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Domestic Violence Series

The End to Hitting Women: Islamic Perspective on Domestic Violence | Imam Abdullah Hasan

The correct interpretation:

Looking at the verse in a more holistic fashion, however, I would like to assert the following points.

1. The apparent text of the verse suggests that husbands need not wait for nushūz to actually occur, but only need fear its occurrence before they can take such action. The fear this verse alludes to seems to imply a fear which is similar to that in the next verse where God says: “If you [believers] fear that a couple may break up (shiqāq), appoint one arbiter from his family and one from hers. Then, if the couple want to put things right, God will bring about reconciliation between them: He is all knowing, all aware.”[45] Recall that the breach has not yet occurred, but God is providing potential solutions for the couple anyway. Likewise, God has provided solutions for a situation where nushūz has not yet occurred. If the imperative waḍhribuhunna is meant to give license to men to hit women in the literal sense then the inevitable question to pose would be: for what reason should the wife be ‘hit’? Should she be ‘hit’ for the nushūz (ill-conduct) that has not been displayed?![46]

2. Scholars have provided plethora of definitions of nushūẓ on the part of the wife in books of jurisprudence. Definitions[47] range from the woman leaving the house without the husbands’ permission to committing adultery. For example:

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The Ḥanafīs[48]define her nushūẓ as, “her leaving the house of her husband without his permission and keeping her husband from her without due right.” [49]

The Malikīs say: “It is her departing from the obligatory obedience to her husband, preventing him from her sexually, leaving the house without his permission to a place that she knows he would not permit her to go to, leaving the rights of God upon her, such as performing the complete washing after sexual intercourse or fasting the month of Ramadan, and her locking the door on her husband, keeping him out.”[50]

The Shafi’ī’s say: “It is the wife’s disobeying the husband and elevating herself above what God has obliged upon her and her raising herself above fulfilling her obligatory duties.”[51]

The Hanbalīs define it as: “It is the wife’s disobedience of her husband concerning those acts of obedience that are obligatory upon her from the rights of marriage.” [52]

Many contemporary writers and scholar shave defined nushūẓ to mean adultery by amalgamating various verses in the Qur’ān and in particular the statement of the Prophet in his final sermon. The traditional definitions of nushūẓ which I have presented are difficult to practically implement in all situations—particularly in a modern context.  

Defining nushūẓ as adultery (including even the actions that lead to adultery) may appear to be the more credible reading, especially given the statement[53] of the Prophet in his farewell sermon. However, it is well known that the legally acceptable punishment for proven adultery is a capital punishment. None of the scholars ruled that adultery should be punished by ḍarb.

Interestingly, al-Rāzī argues that if a wife was in the habit of welcoming her husband (by standing up) when he entered the room, hastening to fulfil his ‘commands’, rushing to his bed, and being happy when he touched her and then suddenly she stops all that good behaviour and practices, she has committed nushūẓ.[54]The inevitable questions to pose would be: what if the wife is tired? What if she is unhappy with her husband because he is behaving inappropriately towards her? What if she is attending to other matters while he enters the house? What if the husband is not touching her the right way for her to be pleased?! These questions are left unanswered when appropriating these definitions for nushūẓ. For me it paints a one sided perspective of marriage – that it is the sole duty of the wife to please her husband. Marriage in the Qur’ān is based on mutual and reciprocal love, compassion, respect and honour. Not that one is superior to the other as the master is to the slave!

In my reading of the various definitions of nushūẓ provided by some of the jurists there seems to be a clear unjust or imbalanced rhetoric between the nushūẓ (ill-conduct) of the wife and the husband. The nushūẓ of the wife is taken more seriously and hence require severe chastisements. Whereas the nushūẓ of the husband is mostly regarded or interpreted as a result of a flaw or shortcoming on part of the wife. However, I would argue, nushūẓ from the husband may be more harmful and dangerous than caused by the wife because he has been appointed by God to shepherd his family (with mutual consultation of his wife) and due to the fact that he has been afforded more responsibilities – or burdened with more duties to take care of the family.[55]

In light of the various definitions that the fuqāha (jurists) have propounded, nushūẓ, in my view, can simply be defined as: anything that a spouse performs which clearly violates the explicit commands of God.  

