I have a few things lineD up for my homeschooling blogs but I will come back to it soon inshallah. I recently delivered a course about Domestic Violence to Ethnic minorities. The project was run by a charity that I have helped out on numerous occasions. This got me to think about it and sharing my thoughts on the issue with more people.
I recently joined a support group for Muslim women, where women give advice and support to each other pertaining any issue, and two of the most common problems faced by Muslim women around the world seem to be domestic abuse and issues related to polygyny.
I believe talking about it help to create awareness and also explain the vicious circle some women may find themselves trapped in but for some reason or the other cannot break the shackles. I will try to take a more Islamic approach to what I am about to say even though my knowledge is limited.
I will give you a bit of background information about myself. I always saw myself as a confident, opinionated, independent, self-reliable and strong willed woman. As a matter of fact, I was often described as a go-getter and someone who would stand up against injustice and oppression even if it meant going against the very people I loved. As somebody who completely believed in herself, and believed that no one can actually cause harm to me, I did not the least expect my marriage life to be what it was.
There are many types of domestic abuse which people fail to identify. The most commonly and easily ‘diagnosed’ form of abuse is physical abuse. This is when one person in the relationship acts physically violent towards the other person, and can leave bodily wounds. From my experience working with ethnic minorities, this is the main point of abuse that people can identify as domestic abuse. I won’t get into too much detail about physical abuse as I am pretty sure everyone has an idea what I am talking about.
A lesser form of abuse which is acknowledged is mental abuse. Now, unlike the first one, this one is hard to diagnosed as there is no physical evidence such as wounds, cuts, marks etc; but the suffering may in some cases be worst than physical abuse. In the case of mental abuse, the abuser is a very clever person, who is in complete control of the relationship. Now, many people think it’s easy to recognise such abuse, but honestly speaking, it can be very hard for the abusee to even see herself/himself as a victim. Abuse and manipulation have a direct link, and when it comes to mental abuse, you are sure to find it 100%. There are different s of mental abuse. Mental abuse can come in the form of restricting the victims movements and action, limit their social life and managing their each and every task. In this scenario for example, you may find a spouse who is unwilling to let his/her wife/husband to mingle with his/her own family for petty or no reason at all. This is again a form of control whereby the victim becomes a slave to the abuser. Now, many would ask, surely when one person is in such a relationship, they must be aware of it. It is not always the case that someone recognises this as abuse; the spouse who is being abused may see this as just a reaction out of jealousy, or he/she may believe the abuser is protecting them because they love him/her so much. When two people are in a relationship based on trust, such as marriage, no matter what the person is like, you will find yourself growing into that person as day in and out this is your focus point and you have a commitment to make this marriage work. You find reasons to make it work and it is human nature to develop love for others if somebody even treats us with kindness for a minute. Many are grateful for those moments of kindness showers to them and hold onto it. It is very hard as a person inside the relationship to see that this sort of behaviour is not normal.
The second scenario of mental/emotional abuse is when one abuser takes pleasure in belittling his/her partner. This can cause tremendous damage that may never be repaired. This would completely shake the self-confidence of the abusee to the point where they start believing they are useless. For example, if you have spouse who day in and out criticize the way you look, the way you cook, the way you walk, the way you talk, who could even publicly make fun of you, or insult you in public, it will build up the frustration inside you. Do remember, when we love someone, we see ourselves through the perspective of that person, and if this is what the person is telling you they are seeing, as time goes by it starts adding up and taking its toll on you. By the time, you realise that you should not put up with this sort of abuse; sometimes it’s already too late. You have lost your own identity; you are clueless about who you are and what you are capable of. In many situations, the person who contribute most to those relationships are the abusees: they may be the one looking after the family the most, the one bringing in more money, the one making more sacrifice for everyone in the family etc, and yet the abuser is able to take all that away by merely uttering a few words throughout the day. As the saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword, meaning what we say may be much more harmful than the way we act. In those cases, because the abusee has no self-esteem, he/she believes that he/she won’t be able to cope on their own as without the abuser (who has made them believe they are the anchor) they will be lost at sea. By taking away the self-confidence and making them believe they would not exist without them, the abusers take the upper hand and the abusee if not given help would struggle to even make the effort of getting out of such relationships.
Another form of abuse is financial abuse. Now, this could be that one of the spouse is keeper of all the income in the house and makes the account for each and everything spend. In such situation, the other spouse needs to constantly ask for his/her pocket money and give full account of every pound and penny spent. Now, there are people who spend tremendously on unnecessary things, and obviously the other partner won’t be happy about it, but sometimes if somebody is an abuser, it’s their way of showing control and asserting it.
