- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

While most folks were celebrating the Fourth of July with picnics and fireworks, I was attending a conference of thousands of Muslims at the Washington Convention Center.

Draped in voluminous garments that covered most of me from head to toe, I slipped into a session about spousal abuse, “Pursuing Freedom From Oppression in the Family.”

Many Muslim women in North America live in a constant state of fear, frightened that they or their children could be deported if they speak out, said Salma Abugideiri, a family counselor from Reston. Often their husbands monitor every move they make, down to whom they talk with on the phone and who they visit.

She recounted the results of an online survey on domestic abuse conducted in February of 241 Muslims in the U.S. and Canada, 77 percent of them women. Conducted by Sound Vision (a Muslim media organization) and the Islamic Social Services Association, it was in response to the murder of Aasiya Zubair, 37, the Muslim housewife from Buffalo, N.Y., whose husband, Muzammil Hassan, allegedly beheaded her.

Half of the women surveyed said they felt afraid of their husbands, contrasted to 10 percent of the men feeling afraid of their wives. The abuse takes many forms, from threats to constant verbal put-downs. And 4.3 percent of the women, she revealed, had suffered miscarriages after being beaten.

Curiously, I heard no one mention “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” the just-released and critically acclaimed movie about an Iranian woman whose husband dumps her for a young woman, then accuses her of adultery, for which she is stoned to death.

Such is the fate of women in the Muslim world — the stoning of 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow in Somalia in October is another example — so it’s no wonder abused women are terrified out of their minds. What if they are sent back to one of these countries?

I have been to my share of religious conferences over the past three decades and never have I seen a workshop (actually there were two at the ISNA conference) on spousal abuse. What is there about Islam that this is a problem? Is it that the Koran (in Sura 4:34) permits wife beating?

Although Imam Mohammed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va., was there to say divorce is permissible for women in these situations, the vast majority of those surveyed — 82 percent — believed local mosques were not doing enough about the problem. Two-thirds had not heard any sermons preached on the topic in the past year.

Sixty-four percent of the respondents felt domestic violence among Muslims is a “major” problem while 16 percent considered it a “minor” issue. Broken down, 72 percent of the female respondents thought it was a major issue while only 33 percent of the men considered it so. (Perhaps www.mmada.org — which stands for Muslim Men Against Domestic Abuse — represents that 33 percent).

Sixty percent of those surveyed felt police should be called in to handle the problem and strict laws be enforced against abusers. Seventy percent said they or someone close to them had been a victim of domestic violence.

“In the Muslim community,” Ms. Abugideiri said, “believers are loath to interfere with affairs of other believers. Oppression filters down,” she added, meaning that abused women take out their frustrations on their children and the older kids beat up on the younger ones.

“In many cases,” she said, “women say they go to their imam and he says, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or ‘Be patient. Fix yourself.’”

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at [email protected]

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