Failing to Protect Our Young

swing-Sisters

On January 14, 2013, the Philadelphia Muslim community was shaken to its core when police sounded an Amber alert for a missing five year old girl. A non-Muslim woman donned niqab and pretended to be the girl’s mother in order to take her out of school. During her captivity, the child was sexually assaulted and later abandoned in a dark playground, wearing only an oversized tee-shirt in near freezing temperatures. While this was a stranger abduction, most cases of abuse are by family members or acquaintances. Our children are not immune to the ills of society. Muslims have to wake up and recognise that our children are vulnerable to outsiders, community members, and even members of our own families. According to the Together Against Grooming (TAG) website, hundreds of Muslim leaders across the UK read a sermon addressing sexual exploitation on June 28, 2013. Some, however, criticised the campaign as reactionary or apologetic. We as a community need to be proactive in order to protect children and the vulnerable from sexual exploitation and abuse.

Nabila Sharma’s Brutal: The Heartbreaking True Story of a Little Girl’s Stolen Innocence exposes the sad reality of sexual abuse and child abuse in our midst. Every one of us is outraged when we hear cases of child abuse. Yet, as a community, we have done little to address this widespread problem. The Khutba Against Grooming organised by TAG was an unprecedented campaign that addressed the issue of sexual exploitation. In the United States, I have not seen a talk organised by a Muslim organisation that addresses child abuse: how to recognise it, prevent it, or recover from it. We make victims more vulnerable by offering few faith-based social services that would help them. Rather, we live in a world of naïve ideals, assuming that either these things don’t happen to us or expecting other social agencies will solve our problems. So, in effect, we can become complicit.

Perhaps it is the idea of seventy excuses for one’s brother or sister, the fear of backbiting, or inability to produce enough witnesses that leads to covering up crimes against children. Lama Al-Ghamdi died in October 2012 after suffering a crushed skull,

broken ribs and arm. Her father Fayhan al-Ghamdi, a celebrity imam, admitted beating her. Reports that the father would be released after paying $50,000 blood money shocked the international community. A social worker at the hospital where Lama was admitted claimed the little girl was raped. When Muslims read news stories like this about a girl who died from her father’s brutal hand we often cringe knowing that Western media picked up this story because of its sensationalism. However, physical abuse is not uncommon in Muslim families. Muslims in the West are often embarrassed by news reports about honour killings. We often cry out explaining that honour killings have no basis in Islam. Yet, what is our response to serious cases of physical abuse?

Our schools and organisations that work with the youth are poorly equipped to deal with cases of domestic abuse. Mahreen*, a South Asian school teacher, explained “There was a lack of urgency in the response and a lack of seriousness of physical abuse. We are often discouraged from reporting on our own people.” Mahreen told a disturbing account:

A clear case of an incident that needed to be reported involved a student with a black eye and a dislocated shoulder. When it was just us Muslims behind doors, it was just like it was no big deal, she had ‘just got wacked’. I talked to the superintendent about the incident and she told me not to tell anyone. However, I talked to school nurse, who was a non-Muslim and a mandated reporter. To keep my job, I had to go to an outside agency because if I reported it, my job might have been in jeopardy. However, as a certified teacher, I could lose my license to teach without reporting it.

Mahreen pointed out that there need to be training and policies put in place to protect children. Rather than sweeping things under the rug to protect prominent families, we have to become more ethical in how we deal with these cases.

When I first became Muslim, someone explained to me that sexual harassment and molestation rarely occur because of the separation of the sexes. Muslim women are told if they dress appropriately they will not draw unwanted attention, but in many Muslim-majority cities modestly dressed women are harassed and even physically assaulted on the streets. And behind closed doors all over the world, Muslim women, girls, and boys are subject to sexual assaults at the hands of family members, close family friends, teachers, and religious leaders. Girls are told that they are a fitnah. However, sexual abuse is about power and not about physical attraction.

