The First Time

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Not having seen much about domestic violence come out of the Muslim community, I decided it was time to share my story. I chose to write this essay anonymously to protect my children from the pain of my experience and also out of a sense of shame for my perpetrator. He is the father of my daughter and even after all these years I do not want to expose or humiliate him. Whether this is my weakness or strength I will leave for Allah (swt) to decide.

 

I remember the first slap like it happened just this moment. I saw the hand raised but before I could blink it bore across my face, knocking my head to the far right. If there was pain, I wasn’t able to feel it over the shock.

My senses were reeling. Because I had never been hit before, because I didn’t see it coming and didn’t know why he was angry, because I had known him for three years and never seen this side of him, and because we had only been married a month.

I know I initially screamed and lunged at him to defend myself, but my screams died as he beat me down to the floor and kicked me over and over in my stomach and in my back. I knew my in-laws, with whom we shared a small apartment, could hear my cries and whimpering.  There were five of them living there, his parents, his two brothers, and his younger sister. I kept expecting someone to come help me or at least see what was happening.

Long after he had left the room and I still lay on the floor, I was still waiting for someone to come but no one did. After some time I dragged myself to my bed, the bed which I had picked out with my family not long ago as part of my wedding dowry, buried myself in the blankets and eventually feel asleep, exhausted from the tears and the pain.

When I woke a few hours later my head was heavy like my skull had been loaded with lead. My body was sore and bruised and before my eyes I saw stars when I looked in a particular direction. It would be a couple of years before those stars disappeared and it would be another month before I learned I was pregnant during this assault.

My mouth was parched and I needed pain killers desperately. I listened hard to see if I could hear anyone in the house and when it seemed like no one was there, I timidly left my room towards the kitchen. The apartment was mostly dark, meaning they were out, but before I reached the kitchen I saw my mother-in-law sitting in the dark in the living room.

She looked at me with interest, quietly searching my face. My immediate thought was, “Oh she doesn’t know what happened!” The tears began again and I went and sat next to her. I told her that her son had beat me badly, expecting her to hold her new and only daughter-in-law close, to get angry at him, to comfort me. She considered me carefully and said, “If I had any say, he would beat you every day.”

This was fifteen years ago, but the sting of her response has stayed with me. I quietly left her, got a glass of water and two Tylenol, returned to my room, and never spoke of what happened with anyone. Not with my parents, who had been uncomfortable with this marriage but relented with my insistence; not with my younger sister, who was fiercely independent and looked up to me; not with my friends, who saw me only as a confident, funny, happy, smart young woman.

The shame was overwhelming. I didn’t understand how this had happened to me. I was raised in a family in which women were fearless and feminist, had never seen my father raise his hand on my mother, and had always thought if someone hit me, I’d never take it. But I took it. I took it for a couple of years. It was only when my daughter was around 9 months old and I was holding her when he came at me that I fought back unrelentingly. That was the last time he ever hit me. I wish I had fought back earlier. The fact that I had become a victim of domestic violence, a statistic I never imagined I would add to, weighed heavily on me. It destroyed my confidence, it killed my soul. Even as I worked towards my graduate degree while working part-time and taking care of family and home, I felt less and less like whom I had always been. I felt worthless, embarrassed of myself, ashamed tremendously of my secret.  After I left the marriage I finally did confide in some people, but again with a great sense of humiliation. I knew intellectually that no part of the blame could possibly be mine, but emotionally I carried the guilt of it instead of my husband.

Over time the guilt subsided as I was able to move on, build my career, and acknowledge that my ex-husband had a severe problem. This problem would continue to plague him, as his second and third wife eventually left him for the same reasons. Before we had married, and while I was in college, he had shared with me the pain of growing up watching his father abuse his mother. It’s true what they say about cycles of violence and in some respect he was a victim of his upbringing too.

