Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Save My Family

"Oh Imam, Come save my family!" The man cried in tears. "These awful people have captured my wife while I was away working. They taught her that women's liberation stuff. They convinced her to leave me and go live with them. They convinced my daughter to hate me."

Though he had never seen the brother before, the imam agreed to try to help. He assumed from the way the man spoke that the couple had been separated only a few days. Who were 'these awful people' he spoke of? With an address from the man, the Imam sent two responsible women from the mosque to visit the woman. They could meet her and see if she wanted to come for counseling.

The apartment was shabby, but clean and neat. It wasn't a friend's house but an apartment obtained through an agency that helps the homeless and women who are victims of domestic violence. The woman greeted her guests politely and gracefully, though with a nervous air, glancing quickly around the street as she let them in.

"He keeps sending people to see me. You aren't the first to come."

"How many days has it been since you left him?"

"Days? It's been a year almost. Didn't he tell you? He just won't accept the divorce."

"Divorce, are you divorced?"

"Yes, it was final about 3 months ago. But he won't accept the American judge's decision. He still thinks he hasn't divorced me, and he spies on me all the time."

"But you were married 20 years, weren't you? That's what he said. Why did you throw that all away?"

"Since I married him he was jealous. He wanted me always to stay home. He always treated me with suspicion, and used bad language and treated me harshly. It took me time to learn English, and then I tried to leave him twice. But he cried and promised to improve, and I had no job skills, so I went back. But he never changed. Then his harassment got worse as my daughter got into high school. He was so worried that she might have a boyfriend. Now it is different. I found friends who help me and I am learning job skills. Soon I will be able to support myself. And my daughter is big now. She has a job already. So we can be free of him now."

Like many victims of domestic violence, she was finally psychologically able to leave when her husband started hitting their daughter. She couldn't do it for herself, but she did it for her child. The daughter only spoke ill of her father. Of her faith, she knew just the basics of prayer and fasting her mother had taught her at home. Muslims were the friends of her father who encouraged her mom to put up with him. The mother said she still prayed. (Was that a social lie to please the guests?)

The daughter was quite hostile to Islam. The father had twisted his faith to use it to justify his maltreatment of his family. They said he believed God had given him the obligation to beat his family when they disobeyed him. And he always assumed evil intentions on their part, no matter the facts. They were always guilty.

The two visitors apologized for intruding and expressed sympathy and encouragement to the mother and daughter. They left embarrassed and puzzled. How could this man deny reality? How could he talk like his family had only left a few days ago? What did he expect anyone to do to help him?

What a sad story. Unfortunately it is true. This Muslim family never came to the mosque to seek help for their problems or for anything more than an occasional Eid prayer. Three months after the divorce was final, the husband finally thought to come to the mosque? In their 20 years of married life did his wife never think to seek help from a mosque? Or from Muslim friends? Did no one who knew them ever think to help her?

Actually, is the local mosque near you prepared to receive someone like the wife? Is the imam trained in how to assist victims of domestic violence, support them, and provide counseling to all parties? Too often our local imams are chosen because they have memorized Quran and are good at recitation. They often have no experience in counseling or social work and frequently they have no idea of life here in the United States. They don't know about Legal Aid or homeless shelters. They don't know American law or Ohio law on marriage, child custody, and divorce. Does your imam sit in the mosque, advising people how to live in some ideal Muslim country that does not exist?

"You see the believers as regard their being merciful among themselves, showing love among themselves, and being kind among themselves, resembling one body, so that if any part of the body is not well then the whole body shares the insomnia and fever with it." (Bukhari)

We have families in desperate need in our community. Just because they don't come to the mosque doesn't mean we have no responsibility for them. People trained in social work and serious family counseling are the second line of defense of families. The first line of defense should be a general community trained in Islamic adab.

Do you know Islamic adab (manners) of dealing with people?

People often surround themselves socially with others like themselves. When they have problems, they ask their friends for advice. The blind are asked to lead the blind. How knowledgeable are your friends? Can they help you with advice in times of serious problems? Would you have the knowledge to help them, or know where to get advice for them?

If someone is not my husband, my wife, my child, or my family member, they are still members of my community and my community will not be healthy until we are all healthy.

1 comment:

  1. As-salaamu alaikum,

    Great article. Of course, I can't resist commenting. :)

    The same problems occur now and few - if any - imams are trained to handle these problems. In MFS, we have the same situations over and over: no one asks for help until it's very late or "too" late.

    We offer workshops and not one imam has ever attended. Only one had responded that he would, but something came up.

    I'm not trying to do a "commercial" for MFS but if anyone wants to help with problems like these, at least get training. Some secular agencies will train people but we use the Islamic and professional approach. It's critical that our approach to people balances their rights and encouraging the *right* thing Islamically and still protect those who are in danger. It's not an easy tightrope to walk. The other big problem is confidentiality. People who mean well (insha Allah) don't know how to get help for someone without breaching confidentiality.

    Another issue is taking sides. it takes some finesse to listen and be supportive - knowing that you haven't heard the other side of the story - and not seeming suspicious or mistrustful. You learn through training and experience.

    Netcare used to allow non-staff to attend some of their trainings. They didn't have DV training but they offered grief and trauma and other subjects. You can get their quarterly calendar of trainings. Some are free and some are for a very small fee.

    Choices for Victims of Domestic Violence *may* do it but I suspect they train their own volunteers and staff. A simple call would answer that.

    SARNCO offers trainings for people to help with survivors of sexual assault. It's a tough training for a Muslim to sit through but my theory is that we should get those trainings and "islamicize" it. :)

    All of these subjects are covered in our workshop for new volunteers. It's an overview that takes almost 4 hours because we also cover the Islamic reasons why - and how.

    One of the reasons people are hesitant to seek help is because they fear they are doing something wrong (esp. women) if they go outside the family. Ideally, we *should* do things within the family but if you are a victim of a crime, you have a right to resolution. Also, sometimes there is no family nearby. That is true for both immigrants and converts. OR, the family doesn't have an Islamic (and sometimes legal) response.

    There are no simple or cut-and-dried answers to complex problems but there is PLENTY of information to help guide us.

    so. If you are in a position to help someone, be sure to do only what you can and don't exceed your own knowledge and ability. Don't be afraid to ask them to call someone else - just be sure it is someone discreet and someone who fears to do things the wrong way.

    Back to DV: very often it is life- or health-threatening. It is not a *little* problem. They need professional help.

    May Allah help us all.
    Sr. Hiba