The following is a response to a piece written by a brave young woman:
I find it truly courageous for coming out on this matter and thank the
author for sharing. Domestic abuse of women remains a horrible fact worldwide and I agree that the power lies in the hands of women — as a first step — to break the silent and vicious circle of this secret. Without speaking out, without standing up for ourselves, we uphold the notion that it is acceptable and that we ourselves are to blame.
A paradigm-shift is needed. As women we need to grant ourselves the right to be free from such harm and truly believe we are victims, not perpetrators, not a single bit. We need to free our own minds from guilt. But we also need the current bystanders — our own families, our community, culture and tradition — to acknowledge that we are victims and stand by our side to protect us. As long as the system we live in takes on the role as non-protective bystanders, the perpetrators feel legitimized to continue and so domestic abuse become even further engraved in a silent society of violent sacrifice.
This story is a brave one. It is a personal account yet touches upon
many elements essential to understanding how this form of abuse remains so difficult to challenge. Feelings of shame and guilt, a patriarchic system,
reputation and honor, financial dependence and the lack of institutions (among which society) a woman can turn to for safety, support, recognition and justice are all aspects which need to be addressed and reflected upon simultaneously if we want to put an end to the legitimization and acceptance of this structural
and pertinent abuse.
Though this problem is not rooted in religion, it could be of value to
use religious arguments to break the cycle of guilt, of (silent) support, to convince others and stimulate a paradigm shift — at minimum in our own minds. At least, it helped me.
As the author clearly states — abuse of women — in any form — is not
supported by Islam. On the contrary, the woman in Islam has the right — meaning she is entitled — to be treated with utmost respect, care and freedom. Islam despises all forms of oppression. Placing women inferior to men and forcing them to submit — to whatever cultural, physical, social, economic or religious desire — is hence considered sinful.
Though I am not an Islamic scholar, having experienced female
inferiority myself, I have delved deeper into Islamic teachings in order to
defend myself — if not against repetition than at least against blame. I found
solace in the following.
Allah Almighty commanded “Tell the believing men that they should
lower their gazes and guard their sexual organs; that is purer for them”. This indicates the responsibility everyone carries for their own deeds and that the enforcement of a desire cannot be legitimized simply because of the appearance of another. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told `Ali ibn Abi Talib, “Ali, do not let a second look follow the
first. The first look is allowed to you but not the second.”
Lustful looks are considered adultery. This is also what Jesus is reported to have said in the Gospel of Matthew: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you that everyone who so much as looks at woman with evil desire for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Matt. 5:2728)
Religion hence places the responsibility to contain a desire on the man
explaining that he, not the woman, is to be held accountable for his deeds and no one has the right to deprive a woman — any woman — of her freedom.
The addressed problem of domestic sexual abuse — as the author
highlights — goes beyond desire and adultery. The subordinate position of a
woman, the incapacity of independent livelihood she faces and manipulation of her position increase the difficulty for women to stand up for themselves.
Again, the source of this sexist imbalance lies not in religion. On the contrary, religious argumentation for financial independence and care for women could help women gain more power. For instance, the obliged dowry installed by Islam was meant to guarantee women financial independence in case of divorce. A dowry is their right, not a trade. And so is the financial care a man needs to provide his women with. A man has the responsibility to provide his wife and daughter with all basic needs and protect them from harm. Again, this is a duty not a choice and therefore places no contribution, reimbursement or compensation on women. Men stating that they are entitled to limit the freedom of women because they are their care-takers is an outright form of slavery and hence sinful. Deviating from their duty — to care for women whilst upholding their independence — is sinful. Rather than women being pushed into a corner of submissive gratefulness, the right and power of women should be defended — by society as a whole. Like the author brilliantly states: men owe women, not own!
Again, religion is not to blame for the abusive expression of testosterone.
Yet it is often used as a consequential legitimization by patriarchic society. A
society so sensitive for reputation — not only cultural but also religious
dignity — may best be criticized by their own mindset.
Having made an attempt myself to break loose from the ‘religiously
backed’ hijacking of my freedom, I was empowered by religion itself. It did not help me change the mindset of the perpetrators. Not just yet. But it did help me break loose from my feeling of guilt. And that, I believe, is step 1. For us women to believe, with full power, that we are not to blame, that we are free from shame, that we are entitled to full personal freedom and deserve our bodies to be respected. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.