Every 15 seconds, a woman is abused in her home in the United States. Of the nearly four million victims of domestic violence in the U.S., 97 percent are female.
Youth violence is also widespread. It is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, this month one out of every four kids will be abused by another youth.
These are just some examples of violence in our homes and our communities. They reflect a disturbing trend fueled by violence in video games, movies, television shows, family attitudes about acceptable methods of conflict resolution, and the longstanding tolerance of behaviors like bullying.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. But domestic violence is only one example of the wider problem of violence in general. It cannot be tackled in isolation. And it requires an approach that involves our families and communities in a systematic, hands-on manner.
Here are nine ways Muslim families and communities can start doing their part:
1. Make your home a zero-violence zone
Whether it’s siblings slapping each other during a fight, one spouse warning the other to keep quiet about something in public by pinching that bruises, or visiting relatives encouraging you to “toughen up” your sons through a couple of fist fight sessions, tolerate none of it.
Start making your goal of a violence-free home a reality by:
a. calling a family meeting and making it clear that these types of violence will no longer be tolerated. Emphasize that as a family you would like to emulate the example of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, in having a violence-free family life. This is why you need to all work together to root it out.
Also in this meeting, share a few of the things Allah and the Prophet advised about anger with everyone. Anger is the first stage of moving toward violence if it is not controlled. Emphasize the following Islamic teachings:
-“those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men; for God loves those who do good” (Quran 3:134).
-"The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger" (Bukhari).
-A man said to the Prophet, "Advise me!" The Prophet said, "Do not become angry and furious." The man asked (the same) again and again, and the Prophet said in each case, "Do not become angry and furious" (Bukhari).
Also discuss the Prophet’s practical advice on how to control anger. These include making Wudu when angry; saying “I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan”, and changing one’s position (e.g. sitting if standing, lying down if sitting).
In addition, discuss how the Prophet never hit a woman or child, that he did not relentlessly scold his family, and that he was tolerant, loving, and kind. That is the model of Muslim family life you are hoping to achieve.
b. institute painful punishments for violent behavior. These can include the suspension of a favorite extra-curricular activity should the violence continue, canceling upcoming outing(s) with friends, or taking away a favorite toy, personal item (iPod, iPad, or text messaging option on a cellphone), or privilege (e.g. having the car on the weekends). Be rigorous about implementing these consequences.
c. consider enrolling yourself and your family in anger management classes. Check with your city or suburb’s main office. If you find this embarrassing, consider enrolling in an online one. Here is one example:
Others can be found by Googling “online anger management class”.
Parents should consider attending a Scream-Free Parenting workshop.
d. reward anger-free and violence-free responses to stress-inducing situations: for example, if your third-grader walks away from his younger brother who’s in the mood for some hitting, notice it, praise him in front of others, and reward him. For teens, privately congratulate them. Public praise can have the opposite effect in their case.
e. develop a code word for anger so that if you see a family member about to blow their stack, you can remind them it’s time to put Prophetic anger management advice in practice. For instance, you can say “La Taghdab” (which is the Arabic for “do not become angry”, which the Prophet advised the man in the above-mentioned Hadith). Or simply repeat out loud “I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan” several times.
e. promise a big reward for the entire family if the goal of violence-free family life is achieved. This can range from a trip to a favorite place, a new car, or anything you previously could not do together due to the negative family atmosphere caused by anger and violence in the home.
f. identify stressful situations and do something about them. If, for example, mornings are a scream fest because of missing clothes, backpacks, money, or lunches, start planning ahead the night before. Set out all clothes, make lunches, and prepare schoolbags. These may seem like small things but in the heat of the moment, they can diffuse tremendous stress and anger.
For bigger stressors, like job loss or the serious illness of a loved one, consider finding a good Muslim counselor to talk to. Also, turn to Allah through patience, along with frequent prayers and supplications, as well as increased good deeds, to help you handle the stress these situations bring into our lives.
2. Forswear violent media
This runs the gamut from movies to video games, books, television shows, and even sports watching. The American Psychiatric Association notes that for the last three decades, the one predominant finding in research on the mass media is that exposure to media portrayals of violence increases aggressive behavior in children.
So while it’s hard even for some parents to skip watching portrayals of violence, however “minor”, it has to be avoided. You can start by not watching these programs at all in front of the kids and limiting it to only when you are alone or with your spouse. Then slowly, try to find alternatives.
3. Look for violence-free outlets
For every form of violent media you enjoy, try your best to find an alternative. Instead of video games, consider doing more hands-on things with your family and friends. For example, you could take up a sport together or shoot some hoops outside the house after school. You can of course also replace the violent games with non-violent ones.
4. Talk to your Imam and community leaders
Encourage them to discuss family violence in their Khutbas, sermons, and, classes. These need to not only emphasize that violence in the home is antithetical to Islam, but they must also share practical ways the Prophet was the ultimate family man. Examples include how he helped with household chores, overlooked the faults of his wives and children, advised them in a kind and gentle manner, etc.
In particular, stress the lessons found in Surah Al-Hujarat (49) in the Quran, with the warning to avoid name-calling, sarcasm, and backbiting. While these are not physical violence in and of themselves, they often lead to it and are the first step of bullying. Also discuss Islamic anger management techniques the Prophet advised us to use.
5. Join anti-bullying initiatives in your city, state, or your child’s school
Google “parents against bullying” and you’ll find a number of organizations working on this cause. Join one you feel comfortable with or start one of your own. Banding with other parents to fight violence in our schools is a concrete way of getting involved to root out this scourge from the younger generation.
6. Make sure your community’s full-time and weekend Islamic schools have an anti-bullying policy
Many schools across the United States have implemented anti-violence programs across the country, especially since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103274911. Muslim schools should do the same. This policy needs to be put on paper and implemented. It also has to be made clear to parents in a letter sent home, with the consequences of violence and bullying clearly spelled out.
As well, perpetrators need to be advised, then, after a warning, punished. This needs to be done regardless of how much money the parents of a bully have given to the Masjid or Islamic school or how much influence they may have in the community.
7. Join the Parents’ Television Council
This is the go-to organization for dealing with all kinds of inappropriate media content, violent or not. If you don’t feel comfortable becoming a member, then participate in one of their projects like their Violent Video Game Campaign.
8. Engage Muslim youth at your Masjid or Islamic center with a youth group or sports club
Establishing well-organized Muslim youth groups that meet consistently and engage in healthy fun and learning are key to countering violence. Most tweens and teens are looking for a sense of belonging, and when they don’t find that within their families, look elsewhere. Sometimes, that can mean violent gangs or banding with friends to engage in bullying. Other times, it means tuning that loneliness into hours of playing violent video games.
If your Masjid or Islamic center does not already have one, start it up. Even if it begins with only three or four people, keep it consistent by meeting regularly. Slowly, insha Allah, the momentum will build if you meet regularly and don’t give up.
Alternatively, if a youth group seems too daunting, start a sports club. This group would get together to play an agreed upon sport at least twice a month, followed by prayer and a short talk. This has been tried out in various Muslim communities and is a good way of helping young people gain a sense of brother- and sisterhood, along with nuggets of Islamic knowledge.
9. Be aware of cyber bullying
This is a new trend among tech-savvy young people. According for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine to 35 percent of young people in the U.S. say they have been victims of electronic aggression.
Cyber bullying involves making threats and sending insults online through text messaging, email, Facebook, and other online venues. This needs to be discussed and incorporated in any discussion on bullying with tweens and teens.