Rape victims are often punished, either by carrying the stigma or shame or by the very legal system that is supposed to protect them. In the Maldives, a 15 year old girl who was repeatedly raped by her stepfather has been sentenced to 100 lashes for premarital sex. Often, victims of sexual abuse are yoked with notions of honor and shame. Khadijah*, who was raised by a Sudanese mother and American father explained, “The shame of sexual abuse cuts across a lot of Islamic cultures.” Khadijah told her own harrowing story:

I was very small – three years old. My abuser was a teenage girl who babysat me. I felt shamed from the beginning. I just remember using the bathroom and bleeding on the toilet. I remember the look on my mother’s face and she looked so angry. I was too young to know it wasn’t directed at me.

Ultimately, there was a trial and the offender was sentenced. Khadijah explained how the effort to repress the memory led to even greater shame. Over time, the memories came back, despite her parents’ attempts to keep it silent in order for her to forget. She was even punished for telling her sister. Khadijah recounted, “No one told me that this happened to me and I did nothing wrong.” For victims of sexual abuse, the shame can lead to low self-esteem and self-destructive behavior.

It is important that people know that sexual abuse can happen to anyone. Hafsah,* a Palestinian American living in the Michigan area with a sprawling family residing on three continents explained, “No family and no community is invulnerable to human tendencies, such as violence or sexual perversion.” Hafsah pointed out that the main problem is our silence as a community. “If the person who has this tendency knows that there is no silence, then this can’t continue. Speaking out will deny them that power.” Hafsah told her own experience as a survivor and the stories that she pieced together from her aunt and cousins. “In my culture, we are ready to cast out the woman who had a child out of wedlock, but we let the molester carry on because it would be so shameful.”

Both Khadijah and Hafsah offer hope for victims to rise from the horrors of abuse. Both pointed out that victims speaking out can empower others to break free from the yoke of shame. Hafsah said, “We are in control of our narrative and we can make a choice in how something is significant. I am still angry and this is a way to fight back and not letting them win.” As a community, we have to fight the urge to sweep things under the rug and give voices to the voiceless. By not hiding, we can help those who have been damaged by those they have trusted, whether the abuse was sexual, physical, or psychological. Zerqa Abid, who works on Project Sakinah, has addressed a lot of issues surrounding domestic abuse. We must support the work of shelters and organisations such as Abid’s because it is our duty as Muslims to protect the weak and vulnerable.

*Names and some details have been changed to protect identities

Margari Aziza Hill is a writer, editor, and adjunct professor

You can read the full article at SISTERS magazine, along with many other fabulous and thoughtful contributions from Muslim women across the globe.

A Wake Up Call: Muslim Advocates Against Violence (MAAV) Condemns the Murder of Aasiya Hassan and Urge All to Do More

I was asked to distribute this far and wide. Please spread the word:

A Wake Up Call: Muslim Advocates Against Violence (MAAV) Condemns the Murder of Aasiya Hassan and Urge All to Do More

PRESS RELEASE
February 19, 2009

Muslim Advocates Against Violence (MAAV) condemns the gruesome murder of Aasiya Hassan. We join Muslim advocates and organizations around the country in conveying our deepest sympathies to the family and community members of Ms. Hassan. We urge everyone to learn more about domestic violence within Muslim communities, to become fierce advocates for people who speak out about violence in their lives, and to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions.

After securing an order of protection against her husband and filing for divorce, Aasiya Hassan, 37 years old, was brutally beheaded and found dead in her hometown of Buffalo, New York on Thursday, February 12, 2009. Two children survive her, ages 4 and 6. After the murder, Ms. Hassan’s husband Muzzammil, directed police to his Bridges TV office where her body was found. He is now charged with second-degree murder.

The irony that a well-respected Muslim leader, the founder and CEO of a Muslim television channel, is an abuser proves how prevalent abuse is despite ones standing within a community and society. It shows how insidious and hidden this problem truly is. We urge the Muslim community to hold their leaders to the highest ethical standards, and to speak out when incidence of domestic violence occurs.