I decided to write about this now, after all this time, because over the years I have heard many similar stories from Muslim women who, like me, did not fit the profile of a domestic violence victim. And in this time I realized that there is a deep silence in our community about abuse, a chosen ignorance, a veil over the fact that we are also part of the greater epidemic of domestic violence. I wrote this because even as our faith does not tolerate abuse of any kind and our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) warned Muslim men repeatedly to be mindful of their duty towards the women in their care, the very same men sometimes use the very same faith to sanction their violence in the home. I wrote this mostly because I want everyone to understand that if you are not a victim of domestic violence, someone you know is. It could be the professional, brilliant woman you work with, the sweet friend you have known for years, your bubbly little sister. But you know someone who is suffering violence at home, statistically this is a certainty.

I am asking our scholars and our imams, who are custodians of the community’s faith, to persistently and unequivocally forbid domestic violence and to educate our men about a masculinity that protects instead of hurts. I am asking my brothers in faith to have these conversations amongst themselves, to help the men who need help, and to raise sons mindful of the gentle ways of our Prophet (peace be upon him). And I am asking my sisters in faith to look for signs in other sisters, to create programs of support, and to demand this issue be given the attention it merits by our mosques and communities.  I was blessed to be able to leave the situation and gain my confidence and my identity back. Many women don’t get this chance. They suffer in defeat and humiliation, end up battered, or end up dead. I pray that we finally begin raising our daughters to understand that they are never deserving of violence and that they should never tolerate abuse. Teaching our girls when it is time to leave without guilt or shame is imperative upon us. If we are unable to stop the hands of perpetrators, we can surely refuse to raise victims.

There is support. Here are just a few outstanding resources with a wealth of information and assistance for women suffering abuse:

Peaceful Families Project

“Peaceful Families Project is a national organization devoted to ending domestic violence in Muslim families by facilitating awareness workshops for Muslim leaders and communities, providing cultural sensitivity training for professionals, conducting research and developing resources.”

Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence

The API Institute on Domestic Violence is a national resource center on gender-based violence against Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. We analyze critical issues, provide technical assistance and training, conduct research, and inform public policy.”

Directory of Domestic Violence Programs Serving Muslim Communities

This directory has been compiled by a joint collaboration between Asian and Pacific Islander Institute and Peace Families Project organization.

  • Maha

    I’m speechless. Your story makes it so personal to me. You are an inspiration for all women, whether survivors or not, for speaking out and bravely saying no to injustice. I hope your story will be a catalyst for all who read, women AND men, to become active, outspoken opponents of domestic violence. It needs to be high up on our community’s agenda. May Allah reward you, sis.

  • Fatima

    This hurts. Thank you for finding it in you to share. The mother in law’s words and attitude are what hurt me most. Here’s an anonymous survey that Peaceful Families is conducting to get a picture of Muslims’ attitudes towards domestic violence. Please fill it out today, whether or not you’ve been a victim of physical/verbal/emotional/etc abuse. http://research.zarca.com/survey.aspx?k=SsUQWYsSsPsPsP&lang=0&data=

  • http://growmama.com Dalal

    I could endlessly echo the sentiments above…For me your words carry more power than those blows, sister…not to mention the strength, courage, and eloquence it took to write them. Thank you on behalf of all of us who don’t get to hear/do enough about this. It’s interesting Fatima, that it seems the mother-in-law in the story was a DV abuse victim as well…it’s a vicious cycle and it only highlights this woman’s strength and determination to end it…that is really inspirational.

