Holding Our Brothers, Fathers, Sons Accountable

Today’s guest blogger is Abbas Jaffer. Abbas is currently a Muslim Fellow at the Buxton Initiative, a Washington, DC based … Continued

Today’s guest blogger is Abbas Jaffer. Abbas is currently a Muslim Fellow at the Buxton Initiative, a Washington, DC based interfaith organization whose motto is “Living with Differences.” He recently graduated from the University of Denver where he and a group of undergraduate men started Men As Allies, a men’s group working to raise awareness of violence against women.

I sat horrified two weeks ago as I watched the first reports of the gruesome murder of Aasiya Hassan, the general manager of the Muslim-interest television channel BridgesTV. The allegations that her husband killed her in a most extreme form of domestic violence shook me to the core. This crime and the ensuing vilification of Muslims are both affronts to all the work I have done with others to promote interfaith dialogue and to prevent violence against women.

Regarding domestic violence, I assert that the spirit and the letter of Islamic law prohibit acts of relationship violence. However, the two sides receiving the most attention on the issue consist of first, oversimplified apologetics, and second, Islamophobic attacks on the integrity of Muslim men. The back and forth between these two perspectives on the “Islamic-ness” of this sort of violence takes us away from what should be our focus: to address domestic violence in the Muslim community today, and to sound a clarion call for Muslim men in particular to step up their efforts.

To single out Islam and its adherents is at best a diversionary tactic. The apologist voice implores us to look to the past at the improvement of women’s status in Islamic history, rather than focusing our attention on current gender violence issues that are real and present. The Islamophobic voice asks us to invalidate a faith and religious community because of the individual atrocities committed by certain Muslims. However, I continue to find examples of positive gender dynamics in the Muslim community, as well as a potential for addressing domestic violence from within the community.

When looking for a relatively recent, nuanced, and thoughtful piece on the topic of domestic abuse in the American Muslim community, I came across a New York Times article from January 2008. Some impactful individuals and organizations are mentioned in the article: one is the Hamdard Center, a Chicago women’s shelter focusing on the needs of battered Muslim women; another was The Peaceful Families Project, an organization that is conducting research on and raising awareness of domestic violence amongst American Muslims and Maha Al-Khateeb, the organization’s co-director. In this article and many others, the efforts of women in the community are rightly highlighted, but the omission of men’s efforts implies a general apathy on our part. Muslim men are not monolithic, and we should be allowed to speak for ourselves. Many of us are allies for women in varying capacities: as counselors, employees at women’s services organizations, as law enforcement officers, and more broadly as concerned members of the community.

Large populations of Muslim men advocating against domestic violence have yet to emerge, and while I believe that we have not reached the critical mass of allies that would give us public exposure, many of us are channeling our indignation at the scourge of spousal assault and abuse. From the most conservative traditionalists to Muslim pro-feminists, all along the spectrum there is a growing men’s acknowledgment of the corrosive effects of this violence on our communities.

The reaction by male leaders in the community to the Hassan murder is noteworthy. Imam Mohamed Magid, the Vice-President of the Islamic Society of North America, issued a statement in which he frankly remarked, “Unfortunately, some of us ignore such problems in our community, wanting to think that it does not occur among Muslims or we downgrade its seriousness…” This honest appraisal of community attitudes is a necessary foundation for furthering the efforts of Muslim men and women in making domestic violence unacceptable.

Domestic violence is a complex issue to address precisely because it is so widespread and cuts across many demographic lines. In the American Muslim community in particular, we need real, sustained action and a continued buy-in. This means three things: continuing to address domestic violence issues long after the buzz from the story of Aasiya Hassan’s murder has quieted down; an ongoing commitment from imams in particular to support and provide resources for both the victims of domestic violence and the broader Muslim community; and more visible men’s anti-violence initiatives. Having these three action items on the agenda will be far more effective than getting mired in political debate.

