ABUSIVE MARRIAGESIslam provides us with a holistic foundation and the tools to encourage spousal behavior based upon justice and harmony. The Qur’an and Sunnah are overflowing with verses and traditions mandating mutual respect between spouses, equality between men and women, and family relationships grounded in love, compassion, and mercy. Prophet Muhammad treated his wives and children with the utmost respect and kindness, and was never abusive to them in any way. By saying, ‘The best of you is one who is best towards his family, and I am best amongst you towards my family’ – he made it perfectly clear that each Muslim is required to do their share to ensure our families embody the Islamic ideal. Islamically, every human being has the right to live a life of dignity, happiness, and hope. Islamically, our homes should be our havens, and our family members our closest friends.
Sadly, many women are physically or emotionally abused by their husbands and sometimes by their in-laws. Domestic violence is a crime in the U.S. and Canada, and these countries have laws that protect women from physical and emotional harm. Domestic violence occurs in all cultures, religions and classes. In a study of South Asian (from the sub-continent) women in the Boston area, 41% reported experiencing domestic violence (Raj and Silverman, 2002). In a study of 160 Muslims seeking counseling services in Northern Virginia, 41% experienced domestic violence (Abugideiri, 2007). A survey of Muslim leaders showed that 10% of Muslims experienced physical abuse in their homes (Alkhateeb, 1999).
Kismet was started in recognition of this problem and to offer daughters and parents affected by domestic violence, help and hope. There are many such parents, and many such daughters. Parents who know that their daughter is being abused; parents who suffer, often silently, with the pain that their daughters endure. Parents who wish that someone could help, and that they were not so far away.
Domestic violence experts define domestic violence as more than just physical abuse. It is the exercise of one person’s power and control over another. Experts also note that without appropriate intervention, violence increases in frequency and severity. Imposing power and control over a spouse or relative are common behaviours that exist prior to, or along with, physical violence. Some such behaviours are: Coercion intimidation and threats Sexual abuse Emotional abuse Economic abuse Isolation Minimizing, denying and blaming Using children to threaten a mother Asserting male privilege
Identifying Abusive BehaviourDoes your husband or do your in-laws… Push, kick, slap, bite or hit you? Develop destructive fits of rage? Abuse you sexually by forcing you to commit or watch sexual acts? Destroy furniture or household items in fits of rage? Control all the money and deny you access to bank accounts & credit cards? Control your activities and prevent you from seeing friends and family? Threaten to kick you out of the house, and/or to have you deported? Insult and humiliate you, your children or other family members? Become jealous and accuse you of having affairs? Blame you for his abusive behaviour? (“You talked back to me”) Abuse the children and / or force them to watch you being abused? Threaten you, your children or your family members if you tell anyone about the abuse or try to leave? Play on your guilt, asking for another chance and making promises to change. Do you… Fear your husband / or in-laws, and fear that nobody will believe you? Spend a lot of time watching your husband's mood before speaking? Doubt your judgment or think you are crazy? Feel depressed, trapped, lacking in self-confidence, and powerless? If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, you should know that … There is nothing wrong with you and you are not causing his violence. You are not alone, at least 1 in 3 women report being abused. You do not have to suffer in silence to be a good wife, mother, daughter, daughter in-law, sister or friend. Violence does not end without help. It escalates in frequency and severity. Staying in an abusive home is not best for the children. They are terrified, often afraid to go to school, and have many emotional problems.
Spousal AbandonmentSpousal abandonment is another form of abuse, and is also referred to as the ‘marry and dump’ practice. This can happen in several ways: a man living in the U.S. or Canada marries a woman in Pakistan, then returns to the U.S. or Canada with promises to complete the necessary paperwork so she can join him, but then he never does and she is unable to join him. He will often give a false address so he cannot be traced. Alternately, the bride and groom return to the U.S. or Canada after marriage, but after a few months, he files for divorce. Some men whose wives already live in the U.S. or Canada with them, return to Pakistan on a presumed visit, then leave their wives behind, abandoned, and frequently without her necessary documents. They then file for dissolution of the marriage, and oftentimes their wives do not contest it due to lack of information, or misinformation provided by the husband. Without proper information or proper legal representation, the divorce settlement may favor the husband by providing no alimony to the wife, no child support, and inequitable distribution of assets.
