Islam's Defensive Play: Keep Abused Women from Blaming Religion


On WorldChanging, normally a site I have a great deal of respect for, an article appeared by Erica Barnett which reeked of white liberal elitist cultural relativism toward Islam. Barnett discussed how battered women’s shelters often encourage Muslim women to throw off the shackles of their culture by changing their style, refusing to wear the hijab, to become “less Muslim.” Referring to an article in the New York Times:

Raising awareness of domestic violence in Muslim-American communities is a challenge. One surprising factor that makes the challenge even more daunting is the perception that attempts to deal with domestic violence in Muslim families constitute attacks on Islam itself.

Of course we’re not likely to change the whole of Islamic society overnight, even in enclaves within the west. So I can see the point of providing support for women without expecting them to completely reject everyone they’ve ever known. It’s a tragic situation for a battered woman. She not only has to leave behind an abusive husband, but brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters, friends and even children who are complicit with her tormentors. It would be good if there were some middle ground.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. For a woman to challenge the patriarchy is to invite shunning and a possible death sentence. Because if one woman is seen to get away with such a challenge, it raises the question among other women as to why they are still putting up with the repression and abuse. So every so often, an “uppity” wife or daughter is slaughtered to make sure the rest of the women know the men “own their asses.” It’s blatant social intimidation on pain of death.

This is going on right now even in Canada and the U.S.. Even the December 2007 strangulation of a 16-year-old Muslim girl by her father (previous article) is trivialized by the apologists as “domestic violence.”

I’m afraid it’s a little more than that.

We must realize that all Muslim attempts to intervene and divert attention from their religious “code of silence” are not helping. If Muslims are setting up their own battered women’s shelters in Western countries, we must insist they have an open-door policy. We must insist on inspections. And that they conform to broadly accepted standards of safety and freedom of choice for the women–and are not just fronts for trapping these victims and returning them to their abusers. It behooves us not to accept the protestations of either the religious leaders or Muslim so-called “women’s rights advocates.” That’s an oxymoron. There is no such thing as Muslim women’s rights. Women are inferior by Quranic mandate. I laugh when I hear Islamic apologists insisting this is not true. The proof is in the pudding–women are repressed by Muslim society, which is driven by the Quran. Theological hairsplitting can’t make up for the sad reality millions of oppressed women face on a daily basis.

If Muslims want to have any credibility at all on this issue, first they have to admit what the Quran says, and then begin to dissociate themselves from its literal interpretation, and change their practices accordingly. But that doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of happening as long as they deny what their own scriptures say and what their actions forcefully confirm.

Barnett continues:

Traditionally, there have been few shelters or organizations catering to Muslim American victims of domestic violence. But that, slowly, may be changing. For example, the Peaceful Families Project, founded by former North American Council for Muslim Women President Sharifa Alkhateeb, is dedicated “to systemically chang[ing] attitudes about domestic violence, dispelling the cultural impediments that prevent women from seeking help, and creating an environment of prevention.” The PFP conducts “Islamically grounded” family dynamics and violence awareness programs for Muslim communities around the US, and provide training in cultural sensitivity for shelters and others serving a Muslim clientele. Such training can be important to help shelters and groups that aren’t specifically Muslim in nature avoid cultural misunderstandings that could keep Muslim women from seeking out services.

There are also a growing number of Muslim women’s organizations that advocate against domestic violence both within marriage and before. Among them are the Islamic Social Services Association, Washington, D.C.-based Karamah, and a number of local and regional Muslim domestic violence advocacy organizations.

Finally, there are a growing number of shelters and direct social services geared specifically at Muslim victims of domestic violence. The Hamdard Center in suburban Chicago caters primarily to Muslim women, by eschewing pork and keeping prayer rugs on hand.

Yes, of course. That’s exactly what an abused woman needs most: to be kept surrounded by prayer rugs and away from pork. And kept safely under her hijab with a bunch of authority figures who are all-too-ready to justify her continued male- domination and abuse.

I apologize in advance for the foul language, but fucking hell!!!! This makes me furious.

