Midwest Muslim women have difficulty seeking help

2013-02-10T20:00:00Z 2013-02-16T21:31:02Z Midwest Muslim women have difficulty seeking helpLAMIA ZIA IowaWatch Sioux City Journal
February 10, 2013 8:00 pm  • 

IOWA CITY, Iowa | The 42-year-old woman, originally from Pakistan, married a man selected by her parents and came to the United States with a firm belief that her husband would respect her, value her opinion and encourage her ambitions.

Those hopes remained a dream. The woman, who asked that her name not be used for her safety, said her husband brought her to the Midwest United States to cook, clean the home, raise his children and take care of his mother.

"My story of sacrifice is not different than other South Asian Muslim women, who have been tied in various knots of fear, loss and stigma," she said.

A 1993 study of domestic violence among Muslims by the Muslim scholar Sharifa Alkhateeb reported that 10 percent of American Muslims, mostly women, experienced abuse in their homes. A handful of stories have been written about the problem from the perspective of women on the U.S. East and West coasts.

But the problem exists in the Midwest, too, in states like Iowa and Illinois. Advocates of those at the receiving end of the abuse say some of the women are remaining at home instead of seeking help.

They fear a stigma being attached to them, said Lata D'Mello, assistant director of Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa, a group that formed in 2003 and has offices in Iowa City and Des Moines to offer direct services to women from south Asia and Africa who endure domestic abuse.

Cultural reasons keep some women from seeking help. Another matter: "The fear of police,"  said D'Mello, originally from India. "That's of the old country, in the home country, the different responses to them (by) the officials."

Imam Taha Tawil, of the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids, said women should not feel subjected to men.

Domestic violence against women is not encouraged, nor is it allowed in any circumstance by the Koran, Tawil said. Verses make it clear that the relationship between men and women is to be one of kindness, mutual respect and caring, he said.

Some verses in which Allah says men and women are protecting friends of one another refer to the mandated atmosphere of mutual kindness and mercy in the marital home. Others show disapproval of oppression or ill treatment of women, Tawil said.

Tawil said he works with a Cedar Rapids domestic violence shelter to help women who tell him they feel abused. He said instances are low in numbers but exist, putting him in the position of counseling those who come to him.

"We cannot hide things. We cannot just give advice: 'Oh, be patient. It's OK.' No, no," he said.

"If there is a major thing like hitting or abusing, anything like that, you need the abuse to stop. You need to contact this number (for a shelter) and we will help you and we will support you."

Still, some women feel locked into their relationships. "I have sacrificed to live with my abusive husband for the sake of my daughter," one Midwest U.S. Muslim mother of a 10-year-old daughter, said in the IowaWatch report. Her name is not used in this story for her personal security.

Originally from Pakistan, this woman came to the United States after marriage. Her husband runs a south Asian grocery store while she stays at home and does household errands. "My husband has a short temper and becomes violent on petty issues, and abuses me in front of my daughter," she said.

People working with non-profit organizations to reduce domestic violence in Muslim communities said only a handful of studies have been done on the topic, making it difficult to determine how prevalent the violence is in south Asian Muslim communities in the United States.

Another difficulty in determining the prevalence is found when interviewing people in shelters or in general: Muslim communities are not open to talking about such issues because of that stigma and shame.

The discussion gets more complicated because the topic has been a taboo for many Muslim families. Even the term "domestic violence," has been an obstacle at times in moving the conversation forward because it is perceived as "Western."

An estimated 60,000 Muslims live in Iowa, although a good estimate is hard to find. In 2008, the Council of American Islamic Relations chapter in Iowa did an informal count by contacting the 12 mosques across the state. The findings varied widely depending upon who was contacted, ranging from 40,000 to 80,000 Muslims — or the median of 60,000 — who are Bosnians and Kosovars, Somali and Sudanese, Iraqis, Lebanese, Indo-Pak, Egyptians, West Africans, Syrians and others.

D'Mello said workers at Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa help those experiencing domestic violence with house or getting a job, Or, if they want to stay at home, a safety plan.

"A lot of survivors want to stay with their partners, their spouses," D'Mello said. "They believe they have a home, that things will improve. They have other reasons to stay on, maybe financially, maybe emotionally.

"They do love their partners, some of them."

Copyright 2015 Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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