Sheltering Muslim Domestic Violence Survivors

Asma Hanif approaches her email as if it were an emergency room triage system in a hospital. As the founder and director of Muslimat al Nisaa, one of the few domestic violence shelters in the United States open exclusively to Muslim women, she must quickly decide who to admit based on the severity of the danger they face. Although the Baltimore-based home has been taking in women in since 2007, Hanif reports a significant increase in women requesting a spot in her shelter, more so in the past year than ever before. Many report having suffered constant abuse and discrimination at the other domestic violence shelters they’ve lived in, patterns that prompted them to seek out a safe space where they can live and practice their faith without fear.

Although some of the women and children living in the home have never been in other shelters before, the majority of residents at Muslimat al Nisaa, an Arabic phrase that loosely translates as “Muslim Women’s Organization,” are coming directly from other domestic violence homes from all around the country. But in recent months, an increased demand combined with limited funds, space, and supplies means that Hanif has been forced to turn away more women than she can take in.

“Sometimes, it feels like I’m deciding who lives and who dies,” says the 63-year-old former nurse, as she sits in the living room on the first floor of the shelter, draped in purple clothing. “What happens if I’m someone’s last option, their last hope, and I have to say no?”

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