Here’s my response posted at WorldChanging:

There is simply no way to avoid the fact that Muslim violence against women is inextricably tied to the very doctrines of Islam. The headscarf, burqua and other tools of patriarchal repression are part and parcel of the problem. This, as you mentioned, the traditional women’s shelters have tried to point out.

It is folly to train shelters to be “sensitive” to the problem. They will only thus avoid pinning the blame where it belongs, on the misogynistic Quran and Hadiths of the Islamic cult of male superiority and insecurity around female sexuality. That cult, despite all claims to the contrary, makes hundreds of millions of women property, keeps them subservient, home bound, and humiliated. The problems of abuse nearly always arise when westernizing Muslim women attempt to assert themselves outside of these backward cultural norms. Once a woman decides to leave or just become her own person, it’s often not only abuse, but outright slaughter.

Why would anyone advocate telling Muslim women their “culture” is not the problem when it so clearly is? Dealing with Muslim domestic abuse by letting their abusers hide behind a mask of their medieval religion is like dealing with arson by training firefighters to be “sensitive” to an arsonist’s need to burn buildings.


Comments (15 comments)

The Barefoot Bum / January 19th, 2008, 7:22 pm / #1

The Apostate shares your opinion.

Chris Hallquist / January 19th, 2008, 7:46 pm / #2

Dude: priorities. Scarves, even if a symbol of an oppressive ideology, do not have the sort of direct negative impact cocaine or anorexia will. When women are suffering abuse, the key thing is to protect them. Tell them they have freedom. Tell them that they can wear or not wear what they want, according to their preferences. Then help them develop general independence. Then you can worry about religion.

Peter / January 19th, 2008, 9:22 pm / #3

direct negative impact cocaine or anorexia will.

To equate the choice to accept the female “ideal” portrayed by the media or the choice to indulge in drugabuse to the non choice you have in a society ruled by an absolutist religion is just idiotic.

This ability to choose is very much due to support and care by parents, to guide their kids. Not always possible, for sure. In a muslim society there simply is no choice, as an apostat is under the penalty of death. How can anybody put this starkness of difference on the same level? A liberal cultural relativist?

Kati / January 19th, 2008, 9:22 pm / #4

I agree w/ Chris. I totally understand your point about Islam being a driving force behind the women’s abuse, but what is MOST important is getting the women out of those situations. If they want to get out of their situation, but they’re worried they’ll be put into an environment that won’t let them be comfortable or faithful to their beliefs (i.e., wear their hajib), they need to know they can do so. The biggest priority is getting them out of abusive situations before it’s too late. I’m no Muslim apologist- I’m an atheist who thinks we’d all better off without religion- but I don’t think abused women should be caught in a debate about Islam- they need to be treated as individuals who need shelter and assistance above all else.

Chris Hallquist / January 19th, 2008, 10:03 pm / #5

You misunderstand my comment, Pete. I wasn’t talking about the coercion applied to women in Islam, just how to deal with the superficial trappings in the context of a shelter where the woman is genuinely safe.

Peter / January 20th, 2008, 1:21 am / #6

You misunderstand my comment, Pete

I guess I should have read more closely – sorry,.

“Accusing” the victims religion as being part of the problem, not taking into account that the abuse will not necessarily be connected with the basic tenets of the religion that spawns it, and thus “robbing” them of the needed spiritual support of this same religion, might just deter women from seeking refuge.

You cannot take the framework of belief away when the victim first has to try to avoid further violence and find safety, and then has to find a strategy for a future life, and begin to scrutinize where the basis of this violence lies and ways to deal with and avoid or combat it .

That is a rather longer process, and for this process to begin and to feel safe, the symbols of their spiritual crutches might be at first necessary.

I see the approach taken rather in practical, and not so much counterideoligical terms.

TW / January 20th, 2008, 2:09 am / #7

I am not sure if I’ve misread bits of this or your comment, Chris, but it strikes me that the abuse and the religion are intertwined.

You write:

Scarves, even if a symbol of an oppressive ideology, do not have the sort of direct negative impact cocaine or anorexia will.


