their experiences with other Muslims who may have suffered from domestic violence as well. Make sure the group is run by wise, trustworthy men and women.
13. Make Dua
As a leader of the community, the well-being of its members is part of your responsibility. Make Dua that God helps you in this heavy task. Please lead the community in collectively praying that He eases the difficulties of all those suffering in the community, men, women and children. Also pray for our neighbors who are suffering from this problem of domestic violence. Nearly one-third of all American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.
 Poll indicates negative views of Islam rising -- chicagotribune.com Chicago Tribune. September 26, 2007. PEW Research The proportion who say that Islam has little or nothing in common with their own religion has increased substantially since 2005 (from 59% to 70%).
------Some relevant resources:
Buy Gender Equity in Islam
Buy The Muslim Marriage Guide
DVD: The Ideal Muslim Husband
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