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Islam’s Defensive Play: Keep Abused Women from Blaming Religion

By BlackSun / January 19th, 2008 /


On World Changing, normally a site I have a great deal of respect for, an article appeared by Erica Barnett which reeked of white liberal elitist cultural relativism toward Islam. Barnett discussed how battered women’s shelters often encourage Muslim women to throw off the shackles of their culture by changing their style, refusing to wear the hijab, to become “less Muslim.” Referring to an article in the New York Times:

Raising awareness of domestic violence in Muslim-American communities is a challenge. One surprising factor that makes the challenge even more daunting is the perception that attempts to deal with domestic violence in Muslim families constitute attacks on Islam itself.

Of course we’re not likely to change the whole of Islamic society overnight, even in enclaves within the west. So I can see the point of providing support for women without expecting them to completely reject everyone they’ve ever known. It’s a tragic situation for a battered woman. She not only has to leave behind an abusive husband, but brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters, friends and even children who are complicit with her tormentors. It would be good if there were some middle ground.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. For a woman to challenge the patriarchy is to invite shunning and a possible death sentence. Because if one woman is seen to get away with such a challenge, it raises the question among other women as to why they are still putting up with the repression and abuse. So every so often, an “uppity” wife or daughter is slaughtered to make sure the rest of the women know the men “own their asses.” It’s blatant social intimidation on pain of death.

This is going on right now even in Canada and the U.S.. Even the December 2007 strangulation of a 16-year-old Muslim girl by her father (previous article) is trivialized by the apologists as “domestic violence.”

I’m afraid it’s a little more than that.

We must realize that all Muslim attempts to intervene and divert attention from their religious “code of silence” are not helping. If Muslims are setting up their own battered women’s shelters in Western countries, we must insist they have an open-door policy. We must insist on inspections. And that they conform to broadly accepted standards of safety and freedom of choice for the women–and are not just fronts for trapping these victims and returning them to their abusers. It behooves us not to accept the protestations of either the religious leaders or Muslim so-called “women’s rights advocates.” That’s an oxymoron. There is no such thing as Muslim women’s rights. Women are inferior by Quranic mandate. I laugh when I hear Islamic apologists insisting this is not true. The proof is in the pudding–women are repressed by Muslim society, which is driven by the Quran. Theological hairsplitting can’t make up for the sad reality millions of oppressed women face on a daily basis.

If Muslims want to have any credibility at all on this issue, first they have to admit what the Quran says, and then begin to dissociate themselves from its literal interpretation, and change their practices accordingly. But that doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of happening as long as they deny what their own scriptures say and what their actions forcefully confirm.

Barnett continues:

Traditionally, there have been few shelters or organizations catering to Muslim American victims of domestic violence. But that, slowly, may be changing. For example, the Peaceful Families Project, founded by former North American Council for Muslim Women President Sharifa Alkhateeb, is dedicated “to systemically chang[ing] attitudes about domestic violence, dispelling the cultural impediments that prevent women from seeking help, and creating an environment of prevention.” The PFP conducts “Islamically grounded” family dynamics and violence awareness programs for Muslim communities around the US, and provide training in cultural sensitivity for shelters and others serving a Muslim clientele. Such training can be important to help shelters and groups that aren’t specifically Muslim in nature avoid cultural misunderstandings that could keep Muslim women from seeking out services.

There are also a growing number of Muslim women’s organizations that advocate against domestic violence both within marriage and before. Among them are the Islamic Social Services Association, Washington, D.C.-based Karamah, and a number of local and regional Muslim domestic violence advocacy organizations.

Finally, there are a growing number of shelters and direct social services geared specifically at Muslim victims of domestic violence. The Hamdard Center in suburban Chicago caters primarily to Muslim women, by eschewing pork and keeping prayer rugs on hand.

Yes, of course. That’s exactly what an abused woman needs most: to be kept surrounded by prayer rugs and away from pork. And kept safely under her hijab with a bunch of authority figures who are all-too-ready to justify her continued male- domination and abuse.

I apologize in advance for the foul language, but fucking hell!!!! This makes me furious.

Here’s my response posted at WorldChanging:

There is simply no way to avoid the fact that Muslim violence against women is inextricably tied to the very doctrines of Islam. The headscarf, burqa and other tools of patriarchal repression are part and parcel of the problem. This, as you mentioned, the traditional women’s shelters have tried to point out.

It is folly to train shelters to be “sensitive” to the problem. They will only thus avoid pinning the blame where it belongs, on the misogynistic Quran and Hadiths of the Islamic cult of male superiority and insecurity around female sexuality. That cult, despite all claims to the contrary, makes hundreds of millions of women property, keeps them subservient, home bound, and humiliated. The problems of abuse nearly always arise when westernizing Muslim women attempt to assert themselves outside of these backward cultural norms. Once a woman decides to leave or just become her own person, it’s often not only abuse, but outright slaughter.

Why would anyone advocate telling Muslim women their “culture” is not the problem when it so clearly is? Dealing with Muslim domestic abuse by letting their abusers hide behind a mask of their medieval religion is like dealing with arson by training firefighters to be “sensitive” to an arsonist’s need to burn buildings.


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