Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Message To Imams Across Australia, New Zealand & The World

25 November 2005 falls on a Friday, the day regarded as sacred to Muslims. On this day, Muslims gather at the mosque to pray in congregation. Part of that process includes the delivery of a sermon or “khutbah”.

The Prophet Muhammad has provided guidelines for the delivery of sermons. One od these guidelines is that the khatib (the one who delivers the sermon) is to deal with current issues facing the Muslim community.

Although I am no scholar, I have a humble suggestion for our imams and khatibs for a topic which affects all Muslims, especially Muslim men. I also have a humble request for our imams and khatibs to wear a certain item with their clothing.

The United Nations has designated 25 November to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. As part of this day, men wear white ribbons on their chests as a symbol that they will not commit, condone or tolerate any forms of violence against women carried out by other men.

I urge our imams and khatibs to wear a white ribbon on that day, and to encourage the male members of their congregation to also wear the white ribbon.

Islam gave dignity to women. It gave women rights and liberties. But some men, Muslim and non-Muslim, choose to take those rights away. Moreover, some men choose to act violently toward women.

Our greatest exemplar in conduct was the Prophet Muhammad. There is no instance of him ever behaving violently toward a woman. He never engaged in physical or sexual violence toward any women, be they his wives, his daughters or women outside his family.

The Prophet Muhammad brought a scripture which states that husbands and wives are like “garments unto each other”. Which man would rip up or punch or kick his garments?

The prophet is reported to have said: “The best of you is he who is best to his wife. And I am the best amongst you because of my behaviour with my wife.”

The measure of a man is how he treats his wife. Yet we all know that Muslim men do exist who beat and act violently toward their wives. Often such violence is carried out in the presence of children, or at least comes to the knowledge of the children.

When violence against women is perpetrated in the home, it isn’t just the women victims who suffer. The children are traumatised, and this can last even after they reach maturity. Other men who care for the woman victim – fathers, brothers etc – also suffer.

Indeed, even the perpetrator of the violence suffers. He loses respect of his children. He is increasingly unable to control the anger or other causes of the violence. Most importantly, he eventually loses the woman who could have offered him unconditional love.

Society as a whole loses. And we are losing. Our women are suffering physical and sexual violence at the hands of their husbands and other men. We know it is happening. But many of us come from cultures where domestic violence is hidden.

In Australia and other Western countries, there are laws which forbid domestic violence and which provide women with remedies against the perpetrators. Similar laws exist in Muslim countries.

Yet it troubles me that when I visit a court located in an area of Sydney with a substantial Muslim community, I see names like “Ali” and “Muhammad” and “Umar” and “Abdullah” figuring prominently on the court list as perpetrators of violence toward their female partners.

It also troubles me that I see so many women with names like “Aisha” and “Khadija” and “Yasmin” and “Fatima” as victims.

Women make up at least 50% of the Muslim population, and at least 50% of the human race. Violence against women is condemned across all faiths and schools of thought. So why is it on the increase?

This is not just an issue for Muslims. It is eating at the soul of mankind. We know that God is “ar-Rahman” (absolutely gracious) and “ar-Rahim” (absolutely merciful). We know that these two primary attributes of God come from the root word “Rahm” which means “the womb”.

God uses the example of the female womb to describe His own absolutely mercy. Yet instead of respecting the wombs that carried us, we see women being subject to the worst forms of physical, mental, sexual and emotional violence in our communities. We even see fathers and brothers perpetrating violence for the sake of protecting family honour.

Yet the most honourable and best of men is the one who is best to his wife. This is the standard set for us by our Prophet. It is the standard we have failed.

The Prophet said: “Help your brother, both when he is oppressed and when he oppresses.” Those hearing asked: “How do we help someone when he oppresses?” The Prophet responded: “By stopping him from his oppression.”

Muslim men need to stop their Muslim brothers who deem it acceptable to oppress their wives and other women. The violence against women will only stop when men take a stand. If Muslim men sit by and not stop the evil from occurring, we might as well be lending a hand to the violence.

I humbly call upon all imams and khatibs to deliver this message to the men in their congregations on 25 November 2005.

Irfan Yusuf

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