Ramadan, Day 7: The Tragedy of Domestic Violence

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The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Yesterday when I wrote my piece on anger management, I couldn’t help but think of the many victims of domestic abuse who suffer everyday. As a chaplain, I have personally met so many women and children, and some men too, who live with the reality and fear of domestic violence.

I am ashamed to say that it is all too common in the Muslim community just as it is a wider American problem. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 1.3 million women, for example, experience domestic abuse in America every year and that one in four women are expected to experience some form of abuse during their lifetime. More than six million children suffer abuse every year. Those are some heart-wrenching statistics.

What are even more heart-wrenching are the personal stories and accounts of experiencing or witnessing domestic violence. I remember a few years ago I was at a multi-day Muslim conference enjoying the closing night’s celebration when, from the corner of my eye, I saw this enraged father just slap and punch his young son with one blow after another. My initial reaction was just shock and horror. But, then I was overcome by fear as my wife pushed me to go and intervene. I wasn’t sure if the enraged father would turn his anger on me as I nervously approached the situation. Sadly, by the time I reached them the young boy had already gotten quite a beating and the father was continuing to scold him. I just embraced the boy and walked off with him in the other direction to create some distance from his father. The boy was sobbing and shaking the whole time as I held him close to myself. What was so painful to see was the anger and rage in his eyes – how he wished he could get back at his cruel father. I tried to counsel and console the boy, but I was mostly at a loss for words. I knew in that moment, just as he did, that this was not the first time nor was it the last…

Equally disheartening was the reaction of people that I turned to for help that night. There were police officers whom I alerted who actually laughed when I told them a child had just been beaten by his dad. Another security officer asked why the dad beat his son, and when I told him why, he said he would have beaten his son for that too. I felt completely helpless. I’ve thought often about the boy since that day and pray that somehow someway he beat the odds and is living peacefully. But, I know that’s probably a wishful thought.

The tragedy of domestic abuse is that it strips a victim of feeling safe and secure in their own home and in their own family. It forces a victim to constantly be in a state of alert and anxiety, never knowing when thunder could strike again. The long-term affects on victims of domestic violence is well documented and includes higher rates of suicidal attempts, concentration and learning disorders, and so much more.

As a Muslim leader, I must state – no matter how obvious it may seem – that domestic violence is absolutely against the ethical teachings of Islam. It is haraam, meaning a violation of what God has sanctified – namely physical and mental safety and dignity of every man, woman, and child. The Prophet Muhammad said that a person does not truly believe if his or her neighbor feels unsafe from their actions. If this is true for the neighbor, then how much truer is it for one’s own household! Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad said, “The best amongst you are those who are best to their families.”

The Qur’an speaks of the purpose of marriage itself as dwelling in tranquility with love and compassion uniting the hearts of husband and wife (30:21). This description of marriage has no room whatsoever for any violence or harm. The Qur’an tells Muslims to pray for spouse and children who will be “coolness for our eyes” (25:74). Domestic abuse is completely antithetical to such a beautiful prayer. There are so many other passages that dictate kindness and fairness between spouses and members of a household.

It is my sincere hope that we as a country and as a community take domestic abuse and its gross violation of the sanctity of human dignity more seriously. One organization that is at the forefront of preventing domestic abuse and promoting healthy families is an organization by the name of Peaceful Families. I would love to see every Mosque and Muslim organization in America welcome this organization to train people in the community on how they can join the struggle to end the tragedy of domestic abuse.

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Write to Sohaib N. Sultan at ssultan@princeton.edu