Whether physical, sexual, or psychological in nature, chances are extremely high that each of us knows a victim of domestic violence. Ultimately the question becomes how accountable we are willing to hold our brothers, fathers, and sons, and what we are willing to take a stand against at work, at home, and at the mosque.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.

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  • mac33

    Great post. I especially appreciated how eloquently you articulated the problem with the current public discussion on domestic abuse:”However, the two sides receiving the most attention on the issue consist of first, oversimplified apologetics, and second, Islamophobic attacks on the integrity of Muslim men. The back and forth between these two perspectives on the “Islamic-ness” of this sort of violence takes us away from what should be our focus: to address domestic violence in the Muslim community today, and to sound a clarion call for Muslim men in particular to step up their efforts.”Driving toward real action is always hard and uncomfortable, but it is what’s needed.

  • CCNL

    Mr. Jaffer,You are simply another Islamic obfuscator trying to distract us from one of the globe’s serious and horrific problems– following the dictates of the worst book ever written, the koran–. Clean up your “book” first and we will then listen. Until then your words have no meaning.

  • Maryann261

    Muslim men deserve no respect. I hold them in complete contempt. What they do to their wives and daughters is despicable. Muslim men treat women like chattel, actually worse. The violence they perpetrate against women is incomprehensible. I consider Muslim men to be savages.

  • asoders22

    There is such a thing as homophobia – which means fear of the unknown without any real foundation. But there is no such thing as Islamophobia.Critics of Islam are critical of real features of this religion, of what is said in the Quran and how it is exercised here and now, in real life. And there is a lot to criticize and a lot to be abhorred by.

  • svengerald

    So lets set aside the “apologists” and the “islamophobes”. You have your work cut out for you. You will have to counter many phrases and sayings in your holy book and the associated traditions and you will have to counter your prophets own behavior. How do you counter a book “written by the hand of your ilah” and how do you counter your prophets own behavior, especially since he is “the perfect man” and the “best example”? I would like to encourage your attempts at correcting the way women are treated and thought of in islam. If you are serious, you are risking your life. I wish you well.

  • hsnkhwj

    Maryann261 Author Profile Page:Muslim men deserve no respect. I hold them in complete contempt. What they do to their wives and daughters is despicable. Muslim men treat women like chattel, actually worse. The violence they perpetrate against women is incomprehensible. I consider Muslim men to be savages.I wonder if you watch movies on LIFETIME channel based on true stories of men committing atrocities upon women in America. Men going to strip places. Women used as sex objects.It is unfortunate that our women in America have to be so insecure that they do not want to look older for the fear that their husbands will leave them for younger looking girls. This is why we have multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry.Hair colors, wrinkle creams, and numerous other products are in high demand. Our daughters have to display their bodies to attract men, who don’t stay with them anyway. Thus, the divorce rate is so high. France’s President Sarkozy has a third wife. He divorced two other models after they got wrinkles on their faces.Sure, our women do have the freedom to be exploited by men.I wish our men and women will look inwards as to what is happening in America before they criticize people of other cultures and religions.This is not meant to condone abuse of women in other religions or cultures.

  • edbyronadams

    Eboo, the Koran says beating your wife is okay.Dance around it all you want. That’s what it says.

  • abhab

    The Faith guest, Abbas, pontificates thus:They are wrong because the condition of women, if anything, had deteriorated by Islam. A poignant example is Khadija, the first wife of your prophet. She had a thriving business with 500 camel caravan to carry her merchandise to Yemen and Syria and had many male employees including her husband, your prophet. How many Muslim women do you know today who come near to this level of independence and authority.And again thus:

  • Maryann261

    Reply to HSNKHWJ,I do not respect men who commit violence against women, but Muslim men are complete savages. They are not even hit to be called human. It appears to me that you have never meant any men with family values, men who treat women as complete equals. I know such men. They certianly do exist. I know plenty of people who have never divorced. Not all men are looking for younger wives. Maybe you should get away from Liftime and find a better circle of people with whom to associate. It is pity that you think all women lower themselves to being sex objects. I wonder if you have done the same thing to yourself. I don’t respect women in the free world who allow themselves to be used in such a manner. I have the right to criticize Muslims. Beatings, “honor” killings, female genital mutilation, just few of the barbaric things that Muslim men do to Muslim women. Muslim men are repulsive in every way possible.

