Written by Janet Kozak
There are people amongst us, who call themselves Muslims and strive on a daily basis to strip Muslims of their Islamic rights. I would argue that they are actually not Muslims but hypocrites amongst us. A Muslim must always be striving to implement the Quran and Sunnah – and one who actively fights against it, or ignores pieces that are integral to creating healthy, happy, homes and societies, is not of us.
The reasons for such abuses are manifold – but mostly stem from a clear ignorance of and lack of reverence for Sharia and Islam in general. Many of those placed in authority of the Muslims, especially in non-Muslim majority countries, are severely lacking in any foundational or specific studies of Islam.
The Imam at the wealthiest masjid in my hometown, the one put in charge of helping and counseling thousands of local community members and representing Islam at interfaith events and in the local media, was only a trained medical doctor from Egypt – with no formal study of Islam or Sharia whatsoever.
As such, he, and others like him in positions of power, make Islam up as they go along, often quote weak or fabricated ahadith (prophetic traditions) in their sermons, re-interpret verses as they see fit, and make things unduly difficult for many members of the ummah (Muslim community), including those most vulnerable; women, children, victims of abuse, and those who qualify for zakat (charity).
As a victim-of-domestic-abuse-turned advocate I’ve spent thousands of hours counseling women suddenly thrust out of their homes and forced back into their masjids (mosques) and communities seeking assistance and support, both financial and spiritual.
I’ve been homeless myself, lived in domestic violence shelters, and worked in-person, and remotely, with dozens of women to get them the help they need and deserve from an Islamic standpoint.
I moderate an online forum with over 140 members made up of women in various stages of learning about abuse and leaving their abusers. I’ve also participated in a strategic planning session for a Family Justice Center in Sacramento, CA.
From these experiences I am in a unique position to discuss what I see as a few of the problems women, and especially victims of domestic abuse, face on a daily basis in all different parts of the world. This is not an isolated problem and I would argue that it is even more of a problem in western countries as those so-called Muslims tend to be less educated in their religion in general and try to blend secular norms with Islamic laws and end up failing at both.
What follows are a few examples of things I have faced in the past:
Access to Zakat – Uneducated gate-keepers make it hard or even impossible for single mothers to access zakat (charity)– often putting insurmountable hoops in front of them to jump through.
This was not the example of Prophet Muhammad or any of the sahabah (the prophet’s companions) – they saw giving as their responsibility and a heavy one at that. They never would have made a homeless, poor, or starving sister suffer for literally months while she filled out booklets of application packets, forms, gathered letters from others, and provided photocopies of bank statements and government agencies *proving* her expressed need, etc.
It’s physically difficult for many poor people to accomplish the tasks *required* which may need multiple days-worth of trips to multiple agencies to acquire certified copies of the paperwork – even AFTER providing all the *same* details in a signed and testified multi-page in-depth application packet. Some of the women I’ve worked with did not have even the money needed for public transport – forget having their own car or paying gas money or for a cab to get around and accomplish such errands!
It’s also embarrassing and degrading to have to hang all the details of one’s needs out there and to “prove” that one needs help – often times the documentation required is hard to obtain and, of one is already in a crisis situation, probably not something one has time to go hunt around and get sorted.
There needs to be more trust and faith between Muslims and more giving with one hand while the other doesn’t know what that hand is doing. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of a Muslim to help people in the thick of their need – not months after the fact.
At one point I also had to submit heaps of papers and documentation from three different agencies to get help with a simple utility bill that was overdue – in all it took two months to receive any assistance from my local masjid (mosque)- to the point that I actually assumed they were not, in fact, going to help.
In another case, a friend of mine, who was a registered nurse and seeking employment, also happened to be very poor and in need of assistance. She was already receiving staple foods from a local Islamic food bank and barely paying her rent. She requested assistance, in form of a loan, with some moving expenses so she could start a job that she had already interviewed for and received in another state: her request was completely ignored.
In my friend’s case she wasn’t even asking for a handout per-se, just a good-faith loan for incidental moving expenses until she got her first promised pay-check. In yet another case, when approaching a masjid for financial help for another abused, single mom, and about-to-be-homeless friend in crisis – again was completely ignored.
While this same masjid took out interest-based loans and spent millions of dollars on building a fancy gold-paint-decorated facility. The priorities.
Condoning ongoing abuse, re-abusing the victim by implementing fake sharia to discourage khula-seeking – Shaykhs and Imams (leaders of Muslim communities) turn a blind eye to verbal, emotional, physical, and financial abuse, or even encourage it, by victim-blaming, victim shaming, and making excuses for the abusers. They also require additional *proofs* for a khula (divorce initiated by the wife) that are not lslamically required.
I’ve been married three times, I was married to my first Egyptian husband for 10+ years, my second Egyptian husband for only six months, and now to my current Pakistani husband for almost two years.
When I first attempted to divorce my first Egyptian husband due to ongoing verbal, physical, and financial abuse, I was told I needed to bring female witnesses of the abuse in order to get my khula– something I now know is not actually required – and I complied. I brought two friends with me to the meeting with the Imam.
