SCARS THAT CAN BE SEEN AND THOSE THAT CANNOT: SPOUSE ABUSE
By Judith K. Muhammad, MA, LLP
“And among His signs is this, that He created for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them, and He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed Signs for a people who reflect (30:21).” Narrated Anas bin Malik (RAA): A group of three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet (Pbuh) asking how the Prophet (Pbuh) worshiped (Allah), and when they were informed about that, they considered their worship insufficient and said, “Where are we from the Prophet (Pbuh) as his past and future sins have been forgiven.” Then one of them said, “I will offer the prayer throughout the night forever.” The other said, “I will fast throughout the year and will not break my fast”. The third said, “I will keep away from the women and will never marry.” Allah’s Messenger (Pbuh) came to them and said, “Are you the same people who said so-and-so? By Allah, I am more submissive to Allah and more afraid of Him than you: yet I fast and also do not fast, I do pray and also do sleep and I also marry women. So he who does not follow my Sunnah (legal ways) is not from me (not one of my followers).” Sahih Al-Bukhari, Hadith #1, Vol 7
It is clear, from both the Qur’an and Sunnah that we, Muslims, should marry. Marriage is the most acceptable state for us. It is also clear that marriage should be a peaceful and happy state. Unfortunately, for many husbands and wives this is not true. Marriage becomes a place of pain and suffering instead of the place of “repose” noted in the Qur’an. Spouse abuse exists in two manners: physical and psychological.
It is performed by both husbands and wives and both are victims of it. In either case, it is forbidden in Islam. Most often, the husband performs physical abuse. The husbands often use the quote from Qur’an (An-Nisa 34) “Beat them lightly” as the “permission” for such behavior. However, they fail to clearly understand this ayat. This “beating” is explained in Al-Bahr al-Zakbkbaar, vol 4, p.88: “The light beating which does not cause bleeding nor does one fear from it injury to life or limb or tearing of the skin, breakage or disfigurement or beating on the face.” Remember the manner in which Job beat his wife to fulfill his commitment? Under the direction of Allah he used “100 blades of grass!” It is clear from both the tafseer of the verse and the example of Prophet Job that the “beating”of a wife is a symbolic gesture rather than an experience of physical pain.
It is clearly true that the husband is the head of the household and must be obeyed in all things that are not against the Will of Allah. Obedience to one’s husband is one of the identifying characteristics of a Muslim wife. It is that which sets us apart from the non-Muslim wife. It is in that obedience that the avoidance of spouse abuse may sometimes lie. The legal system in the United States has set up a set of circumstances where the husband is seen as the “perpetrator” and the solely responsible party in cases of battering. It fails to look at the precipitating factors. And, while it is true that a man is responsible for his own behavior legally and Islamically, it is also true that a woman can come to know her husband in such a way as to understand how to “push his buttons” and precipitate the abuse. The latest research verifies this new “understanding” of spouse abuse.
Abuse: Whose Fault is it? Why do women do this? Is it because they feel the need to be punished? Is it that they are carrying on “old habits” from childhood? Because they maintain some “control” in being able to precipitate this behavior? Why do men behave in a manner that is physically abusive to their wives? Portray the image of a “good Muslim” to the world but behind closed doors behave in a manner that is both un-Islamic and illegal? No doubt, there are many reasons for this behavior. However, as in the cure to all “ill conduct”, the answer is in Islam.
When a marriage is lived according to the laws of Islam and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), it is”repose” for the partners. If, therefore, there is physical abuse in a marriage, the total practice of the deen holds the answer. But where does a wife get the help with a physically abusive husband? The first place to go is the Imam in the local community – or a local Scholar. However, sometimes that does not provide the answer. If going to the local scholar or imam of a masjid does not provide the necessary answers, should a woman go outside Islam and seek legal assistance through the court? The police? Are there “shelters” for Muslim women or must she turn to the Kafir for assistance? These are serious questions for discussion in the Ummah.
Seen and Unseen Scars
Physical abuse often leaves scars on the flesh – a visible sign of the abuse. Emotional abuse leaves scars on the spirit and the psyche of the person being abused. These signs are not visible to the human eye, but they are as damaging, and perhaps more damaging, than physical scars. Wives perform psychological abuse as often as husbands. It is often so subtle that the victim does not recognize it for what it is. Sometimes it looks like support, “constructive criticism” or a caring person trying to help. Sometimes it looks like anger, or bitterness. Sometimes it looks like hate. It always causes pain.
What brings about psychological abuse? Like physical abuse, it can be precipitated by behaviors on the part of the spouse or it can come, seemingly, from “nowhere.” It actually comes from the heart of the abuser. In all cases, it is a form of control. It is a behavior in which one spouse exerts control over the other. In any marriage, there are periods of disagreement when one or both of the partners are angry and may say things that they do not mean and for which they are sorry. This does not constitute abuse. Abuse exists when the pain is repeated and consistent, when it is not only spoken in the heat of anger. Or when anger is the only temperament that is exhibited.
Psychological abuse can also be “nonverbal.” Avoiding the partner without a reason making it Islamic, not paying attention to the person or to what they have to say can be a form of psychological abuse. It says, without saying anything, “you are not important and what you say does not matter.” It can totally invalidate the importance of the opinion of the spouse. Psychological abuse causes no physical or visible scars but it causes internal scars that can, and will affect interactions and relationships that the abused person will have for perhaps the rest of their lives.
What is a Person to do? What should a person do if they are being psychologically abused? Who makes the determination whether or not abuse exists? Is it true that, in many cases, the abused person had developed such low self-esteem that they do not even know that they are being abused? How can and will this affect the rest of their lives? In a truly Muslim marriage, partners care for each other. They protect each other and they “hide each other’s faults.” They are kind to each other. Abuse is not a halal part of any Muslim marriage.
Judi Muhammad is a psychologist and an author of many published articles. She conducts workshops and seminars and also teaches at the University of Phoenix. She teaches both ground and online classes. She also serves as a consultant to substance abuse treatment agencies and treatment facilities for those who are mentally impaired and/or developmentally disabled. She also serves as Coordinator of Women’s Services at a General hospital.