3. If the context (siyāq) of Q. 4:34 and the context of the proceeding verse (Q. 4:35) is analysed, it becomes clear that the husband should take a decisive stance on his wife’s nushūz. This is the intended meaning of ḍarb at this instance. After the husband has attempted the other two reconciliatory measures, he may resort to a third step. But while the permission to resort to a decisive third step is clear, the license to inflict physical or even psychological pain upon one’s wife is not. There are, on the other hand, clear reports from the Prophet that forbid husbands from hitting their wives “Do not hit the maidservants of Allah!” (lā taḍribū imā’ Allāh).[56]

4. The correct expression of the Qur’ānic conception of ḍarb in Q. 4:34 is expressed by ‘Aṭā’ Ibn Abī Rabāḥ (d. 114 AH) who said: “A man must not hit his wife – if he instructs her and she does not comply; he ought instead [of hitting her] show her his anger (yaghḍab ‘alayhā).”[57][58] About this commentary, Ibn al-‘Arabi remarks, “This is from the juristic insight of ‘Aṭā’, his understanding of the Sharī‘ah, and his ability of deduction and inference.”[59]

Ibn ‘Āshūr explains further: “I [Ibn ‘Āshūr] see ‘Atā’s insight as even more far-reaching than Ibn al-‘Arabi, since he placed these things as needed due to their substantiating evidences, a large group of scholars agreeing with this understanding.’’[60] ‘Atā’ Ibn Abī Rabāḥ’s (d. 114 AH) understanding is in congruence with the Qur’ānic concept of ḍarb (in Q. 4:34).

The ḍarb ‘Atā’ was referring to its prohibition is the customary ḍarb which is known to people in societies not the Qur’ānic conception of it. In ‘Aṭā’s reading, therefore, the corrective measure which the husband ought to take is not to hit one’s wife, but to display anger. In other words, ‘Aṭā is reading the word ḍarb as a metonymic stand-in (kināyah) for “showing one’s anger”. This is similar to the way some scholars understand ḍarb to be a figurative stand in for taking a journey or presenting an example elsewhere in the Qur’ān.[61]

It must be remembered that this is permitted anger—when a person gets angry about something that is legitimate, and still persists in their patience. God praises those who restrain their anger and pardon others. He says: “Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous,- those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) people – and God loves those who do good.’’[62] Restraining anger implies that the person does not do anything that will violate the commands of God, despite feeling displeasure due to God’s laws being contravened. In the final stage of spousal reprimand, after pleading kindly for the wife to stop her mistreatment of the husband, the most a husband is afforded to show is (definitive) ‘anger’.  

5. The subsequent verse, Q. 4:35, supports the view that the ḍarb ought to be understood as a metonymic stand in for anger. If Q. 4:34 is licensing physical (or any form of) violence then surely this will cause more than a simple discord between spouses. It will cause fear, misery, and oppression. But God is all-knowing, and thus, I argue, violence is not what God has allowed in the prior verse. Otherwise, the mediation and reconciliation which this verse intends to provide steps to, would be impossible to achieve.[63]

6. There may be, in the minds of some, the question: If what is being suggested is true why did the Qur’ān employ the phrase waḍribūhunna instead of ‘you should take a decisive position against your wife’ or ‘you should show some displeasure and anger’ due to her actions?[64] To appreciate the reason, an understanding of the Qur’ānic style (uslūb al-Qur’ān) must be clarified and emphasised. In the Qur’ān God employs powerful and strong words to give life to the emphatic meaning present in a word without necessarily intending the literal meaning of the word. Such implications make up entire chapters in books on the Qur’ānic sciences.[65]

For example: In Q. 80:17 God reminds: “Woe to man! How ungrateful he is’’! The Arabic used for woe is qutila (May he be killed). Such a word is used here to symbolise and signify the intense divine curse upon those ungrateful.

In Q. 34:14 God states: ‘’Then, when we decreed Solomon’s death, nothing showed the jinn[66]he was dead, but a creature of the earth eating at his stick: when he fell down they realized – if they had known what was hidden they would not have continued their demeaning labour’’.

Exegetes explain that the Arabic word for torture, “adhāb”, is used here to illustrate the extent of the fatigue which overwhelmed the Jinn.

