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Surviving Domestic Violence & A Path To Healing: Part II

Posted on Sep 21, 2018
Guest Contributor

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Editor's Note: This post is the second part of Nargis Rahman's writing on Domestic Violence. Read Part I here.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains content related to domestic violence. There are NO graphic images.

Domestic violence affects one in three women during their lifetime. Women from all walks of life, cultures, religions are subjected to domestic violence. According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, when it comes to leaving a home of domestic violence, it can take up to seven tries before a woman leaves for good. Factors can include their financial dependence on the abuser, raising the children, cultural beliefs, access or the lack of access to support systems, isolation and even death threats. One of the top reasons victims of abuse are unable to leave is financial abuse – the lack of stability in one’s finances such as not being able to have a job or access to the family income. Tehmina Tirmizi, the Program Director of the Domestic Harmony Foundation in Long Island, New York said that victims can feel isolated when trying to escape unhealthy relationships. Some women do not have family or friends. For others, it might be outright dangerous to leave.

Saadia Yunus, LFMT, a Licensed Family Marriage Therapist in New York, said the first step for women who are considering leaving, is reaching out for help, which can include counseling. She said, 1:1 or group therapy can be instrumental in assisting women to build their self-esteem, self-worth and empower them to get out of the situation, whatever it may take. “Women should work with a therapist intensely to make sure the negative effects to their sense of self are minimized,” she said.

When Do I Know If It’s Time To Leave?

Last week Lisa Vogl, the Founder and Director of the Verona Collection, a hijab and modest clothing line, posted her story (see below) of leaving an emotionally and physically abusive household. She feels that domestic violence is not talked about enough, and shared her story in an effort to get the Muslim community to stop shying away from discussing such an important topic.

Lisa said although she knew about domestic violence, it was hard to put the dots together about the signs of domestic violence until she was fully removed from the situation. In her post, she shared that she had been, “strangled, kicked, beating with objects, glass thrown at me, slapped and everything in between. And it could have been for as something simple as buying the wrong item at the store of having an attitude.” Finally, one day she decided to leave, and fled for safety while her abusive ex-husband was at work. She packed her bags with help from her business partner and drove from Texas to Florida with her kids.

While her experience with domestic violence was obviously severe, Lisa was actually told by many Muslim community members to be patient and pray, and that her ex-husband needed to read more Quran. “When I was in it; he stopped hitting me for a couple months. People said, ‘Well at least he’s not hitting you.’ I cannot stress enough how damaging emotional abuse is. The effects are worse,” said Lisa.

Salwa* Ahmad, who is a mechanical engineer for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, knows all too well the side effects of emotional abuse. Salwa grew up in a small town near Detroit which heavily emphasized on culture and honoring the family. She was in an emotionally abusive relationship for five years, during which she was repeatedly told she wasn’t good enough... until she became suicidal. She says,“There was always something for me to change. Therefore, sacrificing for the marriage was all I did. In doing so, I lost myself. I lost my self-worth. I was told no one would ever love me, I was told that nothing would ever be good enough. At the time I believe him. After leaving I learned that it was only a reflection of what was missing in his own insecurities,” she said.

Salwa reached out to her family for support when she realized she would be leaving her kids in the hands of her abuser. She says, “Knowing that I would leave [my children] to this man and have the same vicious cycle taught to them stopped me. I had to raise them a different way. I had to stay on this earth to be an amazing role model for them. To show them how to respect women. To treat women as their equal, if not higher. To protect women and stand up for them if needed.”

Both Lisa and Salwa agree that thinking about leaving means you should leave. But first, have a plan in place.

Preparing to Leave

For those who plan to escape, there are a few things to keep in mind to embrace the new changes and challenges that may come with a new lifestyle. The article, “Eliminate That Seven Times Statistic,” on the website The National Voice of Domestic Violence provides a step-by-step guide on what to expect once leaving unhealthy relationships, and how to stay away for good. Tips include emotionally disconnecting, cutting off all ties and creating distance.

Here are some other tips to consider:

  1. Reach out to Supportive People: Create a strong support group of trusted individuals who will not disclose your plan to leave to your abuser. This support group could include (but does NOT HAVE TO) friends or family. Some women need to contact the authorities to inform them they will be leaving, especially if there is a fear for safety.
  2. Connect to Resources:
    • Legal Assistance: Organizations like Domestic Harmony Foundation and domestic violence shelters may provide access to legal assistance (sometimes free). This can include assistance filing for divorce or navigating child support and visitations.
    • Personal Protection Order: Some women may need a personal protection order (PPO), a court order which legally forbids an abuser to be physically near the victim or harass them. A PPO can provide a level of security, along with other precautions for safety for the victim(s).
3. Create an Escape Bag: Create an escape bag with emergency documents such as birth certificates, and spare clothes. Some experts say to have a charged one-time use phone which cannot be traced, and a list of emergency phone numbers. For dangerous situations, women can consider placing the bag with a trusted neighbor, family or friend.
4. Document the Abuse: When did the abuse happen, and how did it happen? Victims should speak to a counselor or trusted source prior to making a decision to leave. Know where to go and how to get help immediately. The most life-threatening period of times for victims is right after they leave. In reality, many women leave with just the clothes on their backs.