  • formerheap

    A muslim issue this domestic violence is not,but a community of cultural diverstiy being selective on what domestic violence,how it affects woman and children and the belief of the men involved is an epidemic.I have had 3 men,all of similar backgrounds,high school graduates,and unable to find their niche so they blame any woman/girl that they can.Start with their mothers,then the stepmothers,then the abuse and/or neglect of their fathers,then their drug and alcohol addictions,the sexually transmitted diseases,the womanizing and manipulation of other females and sometimes males depending on the culture of choice for the man involved.Add in their siblings and what each of them may have had to endure as children and in adulthood,the secrets those siblings don’t want to be revealed or relived, who these men have had children with and those woman’s/girl’s family input and degree of deviance and it is no longer a situation of domestic violence being an unacceptable community issue,it becomes a community issue for allowing these men and the participates to continue to repeat the cycle of abuse over and over again.

  • clearthinking1

    Mr. Jaffer,You fool no one. This is just another attempt to deflect and distract from the very real and tragic problem of Islam & violence.You wrote: “This crime and the ensuing vilification of Muslims are both affronts to all the work I have done with others to promote interfaith dialogue and to prevent violence against women.”Once again Mr. Jaffer and other Eboo-types:Enlightened Muslims such as yourself need to have INTRAfaith dialogue. Look INSIDE your community and religion for the answers. Look INSIDE your own self, and you will find the conflicts and falsehoods that make Islam violent.Then what will you do?

  • ivri5768

    I’m not at all sure what the central point is. If you wish to say that the Islamophobia that issued from this hideous incident is not the doings of the Quoran, that all Muslim men are not to be vilified, then, of course, you are correct. On the other hand the sheer number of honor killings in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa must become a primary focus of attention to all concerned with human rights. Just ask Soraya M.

  • hsnkhwj

    clearthinking1:India needs you. There are so many problems in Hindu religion that need to be reformed–urine drinking, burning alive of brides for the sake of dowry (it is never “enough”), painting homes with cow dung, selling cow urine in bottles as a substitute for soft drinks, caste system inequalities from birth to death, burning alive of widows in the name of Sati.India needs you more than we do.

  • phillipecopeland

    I appreciate that a man of any faith is speaking up about the shameful reality of domestic violence. Every culture is in some form wrestling with the negative consequences of gender inequality and the violence that is inevitable when women are subordinate to men. As a Baha’i man who is both a husband and a father promoting gender equality in my family and in the world is a spiritual commitment. It is encouraging to see that other religious men share that commitment. Keep it up brother.

  • hsnkhwj

    cantabb1:The most rational comment I have read in a long time. Thank you!I like to mention that both the condemnation of crimes like this and denunciation of terrorism is already occuring in Islamic circles. CAIR, ISNA and others have already done so.We don’t simply read about condemnations in Muslim countries in our press in America.Thank you again!

  • hsnkhwj

    Maryann261:You defeat your own argument. How many Muslim men in your lifetime have you really met? There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. Do you think all of them are beheading their women?No, it is not all the women in America who subject themselves to becoming sex objects. They have been socialized to accept the mores that are prevalent right now.Divorced women run to singles’ bars in search of men. Men offer them a drink and take them to one night stand. Sometimes, these women are killed by these criminals. Sometimes, you read in Dear Abby’s column a woman writing, “There aren’t any decent men left out there.”Muslim women cover their bodies by choice. Their belief is that only their husbands have a right to look at their bodies. No, they are not oppressed. Ask any Muslim woman in ‘hijab” while she is alone and see what she has to say to you.Of course, there are decent men and women in America who stay with their spouses for life. But what is the divorce rate in America today? You ask others not to generalize about men-women relationships in America and yet you have no hesitation in generalizing about Muslims. Is Elizabeth Taylor condemning divorce here (not directed to you personally but as a cultural phenomenon)?What do you think people in other countries reading priests molesting boys in churches and pastors condemning homosexuality on the pulpit but admitting to having gay relationships? Will they be justified in generalizing about America?

