By Duhaa Rahamatullah, November 2 2020—
In the last several years, domestic violence cases have been at an all-time high, particularly in communities of colour where women are culturally expected to depend on men for finances and mobility. October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Nisa Homes discussed the importance of the work done through their organization in an interview with The Gauntlet.
According to Saima Mafat, the House Manager at Nisa Homes, domestic abuse exists in all communities — it is not a matter of ethnic or Caucasian communities, but instead a matter of the behaviour that is normalized. Nisa Homes is the first group of transitional homes for immigrants, refugees, non-status and Muslim women who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The organization provides women with a variety of resources, including case work, spiritual support, multilingual interaction, community and government resources, mental health support and counselling, financial assistance and the necessities of living.
Most importantly, Nisa Homes provides vulnerable women with the means to heal emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually, through various supports and services. The organization serves as a safe haven for women and children experiencing domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, or who are seeking asylum. It is the centre of empowerment where “the vulnerable are given hope, the broken are rebuilt and the helpless are given their dignity,” says Mafat.
The role of culture and religion in domestic abuse are primary factors in the normalization of abuse, as well as why women have difficulty escaping abusive relationships. The first factor in why women withstand domestic abuse is due to the predetermined roles of men and women in society, and the normalization of abusive behaviours in primarily ethnic cultures, Mafat told the Gauntlet.
For decades, the cultural expectation placed upon women has been to demonstrate unconditional obedience and respect for their husbands. Women are taught to bow their heads and withstand the potential abuse and ill-treatment directed at them. Traditionally, it is understood that the man is the breadwinner in the relationship and the woman is inferior to, and in need of him. Alongside this, the stigmatization of divorce in ethnic cultures stops women from re-gaining their freedom. From a young age, the concept of resilience, in unreasonable measures, is ingrained into females — the expectation of unlimited compromise on the woman’s part is placed upon her shoulders only and seems to miss the man’s shoulders entirely. Combined with the normalization of domestic violence, the tendency to assume the innocence of the male and the dishonesty of the female, domestic abuse continues to exist in our very own communities.
Mafat told the Gauntlet that the misinterpretation of religious values and obligations, particularly in the Islamic faith, is a factor in the normalization and overlooking of domestic abuse in Muslim society. The Quran, contrary to what western media portrays it as, in its truest form and in its accurate interpretation, is a scripture that elevates the status of the woman — it counteracts the objectification and belittling of women that culture tends to promote and gives them the rights and freedoms necessary to instill equity between genders.
However, in a culture where the rules and regulations outlined by the Quran are interpreted by any man, it is often the case that the verses are misinterpreted in favour of the party interpreting. For instance, a common misconception leading to multi-form domestic abuse including sexual, mental, physical, spiritual and verbal, is the inaccurate interpretation of the Quranic verses that a woman is inferior to the man thus permitting physical and sexual abuse towards her.
Despite this interpretation being highly inaccurate, women are often made to believe that they are violating the terms of their faith by restricting their husbands from mistreating and taking advantage of them. The reality of the situation is that religion is interpreted on the basis of ethnic culture, which normalizes, and at times encourages, domestic violence and multi-form abuse. As a form of spiritual abuse and a means of interpreting religion to one’s advantage, the rules and guidelines outlined by The Holy Quran are often misconstrued to befit the desires and culture of the abuser.
Ultimately, the combination of misinterpreted religious values and patriarchal cultures has resulted in the loss of self-respect and personal identity of many women in the Muslim community. Nisa Homes recognizes the extremity of domestic abuse in our “civil” communities and provides the resources and means for women to attain a sense of personal identity beyond the scope of their abusive relationships. For instance, the transitional homes connect women with resources in the community that will help clients build relationships, acquire an education, find employment and receive counselling, among other things.
When asked for her leading pieces of advice for victims of abuse, Mafat tells the Gauntlet that she urges victims of multi-form abuse to pursue an education.
“Women feel powerless because they are made to feel powerless. Education gives you the power and the autonomy to believe in yourself and your self-worth. Education teaches you about your rights and the way you deserve to be treated, regardless of what your culture believes. The best advice that can be given to a bystander of abuse, or someone who has been made aware of the circumstances, is to lend an ear to the victim. Listen to them. Believe them. And show them that the grass can be greener on the other side: show them the avenues for help, refer them to Nisa Homes, encourage counselling services. Do your part.”
As a privately funded organization, Nisa Homes encourages the community to recognize the predominance of domestic violence in their communities, understand the severity and complexity of the situations presented before them and work towards donating to organizations, like Nisa Homes, that lend a helping hand to women and children in need. Community members are also welcome to volunteer with Nisa Homes and assist in offering services and support for clients. Lastly, Mafat urges readers to do their part by spreading awareness about domestic violence and multi-form abuse that occurs in our communities.
“Raise your voice, raise it loud, and raise it often.”
This column is a part of our Voices section.