The media is reporting the murder of Ms. Hassan as both an honor killing and the fatal result of domestic violence. However, in the effort to understand how we can prevent future incidents from escalating to this point, the label of this heinous act is not significant. Domestic violence is a problem that plagues women, children, and yes – men, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, orientation or economic status. In a study conducted by the late Sharifa Alkhateeb, 1 in 10 American Muslim women experienced physical abuse. This number does not reflect victims of other equally damaging forms of violence such as verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, economic and spiritual abuse.

It takes tremendous courage for victims of violence to reach out, to finally ask for help, and to admit that violence is occurring in their lives. For many, it takes years to break the cycle of power and control before seeking help. When any one of us becomes aware of violence in someone’s life, we absolutely must act, and take the matter seriously. We must realize the emotional courage it takes to speak out, and respect the experiences and decisions of the survivor. The question is NOT, “why didn’t she leave before?” rather, “why did all of us let this go on for so long?” and, “how can I prevent this from happening again?”

Despite prevailing stereotypes of Muslims, domestic violence is not an Islamic value, nor is it permissible or condoned within the Muslim community. Many women, men and children continue to be killed as a result of domestic violence; Aasiya Hassan is an unfortunate name on a list too long and too preventable.

We urge all to take this event as wake up call to learn more about domestic violence, and to find out how we can prevent such tragedies. There are state coalitions against domestic violence, community-based organizations, policy think tanks, international programs and faith-based organizations dedicated to ending the pervasive issue of violence against women.

We encourage all domestic violence programs to take a committed step towards learning about and engaging in outreach to Muslim communities, and ensuring their services are culturally and religiously sensitive to all survivors. Similarly, without community support and awareness, efforts and sustainable results of domestic violence programs are limited.

We also caution against diverging away from the justice Ms. Hassan and her family deserves by framing her death within a xenophobic lens that only enforces negative imagery of Muslims. This was not an act of terrorism perpetrated by or penetrating American-Muslim communities, nor was it inflicted due to extremist religious politics and beliefs. Aasiya Hassan’s tragic death joins the innumerable acts of domestic violence committed around our globe that terrorize women, men and children in every community.

For additional information regarding domestic violence, and for technical assistance, please contact the Peaceful Families Project (PFP) at info@peacefulfamili es.org, or visit http://www.peacefulfamilie s.org. PFP is a national domestic violence organization that facilitates awareness workshops for Muslim leaders and communities, provides cultural sensitivity trainings for professionals, and develops resources regarding abuse in Muslim communities.

About MAAV
Muslim Advocates Against Violence (MAAV) is a national network of advocates committed to ending violence against women and supporting healthy communities. MAAV’s mission is to raise awareness, foster dialogue and strengthen advocacy.

For additional information about MAAV, email: maav.info@gmail.com

How Lack of Accountability Led to Rise of a Monster

Zerqa Abid wrote a very important post that highlighted some of the issues and concerns that I have with accountability in our Muslim communities. How could we have allowed someone like Muzzammil Hassan, a Muslim man of questionable moral character with legal documentation of a history of abuse, to rise to such a position of leadership?

It’s been five days now that my family along with the whole American Muslim community has been in shock. The fact that Muzzammil was married to my first cousin before marrying the victim still horrifies us. Ms. Zubair was his third wife. Both of his earlier wives filed divorce on the same grounds of severe domestic violence and abuses.

My cousin lived with him for only a year. Yet, it took her several years to get rid of the fear of living with a man in marriage. He was known as violent and abusive in the community. He had nothing to do with Islam. He had changed his name from Syed Muzzammil Hassan to Mo Steve Hassan. He had no background of community service or involvement in the Mosque or in any other organization. Neither his character and nor his faith were sound. In addition, he had no background or expertise in TV production or media.

But it did not matter. Even with this bad reputation, horrible background and lack of experience in media market, he still got the stage at the most reputable American Muslim conventions. Our leaders and established organizations did not bother to vet him. No questions or flags were raised about him. He was introduced at these conventions with huge respect and the Muslim community was told to give him generous funds for Bridges TV.


