For Some Muslim Wives, Abuse Knows No Borders

– One of the factors that contributes to the coming Perfect Storm is the cultural marginalization of women. The limiting of their human rights, the limiting of their reproductive choices, and the limiting of their educations has all been positively correlated with higher birth rates and higher levels of poverty around the world.

– Beyond that, it is just flat wrong for anyone to be discriminated against because of their gender. Women should have the exact same rights as men across the board. The fact that they do not in most cultures in the world is an anachronism that we, humanity, need to leave behind us. Not only will we create a fairer and juster world, but we will also go a long ways towards reducing the human population pressures which are limiting all of our futures.

Oppressed Women - shame us all

– I find that making commentary on other cultures is a great way to get into arguments with some of my friends. They feel that for one culture to judge another isn’t right. They want to know ‘who I think I am’ to be passing judgements on others. Well, I can sympathize with that POV quite a bit. But, I think there are limits. Cultural practices which negatively impact the survival of all of us on this planet are beyond the Pale for me. And when I say that, I certainly don’t exclude my own culture here in America consuming 25% of the world’s resources while comprising only 5% of its population.

– I also think that cultural practices that involve mutilation or oppression or other actions that degrade the quality of life for individuals or groups is inherently wrong. And I make no apologies for that.


Traditional Pressures Can Persist in U.S.

One was a shy, slender young woman who spoke no English when she was brought from Pakistan to enter an arranged marriage with a stranger in Virginia. The other was a self-confident professional, born in Turkey but raised in the United States, who thought she knew what she was doing when she married an educated Muslim man in Maryland.

Yet both women fell under the sway of the same powerful pressures that sometimes reach around the globe to keep Muslim wives in the Washington region imprisoned in abusive marriages, unable to fight the gossip and shame that come with defying their culture and religion, isolated from help that is just a three-digit phone number away.

“My husband beat. He show knife. I am scared for him, for all family,” said Shamim, 21, the Pakistani bride, who was rescued by police. She is being sheltered and tutored in English at a private home. “They say no money, no call mother at home. I cook for all, I not eat. I not know 911 what is. I think I go crazy.”

Shireen, the woman in Maryland, speaks with articulate chagrin about how the crushing weight of social expectation kept her in a relationship that soon turned violent. Both women’s last names are being withheld at their request.

“I was perfectly happy living alone, but the family kept pushing me to marry. I wanted to show them I was a good Muslim girl,” said Shireen, now 37 and divorced. When her husband became abusive, she said, relatives told her to be a better wife. When she took him to court, she said, “everyone abandoned me. I was the one who had done something wrong.”

Domestic abuse is hardly unique to Muslim immigrant communities; it is a sad fact of life in families of all backgrounds and origins. Yet, according to social workers, Islamic clerics and women’s advocates, women from Muslim-majority cultures face extra pressure to submit to violent husbands and intense social ostracism if they muster the courage to file charges or flee.

A major obstacle to recognizing and fighting abuse, experts said, can be Islam itself. The religion prizes female modesty and fidelity while allowing men to divorce at will and have several wives at once. Many Muslims also believe that men have the right to beat their wives. An often-quoted verse in the Koran says a husband may chastise a disobedient wife, but the phrasing in Arabic is open to several interpretations.

“Many batterers manipulate Islamic law or use its perceived authority to control their wives. A man who has the power to divorce can really twist the knife,” said Mazna Hussain, an attorney for abused women at the Tahirih Justice Center in Falls Church. “Muslim women want to be faithful to their religion, and the idea that you cannot disobey the word of God is very compelling, even if you are in an abusive relationship.”

Mosques are a central focus of community life for Muslim immigrants, and the influence of their male clerics is enormous. Only a handful of these imams have spoken out on the problem of abuse, a source of shame and denial among their flocks.


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