It shouldn’t be the job of women’s support groups to put an end to violence against women and girls. These are messages that should be articulated and promulgated by groups working with men. Instead of focussing on peripheral issues and mere rituals, our khutbahs, halaqas and family conversations ought to be reorientated to address the grave societal problems of our time.
Admittedly, to do so is not easy. Changing society for the better never is. Our prophet, peace be upon him, spent his lifetime working to free slaves, but within a few generations the new empire had made slavery an institution in itself, praised in complete disregard of the teachings of the Quran, where freeing slaves is a measure of faith. Challenging the status quo takes serious guts. Those who do so must expect to walk alone, possibly with their entire community standing against them.
A few years ago, I looked on as the learned teacher of our Sunday circle at the mosque spent a lesson explaining that so-called honour violence has no place in our tradition. Alas, the students knew better than the teacher, and set about arguing that he was completely wrong. In one young man’s view, violence against women and girls was not just allowed, but completely justified.
Would an imam dare stand up to decry the behaviour of half of his congregation? Alas, many a student of knowledge has made patently clear that they will always defend the honour of men over the safety and security of women. Yet the Quran calls us not to blindly take one side or another, but to be just, even against ourselves.
“O you who have believed, stand firmly for justice, witnesses for God, even against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So follow not your personal inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then indeed God is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.”Quran 4:135
In our homes, husband and fathers should be leading by example; our children should learn early on that we have zero tolerance of violence. Young men should be taught what it truly means to lower their gaze. And in our communities, our imams and teachers must become courageous, to speak of the issues which afflict us.
It is true that they may lose friends and supporters, derided by the community as Compassionate Imams, but believers are just going to have to learn that this path is not a popularity contest. The Lord of all the worlds calls us to be just and to treat others with kindness. Speak the truth, even if it is bitter.