  • R.A

    I’m sorry to hear you had to go through all that and not having a kind soul within that household defend you. I wonder what your ex-mother in laws reasons were for saying what she did? Did she feel all women should be punished? So many questions go through my head -

    Unfortunately there are some people who think “it’s ok, it couldve been worse” – “it’s his last time” – “he still loves you” -”he was a little angry” – “as long as ur not bleeding to death or in the hospital, then it’s really not physical abuse” – or one the worst is to hear “your husband has the right to punish you if necessary”

    Thank you for sharing your story and I pray that women read your note – and learn to say NO! Learn to defend themselves :((

  • ummossama

    JAK for sharing your shocking but hopeful story..honestly I can’t get it out of my mind. iA your story will inspire sisters dealing with domestic violence to gain the courage to change their situation.

    iA I plan to get my dh to talk about domestic violence in his next Khutbah…it’s one small thing I can do to help..you have inspired me!!!

  • http://amjadtarsin.tumblr.com Amjad Tarsin

    It pains me to read this. Greatly pains me. For a number of reasons. I am pained because of the large number of men who have a demented view of both think it’s both manly and part of their religious duty to hurt a woman. It pains me that my noble Muslim sister had to undergo such torture and shock at the hands of her own husband. It pains me that it has come to this.

    I once heard a story–although I have never been able to find the source–in which Sayyiduna ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (who many Muslim men see as the “Man’s Man”), may Allah be pleased with him, heard of a man who was beating his wife. He gathered several men and they “invited themselves over” the house of the alleged abuser. During the conversation, Sayyiduna ‘Umar brought up the hypothetical situation of what they would do if they heard of a man who beat his wife. All were in agreement that they would harm such a despicable individual and teach him a lesson he would never forget. The alleged abuser got the message.

    In another story about Sayyiduna ‘Umar, a man came to him because he was having trouble with his wife and wanted advice from Sayyiduna ‘Umar. When he approached ‘Umar’s house, he heard ‘Umar’s wife yelling at him. When Sayyiduna ‘Umar came out, he asked the man what he wanted. Since the man saw that Sayyiduna ‘Umar essentially was having the same issues, he tried to avoid the subject, but ‘Umar persisted. The man said that he was having trouble with his wife and that he wanted advice from ‘Umar, but he clearly was having similar issues. Sayyiduna ‘Umar’s response is so profound. Perhaps the man was implying the question, “Why don’t you put her in her place?” Whatever the look on the man’s face was, ‘Umar’s response was, “She raises my children and takes care of me. Shouldn’t I be patient with her [i.e. when things aren't going so well]?”

    In a day and age where many Muslim women feel marginalized, discriminated against, and looked down upon–Muslim men need to step up and let our sisters know that we love, respect, and cherish you. You are our noble mothers, sisters, and daughters; you are lights within the community; you are the powerful bonds which tie us together.

    The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, the most noble, merciful, kind-hearted, and just of human beings reminded us men to be gentle with women. He never struck or yelled at a woman or child. I pray that those men who have tripped up on his path can pick themselves up and truly follow in his footsteps once again. That will be a day we can call ourselves an Ummah–and the light of our community will inspire the world.

    May Allah reward your courage and perseverance,

    Amjad Tarsin

    Muslim Chaplain

  • Afnan

    Jazaki Allahu khayran for sharing such a personal ordeal. May Allah protect and preserve us all from such abuse.

  • muslimah

    May Allah swt protect our Muslim sisters :(

    <3

  • http://lilzbear.com/ Sadia

    Such a heartfelt post, thank you for sharing! I feel anger at your husband for doing this, but even more at the family that sat quietly and let it happen. That’s what really disturbs me. Alhamdulillah, I have a loving and kind relationship with my husband, but I wonder if I were in a similar situation, would my husband’s family do the same as your former in-laws did? My in-laws are good people, but somehow I can imagine them, especially my mother-in-law siding with her son. It is such an un-Islamic system that is set up in so many Muslim households, it makes me weep just thinking about it. InshAllah, may you stay blessed.

  • Duaa

    What a heartfelt, courageous post! May Allah swt continue to give you the strength and healing that will help enlighten us and others on DV and doing something about it!

