By Monique Hassan
In honor of Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, we as an ummah must acknowledge that this type of trauma is occurring within our community just as it is occurring in every other race and religion. Domestic abuse goes against Islamic character and divides families.
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” Quran 30:21
We are supposed to be servants of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) and devoutly obedient to his message, this includes the rightful treatment of our spouses and family members.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), approximately 20 people are abused by their partner every minute in America. This is on or about 10 million people a year. Almost half of all female rape victims in America were forced by an intimate partner. 72% of murder-suicides are involving couples and it is typically the woman which is the victim of this homicide. Sadly, 20% of American children are a witness to domestic abuse.
What is Domestic Abuse
Domestic abuse is essentially a pattern of violence and negativity which is designed to control and breakdown the other person. Although some cases of abuse may occur due to a one-time outburst of anger, it is typically an ongoing and escalating behavior with the goal of keeping the abuser in power. A man or a woman can be the abuser and they may not see themselves as an abusive spouse just as the victim may not see themselves as being abused. Violence within the home can range in severity such as grabbing someone by the arm and throwing them to the ground to more horrific behavior such as beating someone with a closed fist until they are in the fetal position.
Abuse is not limited to physical violence. Verbal and emotional abuse is another tool used to oppress and degrade their spouse. As an example, if a husband comes home to find that dinner is not ready and he decides to begin screaming things such as “you are a terrible wife, I am embarrassed to be your husband” and then proceeds to slam doors and ignore the children, this man is harming his wife and his children. Spousal communication that seeks to blame and degrade can chip away at someone’s self- esteem and cause them to internalize the blame.
Sexual abuse is another aspect of the control paradigm. Although spouses should seek to satisfy the sexual desires of their mate, if a wife refuses intercourse it is not justifiable for the man to violently force himself upon her and then claim it is his right. Such acts cause the victim to associate sexuality with pain, which only serves to further sexual dissatisfaction within the marriage.
Forced isolation is another component seen in these relationships. The abuser begins to restrict their partner’s access to family, friends and the outside word. This may be done covertly by instigating arguments every time the spouse wants to visit family so that eventually the spouse stops attempting to leave to minimize arguments. Social media accounts and cell phones might be closely monitored or the abuser may completely forbid the use of these. The goal is to ensure the spouse is not hearing other voices which may go against the abuser and begin to strengthen the victim.
Why does Domestic Abuse Happen
Abusers may have tempers that are very difficult for them to control so they lash out angrily whenever they are triggered. Domestic Abuse is usually a means of control and dominance. The abuser wants to keep their partner submissive and in their metaphorical cage. They fail to realize that fear is not the same thing as respect.
“The strong man is not the one who wrestles others; rather, the strong man is the one who controls himself at times of anger.” Sahih Muslim 2609
Contrary to their external behaviors, abusers are typically weak internally. These are people that commonly lack trust in others and they are insecure. Therefor they project that insecurity onto their spouse and believe they need to enforce dominance to keep them at their side. Considering that 20% of children are witness to domestic abuse, those children may grow up and continue that cycle. The once abused and neglected child becomes the abuser or they marry an abusive spouse because this is the example their parents provided. They were raised to believe that marriage should be authoritarian.
Effects of Domestic Abuse
Victims of domestic abuse will feel the effect of this violence in physical and mental damage. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports that approximately one-third of domestic abuse victims have suicidal thoughts or have made attempts. Additionally, the spouses as well as the children in these abusive situations are at a higher risk for violence towards others as well as self-harm.
Victims often develop low self-esteem, they begin to blame themselves for their abuse and they become depressed. Children that witness these events carry lasting emotional scars which can impact their emotional development as well as their future choices in marriage.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another common effect of an abusive household. This can entail insomnia and when they can sleep they experience nightmares. Increasing feelings of guilt, isolation, anxiety and mistrust in others are common. The victim may also become increasingly hostile towards others as they don’t have a positive means of venting and they lack coping skills.
Dependent on the severity of the abuse, some victims may endure lasting physical effects. Physical scars as well as improperly healed injuries serve to constantly remind the victim of their trauma while also causing them physical pain or difficulty. Women may lose their pregnancies which only adds to their suffering.
Survivors that do leave the marriage often find it difficult to trust others and this can hinder future marriage prospects. Some brothers have a negative disposition towards divorcees and they look only for virgins which makes this process even more difficult. If they do remarry and the new spouse is not aware of their painful past, this will create a difficult situation as the victim will have some emotional scars to work through.
Why do the Victims Stay
From the outside looking in, it is easy to say the victim just needs to leave. This is often very difficult for multiple reasons. The moment when they do decide to leave, this is the most dangerous time for them according to the NCADV. Many men who have killed their wife reportedly did this when they tried to leave. An abuser is intent on controlling the other person, once that control is lost the abuser becomes unpredictable and may escalate to levels of violence that they never demonstrated previously. The mindset of “if I can’t have you, no one will” becomes a potential threat. Due to the isolation that is pushed on some victims, they may not have any friends to go to anymore and they hesitate to contact family that they previously distanced themselves from. In some situations, family members look down upon divorce so heavily that they might encourage the victim to stay and have patience as if they are responsible for the abuse.
Domestic abuse victims do not always consider themselves to be victims, instead they blame themselves and feel that they deserved the discipline. The abuser further perpetuates this guilt and makes statements like “if you didn’t do that, I would not get so upset with you”. The victim begins to believe that they are responsible for the violence in the home because they are a bad spouse. They may even seek out forgiveness from their abusive partner after a beating.
Finances are another concern for victims of domestic abuse. Abusers often control finances to ensure their partner does not have enough money to support themselves. Shelters for abused women do exist, but many people would be afraid to live in a homeless shelter. If children are involved then custody is a huge concern of the victim. Certainly, they cannot leave the child in that dangerous household, but they don’t have guarantees that they will get custody. Even if the victim is awarded custody of the child, they may have to visit their abuser on a regular basis due to visitation rights. Some victims may fear that their spouse will harm their child if they attempt to leave so they see enduring the marriage as a means of protection for the children.
Despite the difficulties and varying challenges of domestic abuse, victims can seek out help and they can overcome their situation. Many organizations exist that aim to help survivors of domestic abuse. If you are a victim of abuse or you know someone who might be, please utilize the following tips.
- Make sincere duaa and fall upon your faith for strength
- Contact organizations specializing in these situations.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800- 799-7233
- Contact family or friends you can trust and let them know you need help
- Contact your local police department for protection orders, arrests and have them escort you while gathering all your belongings
- Secure a lawyer if custody is a concern, non-profit lawyers are available for those that need financial help
- Reach out to religious leaders that you trust
- Find a therapeutic program to help you work through the emotional scars of your trauma
Take it one day at a time.
"No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even though it were the prick he receives from a thorn." Sahih al-Bukhari 5640
As someone who has personal insight with domestic abuse, I can tell you that help does exist and you are stronger than you think you are. It is not your fault and you do not deserve it. If you are a victim or know someone that is a victim, it is time to make a change for the positive. Have faith in Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) to guide you through this storm and know that you will come out of it renewed. That which does not kill you only makes you stronger. Alhamdulillah for everything.
Behavioral/Mental Health Writer
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. https://ncadv.org/
Suicide Prevention Resource Center. http://www.sprc.org/news/working-together- prevent-suicide- and-intimate-partner- violence