Who speaks for abusive Muslim men?

My great grandmother used to mix uncooked rice and pulses together and give it to her children to separate as a form of activity for long and humid summer afternoons.  I see that many young Muslims in the 21st Century have set themselves a similar task – separating local culture from religion.

I try not to express my opinion on this blog because it is not a blog about me, but about what I observe and note; and one thing I have noticed is that while Muslim men are always speaking for Muslim women, no one speaks for the men. Muslim women talk about their men but it’s an altogether different matter.

I was introduced to blogging in early 2006 by a convert to Islam (a Salafi and niqabi) who was sent from her country to live in her Arab husband’s country to raise her four children. Behind her back her husband married – twice – while she was changing nappies and dealing with nosy in-laws. For two years after she found out what her husband was up to, her life’s drama unfolded in front of the eyes of her supporters and readers. She was very religious, intelligent, determined and hardworking. All she wanted was her Islamic right to be treated fairly. To receive that right she tried whatever she could in between providing her husband his rights, bringing him clean towels and giving him another child. She often wrote how she wept on her prayer mat at Fajr begging Allah to have mercy on her. The husband returned to her country to his other wife to whom he was married only religiously and not legally.

Most convert women to Islam that I know are extremely strong women – they go against their families to convert, sometimes hiding that they have become Muslim and sometimes rebelling against them completely. There is a young woman I read who hasn’t told her parents she has become Muslim so they would keep supporting her education. Another woman has bluntly told her non-Muslim mother that she can’t even kiss her baby’s feet with her non-Muslim mouth. There are all sorts of stories. But they have a common thread – a woman’s determination.

Why do Muslim men forget that if a woman is so determined to convert to Islam that she won’t use the same strength and determination to get out of an abusive situation – and perhaps even the fold of Islam? The woman I wrote about above eventually went back to her country with the help of her friends and readers taking all her children with her. She is living a hard life but it is a life that she has chosen, not a life that was thrown at her. She is no longer the Muslim her readers knew in 2006. I know at least five more women like her – one in a worse situation where her husband sexually abused his own children. One young woman’s Muslim fiancé was sleeping with another woman behind her back. A reader of this blog, a born Muslim woman, left Islam after her husband remarried and began “slapping her around.” Another young woman was emotionally forced to wear hijab by her fiancé but he eventually married a woman who doesn’t cover. There are numerous more cases. Eventually most abused women come to the conclusion that if no one is listening to their prayers, then perhaps there is no one there.

Who is speaking for the Muslim men these women were married/engaged to who ruined their lives and religious beliefs?  In none of the cases I know has the man been punished for neglecting his Islamic duties. I was raised by a very strict father, but he was religious and God-fearing and more than that he was God-loving and it was his love for Allah that made him a sincere husband and a responsible father.

Instead of only praying for these abused women that they be guided back to Islam, I think we should raise our voices to oppose men who don’t fulfill their duties thereby pushing these women away from Islam. I have often been told that “Islam gives women all the rights; they don’t need Islamic Feminism.” Sorry sirs, but they do need Islamic Feminism because they have been denied their rights by their patriarchal cultures and selfish men again and again!

For born Muslims, Islam is a mix of culture, traditions, ahadith, sunnah, seera and Quran. Many won’t even be able to differentiate between Muslim tradition and hadith, for instance. Thus, I think to separate Arabic culture from Islam is like trying to separate apple juice from water. Islam grew out of the Arabic culture and so certain aspects may seem shocking to us but they are very much part of the Islamic religion. My only concern is that in our bid to explain away those aspects of religion (which is a very tedious process) we are left with little time and stamina to stand up against the real problems. Women banned from driving or being forced to wear hijab or the French ban on niqaab or Aisha’s age at marriage are important issues but they are not more important than discussing and solving the problems caused by men not taking responsibility for their actions (Quran 4:34).

You can’t discipline your wife if you have failed as a maintainer and protector (Quran 4:34). Period! You can’t abuse your wives and call them khanzeera (female pig) even if you dislike them (Quran 4:19). How can a man take his children away from the mother and teach them to hate her when the Prophet is believed to have taught that a mother was more important than a father? I can’t understand how men lie and cheat leaving their wives hanging in the air (Quran 4:129).  Aren’t men also responsible for love and mercy between a couple (Quran, 30:21)?

Men have been given more opportunities to keep multiple partners through marriage or concubinage, which helps in keeping them mindful of their chastity (Quran, 24:30), but on the other hand keeping multiple partners also leads to dissatisfaction amongst the women. Who takes responsibility for the results of that dissatisfaction? What system is in place in Islamic jurisprudence when that happens apart from khul?

Some may argue that I have offered isolated examples. They are not isolated cases and even if there was only one such case I would argue that when we use a single example as a benchmark (Quran 33:21) then even if one Muslim man doesn’t follow that “beautiful pattern of conduct” he should be brought to task. My heart bleeds for these brave but bone-tired women. I know that men from any religion or culture can be and are abusive. But Muslims have little excuse – we believe that we have been guided (Quran 3:3) and that we were given a perfect example to follow (Quran 33:21) while others have not been so lucky. Thus every time any Muslim, man or woman, errs it becomes every other Muslim’s duty to raise their voice against such people (Quran 3:110). Such errant Muslims do not err because they are Muslim, but err despite being Muslim – despite knowing right from wrong. They are mindful of their rights but not duties. It thus becomes a religious duty to point out their mistakes and bring them to task (Quran 9:71).

Why should we bury our head in the sand for the fear that it will make Muslim men look bad when the Quran itself instructs us to enjoin good and forbid evil?!