  • Umm Mohammad

    assalamu alaikium wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu sister. It pains me so much to hear your story but I admire your courage and honesty. It is sad to hear, not surprising though, that the mother in law was the full supporter. After all it was she who taught her son it was ok to abuse his wife and she did it by staying in the marriage. I have seen it way too often. It aches my heart.

    Love what you said “I pray that we finally begin raising our daughters to understand that they are never deserving of violence and that they should never tolerate abuse. Teaching our girls when it is time to leave without guilt or shame is imperative upon us. If we are unable to stop the hands of perpetrators, we can surely refuse to raise victims.” But, in your opinion, what could families do to instill this. I am intersted in your view as you are one who has experienced the many facets of this web. i.e. raised in a great family, confident and strong, fell in the trap, courageous enough to leave…

    duas for your success in the Dunya and Akhira.

  • khadijahX

    Salaams Umm Mohammad,

    Thank you for your support.

    I believe his mother was a consummate victim, having been convinced that abuse is justified, both from her experience and her cultural beliefs. She was such a victim that, unlike me, she succumbed to it and become a perpetuator.

    I was raised in a strong family but the question or issue of DV never came up. Probably because there was no such thing in our home — out of sight, out of mind. I never heard about it or knew how to handle it. Its an issue that, at some point, we must discuss with our young daughters. Fathers and mothers both should convey that it is NEVER ok to be hit or abused in any way, by anyone. We have to have the conversation explicitly. We have to let our daughters know what to do in such a situation, that they always have a home with us. There is an idea in south asian culture that when a girl is given away in marriage, she can only return wrapped in her burial shroud. Girls are considered “guests” in their father’s homes, someone else’s amanah. This stops women from leaving abusive situations because of the cultural understanding that their parental home is no longer open to them. We have to tell our daughters that they are always at home with us, we will never put up with them being abused, and they are worth respect and dignity.

    I try to talk to my teenage daughter about the kind of man I hope she marries. I tease her with it , but I make clear what should be expected from a husband. I hope these types of things, and open conversations in community settings, will ensure that she doesn’t become a victim ever.

    K.

  • khadijahX

    Salaams Umm Mohammad,

    Thank you for your support.

    I believe his mother was a consummate victim, having been convinced that abuse is justified, both from her experience and her cultural beliefs. She was such a victim that, unlike me, she succumbed to it and become a perpetuator.

    I was raised in a strong family but the question or issue of DV never came up. Probably because there was no such thing in our home — out of sight, out of mind. I never heard about it or knew how to handle it. Its an issue that, at some point, we must discuss with our young daughters. Fathers and mothers both should convey that it is NEVER ok to be hit or abused in any way, by anyone. We have to have the conversation explicitly. We have to let our daughters know what to do in such a situation, that they always have a home with us. There is an idea in south asian culture that when a girl is given away in marriage, she can only return wrapped in her burial shroud. Girls are considered “guests” in their father’s homes, someone else’s amanah. This stops women from leaving abusive situations because of the cultural understanding that their parental home is no longer open to them. We have to tell our daughters that they are always at home with us, we will never put up with them being abused, and they are worth respect and dignity.

    I try to talk to my teenage daughter about the kind of man I hope she marries. I tease her with it , but I make clear what should be expected from a husband. I hope these types of things, and open conversations in community settings, will ensure that she doesn’t become a victim ever.

    K.

  • Samina

    Assalamalaikum Sister…thanx for writing about this and making us aware that such brutality could exist within people and families when outwardly they appear civilized. I would just like to add some thing to your beautifully written article- that, We play a very big role in the way we bring up our sons. Do we tolerate rude, trashy behavior from them, all the while giving an excuse to ourselves that’boys will be boys’?..Are we teaching them to be good gentlemen? ..and most of all are we training them to be good husbands? What kind of environment are we exposing them to?These questions need careful consideration while we bring up our boys who then will hopefully turn into loving husbands one day InshAllah.