In Q. 2:236 God explains: “You will not be blamed if you divorce women when you have not yet consummated the marriage or fixed a bride-gift for them, but make fair provision for them, the rich according to his means and the poor according to his – this is a duty for those who do good.”In this verse, the Qur’ān employs the word lams (touch) to denote sexual intercourse. Ibn ‘Abbās said: “al-lams is sexual intercourse, God uses metonymic language however He desires and with whatever He desires….’’.[67]

The Qur’ān is replete with similar styles of metonymy.[68]

7. Many jurists who understood this verse to imply ḍārb literally nonetheless express a leaning towards the metonymic conception of it for all the reasons I have mentioned prior, even though they may not explicitly state it.[69]

The jurists place stringent conditions[70] on ‘hitting’[71] the wife in case of nushūz (ill-conduct) in a way that essentially undermines the literal concept and promotes the metonymic interpretation (ta’wīl) I have presented.[72] Some such conditions include: a) that the tool used to hit cannot be one that can potentially cause injury. Ibn ‘Abbās was of the view that a siwak[73] [small tooth-stick], or shirāk [shoelace] be used, others say a coiled scarf [mindil malfuf] will suffice), [74]b) that the face must be avoided, and c) that the hitting cannot leave any physical traces (ḍarb ghayr mubarriḥ).[75][76]

8. Furthermore, on balance and comparing the Qur’ānic notion of ḍarb (if taken literally) seems to suggest one thing and all other sources such as the traditions of the Prophet, early commentators of the Qur’ān, the Arabic language, and the Jurists (albeit with various modes of expression) – and with all their stringent conditions thus restricting the ‘waḍribūhunna’ (‘hitting’) from its customary conception – suggest a completely contrasting and contradictory view. Many have restricted the ḍarb in the Qur’ān to the extent that the apparent and literal concept is taken out. According to the rules of interpretation, as expounded in uṣūl al-fiqh, once a decisive (qat’i) ruling of a text has been specified in some respect, the part which remains unspecified becomes speculative (zanni), and as such, is open to further interpretation and specification (takhsis). In my estimation the only plausible and conceivable interpretation of the imperative is the understanding I have presented in this study i.e. that is a metonymic (symbolic) stand in for showing displeasure at the wife’s ill-conduct and nothing more. The Qur’ān, Sunnah and the legal texts overwhelmingly point to this.

9. It is important to stress and highlight that even though the Qur’ānic injunction to ‘hit’ was revealed the Prophet continuously reprimanded those who raise their hand against their wives as cited above and in certain traditions categorically prohibiting ‘wife-beating’ by stating “Do not hit the maidservants of Allah!” (lā taḍribū imā’ Allāh). This imperative from the Prophet seems to contradict the Qur’ānic imperative! Moreover, scholars such as Muhammad ‘Abduh (d. 1323 AH) argued that the tradition (and similar traditions) in which the Prophet said “the best of you would not beat their wives” amounts to a virtual prohibition[77] (while others, even traditional scholars, stating that ‘hitting’ was makrūh – strongly disliked) because of the vehement disdain the Prophet displayed about violence against women. This is clearly illustrated in many authentic traditions.

It is a well known principle in the study of the origins of jurisprudence (Uṣūl al-Fiqh) that the Prophet is the explainer and interpreter of the Qur’ān. Among the jurists, some argue that the Sunnah (Prophetic example) takes precedence over the seemingly direct or exact understanding. This view purports that the Qur’ān is always in need of the Sunnah to be applied correctly, and the Sunnah can be applied without recourse to the Qur’ān. Awzā’ī (d. 157 AH) was reported to have commented: “The Book [Qur’ān] is in more need of the Sunnah than the Sunnah is in need of the Book.”[78] Yahya b. Kathīr (d. 723 AH) was also reported to have stated: “The Sunnah judges the Qur’ān but the Qur’ān does not judge the Sunnah.’’[79] In other words, the Sunnah shows how the Qur’ān is to be applied. If the Sunnah shows a certain verse does not apply to a particular issue, even though the verse’s apparent meaning implies that it does, the ruling of the Sunnah takes precedence over the apparent meaning of the verse.

10. When the husband shows some anger and displeasure at the actions of his wife in a decisive manner after trying to be more gentle in the earlier two steps, she will be alerted in a major way to the fact that she has committed some sort of nushūz. In this situation, if she is not willing to rectify her conduct then the couple must resort to the final step the Qur’ān offers for reconciliation. The Qur’ān instructs, “If you [believers] fear that a couple may break up, appoint one arbiter from his family and one from hers. Then, if the couple want to put things right, God will bring about reconciliation between them: He is all knowing, all aware.”[80]

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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.,

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Guilting Victims Is Disobeying God: The Abuse of Forgiveness

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.

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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

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.

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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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#Current Affairs

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

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]

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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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