October is domestic violence awareness month as well as breast cancer awareness month. Both are a leading cause of death among women. Both affect women of every race, religion, age, and socioeconomic level. Men can also be victims of domestic abuse and they can also get breast cancer, but the numbers are far less than women. This op/ed addresses women and domestic abuse.
Our Peaceful Home; Three Years of Helping Muslim Women in Milwaukee
Nearly three years ago, the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition began Our Peaceful Home, a culturally specific family strengthening and domestic abuse program. Prior to beginning the program, we would routinely receive calls from women in abusive situations as well as from domestic violence agencies, schools, universities, lawyers, and even law enforcement officials who were looking for assistance, resources, or information. This was not surprising because we were the only independent Muslim women’s organization with a stand-alone facility in the state. For years we had been called on to do trainings, webinars and serve as a cultural resource to help others better serve Muslim women who were survivors of abuse. We realized that this was work we were very well placed to take on.
When we decided to pursue state funding from the Department of Children and Families, we found that we had already built a fan club and many of the same organizations we had assisted in the past, were there to support us. We went through many training sessions and made visits to culturally specific agencies in other states. One of the common themes we heard often from agencies in other states and from some of the culturally specific agencies in Milwaukee is that our greatest detractors will come from men in our own community, particularly those that had self-appointed themselves as family mediators but had absolutely no training in domestic abuse, safety protocols, or the impact of trauma on survivors and their children. We disagreed with that assessment but we could not have been more wrong.
We realized that massive training and education were needed in our community about what constitutes domestic abuse and the long term devastating effects it has not only on women but the lifelong debilitating effects, including changes to the brains of children who are either themselves abused or live in households where abuse is prevalent. It is well known now that the temporal lobes of the brain of children who are abused or witness abuse are underdeveloped and the impact lasts a lifetime. At a minimum, we see a lack of focus and concentration, difficulty learning, self-harm, and troubled marriages.
We realized that this was a topic that was so taboo that mandated reporters in the community were not willing to challenge the status quo, so the abuse would continue. It was that rare imam that would use the pulpit to talk about how absolutely unislamic domestic abuse was, how this behavior was in complete contradiction to the behavior of Prophet Muhammad (P) who not only never struck a woman or a child, he never raised his voice and only spoke with kindness.
It was disturbing to see women who had no family and no support system being pressured to return to their abuser, “for the sake of her children.” Yet, if she was abused again, no one took responsibility to take care of her and her children. Domestic violence is about power and control when one person wants domination over another. Stopping oppression is an Islamic responsibility. The Prophet Muhammad (P) once said in a very famous tradition. “Help your brother whether he is oppressed or an oppressor.” The companions were very confused, they said we understand helping the oppressed but what do you mean by helping the oppressor? The Prophet said, “help him to stop his oppression!”
Over the past three years, Our Peaceful Home has helped hundreds of families. Some were referred to counseling and have reunited. Others have sought help on how to deal with anger and aggression. Some have needed emergency housing and restraining orders and some have needed legal services. Our Peaceful Home is the only culturally specific domestic abuse agency in Wisconsin with special expertise on Muslim families, although our services are open to everyone, we do not discriminate on any basis. Everyone deserves to be safe! Cultural practices that are in violation of Islam and human rights must be stopped. We are proud that Our Peaceful Home is upholding the dignity of our women and ensuring their safety in accordance with Islamic tradition.
As a requirement of our funding for Our Peaceful Home through the Department of Children and Families, we are required to bring in 25% as matching contributions. Please help us continue this important work that requires professionalism, training, confidentiality, concern for safety, fairness, and dignity. Please join Our Peaceful Home as they hold their second virtual fundraiser on October 30th at 6:30 pm. Among the voices that Allah has promised to answer is that of the oppressed. May God bless you for your generosity and assistance in helping your sisters and their children.