Local Muslim Women Fight Against Domestic Violence

Published on Open File Ottawa on December 1st, 2011

When it comes to domestic violence education, Khadija Haffajee says Ottawa’s Muslim leadership needs to do more for their communities.

Haffajee has worked for more than 30 years in the Ottawa area as a community activist and educator. She recently spoke at the Ottawa launch of the “Neighbours, Friends, and Families Muslim Project” education campaign on domestic violence.

More community leaders could have showed support at that launch, says Haffajee.

“It would have been better to see more imams at the event,” she says. “Imams and community leaders need to be at the forefront to deal with the issue.”

Campaign organizer Shawana Shah said that many such leaders were invited, but none showed up.

Haffajee also noted in her speech that she is disappointed by the small number of Ottawa imams who signed on to a recent statement by Canadian Muslim leaders to condemn domestic violence.

The statement, entitled “Call to Action to Eradicate Domestic Violence”, cites religious scripture as a means of denouncing domestic violence, and it lists a six-point plan to deal with the issue. Over 100 organizations and community leaders have signed the statement, but only a handful are from Ottawa.

That statement coincides with the highly publicized Shafia family trial that began in October, which sees two Ottawa parents and their son accused of murdering three of the father’s children and his first wife in an apparent honour killing.

“[Domestic violence] is a problem we have to take on as a society,” says Anver Malam, imam of Ottawa’s Jami Omar mosque. Malam signed the statement to eradicate domestic violence, but did not attend the campaign launch. “We can’t just treat the symptoms. We have to tackle the roots of the problem,” he says.

Malam also said that Muslim communities should not be singled out in terms of struggling with domestic violence. “There is a deeper problem that we need to deal with as a society, like unemployment, which creates frustration in a lot of men who take it out on their family members,” he says.

Imam Mohamed Badat of Ottawa’s Masjid Bilal agrees with Malam’s view. “Domestic violence is something that the Muslim community struggles with, just like any other community,” he says.

Malam noted that now’s the time to raise awareness about Islam’s view of domestic violence. “We have to make it clear to people that Islam does not sanction murder of any sort, and that the so-called honour killings have nothing to do with our religion,” he says.

Haffajee said that although she knows how busy imams are with their congregations, she wants them to lead the fight against domestic violence.

“People don’t like to talk about the issue, and they hope that the problem will just go away,” Haffajee says, adding that she hopes the current campaign will help break the silence.

“The significance of the campaign is to open communication on the issue, and educate people to recognize warning signs that relate to domestic violence,” said Shah, who also works with Immigrant Women’s Services Ottawa.

Shah and others working on the campaign are trying to find 30 “champions” to take a lead in challenging domestic violence.

“Domestic violence is a problem that cuts across religions, cultures, ethnicities, and no one is immune,” Haffajee says. “It’s always an uphill struggle.”


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