Q: I’ve been married for many years, and my husband had been physically and mentally abusing me. Certain times he’s been good to me, but certain periods of time he’s been physically and mentally torturing me. So I do not know where do I draw the line; should I seek divorce or continue to be with him. Most people say that I should be loyal to my husband, but I’m worried for my mental health.
A: SubhanAllah, I’m very sorry to hear that. I hope your husband is here. I want say this first and foremost: deep down, every human being has good in them. Even Pharaoh, even the worst tyrant, even the worst mass murderer, has some good in them.
There’s some light in them, but unfortunately, usually people who are abusive were abused at some point in their lives, [this is] really important to understand. And in this case we have a woman who is being abused by her husband.
It’s usually a sign that the husband himself was abused in his life, maybe sexually abused, verbally abused, emotionally abused. Again, if these things are not resolved, that person reproduces the experience, and metes out that abuse to another. It doesn’t justify it, it’s not justifiable.
I know that in a lot of Muslim cultures, there’s this idea that you should have “sabr”, you should persevere in an abusive marriage. There’s even a saying in Urdu meaning “eat the beats”, just take the beats, and when you die, you go to heaven. This is not the way of Prophet Muhammad SAW. Prophet Muhammad SAW said that only the worst of men would dare hurt his wife, the worst of men. Prophet Muhammad SAW, he never hit a woman, he never hit a child, he never even spanked a child, and he never hit an animal, SAW. And he said that we should help our brother, or sister, whether they are the oppressor or the oppressed.
So here we have 2 things going on, you should always see even the oppressor as your brother, or sister, they’re not the enemy, because there’s good in everyone. But, you should still stop them from oppressing. So there’s a man, a husband abusing his wife: we, as a community are responsible for stopping him from abusing his wife. And if you’re silent about it, you want to preserve his reputation, you’re allowing him to continue oppressing, and that goes against what Prophet Muhammad SAW has taught us to do.
We have to stop him from abusing that wife, abusing this woman, and that is done in a way that doesn’t cause abuse to him. You have to stop him from abuse, but without oppressing him as well, because oppression leads to more oppression.
So this situation, the community, first and foremost that would mean the family, so I would advise this woman to first and foremost reach out to her family, and see if they have the courage and the love to stop the man from hurting her and to rescue her from her situation. Hopefully there are some people with some good sense and good knowledge in your family that can help you decide if divorce or separation is the best option.
There’s a young woman that I met when I was in England recently, who’s in a similar situation. She had separated from her husband, they were still married, but they were not living together. So she got out of that abusive situation. The family needs to facilitate that so the woman is not alone.
If the family is not helpful, then you should reach out to your faith community. And if your faith community is not helpful, then you have no other recourse but to go to government and non-profit organisations. You need to take legal action, you need to contact the police, legal authorities, law enforcement authorities, organisations that help battered women.
Do whatever you have to do to remove yourself from that environment. It is not an obligation, nor is it even recommended on you as a Muslim woman, and of course there are some men who get abused, but mostly it’s the women, but whether you’re a husband or a wife who’s in an abusive relationship, Prophet Muhammad SAW said, “Let no harm be done, and let there be no retaliating harm.”
So you should remove yourself from a situation where you’re being harmed. You’re not being a good Muslim, not being pious, not being righteous, by allowing yourself to be tortured this way. And true loyalty to your husband, if you really want to be loyal to him, in his best interest, is to show him the folly of his actions.
This is very important, sometimes I talk to women, and a lot of the older sisters, the older women who are in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who endured abuse, they tell the young women, “Just stay in the marriage. Be patient. He’s a good man. He pays for you, takes care of you, feeds you. You’ll have a palace in paradise.” It’s funny but it’s not funny.
I’m asking my older sisters, the elders, the aunties, “Stop doing this.” You’re damaging, not just your younger sister, you’re damaging the children. Because when the children see abuse, and if it continues, ultimately the children are going to hear it and see it, know what happens? They abuse their children. And the cycle keeps going. And this is hurting our communities all over the world.
So my sister, please get help. If your husband would not listen to family members or religious leaders or community leaders, then you go to social workers, law enforcement to help you. But you have to have courage. Some women are afraid of retaliation. You need a support network, InshaAllah Ta’ala. And pray for your husband. Like I said, every person has good in them. And pray for his own healing. And my hope is that Allah saves the marriage, and that you get past this, and that there’s healing and rehabilitation and that there’s love in the home.
This question was answered by Shaykh Muhammad Mendes at a public lecture in 2016.
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Prophetic Parenting: Raising God-Conscious Children in the 21st Century
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Spiritual Awakening: Cultivating Positivity in Life
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The Way of Love: Joys and Realities of Marriage
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Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes embraced Islam at 17 years old and went to obtain a B.A. in Arabic Studies. Subsequently, he embarked on the study of traditional Islamic sciences for more than 20 years in Mauritania, Syria, and Nigeria, under the tutelage of scholars like Shaykh Murabit al Hajj, Shaykh Muhammad al Yaqoubi, Shaykh Muhammad an Ninowy, Shaykh Khalil Abdur Rashid, and Shaykh Mustafa Turkmani. He holds ijazaat in Islamic Jurisprudence, Islamic Spirituality, Theology, Prophetic Narrations, Qur’anic Exegesis, Logic, and Grammar.
Currently, aside from serving as the Founding Director of SacredService for Human Liberation, he also serves as the Imam of the Atlanta Masjid of al-Islam, and is a researcher and Lead Qur’anic Arabic Instructor at Fawakih Institute Atlanta.
He is a teacher, father, husband, servant of the community, and lifetime student of knowledge who devotes much of his time and energy to inviting people to live lives of spiritual and material significance, unite based on their shared humanity and appreciate their God-given diversity.