Editor’s Note: This piece is a continuation of a story which can be found here. This piece also contains triggering language. If you have a sensitivity to domestic violence or physical abuse of any sort, we encourage you to protect your mind and choose something different to read.
I remember when I was about 9 or 10 years old, playing outside with my little sister and my best friend Brianna at the time; I squeezed my little sisters cheeks so hard, that Brianna yelled to me “You’re hurting her!” I yelled back with a smile, “Love hurts!” At that tender age, this was the depth of the pain that love brought along. I didn’t know any better. As I got older, I saw how bad ‘love’ could get. Whether it was witnessing the fighting and cheating first hand, or going with my parents to stop and settle fights between our neighbors and relatives. I never thought this would happen to me, but last night, I found myself seated in the back of a cop car. I always thought that if it were to happen, it would play out exactly like the song ‘Cop Car’ by Keith Urban. But unlike the romance and innocent rebellion that is sung about in that song, this is about the ugly, dark, treacherous side of ‘love’ – or what some people may confuse love with.
Yesterday, I got home from work and had dinner with my mother. It was a beautiful summer-like day outside and I had absolutely nothing to do. I wanted to do something to keep me from taking a nap that would eventually keep me up all night. I told my mom, “Hey lets go visit Sally*!” –Sally and her parents are family friends, who moved to America about a year ago. My mother and I became very close friends with them after meeting them through other family friends. My mom agreed, and off we went. Driving there I actually started regretting it. I never like to visit them when I have work the next day, because it’s impossible not to spend hours there. You sit and talk and have tea and coffee and time escapes you; you check the time and it’s somewhere between 1 and 2 AM. By the time we’d get to their house it would be 8:30 PM and I’d only have an hour or two to hang before having to head home. I hadn’t seen them in a couple of weeks and I know I have a busy few weeks ahead so I just continued the drive to their house.
We get there and we are hanging out and having a blast as per usual. I started getting tired. I tell my mom it’s time to get going. Sally’s mom asks my mom if we could stay a little bit longer to help her chop up some spinach she had rinsed and cleaned prior in the day. It was A LOT of spinach. My mom agreed and started chopping. As they are finishing up, I check the time, and it’s now 11 PM. I get up to grab my purse and put my shoes on. As I’m bending down to get my shoe on, I hear a scream. I think to myself oh that’s probably the neighbors TV, or maybe one of the many neighbors in their building’s kids yelling and playing. What came next was the most bone-chilling, terrifying scream I had ever heard in my entire life. The kind of scream you imagine when you think of someone being stabbed to death. We open the door and hear more screams coming from upstairs. We all run, only to realize the screams are coming from the home of Eman*, their upstairs, Iraqi-Kurdish neighbor. We push through their door to find the husband beating the fuck out of her.
What came next was the most bone-chilling, terrifying scream I have ever heard in my entire life.
My mom and Sally run to push him off of his wife. Her long, thick hair wrapped around his wrist as he pummeled her. He finally lets her go. You always imagine yourself to be prepared when a situation like this arises. At least, I do. The right thing to do would have been to call the police immediately. But calling the police did not even come in to mind at this point. I was just filled with adrenaline and my first instincts were to make sure the woman was all right and then go for the husband’s jugular. Sally’s dad grabs their two children (ages 2 years and 5 months) and carries them downstairs to his apartment to stay with his wife. My mom and I are both trying to pick the wife up from off of the floor, her eyes literally rolling to the back of her head. I thought this was it; the lady was about to die in our arms. I ran to get a cup of water for the wife, only to notice the husband is now nowhere to be found. I look out the window and see him getting into his car to leave. I run back to the wife to give her the water and ask what happened. She couldn’t speak. All she could do was cry. All of a sudden, we see flashing lights outside the window, Hallelujah!
At this point, everyone is worried about the police getting involved and are trying to quiet down the scene so it doesn’t look that bad. I, on the other hand, run to the window and flail my arms out calling to the cops that we are ‘up here.’ The cops come upstairs and ask what happened. Being the only person there who spoke English, I responded: “I don’t really know this family, but we were downstairs and heard screams and came upstairs and saw the husband beating his wife and the husband just now left.” They ask if the wife is in need of medical care so they can get her an ambulance — still on the floor, she refuses. They ask her what happened? How did he hit her? She still couldn’t speak. They ask if she would like to come down to the police station to file a complaint, fear overcomes her face as she refuses. I looked at the cops and say “Hey look, I’ve met the women and her kids a few times when visiting the neighbors downstairs. This woman needs help. She is being beaten on a weekly basis.” (Little did I know at the time, it was on a daily basis; sometimes up to three times a day even.) The cops hesitated at first. They look at each other, and hero cop in badge #129 states to his partner that he doesn’t care if she wont come down to the station, he will file the complaint on his own. Something in him, in his facial expressions, in his voice, in his actions, radiated compassion and genuine concern. He was going to protect this woman, even if it meant going against standard protocol. In New Jersey, a police officer is only required to file a complaint or arrest the suspect when responding to a domestic violence call if: they witness the assault-taking place, weapons were involved or if there are signs of injury on the victim. We tried one more time to convince her to go to the police station to file the complaint. I offered to go with her to translate, and she finally agreed.
