Our community is in trouble. It's not an outside threat that has our community in trouble, but from within. So maybe it's not our entire community, but members of our community, and if one of our community is in trouble, then the entire community is in trouble.
We are told that to save one person is as if you've saved the entire world, and to kill one person is as if you've killed the entire world. What if speaking up, what if acknowledgement, what if dispelling myth, meant that you saved just one person? How about if you saved more than one.
You see, we have a problem. Our problem is that we seem to forget that we are human, and that while we are Muslim and are supposed to strive for better, to be above the issues of the world, we are not. Because we are human.
I have heard time and time again that abuse doesn't happen in the Muslim community. Spousal abuse. Child abuse. When it hits the media, we seem to immediately go into denial mode. People write letters, make phone calls, write editorials saying that those speaking out are liars, that they are making it up, when in reality, they are choosing to wear blinders because they do not want to acknowledge the fact that our community faces the same issues as every other community in the world. We are not innocent, we are not necessarily above. We are, therefore, human.
To say that a woman is lying because she says that her husband (or ex-husband) beat her, then gave her lavish gifts, is to ignore the proven cycle. You see, there are cycles to the abuse. The woman gets beaten. The husband feels remorse – or something like it – and buys her gifts. Sometimes lavish, other times maybe not so much. It's his way of buying forgiveness, or at least the attempt. It's called the honeymoon period. Then they cycle through to the stage where everything is calm and peaceful. Maybe she thinks it won't happen again. Maybe, that first time, she thinks it's a one time thing. Often she blames herself. What did I do? How can I make sure that I don't do it again? I must have done something to make him angry – instead of pinning the blame where it is rightly deserved. On him. On the person who laid his hands on her in anger instead of love. Because hitting, slapping, pushing, beating, are not acts of love, no matter how someone may justify them as such. And then it starts again. Maybe it comes out of the blue. Maybe there's a lead up. Signs that it is coming. And then he hits her. Beats her. Pushes her to the ground. Or maybe it's verbal. Calling her names, belittling her, making her feel like she is worthless.
Maybe he does this in front of the children. Maybe she manages to get the kids to be somewhere else because she knows it's coming. But no matter how you look at it, no matter the maybes, it is abuse. To claim she is lying, to claim that maybe words said weren't meant as they are, to claim that because in public he seems genuine, nice, loving, “he'd never do that!” is to push the woman into a situation where she is in more danger.
Women who feel the need to hide because they've tried to talk to someone – a friend, a family member, some trusted, their imam – and they've been rebuffed, told to go back and try again, are at a higher likelihood of being seriously hurt. Abuse doesn't just “go away.” To send someone back to the abuser, giving them no resources for help in how to deal with the abuse is sending them potentially to their death. We have seen Muslim women killed at the hands of their husband, sometimes in gruesome ways. It is not something that is relegated to the non-Muslim community. It is not something cultural. It is something that exists only in the realm of “other.”
Abuse in our community is not just relegated to husband to wife. It can and has also been wife to husband, yet that is an issue that is barely spoken of in the society of large, not just within the Muslim community. That is an issue that needs to be discussed on a much higher level than just within our community. It needs to be discussed within society.
Abuse is also parent to child. We need to make sure our children are safe. We need to make sure that if we think a child is being hit, a child is being abused, if we haven't seen a child we know exists, that we ask questions. There are times in which looking the other way, minding your own business, isn't appropriate. These are those times. There are, in Canadian society, mandated reporters. If teachers, including teachers in Islamic schools, coaches, Guide and Scout leaders – they are required to report if they believe a child is being abused. We need to protect our children – not from those that are required to report (and if they do, they should not be the ones that we aim our anger at, but the parents who have put themselves and their children in this position). We need to protect our children from those that hurt them. Just as we need to protect our women from those that hurt then, and our men from those that hurt them. And abuse can be child to parent as the parents, and the children, age. We need to protect our older brothers and sisters from abuse from their children as they age.
We need to open our eyes and realize that abuse does exist in our community. We need to open our minds and realize that women, children, who cry out for help are not lying, but need help. We need to open our arms and embrace them and help them get the help they so desperately need. And we need to open our hearts and help these families heal. Get the help for the abusers who are willing to get help and learn how to properly deal with their anger. And we need to find our voice and speak up, condemn violence and advocate for those that no longer have their voice.