Tell them that they can wear or not wear what they want, according to their preferences.

Now it strikes me that there is a bit of a contradiction here.

Telling a woman she can wear what ever she wants is pointless if her religion and culture demand differently. Is a choice based on bad teachings and brainwashing really a choice? When the woman has been tricked into thinking she will be punished more if she dresses differently, is her choice of dress really a preference?

While the “deprogramming” (for want of a better phrase) will be a slow process and there will be a period (at least) where the woman wants to remain faithful to her beliefs, despite the abuse, this does not for one second justify any of it.

The ideology and religion has created a situation which makes the woman vulnerable to abuse, it has also created the situation which makes the woman feel even worse for trying to move away from it. This strikes me as a very, very BADTHING™©.

If you replaced the term Islam with something else, would be people be as tolerant of its impact into the lives of abused women?

What would people think if it was just a case of Stockholm Syndrome where the abused woman felt she had to remain part of the culture / organisation / grouping that condoned the group? Would that mean here desire to be part of it was more tolerated?

Generally speaking we give religion a massive let-off when it comes to complicity with bad things. That doesn’t make it right.

vjack / January 20th, 2008, 8:55 am / #8

“…reeked of white liberal elitist cultural relativism…” Sounds like somebody has been watching Fox “News.”

You are right about Islam deserving at least some of the blame for the plight of women in the Arab world, however, I would say the same about Christianity in America. I’d also point out that domestic violence and the subjugation of women has many causes, not all of which are rooted in religion. While I would agree that religion should be held more accountable, I do think that there are many things we can do to reduce the problem and support the victims that involve changes outside religion.

BlackSun / January 20th, 2008, 10:39 am / #9

Good comments, all. Thank you.


Scarves, even if a symbol of an oppressive ideology, do not have the sort of direct negative impact cocaine or anorexia will.

I’m not sure what cocaine and anorexia have to do with Islamic abuse. I think what you’re getting at is that western women have their own self-image issues without the hijab. Of course they do, but it’s a real stretch to bring that problem into a discussion of how to deal with religiously sanctioned violence against women.


We certainly need to place women’s safety as the highest priority. Having said that, I don’t think the people to do it are ones with an ideological connection to the perpetrators. Sure there is an argument to be made that women will be more likely to come forward if their surroundings are comfortable. But as I said, I’d like to see Islamic battered women’s shelters opened for third party inspection. Let’s take them at their word and be sure they are offering their clients the choices they claim they are. I’m 99% certain that the imams and other people running the shelters will subtly justify the abusive actions, and try to convince women to stay within their destructive cultural milieu. What’s needed instead is a “halfway house” approach–where all alternatives are presented. I think traditional women’s groups are better suited than Muslim ones to provide it.


That is a rather longer process, and for this process to begin and to feel safe, the symbols of their spiritual crutches might be at first necessary.

You’re thinking right along the lines I was. Even though it might take awhile, the information on the religious roots of the problem should be made available. Not forced on the women, just made available. And the women need to know that information about them and their choices will be protected under doctor-patient privilege and not get back to their abusers–nor will they be forced to return to them against their wishes.


You nailed it, this is Stockholm syndrome in spades. It is a very delicate process to pry a woman away from an abuser in any case. Adding the Islamic cultural element makes it practically impossible. Women have to choose between their safety/happiness, and their concept of eternal salvation. It’s tragic and heart-rending. I don’t think we know the half of it.


LOL. No I don’t watch Fox News. But cultural relativism is what it is, and only white liberals seem to have the kind of self-loathing necessary to engage in it. I’ve heard white liberal women justifying FGM–now that’s pointy-headed elitism if I’ve ever heard it.

And I totally agree with you about Christianity. I just saw a segment on Bill Maher where Dan Savage interviewed a bunch of Huckabee supporters in South Carolina.


Guarantee there’s a whole bunch of domestic abuse and other repression going in in that culture.

I just wish liberals would stop apologizing for religion. That was my point–not to bash liberals since I consider myself to be one.

