On February 12th, 2009 and the days following it, we – as Muslims, as Americans, and as citizens of the world – were shocked and overcome by profound grief when informed of the brutal murder of Sister Aasiya Zubair Hassan, general manager and co-founder of Bridges TV. We learned, incredulously, that her husband – a man who made it his career goal to dispel negative images about Islam – decapitated his wife of many years.
Many Muslims, including our organization, Muslim Men Against Domestic Abuse, which formed shortly thereafter, correctly termed the gruesome incident a wake-up call for our community. But it is perhaps more important to clarify exactly who it is that needs to ‘wake up’ and what that ‘waking up’ actually entails.
In light of the constant bombardment in popular culture of images and narratives describing Muslims and Islam as inherently sexist and misogynist, it is not surprising why some Muslims may begin to internalize the notion that male violence against women is a uniquely Muslim problem. This, however, is a misconception we must reject. As a Domestic Violence activist, I know that the problem is indeed universal, and although the obvious truism is that it takes different forms in different societies, there is often a frightening degree of similarity in the types of domestic abuse across cultures around the globe. Indeed, the wake-up call is intended for all communities – be they our national community, racial/ethnic community, and/or religious community. The disease of domestic abuse exists in all of these communities, so our steps to eradicate it must be focused and concerted.
In the context of sensationalist portrayals of backward Muslim societies that need to catch up to ‘enlightened’ Western standards, it is understandable why some Muslims may hesitate to begin serious introspection into this problem. But we all know that some issues simply cannot wait to be tackled. They do not quietly resolve themselves with time. And the consequences of not addressing them are grave.
Victims/survivors of domestic abuse face the dual challenge of both surviving the viciousness of the perpetrator(s), and bearing the silence of a community unwilling to confront the problem head on. As Muslim Men Against Domestic Abuse, we champion intolerance for the tolerance of any type of abuse by our brothers. In so doing, we seek to demonstrate that domestic abuse is not merely the concern of our sisters.
Despite the emphasis on male violence against women, we recognize that such brutality can also be inflicted against children in our communities, often traumatizing them for life. We realize that domestic abuse does not confine itself to overt forms of violence; abuse can also be – broadly speaking – psychological and emotional, and the scars from these blows are often as devastating as their physical counterpart.
And though the victims/survivors of domestic abuse also include men, we must have the courage to acknowledge that domestic abuse is a problem that lies largely with men, particularly, with the way in which dominant conceptions of masculinity have developed. In a society that often affirms the virtue of the hyper-macho, violent, competitive, and aggressive man – a man who seeks to gain power over others – domestic abuse is a symptom of a deep-seated ideological system that values male domination. The underlying pathology of this system leaves little room for qualities such as compassion, cooperation, and mutual love and care – especially in men. Until we start to ask fundamental questions about how our cultural shapes discussions about ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity,’ and how we are socialized (not) to relate to the opposite gender, the day-to-day effects of such thinking will continue to plague us. The world’s communities tend to be quite adept at constructing all sorts of creative ways to justify forms of domination and hierarchy, and men’s superiority and domination over women is one of the most toxic and enduring of these ideological concoctions.
The Qur’an depicts women and men as garments for each other. The Prophetic practice teaches men to behave lovingly towards their spouses, and to resolve difficulties in an amicable fashion. The Qur’an and the Prophetic example also command Muslims to speak the truth and stand firmly against oppression. It is for this reason that a group of us felt the need to form Muslim Men Against Domestic Abuse. We hope that this organization not only initiates candid conversation on this disease in our communities and society at large, but also aids in the concrete struggle to wipe it out.
My own thinking about the need for men’s participation in the anti-domestic violence movement became clearer during my involvement with the Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP). A support, care, and advocacy group, DVRP served Asian survivors of domestic violence in the larger DC area. By chance (or not), I was the only male member on the organization’s Board. As I gained a greater understanding of the criminality of domestic violence, I realized that the problem principally laid with men. I had walked into the doors of DVRP feeling like the anomaly, a man who joined a movement in which I did not belong. After just a couple of weeks, I realized that the big scandal was in fact why there were so few men involved, since the problem and the solution resides primarily in men’s actions and inactions.
As such, we encourage all individuals to sign our pledge (mmada.org), and we encourage all communities to participate in our Call to Action (PDF).
(Photo: Kenneth Close)
Junaid S. Ahmad has a Juris Doctor (law) degree from the College of William and Mary. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town, and is also a faculty member in the Faculty of Law and Policy, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). He was on the Executive Board of the Domestic Violence Resource Project. He has also been involved with Amnesty International, as well as an interfaith organization dedicated to social justice.