Apr 24, 2012

An Insight on Domestic Abuse - Interview with Robina Niaz

By An Ghela
Interview with Robina Niaz - Founder of Turning Point for Women and Families.

Have you heard of our upcoming webinar on this topic??? Check it out HERE.

Violence against women knows no culture or religion. It is not the fault of the victim or an inevitable response to a woman’s actions. Nevertheless as Muslims we need to educate ourselves on what our religion says about our status on this earth and the position that Allah has granted us.

Islam raises a woman’s position by safeguarding her identity. As an example, Muslim women are not allowed to change their last names once they are married as other cultures do. This emphasizes that a woman does not become a man’s property but his companion with a uniqueness given by her Creator that would not be changed after marriage. We also see how in other cultures women commit adultery if they are married but if they are single they are not constrained by any law. In Islam a woman’s chastity is so valuable no matter if she is married or single she responds to Allah foremost.

Equally a woman’s relationship with a man is adorned with words such as protection, mercy, comfort, love and metaphors of being each other’s garment. Such words are not just nicely put descriptions but are signs from Allah and should be treated with the highest degree of consideration and obedience. How important a partner can be that the Prophet (saw) says that a man would complete his religion once he gets married! This could only imply that he should take as much care of his marriage as he has taken care of his religious duties as a single man.

As pointed above Muslim women were given a special position with rights and obligations that have to be protected by all Muslims. Allah has created men and women from the same essence and at the same time has condemned the ill treatment of any Muslim. Therefore the abuse of a Muslim woman is the abuse of Islam. The treatment of women in our society is a clear reflection of the state of our society as a whole.

We are aware that even though Islam is perfect Muslims are not. However is essential to point out humans were not given their rights by a court of law or by a group of religious leaders, our rights were given by Allah and is our duty to learn and enforce them. Sadly we still keep hearing cases of domestic violence occurring in our Ummah. The first step to combat this epidemic is educating ourselves and passing the information to all the Muslim women and men in our lives. Education is the key!

To get a better insight about Domestic Violence we interviewed Sister Robina Niaz MSW the Founder and Executive Director of Turning Point for Women and Families. Turning Point for Women and Families is the first non-profit organization in New York City that aims to address Domestic Violence in the Muslim community by offering crisis intervention services, individual and group counseling, advocacy, outreach, education and training (http://www.turningpoint-ny.org/index.html).

Q. What is Domestic Violence? 
A. Domestic violence is a pattern of intentional coercive behavior by one partner against the other, which is aimed at gaining power & control.

Q. What does Islam say about abuse and what does it say about the treatment of women?
A. Islam reminds Muslims to treat women and children with the utmost respect and kindness and we see numerous examples from our beloved Prophet Mohammed’s (pbuh) own life which demonstrate how he treated his wives. In fact he reminded men by saying “The best of you are those who best treat their women. And I am the best of people to my women.”

Q. What are some of the factors that lead to a person becoming abusive?
A. Abusive behavior is rooted in the abuser’s own insecurity and his/her need to control and sustain power over another person who is deemed vulnerable which is mostly women and children.

Q. Some people believe that abuse can only be physical or that it can only be done by a spouse. What are the different types of abuse?
A. • Physical abuse is only one form of abuse and many abusers will not hit or batter but use other forms of abuse which are: psychological/emotional, sexual, verbal and financial.
• The perpetrators of abuse are not just spouses but can be parents, siblings, authority figures, in-laws and adult children who perpetrate abuse on elderly parents or in-laws.

Q. What are the warning signs of an abusive relationship and how can a woman determine if she or someone she knows is part of one?
A. Typically an abuser will try to isolate the victim from her friends, family and anyone else who might be supportive of her. He may either stop her from working or if she’s working will have full control of her salary so she will not have access to money. He will be extremely controlling and will demand that she take permission from him to call or meet with friends. He may also demonstrate extreme jealousy and possessiveness and convince her by saying that because he loves her, he is jealous. He may also use children to scare her and threaten her that if she does not “obey” him she will be separated from them – a fear that prevents her from seeking help or telling anyone. He will put her down verbally, criticize the way she looks or dresses (“too fat” or “too thin”), say things that will make her doubt her decisions or behavior and cause her to lose her confidence and self-esteem. He may force her to defer to his parents if they live together and “do as they say” so the control may be extended to other family members when he is not home. He may use her immigration status to control her (not file for a green card even if he’s eligible) or take away her green card/passport so she lives in constant fear.

