“Dear teachers and scholars, please stop teaching women that patience (sabr) means putting up with abuse. Our Messenger (PBUH) said if we see something wrong, we should try to change it. Not be passive. And this is part of Iman (faith).”
How many of us Muslims have you seen being a bystander to the abuses we witness? How free are we? How free are we to act and prevent these injustices? While the courageous #metoo campaign is empowering the West to act, I don’t believe it has reached the East as I hoped it would have and that includes those of us who represent both East and West, us, British Muslims.
The question is: what is preventing them from acting? What is preventing them from going to the police? The answer is glaringly obvious to only us; the adage that frequently motivates our actions and inactions: “What will people say?”
So what is “What will people say?” It’s a fear that a certain action will cause a scandal. This includes informing people outside the family of what goes on indoors. But what if the people that you live with are monsters? Are you supposed to stay quiet forever and hold the peace? This is not peace. This is a crime and as not only a law-abiding citizen and member of society it is your duty to contribute and improve the life of yourself and others. You are bound to serve.
Fortunately, I am no longer bound to this irrelevant adage, it is an anchor that weights you deep under into the sea of irrationality. It is not only a burden but inconsistent with our religion. It a cultural creation and not a religious principle and as Muslims, religion should trump culture.
There are many things that cultural Muslims (yes, that is what I am calling them) believe will occur should we speak up and defend ourselves and others. And they are right, they will occur. A) People will gossip about you. They are right, they will gossip. B) They will think badly of you. They will (but we will get on to that soon). C) If you are unmarried, potential suitors will no longer be interested in you because of this violation. Now let’s address these points. People will talk and I, for one, would be glad for that because at least people will be talking about these taboo subjects that are important subjects! If they talk badly, then they are speaking badly of a victim who has rights, a human right to live a life free of abuse. If potential suitors are no longer interested then you are better off. Do you really need someone who will not support you and encourage you to claim your rights? And finally, the most important point of all: what kind of people are they that they do not want anything to do with you because you dared to do the right thing? That you spoke up because in doing so you make the world a better place? What kind of people are they that they condemn you for wanting to make the world a better place? Which, also, by the by, is your religious duty too.
“What will people say?” is outdated and invalid. Unless your action will genuinely and unjustifiably hurt a person, then this question is null. I say unjustifiably because an action will justifiably have a negative effect on the perpetrator of the crime in the short-term. Not only will it prevent the perpetrator from re-offending, if the prison system is effective in any way, it would ideally rehabilitate him.
Above all, British Muslims who are bound to culture, before anything, do not forget that we are Muslims (and human beings). And as Muslims and decent beings we should do the right thing. I’ve seen elders in the Muslim community privately condemn abuse but refuse to press charges knowing full well that this will potentially lead to the perpetrator re-offending. In some instances, they do believe that they will not abuse again and there are some occasions when they will not but for the more serious crimes, when you don’t report it, you give the abusers the green light to do it again because condemnation doesn’t equate action, it equates a telling-off. What I would love to see is prominent Muslim scholars raising the topic of abuse, so this important information becomes more accessible. So far, I have only seen Yasmin Mogahed and Omar Suleiman speaking up on this topic and this needs to get better. Abuse starts at home and it won’t stop unless we act against it.
I’ve seen educated women with educated parents washing their hands off friends who have been victims of serious crimes because of “what will people say?” I’ve even seen people decry abuse on social media but refrain from acting in real life. There is no point in us campaigning against abuse if, in real life, we do nothing against it. Merely hating it in your heart is the weakest part of faith. We can change this. All we need to do is act. It will be difficult at first and then it’ll get better like all new things are. We can be the agents of change. We can leave the world a better place if we just try.
On the authority of Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]