The surprise was changed into shock and worry when I learned that Bridges TV was owned and operated by the same Muzzammil Hassan who I knew as a serious criminal. To me domestic violence is a serious crime and a person’s character must be judged by the way he deals with his family. At my return, I warned some community leaders, but the response was not encouraging. People told me that his personal life may be messed up, but he is doing a good job so we should support him no matter what.

The Vice President of Islamic Society of North America, Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, has posted an open letter on ISNA’s website. He writes, “Our community needs to take strong stand against abusive spouses and we should not make it easy for them to remarry if they chose a path of abusive behavior.”

What about making community leadership easy for them, Imam?

Shouldn’t Islamic organizations also take responsibility of vetting new comers before presenting them on the stage? Common people rely on organizational leadership and judgment.
Vetting of community leader has been established since the time of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) and is now in practice within the conscious communities all over the world….

Clearly, this is a rare case that has ignited the nation’s imagination. It is fodder for Islamaphobes and Muslims throughout the country are scrambling trying to deal with the PR damage. While I do not feel that I have to go around apologizing for every wrong action a Muslim does, I decided to write about this case because it brings to light some underlying issues that are poorly addressed in our community. There is little accountability in our communities. Every media report reminds us that Muzzammil was a respected and influential member of the Muslim community. This is why it is absolutely imperative that we not shield abusers and turn a blind eye when we see something funky go on even with the most promising and prized leaders.

My friend recounted in horror about a case a few years back in the Bay Area where a South Asian Muslim man had beaten his wife so badly that she had to be hospitalized. Both of us were hurt and angered when we found out that a number of people in the community came out to support the abuser. It is this type of backwards thinking that not only infects immigrant communities, but it is prevalent in convert communities where the jailhouse Islam and criminal culture is prevalent. Sometimes communities will give shelter to convicted sexual offenders and violent criminals. On rare occasions those communities get raided by the FBI. Before we lend some material support, let alone marry off some hapless new convert sister to sketchy Muslim man, do we do any background and criminal reports? And women, when you are marrying someone who has been divorced, has it ever occurred to you to have an honest and upfront conversation with the ex-wife? Do you think you can do it better than she did? Or are you afraid that you may hear something you don’t want to hear? Why didn’t Aasiya’s family contact the first two wives? Why did everyone fail to look into the divorce cases?

I’ve heard cases where a Muslim leader used his wife’s work, treated her poorly, was booted out of one community to only cross the country and set up shop somewhere else. On several occasions I’ve heard stories from the mouths of women that really shocked me. Too often the women refuse to identify the leaders who abuse their power in an effort to not backbite. Often these stories are dismissed as gossip. Our Muslim communities need to start listening to women a lot more. A large part of it lies in what Tariq Nelson calls “the culture of denial pretense,” the one where we are always trying to cover up our bad deeds and our brothers’ (but not so much the sisters’).

The Lid is Off: Battered Muslim Women

Last night, I received an email about the New York Times Article Abused Muslim Women in US Gain Advocates. I had started writing something late into the night, but by accident I erased it. Tariq Nelson captured much of what I wanted to say in his post, Helping Battered Muslim Women.
He wrote:

I feel that these types of articles are good because it shows that Muslims are being pro-active in not accepting abuse (we’re talking broken jaws and limbs here in some cases) and helping the abused find help. There is a fine line between “exposing the dirty laundry” and doing what it takes to solve problems (of all types)

This is why some people would rather remain in denial then admit that such problems exist. The fact is that *some* Muslim men are barbaric, oppressive, terrible people and we should distance ourselves (and our religion) from this type of crap rather than denying what everyone can see.

