Rahmanara Chowdury shares six actions that can help create positive change for Muslim women experiencing Domestic Abuse and what communities can do to prevent future abuse.

The article is part of Quetzal Breaking the Silence Initiative where we invite citizen in  Leicester and beyond to share their insights and work in supporting women victims of abuse in South Asian Communities, including those of Muslim faith.

At Quetzal, we recognise that the impact of childhood sexual abuse can be detrimental to the quality of adult interpersonal relationships. Subsequently, women victims of childhood sexual abuse are at greater risks of experiencing domestic abuse as their sense of boundaries is weakened.

If you’ve experienced childhood sexual abuse and find that it affects your interpersonal relationships, please reach out to Quetzal for free counselling sessions.

For domestic violence services, check out our Useful Numbers

Domestic Violence and Abuse: Why we need to stop brushing it under the carpet

Domestic violence and abuse (DVA) can happen to anyone, very often it is hidden from public view. As part of my doctoral research I have heard Muslim female survivors tell me how within their communities DVA is something they expect as part of married life. However, they were clear that this was not part of their faith, rather it stemmed from cultural norms around gender roles and expectations.

DVA can cause untold damage, from anxiety, depression, physical injuries, to suicidal thoughts. It can also leave victims with post-traumatic stress disorder, where they re-live the abuse in different ways afterwards. Furthermore, it can also impact on a person’s faith and make them feel like they are to blame. Victims are often made to feel like they are not a good enough follower of their faith if they cannot cope with DVA or if they try to leave/get help. However, it is completely normal to have these feelings when a person has their every day rights taken away from them and are being oppressed. In Islam, it is important to know that seeking help is the right thing to do as firstly it is a way to protect a person from more harm and secondly, it stops/reduces the perpetrator from inflicting more harm. Seeking help from professional bodies who are trained to help is important for ensuring everyone is kept safe.

Children who live in abusive households also experience similar trauma, stress and anxiety that they witness their parent being put through. This can cause them damage on many different levels which then have a knock-on effect within our communities and into the future. Very often children are the hidden victims, with no safe place where they can confide to others or where they can get help.

Together we have a collective responsibility to create change. For members of the community who may see or hear things and are not sure what to do, there are several things we can be doing to help create positive change:

  1. If someone wants to talk to you then be available to listen to them without judging them. You do not need to provide any professional support but just letting them know that you care and will be there for them, may give them a lifeline.
  2. If you hear any general derogatory comments towards marital roles, the other gender, or about abuse being acceptable within a public context or larger family gathering where it is safe to speak out, then challenge these ideas. By letting people know that such behaviours will not be tolerated in the community it will make it harder for those inflicting abuse to get away with their behaviour.
  3. Offer to signpost to specialist organisations who can help.
  4. If you hold a position of authority in the community then use your platform to create awareness and speak out about this form of oppression against the rights of others.
  5. Things not to do are judging victims, we do not know what they are going through, judging them will only push them away further. Do not pressure them to take your advice or think that you know what the best course of action is, only that person can know what is safe for them.
  6. Parents can start having more conversations around respect and healthy relationships with their children from an early age, so that they formulate their ideas of healthy family relationships at an earlier age.

Everyone can play a role in helping to prevent future abuse and alleviating current abuse. By turning a blind eye and not challenging such behaviours when it is safe to do so, allows abuse to be deemed as acceptable and continue to fester within communities. This will only continue to cause long term damage to families and communities. In some cases, it can make us complicit with the abuse.

About the author

Rahmanara Chowdury has a Masters in Psychology and has previously worked with survivors of domestic violence and abuse (DVA). She is currently completing her PhD at Brunel University London where she has been awarded ESRC funding to research wider issues relating to DVA within the UK Muslim population. She is the author of Qawwamoon; Protectors and Maintainers, Ta Ha Publishers. Her second book ‘Road to Recovery’ is a faith-based DVA recovery programme and is currently in press. She is also a part time Research Associate at Nottingham Trent University, where she is involved in various forensic research.

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