Originally published in The Huffington Post
“She made me do it.”
I hear this phrase all too often, and each time I hear it my heart bleeds. In my pro bono legal practice, I represent indigent women who suffer or have suffered through domestic violence. As an attorney, as a Muslim, as a husband, and as an uncle to five beautiful nieces, I see my clients as individuals that could just as easily be my family.
My clients are white, black, Asian and Latino. They are Muslim, Christian, agnostic and undeclared. They remind me that violence against women is a worldwide epidemic–and that such violence is the leading cause of injury to women in America. Part of the client interview process seeks to understand the underlying roots that led to the abuse. While I know the reason, the point is to understand what they believe caused the violence against them. Invariably, my DV client will at some point claim, “He said I provoked him, that I made him do it.” Sometimes I can no longer tell if they actually believe what they’re saying, or have been beaten — literally or figuratively — into believing it.
A recent Washington Post article argues that marriage is the Holy Grail to ensure women avoid domestic abuse and violence, claiming, “Married women are notably safer than their unmarried peers, and girls raised in a home with their married father are markedly less likely to be abused or assaulted than children living without their own father.” Therefore, the authors conclude “one way to end violence against women [is] married dads.”
For the sake of argument, I’ll believe the article is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, in analyzing extensive data and turning women into statistics, the article — at best — succeeds in some colorful bar graphs reporting on women who are slightly less abused than other women. The article woefully misses the main reason behind why violence against women exists, and therefore it misses the correct solution to stop that violence.
A woman’s dress, marital status, and lifestyle do not inspire violence against women. Violence against women exists because the men in their lives — single, married and strangers — commit that violence. Violence against women exists because men do not treat women with respect. Violence against women exists because our society does not value the moral characteristics of civility in discourse, respect for a woman’s body, respect for a woman’s right to self-determination, and the equality and equity of women in general.
Instead, we resort to placing the burden of avoiding violence on women, while men escape unscathed. Such an approach is as reprehensible as it is ineffective — as evidenced by rising DV cases. Recognizing that this approach is contrary to human nature, Prophet Muhammad implemented substantive reform among men to stop violence against women 1400 years ago.
Pre-Islam Arabia was a hotbed of misogyny, violence against women, and inequality. Women had no right to property, decision in marriage, right to divorce, or self-determination. Islam first immediately granted women these rights and forbade forcing anything on women. While violence against women is epidemic in some parts of the Muslim world today — as it is in America and the west — life for women immediately and for centuries after Islam represents how Islam’s pristine teachings ultimately elevated women to a level of equality and reformed men to stop committing violence.
For example, to teach respect for a woman’s body, Islam stresses chastity — but places the primary burden for chastity on men, not women. While clerics and priests today declare that women should “get married” or “dress more modestly” to avoid domestic violence, Prophet Muhammad held a different view. While encouraging marriage and modest dress for both genders, Prophet Muhammad significantly and as a foundation commanded men, “You be chaste yourselves, and women will be chaste.” He commanded men to stop obsessing over how women behave and dress, and instead demanded men focus on self-reform and self-improvement. While the Qur’an admonishes women to dress modestly in the footsteps of Mary Mother of Jesus, it instead and first commands men to “cast down your eyes” and “not stare at women lustfully” — no matter how a woman chooses to dress. A woman is responsible to herself and God to dress and act modestly, while a man is primarily obligated to women, to himself, and to God to treat women with respect and not gawk.
The Qur’an further declares men and women as two equal beings created from a single soul, declares men and women as garments for one another designed to protect one another from harm and suffering, and commands Muslims to speak in a comely and civilized manner. As far as the claim that “She provoked me,” the Qur’an emphatically responds, “Consort with women in kindness, and if you dislike them, it may be you dislike a thing in which God has placed much good.” The Qur’an further commands men that if a woman indeed commits a flagrant act — such as infidelity — a man must first advise her of his disapproval in words, and if still angry separate himself from the volatile situation — and not cause her physical harm under any circumstance. (My recent book EXTREMIST likewise debunks the myth some espouse that the Qur’an commands men to commit domestic violence).
On a journey through the desert, a male driver sped up the heard. Prophet Muhammad, noting that women were traveling with them and would experience discomfort due to the rough ride, admonished the driver to slow down, declaring, “Mind the crystal!” Indeed, Muhammad’s dying words were “Treat women well. You have rights over them and they have rights over you. They are your committed partners.”
The strategy worked. Women after Islam rose to levels of unmatched jurists like Hazrat Ayesha, courageous soldiers like Nusayba b. Ka’b al-Anṣārīyya and Khawla b. al-Azwar, brilliant community leaders like Zaynab b. ‘Alī, and awe-inspiring academics like Lubna of Cordoba and Fatima al-Fihri of Morocco. This list is but a mere snapshot.
Most notably, Islam’s solution to stop violence against women is not a religious answer — it is a secular answer. It obliges men to safeguard their chastity, treat women with equality, take ownership over their own behavior, and respect a woman’s body and right to self-determination.
Violence against women will stop when men stop committing violence against women. I would like nothing more than my pro bono practice in domestic violence to become obsolete. But as long as we rationalize data to support the preconceived notion that woman are the root cause — or a cause — of violence against women, I’ll unfortunately have more clients than I can handle.
For the sake of humanity, stop blaming women. In the meantime, I’ll raise my two young sons with Prophet Muhammad’s example — that the key to stopping violence against women rests with civilized men and their personal ownership.