Violence Against Women Is a Muslim Problem Too!

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

I was a party to a pact (of virtue) in the house of Abd Allah b. Jud’an; I wouldn’t swap it for the most precious wealth of the world. If I were called to join a similar pact in Islam, I would certainly join it.” (Ibn al- Mulaqqin)

Umar b. Al-Khattab said:

By Allah, we did not attach any value to women until Allah sent down the revelation and apportioned them their share (in the scheme of things).” (Muslim)

The above quotes are worth mentioning when we speak of Muslim responsibility to join initiatives that aim at protecting women from oppression.

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One example is the worldwide campaign for the elimination of violence against women declared by the United Nations. It ran from November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to December 10, International Human Rights Day.

Islam Fights Injustice

As Muslims, it is our Islamic duty to join this noble cause as it represents the best of what Islam offers humanity: justice for victims of oppression.

While narrating the story of the first Hijrah of Muslims to Abyssinia, Umm Salama tells us that when Negus, the emperor of Abyssinia, asked Ja’far b. Abi Talib, the leader of the Muslim delegation, what was the reason they left the religion of their forefathers for a new religion, he opened with:

We were a people steeped in ignorance. The strong among us devoured the weak until God sent His messenger, teaching us to shun oppression and pagan ways.

Fighting against oppression and injustice in all forms was central to Islam. It is no wonder then that most of those who flocked to Islam were the slaves, the poor, and the women. No wonder then that women were at the forefront of the struggle for Islam, not as passive participants but as activists and narrators.

The Qur’an emphasized the elimination of violence against women from the outset. {When the baby girl buried alive is asked, ‘for what crime was she killed!?’} (At-Takwir 81: 8-9).

The Qur’an considers zulm (oppression) as the deadliest of sins, bringing down the wrath of God on its perpetrators – individuals and communities. It condemns oppression and injustice in 289 verses.

Women Abuse: The Grim Reality

That was some fourteen centuries ago; and yet, more violence is perpetrated against women today than perhaps any other time in history: it is a global pandemic that affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. Some national studies show that up to 70% of women have experienced physical and sexual violence from an intimate partner.

Over half of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. On any day in Canada, over 3,000 women (along with their 2,500 children) are living in emergency shelter to escape domestic violence.

In the United States, over 1 in 3 women (35.6%) have experienced rape, physical violence and stalking by an intimate partner.

Over half of Canadian women have experienced physical and sexual violence from an intimate partner. Over half of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. On any day in Canada, over 3,000 women (along with their 2,500 children) are living in emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Over 1 in 3 women (35.6%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and stalking by an intimate partner.

Violence against women is rampant everywhere: including South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. India, one of the most traditional societies, is tragically referred to as the most dangerous place for women to live. Newspapers run stories of women gang-raped and burned alive; brides burned for failing to bring dowry; fetuses aborted when suspected to be female, mothers killed for giving birth to only girls!

Muslim Problem too

Sadly, when we speak of the need to prevent violence against women, the knee-jerk reaction among some Muslims – scholars included – is that this is a Western or non-Muslim problem!

I would respond: that can only be true if we decide to bury our heads in the sand and pretend there is nothing wrong with us!

Violence against women is as much a Muslim problem as it is a problem in other communities – but one can never blame Islam for this. Islam is innocent of what Muslims have done to the better half of humanity and are still doing to this day.

Islam was far ahead of its time in elevating the status of women. It considered men and women equal before God – ‘created from a single soul’ – when other religious traditions were questioning whether a woman even possessed a soul. The Lord states in the Quran: {I will never deny any of you—male or female—the reward of your deeds. Both are equal in reward..} (Aal `Imran 3: 195)

Through such categorical imperatives, Islam cut at the root of misogyny.

The Prophet taught us that Allah would judge us by how we treat others, especially the weak and the vulnerable, and that the hallmark of a man is how he treats his wife.

So, Where Did We Go Wrong?

The problem lies with our misogynistic interpretation and understanding of Islam.

To those who still deny the prevalence of violence against women in Muslim communities, I would cite just a few instances, which should open their eyes to the harsh reality.

The first is the gruesome murder of five-year-old Farah Khan in Toronto in 1999; she was picked up by her father from kindergarten, taken home, chased, pinned down, cut up into pieces, then bagged and dumped in a park.

Farah might be alive today had she been living with her mother. However, a court in Pakistan perverted sacred Islamic law when they ruled to wrest her from her mother’s custody and give her to her father. The little girl weighed only 35 pounds and yet fought like a tiger (in her father’s own words) to save herself from the monster!

Another sad example is that of a Muslim who beat his wife to death in New York in 2011 because she cooked lentils when he “demanded that she make goat for dinner.”

And more shocking news came in an issue presented to me during a live fatwa session at islamonline.net. The incident occurred in Bangalore, India, where a Muslim colleague had been jailed for raping the daughter of his friend. But the local Muslim community, rather than siding with the victim, worked to get the rapist out of prison, and ruled that the girl should be given in marriage to him!

Need for Self-Criticism

While reflecting on this and other examples, I cannot help but assert that there cannot be any liberation for Muslim women unless we critique and reformulate current interpretations and applications of the Divine Law.

This can only occur when we imbibe the spirit of the Divine Law, as stated by Ibn Taymiyya: “Where there is no justice, there is no Shari`ah – even if we were to pretend that we have applied the Shari`ah!”

Such a restoration is possible only when we harken back to the fundamental Quranic principle: {I will never deny any of you—male or female—the reward of your deeds. Both are equal in reward.} (Aal `Imran: 3: 195)