One was forced (due to being a SAHM with no daycare options) to bring her three children along with her – effectively disrupting their entire schedule and her whole day. My two friends corroborated that my ex was stalking me and verbally abusive – and both has previously witnessed his possessive and controlling phone-calling behaviors.
Ironically, during the meeting, my ex actually responded to the Imam’s earlier e-mail, finally telling the Imam that he wanted a “talaq” (divorce initiated by the husband) which the Imam deemed sufficient on the spot to divorce us Islamically. The “proofs” that this Imam said were needed are not based on anything in Islam, and would not have even been the right number of witnesses anyway, if I was, say, trying to get my ex-husband punished for something haram (sinful or prohibited) and wanting to prove his guilt in some way in a Sharia court.
Forcing women to take ridiculous made up extra steps to access their Islamic right to a khula is causing much damage in our communities and keeping them from making a clean break and getting free of their abusers. I moderate a group for Muslim women escaping violent and abusive marriages and, sadly, it is not uncommon in most countries to make it very hard for a woman to get a divorce.
Ironically, Prophet Muhammad, (PBUH), was known to grant divorces to women simply because she was not attracted to her husband anymore – for no other reason than that. This widely circulated myth that there needs to be “proof” of haram (sin) for a woman to divorce her husband is ludicrous and clearly propagated by the uneducated and illiterate enemies amongst us to further the oppression of Muslim women.
Some Imams and Shaykhs also ask for fees in order to perform the khula – another highly unethical and un-Islamic roadblock for women – especially for the 90% of abused women who are *also* already being financially abused by their husbands and have no cash on hand to do anything – not to move out, not to pay for food, and certainly not for fees for a khula!
Double standards and ignoring husband’s responsibilities in case of divorce – These hypocrites in Shaykhs clothing may opt to ignore when a husband or father is not fulfilling his Islamic responsibilities and obligations, without the father having a valid reason to do so.
In my own experience, completely fed-up with my treatment by the first Imam, I went to another local masjid in order to seek assistance in getting my rights Islamically. In this other instance I had to physically show up at the office multiple times, and almost force myself into the Shaykh’s office to demand help (as he was trying to ignore me standing there waiting) to get assistance with my ex-husband situation.
We already had multiple pending secular court cases and I was hoping to come to an equitable agreement ahead of the secular degrees (that would not be, of course, in-line with Islamic teachings). I had finished my iddah (waiting) period (after divorce before remarrying) at the moment of the birth of our daughter and was no longer living with my ex-husband. The three of us arranged a meeting between us to discuss an equitable parenting arrangement and maintenance for our three shared children, including the infant.
The only thing that ended up being discussed in detail, however, was making sure that I was pressured into giving my ex-husband 24 hours at a stretch time with our newborn – who was still exclusively breastfeeding. This was neither wise as far as being helpful to establishing healthy breastfeeding – as was my daughter’s Islamic right – nor did the meeting address the very real concern *I had* which was the fact that, even with some modest social services support/welfare/food stamps – I was unable to pay the rent in my small new apartment.
I needed some additional financial support from my ex-husband who was making $5000+ a month at the time. I was pressured into signing the agreement with a promise that other important aspects of the divorce – like access to my clothes and other belongings, and adequate financial support for my daughter and I, would be discussed at the next meeting.
The Shaykh promised that the money would be addressed and agreed to “later” but then after our meeting he went out of his way to avoid ever meeting again to sort out that very important aspect of any divorce. Through that experience I learned that some men back each other up and try to get them their “rights” that are not actually even their right Islamically (like forcing a breastfeeding child away from their mother for 24 hours at a stretch) all while ignoring the mother and child’s actual Islamic financial rights to food, shelter, and maintenance within the father’s means.
These personal experiences, and countless others that I have witnessed and learned about in the last six years as an advocate for domestic abuse victims, has given me a striking glimpse “behind the curtains” so to speak to peek at the average Masjid management. The disillusionment with my so-called “ummah” is real and hard to ignore, even driven me to question my choice of faith.
I’ve learned more about the hypocritical so called Muslims among us than I ever wanted to know. And yet I still press on – encouraging the needy women I meet to reach out to their local communities to seek support, hoping that this time, for their sake, their communities will do the right thing and assist them generously and wisely.
To provoke change we will need a collective increase in knowledge and strength of character in those approaching the masjid – demanding their Islamic rights be fulfilled. Only then when the voices seeking respect and honor of their rights are louder than those of the hypocrites, will we see progress.
Janet Kozak is an award-winning artist, designer, author, domestic abuse victim advocate, activist, and educator. Her artwork and interviews have been featured in Muslim Matters, The Huffington Post, Azizah Magazine, Aquila Style, SISTERS Magazine, Islamic Art & Architecture and more. She is currently working on a series of collaborative artworks with leading Muslimah artists around the globe addressing domestic violence in Muslim communities and a in-depth seven month series on domestic abuse for UK-based SISTERS Magazine. When not writing and art-making she can be found lending her talents to a variety of non-profit organizations. To contact please visit her website: http://jkgallery.wordpress.com or connect on Twitter: @abstracthijabi.
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