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Domestic Violence Series

Nour Responds to Panorama’s Secret of Britain’s Shariah Councils

Sh. Abdullah Hasan

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The BBC show Panorama, through secret filming, has found that Shari’ah courts are not helping women in domestic violent situations.

The Telegraph states: “85 councils operating in mosques and houses across the country has revealed that the courts, which are run by sharia councils, are ruling in favor of men meeting estranged wives or having access to children when they have found to have been abusive”

It also mentioned the case of a sister called Sonia who was “granted a civil divorce in a British court, which had given her husband only limited access to the children. However, Leyton Islamic Sharia Council ruled the children should be given to the father. When she told the Islamic scholar of the domestic violence she and her children had suffered, his advice was to not inform the police as that would be the “very, very last resort.”

The BBC mentioned another case of sister Ayesha whose husband was in prison for violence, but Dewsbury Sharia Council told her she would have to go to mediation with him.

“I said I can’t do that because he’s not even allowed near my house and because I am frightened, I can’t face him… but they didn’t take any notice,” she said… It took her two years to get a Shari’ah divorce.

Unfortunately, Islam, Imams and Shari’ah law are always a target for the media. It is easy to misrepresent Islam and the laws which come with it. What’s even more saddening is that unfortunately, many of our Imams do not comprehend many of the issues faced by the multicultural Muslim community in the UK. In our view, many do not fully understand and appreciate matters of domestic abuse and the severity which comes with it. This is why Nour is working towards holding workshops hosted by those few Imams who are extremely well educated in this field and who can pass their knowledge and understanding on to others.

Many women who contact us regarding domestic abuse inform us the sad reality that they are denied the right to divorce. In many cases, they inform us of the violent relationship they are trying to escape from, but unfortunately, when they seek help from some Shari’ah Councils, the severity of the cases are not always effectively measured. If the cases mentioned have been portrayed in their real light then it is highly regrettable that said rulings were issued without considering the various dimensions of domestic abuse a victim can face and which Islam completely abhors and makes allowances and provisions for the dissolution and annulment of marriage.

The members of the mentioned Shari’ah Councils, as far as we are aware, are extremely knowledgeable and qualified in their appropriate fields of expertise. Therefore the proceedings paragraphs are not necessarily a critique of them; we hope to provide some recommendations from our experience in the field of domestic abuse and also perhaps clarify that fiqh (jurisprudence) is not a monolithic system of laws, but is flexible and includes a multitude of laws that suit the circumstances and various context of human social and spiritual life. If a Shari’ah Council offers a judgement on a case from their respective schools of thought and approach, it does not necessarily imply that this is the de facto ruling on that issue. There may be other views and rulings which, in our view, could – and should – be considered.

One of the objectives of marriage in Islam as mentioned by God in the Qur’an is love and mercy. Speaking about the spousal relations, God Almighty clarifies: “And of His signs is this: He created for you spouses from yourselves that you might find tranquillity in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Indeed, herein are signs for those who reflect.” (Ar-Rum: 21).

God also commands the spouses explaining “…Either live on equitable terms or separate with kindness….” (Al-Baqarah: 229).

Husbands are advised “…And do not hold them (the wives) to injure them or take undue advantage…” (Al-Baqarah: 231).

All these verses make it very clear that according to the rules of God, it is the duty of the spouses not to abuse each other physically or emotionally. Since the husband is the head of the household, he is directly commanded not to injure his wife in any manner.

If a woman complains to an Islamic judge that her husband has been abusive and has caused her mental or emotional harms then the judge has to investigate the matter through family counselors or psychologists to verify her complaints. If it is proved that her husband is really abusive then the judge has the authority to separate them and dissolve their marriage.

It is difficult to judge and fully ascertain the veracity and the context of the said rulings, ‘mediation,’ and comments of some of these reports written about the Shari’ah councils. It ‘may’ be that many of the fiqh (jurisprudential) rulings have been taken out of context and the proper framework. However, as Shari’ah council members and people of authority we need to be responsible and understand the cultural and religious dynamics within the community when issuing rulings and judgements.

At Nour, we work with a team of Islamic advisers who are qualified in Shari’ah and do not take domestic abuse lightly. They work with professionals and counselors effortlessly, to ensure that those affected by domestic violence know their rights. They also work to tackle this misconception that they must endure abuse rather than take action.

