Today I had the rare treat of listening to a khutba (sermon) delivered by a good friend of mine, Dr. Kamran Riaz. We were classmates at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2000 to 2003. (He graduated early.) I arrived at the masjid, the Downtown Islamic Center, a couple minutes before he did. As is my routine, I offered two raka of salat (cycles of prayer) and started reading Quran. I did not see him enter but he saw me. I did not know he was scheduled to speak today but I was glad when I discovered it.
He began the khutba with a verse of the Quran, “We have honored the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special [favors], above a great part of our creation (17:70).” He spoke of how all people descend from a common father, the Prophet Adam, or Adham, alaihis salaam. Unlike Christians and Jews who call themselves “Children of God,” Muslims call themselves “Children of Adam.”
Kamran went on to discuss the sacredness of life in Islam. Though Muslims have strayed far from it, and to their detriment, Classical Islam emphasized respect for all life. Islamic law commands that Muslims wage war only on combatants, sparing women, children, animals, and plants. Even in cases that allow using violence, Islam sets guidelines. Another guideline is to avoid striking the face. Also, Islamic dietary laws place strict conditions on the slaughtering of animals to promote humane treatment of living things. It is true that other religions have categorically forbidden the eating of meat. Yet some religions place no restrictions at all on diet. In this matter, as in many others, Islam represents a middle path, making concessions to human nature, while respecting the sanctity of life.
Part of the beauty of human life is the family unit. Allah has created us within families. Though Kamran did not mention it, some organisms lack the familial structure that humans have. For example, Allah could have made us asexual like the Komodo dragon, a lizard that lays eggs which mature without fertilization. Yet by requiring that humans be born of a fused egg and sperm, Allah has united male and female into family units.
But how do we repay the favor of Allah? Instead of cherishing our families like we should, we turn our families into dysfunctional and abusive collectives. Kamran argued that some men are as gentle as lambs at work, but as ferocious as lions at home.
Thus we have a need to tackle the issue of domestic violence. For too long, the Muslim-American community has treated domestic violence as a taboo topic. But with men abusing women, women abusing men, parents abusing children, and children abusing elders, the problem is crying out for a solution. This is everybody’s problem. No race, no culture, no nationality, no gender, and no class can honestly claim that domestic violence does not affect them. The situation in which a female beats a male is no laughing matter. The home must be a violence-free zone.
A unique asset that Muslims possess in the struggle against domestic violence is the Prophetic Example. As Kamran reminded me today, “Prophet Muhammad (S) was not sent except as a Mercy to Mankind.” Historians can call him a prophet, a mystic, a general, a speaker, a teacher, or a reformer. Yet Muslims know that the fundamental objective of the mission of Prophet Muhammad was to spread the mercy of God. His companions watched his every move and remembered for generations his shining example. No one ever saw Muhammad (S) strike a woman, a child, or a slave. In fact, a slave who had served him since childhood said that he treated him with the utmost manners. When Muhammad (S) was upset with his slave, all he would do was say, “Why did you do such-and-such?” Immediately the slave would feel so ashamed that he would do whatever was asked of him. Neither would he raise his voice nor raise his hand.
Like all married men, Prophet Muhammad (S) had disagreements. Surah Tahreem touches on an incident of marital discord in which two of his wives conspired against a third. But unlike modern Muslims who turn to violence to solve problems, Muhammad (S) looked to Allah for answers. This is the type of noble patience that we should all strive to emulate.
Another bit of practical advice that comes from the Traditions of the Prophet is that one should strive to control one’s anger. Some people actually believe it is healthy to scream and curse at one’s spouse because “you need to let it out.” This is not the Islamic way. When one allows one’s anger to be in control, one opens the door to violence and misery. The Prophet (S) said to counter anger with relaxation. If one is angry and standing, one should sit down. If one is sitting down, one should lie down. Interestingly, the advice of W. Doyle Gentry, editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, echoes Muhammad (S), advising angry people to find a quiet space, close their eyes, and imagine a positive experience (http://bit.ly/1xDuWb). We cannot avoid getting angry, but with patience and wisdom, we can avoid domestic violence.
(Just to be perfectly clear, the text above is not the text of Kamran’s khutba, except where explicitly indicated otherwise. This is my commentary on the topic that Kamran discussed, domestic violence.)