Kelly Gorski / January 20th, 2008, 7:26 pm / #10

Scarves, even if a symbol of an oppressive ideology, do not have the sort of direct negative impact cocaine or anorexia will.

it’s about the internalization. For example, women wore corsets for years until they internalized the idea that thin was beauty, and since their objective was to acquire and keep a man, one needed to be thin to succeed. So women indoctrinated themselves, internalizing the corset. They didn’t need to physically buy corsets anymore–they were able to actuate the type of change they wanted on their own, which in turn made them even “better” consumers. It’s the same thing with the scarves. The burkha is being internalized, so even if we were to do away with it, the internalization is still present.

Kim / January 29th, 2008, 2:00 pm / #11

With all due respect, it is obvious you don’t actually know Muslim families, and you haven’t read the Qu’ran or you wouldn’t be spouting women beating is a standard of the Qu’ran. And please don’t point to the one verse which is translated to say beat either. As with ALL religiuos books you have to put things into context. I daresay teh bible is quite a bit more violent and anti-women than the quran. If you have actually read it you will understand what I am saying. Paul detested women, and its apparent in Corothians.

Scarves, burqas are not repressive tools either. Dress styles differ from country to country in Islam and its a culture you are batting not releigion. Big difference. I studied Christinaity, Islam and Judaism and never did I find one person of any faith who endorced such behaivor.

Did you know 31% of American women (pretty high) reported abuse and 3 American women a day are killed by a lover, husband or boyfriend. Women from all waks of life are abused and abuse is not attached to religion.

BlackSun / January 29th, 2008, 2:37 pm / #12

Kim, you know the Muslim apologist party line really well. But that doesn’t change the reality.

Of course “teh bible” is just as bad. But Christians take their bible just a little less literally than Muslims take the Quran. Why don’t you insist Islamic men take your own advice and ignore the literal part of the Quran that authorizes beating women? Clearly you’re able to set that verse aside, but if the abusers can’t or won’t, then how does that help improve the plight of women?

You may personally like wearing your scarves and burquas, but the real question is: how does Islamic society treat people who don’t want to wear them? If covering of female faces or hair is not optional, then you don’t have any claim to be a free or equal society. You have institutionalized your sexist shame about female bodies.

I studied Christinaity, Islam and Judaism and never did I find one person of any faith who endorced such behaivor.

That’s a gross subjective generalization, and adds absolutely nothing to the discussion. Who you personally found or did not find is immaterial. The truth is that whether or not you see or acknowledge them, heinous religious abuses continue to occur daily around the world.

Lame recitation of domestic violence stats does nothing to absolve Islam of the blame for it’s role. It’s a simple diversionary tu quoque fallacy leveled at, let’s see, the entire non-Islamic population??

The article concerns Islamic domestic violence and the difficulties repressed women have in leaving abusive husbands. As long as even one woman’s death is justified by her domestic partner’s Islamic beliefs, Islam is not absolved of its destructive role.

muslim girl / October 25th, 2008, 5:25 pm / #13

This article is ridiculous. Clearly, you are ill-informed, racist at heart, and typically ethnocentric. You think you’re unique, but don’t worry, there are thousands of ignorant Americans all across the nation just like you.

It’s people like you that make the world suffer. Pretty sad.

BlackSun / October 25th, 2008, 5:52 pm / #14

Muslim Girl,

I suppose you would have felt better if I had sided with the male tormentors and abusers of Muslim women. I hope you someday get the courage to throw off the chains of male domination that suffuse your culture.

Louis / October 25th, 2008, 11:36 pm / #15

Muslim girl is the one who is ridiculous.

If Sean had attacked an Arab person, yeah, you’d have some ground to call him a bigot, or classist, but not a racist; braintrust! (I’ll get to that in a sec…)

He did not.

Being Muslim is not about ethnicity.

Being Muslim is about submission to God, (your imaginary dictator in the sky.)

Also there is only one Race; the human one. There is no scientific relevance for division of race, other than ethnicity.

Nice faceplant there, Muslimah!

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