Murders lead Texas Muslim leaders to call for frank discussions about domestic violence
In May, a Houston man shot and killed his estranged wife, their 4-year-old daughter and his mother-in-law before killing himself.
In July, a man drove 11 hours from Georgia to Chicago where he shot and killed his 29-year-old ex-wife and himself.
And the next day, a 20-year-old woman was shot and killed by her husband in their Milwaukee home. He, too, killed himself afterward.
All of the victims and the perpetrators were Muslim.
The murders have ignited a conversation about domestic violence in the Muslim American community. Across the country, people have organized town hall meetings, written articles about the subject and discussed the issue on TV news programs and podcasts. It’s an effort to raise awareness of the dangers of domestic violence and eliminate the reluctance to talk about it.
A faith-based approach
Mona Kafeel, executive director of the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation, said it’s important to note that domestic violence affects all communities, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity. Her organization provides shelters and transitional housing for victims of domestic violence, as well as counselors and attorneys.
She said some communities don’t want to talk about family violence or even marriage trouble outside of the family, or they may hold strict views about marriage.
“I think some different cultures have the same way of thinking that once you're married, this is it. There is no other choice,” she said. “You have to live and die with this person.”
That’s why getting religious leaders involved in discussions about domestic violence is critical, said Farhana Querishi, who runs a North Texas law firm specializing in family law.
“Having a faith-based approach has been very powerful because it's allowing the women in the community to understand that what they are living and what they are being told is very different from the reality of what their faith teaches them”
Aisha U-Kiu, vice president of the North Texas Islamic Council, said the Muslim community encompasses many different micro communities and micro cultures.
And those different micro cultures, she said, each have their own peer or family pressure and beliefs. But their faith is what they all have in common.
“Because this community has a faith-based approach to family issues, you know, the first place that they normally would go to is an Iman,” said U-Kiu. “And so because that’s where they’re going, we have a very good opportunity to approach this from a faith angle."
Every day, an estimated 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S, and 72% of murder-suicides involve an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Town hall discussions
During a recent town hall meeting about domestic violence held in Richardson, U-Kiu said participants learned that some adults have been programmed since they were very young that it’s okay for parents to hit their kids.
“Is it right to be violent? Is it right to discipline your children physically if they don’t pray? She asked. “No, it’s not right. That’s not what our faith teaches us.”
The murder of Sania Khan in July received national attention and shook the community. Khan had talked about her marriage troubles on the social media platform TikTok, including how family members and others in the South Asian community didn’t want her to get a divorce. She did though.
But advocates like U-Kiu say no one should be pressured to stay in an abusive relationship.
Alia Salem, founder and executive director of Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE), was in a physically and sexually abusive marriage for 11 years. And before she married, Salem was dealing with the trauma of having been sexual assaulted when she was younger.
Salem said it took years for her to understand what she had experienced. She’s still trying to heal emotionally from all of it, but she isn’t reluctant to talk about it.
“I’ve been very candid about it because we don’t talk about it enough in our communities,” Salem said. “I want people to see that you can come through it.”
The candid discussions happening in workshops like the one held recently in Richardson have encouraged others to speak up. U-Kiu said some people make the mistake of asking someone who’s in an abusive marriage, “Why don’t you just leave your husband?”
“This is really where the micro cultures come into play because this is where a lot of times women are conflicted,” U-Kiu said. “They want to follow societal norms and cultural expectations, but they might be putting what their faith teaches them on the back burner.”
She said there are a lot of misconceptions about family violence and Islam.
“Unfortunately, there are too many Muslim men in our community who feel as if they are supported in their violence,” U-Kiu said. “This is not what the religion teaches.”
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