What Should You Do?Tell someone you trust about the violence: a doctor, a friend or a family member. Call a woman’s organization to discuss your options and for help – see the listings at the end of this booklet or visit www.apiahf.org/apidvinstitute for a directory of programs assisting Muslim women. In an emergency, call the police by dialing 911. Even if you do not say anything or speak only a little English, the police will show up. When you dial 911, the address of the location you are calling from automatically shows up at the police station, if you are using a land line. If you call from a cell phone, you do have to tell them where you are, your location is not automatically revealed to the police. Make a safety plan even if you think there may not be another incident of domestic violence. Develop a code or a system to alert a neighbour or someone who can help you; this is often referred to as a safety plan. Women’s organizations will help you to create one for yourself and your children. For general information, view the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s resources for immigrant women experiencing abuse: www.ndvh.org/get-help/information-for-immigrants For detailed information on the rights of immigrant battered women, how to self-petition for legal permanent residency as a victim of domestic violence and other questions, ASISTA has a comprehensive website, view: www.asistahelp.org If you decide on a divorce, the following sections include an overview of the Islamic and U.S./Canadian divorce process.
Islamic DivorcesWomen and men have a right to seek a divorce and the rights of both parties are protected when getting a civil and an Islamic divorce. It is important that women assert their Islamic legal rights and any specific conditions of their marriage contract. If you decide to divorce your husband, you will need a civil divorce through the U.S. or Canadian courts and you may also seek an Islamic divorce. There are three ways to obtain an Islamic divorce.
The first type of divorce, Talaq, involves a verbal divorce initiated by your husband, followed by a three month waiting period (during which you are entitled to financial support) to determine if you are pregnant. If you are pregnant, your husband is responsible for medical expenses and child rearing costs. Following the waiting period you are free to leave the marriage and your husband must provide you with your delayed dowry if you have stipulated one in your marriage contract. In a Khul’ divorce, you can initiate the divorce as long as you return your initial dowry. The last form of divorce can be decided by an Islamic jurist who determines the rights and responsibilities of each spouse based upon their arguments. In civil divorces, in Pakistan, women can be granted the same rights as men for divorcing. A divorce granted by Pakistani courts can be accepted as a legal divorce by U.S. courts.
Child custody is typically awarded to mothers under Islamic law, but can end when the child reaches anywhere from the age of two till puberty, depending on the flexibility of the Islamic school of thought.
U.S./Canadian DivorcesMost states and provinces have “no-fault divorces” where the courts do not determine the “fault” of the parties and do not take the wrongful acts of a spouse into consideration when determining asset distribution, spousal support, custody or child support. Some states and provinces still retain the fault-based system alongside the no-fault divorce system by allowing grounds to be argued including cruelty, adultery, desertion or abandonment, habitual drunkenness or drug addiction, incurable impotence, failure to support, criminal conviction or insanity.
Spousal support, or alimony, is money ordered by a court of law proceeding payable from the earnings of one spouse to the other spouse. Courts have recognized various types of spousal support, including temporary (during the divorce), permanent (due to lack of skills or disability), rehabilitative (to gain skills or education), and reimbursement (to reimburse one spouse for supporting another during training or educational development).
Child custody is determined based upon which parent should be the custodial parent and whether the non-custodial parent is entitled to visitation. The courts may consider factors such as the best interest of the child, primary caretaker, parental fitness, wealth, allegations of abuse, daycare, and disability. Factors such as the financial resources of the parents, the standard of living of the family prior to the divorce and the physical, mental, and educational needs of the child are considered by the courts.
It is important to understand the laws of the state in which you live (see Resources: Family Laws). Contact the National Association for Muslim Lawyers, or your local bar association for pamphlets and legal information (see Resources: Legal Assistance).
What Our Culture ExpectsOur culture expects women to suffer in silence and preserve the honour of the family. It does not blame men for wife-abuse and dishonoring the trust placed in them. We urge women to get help, to talk to someone, to find their own strength, to discuss their worries and suffering without fear of shame or criticism.
Parents, family members and friends can help an abused daughter or relative by giving her comfort, not putting pressure on her to make things better, or blaming her for what is happening. Help her recognize the abuse, give her affirmation and confidence, give her a chance to get some help, give her a phone number.
And indeed, there is help available from women's organizations in the U.S. and Canada. The domestic violence organizations listed in the resource section of this pamphlet provide free and confidential services in Urdu, Punjabi, or English. They can connect Pakistani women living in the U.S. and/or Canada to helpful resources, provide the support and information they need to make their own decisions, and offer comfort in a time of despair and loneliness.