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Domestic Violence In Muslim Communities


It's a startling statistic - 1 in 4 women are survivors of domestic violence here in the United States. For men, it's 1 in 9 according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. What we don't always hear about is how factors of race, religion and ethnicity affect how that violence is addressed or ignored.

Rowaida Abdelaziz of the Huffington Post has recently reported that Muslim women face what she calls distinct and arduous obstacles when seeking help after an incident. She spoke with over a dozen Muslim survivors for her story, and she joins us now from our studios in New York.


ROWAIDA ABDELAZIZ: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You frame your reporting around the story of one woman who was willing to share her story. Can you tell us about her?

ABDELAZIZ: Well, Nour at a very young age - it was actually three days after her high school graduation. She was 18 years old when she witnessed her father kill her mother in front of her own eyes. She describes to me a tumultuous relationship between the two. The first act of physical violence Nour had witnessed was back in 2009 when she saw her father kind of grab her mother by her arms until she was black and blue and had bruises and throw a wooden chair at her, which thankfully she missed.

And it was through that instance where she started to look back and trying to understand, how did this start - right? - because it doesn't begin with physical violence. There's verbal violence. There's financial abuse. And she started to reflect. And soon, she herself became a volunteer at local agencies around the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a powerful writer where she pens about her mother's experiences and says that the - one of the main reasons she spoke to me was to honor her mom.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are some of the things that you uncovered about why Muslim women don't report their assaults?

ABDELAZIZ: Well, I think it's important to understand that when we're talking about domestic violence and gender-based violence, that this is an issue that doesn't discriminate. It is something that spans faith and ethnicity and race and ages and that DV isn't more or less prevalent in the Muslim community.

But what most people don't understand is when people assume that because, say, Islam is violent, men tend to be more violent and their women tend to be more oppressed, that this is an issue that is common in the faith. And unfortunately, a lot of these survivors and abusers have talked about being perpetually revictimized when they are going out to shelters.

I spoke to one woman who owns a shelter out in Baltimore that specifically caters to Muslim women. And she tells me her clients have gone to other agencies, have gone to other shelters where they face discrimination and harassment, such as shelter residents harassing Muslim women if they choose to pray, some cooks putting in pork in Muslim women's meals who traditionally don't consume pork. And so oftentimes, these are some obstacles that they face.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And also, what happens from within the Muslim community? - because I imagine one of the first ports of call might be their faith leaders.

ABDELAZIZ: Absolutely. And this was one of the most intriguing part about researching this topic. Muslims were more likely to report their abuse and seek help through their local religious leaders. And this is something that is common for the Muslim community who seek out their imams or their clergy to talk a wide range of issues. They could be going through abuse or they have financial problems or just are looking for a spiritual upliftment.

But what makes the Muslim community unique is that oftentimes, these religious clergy tend to be untrained. They know theology. They know scripture. But they don't really know how to tackle and how to work with domestic violence survivors.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your story is called "Muslim Survivors Of Domestic Violence Need You To Listen." What does that mean? - that they're not having professionals who are listening to them; when they go to the shelters, they're not being listened to; their faith leaders are not listening to them - or is it deeper than that - that society needs to hear something from them?

ABDELAZIZ: It is definitely deeper than that. They are pleading and calling on to members of their own community. They're calling for religious leaders to not feel like they're airing their dirty laundry and that they can speak out and help them.

They're also talking to the wider society and non-Muslim community and trying to point that Islam has become so vilified that they feel like a space hasn't been created; that they can come out with this issue, and it gets seen as a gender-based violence issue; and that they don't want the burden of being held as the reason why people who have these bigoted views only continue to target them. It becomes a source of anxiety. It becomes more than just, I need to seek help for myself. But it's something bigger than themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rowaida Abdelaziz is a reporter with the Huffington Post. Her story, "Muslim Survivors Of Domestic Violence Need You To Listen."

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

ABDELAZIZ: Happy to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if you are someone or know of someone who is seeking help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAZZY STAR SONG, "ALL YOUR SISTERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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