Nour isn’t a charity-organization which promotes divorce. Divorce is the very last resort; after all other means have been exhausted. However, no woman should be made to go back to a house where she feels threatened, frightened or abused. She should not be discouraged to move out or seek help from other people or organizations. Divorce in cases of sustained physical (or otherwise) abuse and violence from a spouse is completely unacceptable and is grounds for annulment of marriage. If we survey, briefly, the books of fiqh (jurisprudence) and Hadith (statements of the Prophet), we will come to learn that scholars allow a woman to divorce (through a court or judge) her husband when he does not fulfil the rights of the marriage contract. They cited a number of causes and reasons for which a woman may seek divorce. They include:

  1. Physical, mental, or emotional abuse or torture. When one of the spouses becomes abusive and inflicts physical, mental, or emotional torture, and is not willing to change by taking practical measures through therapy or counseling, then it is a valid reason for seeking divorce, for the Islamic principle states, “There shall be no inflicting or receiving of harm.” Dhulm (injustice) is not tolerated in Islam, regardless of who the perpetrator is.
  2. Failure to fulfill the objectives and purposes for which marriage was initiated. This can be utter incompatibility between the partners, which may be expressed by their irreconcilable differences in temperaments, likes, and dislikes.
  3. Marital infidelity. This can be a major cause for dissolution of marriage, for marriage is built on trust and confidence. Its main purpose is to preserve the chastity and modesty of those involved. Once this foundation is eroded and undermined and there is no chance to restore the same, then divorce is the way to go.
  4. Failure of the husband to provide. When the man, who is considered the provider and maintainer of the family, fails to shoulder his responsibilities and the wife decides that she cannot continue tolerating his shirking of responsibility, this is grounds for divorce.

 

A woman who cannot bear to live with her husband has the right to free herself from the marriage bond by returning to her husband the mahr (required marriage gift) and gifts he has given her, or more or less than that according to their mutual agreement. It is, however, preferable that he should not ask for more than he has given her. Allah Almighty says: “…And if you (the judges) fear that the two may not be able to keep to the limits ordained by Allah, there is no blame on either of them if she redeems herself (from the marriage tie by returning all or part of the mahr)…” (Al-Baqarah: 229).

The wife of Thabit ibn Qays came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, “O Messenger of God, I do not reproach Thabit ibn Qays in respect of character and religion, but I do not want to be guilty of showing anger to him.” (Her meaning was that although Thabit was a good man, she was unable to get along with him and thus might not be able to show him the respect due to a husband.) The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked her about what she had received from him. She replied, “A garden.” He asked, “Will you give him back his garden?” “Yes,” she said. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) then told Thabit, “Accept the garden and make one declaration of divorce.” (Reported by al-Bukhari and an-Nasa’i).

As stated earlier, divorce is not something that should be encouraged and the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) always tried to reconcile between the couple but also understood the wishes of the people and appreciated that divorce sometimes is necessary. The aforementioned example is one such case where the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) allowed the dissolution of marriage. The reader will notice that the husband did not break the major rights of marriage. One wonders and asks what would be the case and the reaction of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) if a woman were to approach him who has been physically and emotionally abused for a sustained period of time?

Marriage mediation is something that is also which Islam encourages and condones. It has laid down certain foundations and rules which safeguards all parties. They are there so that the affairs are dealt with in a transparent manner which will benefit the individuals concerned and their ‘specific circumstances’. However, we must also understand that mediation can only take into effect when the two individuals concerned are willing to reconcile their ‘differences’ and seek to renew their life together. When one spouse is being brutally abused for a sustained period of time, mediation at that instance is difficult if not impossible, especially when the individual is seeking a way out and which the Shari’ah affords them the provisions for annulment.

Domestic violence is an increasing phenomenon in the Muslim community. Shari’ah councils do need to recognize this and they must act accordingly. They must work to train their advisers and Imams to recognize the signs of a domestic violence case and to protect those who are being abused.

They must recognize that it takes great courage and great effort to seek help from a domestic violence situation. The last thing the victims need is to be sent home to the very person who is abusing them. The very last thing they need is to be discouraged to seek help. Our Imams must protect these very people when their ‘protectors’ are abusing them. We, as a community, need to recognize the increasing rate of domestic violence cases and we must not punish the victims further.

