Thursday, May 20, 2010

Domestic abuse and violence against women

In the last two weeks I've become increasingly familiar with the problem of domestic violence. Most of these incidents never get reported and of those that do get reported, most of them never result in convictions. Normally I wouldn't care less about domestic problems like this, but today I saw first hand what a vicious cycle a victim could find herself within. Most cases collapse because the victim won't testify. In fact the issue can reach court several times before a defendant is convicted.

In this case, I heard the barrister discuss with her colleague that apparently the victim was in a complete state of disarray. She didn't know what to believe anymore and had previously withdrawn previous allegations of abuse against, in this case her brother, blaming hormones and her recent experience of childbirth. In this case, the brother told his sister he was dying of lung cancer and this prompted her decision not to show up in court. In previous times he had threatened with killing himself and that seemed to do the trick. The parents are powerless over this and the relationship is strained with them too. So he walks of scott-free, to inflict more anguish on his own family. I watched him sitting cheekily in the dock nodding his head as if he was some kind of a don. All he did was beat up his sister and he thinks he's Vito-bloody-Corleone. But he walked away and nothing will come of this. Most likely this incident will happen again.

This is a domestic issue that is quite common throughout the world, in fact I've heard my fair share of horror stories from Arabic families we know who have had to endure this experience. When I was five we knew a Syrian family who lived close by and I was friends with their daughter. Once her mother came to visit us during the day and she was wearing sunglasses. She sat down with my mother whilst I played with my toys in the living room and she had been crying. I remember my mother breathed in sharply when her friend removed her glasses to show that she had a black eye. I was quickly sent to play in my room. Later I was told she had bumped into a door but I knew that Amo "M" had gotten drunk and punched her. The thing is, I was naive to think that maybe she did something wrong, because Amo "M" was a riot, we loved him and it was always fun to have him around. Little did I know the guy was nuts. The good news is she finally left him, in fact his daughter would later win a local beauty pageant in their "de'a" (village/town) in Syria. The last I heard, about fifteen years ago, was that he was hiding from Interpol because he killed his Russian girlfriend in Cyprus and ran off to Moscow. True story.

Last year I met a wonderful Syrian old man at a time when I was feeling particularly down. It was a complete coincidence that I met him, but this man was like honey, amazingly sweet and like a father. I asked him once the best way to pick a good wife, as I had just gone through a particularly devastating near-miss. During the conversation he asked me, "Maysaloon, what do you think it means when in the Qur'an Allah says الرجال قوامون على النساء".

I was puzzled and not sure what to say. I said it means that in a family the man is the one who wears the trousers and says what's what.

He shook his head and said no, then he explained:

Every human being needs to cry and is weak sometimes, if a man is weak or cries once a year, a woman might need to do so every month. When we are weak we need the other person to be strong for us. A big pot always holds the little pot in the kitchen right? You cannot expect the little pot to take in the bigger pot. The man is the big pot, he has to embrace his woman when she's upset or feeling weak and even when she lashes out at him unjustly. You have to take it, you have to accept it and bear it. That's your responsibility. That is why Allah says الرجال قوامون على النساء and not so you can walk around strutting your feathers like a peacock. It is a burden on you and not a license.

It is a burden and not a that moment that verse made sense to me. That man sitting in the dock today wasn't a Muslim, but he was still a human being and that duty imposed on us as men still applied, yet he was so lost he didn't even realise it. Maybe one day they might even be able to force him from hurting his sister or his wife, but changing his heart will need the patience and kindness of prophets, and I'm not a prophet...

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