Addressing Domestic Violence and Abuse in Muslim Communities: Event Recap

By Joshua Heine, Public and Global Affairs Intern

On March 4, Niagara Foundation was pleased to welcome Tahera Ahmad, chaplain at Northwestern University, to speak at a Chicago & Global Family event. Ahmad discussed domestic violence in Muslim communities as well as Islamic teaching regarding abuse and violence.

Ahmad was raised in Morton Grove and graduated from Niles West High School after attending a private Muslim grade school. She studied classical Arabic and traditional Islamic sciences at Al-Diwan and Al-Azhar Universities in Cairo, as well as at Hartford Theological Seminary. She is currently the Director of Interfaith Engagement and Associate Chaplain at Northwestern University, where she interacts with students regarding a variety of college and theological issues. For her work in interfaith collaboration, she was honored at the White House for Women’s History Month in 2014.

Ahmad began the event by discussing her personal experiences. She stated that many of her classmates in high school did not understand her wearing the hijab. In addition, the aftermath of September 11, 2001 made it more difficult. Ahmad was almost removed from a volleyball game for wearing her hijab, despite it having been approved by the school. In addition, a parent at the game told her that she should have stayed out. Moreover, her teacher told her that she did not need to be forced by her father to wear her hijab, even though she wore the hijab of her own will. Ahmad said her journey in Islam has revolved around answering questions for others about her religion and attempting to discover the true teachings of Islam.

After describing her personal experiences with wearing the hijab, Ahmad addressed common misconceptions about Muslim women. These misconceptions include the notions that Muslim women are uneducated, forced to cover and forced to stay home. Ahmad stated that these misconceptions exist for several reasons. A sensationalist media is one of the biggest causes, as some media sources tend to report only certain facts or distort the truth. Another cause is lack of knowledge, which causes non-Muslims to make inaccurate or misinformed conjectures about Islam. Misinterpretation of religious texts results in non-Muslims and even some Muslims misunderstanding a certain aspect of Islamic culture. Finally, unethical or immoral behavior by a few individuals can create the illusion that such actions are accepted within Islam.

In order to properly address the issues of domestic violence in Islam, Ahmed informed the group about the holy writings of Islam and how they discuss domestic violence. The sources of Islam include the Qur’an and the Hadith or Sunnah, the writings of the Prophet Muhammad. She noted that the Qur’an ties communities together because all Muslims adhere to it regardless of sect. Because of her personal experiences, Ahmad wanted to discover what the Qur’an said about women and how women were treated in the 7th century during the beginning of Islam. Using several verses from both the Qur’an and the Hadith, she demonstrated how Islam does not advocate violence. In addition, she stated that early Islam focused on better treatment of women, such as the abolishment of live burials of infant girls. Moreover, the first martyr in Islam was Sumayyah bint Al-Khayyat, a female convert and close follower of Muhammad.

She then added that there are attitudes, beliefs and practices that sustain domestic violence in Muslim communities. Unethical and immoral actions can enforce wrong practices such as domestic abuse. Cultural practices within contextual paradigm. Another attitude is victim blaming, which erroneously faults the victim for her circumstances rather than the abuser. Finally, Ahmad stated that controversial texts or scriptures and their interpretation and use lead to domestic violence. She referred to Surat Al-Nisa (The Women) 4:34 in the Qur’an, which discusses treatment of women who are openly adulterous. Ahmad stated that the harshest translation is that women are subject to men and that men can use physical force to punish their wives; however, she noted that this is a minority view and not supported by other scriptures in the Qur’an and Hadith.

Ahmad also listed several organizations in the Chicagoland area that work to aid victims of domestic abuse in Muslim communities. These are Wise Muslim Women Project, Arabic American Family Service, Heart Women and Girls, Muslim Women’s League and Apna Ghar.

We thank Tahera Ahmad for her insightful talk, and hope to continue to work with her and everyone in the Niagara community to fight domestic violence in Chicago.

The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.