Islam does not teach to oppress our womenfolk. Before Shari’ah law, women were being abused, baby girls being murdered and buried alive, girls being sold and thought of as evil. Islam liberated women. It has placed women on the highest pedestal, with incredible worth. They are honored with the statement that heaven lays beneath their feet after motherhood. Mothers are given three times more worth than a father. Daughters are enough to attain parents’ heaven. Spouses are beautiful described as ‘garments’ [2:187] – who work to cover each other’s faults, to guard each other’s privacy, to be close to each other, to be each other’s warmth.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) taught that “The best among them are those who are kindest to their wives.” [Bukhari and Muslim] and, “do not beat God’s female servants (i.e. women)” [Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah]. He further taught that, “Abusing a Muslim is a sin, and killing him is disbelief.” [Bukhari and Muslim]. God Almighty teaches to, “Live with them on a footing of kindness and equity” [4:19]. Thus how can we ask our womenfolk to remain in an oppressive, abusive relationship? When the prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him, was approached by Fatimah bint Qais about two men who proposed to her, he advised her that, “Mu’awiah he is very poor and Abul Jahm is accustomed to beating women” [Muslim]. When he has protected Fatima bint Qais from this situation, how can we encourage our sisters to fall back into this situation? Islam does not condone violence and it most certainly does not condone oppression and abuse.

As with the cases above, many fiqh (jurisprudence) rulings must be analyzed appropriately before a judgement is delivered. Fiqh (jurisprudence) is sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of our society. Unfortunately, we Muslims do not always represent it properly and accurately. As with the case of Sonia, and the issue of custody of children, the common view is that when a woman (divorcee) remarries the children should be given to the father if they are of the right age. But there are precedents in the Sunnah (actions and statements of the Prophet) that the woman was allowed to keep her children even after marriage (Umm Salamah). In fact Imam al-San’ani (a great classical jurist of Islam) after mentioning the differences of the scholars regarding the custody of the children clarifies the objective based reasoning in regards to the various, opposing and divergent views among the fuqaha (jurists) concerning the custody of the children. He wrote: “The Children should stay with the parent who fulfills their best interests. If the mother is the better caregiver and will follow up on the children diligently, then she should have priority over them…. The children have to be in the custody of the more capable parent, and the Law cannot possibly judge otherwise.” (Subul al-Salam, vol 3, p. 227).

The fuqha (jurists) discussed the conditions of custody and when the right of custody could be revoked from the concerned individual. They mentioned conditions such as fisq (rebellious), where a person, for example, drinks and fornicates etc. They discussed the issue of whether the custodian or guardian has the ability (qudrat) to look after the children citing that certain illnesses if found to be present with the guardian, which is transferable, is a reason to revoke the custodianship of the children. The prime basis of the reasoning of the fuqaha’s (jurists) deductions and rulings of the texts is predicated on maslaha (interest) of the children and whether the individual given the right of custodianship is able to fulfil the interests of the children.

If the father is proven to be a violent abuser of the wife how can he be considered to be fit to look after the children. Working in the area of domestic abuse and violence we at Nour are too aware of the violent nature and the evil consequences of domestic violence on the children. Therefore, in our view, a woman will not be contravening any injunctions of the Shari’ah. Rather she is protecting and safeguarding one of the prime objectives of the Shari’ah, which is to engender benefit and repel harm.

(NB: the issue of custody of the child is a very complex one which scholars have discussed for centuries. They have forwarded over 12 different and opposing views depending on the circumstances of the wife and husband that).

It is our hope that Imams and the various Shari’ah councils in the UK and abroad consider the aforementioned points and see that the following recommendations are applied within their councils and affiliate working streams:

  1. Collaborate with professionals and experts in areas where they are not very familiar with such as domestic violence support workers, and counselors who work specifically in this field.
  2. Train the Shari’ah board members and scholars in areas and fields they may not have expertise in such as domestic abuse issues (since this is one of the main areas that they deal with constantly).
  3. Separate, when issuing judgements, the culturally based rulings and the imperatives of the Islamic principles. Cases should be issued at the interest and benefit of the individual’s religion and social and psychological state. Not on the person’s views. That sometimes may require adopting opinions which do not conform to our traditional viewpoints.

 

“The Prophet never beat any of his wives or servants; in fact, he did not strike any living being with his hand except on the battlefield or when the prohibitions of Allah had been violated, and he retaliated on behalf of Allah.” (An-Nasa’i).

With the grace of Allah, Nour has been able to assemble well-versed advisers, who abide by the Qur’an and Sunnah and act accordingly against oppression, abuse and violence. If you are being abused, please do contact us. It is not right for you to be encouraged to suffer silently. We, at Nour, will do our utmost best to help you in whatever way possible. Muslims are taught, “Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand (by taking action); if he cannot, then with his tongue (by speaking out); and if he cannot, then with his heart (by hating it and feeling it is wrong), and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim].