5. Have a Safety Plan: Consider all your unique factors and how to get help when needed. Be smart about leaving. Do you have a plan? Can someone take you in? Do you have money? Start planning and initiating.

6. Save Money: Statiscally, abused women are usually financially handicapped. Save small increments of money to have when you escape. Domestic Harmony Foundation often sees women who don’t have a license or a job, which further discourages them to leave their situation. Some women have been creative about earning/saving money, holding jobs such as babysitting, or working through the abuse and holding onto their money.

Some of the Side Effects After Leaving

Figuring Things Out: Salwa says that leaving an abusive marriage forces you to think about what’s best for you without feeling guilty; “It was and still is a struggle to figure out who I truly am. I was always a people pleaser and now I can just say “no”, without having any guilt. This feeling is liberating. Yet, I find difficult to do at times, until this day.”

Emotional Turmoil: Lisa said the path to healing is an emotional roller coaster which requires self-reflection, an ample amount of positivity, being surrounded by the right people who love and support you, and crying. “Understand the pain is real,” she said. Her business Verona Collection became a positive outlet to empowerment.

Removing The Abuser From Your Life: For many women, abusers remain in a victim’s life due to sharing children. In the Muslim community, this is also one of the major reasons people do not encourage victims to leave abusers, stating that a family will be broken. Navigating visitations can be frustrating, however it is not a reason to let go of standing up for yourself and safety. Lisa said her friend who took her in during her time of need told her, “You didn’t break up the family, his fist broke up the family.”

Tackling the Self Doubt: Self doubt is another side effect of healing. According to Lisa, once you heal, the doubt turns into an unshakeable strength. “You will want to give up sometimes. Know that it will pass, and you will find your strength through your healing to fight for what you deserve,” she said.

Becoming Steadfast: Victims may wonder ‘who will want to marry a divorcee?’ However, some women have said once they have left their abusive relationships they no longer feel the need to be validated by men. The inner strength carries them through thick and thin and they are able to make decisions without men telling them what to or not to do. Lisa advises to be choosey in who you marry. Don’t rush into marriage, even after divorce.

But Isn’t Divorce Disliked by Allah (S)?

Divorce is called the least permissible action which is permitted by Allah (S), but it is NOT haram whatsoever. Furthermore, oppression and injustice are forbidden in Islam. Allah (S) even forbade injustice upon himself;

Abu Dharr reported: The Messenger of Allah (S), peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Allah Almighty said: O my servants, I have forbidden injustice for myself and I have forbidden it among you, so do not oppress one another. O my servants, all of you are astray except for those I have guided, so seek guidance from me and I shall guide you.”

A Story of Hope From the Quran

In the Quran we can learn about the story of Asiyah, the Pharaoh's wife, who struggled against her violent husband. Asiyah declared her faith in the Oneness of Allah (S), and denied Firaun as God. As a result of her disobedience to him, he punished her by laying her on a bed of needles and demanded she recount her belief to Allah. In response, she looked up at the heavens and asked Allah (S) to keep her home in Jannah ready for her. She chose to stand up for herself and not cave to her husband’s oppressive orders.

Allah (S) says in the Quran,

“God sets forth an example for those who believe - the wife of the Pharaoh who said: “My Lord, build for me with Thee a house in heaven, and save me from the Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from an unjust people (66:11).”

Abusers often use religion as a ploy to manipulate and gain control over their victims. Allah swt said in the Quran, that our purpose is to obey Him first, before tending to other roles. Allah further tells men to honor their wives, Allah says, “And live with them honourably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good (4:19).”

The Prophet Muhammad (S) also discouraged violence against women and encouraged good behavior: He said, “The best of you are those who are the best to their wives, and I am the best of you to my wives (al-Tirmidhi).”

A Community Responsibility

Domestic violence is a community responsibility. Lisa says that although the statistics are similar for women from all walks of life, the Muslim community needs to do a better job of addressing the problem, rather than sweeping it under the rug. Often times leaders will talk to abusers in a rational manner and men do not face real consequences for their actions. Instead, women face the burden of being told to pray and be patient. They do not receive real help. “There has to be zero tolerance for domestic violence,” said Lisa.

Find Your Voice

Salwa said, “Society will always have something to say but this should not be a reason to stay in an unhappy marriage. If you have children, it is important to lead by example and keep them safe. You are a strong woman for leaving an unhealthy marriage, for showing [your children] how to treat women. We teach our children values and morals, religion and everything else with our actions.”

Since going public with her story, Lisa has received hundreds of messages from women who are facing domestic violence. She hopes her post gives others hope and the courage to leave.

*Salwa Ahmad’s name was changed to protect her privacy and safety.

Nargis Hakim Rahman is a Bangladeshi American writer and a mother of three kids. Nargis graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, and a psychology minor. Nargis is passionate about community journalism in the Greater Detroit area. She hopes to give American Muslims and minorities a voice in the press. Nargis is a fellow for the Feet in 2 Worlds Fellowship, in collaboration with WDET 101.9 FM and Detroit StoryMakers. She writes for The Muslim Observer, Brown Girl Magazine and Metro Detroit Mommy.

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