Love like the Prophet: Ending DV in our Communities 2015

This October 2015, KARAMAH conducted its third annual “Love Like the Prophet: Ending Domestic Violence in the Muslim Community” event series. This annual series of community events is aimed at addressing domestic violence in the Muslim community. Because most of KARAMAH’s calls on this issue come from local mosques, KARAMAH brought the series to three different Muslim communities in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia in collaboration with Make Space, Masjid Muhammad (The Nation’s Mosque) and The Islamic Society of Baltimore. Each event promoted discussion within our communities about this issue and shed light on resources available to survivors. Most importantly, however, each event provided a much needed reminder to our communities about the Qur’anic model of love and relationships as exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The following are the main messages of our scholars, imams, and legal practitioners.

When talking about any gendered issue, it is imperative to emphasize Islam’s just and gender equitable principles. Abusers adopt a power and control paradigm which Ms. Aisha Rahman described as being a paradigm that is about “asserting one’s false power and hierarchy over another.” However, God did not create such hierarchies. “God created us, men and women, from the same nafs (soul)”, said Ms. Rahman. The abuser’s false hierarchy is akin to the Iblisi logic. When Iblis disobeyed God and refused to prostrate to Adam because, he did so because he thought he was better than Adam. Iblis created a false hierarchy, asserting that because he was made of fire and Adam of clay, he was superior to Adam. One of the most acute dangers of adopting such false hierarchies in our community today is domestic violence. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) exemplified the Qur’anic model of justice and equity through each of his relationships, whether they were with his spouses, his companions, and even his enemies.  Reviving these examples, according to Ms. Rahman, would leave no room for domestic violence in our communities.

“And we have not sent you, except as a mercy to the worlds” (Qur’an, 21:107)

Dr. Zainab Alwani from KARAMAH, Imam Talib Shareef from Masjid Muhammad and Imam Tarif Shraim from the Islamic Community Center of Potomac highlighted the prophetic model of loving and harmonious families by referring to Qur’an and sunnah. Imam Shareef emphasized the importance of love in Islam quoting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who said: “You don’t enter paradise until you have faith and you don’t have faith until you practice love.” No one has demonstrated love for all creatures more than Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

It is from God’s mercy that He sent us a Prophet more human, affectionate and merciful than all creation,” said Imam Shraim. God gave His Prophet “a soft tender heart” that allowed him to feel the pain and emotional needs of those around him and prophetic sirah shows that his love and mercy extended to everything around him. This quality was paramount in his mission to change and elevate his community. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also made sure he expressed his love in the best ways possible so that “whoever encountered him felt inspired, appreciated, loved, and empowered.”

Dr. Alwani recounted that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would stand up for his daughter Fatima when she would enter the room. He would hug her, kiss her on her forehead and sit her on his seat in front of everybody showing her love, affection and honor. He showed the same kind of love to his other children, grandchildren, wives and companions. He was so sensitive and made sure people around him didn’t feel hurt. His servant Anas Ibn Malik, for example, said that throughout his years of servitude to the Prophet, he never heard him utter an expression of discontent in front of him. Another very touching story of prophetic mercy and sensitivity is the one when a Bedouin offered the Prophet sour grapes. The Prophet (PBUH) ate all the grapes and did not share with his companions. The Bedouin left happy. When the companions asked the prophet why he didn’t share as was his prophetic custom, he answered that the grapes were sour and that had they tasted them, they would have made facial expressions that would have hurt the Bedouin’s feelings. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Those who want to be with me in Jannah need to emulate me.” Certainly by emulating the prophetic model, there will be no room for domestic violence in our communities.

The Qur’anic model of love best exemplified by the Prophet (PBUH) as a remedy to DV

In order to affect social change, following this model, which entails love, mercy and also understanding the customs and culture of the society in which change is to be affected is key, said Dr. Alwani. DV is about control and superiority, concepts that are destructive to human relationships. The Qur’an, however, establishes the foundation of equality among all humans:

“O humankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- reverence Allah, through whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.” (Qur’an, 4:1)

While DV in all its forms is destroying our communities, emotional and verbal abuses are sometimes worse than physical abuse, as Dr. Alwani noted. Understanding, contemplating, and abiding by Qur’an and especially ayah 49:11, according to Dr. Alwani, would solve the issue of emotional or verbal abuse in our communities.

“O you who believe, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” (Qur’an, 49:11)

Legal relieves and consequences for DV

Calling to the spiritual and religious side of the community is central in “Love Like the Prophet” series. However, KARAMAH knows that we need to offer interim support while our community works to eliminate this issue altogether. Julia Bizer, Esq. and Magistrate Zakia Mahasa provided valuable information in this regard.

Ms. Bizer defined DV and laid out some complex issues related to DV cases. “ It is more than physical violence; it can be financial control, coercion, isolation through controlling methods of communication and transportation and threats are all manifestations of domestic violence in a relationship,” said Ms. Bizer. Magistrate Mahasa also defined DV as “assault [including emotional and verbal abuse], hitting or using threatening words making a person feel they are in eminent danger, rape or other sexual offences, stalking and false imprisonment.”

KARAMAH receives phone calls from women around the world seeking help for DV situations. We provide legal help for some, but unfortunately, for others, there are no legal remedies. Even when legal remedies exist, sometimes, they are not options these women can feasibly take. KARAMAH provides family law services like representing survivors of domestic violence with Protective Orders, divorce or child custody in Family Law court, and legal advice/referrals and other legal issues. Moreover, KARAMAH partners with various social service organizations to see if those who call us are eligible for social service needs. Thanks to KARAMAH’s international jurist network, we can also connect women overseas with our jurists for consultation and help.

Magistrate Mahasa presented two legal remedies available for DV survivors in Maryland: A protective/civil order and a peace order. A petition for a Protective Order can be filed in a district court or a circuit court. The judge can order the alleged abuser to stop abusing the DV survivor, stay away from her, not try to contact her or harass her, stay away from their children’s school/s and other family members. The abuser will be ordered to give up his vehicle and leave the home he shared with the survivor at the time of the abuse if they are married or if the survivor’s name is on the lease. The abuser will also lose custody of the children he had with the survivor and will be ordered to pay maintenance and go to counseling.

While there are legal remedies available to DV survivors, we as a community need to improve our response to DV. Without a supportive community, legal remedies are useless.

Improving our community’s response to DV

Ms. Saleema Snow said that people unfortunately often ask: “Why would someone stay in an abusive relationship? We often hear: ‘girl, if someone puts their hand on me, I will either be in jail or someone will be dead.’” The answer is: we don’t have community support that would allow someone to leave an abusive relationship. “ Women stay in abusive relationships either because they think there is no other option or because they think that it’s in the best interest of their children. Ms. Snow said that it was easy for her as an attorney to get a protective order and have the judge order the abusive spouse to stay away from the woman and children. The challenge is to to get the abuser to pay alimony, child support, mortgage and rent even after he leaves the house. Ms. Snow went on to explain the Duluth model of power and control: “the abuser abuses to exert power and financial control, isolating the woman from her family and friends and community […] so she has no support system to leave the relationship.”

“We shouldn’t close our eyes to domestic violence but create a community of support.”

In order to create a safe community for DV survivors “we should stop covering up for each other’s sins,” said Ms. Snow. “We have to be accountable for each other so the abuser is held responsible for his actions. We should also stop blaming the DV survivor and asking: ‘what did you do to provoke your husband? You know how we can be sister.’ There are all kinds of things that provoke us, but it doesn’t give us the right or the power to strike out.”

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