Sh. Abdullah Hasan graduated with an Imam Diploma, BA and Ijaza Aliyah in Islamic Studies [Theology & Islamic Law, taught completely in Arabic] from a European Islamic seminary. He holds a diploma in Arabic from Zarqa Private University (Jordan), studied at the faculty of fiqh wa usuluhu (Jurisprudence and its principles) at the same university while receiving training in various disciplines privately with some of the leading Scholars of Jordan and the Middle East. He studied Chaplaincy at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education (MIHE). He is a Licensed Islamic Professional Counsellor (LIPC), specialising in youth and marriage therapy. In addition, he is a specialist in Zakat and Islamic philanthropic studies. He served, as an Imam, several Muslim communities in the UK. Sh. Abdullah Hasan has enormous interest and passion in the field of community and people development. He has over 10 years of management, leadership and training experience within the third sector. He is the founder of British Imams and Scholars Contributions & Achievement Awards (BISCA), which is a national platform to celebrate, support & nurture positive leadership within the community. The Founder of British Institutes, Mosques & Association Awards (BIMA), which is national platform celebrating the achievements of mosques and Islamic institutions. He also founded Imams Against Domestic Abuse (IADA), an international coalition of leaders to end domestic abuse, and is a member of the National Council of Imams & Rabbis, UK.,

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Gibran

    April 22, 2013 at 10:08 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    JazzakAllahu khair. I like how you used the Quran and Sunnah to explain all of this. It is very well written. May Allah accept it from you.

  2. Avatar

    Jremy

    July 1, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    The Prophet never beat any of his wives or servants; in fact, he did not strike any living being with his hand except on the battlefield or when the prohibitions of Allāh had been violated, and he retaliated on behalf of Allāh.” (An-Nasa’i).
    The Prophet hit Ayisha on her chest and caused her pain!!!! (Was this on the battlefield or did he retaliate on behalf of Allah) !!!???

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Guilting Victims Is Disobeying God: The Abuse of Forgiveness

Umm Zakiyyah

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It is undeniable that God loves forgiveness. It is also undeniable that God views forgiveness as exponentially more superior than blame, punishment, and retaliation. Personally, I highly doubt that there is in existence a single survivor, even one trapped in toxic anger and bitterness, who would deny this fact. So the question here isn’t really about God loving forgiveness. Rather, the question is about whether or not we—the judgmental outsiders (even if we happen to be survivors)—accept that God also loves justice.

The question is also about whether or not we sincerely accept that God supports whatever decision victims of wrongdoing make in addressing what happened to them, so long as they don’t violate anyone’s rights in the process.

In forced forgiveness culture, the answer is no to both of these questions: No, we don’t accept that God loves justice, and no, we don’t accept that God supports victims’ right to choice. Yes, many of us give lip service to acknowledging this. But the words are like a dismissive wave of the hand before we get right back to guilting survivors of abuse into doing what we say they must, God’s teachings be damned.

Ironically, in this forced forgiveness approach, it is we ourselves who are in danger of falling into sin and wrongdoing. And this danger is much more imminent than the hypothetical possibility of a survivor’s heart being filled with anger and bitterness if they don’t forgive. However, we are too busy imagining that we know better than everyone else, God included, to even perceive the looming harm hanging over our own hearts and souls.

In Islamic tradition, there are many places in the Qur’an in which God describes the traits of sincere believers. In one part, He prefaces this description with a reminder of the nature of the things humans enjoy in this worldly life. He says what has been translated to mean:

“So whatever you have been given is but a passing enjoyment for this worldly life, but that which is with Allah (i.e. Paradise) is better and more lasting for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord” (Ash-Shooraa, 42:36).

Given that several verses that follow address both forgiveness and wrongdoing, this introduction is quite profound in that it reminds every person, regardless of circumstance, the nature of this transient world and how we should understand our experiences in it. This allows the reader to put his or her mind in the right place before even processing the traits of the sincere believers who will be in Paradise. God goes on to list several traits of these believers:

“And those who avoid the greater sins and immoralities, and when they are angry, they forgive. And those who have responded to [the call of] their Lord and establish the Salaah (obligatory prayer), and who [conduct] their affairs by mutual consultation, and who spend out of what We have bestowed on them” (Ash-Shooraa, 42:37-38).

