Genevieve Kineke

The Elephant in the Living Room: How the Media Buries Islam’s Contribution to Domestic Violence

Posted on February 9 2010 2:36 pm
Genevieve Kineke is an associate editor of Catholic Exchange and blogs at
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Feminists have occasionally tried to tie domestic violence to frivolous things like men’s anxiety over the Super Bowl (and now the Tim Tebow ads) but in this National Public Radio piece on shelter for battered Muslim women, no one mentions the custom-fit pachyderm propped up on the sofa: the fact that their own faith may contribute to their abuse.

Recognizing that they weren’t happy in the standard shelters, Asma Hanif wanted these women to be safe—not only safe from their husbands but evidently safe from the truth about Islam: in which women are routinely degraded and beaten with the express permission of Mohammed.

The women are here for many reasons. It’s a sanctuary and an escape. It’s also a place where they can live and pray without having their faith questioned.

“My biggest problem was that if you send a Muslim woman to be counseled in a shelter that’s run by Christians, then what the people say is the reason why you’re being beat is because of that religion. We do not want Islam to be the focal point of domestic violence,” Hanif said.

Indeed, domestic violence knows no religion, but not all shelters are sensitive to Muslims, Hanif said.

Surely, men who insist on beating their wives will not be deterred by the constraints of any religion, but Islam alone gives permission for them to punish their wives as inferiors—in fact, beating them is a duty. This isn’t a question of “sensitivity,” but a matter of an honored religious text:

Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is most high (Sura 4:34).

A’isha herself (Mohammed’s favorite wife—the child bride) attests to the fact that Mohammed struck her on occasion; and a 2009 report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women shows that 90% of women in Afghanistan currently suffer domestic violence. So from the founding of this religion to the present day, we have both a religious mandate and a corollary that cannot be ignored.

Hanif (and NPR) are now opting to blame this abuse on the language barrier of immigrants, confusion about the legal system in the United States and the refusal of their families to help women in these situations, but until someone is willing to point out this critical difference between Islam and other religions, the real cause of domestic violence in the Muslim community will never be addressed. And the situation will only get worse.

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