Posted On Nov 12, 2022
Many in the Muslim community were appalled at the news of the slaying of Sadia Manzoor, her 4-year-old daughter, and her mother in Houston.
The woman and girl were fatally shot in May. Authorities have said Manzoor’s “estranged” husband killed himself after shooting members of his family.
The Harris County sheriff’s office said Manzoor had reported family violence before she was killed.
The incidents prompted some Muslims in North Texas to organize to fight domestic violence and abuse in their community.
Religious leaders and medical professionals who are trying to raise awareness around the issue say one of the major hurdles they face is tied to culture, as some in the Muslim community are not comfortable reaching outside their families for help. Advocates say there is also a big need for resources that are culturally sensitive and appropriate to Muslim survivors of domestic violence and abuse.
Aisha U-Kiu, board vice president of the North Texas Islamic Council, said she was shocked by the tragedy. But she was impressed with the response of some leaders in Houston’s Muslim community, who denounced family violence.
“It was the signal that our community is ready to talk about this,” U-Kiu said.
U-Kiu said her organization launched an awareness campaign to teach the Muslim community about the signs of physical, emotional, financial and spiritual abuse. In September, the organization held a town hall meeting where dozens from the Muslim community met to learn about the different types of domestic abuse.
The event also included religious leaders, whom U-Kiu described as being a major pillar of the awareness campaign.
“I think that’s what’s going to make or break our approach to it — if the imams and community leaders are willing to listen to each other to build strategies around how to tackle this,” she said.
Shpendim Nadzaku, an imam and resident scholar of the Islamic Center of North Texas, said he is committed to bringing together other imams to raise awareness about domestic violence and abuse in the Muslim community. Nadzaku said that’s why he speaks about the issue from the pulpit.
“I can help them understand that these forms of domestic abuse or violence are wrong and that whoever is perpetrating them are wrong,” Nadzaku said. ”Religiously, we have an obligation to cease and desist from hurting or abusing anyone.”
Nadzaku said when he contacted them, many imams agreed to help combat domestic violence in the Muslim community.
As is the case in many families, domestic violence and abuse is a hard topic to talk about, Nadzaku said.
He said he hopes he can use his role as a religious leader to dissolve the stigma about speaking out that is held by some in the Muslim community.
“Family matters, for the most part, are kept private and what happens within the home are not to be talked about, and unfortunately that can be a guise under which abuse is perpetuated,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with reaching out for help.”
Dr. Samaiya Mushtaq, a Dallas-based psychiatrist, focuses her education and outreach work on the Muslim community. As a Muslim woman, Mushtaq said she believes domestic violence and abuse are antithetical to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.
Mushtaq said her research shows spiritual leaders like imams and sheiks can have a big impact on community education on mental health issues. Religious leaders are able to communicate with members of the Muslim community in ways that mental health professionals cannot.
“They are in a unique position where they have access to people who may not be thinking about domestic violence or mental health and yet impact their attitudes toward those topics,” Mushtaq said.
It is also important for those in the Muslim community to know the different types of abuse, whether physical, emotional, financial or spiritual.
“It can help people identify their experience,” she said.
Although she has been heartened to see an organized push from within the Muslim community in North Texas to address domestic violence, she said the region still lacks many resources for victims.
“We want resources that are culturally sensitive and those are kind of limited,” Mushtaq said.
Mona Kafeel is executive director for the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation, which provides counseling, and legal and housing services for domestic violence survivors.
The organization, founded in 2005, offers services to anyone in need, Kafeel said, but the group has a unique understanding of Muslim culture and the staff to handle more than a dozen languages.
Muslim women affected by domestic violence and abuse face barriers that are not endemic to the Muslim community, Kafeel said.
“It could be that they’re scared of their finances, or their immigration status,” she added. “For others, it could be that they don’t speak English, or they think that there isn’t a group that can understand the culture they’re coming from.”
Although not all share the Islamic faith, hundreds of women are on the waiting list for services from the foundation, which operates a 35-bed women’s shelter. The wait list for legal services related to immigration and family law is always the longest, Kafeel said.
Case workers keep up with clients through their healing process to make sure to give them the help they need.
“We don’t just check a box and offer shelter. We have to allow survivors to go through their crisis and then heal,” Kafeel said. “Healing doesn’t happen overnight.”
Among the organization’s missions is to educate religious leaders in the Muslim community about the resources available to survivors of domestic violence in their congregation. That includes information on where they can get legal aid and mental health therapy, she said.
“Imams become the first responders, and not everybody is ready to become a first responder,” Kafeel said.
The recent effort by the North Texas Islamic Council is a significant step for the Muslim community. Kafeel, who sits on the board of the council, said the awareness campaign seeks to include men and younger generations into the conversation. She said the effort to combat domestic violence and abuse is not a “women-only” movement.
“We need faith leaders, leaders who are allies, we need college-aged kids talking about it,” she said. “It’s like a beast that we have to attack from all angles.”