For those involved in forced forgiveness, they would read this description and immediately think, See! This is what I’m talking about. God says that true believers forgive wrongs! So what’s going on with all these angry, bitter people refusing to forgive those who wronged them? However, in this description of those who forgive, God didn’t mention wrongdoing at all. He mentioned only that they are angry. He doesn’t even mention why they are angry. Yes, wrongdoing is certainly implied in the verse, but it is not mentioned specifically. This is no small point.

Some people might say that this wording is merely a technicality, and that I’m being nitpicky in even pointing it out. Thus, they argue that this wording has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that everyone should forgive, no matter what abuse, oppression, or wrongdoing they suffered. However, when we say this, what we fail to realize is that not only is the emphasis on anger quite significant; it is also the point, as the verses that follow make undeniably clear.

Before quoting the verses about wrongdoing, I think it is important to mention how we should understand the wording of things in the Qur’an, especially when the same topic is addressed more than once in the same context. Generally, whenever a topic is discussed more than once and in some detail, what is and is not mentioned in each context points to important traits we are to focus on in understanding them. In some cases, these important traits are found in contexts outside the Qur’an, such as in the reason for revelation and in the prophetic example. However, in this case, the important traits are mentioned quite clearly in the verses themselves.

In the above context, when forgiveness is mentioned as the immediate response, the emphasis is on the fact that the person is angry, not that he or she has been wronged. The profound wisdom in this emphasis cannot be overstated.

In our daily lives, there are many things that anger us: A friend refuses to speak to us, and we have no idea why. Someone is late picking us up to an important appointment. A business partner agreed to do something then dropped out at the last minute. A person cuts us off in traffic or quickly steals our parking space. Our husband or wife is focused more on their smartphone or career than on us. And the list goes on.

One lesson we can glean is this: When facing day-to-day things that incite anger, for the sincere believer, the default response is that of forgiveness. By praising this trait in His servants, God lets us know that our daily behavior should foster environments of peace, understanding, and empathy instead of hostility and retaliation. No one is perfect. Thus, from time to time, we’ll all be insensitive, unreliable, and even flat out wrong, thereby inciting justifiable anger in others. However, as a general rule, it is in everyone’s best interests to be forgiving and merciful in these circumstances. Otherwise, the world would be full of quarrelsome, vengeful people who feel justified in avenging even the slightest offense.

This is not to say that none of the scenarios I listed are sometimes more serious than they initially appear, or even that we have to forgive these scenarios every single time. I give these examples only to make the point that what is being described in the Qur’an is the fact that sincere believers—those endowed with authentic spirituality—have a forgiving nature. And this nature is manifested most when they are justifiably angry yet still choose to forgive.

However, when an egregious wrongdoing has occurred, the emphasis is no longer on forgiveness; it is on justice. In this case, the sincere believers are described as follows: “And those who, when an oppressive wrong is done to them, they help and defend themselves” (Ash-Shooraa, 42:39).

In the verse that follows, it is only after it is explained that the retribution should fit the crime that the option to forgive is mentioned:

“The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto [in degree]. But if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah. Verily, He loves not the wrongdoers” (42:40).

Interestingly, God does not stop here in discussing the rights of those who have been wronged. He goes on to let victims know that not only do they have full right to not forgive, but also, should they exercise that right, no one has the right to blame them in any way. He says:

“But if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong [done] to them, against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress people and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice. For such there will be a penalty grievous” (42:41-42).

Here is where seeing and understanding the original Arabic would be tremendously helpful in comprehending the powerful message being conveyed here. However, to get a glimpse of the deeper meaning, I offer this explanation: What is being translated as “there is no cause of blame” (i.e. against the victim who decides to not forgive), a more literal translation would be “there is no path, road, or means [that can be taken] against them.” By using the Arabic word sabeel—which is translated as cause above but has the literal meaning of waypath, or road—God is shutting down every possible justification anyone can use to criticize, blame, or harm a victim who chooses to not forgive.

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether this justification of blame, criticism, or harm is rooted in good intentions or not, if it is directed at the victim of wrongdoing, God simply does not allow it. If we do take this pathway of blame, then we are the ones who are wrong.

Even if we are simply perplexed or sincerely disappointed at their choice to not forgive, once they make their decision, we have no right to express disappointment or criticism, as this expression itself can be a sabeel (a pathway of blame) against them—no matter how harmless, innocent, or well meaning it appears to us.

After God makes this point crystal clear, He then effectively tells us: If you still feel in your heart or mind any inclination to criticize, blame, or express disappointment toward anyone as a result of this circumstance [which resulted in the victim not forgiving], then shift all of your attention back to the one who started this whole problem in the first place: the abuser, wrongdoer, or oppressor: “…The blame is only against those who oppress people and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice.”