Things can also be the other way round, where the keeper and most likely the main bread earner becomes the one who is exploited. For example, the one who is barely bringing any money in may be the one with the most unnecessary expenditure and be putting the burden of bringing more money on the bread earner. I would take a personal example. For most of my marriage life, I was the one with a secured job( even if I didn’t earn much) and had a definite income coming in, my ex-husband could not keep/get any job for too long, I must admit because of the way I was brought up, i am very careful about my spending. My ex husband loved trademarks, stylish clothes, new technology etc, and most of the time I would end up footing the bill for him. Even to the point where, we were actually struggling to make ends meet, he decided to go in full time study a week or so after I gave birth, which obviously meant that I needed to find ways to look after the family. I mean from a Islamic point of view, the husband should b the one providing and not the woman, and especially not in a situation where she’s physically not able to get a job. And the fact is, I agreed to it, I was not overjoyed, but I wanted him to be happy and if that’s what it was going to cost then so be it.
Sexual abuse is very present in a relationship. Allah made men and women different, and even when it comes to sexual desires women and men feel it different. A man can be attracted to anything and can easily be aroused, the same does not apply to women. Women are very sensitive and need to feel safe, love and protected to feel arouse. In a way, women need to be emotionally stimulated for such relationship to take place. In many marriages, the man expect the woman to just wake up and get on with the business. It doesn’t work like that, no matter how good a man thinks he is in bed, a woman couldn’t care less unless she feels emotionally attach to him at that moment. Many men miss the point and come with the famous line’ The angels will curse you if you don’t abide to your duties.’ They must surely have forgotten about the duty of pleasing and making the wife happy. No woman would refuse a man if that man shows a little bit of love and kindness to her, but by telling her that it’s merely her duty, the man has actually ruined everything, and rather than being an act of a blessed marriage, it becomes just another house chore to the woman. Men need to look more into the reasons why a woman is refusing them, maybe it’s because they are not satisfying the woman’s need for love, and as such the woman is not interested in a loveless relationship. Forcing your way through won’t make things better but rather, would make the relationship shakier. A woman’s no is normally a sign she is not happy, it is a symptom, not the disease; and if a man claims to love his wife, then he should find the cause of that symptom.
I am now going to look more at the manipulation that takes place within domestic violence. Now, like I mentioned before, I am one of those who thought I could spot domestic violence, especially when looking at the behaviour of other couples, but when it happened to me, I failed to recognise it. I had been abused physically, emotionally, financially and sexually and yet when all these were happening, I failed to recognise any of them. It took me a while, to come to terms with it, to acknowledge yes I have been abused and I have been a victim. If i was a third person standing by watching my own life being played on tv, I would certainly shout at myself saying’ How stupid can she be, can she not see all the wrong things happening around her.’ But no, I didn’t. Maybe I was stupid, or maybe I was happier being stupid than facing the truth. Honestly, I can’t say which statement is true.
The first sign of abuse for me should have been the day he continuously punched me, and threaten to kill me with a knife, which was very early on in the relationship, and the very same day he sexually assaulted me while I was semi unconscious. It took me a very very long time to speak about what happened and to be able to look at myself knowing I let all of those things happen to me. I used to think (once I became aware there was a problem) that if I talk about it then people will comment about how stupid I am, or how I used to pretend I was all strong etc, but it was mainly my pride and ego that would not let me label myself as a victim. It wasn’t shamingmy family, like in many cases people believe it’s the case. On the contrary, Alhumdulillah I have a very supportive and close-knit family. But, I am not afraid of my fake ego anymore. I don’t feel that I need to hide my identity or hide what happened to me. Going back into the story, that very long and dreadful night, I should have seen all the signs, but would you believe it if I say I still didn’t see the bigger picture. All that my abuser had to say was that he was ‘sorry and it would never happen again’ and that was it, I was back in the game. Everyone who gets into a marriage, takes a lifetime commitment and want to make sure they make this commitment work, and for me it was the same. I put it down to being a one-pff thing and I must say my ex-husband did a good job at telling me how it was a one-off thing, like how he is such a loving husband at other times, he does the dishes unlike other husbands, he let me hang out with my friends unlike other husbands, he cooks dinner for us once in a while unlike other husbands, he helps with the housechores unlike other husbands. Obviously, I had won the lottery, so if there were a few hitches here and there, what difference would it make. I actually believed all he said and even believed I pushed him to act the way he did. If I had not turn off the tv that night, then he would not have hurt him. It was obviously my fault; I was screwing it up for us with my harsh actions and words. I must admit, I always knew I was opinionated, and took much pride in it, and I though he must be right. If I had not done/said what I did, then he would never have harmed me, after all he has always so loving. This is the vicious cycle, whereby a lot of women get lost, where the abusee starts believing they are the abuser, the problem is not on the other side, but within us. From the moment you start believing that, the perpetrator has got you, anything that happens from now on, you will be blamed for it, and you will blame yourself for it. Looking from outside, anyone would realise everything is wrong in this relationship, but when you are inside it and you are manipulated into believing otherwise,it's hard to see the truth. I even went to the point where I started feeling uneasy around my loved ones who would try to say that I am abused. I actually believed that I was the abuser!