  • Samina

    Assalamalaikum Sister…thanx for writing about this and making us aware that such brutality could exist within people and families when outwardly they appear civilized. I would just like to add some thing to your beautifully written article- that, We play a very big role in the way we bring up our sons. Do we tolerate rude, trashy behavior from them, all the while giving an excuse to ourselves that’boys will be boys’?..Are we teaching them to be good gentlemen? ..and most of all are we training them to be good husbands? What kind of environment are we exposing them to?These questions need careful consideration while we bring up our boys who then will hopefully turn into loving husbands one day InshAllah.

  • M

    Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh sister,

    I am a brother and my tears went down when I read this post. Thank you so much for this post. Thank you so much for your courage. Thank you so much for stepping up and saying “Enough is Enough.” Thank you so much for opening my eyes to something I would never have imagined would happen in a Muslim community. Today, I learned a valuable lesson. I hope, pray and make du’aa that I would never become that person when I get married.

    I will definitely try to bring it up with the Muslim leaders in our community.

    Jazaki Allah khayra for your amazing post.

    M

  • M

    Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh sister,

    I am a brother and my tears went down when I read this post. Thank you so much for this post. Thank you so much for your courage. Thank you so much for stepping up and saying “Enough is Enough.” Thank you so much for opening my eyes to something I would never have imagined would happen in a Muslim community. Today, I learned a valuable lesson. I hope, pray and make du’aa that I would never become that person when I get married.

    I will definitely try to bring it up with the Muslim leaders in our community.

    Jazaki Allah khayra for your amazing post.

    M

  • kid doc

    ASA. I just left a similar situation. It was 5 years of emotional and verbal abuse that recently escalated to physical abuse. That’s when I called the police and got out! I am a working professional, physician and mother of 1 daughter. We had everything that one would dream of. A few months before I woke up one day and realized that the names he called me, the way he spoke down to me, ignored me that eventually degraded my entire being….were not true. I could find no evidence other than his words to prove what he was saying about me were true (worthless, incompetent etc.). I know in my heart of hearts I did everything I could possibly do on my end to address his “concerns” (house not clean enough, daughter not disciplined enough etc). I suppose he sensed I stopped believing him and felt he should kick me to prove his point.

    Alhumdulillah, Allah swt saved me and my daughter that night. I hope He saved my soon to be ex-husband too.

    I have been trying so hard to understand his mindset…why? I came across an excellent reference by Lundy Bancroft. He is a counselor for DV offenders. He states the reason why: they are abusive. They feel entitled to act this way. They have a distorted view of women as unequal. We cannot blame it on their personality, abuse as a child, witness of abuse, mental illness….because plenty of people have that history and are very gentle. Abuse is a method of coping with life that they CHOSE to adopt. My husband did not lose control that night…he chose to kick me. He chose to scream at me and call me swear words right in front of my daughter. They are conscious of what they do. This is why they are very resistant to treatment. It’s so ingrained in their brain…it’s essentially them: an abuser. It’s so sad really.

    I keep entertaining the thought of going back to him. I’ve forgiven him for what he did. I still get angry that he complicated so much of my previously simple life. But I know that given time he would start again. Without intense training and introspection, something that is so against what an abusive person would do…he cannot change. And really do we ever really change fundamentally who we are? What message would I send to my daughter by going back? How could she ever trust me? InshAllah this is the worst my daughter will experience in her life. I work so hard to provide my daughter with a childhood and not let this experience rob her of it. In order to do this, I have to be happy myself. And I am b/c I’m not being abused. And b/c I have so many things to be thankful for. A job. A supportive family. A safe place to live. Money to pay a lawyer. Friends. Living in north america where DV is not tolerated by the police. A working cell phone that was charged so I was able to make the call.

    I think both men and women need to be positive role models of healthy ways of coping. The most important is to practice being present in their children’s lives…not just physically present but MENTALLY..no matter how young or old your child is. How many times has your child wanted your attention…your full attention and our minds are on the past or the future? In a way our salat should be giving us practice for this…being present. Alhumdulillah.