Only after God establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt the victim’s full right to choice—and the prohibition of any form of blame or harm against them as a result of their choice—does He return to the topic of forgiveness:

“But indeed, if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs” (42:43).

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Be A Caller Not A Judge

Sh. Abdullah Hasan

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I am sure the readers will have come across numerous notices at some mosques discouraging certain types of people attending the mosques. Here is an example of many I have had the displeasure of reading:

‘We will not assist in counselling unless you are Islamically and decently dressed’.

I am not sure whether the advocates of this notice really understand the purpose of counselling or what the role of the imam should be in the community.

To discourage people from seeking help because they may not be ‘appropriately’ dressed in one’s eyes defeats the very purpose of counselling. It takes enormous courage and bravery to seek help and to read these dogmatic and crude attitudes is very disheartening. The job of an Imam/counsellor is not to judge but enable people to explore their concerns and worries.

Counselling is not about preaching to people. It is not about changing people the way you may want others to be. It is certainly not about imposing your understanding onto others. It is not about judging others by how your own worldview is. A counsellor is not there to sit you down and tell you what to do – instead they will encourage you to talk about what’s bothering you in order to uncover any root causes and identify your specific ways of thinking. The counsellor may then look to create a plan of action to either help you reconcile your issues or help you to find ways of coping. A lot of the time those who seek help simply want to be heard and listened to and the counsellor will facilitate that.

Imams/counsellors will encounter diverse groups of people from all backgrounds. It is the responsibility of the imam/counsellor to exhibit empathy with everyone without being judgemental.

One of the impediments of being an effective Imam counsellor is the lack of awareness of other people’s states and conditions as well as the lack of appreciation of the multi natured or the diversity of approaches and intellectual foundations people are exposed to. In order to be effective helpers and practitioners in the community, Imams/counsellors should take into consideration what may be termed as the ‘Diversity- and relationship – oriented empathy’ attitude towards the members of the society.

What is empathy?

Different theoreticians and researchers have defined it in different ways. Some see it as a personality trait, a disposition to feel what other people feel or to understand others ‘’from the inside’’, as it were. Others see empathy, not as a personality trait, but as a situation-specific state of feeling for understanding of another person’s experiences. Covey (1989), naming emphatic communication one of the ‘’seven habits of highly effective people,’’ said that empathy provides those with whom we are interacting with ‘’psychological air’’ that helps them breathe more freely in their associations and connections. Finally, Goleman (1995, 1998) puts empathy at the heart of emotional intelligence.

It is the individual’s ‘’social radar’’ through which he or she senses others’ feelings and perspectives and takes an active interest in their concerns. These and other academics, although they provide us with different definitions, nevertheless, their language is lyrical in giving us the maqsad (spirit) of what empathy denotes. It is a natural trait (jibillat) which also can be acquired through learning and understanding one’s own condition and experiences of others.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was fully cognisant of the pivotal role empathy plays in developing astute and diligent human beings and always was keen to educate people from an early age on this important value.

Below are some examples:

  1. Anas Ibn Malik narrated that “the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to mix with us (the children) to the extent that he would say to a younger brother of mine, ‘O Abu-‘Umayr! What did the Nughayr (a kind of bird) do?’ “(Bukhari). This demonstrated to the children that they were valued. This was the Messenger of Allah, who was a leader of thousands, a husband, father – despite these and other heavy duties and obligations, he had time to play with the children. This made them feel that they are loved, cared for and appreciated.
  2. Whenever he would enter Medinah he would carry his grandchildren and other children nearby on his mount. Again, given them the important attention children need.
  3. In another well-known tradition, a young companion related that he spent many years with the Prophet and not once did he complain or rebuke him.
  4. He would carry his granddaughter Umamah on his shoulders even while he was praying. Some narrations mention that he hastened to complete the prayer because of them. These and other examples show the great teacher and counsellor the Prophet was (peace be upon him).

Learning, inculcating and teaching empathy may solve many of the problems we face in our society.