Q. If a woman finds herself being the victim of abuse, what steps should she take to protect herself and get out of that situation?
A. • I think it’s important that women who are victims of abuse understand that they are not alone and there are resources in most major cities that they can access. It’s also important for them to know that domestic violence is a crime in the United States, and if she has children who are exposed to domestic violence, she needs to protect them as well as herself. If she finds herself or her children in physical danger she can always call 911, go to the Family Court (even if she doesn’t have a police report) and get an order of protection. If she is in physical danger can call the domestic violence hotline (800-621-4673 in NYC) and the hotline counselor will help her find a shelter.
• It is also important that she keep all her documents with her in case she has to leave her home (passport, green card, birth certificates, marriage certificate, husband’s social security number and her own social security card, tax returns etc.). It is also a good idea to make copies of all these documents and keep them with someone she trusts well ahead of time in case she has to leave her home.
• If she is not sure whether she is a victim, she can always go to a community-based organization that provides services to victims of domestic violence, learn about her legal rights, child safety laws, and her options so that she can make an informed decision and protect herself and her children.
• It is also very helpful to share with friends and family members what is going on so they understand why she needs to get away. Often a woman is blamed and her sense of shame prevents her from letting others know how much she is suffering.

Q. How can we raise girls and boys knowing their rights and obligations to each other as stated in Islam and prevent violence being passed through generations?
A. By connecting them with positive role models and religious leaders who are educated and well informed so they can get correct information. Statistics show that abusive behavior is learned and 70% of the times boys who watch their fathers abuse will become abusers themselves. And 70% of the girls who watch their mothers abused will find themselves in abusive marriages. It is very important that the Muslim community and religious leaders understand the dynamics of abuse and hold abusers responsible for their behavior. Learned behavior can be unlearned by seeking professional help, but we also know that abusive men will seldom voluntarily go for help and insist that the woman is at fault.

• Girls must be taught to recognize abuse and talk to an adult when they see it being played out in their lives. Boys must be taught and reminded that they have a choice, and abusive behavior is an unacceptable choice with serious consequences.

Q. Some women choose to stay in abusive relationships because of cultural/family pressures, economic dependence or because they believe that divorce is frowned upon in Islam. What are the consequences of staying in an abusive relationship?
A. • Often Muslim women tell me that they stayed in abusive marriages because of their children and the financial dependence on the abuser. Our entire community, not just the women who are victims, need to be educated about the issues, dynamics and serious consequences of abuse. Statistics show that abusive behavior is learned behavior, and unless the abuser gets professional help, it does not change. Family/society’s expectation that “it’s a woman’s responsibility to hold a family together” is misplaced and sends the wrong message to the abuser. If he is not held accountable for his behavior and there are no consequences, he will continue to abuse. This makes the victims, often women and children, even more vulnerable and isolated. We also need to help women understand that Islam does not condone abusive behavior and allows women to divorce if they are not being treated properly. When cultural norms are interpreted as religious mandates, they do a lot of harm not just to women but to Islam in general.

Q. What can we do as a Muslim community to create a safe space for abused women so they can feel helped and protected?
A. • I cannot impress enough on the importance of reassuring women that they are not alone so they feel it is safe to speak about abuse. We need to have professionally trained individuals, social workers and community-based organizations that provide women the services they need and educate them about safety planning as well as their legal rights. All of us need to remind ourselves that anyone can be a victim of abuse, and so must refrain from judging a victim or her actions otherwise it will further isolate her. As Muslims we are reminded to speak up against oppression and injustice and bear witness even against ourselves and/or our kin. We should remember our duty, and do all that we can to stop oppression and violence perpetrated against women.
• There is a very serious dearth of shelter space in general, and there are no shelters in the New York area designed to serve Muslim women and children. As a community we need to understand that it is critical that we find the resources to start a shelter which meets all legal Requirements and is run by professionally trained staff.
• We must encourage young Muslims to adopt social work as a profession so that they can acquire the skills they need to serve our community and its most vulnerable members.
• I strongly believe that our community should establish a fund and raise money for grassroots community-based organizations so that they have the resources to continue providing services to Muslim women and children. We know that Islam places enormous importance on our duty to fellow Muslims, and we must remember to do all we can to help others improve their lives.

Q. What resources do you recommend for our readers who would like to learn more about Domestic Violence prevention and organizations that help the victims?
A. On Turning Point for Women and Families’ website, resources for Muslim women are listed by state: www.turningpoint-ny.org

And some of the websites below have valuable articles and information:
• www.karamah.org
• www.peacefulfamilies.org
• www.baitulsalaam.net
• www.faithtrustinstitute.org

I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below! :)


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