We get into the police cruiser and we are on our way. In tears, she tells me how her whole family basically disowned her for marrying this man. She said everyday she hears that it may be her grandma’s last day on earth, yet her grandma refuses to speak to her because of her choice to marry this man. Actually we can’t even call him a man at this point. He’s undeserving of that title. So we will call him P.O.S. (you know what that stands for) from here on out. She tells me “If you watch my wedding tape, you won’t see my mom or brother or anyone from my family in it, they refused to attend.” She sobs the whole way to the station, I don’t know how to comfort her, other than to remind her, “You don’t have to live like this. This doesn’t have to be your life forever.” We get to the station and the cop in badge #129 explains to her the rights she has as a victim and gives her all of her choices. He explains to her that no matter what she tells them, or doesn’t tell them, that her husband is getting arrested. They explain to her that she has the option of getting a restraining order against him, or if she didn’t want one at this time, she can come back at anytime to get one. He also explains that she and her husband are not allowed to be in contact until they are seen before a judge. An at large warrant is immediately put out on her husband.
The police officer, again, asks her what happened. ‘What lead to the fight and how did he hit her?’ In tears, Eman tells us that it was a perfectly normal day, her and her husband and the kids were out all afternoon grocery shopping, they got home and her husband fell asleep on the couch while she put away the groceries and prepared to make dinner. The P.O.S. wakes up to the sound of their 5-month-old son crying. He tells her as she is cooking to hold the baby to quiet him down. She tells him “I can’t do both things at once. Help me, he’s your son too.” He responds to her “You talk back too much, just like your mother,” as he strikes her in the head with his fist. She takes the blow to the head and yet continues on with her cooking. She sets his food for him on the table, in front of the couch where he is sitting. She sits on the other couch crying and saying out loud to him “Why do you have to hit me, what do I do to you to deserve this?” The P.O.S. grabs her by her hair and drags her to the floor. Kicking her in the head and stomping on her. (When we barged into their home earlier that night, dinner for one was on the coffee table, which means he got up mid-meal to beat the fucking crap out of her.)
Eman refused to file a restraining order against her husband. She tells us she just wants the cops to ‘scare him’ – a sentiment I have heard far too many times by Arab women who are hopeful that their spouse’s behavior will change. As I am helping her fill in her information on her victim statement, I learn that this woman, whom I would call “Auntie,” out of respect for her being a mom, and being older than me, was actually born in 1992. It hit me almost like a bag of bricks finding out this woman was in fact younger than me. I went into full on over-protective momma bear mode. She was almost my little sister’s age. I wanted this pig locked up, I wanted him deported, I wanted his balls cut off. As much as I wanted to make decisions for her, and as much as I wanted her to get the restraining order, I couldn’t make her do anything against her will. All I could do was give her my opinion and advice, and tell her how this stuff turns out from my past experiences. There was nothing I could say to her to make her leave a life she had become so accustomed to.
She tells us she just wants the cops to ‘scare him’…
Sitting there in the station with her, I found out that she had been married for 4 years. Her and her husband came to the states from Iraq under refugee status a little over one year ago. She told me how this guy used to beg her family to let him marry her and her parents refused. They told her “We don’t want you marrying an Arab guy, Arab guys beat their wives.” It’s unfortunate that this dude lived up to such a terrible stereotype. When she would tell her soon-to-be husband this, he would respond that her parents were only trying to scare her. He told her family, you either let me marry her or I will kidnap her – a threat they probably took lightly at the time. She said she’s never witnessed a woman get hit before. It’s not something known in her family or culture. She said the first time he laid hands on her, he sent her to the hospital. When we are all finished, we headed back into the police car to go home, she tells me how her husband has been seeing other women and sleeping around. And he doesn’t even try to hide it. She said she stays quiet about that stuff because she doesn’t want to cause problems and bring on more beatings to herself.
“Stop talking back.” “Just stay quiet when he’s yelling or mad.” “Just leave the room.” “Ignore him.” “Maybe you should change your attitude a little.” “Well, why wasn’t dinner ready?” “Why do you talk back when you see he’s already in a bad mood?” “Why are you always getting people involved in your guys’ problems?” “You weren’t raised properly.” These are all responses I’ve heard first hand, that were told to women in violent and abusive marriages. This is real life. I’ve never heard someone tell the guy “You’re a piece of shit!” “You’re a monster.” “You don’t deserve a woman like this.” “You’re in the wrong.” “You have no right to lay your hands on her.” “If she didn’t cook dinner, cook for yourself or go out to eat.” The guy somehow is never at fault! No matter what the circumstances are.