The WAVE Trust, an international charity dedicated to raising public awareness of the root causes of violence in the society and the ways to reduce it, commissioned research that came up with some amazing findings: ‘’Empathy is the single greatest inhibitor of the development of propensity to violence. Empathy fails to develop when parents or prime carers fail to attune with their infants’’ (Hosking & Walsh, 2005, p.20). To attune to a child means ‘’attempting to respond to his or her needs, particularly emotionally, resulting in the child’s sense of being understood, cared for, and valued’’. (p. 20)

In many instances, it is argued that those who carry out acts of violence or cruel behaviour in the society have had issues and problems at their early life which were not dealt with but suppressed, and in their later stage of their life some external agent (s) or incident triggers some of the feelings and they lash out expressing their inner turmoil which results in cruel and sometimes inhumane behaviour.

As stated above it is of paramount importance for Imam counsellors to understand that the people they serve originate from diverse backgrounds. People will differ in ability, age, economic status, education, ethnicity, group culture, national origin, occupation, personal culture, politics, religion – to name a few. It is from the prophetic methodology to incorporate these variables and factors in one’s dealings with people. Below are some examples from the sunnah to illustrate some of the approaches being discussed:

  1. While the prophet was once returning to his house after talking to his companions in the mosque, a Bedouin pulled him by the collar and said rudely: ‘O Muhammad! Give me my due! Load up these two camels of mine. For you will load them up with neither your own wealth nor the wealth of your father.’ To this impertinence the prophet responded without expressing any sign of offence: Give that man what he wants! (Abu Dawud). The Prophet understood the nature, cultural difference, economic status, and psychological state of the Bedouin and did not resort to rebuke him for his rudeness and disrespect towards him.
  2. Zayd ibn San’an narrates: Once, Allah’s Messenger borrowed some money from me. I was not yet Muslim then. I went to him to collect my debt before its due time, and insulted him, saying; ‘You the children of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, are very reluctant to pay your debts!’ ‘Umar became very angry with this insult of mine and shouted; ‘O enemy of Allah! Were it not for the treaty between us and the Jewish community, I would cut off your head! Speak to Allah’s Messenger politely!’ However, Allah’s Messenger smiled at me and, turning to Umar, said; ‘Umar, pay the man his debt! And add to it the amount of twenty gallons because you have frightened him!’ Umar relates the rest of the story: ‘We went together. On the way, Zayd spoke to me unexpectedly; O Umar! You got angry with me. But I have found in him all the features of the Last Prophet recorded in the Torah, the Old Testament. However, there is this verse in it: ‘His mildness surpasses his anger. The severity of impudence to him increases him only in mildness and forbearance.’ In order to test his forbearance, I uttered what I uttered. Now I am convinced that he is the Prophet whose coming the Torah predicted, so, I believe and bear witness that he is the Last Prophet.’ (Suyuti, al-Khasais). The mildness and empathy of Allah’s Messenger sufficed for the conversion of Zayd, who was on another religion and culture.
  3. Even in the realm of worship, the Prophet was diligent and understood the different abilities and circumstances of the people. When a complaint was circulated about an imam because he prolonged the prayer, the Prophet climbed the pulpit and said: O you people! You cause aversion in people from prayer. Whoever among you leads a prescribed prayer should not prolong it, for there are among you people who are sick or old or who are in urgent need.’ (Bukhari). He even reproached his beloved companion, Muadh ibn Jabal when he prolonged the night prayer, saying, ‘Are you a trouble-maker? Are you a trouble-maker? Are you a trouble-maker? (Muslim)
  4. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, ‘No Arab is superior over a non-Arab, and no white is superior over black (Ahmad), and superiority is by righteousness and God-fearing alone (Sura Hujurat, 49, 13). He also declared that even if an Abyssinian Black Muslim were to rule over Muslims, he should be obeyed. (Muslim). During the time of the Messenger of Allah, the same kind of racism we encounter today, under the name of tribalism, was prevalent in Makkah. He understood the biases and prejudice people had and eradicated it from the outset.

These are few examples out of many where the Prophet showed and articulated diverse and multicultural competencies. The more Imam counsellors understand the broad characteristics, needs, and behaviours of the people they serve, the better positioned they will be to demonstrate the true compassionate nature of Islam.