I suggest you head over to Tariq Nelson’s page and read the rest of the article. I was also very happy to see in the article the work of Imam Johari Abdal Malak. On his blog, Muslims Against Domestic Violence, Imam Johari wrote:

Our goal is to return people to the original and proper understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah on this issue. We believe that the Words of the Qur’an are the Words of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and that it has been preserved. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) – who is the best example – never beat his wives. The Qur’an calls upon men to be maintainers and protectors of women and this is a religion of expressing God’s love (rahma) and being kind to one’s spouse. The goal of a marriage in Islam is to promote love and compassion between the spouses and the family in general.

Another thing that excited me about what Imam Johari wrote is that  they’re staring an initiative called Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence.  The imam has also edited a book titled “What Islam Says About Domestic Violence.” As the article demonstrates, Muslims are holding seminars, workshops, lectures, and in various community centers and mosques. But it is an uphill battle against silence, censure, and denial. I have heard reports that Muslim women’s shelters get death threats and a lot of people still have a problem that we have such institutions.

I am still wondering what are we going to do about teens at risk. Many people who abuse their spouses abuse their children. I am hoping that there are support networks for teens who may suffer the fate of Aqsa Parvez and Sarah and Aminah Said. Whatever the levels of practice of the wives or daughters, we as Muslims should be supportive and offer those in need refuge. We haven’t even gotten to the world of sexual abuse, which counter to what some people say does exist in the Muslim community.

It is time that as American Muslims, we begin to deal with social problems with real social solutions that are informed by universal Islamic principles of charity and mercy. We should be a benefit for our our community and others. Our da’wa should not be selling ideas, but living through example. And by doing so, we can help ensure a better future for our children. We can be proactive, there are Muslims who are beginning to develop nursing homes, food distribution, health clinics, and youth outreach programs. There are even an increased amount of Muslims who are counselors and therapists. At this stage, we need to begin to look at real problems our community members face, as opposed to being in denial. There are families broken up because there are Muslims who have drug addictions. Muslims are suffering with mental and emotional issues. There are Muslims who need jobs, but have no skills and training. We need to develop substance abuse programs, mental health care programs, job training programs. There are many more areas to be addressed. And only by talking about it, can we begin to think of solutions.

Beat them (Lightly)?

Dead Teen Refused Hijab

Aqsa Parvez would leave home each morning wearing track pants and a Muslim head scarf. Once the 16-year-old got to school, she would remove the scarf and change into close-fitting jeans.

But, her friends said, her parents got wind of what she was doing. Parvez soon began showing up at school with bruises on her arms.

It was a struggle that may have led to Parvez’ death this week at the hands of her father, who was denied bail Wednesday after being charged with strangling her.

This story tops that chart of popular stories on CNN. The father violated a tenet of Islam, his sacred trust, and destroyed a life. It is as if he killed all of humanity. By killing his daughter, he lost his humanity, his dignity, and hurt us all. May Allah have mercy on her soul. Aqsa was one of the many victims of domestic violence and violence against women throughout the world. Many of us assume domestic violence is limited to a husband beating his wife. But like Aqsa’s case, a father abusing his daughter or siblings abusing their siblings. Our Muslim leaders need to be strong in their messages against the abuse of women. In Muslim majority countries where the laws are either “inspired” by Shariah or lawmakers claim they are in fact the shariah. Men often receive a slap on the wrist for beating their wives. Even in America, famous people who abuse their animals serve more time than famous people who abuse their wives. But I’m not an apologist, trying to sweep the problem of domestic abuse in the Muslim communities under the rug. The point is that our leaders need to make a point that it is unacceptable.

I found the following list of Shelters from ISNA’s Domestic Violence Forum

Apna Ghar
4753 N. Broadway Suite 502
Chicago, IL 60640
773-334-0173 phone
773-994-0963 fax
info@apnaghar.org
http://www.apnaghar.org

Apna Ghar is a domestic violence shelter serving primarily Asian women and children, and was the first Asian shelter of its kind in the Mid-Western United States. Apna Ghar takes its name from a Hindi-Urdu phrase meaning “Our Home”, and since January 1990 has served over 3800 domestic violence clients.

Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project
DVRP
P.O. Box 14268
Washington, DC 20044
(202) 364-4630 phone
info@dvrp.org
http://www.dvrp.org

We are a diverse group of volunteers and staff who are committed to ending domestic violence and its effects. We have expertise in a range of areas including education, law, and public health and we draw on the experiences and cultural backgrounds of our members of Asian/Pacific Islander descent.

Baitul Salaam – Atlanta
P.O. Box 11041
Atlanta, GA 30310
800-285-9489 pin# 00
haleem1@aol.com
http://baitulsalaam.freehomepage.com/

We are a non-profit organization consisting of a variety of individuals and businesses in the fight together to end spousal abuse worldwide. Our services include: Counseling and support services, Battered women’s shelter, Temporary financial assistance, Fundraising services, and
Employment assistance

Hamdrad Center
355 Wood Dale Rd
Wood Dale, IL 60191
630-860-9122 24-hour Emergency Crisis Line
630-860-2290 phone
630-860-1918 fax

Hamdrad Center provides culturally tailored, multilingual services to domestic violence victims and abusers since 1993. A team of dedicated volunteers has made it possible to establish a fully licensed shelter and a 24 hour Crisis Hotline, and to provide individual and family counseling to families in need.

HOMS – Housing Outreach for Muslim Sisters
P.O. Box 152611
Arlington, TX 76015
1-877-335-4667
homsoutreach@hotmail.com
http://www.geocities.com/homs99/

H.O.M.S. is a facility designed for Muslim women and their children who are in need of temporary housing/shelter due to family or financial problems.

ISSA – Islamic Social Services Association of USA & Canada
4202 Roblin Blvd
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3R 0E7
Canada
(204) 889-7451 phone
(204) 896-1694 fax
shahinasiddiqui@hotmail.com
sophiaali23@hotmail.com
http://www.issaservices.com

ISSA is a unique organization since it is not a social service provider, but rather is an organization that serves as a network for addressing the social service concerns Muslims have. ISSA aims to provide support to social service providers through education, training, services and advocacy.

Muslim Community Center For Human Services
M. Basheer Ahmed, M.D.
Chairman MCC for Human Services
P.O. Box 152658
Arlington, TX 76015
mcc1999@hotmail.com
817-589-9165 phone
817-483-4699 fax

Muslim Community Center For Human Services offers the following services to the victims of domestic violence. 24-hour helpline 817-589-9165 ;Counseling service for couples ;and/or individuals ;Computer training program for victims of domestic violence ;Arrangements with local shelters if needed ;Educational programs for prevention of domestic violence ;Educational material is also provided

Muslim Women’s Help Network
87-91 144th Street
Jamaica, NY 11435
Tel.: (718) 523-5100
Fax: (718) 658-3434
mwhn@muslimsonline.com

The mission of the Muslim Women’s Help Network is to promote family life in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (saw), emphasizing the protection and maintenance of women and children as the foundation for a productive community life.

Muslim Women’s Network
PO Box 14023
Columbus, OH 43214
614-470-2848
mwn839@hotmail.com

The Muslim Women’s Network exists to, insha Allah, provide Islamically-trained workers to build stronger families by: Providing counseling and/or mediation services to the community; Introducing and re-connecting women to their community; Helping women to help themselves; Being a catalyst for social change. In the Muslim Women’s Network & Community Services we hope, insha Allah, to support sisters in many ways but to focus our services toward the following core groups: widows, the displaced, the disenfranchised and the abused of our community.

Narika
P.O. Box 14014
Berkeley, CA 94712
510-540-0754 Office
1-800-215-7308 Helpline
Info@narika.org
http://www.narika.org

Narika was founded in 1992 to address the problem of domestic violence in the South Asian community. Embracing the notion of women’s empowerment, Narika set out to address the unmet needs of abused South Asian women by providing advocacy, support, information, and referrals within a culturally sensitive model. We serve women who trace their origins to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and diasporic communities such as Fiji and the Caribbean.

Niswa
P.O. Box 1403
Alomita, CA 93717
310-782-2482