    K

  • kid doc

    ASA. I just left a similar situation. It was 5 years of emotional and verbal abuse that recently escalated to physical abuse. That’s when I called the police and got out! I am a working professional, physician and mother of 1 daughter. We had everything that one would dream of. A few months before I woke up one day and realized that the names he called me, the way he spoke down to me, ignored me that eventually degraded my entire being….were not true. I could find no evidence other than his words to prove what he was saying about me were true (worthless, incompetent etc.). I know in my heart of hearts I did everything I could possibly do on my end to address his “concerns” (house not clean enough, daughter not disciplined enough etc). I suppose he sensed I stopped believing him and felt he should kick me to prove his point.

    Alhumdulillah, Allah swt saved me and my daughter that night. I hope He saved my soon to be ex-husband too.

    I have been trying so hard to understand his mindset…why? I came across an excellent reference by Lundy Bancroft. He is a counselor for DV offenders. He states the reason why: they are abusive. They feel entitled to act this way. They have a distorted view of women as unequal. We cannot blame it on their personality, abuse as a child, witness of abuse, mental illness….because plenty of people have that history and are very gentle. Abuse is a method of coping with life that they CHOSE to adopt. My husband did not lose control that night…he chose to kick me. He chose to scream at me and call me swear words right in front of my daughter. They are conscious of what they do. This is why they are very resistant to treatment. It’s so ingrained in their brain…it’s essentially them: an abuser. It’s so sad really.

    I keep entertaining the thought of going back to him. I’ve forgiven him for what he did. I still get angry that he complicated so much of my previously simple life. But I know that given time he would start again. Without intense training and introspection, something that is so against what an abusive person would do…he cannot change. And really do we ever really change fundamentally who we are? What message would I send to my daughter by going back? How could she ever trust me? InshAllah this is the worst my daughter will experience in her life. I work so hard to provide my daughter with a childhood and not let this experience rob her of it. In order to do this, I have to be happy myself. And I am b/c I’m not being abused. And b/c I have so many things to be thankful for. A job. A supportive family. A safe place to live. Money to pay a lawyer. Friends. Living in north america where DV is not tolerated by the police. A working cell phone that was charged so I was able to make the call.

    I think both men and women need to be positive role models of healthy ways of coping. The most important is to practice being present in their children’s lives…not just physically present but MENTALLY..no matter how young or old your child is. How many times has your child wanted your attention…your full attention and our minds are on the past or the future? In a way our salat should be giving us practice for this…being present. Alhumdulillah.

    K

  • Fatima

    Stay strong, Kid Doc. I’m happy to see you sharing your story of strength, realization and self-awareness with us. Kudos to you and your family.

  • AA

    I am not Muslim but I am a survivor of domestic violence. I found your story when searching for a purple ribbon picture. Your story leaves me in tears and I have shared your story with my friends.

    I, like you, left when I realized my child was in danger. The guilt and fear and worry and emotional turmoil is devastating. Though I am stronger, happier, healthier, and safe now, I still carry those scars from 13 years ago.

    Blessings to you and all survivors. Thank you for sharing your story. Peace to you.

  • AA

    I am not Muslim but I am a survivor of domestic violence. I found your story when searching for a purple ribbon picture. Your story leaves me in tears and I have shared your story with my friends.

    I, like you, left when I realized my child was in danger. The guilt and fear and worry and emotional turmoil is devastating. Though I am stronger, happier, healthier, and safe now, I still carry those scars from 13 years ago.

    Blessings to you and all survivors. Thank you for sharing your story. Peace to you.

  • http://tinyurl.com/lazeikin31515 http://tinyurl.com/lazeikin31515

    This is really the fourth posting, of urs I actually went through.

    Still I really love this 1, “Grow Mama Grow · The First Time” the best.

    Thanks ,Alan


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