Below is a basic list of competencies adapted from different books, articles and experiences of individuals:

  1. Beware of your own personal culture, including your cultural heritage, and how you might come across to people who differ from you culturally and in a host of other ways.
  2. Beware of the personal-cultural biases you may have toward individuals and groups other than your own.
  3. As an Imam/counsellor, be aware of both ways in which you are like any given individual you are helping and ways in which you differ. Both can aid or stand in the way of the support process.
  4. Come to understand the values, beliefs, and worldviews of groups and individuals you will encounter. In other words, to feel what other people feel or to understand others ‘’from the inside’’, as indicated above.
  5. Come to understand how all kinds of diversity, group, cultural, ethical or otherwise, contribute to each person’s dynamic make up.
  6. Be aware of how socio-political influences such as poverty, oppression, stereotyping, discrimination, prejudice, and marginalisation might have affected people with whom you encounter or with those you are trying to have a dialogue.
  7. Establish rapport with and convey empathy to people. Both in the individual and collective capacity.
  8. Initiate and explore issues of difference between yourself and the people you are working with. Always bearing in mind that Islam does not place any barriers between people. In the end your interactions (and the barriers between us and them) with people are personal.
  9. Design non bias strategies and plans for people that factor in the diversity, education and upbringing they received.
  10. Finally, asses your own level of competence and strive to improve in all areas outlined above.

To conclude, our approach should be about working with people the way they are, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, however, it does not imply that you need to apologise for who you are.

Written in 2009, posted with minor modifications.

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UK Faith Leaders Launch Call For UK Government To Take Critical Action On Violence Against Women

Sh. Abdullah Hasan

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Faith leaders group photo

Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faith leaders gathered in the House of Lords to launch a joint call for UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women – and for MPs to support the Istanbul Convention Private Member’s Bill (PMB) by voting for it on 16 December.

The gathering, hosted by Lord McColl and organised by the IC Change campaign for the Istanbul Convention, Restored and Faith Action, follows on from faith leaders’ declaration against domestic abuse launched in 2015.[1]

This call from faith leaders comes as, on average two women in England and Wales are killed every week by a current or former male partner and 85,000 women are raped and more than 400,000 sexually assaulted each year.[2]

Violence against women and girls takes many forms and is widespread in the UK. The Istanbul Convention is the strongest tool in the box that the Government has to respond.

The Convention – aptly described as ‘the best thing you’ve never heard of’ – is a set of life-saving minimum standards on tackling violence against women for a State’s response to the epidemic.

If the UK Government ratified the Istanbul Convention, it would bring unprecedented positive change for women and girls – supporting those experiencing violence, ensuring a stronger prosecution system, and stopping violence from happening in the first place by dealing with its root causes. It would protect funding for domestic violence shelter, rape crisis centres and ensure education on healthy relationships in schools.

The Government promised to make the Convention law over four and a half years ago and it still has not happened.

That’s why faith leaders have united to call on the UK Government to demonstrate its commitment to ending violence against women by making the Istanbul Convention UK law.

More immediately, faith leaders are calling on MPs to attend a debate on 16 December on a life-saving bill for women that would require the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention – and to vote in its favour. And they are asking people across the UK to write to their MPs to ask them to do this. Please find details below on how you can get involved!

Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, says: ‘Violence against women is an injustice and a violation against the dignity of human beings made in the image of God that the Church must speak out on. The Istanbul Convention provides a strong, practical framework to help us tackle the issue comprehensively in a way that has never been done before’.

‘As faith leaders it is our duty to combat the menace of domestic abuse in our society. We must show unity to call our leaders to do whatever it takes to protect the most vulnerable people in the society,’ Abdullah Hasan, Imams against Domestic Abuse.

This December we have a rare opportunity to change the individual stories of women and girls across the UK who face violence every day and secure this vital protection from violence for them.

Rabbi Sybil Sheridan, adds: ‘We urgently need a stronger framework in which to combat such evils, to make people more aware, to enable us to combat it, to prosecute the perpetrators and prevent its recurrence. This is exactly what the Convention provides’

Faith leaders are calling on people to support this bill by writing to their MP and asking them to go to the debate and vote for the bill.

So what can you do to get involved?

We need to make sure that 100 MPs turn up to Parliament to support it so that it can pass on to the next stage.

However, the 16th December is on a Friday morning – a time when many MPs would normally be in their local constituencies. That’s why we need your help to it’s essential for to contact your MP and to tell them why it’s so important for them show up and support the Bill.

Please write to your MP or arrange to meet them to ask them to attend the debate on 16 December and vote in favour of the Istanbul Convention bill.

You can find all the resources you need here on the IC Change website, including a template letter to help you write to your MP and top tips for meeting your MP. Let IC Change know at info@icchange.co.uk if your MP says yes.

@ICchangeUK I #ChangeHerstory #IstanbulConvention I www.icchange.co.uk/pmb

 

 

[1] http://www.restoredrelationships.org/news/2015/07/16/press-release-house-lords-interfaith-meeting-stop-domestic-violence-uk/

[2] http://icchange.co.uk/about/violence-against-women/

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