It was not until I heard myself speaking about my experiences that I realised, hold on a minute, that’s not right, I said nothing wrong, how can he blame me for it? We are only responsible for our actions not the actions of others. If it wasn’t for seeking counselling and hearing my voice, hearing me telling myself my story, I probably would have never learnt the truth. There’s a stigma attached to counselling or seeking psychological help but honestly best choice of my life was that at that point. Had it not been for counselling, I would not have been the 3rd person listening to my life story. I could have headed straight for depression, and maybe I was already depressed, as around that time I had a baby and was expecting a second one, postpartum depression/baby blues would have been likely but Alhumdulillah it never got so bad, I never tried to kill myself or needed medication. But even if you try to kill yourself or need medication, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging something is not right in your perfect world and seek help.
There’s a lot of people (men and women) suffering in silence for whatever reason, staying in an unhealthy relationship is not going to make things better for your children, staying in an unhealthy relationship is not going to make your parents/relatives happy as they want you to be truly happy and not fake it. And society will always be there to judge whether you decide to stay or leave. Yes, there is a lot of stigma attached to divorcees behind closed door; yes some will tell you are worthless, useless, not worthy of being considered for marriage etc.
I have had a very supportive family, who supported me when they found out what happened to me, but I must say I never told them much as I wanted to protect them, I didn’t want them to worry about me, but now they are not worried about me, obviously my mum can’t stop herself talking about getting married again, but she’s a mum, and now that I am a mother, I understand more how she felt and how she’s feeling. If you would not have like something to happen to your child/children then you must realise if it’s happening to you then it is wrong and you need to stand up against it. Obviously, you have to do sabr, but sometimes the only way to make it, is the way out.
I will now discuss the issue of polygyny or polygamy. A lot of women are getting married to men who are already married. As a divorcee, I must say that most of the proposals I receive (which is not many )are from men who have been previously married. Now, previously I was completely against a man marrying more than once, even though I knew it was islamically correct, that was the time before I got married, but as I believe I am more mature now and understand more how things work, I see why Allah has made it permissible. Saying that, I am not looking for a polygynuous marriage though if it has scope I would consider it. Coming to the main issue, a lot of women/girls :divorced, widows, singles are entering such marriages without considering very important aspects of marriage. Most of those women get duped into it by ‘the religious man’ who for some reason cannot make his first marriage work and yet won’t let go of the first wife. Like some would say, he wants cake and he wants to eat it ‘two’ ( pun intended). Now if such a man can afford to treat the 2 wives equally ,why not? Many of those men do not even have a proper job to provide for one wife, and yet they want more. And the famous line here is: ‘Allah will provide for us’, fair enough, I totally agree, but he didn’t tell you to sit at home and turn and twist your fingers. Now with one wife come the chance of a child or more and with more than one wife, come the chance of numerous children, if at this stage in life, you can barely provide for yourself, forget two wives, how are you supposed to look after someone else? Now here’s the trick, welfare benefits. So, they’ve learnt this scheme from non-muslims but now use it regularly. Often those people, will talk about how money that you have not earned is haram, so if that’s the case, does housing benefit and income support that your wives would be claiming not haram? I mean you definitely didn’t earn it, and it’s not Allah who is providing for it, but tax payers who are trying to do something for their families. Ridiculous and yet many become victims of such religious men. I don’t know if they specifically target divorcees, but if you (divorcees) have the imprudence or turning them down, then obviously you must be against polygamy, or you must be thinking too much of yourself and not realise your pitiful state as a divorcee or a single mum. I do remember my ex husband saying that you do know the chances of you ever getting married again is highly unlikely with two children, I guess i’d rather take the chance of being single than looking after an additional child in the form of an adult, done it before and cannot be bothered again! Thanks but I love my extra luggage( children) and they are no burden on me or anyone as far as I am aware, so I would personally pass on anyone who would dare think that divorcees, widows, children from previous marriage is a burden. Maybe I am too over confident nowadays but I am sick of this attitude of Muslims, and to others(married women) I would say no I am not trying to steal your husband, cos I do not want to end up in your situation nor am I a home wrecker. There was a time when sahabas would rush to support such women, but that time is gone and I would rather dream about that time. So, for those women, who are asking those questions because they are scared of what would happen after they get out of such relationships. Yes, there certainly would be hardship, you certainly would feel like crying sometimes, yes you would feel like your world has ended at times but yes you will also get up every day and get on with your life, and like I said people will judge, but at least there will be days where you will find peace of mind and there will be days where you will see light at the end of the tunnel; there will be time where you will yearn for companionship but always remember no company is better than bad company!
Oh, and I would appreciate any comments on this blog, and if you need someone to talk to then please do not hesitate to contact me. I am thinking of putting a support group for sisters who feel the need for support in any aspect of their lives inshallah and don’t know who to turn too so please if you are interested in setting up such a network then please please get in touch. I know some marvellous women out there who are facing the big bad wolf on their own and are sources of inspiration for many women who are feeling the darkness. In the time of the prophet (peace be upon him) the society used to come and help such women, but today the Ummah are more concerned about their own well being.
Remember Allah is with us peeps!