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Audio: Domestic Violence In Muslim America

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February 21, 2009 – SCOTT SIMON, host:

Shock and horror have been expressed by many this week over the killing of Aasiya Hassan. Ms. Hassan was found beheaded at the offices of Bridges TV in Upstate New York. She and her husband had launched the station, near Buffalo, New York, to help bridge the cultural divide between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Her husband has been charged with second-degree murder in her killing, and advocates for Muslim women are urging American-Muslim clerics to publicly discuss domestic violence with their congregations and communities.

Rabina Niaz is founder and executive director of Turning Point, the first nonprofit agency to address domestic abuse in New York City’s Muslim population. She joins us from our studios in New York.

Thank so much for being with us.

Ms. RABINA NIAZ (Turning Point): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Do you have statistics that can give us a specific idea about instances of domestic violence in Muslim families, Muslim households?

Ms. NIAZ: Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much research done. In fact, there’s hardly any research. But there was one study done years ago on a very small group of people which concluded that it affected – 10 percent of women who were married faced abuse. My own experience tells me that it’s more than that. I think it’s safe to estimate that at least 20, 25 percent of the families are facing abuse in one form or another.

But also, there are national statistics, which tell us that every nine seconds, a woman is abused in America.

SIMON: And women are reluctant to ask for help?

Ms. NIAZ: They are. I think a lot of it has to do with many Muslim women being immigrants in this country, not familiar with how the laws can protect them, that domestic violence is a crime, or even how to identify the signs of abuse.

SIMON: Because this is such an important topic, I do want to be blunt about it. So are you suggesting that because women are coming from societies in which spousal abuse may not, in fact, be against the law, they need to know that in the United States it is against the law?

Ms. NIAZ: Well, that’s one thing. And the other thing is often, we have to remember that women who are immigrants – and that is not to say that Muslim women who are born in America are not facing abuse; there’s abuse going on in all those circles – but immigrant women have language barriers to begin with and are often completely cut off from their own support networks.

They’ve left their families behind. They’ve left their friends behind. And they’re really at the mercy of the husband. And if he’s abusing them, abusing the wife, he will make sure that she stays isolated from any support network over here.

SIMON: And have imams and other Muslim clerics addressed domestic abuse in the U.S.?

Ms. NIAZ: They have, and it’s really sad that this tragedy kind of raised awareness and took it to a different level. In the past, some imams condemn it, and they remind us that there’s no place for abuse in Islam or Muslim faith. And then there are others who – who wouldn’t speak out openly.

I was at Friday prayers and imam at the Jamaica Muslim Center based his entire sermon on domestic violence. There was a national call out to address this in the sermons this Friday.

My hope is that the community becomes more proactive and looks at it as an issue that affects the entire community, not just women and children.

SIMON: Robina Niaz, who’s executive director of Turning Points in New York City, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. NIAZ: Thank you.

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