By Sara Ali, LPC-Intern
Sana, a young woman who got married in Pakistan to a Pakistani-born American citizen, moved to the United States a few years ago to follow her husband. She has 2 young children, and although her in-law family from America promised her a life of high comfort, education, and wealth, after her arrival she soon learned, that would be far from her reality. Sana’s husband physically abused her (even while she was pregnant), called her names, told her she couldn’t wear American clothing, prevented her from learning English, denied her access to her family or the possibility of making friends, threatened to take her children away from her, and every time she tried to stand up to him, she was beaten. One evening, when she called 911, he told emergency responders she doesn’t speak English, making it seem it was an accidental call, and when responders asked her directly, she covered it up for the sake of her children.
October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month and it is an issue that deserves much more of our attention. Domestic Violence is not just a “that family’s” problem but an issue that plagues our communities, our country, and our faith. It fractures our community with families who raise children encapsulated within the wheel of violence, often becoming the abusers they saw in their fathers. It grapples our country because 1 in every 3 women are physically abused by an intimate partner1. More importantly, domestic violence is an issue that tests our faith. It is easy to look around the world and see clear signs of oppression by rulers, but what about the oppression inside our very homes?
We can’t deny the existence of domestic violence within our Muslim community. According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding’s American Muslim Poll 2017: Muslims at the Crossroads, 13% of randomly selected Muslims stated they knew an individual who was a victim of domestic violence in the past 12 months2. The research also found 51% of Muslims reported the incident to their faith leader or Imam. Domestic violence occurs within Muslim households as often as it does within other faith communities however, Muslims are just more likely to involve their local Imams. it is notable to understand that often Imams serve as first responders for distressed couples and families seeking help, but most Imams are not equipped with the skills, understanding, nor resources to help guide victims of domestic violence, highlighting an underserved need within our Muslim community.
Although it is easy to say victims can leave their abusers or request protective orders from law enforcement, the reality is disfavoring. More often than not, victims care about their abusers, are afraid to end their marriage and have nowhere to go or have little to no access to money, are afraid of leaving their children or placing them in hardship (such as living in a shelter that are often at full capacity) or local police do not strictly enforce protective orders due to constraints of time or other high priority cases. After everything is said and done, the abuser is still within reach of the victim.
Domestic violence is a complex and delicate issue, and some argue there is no solution to it, because of its complexities and both parties are responsible for their choices. However, it is not a reason be a bystander or turn away.
Here are some things you can do to help make a difference to fight against the plague of domestic violence.
1. Act for yourself. There are multiple local and national agencies who can provide case management and mental health services to help get you or someone you know out of an abusive relationship. Start your search to seek help for safety planning, advocacy, resources, or to talk to a crisis counselor with the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800-799-7322.
2. End the silence. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, find ways to be a support to them. Seeking out available options for mental health services, legal aid, other resources can make a world of a difference for a victim.
3. Support organizations that help women and children have the courage to leave an abusive relationship and find freedom and self-sufficiency through your time or financial support. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Olive Branch Muslim Family Services, DAYA, and Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, are among those who are working to mend a need in our Muslim community and in our country.
4. Find strength above your fear. Often times, topics related to domestic violence such as rape, physical assault, gun violence, or beatings are difficult to talk about and stomach. But do not let your fear prevent you from being supportive to someone you know who is a victim to such abuse. ᐧ
1 National Statistics, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, https://ncadv.org/statistics.
2 Dalia Mogahed and Youssef Chouhoud, American Muslim Poll 2017: Muslims at the Crossroads, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, https://www.ispu.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/American-Muslim-Poll-2017-Report.pdf (2017).
About Sara Ali
Sara Ali is a licensed Mental Health Clinician at Guided Restoration, serving the needs of her clients through individual and group therapy settings. Over the last 7 years, Sara has helped individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, stress management, relationships, grief and loss, trauma, and domestic violence. She has served as a consultant for behavioral research projects at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and serves as an advisory council member at Olive Branch Muslim Family Services and Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse. Additionally, Sara is a peer reviewer for the Journal of Muslim Mental Health and is a presenter on various mental health topics for conferences, faith centers, or nonprofit organizations. More writings and insight from Sara can be found on Facebook @saramindsonline.