  • legendarypunk

    “You ask others not to generalize about men-women relationships in America and yet you have no hesitation in generalizing about Muslims.”Unfortunately, this seems to be the most common attitude – not just towards religion, but towards many areas of life. It makes people feel good about themsevles to look down on others, to say, “He’s down there and I’m up here – clearly I am the better man.”It typically seems to me that the people who are the most hateful critics of some method or practice act that way because they realize that the very act they are criticizing exists within themselves in some form or another. Given the choice between being honest with themselves or looking down upon another man, many people opt for the easy way out.

  • markinirvine

    I personally know Muslim men who treat their wives with respect and do not beat or decapitate them! The culture of abuse of women is based (at least in part) on antiquated so-called “religious” texts that treat women as property or as little more than breeding animals to be subjugated. Until we free ourselves from blind obeisance to these superstitious, barbaric texts, the problem of culturally sanctioned abuse of women will persist. Then, of course, there is the abuse at the hands of psychopathic personalities … but that is another dynamic.

  • cantabb1

    clearthinking1:Yeah. That should explain everything to everyone of every religion and the ‘non-believers’ !!!

  • cantabb1

    hsnkhwj:As an outsider, my interest in the subject, under the interfaith umbrella, is limited to understanding basic tenets and to analyze the apparently huge difference in interpretations of some central issues (killing of the innocent in the name of religion) between fundamentalist/extremist/militant followers and peaceful folowers. And why so much apparent hate toward the non-believers.I realized what “clearthinking” was doing, but one thing that did catch my eye:What does Koran chapter 9 verse 5 actually mean and tell ?

  • hsnkhwj

    Cantabb1:Thank you! Just as there are scholars of the Bible, there are scholars of the Quran. Unfortunately, I am not a specialist on Quran. So, I asked a friend who gave the following translation of chapter 9 verse 5.”A declaration of immunity from Allah (God) and His messenger to those of the pagans with whom you have contracted mutual alliances.”If you have a translation of Quraan with tafseer (explanations and the contexts in which the verse came as a message from God under certain circumstances), you might be able to find details.One way to do further research would be to try the website: Islamonline.com. They have specialists who answer questions.I appreciate your efforts to trying to understand Islam and Quran. Yours is the most legitimate approach.

  • hsnkhwj

    Cantabb:Clearthinking is trying to distort again by writing in a taunting way.The early history of Islam was a serious struggle for survival. The descendants of Abraham were believers in monotheiesm. Muhammad was preaching monotheism. This was a serious threat to pagans because kaaba was a big source of revenue to them. There were 360 gods there. The pagans went after him and wanted to kill him. He was PREACHING monotheism.He escaped to Yathrab (Medina) with a small group of his followers. The people there were waiting for him. They embraced Islam (monotheism).Muhammad then had an army of 10,000 followers and conquered kaaba back (Kaaba was built by Abraham).Muhammad declared total amnesty.Originally, Jews and Christians of the time backed him. Readers will have to read the history of conflicts with Jews and Christians.Quraan is a collection of messages from God on a day to day basis. Today’s Islamophobes quote those verses out of context without mentioning the circumstances under which a particular message was received.In this well-orchestrated campaign, reference is often made to those verses of the Quran (the collection of which took place over 22 years) which were revealed in actual battle conditions when Muslims were fighting for their survival. Reading them out of context would obviously lead to a gross misunderstanding of the teachings of Islam.Hence clearthinking is distorting those verses. Quraan clearly states “lakum dinokum wale yadeen” (To you your faith, to me mine.). There is no compulsion in faith.Many object to his preaching monotheism. That was the conviction of the descendants of Abraham.