Thursday, February 26, 2009

Relationship Between Religion and Domestic Violence?

The blog, On Faith, a Washington Post/Newsweek blog on religious issues, tackles the subject of religion and domestic violence in the light of the murder of Aasiya Hassan by her husband Muzzammil Hassan. Ten writers, of multiple faiths and disciplines, provided their thoughts on the tragedy and the overall relationship between religion and domestic violence. Given my work against domestic violence, my initial thoughts on the tragedy, our Dem Bones Dialogue Series (1, 2, 3, 4) on domestic violence, and my scholarship on religion and violence, I wanted to provide a brief synopsis of each writer's thoughts.

These writers were asked to respond to the following question:
American Muslim leaders have been quick to condemn the beheading of a woman by her Muslim husband in Buffalo, saying it has nothing to do with religion. Is there a connection between religion and domestic violence?
Pamela Taylor, co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values, shows, using scriptural citations, that domestic violence has no place in Islam, but that there are some problematic verses, which she exegetically explores, in the Qur'an and the hadith that have been used (incorrectly) to justify patriarchy and violence. Religion, cultural norms - fostering senses of male entitlement - and mainstream interpretations of Islam all allow domestic violence to flourish, but there should be a strong principled stand against domestic violence and abusers.
Daisy Khan, Executive Director of American Society for Muslim Advancement, unequivocally asserts that religion shares no connection with domestic violence - religion calls for harmonious relationships in the household - but Khan believes that it would be ignorant to claim that abusers don't abuse using religious justification. Religious leaders must emphatically condemn domestic violence and take proactive steps, within the community, to decrease its rates.
Susan Jacoby, author and reporter, says that there is a natural relationship between patriarchal religion and domestic violence, the more patriarchal, the more violent. And given the justification in all religions for oppressing women worldwide, it is inane to say that the beheading had nothing to do with religion.
Susan Thistlewaithe, professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, states that the primary connection between religion and violence is the subordination of women to men; when there is an unequal power dynamic, women are vulnerable to such violence. As such, the Christian sanction for domestic violence is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition.
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship ministry, points out that there are some aspects of the Islamic faith that can cause evil people to do evil things, but, in general, there is never religious justification for violence against the innocent.
Willis Elliott, minister, teacher, and author, in a stream-of-conscious post, points out the religious nature of the beheading, implicating Islam's complicity in beheadings and domestic violence. He provides some Islamic scriptural justification as well as contemporary examples of beheadings, and finally, states that, outside of sadistic and poor interpretations of Christian scripture, there is no Biblical justification for domestic violence.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow states that religion and domestic violence have not been strangers with each other, and that all religious traditions are implicated; there is a "universal and shameful connection" between the religion and domestic violence.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, a personal friend of Aasiya Hassan, states that there can be no cover, religious or otherwise, for such heinous acts, and that religious leaders should be toughest to abusers who utilize violence in the name of God; religious leaders need to do more when it comes to domestic violence, and they need to do it better.
Arun Ghandi argues that there is no religious justification to violence of any kind, and like his grandfather, the great Mahatma Ghandi, believes that any violence justified by religious leaders is premised, however misunderstood and misappropriated, on a overly dogmatic approach to sacred texts, one that sees the world in a war between good and evil.
Kenneth Bowers, a leading authority in the Baha'i faith, argues that domestic violence is a perversion of any faith, as religion rightly teaches love and peace, and faith should play a prominent role in decreasing domestic violence. Spiritual leaders and religious institutions have a special role in educating communities about this issue, and he concludes with 5 Baha'i guidelines to deal with domestic violence.

Finally, as I write this up, Andrew Sullivan provides a couple more voices on this topic.

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