How are we, as in the Muslim ummah, allowing this to happen to our women? To our daughters, sisters, wives and mothers? When does enough become enough. How many of our women have to become statistics of domestic violence and death before a change is made. So many non-Arabs and non-Muslims already view us Muslim women as oppressed. So many stereo-typically believe that Islam ALLOWS husbands to beat their wives. While we try to beat all other stereotypes surrounding us, why is nobody standing up to this issue? Why are there some cowardly men out there that are not being raised properly, that they go into a marriage expecting their wives to be their personal maids and sex slaves? How are we allowing some of our women to go uneducated and live without any empowerment that teaches them that this is unacceptable behavior? What message are we sending to our kids that watch these horrors unfold? Our daughters grow up seeing their moms get beaten and they think it’s normal and acceptable behavior that comes with close relationships. Our sons grow up seeing their fathers beat on their moms and continue the cycle; they will usually go on to beat their wives or sisters. Domestic abuse is a human issue, and many Arabs and Muslims use religion to justify it. The issue is bending the text of the Quran to justify the need and desire to dominate a woman. Islam holds women up to the highest rank, in every phase of our life: “When she is a daughter, she opens a door of Jannah (Heaven) for her father. When she is a wife, she completes half of the Deen for her husband. When she is a mother, Jannah lies under her feet.” So how are we allowing this to continue? And why are we pretending that it’s O.K., especially if it goes against our religion?
No mother or father wants to be the parent of a divorced Arab woman.
As I write this I am immediately reminded of a story seen on the news a few years ago, about Aasiya Hassan and Muzzammil Hassan, a Muslim Pakistani-American couple from upstate New York. Together they formed and launched Bridges TV, a first of its kind Muslim television network; aimed at combating negative stereotypes against Muslims, post 9/11. A week after serving her husband with divorce papers, Aasiya was brutally murdered, in the studio of Bridges TV. Muzzammil lured his wife to the studio one night to drop off clothes for him, and as their kids sat in the car waiting for their mother to return, he stabbed her 40 times, eventually decapitating her. Police had previously responded to many domestic violence calls from the couples home.
I know domestic violence happens in ALL cultures and in ALL religions, but I am writing from my experience with it in MY culture and MY religion. It’s time for some of the more traditional Arabs to care less about their reputations and more about our victims. Divorce is such a taboo topic in Arab and Muslim culture that some people will go to the extremes to avoid it. Which means Arab women will accept almost any kind of abuse as to not get divorced. If you are a divorced Arab woman, then the stigma that you are a failure will follow you forever. It doesn’t matter if you suffered in your marriage, the divorce will be deemed your fault. You will be taught and told that you have failed your husband, your kids, your family and your family’s honor. No mother or father wants to be the parent of a divorced Arab woman.
Women of the world, especially my Arab and Muslim queens… I have this to say to you: Educate yourselves and empower one another. Never stop learning or seeking knowledge. Build yourself up so you never find yourself in any type of abusive situation where you are financially and emotional dependent on your spouse. Do not live your life for someone else, meaning don’t stay in something that you know is wrong to make your parents or your family happy. Your safety and the safety of your children should always be your #1 priority. There is help for anything you are dealing with. Reach out. There will always be someone with open arms willing to help you. Love doesn’t hurt. Don’t confuse control and jealousy with love. Never settle or accept less than you deserve. We can’t always blame our parents for our upbringing or what they taught us or didn’t teach us. At a certain point you stop pointing the fingers and have to take responsibility.
Allah did not put us on this earth to be slaves, and live in damnation. If you see another woman hurting or suffering, be there for her, guide her, empower her. If you feel your culture does nothing to empower you; then lets do it for ourselves. You have one life to live, live it without fear of what other people will think.
Love doesn’t hurt.
Men and women everywhere need to be raising awareness to this issue. We all came from a woman. We all have female family members and relatives. We have sisters, sister–in-laws and daughters. We simply cannot allow them to be part of this disgusting cycle any longer. In the words of Tupac, “Since we all came from a woman, Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman, I wonder why we take from our women. Why we rape our women, do we hate our women? I think it’s time to kill for our women, Time to heal our women, be real to our women. And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies that will hate the ladies, that make the babies.”
The proud daughter of a separated, and hopefully soon to be, divorced mother.
An update on Eman will be released in Part II. Stay tuned.
*names changed for privacy
If you or someone you know are a victim of domestic violence, please reach out for help:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 – Nationwide organization dedicated to helping all men, women and children facing domestic violence. They have advocates (bilingual too!) available 24/7, 365 days a year to help with one-on-one counseling, crisis intervention, resources and agency referrals.
Wafa House 1-800-930-WAFA – A New Jersey based organization with confidential 24/7 hotline for Middle-Eastern and South Asian descent women and families facing domestic violence. Although NJ based, they provide nationwide help.
Manavi 732-435-1414 – Another New Jersey based organization that is dedicated to helping South Asian women nationwide facing any type of violence, they even have a safe house.