One travelled more than 3,000 miles from California. Another spent over a day in New York amidst cancelled flights and mix-ups. And one more drove more than nine hours from Detroit without rest to arrive in time. They shared the fact that they were Muslim men and imams–religious leaders–but more importantly they were also united against a common and often hushed crisis in their communities: domestic violence.
More than a dozen imams from around the country came to a special workshop, “Preventing and Responding to Domestic Violence,” last weekend at The Fairfax Institute in Herndon, Va., to share, learn and gain effective tools to address domestic violence in their respective communities. Initiated by Peaceful Families Project (PFP), a nonprofit organization devoted to ending domestic violence in Muslim families through awareness workshops for Muslim leaders and communities, the two-day workshop was sponsored by Islamic Relief USA.
“[This is] about learning from each other,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, Executive Director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va.
In a u-shaped classroom that served as their meeting space, imams relayed stories of how domestic violence affected their lives and communities. “[Domestic violence] knows no prejudice in who it affects, even the well-respected college professor who goes home everyday and beats his wife,” said Imam Said Seddouk, Director of the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley in Rowland Heights, Calif.
Other imams shared Seddouk’s sentiments. “Anyone can be a victim, and anyone can be an oppressor,” said Imam Jamil Dasti of the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg, Md.
According to Salma Abugideiri, co-director of PFP, licensed professional counselor and event facilitator, perpetrators of abuse can include spouses, parents, adult or adolescent children, in-laws and other relatives.
More than 85 percent of abuse victims are women, according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence. During pregnancy, a woman is at greatest risk for being battered. And while physical abuse is the most obvious form of violence, other forms–including mental, sexual, financial and spiritual–can be more psychologically devastating.
Abugideiri discussed the cycle of violence that affects a victim and perpetrator: When a victim doesn’t align with the abuser’s demands, tension builds that may escalate to violence. Afterwards, the abuser may feel remorse and seek forgiveness, with the victim often relenting.“It’s hard when you see a man crying not to believe he is genuine and sincere,” she said. “But as soon as the woman starts to act ‘defiant,’ the abuse will start again.
Imams expressed the necessity for active listening in counseling families. “Being an effective counselor means hearing both sides of the story,” said Imam F. Qasim Khan of Muslim Alliance in North America.
Abugideiri also discussed the residual scars of abuse: Children are often permanently psychologically affected by the abuse inflicted on them or a loved one. Children bombarded by negative gender roles will often imitate those roles in adulthood by becoming abusers or abused themselves.
At the end of the two-day workshop, attending imams signed a proclamation taking a firm stance against domestic violence. “People can get a clear sense that there’s a zero tolerance approach to domestic violence in each of their communities,” said Maha Alkhateeb, co-director of PFP.
Saleem Khalid, Islamic Relief USA’s domestic programs manager, said it was an honor for the relief and charity organization to be involved in the workshop. “Alhamdulillah, we’re pleased to be a part of the solution,” he said.
Abugideiri said she hoped “that [the imams] leave feeling more equipped to deal with cases of domestic violence and will become our allies in ending it.” She also expressed her gratitude to Islamic Relief USA for sponsoring the event. “They’ve improved our ability to respond to domestic violence,” she said.