As families come together over the holidays, the victims of domestic abuse are often sequestered in shelters — a situation that's especially difficult for Muslim women, because few facilities meet their cultural and religious needs.
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.
"There may be situations — such as, there would be men that were there, or there wasn't any place for them to pray, or maybe there was an issue with the food," Hanif explained.
At Muslima Anisah, people take their shoes off at the door. There's no pork in the kitchen. A section at the front of the house is reserved for prayers.
"This is the prayer area; we pray five times a day," Hanif said, showing off the area.
Hanif is a nurse by trade, not a social worker. Running a battered women's shelter wasn't part of her plan. But over the years, she treated dozens of abused Muslim women at a health clinic.
One memory stayed with her: a woman who came in with a broken jaw.
"One of the Muslim women, her jaw was wired, and I remember her saying that now she could lose some weight because she had to suck her food through a straw," Hanif recalled. "We didn't inquire about it. We laughed with her. I remember we didn't do anything about it."
Now, it has been 12 years since Hanif set up this home in a residential neighborhood in Baltimore. She lives there even though she has three grown children.
Hanif is African-American, but most of the women she takes care of are immigrants.
"They have nowhere to go. Society doesn't want them. Their family doesn't want them, and the man who beat them doesn't want them," Hanif said.
Hanif said American women can turn to their community for help; they know the legal system better, and they know their rights. Most of the immigrants, including the Kurdish woman, speak little English and have even fewer resources.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Women's Shelter for Muslim Women in Baltimore
I liked this story on NPR: